Kathmandu, Now and Then

Readjusting to expat life in Kathmandu has been interesting because of the memories that are here from 2007.  As many of you know, I’ve lived in Kathmandu before for 1/2 a year when I was 20 years old.  At that point, Kathmandu was my introduction to Asia (besides a week or so in Singapore with family) and I couldn’t get enough of the place.  I would wander around for hours on end, watching, observing and thinking about things.  Kathmandu was like nothing I had ever seen before.

SAME: Vegetable peddlers still brighten up the Kathmandu streets.

Three years later, I have two more extended trips to Asia under my belt (mostly concentrated in Southeast Asia).  I’ve visited a number of large and small Asian cities, but still, nothing is like Kathmandu.  It has been fun being back and trying to observe changes that have taken place here in the past three years.  Upon my return, for the first few days at least, I noticed very little difference.  In fact, I was shocked at the “sameness” of everything.  It literally seemed that the place was untouched by change.  (Same restaurants, same taxis in a state of disrepair, same clothes for sale in the same colors…)  But, now that I’ve had a few weeks to think things over, there are some markedly different things about Kathmandu.

So, what’s different and what’s the same?  Here are some of my observations regarding what is the same and what is different:

*SAME: Thamel. Thamel, Kathmandu’s tourist ghetto, is actually strangely the same as it was three years ago.  The same music is for sale, the same Bhuddhist chants (from CDs) are blasting, the same incense is burning, the exact same clothes are for sale, the same tourist t-shirts, the same bars, restaurants, etc… I could go on forever.  The one thing I did notice was that the “Barnes and Noble” bookshop has been changed.  Thamel’s “Barnes and Noble” is a great, but slightly dingy, used bookstore that has NO connection with the actual Barnes and Noble chain.  Maybe the copyright police came after them because the shop is now called “Summit Bookhouse.”

*DIFFERENT: Street kids.  I’ve written about this in a previous article for Ethos Magazine (check it out here): the problem of street children, especially young boys who huff glue from plastic bags.  These street boys (who are mostly concentrated around Thamel) are very poor, probably between the ages of 8 and 15 and are addicted to huffing glue fumes.  When I was here before, I only noticed them after about a month of being in the city, probably because I wasn’t exactly sure what I was looking at or what they were doing.  I have never seen really anyone, let alone a child, huff anything, so I was quite surprised when I realized what was going on. These boys are still around, but what has changed is that there are exponentially more of them.  There are groups of them everywhere, stumbling around high.  I’ve also noticed that these boys have become a lot more bold about huffing in public places, like right in the middle of the street.

*SAME: Sidewalk obstacles.  I’m not sure this will ever change, but there are a plethora of obstacles to face while walking on the street.  These include, but are not limited to: trash, pot holes, open sewers, dogs (dead and alive), children, beggars, food carts, drink carts, wires, welders, bricks, general rubble, sitting

The (sacred) cows still hang around in the streets, enjoying free roaming privileges. The garbage problem in Kathmandu seems to be slightly less severe than three years ago.

water puddles and pretty much everything else in between.  This is why walking uninterrupted and straight is incredibly difficult.

*DIFFERENT: The upper class.  This could just be because I work among quite a few members of Nepal’s “upper-echelon,” but I’ve noticed a marked increase in the number of rich people with money to burn.  Along with rich people, I’ve seen more fancy stores (Rolex, fashion stores, jewelry shops, etc…)  Also, at the center of Durbar Marg (where all the rich, beautiful people go to see and be seen and shop) I’ve seen a newly installed KFC restaurant.

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