Category Archives: Fun/Random

Coolest Nation in the World

It’s Friday afternoon… and I’m staring out my office window at quite a bit of fresh snow. A storm rolled in this morning, but without enough inches to give me the day off (I’m guessing there is six out there), and we are prepping for a frigid weekend. So let’s keep it light today.

A link was sent by our friend D– the CNN International “Asia Beta” edition published an article called “The world’s coolest nationalities: Where do you rank?” I had a feeling before even opening it Nepal must have been on the list– and there it was, #10:

Like all pimps and players, you’ve never seen a Nepalese in a hurry to get anywhere. Yet from this mellow-gold group have also come the feared Nepalese Ghurkas, among the toughest fighting men in the world, and Sherpas, who you might know as semi-outdoorsy types.

Icon of cool:Tenzing Norgay. Reached summit of Mt. Everest with Sir Edmund Hillary, but casually stepped aside and let his hiking buddy hog all the credit.

Not so cool: Draconian government regs and local ne’er-do-wells turn off a fair amount of travelers.

Rockin’ the sherpa vibes.

Although America edged out Nepal at #5… oh yeah…

If you want to see what other countries made “the list” view here.

Happy Weekend.

World War II Indian “Spy Princess”

The BBC had a feature article today which I found interesting and thought I’d share. It was a profile on Noor Inayat Khan, who served as a British spy in France against the Nazis during World War II. Eventually she was captured, (and some sources say tortured, although it is unconfirmed), and executed in Dachau at the age of 30. Her final words were “Liberte!”

So often we hear negative news stories about South Asian Muslims, and rarely are heroic or strong South Asian or Muslim females featured, so I wanted to take the opportunity to point you towards her story. Additionally—the intercultural twist—her father was an Indian Sufi, and her mother was a Caucasian American, and she was born in St. Petersburg, Russia in 1914.

Noor with her American mother, Ora Meena Ray Baker

According to the BBC article (Churchill’s Asian spy princess comes out of the shadows) and the Wikipedia entry on her, she was the great great grand-daughter of Tipu Sultan, the 18th century ruler of the Kingdom of Mysore (and hence the use of the word “princess” in relation to Noor), who ironically was famous for fighting against the British.

Although Noor was “deeply influenced by the pacifist teachings of her father, she and her brother Vilayat decided to help defeat Nazi tyranny.” She was quoted as saying, “I wish some Indians would win high military distinction in this war. If one or two could do something in the Allied service which was very brave and which everybody admired it would help to make a bridge between the English people and the Indians.”

Noor in the early days

At first her Special Operations Executive trainers expressed doubt about using Noor in the field due to her “gentle and unworldly character,” however she was fluent in French and trained in wireless operation, and was ultimately selected to work as a spy in Nazi-occupied France. She was deployed in June of 1943 under the code name “Madeleine.”

A month after her deployment her spy circuit began to collapse and her commanders urged her to return to England, but she refused to abandon what had become “the principal and most dangerous post in France” because she did not want to leave her French comrades without communications.

For three months, she single-handedly ran a cell of spies across Paris, frequently changing her appearance and alias until she was eventually captured. On her arrest she fought so fiercely that the German police were afraid of her and she was thenceforth treated as an extremely dangerous prisoner (contrary to her earlier description of being too “gentle”). She attempted to escape twice during her interrogations, and according to the former head of the Gestapo in Paris, Hans Kieffer, “never gave a single piece of information to the Gestapo, but lied consistently.”

On November 25th 1943 she escaped with two fellow agents but were captured shortly thereafter during an impromptu air raid alert. She refused to sign a declaration renouncing future escape attempts so she was shipped to Germany and held in solitary confinement for ten months, classified as “highly dangerous” and was kept shackled in chains most of the time.

Noor, in the field

On September 11th 1944 Noor and three other agents were moved to Dachau Concentration Camp, and in the early hours of September 13th the four women were executed by a shot to the head. An anonymous Dutch prisoner reported in 1958 that Noor was cruelly beaten by a high-ranking SS officer named Wilhelm Ruppert before being shot in the head. Her last words were “Liberte!”

She was posthumously awarded a French Croix de Guerre and the British George Cross (Britain’s highest award for gallantry not on the battlefield).

To learn more about her, the BBC recommends Noor’s biography “The Spy Princess” by Shrabani Basu written in 2006.

Just Me and My Momo Man

Something short and sweet (I mean “tasty”) and funny…

Nepali Summer 2009

It’s me and the “Momo Man” from the Bakery Cafe chain in the Kathmandu Valley. How could one not pose for a picture with a character made out of the tasty Nepali delicacy?! (I’m assuming he’s veg, of course ;) even though his head is kinda shaped like a buff momo… hmmm…)

This is from the Bakery Cafe in Thamel.

Art Asana

We had a wonderful weekend catching up with an old friend and her husband in Cape Cod and I wanted to take a moment to give her a shout out.

Eliza is an artist and creates vibrant colorful mixed media artwork inspired by her interests in yoga and creativity. We studied in India together as undergraduate students, where she studied tantric art (while I studied cultural tourism), and we have shared an American-South Asian connection (and now interest in the blogosphere) ever since.

I have her link under “My Friends’ Blogs” but if you haven’t had a chance to check out her Esty shop or her blog, I encourage you do to so.

We bought two of her prints to liven up our new apartment:

Bindu

Home

But she has all sorts of great work, and it was hard to choose! Like this pair inspired by Buddhist mandalas:

Root Chakra- Symbol

Root Chakra- Yantra

Or these  pieces:

Perched

Bloom

Flow

So as I look at my window at the overcast and rainy afternoon today, at least I can peek at Eliza’s art for a bit of sunshine and inspiration.

Writing and the “Single Story”

The very first African novel I ever read was Things Fall Apart by Nigerian author Chinua Achebe. It was (very thankfully) part of my ninth grade world literature curriculum. It was the first out of three or four times that I would read the novel (so far) in my life, and the first of stacks and stacks of African novels from across the continent that I would eventually read.

When the author, Achebe, was a student he read many of the great European classics, and books written about Africa by white Europeans, but he was frustrated to find that there was nothing written from an African perspective. One of his professors challenged him to write, to be the first, and Things Fall Apart was born in 1958.

The thing that stuck out the most in the book for me is the last paragraph. I’ve had discussions with other people who have read the book, who weren’t as haunted by the last few lines, but it always lingered for me…

For those of you who have not read the book, the novel is about Okwonkwo, an Igbo villager whose lifespan straddles the time period before the arrival of Europeans to just after their arrival. It is an entire book which describes his life in detail, his exploits as a wrestler and yam farmer, participation in village life, and conflicts of social taboos and Igbo culture.

[Spoiler alert] At the very end of the novel, chaos ensues, and the new white commissioner of the area observes the final vestiges of the story. The book ends with the white foreigner, who is in the middle of writing his own book about Africa, imagining the circumstances of Okonkwo’s death as an interesting “chapter…perhaps not a whole chapter but a reasonable paragraph at any rate” in his book. The last line is, “He had already chosen the title of the book… The Pacification of the Primitive Tribes of the Lower Niger.”

It haunted me because in so many ways it rang true, how little “outsiders” really know about a culture, and how an entire complex book about a man’s life could so easily be brushed off as a passing anecdote in another man’s story. It’s like how we can watch the nightly news and be removed enough from stories about the Pakistani floods to not be moved to tears and horrified by the images.

Achebe’s message of “it’s time for us to write our own stories” gives me a bit of an internal struggle. I whole heartedly agree that others shouldn’t be spoken for, I love reading stories in the voices of people who come from that culture and can truly understand its context.

But then there is me… a person who is interested in other cultures, who (at least on this blog) writes about a culture that is not my own.

I certainly have enough posts that come from my genuine perspective as a person trying to interact with Nepali society, but I also have posts commentating on history and culture where I am removed and the point is to explain more about Nepal in general to an audience who might not be as familiar. I don’t want to speak on behalf of a whole other nation or culture(s), and I certainly welcome people to correct me when I have misinterpreted, misunderstood, or incorrectly wrote something, but I also want to share all of the interesting stories, experiences and insights that I too have learned over the years, and to use writing to prompt me to investigate and learn more for myself.

This also comes on the cusp of when I’ve almost grown enough confidence to try and start writing a story whose characters are all Nepali. I wonder out loud if this is kosher?

So I was thinking about all of this stuff when my boss forwarded me a TED talk by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, a young Nigerian author whose novels I admire. She talked about the “danger of the single story” in her twenty minute speech:

I like to think that I am expanding the “single story” about Nepal for people who are not from there, but are interested to know more. It’s more than just Mt. Everest and Sherpa porters (Can You See Everest From Your House?, “Identity” by Bhuwan Dhungana), more than just colorful festivals and Tibetan prayer flags. And I hope our intercultural life also gives insight to others.

So those are my jumbled thoughts early on a Thursday morning.

Happy Blogiversary American-Nepali

I can’t believe I missed my one year “blogiversary.” For some reason I had it in my head that it was August 29th, but actually it was  25th of August last year when I posted the original “Welcome” message. So– happy belated one year blogiversary to American-Nepali. As I’ve mentioned before in my 100th Post, I have really enjoyed this new hobby, and have loved connecting with others out there in the blogosphere.

Reflecting back one year—I have 156 posts, with over 700 comments and nearly 56,000 views. I had no idea that so much could happen in one year, and I couldn’t be happier.

For those of you who are new to the blog—feel free to read through the “Personal Stories” category to learn more about P and I and how our relationship began. Check out the “Nepali Festivals” category for more information on festivals—particularly Teej, Dashain, Tihar and Bhai Tikka which are quickly on their way. “Society and Culture,” “Food,” and “Wedding/Marriage” are also fun places to start.

Some potential ideas for the upcoming year—perhaps if I get a little more savvy with WordPress, I’ll figure out a forum feature to turn American-Nepali into more of a community where readers can interact with each other a bit more. Any other ideas and/or anyone interested in writing a guest post about their own experiences are more than welcome, don’t be shy ;)

So thank you for your interest, and your friendship. Let’s hope this is first of many more years (!) to come.

WaterFire

Over the weekend P and I went to Providence, Rhode Island to meet my sister for her birthday dinner, but also to check out WaterFire.

We had been to WaterFire before, but I think it is a neat program and didn’t mind checking it out again. It is an award-winning art installation that uses the Providence canals in conjunction with pyres of fire to draw people downtown on Saturday evenings. Usually there is a lot of music, and the fires and downtown city lights reflect in the glowing canal water. There are even Venetian-style gondolas with gondoliers, and couples can sip wine and nibble on cheese and crackers from picnic baskets while serenaded on their cruise. Its hard not to consider it beautiful and romantic. This past Saturday there were even several live swing and jazz bands around downtown and people were dancing in the street.

Providence WaterFire

Gondola and gondolier

My sister, me and D checking out WaterFire

Our friend D came with us. He had heard about WaterFire but had yet to visit the program which happens every other weekend throughout the summer months. I guess he was expecting something really large and spectacular (which I would still argue that WaterFire falls into this category), but when we got to the top of the stairs walking down to the canal area he took a quick look at the row of brightly burning fires and said, “That’s it?”

“What do you mean, ‘that’s it?’” I asked, “Isn’t it nice? You don’t see the canals lit like this everyday!”

“Well… it looks like Pashupatinath.” He said, mentioning the holy Hindu river temple in Kathmandu where many of the city’s population cremate their dead, “Sure there’s music, but I don’t see what the big deal is.”

The more I thought about it… the walkway, with big stone steps where the crowd could sit and watch the river fires, look very much like ghats in places like the holy Indian city of Varanasi. I guess this beautiful romantic scene (for me) could look very much like a cremation area in the South Asian context.

Pashpupatinath with burning funeral pyres

Cremations at Pashpati

Different life experiences, different perspectives.

We’re Having a Heat Wave!

I meant to write about ANA today, but my brain is a bit fried from the heat wave that the northeastern half of the United States has been experiencing. New England isn’t supposed to have weather like this—so air conditioning isn’t necessarily as ubiquitous as in other parts of the nation. My second floor apartment is sweltering, and my second floor office boils. I only have a tiny floor fan, and an open window which is letting in hot air. Returning to my hermetically sealed office after the 4th of July (US Independence Day) weekend, which was also relatively hot, meant the air inside was literally cooking, and it made me physically ill to sit inside (not kidding).

After work I took a DVD to the library so I could at least cool down in the air conditioning for a little bit. Unfortunately my little dog, who is covered in thick black fur, couldn’t come with me. I felt so bad for him and gave him four cold showers over the course of the evening to try and cool him down. AS said it was so hot that she saw squirrels walking around like dazed zombies, too hot and tired to scurry anywhere.

So in the meantime, if you are in the heat—stay cool, if you are a football fan—enjoy the final World Cup matches this week, and… don’t worry, I have lots to talk about once I stop sweating.

In keeping with the theme, enjoy this 1963 hit single from Martha Reeves and the Vandellas— “Heatwave

House Hunters International- Nepal

I was contacted last week (through the blog) by an associate producer for the HGTV television program House Hunters International a show which “follows English speaking expats in their quest to purchase a house abroad.” The producers are “particularly keen to film in Nepal and are looking for people under the age of 50 who have owned their house in Nepal for under two years.”

She sent me the following description:

House Hunters International is a half-hour program currently airing on the Home and Garden Television Network (HGTV).  The program is a spin-off of the popular House Hunters and has spent the last several seasons exploring the idiosyncrasies of buying real estate in other countries.

The production will be a world tour of locales in Latin America, Europe, Africa, Asia and Australia.  Whether Homebuyers are relocating permanently or plan to purchase a vacation or retirement home, HHI is about their personal journey of discovery and the making of life-long dreams.

The series is designed to de-mystify the international home-buying process by going behind the scenes of a house hunt where buyers and their real estate agents tour 3 homes.  Eventually, they make a decision to purchase the one they like best.  The buyers make the big move, and we pay them a visit to see how they are getting on.

At its core, House Hunters International is a travel show.  Each episode of this 26-part series will concentrate on the idiosyncrasies of the locales and what makes them special and different.  A great deal of effort will be made to capture rich visuals and to provide sequences where viewers will be exposed to local vistas, traditions, lifestyles and architecture.

I’ve asked around to see if anyone I knew might know someone who fits the description the producer is looking for, but I don’t know anyone buying homes right now in Nepal. Do any of you? If so, feel free to contact the producer (information below), and who knows, maybe someone you know might represent Nepal on this television program.

Michelle James
Associate Producer

LEOPARD FILMS USA
127 East 26th Street, New York, NY 10010.
+1 212 843 2821
michelle.james@leopardfilms.com
http://www.leopardfilms.com

Summer (South Asian) Casual Fridays

I was cleaning through some boxes in our closet last night to make room for storage for our summer guests  and I came across my “international clothes” box and it got me thinking…

When I traveled as a student I enjoyed buying local clothes to wear, and eventually my style became a smattering of more conservative American styles with bolder South Asian or African styles mixed in. For example, I love cotton block print fabric, and I have various skirts and tops made from this material.

When I graduated and started working in the “real world” I sadly figured that my South Asian flair was a little too much, and packed a lot of it away. Slowly a lot of it is finding it’s way out of the box, and now I  wear various colorful scarves (particularly in winter) and a few of the skirts in the summer, but alas, the more “traditional” (shall I say, “ethnic”) pieces are still in the box, unless I’m wearing a sari for a more formal international party.

So when I came across the box again last night, and tried on some of the clothes, I was thinking how much of a waste it was to have them hiding away in the back of the closet. Luckily the university where I work has a summer “casual Friday” policy. Usually this means that office administrators can wear jeans instead of dress pants, but I decided for the summer it would be fun to turn “causal Friday” into “South Asian Friday” when I can wear some salwar kameez suits and more flamboyant skirts.

So today I’m sporting an outfit I haven’t worn in about four or five years, a dark blue, light blue and white cotton block print long kurti with skinny cotton salwar pants.

I think my boss gets a kick out of it. He has encouraged me to dress up for other campus-wide international functions before– this past year I wore a sari to the International Dinner and an African Batik Boubou during the African Marketplace cultural festival.

I guess I’ll never really be a “suit-in-the-office” kind of girl.