Okay – instead of forcing myself to sit still and recount things that happened two months ago, I’m going to fast forward to the present. Creating a coherent narrative of my travels felt too much like a homework assignment for me to enjoy it. I’d rather blog more frequently than procrastinate on writing posts that feel obligatory and stale.
So, to catch you all up, in early January I spent two weeks in Thailand doing all kinds of fun stuff with my buddy Rob, then came back to India for week, realized I needed to leave the country ASAP, and hopped on a plane to Kathmandu, Nepal where I spent 10 days waiting for my Indian visa to clear. Nepali people are the friendliest people I’ve ever met. So friendly, in fact, that by halfway through the trip I kind of hated them. Not them personally, I guess, just the fact that I couldn’t walk 10 feet without someone trying to engage me in conversation that became increasingly predictable as the days passed.
General structure of a conversation:
Nepali: Hello! Where are you from!
Me: United States.
(This would sometimes elicit a look of confusion, in which cases I would quickly add ‘America,’ which is the name by which most people in Asia know the US. When I would say America, no one would ever follow with the question, ‘oh and which country?’ It felt as if South America, Central America, and even Canada and Mexico did not exist to these people. Either that or they were considered to be exceedingly irrelevant.)
Nepali: America! Ahhh, Barack Obama!
Me: Yes. Barack Obama is our president.
(Sometimes, in the place of Barack Obama, they would begin naming US cities. Example: America! Ahhh, New York City! Washington DC! Los Angeles! Chicago! And I would smile and nod as if impressed.)
Nepali: What part you from?
Me: California. West Coast.
Nepali: Ahhh! You know Red Hot Chili Peppers?
Me: Yeah, they’re great.
Nepali: *sings* Dreams of Californication…
(I’m not kidding, this exact scenario happened at least four times. It seems that due to the universal agreeableness of their music, the Red Hot Chili Peppers are the artist of choice at roughly 97% of the restaurants in the tourist district.)
Me: Ha, yeah. Great song.
Then the conversation carries on predictably to questions about how long I am staying in Nepal, if I plan on doing any trekking, and would eventually (designedly) happen upon the topic that my conversational partner was an artist/travel agent/tour guide/jewel seller and that I should really come to their shop and pay them money for stuff that I don’t want.
I began to develop the rather cynical attitude that the only cultural exchange these people were interested in was the exchanging of bills from my pockets to theirs. As much as I enjoy touring, I can’t help but think that tourism as an industry really cheapens cross-cultural interactions. Of course, as a privileged Westerner with stacks of cash, I can afford to have this kind of attitude.
Don’t think this means I didn’t love Nepal, though – I LOVED Nepal. I couldn’t recommend it highly enough. The Himalayas are the most beautiful and majestic things I’ve seen in my entire life. I’m not kidding. I can understand why back in the day people would look up at their mammoth faces and say ‘yeah, the gods definitely live up there’ or, alternatively, ‘gonna climb that thing even if it kills me.’
I love the answer that George Mallory, one of the first men to attempt an ascent of Mt. Everest, famously gave when someone asked why in God’s name did he want to climb that mountain – He said simply, “Because it’s there.”
I can sympathize. On the other hand, in pursuit of this dream Mallory managed to fall to his death and his body wasn’t recovered for some 70-odd years, so perhaps I really can’t sympathize all that much.
In addition to its natural marvels, the culture of Nepal is absolutely fascinating. The cities are filled with temples, both Buddhist and Hindu, that are hundreds of years old but still actively used. Tradition is fastidiously maintained. Incredibly, to this very day Hindus and Buddhists alike continue the tradition of worshiping a pre-pubescent girl as kumari, or living goddess. When the girl reaches puberty, she is no longer a goddess and goes back to her regular life. I imagine this would be a bit of a bummer. The whole thing is very bizarre. I recommend the book Living Goddess by Isabella Tree to those of you who find this as titillating as I did.
Anyways, now I’m back in India. It was quite a relief to be able to settle down into a normal routine again. The semester has been interesting so far, in a good way mostly. I’m teaching a class called Science, Objectivity, and Values which is essentially a course on the philosophy of science. I had a really great time getting together materials and organizing lectures because I love the subject, but the actual experience of teaching the class has been very challenging and often frustrating. It’s exceptionally hard to interest students in philosophical analysis of science when they have almost zero interest in or understanding of science itself.
The most interested response I’ve gotten out of my students was when I showed them the rabbit-duck illusion (left) to demonstrate how two people looking at the same thing can interpret it two different ways. The purpose was to help them understand one philosopher’s claim that scientists interpret data not objectively but rather under the influence of their respective paradigms and thus may come to different explanations of the same phenomena. Understandably, they weren’t all that interested in the theory I was trying to clarify, but they did think the duck/bunny was cool and talked about that for a while. Small victories.
All the while, the time ticks away and my return home draws ever-closer. Only two months left. I have to admit that I am looking forward to coming home tremendously, but it is sad to see how short the time can feel between the beginning of something and its ending. Leaving will be bittersweet. Won’t miss the mosquitos, though. That’s for damn sure.