Friday, 23 September 2016

The Mindset of Volunteering in Nepal

Firefly hostel in Kathmandu was filled with the most interesting characters around. I felt that I was the only genuine traveller among all the other do gooders. Everyone seems to be working on some sort of project or another or volunteering their time every now and then for the Nepalese cause. I felt guilty the first day, that I was there in Nepal to enjoy myself to travel and see Nepal hardship and the people who survives, the authentic Nepal since all the other wuss tourist will not come back so soon.

The second day thou I did not feel so guilty anymore.

The people was interesting in character but looking closely and listening to them talk all day about the holy aura and the spiritual release from helping all these poor Nepalese victims makes me wonder whom are they really helping. Themselves or the Nepalese victims.

Some were genuine and I respect them for it but they are a dime a dozen. The few that actually makes a different hides in the hostel where you could barely see them, waking up in the early morning to get out and make a difference while the rest boast of their good will achievement.

Into the Characters

No one could stand Leahcim. Leahcim from the USA – LA was an alcoholic that seems to be an expert in anything. He works for the NASA, NSA, CIA, a Finance expert, Engineer, Lawyer so and so. I have to say that he was a good talker. A salesman of the highest quality if only he was not trying too hard and making things up as he goes. One soon realized he was always beating around the bushes around technical things beyond the TV knowledge. I avoided speaking to him after 5 minutes.

Do you want money?

No ( My auto defence kicking in for it sounded like a start of a con artist trick )

Why don’t you want money? Give me your money then I will use it to save Nepal said Leahcim.

I pity the people who genuinely believe Leahcim, the damage he will drag them into would take years to be repaired. The not so well educated Nepalese workers in the hostel and some travellers from India was mesmerized by him so much that they had sit down meetings and discussion during the day about how to change the constitution of Nepal to save it.

Like someone once told me …. Some people should not be allowed to own a passport.

Then there was the druggies. There was about three of them I think but could have been more. Mickey, Drug-Mikial, and JD. Every evening I did not go without the perfect scent of marijuana. My constant rolling of cigarettes was mistaken as weed and people keep asking me for a hit only to be disappointed when there was no weed in it. Soon I was left alone in my own corner smoking and observing the zoo like character in the hostel.

Remember what I said about everyone seems to be Volunteering? Everyday one could wake up in the morning and just decide to Volunteer and the next maybe skip if one is too drunk for it. The hostel had a system to send volunteer where they are needed. I thought it was a cool thing to do till I found out what they were doing.

One fine day a lot of volunteer woke up in the morning and was driven to a village to dig a big pit to make a swimming pool. I later found out that the swimming pool would eventually belong to the hostel owner up and coming guesthouse. If only one would think that a swimming pool is a luxury item instead of something that is really needed by the village.

Another story I heard was told by Mickey. A group of them got so high one night and decided that the next day they were going to go to a school and help teach English. I thought they were just joking around but they actually did woke up and went to the school and tried to teach English. Mickey came back midday and was furious with the security guard that would not allow him and any of the group to enter the school grounds.

Their lack of knowledge of how to speak the local language Nepalese did not help with explanation to the guard. Mickey could not believe that his folks were turned away, that these poor uneducated Nepalese kids in school was not being taught properly. He was offended when the guard with his lack of English language said to him

Go home, your help is not required.

How could our help be not required Mickey ranted in the hostel. I felt that it was for the best that these kids learn from somebody else. A 20+ spoilt brat from abroad that only commits one day to teach would do more harm than good.

I considered volunteering many times even before I reached Nepal. Being in Nepal made me realized that I don’t want to do it anytime soon. To volunteer means requiring more sacrifice than just a few months of your life. A commitment more scare than a marriage or a vow to god.

If one volunteer to feel good of oneself than it will do more harm than good.

If one volunteer for he feels pity or remorse for others it will do more harm than good.

For excessive help will only cause people to be dependent on others. One can already see the side effects of the many volunteer and money funded for the Nepalese victims. Do they need help??? Yes … the question is will your help have a long lasting impact on their morals and way of living. Nobody knows.

I am becoming heartless one could say. I feel no pity nor pain in the suffering of others. I feel their loss but at the same time do not feel the need to help them for I see there is no need to. Walking around Kathmandu I saw all the ruins and fallen rubble and the local people banding together to clear them up, tear them down and some even rebuilding.

The effort warms my heart for I see no volunteers among them. One should built his own home and future with his own hands and not rely on others. One Genuine Volunteer was Sahara from South Africa which was doing clearing up works. She said that the local government do not allow any volunteers to go into ruin buildings to tear them down for it is unsafe. Only after the locals has bring it down do they allow the volunteers to sort out the rubble. Make sense I thought. While I explain the danger to her about semi fallen buildings and ways of demolishing it she realized it was more dangerous than she initially thought. I do hope she does well.

She was one of the very few that was genuinely helping out the locals. The crucial things that needed to be done before rebuilding, which was brute hard physical labour of clearing the rubble. She did it every day, waking up every morning for the last 3 months I think.

Some other projects are even more bizaar than the rest. If you think about it why is it, that there is always a new hut build out of bamboo and mud bricks everyday. Asanam was telling me of how they all went out to the village and built the huts for them. Where did they sleep before you came and built that hut? One will come to realized that not all of Nepal is in ruins. The over excessive volunteer that flood the place after the earthquake just prone the locals to abuse the goodwill by making these volunteers do things that are not really crucial.

Do they really need it ??? Maybe not but how do you turn down free help? Give them something to do I guess, make them feel wanted for they are the few visitors now in Nepal after the earthquake with spending money since the tourist are gone.

From my point of view … what these people really need is a donation of jackhammers, excavators, dump trucks and portable generator. The brute force labour of breaking concrete with a sledge hammer is just not productive. Giving 10 hand of volunteer I think one jackhammer will make much more progress than any time wasting activity.  

The motto of Nepal now is “We will rise again” and I believe they will with or without the help of volunteers.

Wednesday, 21 September 2016

The local Taxi scam art

Out the airport with not much issue and got my backpack in one piece. I had no Nepalese Rupee with me but it should be fine I thought. I have read in the internet that one should get the airport taxi from inside the airport for it’s a fixed rate. A higher fixed rate of course but unless one really are able to bargain hard with the locals and speak a few local words I doubt a fresh greeny like me first time in Nepal could get anywhere bargaining.

I have no money I told the counter …. Could the taxi stop by an atm along the way? Yea sure no problem … which hostel ??? Fireflies hostel and I show them the address of the hostel plus the phone number. 750 they said and pointed to the big board behind them showing the area zone called Pakonjol which the hostel address was located and its price. Fair enough I thought and I confirmed that the taxi driver will stop by an atm for me to get money.

Out the airport and I was passed from one taxi handler to another taxi handler. I had a bad feeling about this ….. but played the stupid card. Got into the taxi and off we go towards the central Kathmandu.

The taxi driver could speak a little English and asked me where I was from. Malaysia I told him.

Ah Malaysia …. Many Nepalese go to Malaysia to work and then die!

I was thinking … what ???? Mmmm was all I said and kept my mouth shut the entire way.

He got us all the way to Pakonjol area and I could see the address below some of the shops signboard hence I knew we were at the right place but yet he could not find the hostel. Phone number he asked and I provided my phone to him so he could copy down the number. It was abundantly clear that he had no idea he was supposed to be bring me to the ATM before going to the hostel.
Looking for a Hostel in Pakonjol area - Nepal

ATM I asked …. And he said it was very far. If you have seen enough touts around the world and faced enough taxi drivers with their fake facial expression you will know this one that is a set up to try and get more money. I still played stupid … the nice tourist, and told him … no ATM = No money.

With dramatic displeasure the taxi driver drove me to the nearest ATM making a big circle when the ATM was just next door. He thought I was stupid tourist and I pretended to be one looking out the window with big wide eyes. Got money and hopped back to the Taxi and the hunt for the fireflies hostel started.

Your hostel not there … missing …. I bring you to better hotel.

I have booked and paid I lied to him. Call them I said.

He called and pretended to always get lost but we were circling the same two streets over and over. Finally he parked and told me someone was coming. The hostel guy came and jumped into the taxi only to bring him down 100 meters before stopping a narrow footpath. No signboard but that was a walking footpath to get to the hostel.

I pulled out a 1000 ruppee and passed it to the driver. His face of absolute delight when he saw it and with a big smile he gave me the hand signal which mean “you don’t need change rite, thanks for the tips”.

Stupid tourist now left the Taxi …. Bastard backpacker took over. I got my money and I now know exactly where the hostel was and where I was in Kathmandu. No I told him and asked him for change. The drama started and he tried to explained to the hostel worker that he took me round and round trying to find the place and even took me to the ATM which was not apart of it. Poor hostel guy was our translator. He can fuck off if he dun have change I told the hostel guy.

Its not my fault that the other guys did not explain my conditions accurately to him and its his fucking job to know where the hostel is. He parked his car and came down with his treats and angry looks. For a small guy like me, I was surprise I gave him a piece of my mind. Somewhere along the argument he brought up Nepal in need, since the earthquake and such. That set me more in stone to not give him a dime more than the 750 he deserve.

Hostel guy finally took my 1000 and change it at a shop nearby and paid him his 750. I got my change and we walked towards the hostel.

There is nothing worse than a person thinking that help is deserved. Help is a blessing but when people think it’s an obligation, a requirement, an act of must to fulfil the guilt, he is worse than a lazy man, a parasite that must be killed faster than the capitalism virus.

Sunday, 18 September 2016

Entering Nepal

Nepal ! I did not know what to expect about Nepal and flying in, I kept remembering all the raised eyebrow when people knew I was heading towards Nepal since it was just after the major earthquake in April 2015. Nepal is in ruins, you won’t see anything but rubble. I did not for once consider changing my plans for even if it’s in ruins it will take years before it will be back to normal and I was not willing to wait that long just to see a beautiful sight. I was going to Nepal to see Nepal in its authentic way and not just the UNESCO sights after all.

Landing in Kathmandu airport I notice a lot of military aircraft and helicopters. The airport looked more like an army base than an international airport. Just before disembarking the airplane a heavy thunderstorm broke and for the first time I was rain upon trying to get out of the airport to the shuttle bus.

Immigration at Kathmandu
I did my homework long time ago and I was pretty sure I did not need a visa to enter Nepal. So long ago that I forgot that although I did not need a visa, in fact it was supposed to be Visa on Arrival.  I saw the Visa payment counter but decided since I don’t need one based on my fuzzy memory I headed straight to the immigration counter.

Malaysia ?


Do you have Visa ?

I don’t need Visa. I have checked the internet, I answered

A confused officer looked at me flipped through my passport and finally pointed me to the Visa payment counter and just said Visa. 
Payment for Visa on Arrival

The Nepal International Airport now has a computer booth to allow visitors to apply visa electronically once you touchdown the airport hence I did not have to scour around trying to get a two picture passport size photograph and filled up a manual written form. A service attendant was even there to help me out with the application process and in 5 minutes process was done and I was directed towards the Visa Payment Counter.

Queuing up I notice that they took almost all currency. Best of all they took Malaysian Ringgit as payment too. My turn came and they would ask for how many days you are planning to stay in Nepal. The visa fees varies from 15 days, 30 days and 90 days. The more you stay the cheaper it is per day I assume but I took the basic 15 days.

RM 100 the officer informed me and I had no ringgit on me right now other than inside the hidden pouch in the backpack which I had yet to claim from the conveyor belt. I had some GBP, USD and Euro on me and decided to use GBP to pay that Visa. 18 pound was the price for a 15 day visa and I gave them a 20 note only to receive back change of 3 USD.

A little sticker was issued and stuck to my passport crookedly and now I was good to go into Nepal. I choose another counter to avoid the same immigration officer since I was a bit embarrass and all the officer did was write the date of departure 15 days later. No stamps in the passport to enter Nepal, just a visa sticker.

Welcome to Nepal.

Thursday, 15 September 2016

An Artist in Istanbul

If there was one special event that I experience in Istanbul it was the meeting of an Artist called Auni in a dodgy corner street in Istanbul.

The old gang from Plovdiv reunited in Istanbul and we all moved into Sopha hostel and that was when Etan voiced out this magical place. Down a street where no car pass on a slope which looks like a backstreet were run down huts some with the roof semi fallen or missing and doors along both sides that look like it leads to unfinished or forgotten buildings. It was dark the first day we entered but in the morning it was an alley for an antique/art/junk heaven.

Auni Studio in Turkey

Etan usher us into this narrow alley about a meter wide and a few pace later it opened up into a large studio filled with paintings over painting. The artist was Auni ….. always cheerful and high in a sense or drunk in the passionate feeling of chakra …. I fell into a deep love with a chair which became mine every night for the next few nights thst I was in Istanbul

Auni good friend Mahmud who we later found out runs an antique junk shop two doors down joined us soon later. We got fed with so much whiskey (not sure if it was Turkish) which I abstained from luckily and chatted in barely understanding each other … the two Turkish guy had limited English vocab but feeling spoke more than words in that studio. It was a conversation of feeling and emotions.
Auni Studio in Turkey

The first day in Auni studio and we all stayed up till about 2pm before me and Yebba had to head back to our hostel. Auni insisited that we stay at his place instead …. About 200 meters from the studio which looks like another shack of a studio. He even showed us the place and we all said yea sure … tomorrow. Auni the next day … and we send off Etan on his life journey in Kenya. The group was down to 3 now … me Ecila and Yebba but that night we were in for a surprise.

Auni - Left
The second night once we arrived in the evening there it was kebab cooked by Mahmud served with chilli peppers, tomato and finished with Rakia. The real Turkish Kebab as Mahmud called it and not those they sell to passing by tourist. Rakia on the other hand was something like a local Vodka or Baiju and it is not to be mess with. We shifting and staying at Auni’s spare studio never happened as the girls feels he was quite a wreck when drunk.

The kebab I stayed away since it was beef and so did Yebba since she was vegetarian but as the night pass and more Rakia was smashed by Auni and Mahmud, it was clear why alcohol can be seen as the root of evil in this part of the world.

I have always been the touch stone I guess … maybe because I am Asian and of course I am the older one. It was time to leave, sure I told them but also made sure to sooth Mahmud and Auni that we will be back tomorrow. While Mahmud was yelling at Auni for his fucking behaviour we gathered our bags …. I pity them and I knew that Ecila had broke Auni heart. All those hugs from a westerner which is unusual by the locals, all the taunting, the smiles, the gifts asked and given I knew Auni really liked her. Few days later Alice even told me that Auni even gave her 100 USD ….. I mentally smack my head !!!

Off to the hostel at midnight and luckily they had rooms … 13 euro a night and I chuck my long procrastinated laundry to the guy ( Dranem ) immediately. We went back to Auni studio every day despite the stunt he tried to pull on Ecila but this time we made a point to leave early before things got out of hand. Time flies and it was soon the day for my flight out to Nepal. I will miss the drama and all the stories I collected hanging around Yebba and Ecila. Yebba more especially.