I Spent A Week In The City Of Kathmandu

I Spent A Week In The City Of Kathmandu

A story of homecoming.
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It doesn’t matter how long you lived in Kathmandu in the past, the city always feels strange and alien if you are visiting it after a long time. I visited Kathmandu last week after one and half years and some of the times, I felt like an alien in the town. But, many things looked familiar. The streets of Kathmandu still got occupied by a giant crowd of people — men and women hailing from different parts of the country. The air was still dusty and polluted. People were still in hurry. And there was still a unique vibe—the smell of fried foods mixed with dust and smoke, young men selling clothes in the streets at a very cheap price, people referring to each other not with their first names, but as “brother”, “sister”, “uncle” or “aunt” according to the age, small tea-shops and snack-corners at every nooks and corners of the city, intense traffic jam and public buses filled with a crowd of people — the kind of atmosphere you can mostly find in the South Asian metropolis.

I came to the city of Kathmandu for the first time in 2011, and for the last seven years, I have always found the city under construction. There is something always going on in the city. Currently, the city is still recovering from the devastating earthquake of 2015 in which about 9000 people lost their lives. And there are few ongoing constructions works aimed to widen the streets.

Kathmandu is a beautiful city to live in, but the problem with Kathmandu is the unplanned urbanization — which now would be very difficult to manage as this would mean the reconstruction of the entire city. In Kathmandu, within 100-200 meters, you can find a residential area, a marketplace, maybe one high school, and a small health clinic (if not hospital), and in most of the places, private houses are built without following building norms and codes. The cities and small towns in the west, I have felt, designate specific parts of the cities for the specific purpose — it is rare to find a marketplace or 3 lane streets just in front of your house. It is common to find “everything at one place” in Kathmandu.

My Indian friends say the problem with most of the cities in India is like the problem with the city of Kathmandu. One of my Bangladeshi friends claims Dhaka is worse. I believe unplanned urbanization, centralization of resources, fueled by rampant population growth is the root of all the problems you face in some of these cities in South Asia.

It is not that all parts of Kathmandu are dusty and crowded. There are still some of the places in the city which are clean and less crowded, and these are the places which attract a lot of visitors throughout the year. There are other cities in Nepal including Pokhara and Butwal — which to me — are a lot more managed.

As soon as I landed Kathmandu, I felt I was at home, but the unpleasant reality of the city also came to my mind which I couldn’t escape.

Cover Image Credit: Pixabay

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5 Struggles Everyone Studying Japanese Can Understand

Majoring in "otaku" has never been so difficult.
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Ah, Japanese--the language of a beautiful country (and self-proclaimed anime fanatics). It's been a huge part of my life for a very long time, and I am so glad for the influence that it's had in my life. However, it's one of the most difficult languages for English speakers to learn, which means that there are quite a few struggles that come with learning it. Here are some of the struggles that Japanese learners are bound to know.

1. Counting systems

Honestly, counting to one hundred has simultaneously never been easier and harder. Overall, counting is not bad in Japanese--instead of English's ridiculous "eleven" and "twelve," Japanese just counts very simply. Fifty-five, for example, would translate loosely into five tens five (五十五. One hundred and thirty-eight is just hundred, three ten, eight(百三十八). Simple, right?

Wrong.

That is simply the basic counting system. If you're counting small living things, you have to add a suffix. Ichi, ni, san, turns into ippiki, nihikki, sanbikki. Counting long, cylindrical things? Ippon, nihon. And if you're not sure what you're counting, or if you're counting roundish objects? Forget ichi, ni, san, because your life is now hitotsu, futatsu, mittsu. There are so many more systems too, and though you don't have to learn them all, native speakers will use them.

2. Hiragana/Katakana

Overall, these two writing systems aren't too bad. They're not kanji (which we'll get to later). For the uninitiated, hiragana and katakana are systems of forty-six characters, much like our alphabet, that are combined phonetically to form words. Overall, definitely not bad. But there are definitely challenges. For example--when do you use one over the other? The rule of thumb is that if a word comes from a different language, you use katakana, and if it's Japanese, you use hiragana. For example, もも(momo, peach) is written in hiragana, since it's a Japanese word, but バナナ (banana, banana) is written in katakana.

But as with everything else, it isn't so simple.

なまえ (namae) means name, and it sounds like name a little bit, but it's a Japanese word that by coincidence sounded the same. And アルバイト (arubaito)? It means a part-time job. How does that sound like a language we're familiar with? But alas, it's a katakana word. And then sounding out words you know are katakana into the proper spelling is a mess of its own.

3. Kanji

So, imagine every word having a completely different pictorial character to represent it. Imagine having to learn all of them and having to wade through different pronunciations and different contexts.

Welcome to my hell.

Yes, there are patterns in kanji (the pictorial representations of words or parts of words), but sometimes they're just ridiculous. And there will always be mnemonics to remember them, but overall they cause stress, annoyance, and wondering why they exist in the first place (seriously, who thought 食 was easier than た? And honestly にもつ will always be easier to write than 荷物).

4. Identical characters

Callout post for katakana: your characters look too dang similar. ソ and ン (so and n)? シ and ツ (shi and tsu)? Please stop. I beg you, for the sake of my sanity.

And don't even get me started on kanji. Why are these things (閣、聞、間、問)with completely different meanings so similar?? Please, for the love of everything, stop this. I don't understand.

5. Levels of respect

Within the Japanese language, social status relative to the listener is completely ingrained. The way you form sentences says something about your relation with the listener, your distance from the listener, your status relative to the listener, and your attitude toward the listener.

As someone who's very anxious in social situations already, this creates a new level of hell. Because what if I get it wrong? I tended to use the super respectful form as a blanket term and generally, in Japan, they got that I was a foreigner and didn't take offense, but I've recently learned that using the respectful form for people your own age can add artificial distance. But using the short form too soon can have negative consequences as well. Honestly, it's a new level of social calculus that I'm not prepared for.

But for all the complaints I have with the Japanese language, it honestly is something I adore and am glad to spend four years studying. It's pretty amazing to see how it evolves and to see the nuances of everything.

And in comparison to English, I can't give it that much hate. I mean, at least there aren't silent k's!

Cover Image Credit: Rachel Cebull

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All The Glory Of Singapore I Learned On My Trip Out Of The Country

Leaving the country has lots of perks!
Pear B
Pear B
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My first trip out of the country was quite successful – except for one small glitch, which I’ll get to later.

During a four-day weekend, I flew to Singapore for the first time. It is a beautiful city, super clean – I have never seen any place cleaner – with a lot of culture. There are small pockets of multiple ethnic groups, mostly Asian, dispersed throughout the city. These include Little India, Chinatown, Arabic Street, and others. Every neighborhood I went to had great food – it was some of the best Indian food I have ever had.

There are also traditional events that showcase the variety of cultures that live together. For example, the first night I stumbled upon an Indian celebration. I am not sure what they were celebrating but everyone was having so much fun and the music was amazing.

My hostel wasn’t the best I’ve ever been to, but I was able to make friends and we had fun exploring the city together. The glitch I mentioned earlier came when I had some stuff stolen from my room, and the people in charge weren’t very helpful. Fortunately it wasn’t anything vital, like my passport, but the lesson was invaluable: always ask for lockers or a safe.

It wasn’t until after my stuff was taken that I was informed there were lockers for guests. Overall, I would say that The Blue Jazz Hostel is not worth staying at: It smelled and the photos on Booking didn’t represent what I saw.

Treetop Walk







Aside from this unsettling experience, the weekend was amazing. Singapore is not like any city or country I’ve been in before: it’s an interesting combination of nature and city, with their beautiful bays, forests, and incredibly tall skyscrapers.

The first day I was there I went on a Tree Top Walk with someone from the hostel. This “walk” is an awesome suspension bridge, hung in the trees, crossing through a spectacularly green nature reserve. We were able to see monkeys, hear animals, and enjoy beautiful views. The monkeys were super cute, adorable and seemingly friendly. I wanted to pet one, but I knew better. The last thing I needed was to go to hospital for a rabies shot! (Helpful hint: If you visit the area, don’t try to touch the wildlife.) The rest of the walk around the reservoir was beautiful and extremely peaceful.

Marina View from Level 33

Gardens by the Bay



Marina Bay Sands



Merlion

The next day I spent time visiting other great sites, including the Gardens by the Bay, the Marina Bay Sands Hotel and the Merlion statue. The Gardens by the Bay were amazing! There were so many flowers, trees, and creatures everywhere that you couldn’t figure out where to look first. I’d recommend going on their skywalk, too, with its breathtaking views encompassing the garden and the bay. What fascinated me was that the trees which held the skywalk were fake – you sure couldn’t tell by looking at them.

A visit to the Marina Bay Sands Hotel was also worth the time. You can take an elevator to the top floor for a fabulous view of the city – from the bay to the gardens to the skyscrapers. It’s interesting to note the contrast between the industrial side, with all the buildings, and the tourist-y side, with the gardens and bays. Both are noteworthy in their own way.

The Merlion is cool-looking, but I thought there would be more to it than just a large white statue spitting water out of its mouth. It is beautiful, this sculpture of a half-mermaid, half-lion, but, for me, it was a bit disappointing. I just expected there would be more to see. However, I topped the day off at craft bar called Level 33 that overlooked the marina. Always a pleasant way to end a day.



I spent Saturday at Universal Studios and that was not disappointing at all. (After this visit, I spent part of my next week watching Universal movies, such as "Shrek", "Jurassic Park," and "Madagascar".) I love going on rollercoasters and spending time at amusement parks so being able to spend a day at Universal Studios was a delight. I went on all the rollercoasters (with minimal wait lines) and just acted like a kid again. Great day!

I would recommend a visit to Singapore to anyone in the vicinity with the time. It is a beautiful city with amazing food. Plus, everything was super clean, people speak English, and there are fun things to do – both for city and nature lovers. It is a wonderful place to visit and you don’t need to stay there long to see great sites.

Cover Image Credit: Unsplash
Pear B
Pear B

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