Archive | February, 2013

No sex tourists please, it’s Kathman-DO!

22 Feb

budah stupah
If you’d told me when I was in my  20s that one day I’d be sat in an organic café in Kathmandu wearing a woolly sweater and eating a bowl of lentil soup I probably would have spat at you. Yet hilariously enough that was exactly the situation I found myself in just a week ago.

Unless you’re a fan of tiny ceremonial orange trees and fireworks, getting out of Hong Kong for Chinese New Year is a smart move. Many ex-pats either plump for the wintry ski-resorts of northern Japan or the sub-tropical sex tourist hot spots of Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand, but few try Nepal. It’s a shame.

Despite my dhal-a-geddon in the organic café, Nepal was a bit of a bloody revelation actually. I’m no hardcore trecker and harbour something between sneery contempt and point blank hatred for the those who elect to spend two weeks of their hard-earned annual leave getting up at 5am every day, turning their pants inside out for the fifth time and making small talk with complete strangers whilst battling frost bite and intense boredom. In case you were wondering.


No, the plan for me was hatched over a particularly fine Nepalese curry on Staunton Street and involved staying at a decent hotel in the Thamel district of Kathmandu – one with Wi-Fi and no blackouts – and making the odd day trip out and about. It worked a treat.  Nepal is sandwiched in between China and India and its links to the UK go back to Raj days and the service of its legendary Gurkha soldiers in the British military. Given Britain’s first mover advantage in the colonial stakes, English speakers won’t feel as out of place here as mainland Chinese tourists obviously were when spotted out and about.

Kathmandu now has Wi-Fi, Angry Bird hats for sale and Sky Sports in bars and bloody motor bikes EVERYWHERE but for all that it doesn’t seem to have changed much in the past 50 years. Cows wander aimlessly down potholed, dirt track roads; sinister looking men sit in shop doorways by huge butchered slabs of dead buffalo; even more sinister looking men sidle up offering hashish; horns honk ENDLESSLY; and just when it’s getting a bit too much a glorious waft of sweet perfumed incense from a nearby shop makes it all better.

There are a LOT of temples. There are views only an hour’s drive away of the Himalayas that took the breath away even of a cynical old bastard like me. There are enterprising dealers who offer marijuana, then up it to opium and on one occasion trump the lot by touting “something”. Something? Seriously, you have “something” to sell? Alright then, I’ll take three bags…kathmandu durbar

Kathmandu is dirty, noisy and crowded, but for a few days away in February you could do a lot worse. There are great curries on tap, especially good if you’re a vegetable-arian, cheap beer, brilliantly friendly locals and, obviously, great hikes. The country’s still recovering from civil war and coping with a political system which is doing its best to run it into the ground, so do your bit and spend your Honky dollar there next CNY.

Chinese New Year: the most wonderful time of the year?

8 Feb

It’s almost Lunar New Year time. When the ceremonial bushes of tiny mandarin oranges are at their most resplendent and gaudy red lanterns even swing from the entrance to Maccie D’s. It’s time to bag up that glutinous rice filled nian gao and head home to the family – what can be a mammoth trek across continent for mainlanders, but just a few MTR stops for most Hong Kong-ites.

Yes, Chinese New Year is a time like no other for family, but then again, China is a place like no other for family. It’s all the fault of that bloody old man Confucius. His teachings put the household as the central unit of society, with the father as inviolable commander-in-chief come leader. Pretty much the sole aim in life for women is to get married and have kids, and of children in general to obey their parents in ALL they say. Oh and don’t even consider your money your own while your parents are alive.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I think Confucius was a pretty bright chap. And as a humanist thinker spouted a lot more sense generally than most of the religious claptrap forced upon the masses of Europe and beyond. The problem is that, for someone who died even before Cliff Richard had a number one hit (around 479BC), his teachings haven’t really been adequately modernised.

The Confusion ethics of the Chinese have led to some rather depressing outcomes for a 21st century society. It’s not uncommon for kids to pay their parents rent, buy them a house, or get them to live with them. Some even have a direct debit from their pay packet going straight into to Grandpa’s bank account, where it will no doubt be spent on Blue Girl premium imported beer, Happy Valley race track and buying offal.

For many girls, the Confucian undercurrent running through Chinese society means few have a lasting career – even in upwardly mobile Hong Kong – and as such make terribly unmotivated co-workers. Marriage is the goal, preferably under 30, so expect a lot of eligible but morally, spiritually (and sometimes physically) repellent men punching well above their weight with lovely brides. Oh, and online dating firms make a small fortune.

Now, I love my parents, and of course I’ll try and take care of them if they get too old to do it themselves. But I’d never want my kids to sacrifice their youth for me. Part of growing up is realising your parents are human, prone to the same mistakes as anyone else – it’s one of those defining moments that make us adults. To be too beholden to them and you risk creating a society of emotionally immature adults.

Alright. I’m not saying everyone over here is emotionally retarded, far from it.  Things are changing slowly and generationally. You could also say Western society has gone too far the other way, that we fail to appreciate our elders. To an extent that’s true – there is a disquieting trend of bundling them away in homes, trying to forget what will also happen to you in time. In summary then: help the aged, but don’t venerate them. Especially if you live in a society where they may well have only brought you into this world to top up their income after retirement.