For international readers, allow me to explain: I am an American but I have lived as an expat in China since 2004. My city of Chongqing is a megacity of 30 million people. Often abbreviated as CQ, and pronounced Chong Ching to rhyme with Wrong Ring, Chongqing is located in south-central China on the Yangtze River. I’ve come a long, long way from my small hometown located in (pause for effect) … south-central Missouri on the Little Dry Fork Creek. How long? How about 14 time zones-long? CQ is one of the world’s largest cities but I am on a quest for a simple life. I want to “simplify, simplify”, as Hank Thoreau beautifully stated it. Thus, even in the middle of a huge metropolis, I publish these observations and admonitions from my 18th Floor Homestead.
I am currently working on a new book, The Expat Life. It will deal with expat experiences, lifestyle, and mindset. Welcome to come along for the ride. If you find this invitation intriguing, become a subscriber to my free weekly newsletter at http:/theexpatlife.substack.com. Yes, it’s free and yes, it’s in the form of a weekly email sent directly to your Inbox. Substack also provides an opportunity to leave your comments if you wish. Welcome!
And now, back to Torgeir and Esteban’s Excellent Adventure. This week’s report was sent from Thailand where they went to thaw after practicing freezing on the mountains around Mt Everest. India and Thailand offer distinctly different cultures as well as a more reasonable climate.
Historical Trivia: Michael Palin says that the common pronunciation of Everest like in “every”, is not quite accurate since the peak was named after Sir George Everest, pronounced like in “even”, the Surveyor General in India in the 1850s.
Part 3, Nepal Reflections
Let me start by defending the title that Randy gave this: “World Tour”. Although I won’t be traveling the whole world this spring, the title serves a purpose. I think that this could be the start of a long-term project, so in the long run maybe I will visit all continents.
Also, I always ask people I meet (and myself): Why is the world important? Notice how strange this question is! Usually one would ask: “What is the most important thing in the world?”.
But I think that questio n has been asked often enough and for too long. Such questions force the respondent to choose one or only a few topics. There is enough division and disagreement. And because of the increasing power of the technology corporations (who don’t pay taxes proportionately), this division has increased rapidly the last few years. This is especially true because of the algorithms that select the more extreme statements or politicians that they either love or hate for people to view. Social media platforms are making us angrier. Why? Because angry people engage more and stay longer on the platform, and therefore are good business for social media investors.
This social (or antisocial) process is not a Western phenomenon only. It happens here (Asia), it happens in Latin America – and in Africa.
I’d rather find out what we can all rally around, what we can agree on. I want to find out what unites us. And that question and journey deserves the title World Tour.
That being said, this is not self-celebrating. I not claiming to do anything more important than normal hardworking people who stay home and concentrate on their family and friends. I want to have fun, not save the world. I am curious and like the cause and effect things of life. Like a Buddhist friend of mine said: I am a slow-thinker and prefer the life-experience stuff to the psychological. And I’m a trained journalist (old school). So, my perspective is not that of a naive tourist. I am not sitting on the beach with an umbrella drink.
No, this is far from a hedonistic project. I travel to neighborhoods in cities and environments that are not particularly welcoming. And to extremely contrasting places that most people don’t combine in one journey. I do not seek only harmony, although I can find harmony, including in extreme hardship and in the worst slums.
An example: In Kathmandu, I witnessed a lot of extreme poverty, especially along the Bishnumati, Bagmati, and Manohara rivers. Some of the English-speaking men there advised me to leave for my own safety. And the pollution was terrible. But even in these places, there are positive developments. Houses with several rooms and a roof – with electricity and access to water. Children were going to school. My observations are supported by scientific reports. Multigenerational poverty is declining in Nepal.
What about women’s safety? In the poor neighborhood where I stayed, I met twice the woman who took care of the apartment I rented. The second time I met her, I had to knock on her door – her whole family lived on the lower floor in an apartment smaller than mine – to ask her to store my luggage while I was traveling in the mountains. Inside I heard shouting and the aggressive voice of a man. This person opened the door and looked angry and drugged up. He was not surprised to see me, and far from humble. He just snorted and shouted at the woman. The floor in the one-room apartment was covered with several mattresses and sheets, at least six of them. The woman I had met two days earlier came hesitantly to the door. Her face was swollen and bruised on the right side. She took my suitcase, nodded, and closed the door.
The third time I met her was two weeks later, to pick up my suitcase. She was then alone. The bruises were still visible. I asked her as politely as I could, “What happened to your face?”. She did not answer.
My friend Esteban who stayed in the tourist section of the city did not experience anything similar. And no barking crazy dog kept him awake at night.
The crime rate is rising in Nepal. And many women are not safe even inside their own home. Only during the covid years was the crime declining. Murder, attempted murder, fraud, human trafficking, rape, attempted rape, kidnapping, drug smuggling, robbery, dealing in small arms, theft, cybercrime, and social crimes: Nepal has everything. That said, I was surprised to observe the total lack of police officers in the Himalayas. I was in villages where kids were playing in the rocky and muddy streets, 5000 meters above sea level! The remoteness of the villages I visited near Mount Everest makes the people there rely upon the clans to resolve disputes and enforce the values of Buddhism.
And tourists can leave their stuff in their rooms with doors open. No lockers needed. Nobody steals in a community where everybody relies on tourism to survive.
The Sherpa culture I got to know was also interesting. Every morning between 6.30 and 7.15 AM, Nawang Karsang Sherpa did his Buddhist ritual, including some loud instruments (a barrel drum and a bell). This made me wake up. He said his ritual was normal among sherpas. He talked about the communities in the mountains. Tens of villages united with handmade roads and the same culture. All with a common vision: Make the mountains a good place to stay for inhabitants and tourists.
Every hotel owner, sherpa, porter, road builder, and salesman of water, clothing, and climbing gear – the cleaning staff, the carpenters, the laundry workers, the helicopter pilots, and even the weed-smoking bankers: All of them worked like ants all day together in a unique social system.
“Mountain people are very different from the city people in Kathmandu!”, he said repeatedly.
He was crystal clear when I asked him my regular question the only morning together when we had no rush: Why is the world important?
“Because people have compassion!”. He explained: “Compassion makes discipline. Discipline makes people able to change their mind. That again makes them do positive things for the world.
What actions do you find positive? I asked.
“Like to plant a tree!”, Nawang responded fast.
I like his answer. In short, he said the world is important because of the humankind and our virtues – or the instinctive positive qualities that we possess. Compassion can result in a huge number of positive things. Like when I was standing in a metro station in New Delhi a week after I said goodbye to the sherpas, I probably looked lost to the locals who observed me. A young man stops and asks me, “Where are you going, Sir?”
I told him my destination. He then guided me through the tunnels, the escalators, and halls toward my platform, it took us several minutes to get there. “There, Sir!”. He smiled, quickly turned, and hurried on in his own direction. I am absolutely sure: Not for a moment did he expect any reward for guiding me. It was pure compassion. You might object that a white man in a white shirt gets a lot of attention in a place with few tourists (I was always the only one on the metros I used), or that such compassion and help in India are for cultural or historical reasons? Maybe so, but a lot of people would explain the opposite treatment with the same cultural and historical reasons.
In Part 4, I will tell more about my journey in India and Thailand.