Uneven load shedding

This appeared today in the letters ot the editor section of the Kathmandu Post.

No load shedding

We understand that the demand for electricity exceeds the supply and that the NEA has to resort to load shedding [the enforced shutting down of sections of the power grid to share out limited electricity supply]. The hours of darkness are getting longer. However, one wonders why some places never have load shedding even when the whole city is without electricity. A huge area near our house in Lazimpat never has load shedding. This is not fair! If it were a public facility like a hospital, we would understand. But it’s just another private house. Why this discrimination?

Rajendra Khadga

Well, I am embarrassed to admit that I am one of those living in an area with 24/7 power supply. I am no wiser than Rajendra as to the reason, although there was talk of one of the houses nearby once being inhabited by a VIP. Of course it is as unfair as it is wonderful for me. Load shedding is a great hinderance to the citizens of the city. Moving along unlit streets is plain dangerous. Trying to study or read by candle light is no easy task. The prominant industrialist Binod Chaudary noted this as one of the concerns of the business community while this government is apparently aiming for double digit economic growth.

While I could turn the power off at the appointed times, I don’t think I will. I will promise however to limit myself to one light at a time and power to the internet connection and laptop until this area joins the rest of suffering citizens.

Saying this, there is a lot of work to be done here in terms of energy efficiency. More about this another time – when I have done something about it.

A small act of censorship at a Human Rights photography exhibition

The piece of card was about just 8cm by 6cm crudely stuck down with tape but big enough to make quite a mess of the UDHR60 photographic exhibition being hosted by the Russian Cultural Centre (RCC) in Kathmandu, Nepal.

On December 10th the world will celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Declaration of Human Rights. As this declaration was signed in Paris in 1948, the Alliance Française took the lead in developing a week long program of film and documentary screenings. The screenings were supported by a photographic exhibition created by the renowned VII Network, a photographic agency which comprises some of the worlds best contemporary photo journalists.

To quote the VII website:

“A total of 30 photos were chosen that best represent the 30 articles, or principles, contained in the Declaration of Human Rights. The images come from the VII and VII Network photographers – photographers who risk their lives on an almost daily basis to bear witness to the world’s injustices and to document human rights abuses. That fight will continue.”

And the photographs are as tragic as they are excellent. Disappointingly, in complete contradiction to the spirit of the event and the content of declaration itself, the RCC, using this small piece of card and tape, carried out an act censorship.

The photo in question was taken in 2000 by Eric Bouvet to represent Article 9: “No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile.” The picture was captioned (in French) with: “A young Chechen female is imprisoned in the Russian Chernokozovo detention centre in the suburbs of Grozny, Chechnya in 2000.” Presumably feeling that this might show Russia in a bad light, the caption was censored by covering it up.

Article 19 says: “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.” Hopefully this too should apply to Eric Bouvet?

According to a source at the Alliance Française, it was indeed felt by the Russian Cultural Centre that this picture might single out Russia negatively and that “there are no pictures of Guantanamo bay” for instance. Alliance Française offered to remove the picture completely from the exhibition but this was rejected in favour of covering up the caption.

On Friday at 2pm the picture was removed completely. At 4pm, as the exhibition was being packed away, it had been returned with caption intact.

Dr Vladimir Novikov the Russian Cultural Centre’s amiable director said it was “a question of balance.” He would have been happier if only one picture had been used per country and in the exhibition, Chechnya was featured twice. According to him it was the Alliance Française who covered the caption. According to Alliance Française, it was the RCS that requested that to be done (though this is not about appointing blame).

Many countries are depicted in the exhibition and a few are shown in a bad light, namely: Burma, Brazil, China, USA on tour in Iraq (3 pictures) and also this country, Nepal (a picture of a 15 year old crying as her wedding procession leads her to her new husband’s home in Kagati Village).

The argument that the picture singles out Russia is a poor one. But still it is completely missing the point.

There are few countries in the world with a clean human rights record. The object of the exhibition is not about specific finger pointing. It is to remind us that we, the ‘human family’ as the French government aniversary website describes us, have a long way to go, that we need to re-read and keep these declarations in mind at all times and, most importantly, that we need to challenge contraventions, however small, wherever we find them.

The irony is that the presence of this captioned photograph in the exhibition didn’t reflect any more badly on Russia than the many other countries depicted or we the ‘human family’ in general. The fact that the RCC engaged in this small act of censorship, at such an exhibition, really does.


Impossible, nay improbable head-on colision.

At approaching midnight the roads of Kathmandu are dark and quiet. The quietness is good: less dust, less choking fumes from ancient engines, and none of the just-bearable decibels from impatient motorcyclist’s horns. The darkness is bad: potholes become invisible and, occasionally, wandering people appear out of nowhere.

I am still trying to comprehend how the accident happened last night. The road along Ratna park in the heart of Kathmandu is as wide as a racing track, four lanes wide, although the concept of organised lanes doesn’t apply here. And like a racing track, the road is one way. Out of the blackness and into the weak beam of my headlight came another cyclist, head on, moving. At 30km/hr, the time between seeing him and collision was less than a short swear word in length.

As a few passing pedestrians formed a crowd around us – us, the two participants in this unlikely stupidity – we sat on the ground trying to understand what had just happened.

The prevailing opinion was that it was my fault as I had a light (so should have seen him coming) and was travelling too fast. This perhaps gave me an insight into the Nepalese view on fault attribution in traffic mishaps (the word the English language press choose for ‘accidents’). I was not happy and delivered my tirade to the uncomprehending audience.

“Sir, you maybe give him 1000 Rupees.” “Sir, you take to hospital.”

“Well, does he have insurance?”

Of course not. I explained once again that this stupid idiot was riding unlit, in dark clothing, the wrong way down a one way street, more or less in the middle of the road, saw me from a distance and still hit me. And now you want me to take him to hospital and pay for treatment?

I was ready to leave the scene, to go home and clean up my bleeding hand. But then if his wrist was broken, as he seemed to be indicating, the boy sitting on the ground would be in deep trouble.

We got up, straightened handlebars and drifted towards Bir hospital, coincidentally less than 200m away.

While it had a similar strained and exhausted atmosphere of other accident and emergency departments I have visited late at night, it differed in that it looked threadbare, sorrowful and dirty. We sat on a bench and waited. A cleaner came by and we lifted our feet so that she could mop the blood stains from the floor. I asked what work he did. He worked as a cook in a place I didn’t know.

“Do you have a ticket sir?” Before being treated it was necessary to be registered and so I was directed outside to the window where name and age were recorded in a computer and 10 Rp charged. Then back inside I was asked to repeat the process as I was not the patient of course. A young doctor in jeans and a hooded top, with a stethoscope around his neck to confirm that he was a doctor, looked at the boys wrist. An x-ray would be required to check, though he was sure it was not broken.

We followed the green arrows to the x-ray room. We were seen immediately by a friendly (in a lukewarm way) radiographer. While the hand was x-rayed, I was directed to the pay the 300 Rp that it would cost. Along the way, I passed a person on a bed in the corridor who was either sleeping deeply, or dead. A blanket covered the face so it was hard to tell.

I returned to the x-ray room to see that the boy was having his head x-rayed for good measure (the collision was not strictly head on as his forehead hit my now swelling shoulder). Would be interesting to have a CAT scan too see if there was a brain in there.

We waited again on the bench with the clean floor underneath our feet and the boy fell asleep. I witnessed a thin and frail man on the bed in front of me having his genital region exposed and examined. Three policemen walked in and out again with a handcuffed pair of drunken youths.

After 15 minutes we returned to pick up the still-wet x-rays. Behind the counter most of the doctors were sitting huddled around an electric heater. I asked one doctor, probably rather abruptly, to please dry an x-ray for me. “Dry it yourself sir,” came the reply. I can understand that it must have been difficult and frustrating for the doctors to do this work in such conditions and I could hear this in her voice.

Now it was over and we could return home. The hooded doctor gave the all clear, prescribing only strong pain killers for the wrist. Forty minutes in all, which was very speedy in comparison to the war zone of any English A&E department on a Saturday night.

We shook our uninjured hands and parted. I continued back along the road where we’d collided and reflected: tomorrow it would be perhaps a little funny and that it could, of course, have been much worse.

Bottle collectors revisited

I passed by the home of the seemingly happy bunch of plastic and cardboard collecting kids who roam the Thamel area looking for the waste they can turn into money.
Still we can’t really communicate too much with the 20 or 30 words of each others language that we know. So not much to say, other than that the eldest guy’s Nokia camera-phone / MP3 player was pretty amazing.

Transcendental Meditation practice in Kathmandu

Today I tried a Transcendental Meditation (TM) course in Kathmandu. It is a course in 4 parts followed up closely with a lifetime of twice a day practice. TM and Mr Maharishi Mahesh Yogi got a large boost of publicity in the 60s when the Beatles came to visit.

According to the TM organisation’s website the technique is a simple as falling off a log, yet you can’t learn it from a book, tape, video etc. To learn it you have to pay money. No open source approach here.

The first step was an introduction about what TM is. There was quite a lot of theorising about how TM is scientific in its nature. Well reaching a physiologically calmer state during meditation seems to have been proven, but I am not so sure about the link between that meditative state and the Unified Theory of quantum physics for instance.

One thing that appealed to me was the idea that as the body naturally tends towards healing itself, the mind tends naturally towards happiness – all you have to do is let it. A nice thought. The result of calming the thoughts in the mind, should be bliss (a fantastic word) which – I get confused here – is the point where the noise of conscious thoughts stop and pure ego-free awareness is experienced… something like that – sure there must be something on Wikipedia about it.

So the technique is really just sitting comfortably and using a mantra to focus the mind on as little as possible for 20 minutes. When distractions come, slowly repeating the mantra allow you to put those thoughts and distractions to one side.

Right now I should be doing my first mediation practice but I am writing this, don’t have a cushion, am hungry, need to do any number of other things. 20 minutes is a lot of time.

But I will do it. In summary, I think if you take 40 minutes out of your waking hours to sit quietly, relax, breath gently, think of nothing and occasionally feel blissfulness, that can only be a good thing. The question is will I be able to notice benefits – what, how and when? And will the seemingly excessive cash outlay be worth it?

The Dust

Kathmandu is very dusty. Everything in Kathmandu is dusty (apart from the landlord’s car outside which is being lovingly polished by one of his staff – and lovingly in the sense of keeping his job intact) . It makes walking along roads, combined with bus exhaust fumes, unpleasant. Many people wear face masks like Japanese Tourists are known to do.

In the morning and through the day you’ll see shop keepers with dusters like candyfloss on a stick de-dusting all visible surfaces, beating rugs with sticks and splashing water on the road outside their frontages to keep the dust down on the ground.

And therein lies the problem. The ground is dusty. But it only occurred to me yesterday what the (a) solution would be. And that is to put asphalt or grass over everything. All the potholes would have to be filled, all the side streets covered, all open ground turned into lush bowling greens. Or stop all traffic. Neither are going to happen so its better to enjoy the dust and look forward to blowing your nose in to tissue paper or stepping into the shower at the end of the day or diving into a crystal clear swimming pool at an upmarket hotel.

karate tubes demonstration

karate tubes demonstration, originally uploaded by rpb1001.

If you have ever wondered what to do with old fluorecent strip lights, here is an option: donate to the Vashanavi karate club for one of their demonstration days.

I was invited, as a guest of honour it turned out, by Sunil, who I met a couple of weeks ago on the Nuwari marathon puja day which I will write about and backdate. The demonstration began at 8am and I turned up smelling very slightly of old Everest beer.

He is a karate teacher and runs the class that some of these students choose to take. They pay his travel and wages and by the look of things it is all run on a thin shoestring judging by the ragtag collection of outfits (and lack of) which cost around 6 euro each new.

Anyway, the results were pretty impressive given the circumstances. There were more girls than boys, 2 blackbelts and a definate can-do attitude. I has a front row seat, as a guest of honour and witnessed full body contact sparing between a couple of 11 year olds, smashing of roof tiles, the above destruction of old tubes and a motorbike ridden by a cool ‘master’ across the stomach of an unusually large student.

Afterwards we had tea and biscuits. Very civilised.

Morning walking

Morning walking, originally uploaded by rpb1001.

I woke up at 5.30 am with a dry mouth, needy kidnies and no source of drinking water for an hour or more. I looked out of the window from my bed (in via via hostel) and watch the morning activity. People walking places, the occasional card or motorbike and the local baker steaming something making occasional hissing noises. All still quite quiet, dark and cold outside. Then two men with a red and green flag started to divert traffic from the main road, down a side road. It looked like something was going to happen, perhaps a political rally, I didn’t know. But then came streams of people. A parellel centipede of people in their thousands mostly wearing traditional dress.

Got up and took some pictures although it was too dark even to focus. Then a car came, stopped and lit the scene with its headlights.

So you can see the line of Nuwari women in traditional dress. They are carrying large brass teapots filled with rice, sweets, biscuits to offer at temples.

Gulf air economy class Bahrain to Kathmandu

Odd to say but it was good entertainment to watch people going to the toilet from my near ring side seat (see the one empty pleace i the second row).

The toilet doors on this 7something7 were fold in two, hinged in the middle to save space, I guess like on most planes but I have never really noticed or remembered. Most of the people on the flight were ‘guest workers’ in Middle Eastern countries. The guy next to me drove trucks in Oman; the guy further to the right was an ex-gurkha and worked for UPS in Baghdad airport. All going home to see family and take a break from their unenviable jobs. Midly astounding was the guy in row 5 who wore his pink woolly hat for the duration of the flight.

But the toilets proved hard to get into. People twisted the lock of the cupboard next to the toilet containing the earphones and blankets, tugged on the long-unused aisle ashtray
, placed their fingers gently on the vacant sign and pushed on the left side of the door (logically like you would any door) all to no avail. There was a small letterbox like insert in the door for pulling it closed fromt he outside. One man, having tried the above, flattened his hand carefully and inserted it, as if it might read his fingerprints. All to no avail.

Without exception the confused toilet-goer wuold break into a sheepish smile and turn to the audience for help, which would be duely given with some laughter (laughing with, not at). And all these smiles reminded me of the place I was going to.