Saturday, January 20, 2007

Second Home

Familiar place, familiar situation... I'm sitting in a cybercafe in Thamel, the tourist district of Kathmandu. It's almost 5pm and I'm struggling to stay awake in order to kill the jet lag in one day. Though I'll probably make it to 10pm tonight I know I'll wake up at 3am, as I did last night in my seedy Bangkok hotel: the world-famous Garden Queen Hotel Near Suvarnabhumi Airport (offical name).

Actually the Queen (as I'll now call it) wasn't bad but I'm pretty sure I was one of a very few guests. It sat on some frontage road near the airport and I could hear trucks roaring by through the night but that was rather soothing in a way.

I didn't mean to stay at the Queen. I had reservations at the Amari hotel, which is connected to the terminal by a footbridge--ultra convenient, but one small problem. The Amari is located at the Don Muang airport, the FORMER international airport of Thailand, nearly an hour away by cab. Thailand opened the new airport a couple months ago. Oh well. So I forewent those reservations and stayed at the Queen which was very inexpensive. So much so that I ordered myself a one-hour in-room massage (which had me feeling a little creepy for the first 15 minutes) that cost just seven dollars.

My row companion was Loc, a Vietnamese gentleman who lives in New York and works in the "fragrance industry." Who knew? He goes to Paris twice a month with new concoction to offer cosmetic companies. He was on his way to Saigon to see family. Best of all, Loc had the bladder of a camel, so he rarely moved from his seat during the 17 hour flight. Which, by the way, gets easier each time. It really did not seem like 17 hours this time, even though I saw four movies, read 200 pages and idled about the back of the plane, where the flight attendants asked if I was Tom Hanks son.

A quick word about the new Thai airport--it is simply unbelievable. It's the nicest and largest airport I've ever seen. The shopping area at the concourse hub is nicer than Saks Fifth Avenue and each store has roughly seven workers for every shopper. There's a sushi bar, massage spas, and all sorts of luxury items. It looks a lot like Charles de Gaulle in Paris (and, yes, I feel like a pretentious jerk using that as a comparison, but it's the best I can do) with all the glass panes and long connector beams.

On the flight from BKK to KTM you can see the Himalayas as you approach Nepal. I had a seat along that side of the plane with the best view. People started getting out of their seats and peering through the windows, pushing themselves into your space for a better look. It seems rude but I think people are just blown away by the vista. Anyhow, I got out of my seat and let people in to take pictures unobstructed. I wasn't even interested in looking... which leads to my point that this visit, so far, has none of the novelty of previous stays. In fact, this firmly feels like work, which it is, but I think also marks a turned corner. I love it here but I don't feel that giddy sense of new-ness that characterized our visit last year and the year before that. I feel like that's a good thing. Plus, so many of the experiences in Nepal are shared and since Jenny Rothchild isn't here, it's not as much fun (note to everyone but Jenny Rothchild: she will like that I wrote that).

I'm back at the Hotel Tibet and it appears to have some guests this time.

Tomorrow I have to run some errands. It's in the high 50s right now but most of the Nepalis are bundled like mid-winter in Minnesota. I've seen people wearing gloves and hats and winter coats. I like the relative cold here compared to visiting in the summer. It seems to keep the grime down.

This is the low point of the high season for tourists. It's a little cold to go trekking and too inclement for climbers, still I see a fair number of foreign faces walking through Thamel. I suspect by the time I leave, KTM will have a steady stream of tourists.

Speaking of which, the peace accord seems to be holding. The Maoists turned in the weapons last week and the Nepali army will follow suit this week. Let's hope this heralds better times ahead.

Those are all my notes for now. I'll talk to you all later. Thanks for the e-mails.

Love, CB


sbrennan said...

Glad to hear you've arrived and all is well. You are living on the edge by ordering an in-room massage in Thailand!

Julie Lundin said...

Hi Chris - sorry we missed your call from NY.
Glad to hear things are going well, so far. Can't wait to hear about the orphanage site. We're thinking about you and keeping you in our prayers...
Love, Tom, Julie, Madeline and Ev