Monthly Archives: June 2014

An orphanage in Kathmandu

In Kathmandu I spent two weeks as a volunteer in an orphanage called Helpless Colony. It was long my desire to spend some time as a volunteer and finally I decided to put it into action. I found the Helpless Colony orphanage via an American organisation which specialises in linking the potential volunteers with relevant organisations all over the world.

I organised the volunteering placement while being quite far from Nepal – via internet from Australia and Thailand. The American organisation (it’s called Global Crossroad) sent me the coordinates of the orphanage. Its Nepali affiliate was supposed to pick me up from the hotel and to deliver me to the orphanage. As this is Nepal, and everything moves here on “Nepali time”, on the actual day the man from the organisation did not come to pick me up until around noon, and only after a series of phone calls from my side. We waited for his driver for about half an hour (he came by a motorcycle); then it turned out the driver cannot find the hotel; so as if it’s most normal we put my huge 20kg bag on the motorcycle between the two of us and off we went between the puddles of Kathmandu’s streets. Finally we found the driver; I moved to the minivan; the minibus took me to a hostel that belongs to the Nepali organisation (which is called RCDP Nepal); after an hour’s wait me and some other volunteers boarded a minibus; the minibus first took them to their destination – about 1h drive; then we went back to Kathmandu and finally we got to my orphanage, having visited yet another one on the way. The absurdity of this process only became apparent to me later as I learnt that it takes 30 minutes to get to the orphanage by public minibus.

As I entered the house, Nanu, the manager of the orphanage, greeted me on the stairs with a bow and a respectful “Namaste” holding her hands together. We sat together in one of the children’s rooms and as the children came back from school, each would approach me and ask me where I’m from and say “Glad to meet you!” with infectious laughter. I would ask their names and ages.

The orphanage:

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The city of 30 million gods

Kathmandu is a magical place. A teeming mass of people, events and strange coincidences, it occupies an elliptical valley, sprawling in every direction like in a giant cauldron.

On this photo we look West from the Basantapur tower in Hanuman Dhoka palace. We can see how the waves of the Kathmandu ocean rush to the surrounding mountains, submerging in the process the hill to the right. On this hill stands the temple of Swayambhu, the main temple of the Nepali buddhism, its name meaning “the Self-Arisen one”. Legend tells us that in the times immemorial the valley of Kathmandu had been a lake (this is confirmed by geology) and a lotus grew in the lake. Boddhisattva Majushri saw it in a dream, found it and went on to drain the lake and to turn the lotus into a hill, on top of which Swayambhu was built.

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Philippine food

The Philippines is another country with a crazy kitchen. For quite a long time I’ve been curiously observing Philippine restaurants in various corners of the world with their menus,full of incomprehensibly exotic names. Finally I had a chance to explore them at the source.

This report follows a series of food reports that also includes Peruvian, Japanese, Chilean, Indonesian and even Hawaiian cuisines.

My stay in Manila was only 5 days long. This is entirely insufficient in order to try out all the wonders of Philippine cuisine. Even if you check out several new articles per day as I did. Whole series of enticing names remained undiscovered, such as crispy pata, grilled isaw, sinigang, kesong puto etc etc etc.

Let’s start from bibingka – a rice cake covered with cheese. The Filipinos eat constantly, 5-6 times a day, and in between they must take some snacks. Bibingka is exactly a kind of a light snack that allows them to bridge the interminable gap between for example fourth and fifth food intake of the day. I ordered bibingka as a starter. It has a rather subdued, nuanced taste, clearly exhibiting coconut milk and cheese.

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I had some reservations about visiting Manila, as I had heard a few rather unfavourable accounts about stays there. A friend for example shared a story about how the police arrested him just for standing in a dark alley and accused of buying drugs in order to extort a bribe. And yet contrary to Jakarta, Manila did not appear all that frightening, quite the opposite, I felt really comfortable there. The five days I’d spent there even seemed too little to fully appreciate the capital and for sure the Philippines overall. To be sure, you do get shocked by the poverty and the squalid conditions, and especially by the contrast between luxurious supermarkets and filthy streets where children sleep right on the ground. I started my tour of Manila from Intramuros, which is the old city ringed by the city walls built by the Spanish in the old colonial times.

The Southern gate of Intramuros. The walls are obviously quite impressive, practically stone-covered mountains.

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Paradoxical Brunei

The country of Brunei is a very strange place indeed. A spot on the island of Borneo surrounded from all sides by Malaysia and the sea, it was meant to become a part of Malaysian Federation back when the Brits were imagining their escape routes from here. At the eleventh hour the Sultan of Brunei pulled out of the Federation, appalled by the idea of lowering himself to be on the same level as the rest of the local Sultans – many of them coming from the younger branches of the same Brunei dynasty. This turned out a stroke of genius, when they found oil in Brunei – a lot of oil – a humongous quantity of oil. There was so much of it that in the eighties the Brunei Sultan became the richest man in the world. In the history of the world there probably isn’t a person who would have spent as much money personally as himself – billions of dollars for cars, women, parties and palaces. I was intrigued by this little speck lost in the vastness of Asia and so I decided to spend a couple of days there, especially as it was easy to include it in the itinerary that took me from Bangkok to the Philippines.

At first sight Brunei is the most Muslim of countries. In the plane heading there a strict voice declares that taking drugs to Brunei is punishable by death. The airport greets you with muezzin’s voice retranslated loud and proud. Forget alcohol in a restaurant. The centre of Bandar Seri Begawan (BSB) – the capital, which the British called simply Brunei City – is dominated by the huge Omar Ali Saifuddin mosque.

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