@MusingMutley: Nepal — First impressions, natty adventures, and cultural faux pas
"You're like a white person trapped in an Asian man's body," says Vanessa Caitlin, our photo editor, with a wry laugh. "An unadventurous white person, that is."
Okay, first: I had diarrohea. Everything from hummus to a cup of black tea was literally flowing right through me — top to bottom, if you know what I mean — and pouring out like a waterfall. IKR. TMI. Sorry I'm not sorry. Let me just say: That TLC song, Waterfalls, will never mean the same thing again. (Did I just ruin it for you too?)
And, second: My food poisoning was actually from being adventurous in the first place. I had visited a local 'hole in the wall' (literally) to sample 'Barra' — a pattie made from a combination of rice flour, egg and minced meat — cooked over a hot plate perched precariously over a coal fire. Positioned merely inches from the dusty clay floor. Next to food scraps. Prepared with ungloved hands. Okay, in restrospect, I was really just asking for it.
So picture this: Inbetween styling shots of local Nepali model, Aastha Pokharel (from Asia's Next Top Model fame, and a Prabal Gurung fave), I had to dash to a nearby toilet and let it rip. The poor fashion team — photographer, Ivanho Harlim; hair stylist, Shysilia Novita; makeup artist, Larry Yeo; fashion editor, Dora Aljoofri; and fashion assistant, Andrea Sim — had to endure fart bombs the rest of the day. You know, those sneaky, leaky ones that don't make a sound, and then hit you like a cloud of death. I couldn't control them. My bowels just had a mind of their own.
Luckily, we had a beautiful Nepal to distract us. Relatively uncommercialised — no Starbucks or Maccas in sight, thank the Lord — Patan Durbar Square (a UNESCO World Heritage site), and its labyrinth of meandering cobbled streets, served as the backdrop for our fashion and beauty shoot (stay tuned peeps, both spreads will drop mid-June as part of our #BuroInNepal and #BuroGivesBack project) and drew us in with its old world charm and beauty.
From a quaint sweet shop offering a sumptuous array of local treats (which was totally packed on the day of our shoot, since it coincided with Mother's Day here in Nepal) to finding brightly-coloured balloons incongruously left leaning against a tattered brick wall on a rainy afternoon, there was a bit of magic hidden down every laneway. Sure, we all stood out like Lena Dunham at a Victoria's Secret runway show (P.S. I totally respect Dunham, so hold back on the shade), but just like Dunham, we dismissed the stares and had a riotous good time anyway. Sporting vintage denim and short shorts, no less.
Which brings me to the time I tried to take a cool #ootd by standing on, what I assumed, was an artful clutter of mismatched stones in the Patan Museum. Turns out: Said assembly of stones was in fact, wait for it... a Nepali god. Oh my gawd. Yes, it's true. I apologised emphatically. Made for the door. And was subsequently lambasted by our beauty editor, Renée Batchelor — whom I lovingly call, 'The Batch' — with a death stare accompanied with a deadpan: "Norman, why am I not surprised? Trust you to commit a cultural faux pas on your first day in Nepal." Boom. That there, my friends, is a 'Batchelor Bomb'. Don't let her angel face fool you.
This is why, I've kinda retreated to my comfort zone: Otherwise known as Café Swotha. Here, in the comfort of chic interiors, all-day breakfasts, and reliable wifi, I can cause the least amount of harm and offense. Also, it's literally across the road from my boutique hotel in Cozy Nepal (totally recommended, and opt for Yatachhen House which is also just a stone's throw from Patan Durbar Square). The Masala tea is here delish, service is on point, and they won't shoo you away even after a whole day of sapping their internet to write this story. Guilty.
But the highlight of my trip so far? Hands down, no questions asked, totally legit, the day we spent with the underprivileged kids housed by Nepali NGO, Children and Youth First (CYF). Buro 24/7 Singapore has partnered up with CYF, and founder Haushala Thapa, to set up an IT classroom for the kids in their new school; currently been built in the outskirts of Kathmandu.
These children have started life on the back foot, but their genuine warmth, openness and kindness totally blew us away. Culture editor, Adibah Isa, left with more than a few tears. And it wasn't just because we had to hike up a nearby mountain (so, we call it a 'mountain', but locals call it a 'hill' — this is the home of Everest, after all) in order to hold an Internet workshop, and to present the kids with Dell laptops, Solar Suns and Paper Bunny Notebooks.
Massive props to Thai Airways for flying the Buro 24/7 Singapore team to Kathmandu (always smooth as silk), and much love to Leica for sponsoring this meaningful project. And, I suppose, I better thank 'The Batch' as well as lifestyle editor, Denise Kok, for preparing the presentation slides for the workshop. But for taking the car on the way back down the mountain? Bad form Denise, bad form.
Stay tuned guys. The Buro 24/7 Singapore team is in Nepal till 13 May. Coming up next? A half-day hike, a Nepali wedding, and canyoning. Yes, we are abseiling down cliffs and jumping off waterfalls. Don't go chasing waterfalls, please stick to the rivers and the lakes that you're used to... Nope. That song is forever ruined in my mind.
To read about our #BuroGivesBack project in Nepal, click here.
BURO IN NEPAL
Special thanks to Leica Camera Asia Pacific for supporting the #BuroGivesBack project.
Thai Airways flys from Singapore to Kathmandu daily. To book your flight with Thai Airways, click here.
Check back every Monday for another @MusingMutley column from Norman Tan, Editor-in-Chief of Buro 24/7 Singapore. For more columns from @MusingMutley, click here.
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- Image: Instagram: @musingmutley
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