06 Dec, 2012

felix's picture

In Pokhara, in the west of Nepal, there's a few blocks of tightly erected hostels for tourists. One one street corner there is a sign pole so heavily festooned with the dozens of hostel names that it sags under the weight.
Many of the names are from the sixties/seventies era when Nepal really opened to the West with the coming of the hippy. An overland Silk Road trail, up through India, to Delhi, north east to Gorakhpur on Nepal and India's border, a little border town that grew unrecognisably from my first visit in 1993 to my next in 2011.
So I was staying in the Dharma Inn, during the quiet season so the hotel was pretty much ours - one room held four young British backpackers, and on the top floor next to us was Serge.
Serge was a cheesemaker from Provincial France. Like so many in Nepal, there was something vague that he had run from back home. He was not a fan of Nepal - the opposite of myself, he thought India the gem and Nepal a place to go to recharge visas and cash. He was trying to get a motorbike on the road - a fellow countryman was promising him a cheap bike deal that never seemed to eventuate during our stay.
He was critical of the Nepalis lack of motivation and business acumen. Almost the same things that attracted me to them. When a meal would be delivered to his room he would point to it, as if this meal proved everything that was wrong with Nepal -
"See! They give me a thousand rupees worth of rice, and only charged me eight hundred! They do not know how to run a business!"
The meals were huge, granted. 'Nepali Dhali' it was called, a bowl of rice, a scoop of pickled veges, some curd, some crispy bread. Energy to climb Mt Everest.
Serge had a little ghetto blaster that played the same mournful instrumentals each morning. The first time I met him, he popped out a glass eye and rapped it with a fingernail.This was a pretty standard introduction for him.
We never discussed it directly, but he had an unspecified injury, and I had him painted as an opiate refugee. Possibly addicted to something like Oxycontin back home, he had realised that he could ive better on a pension in Asia than back home, paying most of his pension for a street pack of Oxys.
I did enjoy being able to walk up to any street chemist and ask for a deck of 10mg Valium - ten for about a dollar and forty cents. Shades of 60s Burroughs with his two dollar packets.
Time passed. Serge's motorbike deal fell through eventually. When he picked it up, he took it to register and found he had been scammed - a bike that has been off the road for four years owes four years worth of road taxes, apparently, a sum worth more than the bike.
Whether it was his homeland compatriot who perpetrated the con, or perhaps a Nepali who'd recently evolved more business skills than Serge gave them credit for, I don't know.
Serge was last seen talking about trying to teach the Nepalese to make ice cream. Cheese was hopeless, as it required too many variables - clean equipment, perfect temperatures etc. No hope of explaining these concepts to the Nepali.
So somewhere, rallying between southern India and Pokhara's visa haven, Serge is still there this morning, probably rapping his fingernail against his eye to shock another backpacker, despairing of bringing any kind of dairy culture to the subcontinent.


sayarsan's picture

The account of Serge brings to mind a character who lived at the guest house where i stayed for a time in ChiengMai. A European, Alex said he was Danish and he was tall lean and blond in a Danish way i suppose but primarily he was a junkie and was living in the most appropriate place in the world for someone so disposed. Upstairs where we ate meals, smoked dope, and mingled he was the dapper, almost aristrocratic gentleman, the experienced hand who often patronised the locals and despite being there for years i think he had gotten no closer to the source of junk. He had a couple of acquaintances from the U.S. who came to visit and he set up some deal or other and got his cut but i wonder what for as he provided nothing that one couldn't do alone with minimal fuss and risk. At one point a young yank (the son or nephew of one of his hardened friends) came to see him who wanted to score for hemp fabric. He took the hapless fool up to DoiPui where there is a market aimed at tourists from inside or outside Thailand selling gems, souvenirs, and although there were no stalls plenty of drugs were available. They proudly showed me the fabric they had bought and i committed the faux pas of pointing out they had been had. Anyone familiar with hemp fabric recognises it as generally superior to the others but this was more reminiscent of Manilla Hemp which i am sure it was, something coarse like sack cloth or jute which neither of them wanted to hear. Clearly i was too inexperienced to really know and too uncool to ever know better and the runny opium/vegetable oil i had scored for in the same place via the same contact Alex had for the cloth was a poor consolation. Next time when i was accommodated in more illustrious circumstances at MaeHongSon i heard of him so he had gotten closer to the source of his junk but he was deported after some years in prison. It seems he learned to speak some Thai so his next foray may have been as an English teacher which is quite a come down in my opinion. The only things we have to offer it seems are the tools to make money easily from those who have a surplus which is the only need a Thai has for English, German, French or the rest. Propogating these instruments of imperialism provides a secure income for dysfunctional westerners who seek little more than relief from the financial burden a habit imposes and rates very poorly whereas making ice cream in Nepal shows some original thought even if it goes nowhere, ice-cream is for the tourists after all.
I often wonder how many people are living in some Asian country, say Taiwan even where a secure job spreading a forked tongue can set you up as a commentator about any country nearby. You can spend a few days taking the air and talking in broken english, even record some stuff then have it packaged by someone desperate to appear alternative. The last thing a junkie will do is risk losing his/her connection so nothing can upset your host but there are plenty of platitudes and boundless colour that make risk taking unnecessary and who back home is that interested, they are probably expecting some fantasy anyway. It kind of sums up colonialism in a nutshell but without the guns which now belong to the host. Nothing demanding, no standard to maintain, and all needs catered for are irresistible even to the radical with nothing better to do and the pretence can continue unabated as long as their is junk, a commercial need for the language, a disparity between rich and poor, and an unwillingness to sort fact from fiction.