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    Posted January 15, 2014 by

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    Following is the opening to the diary I wrote during my recent trip to Nepal. The remainder can be read at http://dchamalian.wordpress.com/

    June 5, 2013
    Yet and I picked up Z and S @ Z’s place and stopped to grab A as a last-minute addition. Pretty easy ride to Al Sharjah airport….though there were those who thought us crazy for trying.
    ”You will get lost!”
    ”There’s no way you will make it!”
    ”There’s too much construction!”
    ”It’s too confusing!”
    This was one of our group trips with work meant to build team spirit and engagement……a great chance for me to see Nepal and add another notch on the “countries” section on my belt. No spouses or kids allowed…….
    ”What? Your wife will be driving home by herself? Impossible! Careful she doesn’t end up in Oman!”
    Nonsense, I thought, and was later proved correct.
    At the airport we really did nothing more than stand around and wait. Some had McDonald’s but I resisted to wait for the free plane food. Haven’t I become quite the tight-wad in my old age? Besides, I’m a once-in-five-years McDonald’s guy.
    At the duty free I bought a bottle of Cap Morgan’s dark rum (couldn’t find Cuban), while others bought beer and vodka. We swayed up and down the aisles exchanging naughty glances and smirks, each with his own juvenile visions of the dorm-room-style drinking parties, cigars and card games that awaited.
    I was the first to check-in @ the gate and getting excited about the trip and the land that awaited. Slowly my fellow colleagues trickled in behind me. There was a guy who was being detained by the police. The gossip was that Immigration was not allowing him to travel because he had sponsored a friend for a visa and the “friend” overstayed. Huge fines and confiscation of passports are among the punishments that are doled out for this offense, and they don’t take no shit when it comes to immigration in the UAE. Nice to see the government run a tight ship on such a critical issue. The US could learn a few things. I threw a silent and half-hearted “what a shame” the guy’s way, but no else’s stupidity was going to knock me off my game.
    We boarded the runway bus for the plane and boarded. Air Arabia is very straight forward: no frills with 3 seats on each side of the aisle. Right before takeoff Yet bbmed me that she was safe and sound at the Creek with Arch. The ride was a piece of cake, she said. So much for the nay-sayers who said she’d wind up in Oman.
    The free meal on board turned out to be a beef patty, bun and lettuce/tomato/pickle, all of which having come in separate containers. I had never seen anything so tacky in my life. But what else was I to do but play along and assemble my burger. After all, I had eschewed McDonald’s earlier with delusions of a satisfying meal–and what is more satisfying than free? A big bite now in my mouth I could not help but to realize how tasty it actually was, and by the time I finished the meal I was stunned that the food snob in me was actually impressed with the simplicity and efficiency of this culinary experience.
    Satiated, I slept almost immediately. I was awoken, annoyed, to a very animated card game being played in the heart of my personal space. Several people were huddled around the seat next to me, kneeling on the seats in front so that they could face our row. I was caught in a moment of total claustrophobia mixed with embarrassment, as ugly faces too close to mine blew waves of breath and laughter in my direction. I mean, a minute prior I was probably snoring, mouth-wide-open, with drool streaming down my chin and likely the brunt of a few gaffaws. Meantime A1 was cracking jokes and enjoying the center of attention, as he sat in the middle of the sweaty huddle. I guess I should have realized that though the North American in me considered this to be socially obnoxious and offensive behavior, many of my colleagues saw it as completely common. They do not have the same rigid rules of personal space as Americans do. They simply took a tremendous amount pleasure in the moment, likely with hardly a thought on how it impacted me. Call it a harmless clash of cultures.
    June 6, 2013
    Off the plane and pretty quick through passport control. Three guys…….yes, 3……..were tasked to prepare the visas upon arrival, a process that proved incredibly inefficient and time-consuming. I guess there’s high unemployment? The customs guys, on the other hand, could not have been more disinterested in me as I walked through timidly. Outside the airport, my first time in South Asia itself, the place smacked of seediness. Strange guys loitered about gawking at our faces and gaping at our luggage. The feeling was slightly more menacing than I ever experienced in nearby Southeast Asia. Our guide reminded us often that it was not the best place to turn our backs on our belongings.
    The bus we piled into smelled like a pack horse due to the heap of fresh-flower leis slumped over the front seat of the cabin. Eventually, as we rolled along the streets toward the hotel, the smell either dissipated or we just got used to it. There must have been bits of manure hidden among the flower petals, but amid the excitement of being in Nepal no one minded as we wore them.
    That ride, by the way, was rowdy and ebullient. Uncharacteristically I joked that the driver was driving on the wrong side of the road (they drive on the left in Nepal), and it got quite a laugh. Actually as a kid I used to be quite good in crowds and was quite a clown; however, in adulthood I lost that ability because my humor seemed to get lost on jaded ears. I can still be quite dynamic in small groups, however, if you don’t mind me saying so.
    At the hotel we had to wait awhile for the room keys to be dispersed. I popped open my Capn Morgan and splashed some in my pineapple welcome drink right there in the lobby. S and D joined me, their eyes popping with the excitement of my mischievousness. Up to my room for a quick regroup and ceremonial dive on the bed. The room was clean, amply supplied and basic, as I like it. Back down in the lobby I met up with J, F and D. We were ready to paint the town red and within earshot of the hotel we hit a local dance spot for some beers, rum and some delicious chicken tikka pieces. At 11:45 the police walked in with rifles and kicked us out, not just us but everyone. Must be a law or something, and in the haze of sweat and drunken breath, we were not going to argue. From there we grabbed a tiny cab and made our way through the pothole-riddled backroads toward whatever casino the driver could take us to. It was dark with no streetlights, piles of dirt and trash lined the curbsides, and dogs and cows cavorted, picking at the garbage. At the casino there were more dancers, a bit better than the prior place, and my eyes darted back and forth disinterestedly between them and my friends at the blackjack tables. Not a casino guy, I felt alone in my boredom and finally gave up the cause. I had the porter call for a taxi and when he came negotiated the fare for the ride back. He said 10 dollars, I said 5 and we settled on 7. He sped through the dark, empty, bumpy streets and I sat in silence pondering the excitement others were enjoying and I was missing. Back at the room I wanted to sleep but felt compelled to check out the pool first. My luck, the door was locked. Oh well. I trudged back to the room for a good night sleep.

    Please read the remainder at the following: http://dchamalian.wordpress.com/
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