The Festival of Reminiscence

“What does a rhombus look like?” the teacher asked.

“A Kite!” the students replied unanimously.

A rhombus in our heads was always represented by a kite. And a kite, was and will always be about Dashain, one of the most important festivals of Nepal and Hindu devotees around the world.

Lately, I have been trying to remember what is it about this festival that I absolutely adored as a kid.

Perhaps it was the month long holiday (which is now only being cut shorter and shorter as we step into adulthood!), or perhaps about the cramped shopping with my mother and aunts. May be it was about meeting my cousins after a long summer at school, flaunting our new dresses and making plans weeks before on what we would do the day we finally met. May be it was the kite flying tradition at the last moment that we always lost, because some other neighbor always had sharper and stronger thread. Or perhaps it was the amusing game of cards that the adults played as we counted the number of years when we would be able to join along.

We learnt about cards in probability or probability in cards. Whatever it was, it was certainly worth the wait.

A big part of the festival was always about my cousins. Some of us have moved abroad, some of us in the city are studying and busy chasing our respective lives, others- the younger ones, the new generation is growing up and living the times we once lived. Some of us have joined the cards table, borrowing a couple of hundreds from our parents to marvel at the game while it lasts. The younger ones are demanding kite traditions and traditional clothes, moving their tiny heads away from their iPads and tablets.

It was simple. And it still is.

As I watch from the observer’s seat, the child like excitement may have faded away, but a new set of perspectives are on the rise. For each year, it means a different thing. For each set of transitionary period, it represents a new angle of life.

It is about the buzz in the town, the shades of new color that paints the city for a short while, the conversations in the table, an anticipated break from the routine that we are accustomed to, the new set of photographs in social media. Behold the time has come and gone in a flash, what have you seen? What you have seen is all that counts.

Wishing everyone celebrating a prosperous, lively and meaningful Vijaya Dashami. May this festival bring you closer to what you’ve been looking for.

Best Wishes,

Alfa

The Backpackers Journey to Shanghai

 

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Night View of The Bund

When plans were made to visit China, I knew I just had to be there-Shanghai, the country’s financial capital. Shanghai in Mandarin is made up of two characters, ‘Shang’ which means above, and ‘Hai’ which means sea. So, Shanghai literally means above the sea. Located by the Yangtze River Delta in East China, there’s something so magnetic about this city, that even just the name generates images of tall skyscrapers, flashy lights and an extravagant lifestyle. Accompanied along with three Nepali friends and two Korean friends, our bags packed behind, I headed out to explore this mesmerizing city.

The mid of June was a bit damp and cloudy with slight rains now and then, which kept us from getting toasted in the sun. Our first stop was Madame Tussauds. The life size wax statues of our favorite starts from the famous Jackie Chan, to popstar Lady Gaga, US president Barack Obama, X-men and many others were mind-bogglingly real. After spending hours snapping photos and selfies with the wax stars, our next destination was the Bunds.

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Guess who?

It is amazing how Shanghai proves to be a cultural melting point. This city, which stands today as a symbol of financial power and human development, was once under the rule of the British, French and even the United States. Once an old ship port, the architectures of yesterday still stands tall as orators of the past. With the Huangpu River dividing the Pudong skyline, home to some of the tallest skyscrapers on earth, and the neo classical European architectures behind, just sauntering beside the bunds was relaxing. The Bund, a one kilometer waterfront filled with European neo classical architecture is today the home to some of the most exotic restaurants, hotels, topnotch banks, financial companies and more.

As dawn fell to dusk, the night view of this place got even better. It is equally surprising and interesting to know that there are economy hotels and student dormitories here just a few meters down the Bund. While the first class dined in the exotic hotels, we were lucky to find cheap and good food while walking past the alleys. Food was art and the taste just perfect as I ate one of my favorite ‘Ma La Tang’ (hot spicy soup).

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The first time I sat on a roof top bus

Day two, we climbed unto an open roof bus, and as the air rustled past by we got a rooftop tour of Shanghai, the Bund again, the People’s Square, the old markets and the French Concession. We stopped by at the Shanghai Museum for a quick view of Shanghai’s history and rich art. Our next stop was the Pudong district, home to the skyscraper world that made your neck bend and your eyes roll to reach the sight of the top. We got up the 468m tall Oriental Pearl Tower for a vantage view of the city. We could look straight at some of the tallest manmade structures on earth, everything else on ground seemed like ants. Under completion was the world’s second tallest skyscraper, Shanghai Tower..  The part of the Oriental Pearl tower with transparent floors was breathtaking. I could see straight through the glass the ground beneath. It gave me a few chills every now and then.

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Shanghai as seen from the Oriental Pearl Tower

Oriental Pearl tower also had an extended Museum which portrayed Shanghai’s detailed history from the earlier times of the village like lifestyle to the arrival of the European forces, the city’s rich culture and transformation over time through wax statues, miniature houses, and lightening effects.

The night view of the Pudong district from the open rooftop bus was spectacular. When all of the lights were up, the city looked stunning, like a single piece of jewel. And I must say the transportation of this city was systematic and well arranged, that even foreigners like us who could only speak basic Mandarin could find our way.

To know Shanghai intricately like its history is to spend a long span of time, which I couldn’t. I do hope that someday I get to visit this futuristic city again, and uncover more magnificent details.

Pictures are from my visit in 2014.


Also published in The Himalayan Times Travel and Lifestyle on 4th December 2014. 

 

Lost in Translation 

Not all grievances can be cried for,

Not all matters of the heart can be narrated about;

There are things only one can understand,

Some words so spoken that only one may hear. 

It is truly said that it is poetry that gets lost in translation.

While going through a set of articles I stumbled over a beautiful piece, the article that contained the passage above (in Mandarin of course). I found it to be very beautifully crafted, and thus my mind went into the translation game so that I could make my friends and family comprehend the feelings and emotions ingrained in the passage.

If you find any inconsistencies in the translation of the passage above, do help me notify.

Málà xiāng guō: Chinese Bridge #Journal 1

#ChinaDiaries

Sichuan, in Southern China has a culinary delicacy named ‘Málà xiāng guō’, which is a hot and spicy pot dish that has a combination of vegetables, meat, fish, that you pick from the counter. I most often like to have a fish flavored toufu, spinach, mushroom, spongy toufu (I call it so because it actually feels like a sponge) and others. Even after mixing so many veggies and edibles into one big bowl, the Málà xiāng guō has a unique taste. When one might doubt the taste resulting from the combination of all these, the Málà xiāng guō tastes just perfect – with a different taste for each of the items and an overall different taste when viwed as a single dish.

………

This was not the first time I was leaving for China. But this time there was something else on the cards. I was participating in the 14th Chinese Bridge Chinese Language Proficiency Competition for College students. To start with, I had no idea I would make it to the global finals, up front with students from so many colleges. I had little hope of making through the national selections, particularly because I had only recently recovered from pharyngitis and a very bad sore throat when the selections happened in April. It was both a surprise and a delight when I won a place at the global finals.

Chinese Bridge is the global event conducted by Confucius Institute Headquarters (Hanban) every year where Chinese language enthusiasts from around the globe compete to become the Hànyǔ míngxīng (Chinese Language Star).

………

When the plane landed in Kunming it was already past the scheduled time. I got out of the plane as if on a race of the lifetime to catch the transit plane. Out of 1 hour 30 minutes of the transit time, I had already spent 45 minutes flying on the plane due to delayed landing. I was panting and doing some worst case scenario and best case scenario case study in my mind (seems my business major can also help control anxiety). Phew! I somehow managed to get on the plane only to be informed that the flight was one hour delayed. Heavens!

After spending a year in China studying Chinese, I am often eager to converse with the Chinese people using Chinese. Almost after a few lines of conversation with the person to my right, I overheard conversations in the front of my seat. I usually wouldn’t have bothered, but I heard her say ‘Changsha’ and mention some competition for foreigners. I couldn’t stop but tap her on the shoulder and ask if she was going to participate in the Chinese Bridge. Nv Ying was to become my roommate in Beijing.

………

Beijing always seems like a dream. Traffic jam at 2 AM. Yeah! But the Chinese Bridge seemed like a bigger dream this time. With 133 participants from 97 countries, it was a Málà xiāng guō experience, the only difference being people instead of food. Every another moment you would meet people from a different country. I bet the best geography knowledge would not have been enough! There was only so much more to discover.

Each one with their own flavors, their own stories and yet when put together the whole seemed a lot different than the single part. The amalgamation of all these cultures was a sight to see. Each one of us novel to one another, we were at the midst of discovering new cultures, new friends and fresh memories. Perhaps, apart from the enthusiasm for studying Chinese, the second common thing that time was – jet lag!

Chinese Bridge as a program is broadcasted by Hunan Satellite TV (湖南卫视:Húnán wèishì). Chinese Bridge on TV beings on 27th July 2015, you certainly shouldn’t miss it!

For more about the Chinese Bridge check the official website for Chinese Bridge.