China and The Spinach Conspiracy

Monday 17th March 2008

Hello all,
(I should point out that the two topics in my title are completely un-related, for anyone who might be confused!).

Firstly, China.

Due to all the people that they are not shooting in Lhasa at the moment, my trip (due to depart this week) will most likely be cancelled. They’ve “closed” Everest from both sides, so I can’t go to base camp, and they categorically have not closed the border or shut-down Lhasa, so I find it extremely interesting that no-one is allowed to go there.
As with the rest of the world there have been massive protests here – especially as we probably have the highest number of Tibetan refugees than almost any other country (over 2,500 Tibetans a year enter Nepal). So the police have been having fun beating people with sticks to show China how much we support their views.

All this is going to massively dent poor old Nepal’s economy, as a huge part of the tourism business here relies on Everest trekkers and trips to Tibet. Also with the election in less than 25 days very few tourists are likely to be around anyway.
Speaking of the election, it now looks as though the major contenders are NC (Nepali Congress Party) and Maoist, although there are about 4,000 candidates from hundreds of different parties or something silly.
The major campaign issues are focusing on ethnic divisions, caste and “inclusion” for equality of the lower castes and “the retarded people” (I’m not kidding, that was quoted from one of the politicians!). The paper today had a photo of “a disabled” performing at a rally – not a disabled person, I noted, only a disabled.

Political correctness has a long way to go here!

Another paper printed a worrying document that was supposedly distributed by the Maoist party to their election volunteers and the YCL (Young Communist League). The newspaper itself is rampantly anti-Maoist, but nevertheless I assume they can’t just print stuff they made up.
The flyer stated 11 points for the Maoists to follow during the lead-up to the election. I don’t have the paper with me to quote from, but to para-phrase it said:

1) Deploy at least 20 YCL cadres to each remote village area to promote the Maoist party. Try to influence the youth vote in this manner.

2) Make a list of anyone who says they will not vote Maoist and report these names to the regional leaders.

3) Try to make things difficult for the NC election officials and if possible stop anyone from voting for NC.

4) Hide khukris (big giant machetes), bamboos sticks and other weapons in secret locations nearby for self-defense purposes. (I really like the use of “self-defense” in that sentence!)

5) Remind the villagers of the people who died for this cause and how they would want them to vote.

6) Do not be afraid to lay down your life for the good of these all-important free and fair elections, and use any means necessary to help secure a win for party.

and so on.
(“any means necessary”?????)

There was also a related article by a Maoist official that said although the Maoists do not want to see a return to the violence of the last 10 years civil war, should they lose the election they will not have achieved their goal and the fighting may continue to strive towards a republic Nepal for the people etc.
All a bit worrying, and it’s not really a huge surprise that they are gaining a lot of support – especially in rural areas! So, we may well have a Maoist government after April 10th – just as well I can’t go to Tibet as it’ll be exciting enough here!

On a totally different note, I have finally cracked over the food at the orphanage.
I have survived for 7 months eating Dhaal Bhaat twice a day, almost every day, and I still love it, but recently it’s become too much.
We tend to only eat whatever vegetables are in season, as they’re obviously the cheapest ones, so in August/September we ate a lot of scoose (a type of squash), and in December/January we ate mostly potatoes.

That was fine, and potatoes are pretty versatile veggies.
However for the last month or so, spinach has been in season.

I love spinach, but the spinach here is completely different than at home and is very bitter and nasty.
You can’t cook it any way except boil it until the thick stalks go soggy, and no amount of spices disguise the flavour.


We’ve had spinach with our Dhaal Bhaat every day for over a month, and I can’t bear to smell it or even look at it anymore.

Karla and I have been eating less and less at mealtimes, and last week I had a little moment.
We were serving up the rice in the evening, and I noticed there were all these black bits in the rice. On closer inspection it was little bits of spinach.
Someone had obviously stirred the rice with a spoon that had spinach on it.

Then Karla was serving up the dhaal (lentil soup) and rogue pieces of spinach kept floating up to the top!
The vegeteble was saag (spinach), and we both hunted all over the kitchen for some leftover potatoes or tomatoes or pickle – anything we could have with our rice apart from spinach!
All we found was a large bowl up on a shelf, that on closer inspection also had lots of cooked spinach in it (“for lunch tomorrow” Jack informed me).

I started laughing hysterically at how the spinach had infested everything edible in the kitchen and decided I couldn’t take it anymore.
Karla, it emerged, had already eaten in town earlier, so I left her in charge and went off in search of nourishment!

I wandered along our local road and found a nice Chinese place that did me a bowl of veggie fried rice for 100 rupees (about a pound).
We have both been spending more and more time in Thamel to avoid eating any more spinach, and can’t wait for another vegetable to come into season!
However our fundraising efforts are doing really well, and we’re getting a lot of support from some local businesses, so we should have some good results after our fundraiser (which is set for April 18th, but of course depending on the outcome of the elections may have to be postponed/cancelled if rioting and martial law ensue.)
But hopefully not.

That’s it for now,
lots of love to you all my dears,


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