When I went to India and Nepal, I travel for a month on my own. Nepal, compared to India, is very used to tourists, and understands they are part of the economy. India, at that time, had many restrictions, as well as poverty, and service or helping tourists was not very near the top of their list. Nepal was almost too much so.
In Kathmandu you can find all sorts of trinkets and souvenirs, and Western food. Well, it’s sort of like Western food. It looks the same and has the same name but sometimes it just tastes different. Chocolate cakes were not quite chocolaty. Cheese bread was a huge favorite. In another Nepalese town I’d ordered a garlic pizza. It came with a full bud of garlic on it, mostly raw. Halfway through I had to pull of the cloves because they were burning my gut.
Still, Nepal tries to cater to the tourists because they make so much money off of them. Many Nepalese therefore can speak English. Kathmandu is beautiful with a myriad of twisting and winding streets, stupas of varying heights and a cornucopia of merchandise and foods. Elsewhere I would run into little children who would speak a couple of words of English and then want to be paid for this.
One young guy latched himself on to me in Kathmandu and told me he was going to learn to be a jeweller in Flin Flon, Manitoba. That’s a pretty obscure place to know of, which lent credence to his statement. Except that there are thousands of people who visit Nepal every year and a savvy guy can pick up all sorts of information about the world. What they do with it, I don’t know. Get a date, have sex, offer a “massage,” make some money, become a tour guide; all of the above possibly. They definitely offered all of these to me.
Still there is an innocence about sex. People of India and Nepal see the movies of North America and presume a promiscuity of Western woman that isn’t quite reality. As I was once asked in India, “In your country, sex is free, isn’t it?” How do you answer that one? Yes, but I don’t have sex with everyone. No, some people pay.
The Flin Flon guy lead me around to various temples (which I could not enter because I wasn’t Hindu) and point out items of interest. At one point outside the Shiva temple he showed me this garden/park that had a area about 6-8 feet square in it. In it were a variety of concrete and stone cylinders varying in height from about two feet to just a few inches and around four inches in diameter.
This young guy asked me if I knew what they were and I said yes. They were representations of Shiva’s phallus, called lingam. I knew what they were but not exactly what they meant. But what was odd was that this man’s breathing grew rapid and deep and then he wanted our picture taken in front of them. It was then that I realized this might be porn for Nepalese or that it meant we were engaged. All I knew was that he was clearly excited and I didn’t know the culture, so I let our picture be taken but not in front of the linga.
At another point in Kathmandu I was visiting with a merchant who sold masks. He was cute and young and we were attracted to each other. We ended up sharing information about our lives, which ultimately were about our culture. He told me that he lived with his parents and when he married his wife would move in with him and his family. I talked about how in North America, we moved out once we finished school and how it would be thought unusual for a person to stay with their parents, especially into our thirties. He said it would be unusual to live alone.
It was at that point that I realized just how different our cultures must be, where family units are meant to separate and live alone while there were others where the family unit includes generations. I think overall, North America is more the aberration there, where even many European families follow the old nuclear family lifestyle.
But just as some men in India and Nepal thought that a North American woman would kiss or have sex with anyone, I too thought that they understood my culture. It taught me a valuable lesson about assuming and about respecting another culture, especially when you are the stranger in a strange land, because you just don’t know what you could be getting into or who you insulted. In past history, people were often killed for such infractions and it can still happen today. It also taught me that humanity is diverse and that there are many fascinating customs, and more I’d still like to see.