31 January 2008

150.5 million

Last night, I went to a big party in Beverly Hills. Beverly Hills is a great place to have a party, by the way.

Just kidding. I copied that from the blog of "Bill" Marriot (Marriot hotels CEO). But I believe him.

Quite a few of my readers still seem to be concerned about my health. I don't blame you. I have a wry way of describing the daily calamities of travel, but there is really no need to worry. Sarcasm is sometimes the only defense mechanism I have against getting lost, annoying touts, and my repeated bouts of diarrhea (another one just started!).

I am STILL in Kathmandu. This week, however, I managed to visit the other two cities in the Kathmandu valley: Patan and Bhaktapur. Both of them are quite charming. If you ever visit Nepal, I recommend staying in Patan instead of KTM. They're adjacent to one another, so it doesn't make much difference accomodation-wise, except you can avoid the absolute HELL of Thamel, where most people stay. Patan is famous for its even more fabulously ornate, temple-loaded Durbar Square, the admission fee to which I cleverly avoided by not paying it. It actually rained while I was there! I was pretty shocked only because I planned to avoid rain on this year-long trip, and I've done a pretty good job so far (only 2-3 showers in nearly 6 months). Patan also has an excellent museum--one of the few I've recently found worthwhile--describing the iconography of Nepal's mishmash of religions. Bhaktapur, a bit farther away, is also famous for being historic and templeful and additionally famous for producing a rich yogurt called "royal curd" that tastes--and this is the highest compliment--Greek. Bhaktapur feels like a big town in the country, and I found it, like Patan, quite laid-back and sedate compared to uproariously insane Kathmandu. They even bar vehicles from much of the historic center, and I don't understand why Kathmandu doesn't do this. Admission for foreigners is pretty high for Nepal ($10!), but it seemed worth the day trip to me. Changu Narayan, a UNESCO World Heritage Vishnu temple, is also nearby, and I visited. The carved, wooden struts that hold up the temple roof still retain the color of their original paints, making the complex beautifully vivid. The bus drivers were on strike for the afternoon, so I had to take a taxi, but the driver was really nice and only asked me for 30% more than the regular rate.

Today, I managed to collect my passport at the Bangladesh embassy. In keeping with the unrelenting snags in my plans over the last week, the official mistakenly marked my visa "entry/exit by air", which makes a difference in Bangladesh, and I had to sit around until he was available to write "/land" next to it. I guess I could have done that, too. Really, I breathed a sigh of relief given how much worse it could have been ("Oh, sorry! We can change it, but you have to wait 3 days and pay another $100. No problem!"). On the way back, I passed the American embassy again. Opposite, a bank actually had a counter for processing US visa applications. Also opposite, a group of protestors had set up a little shack. Since I live for this sort of thing, I asked the man in charge what the US did this time. He told me he represents Nepali people who've applied for US immigrant visas at a cost of $755 each (considerable given that entire families typically apply together and the average annual salary of a Nepali, according to him, is just $200), but whose applications were rejected. They weren't angry because of the rejection itself, I gather, but because the rejections were somehow unreasonable, and the enormous application fee wasn't refunded. I don't exactly understand, but he said he himself was a "winner" in our annual Diversity Visa lottery, submitted the necessary materials, but was then told that he shouldn't have submitted the application because he didn't meet certain qualifications (like work experience, something hard for people in developing countries to quantify and prove). But they kept his money, which he had to essentially liquidate his assets to raise. Anyway, they've got some kind of rotating hunger strike system going, and I intend to find out more about this situation, which is happening to many people in many countries, he said. I told him I'd write a letter to my representatives. Once I figure out what's going on, I'll post it here and encourage y'all to copy and send it, too. Maybe Barack Obama will be sympathetic. Hillary will certainly say she is.

And that figure I used as the title of this post? IT'S THE POPULATION OF BANGLADESH!!!

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