Saturday, January 19, 2008

Recollection from a Tongba Bar

Something like 2,000 people have summitted Mt. Everest, with 200 or so deaths. It would be interesting to know how many of the survivors have lost parts of fingers, toes, ears, and noses along the way1.

The typical modern Everest climber has got enough money to pay the government for the necessary permits, and an agency to supply Sherpas and equipment. Depending on the arrangement, the cost could go as high as $100,000 for one shot at the summit.

Certainly, the experience is a huge challenge, and anyone who pulls it off is worthy of some respect. On the other hand, there are any number of summits that offer greater tests of athleticism, technique, perspicacity, and courage. Annapurna boasts a 50% death rate, and K2 isn't far behind. So one has got to suspect that, for many, the urge to conquer Everest derives partially from a need to acquire bragging rights, write a book, or present a slide show at the Rotary Club2.

Anticipating a future jaunt up Mera Peak, not far from Everest, I recollect a tongba bar in Kathmandu in 1995. The memory is rough, but there might have been four rickety tables, with peeling veneers, and a fat old Tibetan woman preparing the drink. Unlike the pic in Wikipedia, the tongba would be served in plastic buckets. There were only a handful of folks in the joint, but one of them was Ang Rita Sherpa. He was a bit of a celebrity, as he held the world record for most Everest summits at that time. Impressively, none of the summits required supplemental oxygen. My gurung friend Shyambu translated his words for me, and it seems that Ang Rita, national hero, was being stiffed out of a promised pension for Nepali national heroes. I'd guess that the stiffing somehow related to the ever-changing political landscape in Nepal. The guy appeared aged, but he was 47 years old at the time, dousing his woes.

Perhaps the guy finally got his pension. But I find the contrast between Ang Rita and the Rotary Club PowerPoint heroes to be conspicuous.

By the way, Tongba is unique and tasty. The fermentation goes on inside millet seeds. After the appropriate period of fermentation, you put the seeds in a container (usually the aforementioned plastic bucket), pour hot water into the container, and drink the brew through a bamboo straw that filters out all the seeds. The alcohol content is low (3%?), but you can get plenty pissed when you imbibe from a bucket, ordering refills as necessary.

1. Searching "climbing boots" on E-bay, I found one entry for "Millet Everest" boots offering the following enticement for dishing out the $300 bid: You'll keep your toes.

2. Here's a website that specializes, apparently, in hooking your organization up with an "Everest Speaker": !

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Thai Kanom

Here's a four minute video wherein Thai teenagers are asked, "what is your favorite Thai kanom?" In case you're not aware, "kanom" would be the Thai word for "dessert". Following the response, you see the kanom in question.

Frequenters of Thai restaurants in the West are probably unaware of the huge variety of native Thai desserts. At best, you'll get coconut ice cream, fried bananas, or lychees in syrup. But in Thailand, you'll find large shops devoted entirely to these treats. A favorite location would be between Bangkok and some nearby vacation spot...don't you dare return home to your sweetheart or family empty-handed.

In all honesty, the visual usually eclipses the gustatory. Most kanom are based on coconut and sugar, and this becomes repetitive. Even the ice cream is based on coconut milk. My fave would be "mor gaeng", but that's because it reminds me of a poor man's creme caramel.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Hong Kong Cigarette Packs

Earlier, I blogged on the, uh, imagery of Thai cigarette packs. It seems that Hong Kong packs have entered the fray. So, while the Thais can never have their pioneering status shanghai-ed, they do have competition.

Below...Smoke cigarettes and develop the complexion of a Tibetan goat herder. A particularly horrifying prospect for Hong Kong and Bangkok dwellers.

Things People Don't Say

*This photo is an accurate depiction of my true self.

*It has a beautiful flavor.

*Why don't I have naval lint today?

*In this campaign, we're strong believers in the power of polls.

*The stock doubled overnight on takeover news. Why weren't the insiders buying?

*Don't eat this herb before sex.

*I put two pairs of socks in the wash, and three came out.

*I'm just an actor. Why are you asking me all these political questions?

*This sunset looks like a bad watercolor.

*I'm still waiting to get born again.

*That mosquito I just killed...I wonder what it was doing at this time last week.

*By comparing performances against the same opponents, I've concluded there's a 78% probability I'll get knocked out by the fourth round.

*I used to think I was spiritually enlightened. But it was just arrogance.

*I just can't seem to get this shit smell off my hands.

*Hell, if I were 8 inches shorter, I couldn't have made a high school team, let alone a professional one.

*The doctor gave him six months to live, but he died in four.

*In the next gallery, you'll see some of the finest examples of pre-cubist art.

*I'd drop belief in a biblical creation in a second if there were evidence otherwise.

*The power went out at 4:00. Fortunately, I saved all my work at 3:59.

*The enemy claims that they're not targeting civilians. Actually, it's true.

*Yes, I used to take steroids. Now I'm clean, and you can test me anytime.

*This tsunami is god's punishment for, for...well, I'm not sure what it's for.