Kamal Raj Sigdel writes how he Changed his perspective on China

The Westward March
By The Scrambling Scribers

Nov 12 and 13
By Kamal Raj Sigdel

The foggy street in front of the Ping An Fu hotel, Beijing made an impression of an early morning at some remote harbor. The three of us: Kamal, Derek and Huma set our sail for the adventure and left the harbor. The place we were heading was virtually an uncharted land for us. The trip was going to be adventurous, especially because we didn't know anyone there; none of us could speak Chinese, and we didn't have any special arrangements for our lodging and flooding.

 

The challenges emerged as we left the hotel and most the time they were about communicating with the Chinese speaking general public. One of the Chinese friends that we met on the subway the other day had told us a joke, "If you are lost and don't know how to speak Mandarin, find a young Chinese wearing specks, s/he will explain you in whatever you need in English." Interestingly, the joke turns out to be no longer a joke. Whenever we feel like we are lost, we search for someone wearing glasses and we get the right answer. We reach Military Museum by subway but after that we had to ask someone the right way. The formula worked and we reached the Beijing Train Station on time. We had enough time and thought of having some food.

 

Whenever we think of having food we had problems. I would not eat beef at all, Huma would not eat pork and Derek would eat everything. Just to make sure that the food we want to buy was not beef or pork we had no alternative but either to draw a picture of a cow/pig or act out a cow/pig.

 

We happened to enter KFC fast-food restaurant and we shared a table with a stranger as there were no vacant seats. We tried to know something about our first destination while we eat. The young person, who would not speak English, called his girlfriend to help us find a place to stay in Chongqing. His girl friend, Gong Jiang gave us phone number of one of her friends and called him up to help us when we reach Chongqing.

 

The train station was one testimony that China is really a big country with huge population. We had to really push ourselves hard through the huge crowd, which for the first time features all sorts of people. People with sacks on their backs, people with beddings, people who don't look as well off as we saw in the Beijing Capital International Airport. This also indicated the rapid migration taking place in the country.

 

We had already stuffed our bags with some food. The train pulled away slowly at first then faster and faster. The view of rural China through the train window was panoramic but at times it was scary. The road would sometime fly over the villagers' roofs making it impossible for them to use the road.

 

The people in the train were unexpectedly friendly. We made many good friends during the 26-hour journey from Beijing to Chongqing. There were some ways to make friends. The Chinese seemed to take interest when we would try to speak their language, though just bits and pieces. We would ask their name: Ni Jau samma min cha? The card tricks and games were other means to make friends. Derek had known quite a number of card tricks and some of the youngsters came up with really astonishing kind of card games. We stayed late night playing cards with other Chinese passengers and also playing to a small kid who was really cute. When we speak everyone would laugh and that's what we seem to like most. We concluded that the degree of hospitability among the Chinese people and their friendly behavior will attract more and more foreigners to visit their country.

 

When we wake up early in the morning the train was still pulling southward. We were about to reach Chongqing. What we could see through the train window was surprising. Almost everywhere, we could see huge constructions going on: highways and bridges being built, high rise buildings under construction, cranes atop most of the skyscrapers, factories and chimneys and the likes. Somewhere we could see a whole new city under construction. We wondered: whom are these buildings for? Most probably for the 900 million rural Chinese who have not benefited from the recent economic growth in comparison to their urban counterparts. One of the new friends, You Jhi, who was also in the same cabin, said that the Chinese government wants to attract foreign investment in these cities and therefore it is focusing on building the infrastructure first.

 

We reached Chongqing Train Station at 4:00pm. We called up the new friend from Chongqing who was requested to meet us at the Chongqing Train Station. As we had expected, he came to pick us up in the station at the right time. While waiting for the new friend to come, we went into McDonalds for coffee. One of the staff at the restaurant suggested us to go to Youth International Hostel which she said was really cheap. The new friend, whose name was Xian, came and we left for the hotel. We took shower and went out in search of food, some Asian spicy food which we were looking for so long.

 

We had to again draw a couple of pictures of cow and pig. We had some very spicy and hot food stuff at last. The day was already gone. We had to sleep for a fresher morning.

 

The train journey from Beijing to Chongqing also explains a lot about Chinese hospitality. They are all friendly people who are peaceful and harmonious in real sense of the term.

 

We decided to take a three-bed room and stay together that night. Something weird happened that night after we slept. We heard some scary noises coming from bathroom. There was a continuous tapping sound and some noises like someone is flushing the toilet. But when we woke up to see what was going on, it stopped. Huma ran toward the other corner in fear. We looked in the bathroom and there was nothing.

 

The day's trip revealed us two major issues: one is the fact that there is no other country in the world where so much of construction is going on at such an accelerating rate, and the other is China's confidence to take on the leadership role is rising like anything. If we are to avert future conflicts among world's major powers (old or new), the world must respect the modern China, the center of the world.

Phatry Derek Pan writes about his experience in China

November 14, 2008
By Phatry Derek Pan

Building respect one high riser at a time

 

Chongqing, China – Most geographers might not even know this trivial fact, but Chongqing is the world's most populated city. Proudly boasting as the "city of bridges", CQ, as locals refers it, stands tall as a testament of a city on the verge of becoming the next great metropolis.

Thirty million inhabit an area the size of approximately two Seattles, a city I grew up half of my life. CQ features majestic hills, criss crossing rivers, and dizzying roads. A city that appears to be playing "catch up" to its more respectable big brotherly rivals of Beijing and Shanghai.

But what CQ has which BJ lacks visibility is 360 degrees of intense energy. Jubilant faced construction workers bustling their bodies building 30-stories condominiums, office spaces putting the Silicon Valley to shambles, and business communities that outmatch Wall Street. For example, right off of CQ's new neighborhood of Nan Bin, we encountered two replicas of what was once the world's tallest building, Kuala Lampur's Petrona Towers: one dipped in gold exterior, another in silver – right next to each other.


Our impression solidified after the hazy gray cable car ride overlooking the Yangtze River. Every corner and pockets of the city, new developments emerge from dilapidated slums and old abandoned factory districts. Every inch appeared to be under construction – not one hill left behind for mass construction.

"I have never seen so much construction in my whole life," said Kamal Sigdel, a journalist from Kathmandu, Nepal. "I have visited New Delphi and seen its transformation, but never to CQ's massive level."

The city's vibrancy was even more evident when we strolled through the Central Business District. A population that forbid bicycles, the streets were cracking with slim model-like locals rushing, smiling and eating their way through the organized chaos. Car honks outnumbered people's conversation, and vendors overwhelmed by all the prospective buyers that they seem to be mellow about forcing to close a sale. After all, with over 30 million folks, the attitude appears carefree; at least one will buy my tiger skin coat.

Our goal of exploration and understanding of the city's development intensified after we decided to randomly jump in a city bus without clear path of direction. There we met Nicole, a 25-year-old local in the advertising business, who openly ared her views and perspectives.

"CQ has more than 30 million inhabitants, because its boundary is quite ambiguous," said Nicole, who was frantically rushing to her office.  "And within the last 24 months living here after graduation, I noticed even more construction, thus I predict the city will experience a bigger population boom."

After our one-hour bus ride, we arrived in the fringes of the city, which was about 35 km from the hub, and to our amazement, countless condominiums towers the newly paved roads.

Chongqing's rapid development will one day parallel its political and financial super powering cities, but the process is undergoing – one higher at a time.

November 15, 2008
By Phatry Derek Pan


The Four Corners of APLP GIST Experience

Futures | The City
In my view, Chongqing is a city playing the "catch-up" role with its more powerful and respectable big brother cities, namely Beijing, Shanghai, and Hong Kong. But I am optimistic of where the city of 30 million fits in the space between these political and economic giants. It appears that CQ's development of both residential and commercial will surpass the cities mentioned, and will follow-up with mega infrastructure projects such as rail station, cable cars, water system, etc  to make the city more accessible and attractive to national and international investments. But in order for Chongqing to stand out, a new niche most be developed, perhaps being China's Silicon Valley.

Futures | The People
Chongqingers are amazingly chill people. The vibe is much more laid back, which I find perplexing for a city of its magnitude. And for the three individuals we met – Sago, Charlie, and Nicole – all illustrated genuine Chinese hospitality. They have shared us their life aspirations, which according to Kamal, are "towering"
 
Kamal shared Charlie's dream to be a billionaire. The 21-year-old mathematics major, might illustrate the city's young population desire to strike rich, which is quite visible when you visit the country.

Diversity | The many Chinas
Topographically diverse, Chongqing reminds me of a bit of Seattle and San Francisco, where hills and water dominate the area.  This characteristic alone, is a contrast to the other cities that we have journeyed so far in our 2,500 km expedition.

Furthermore, the city's cuisine boasts to be the spiciest in all of China. Indeed, the many adventurous dishes I have experimented have put my tongue to the test. Shish kabob-like snacks and noodle dishes are laced with the finest herbs and spices, making every bite memorable with flavor.

Our three days in Chongqing was probably the least stressful for the team. We had a good friend, Charlie, who bent over backwards to satisfy us in every move. Comparatively speaking, he spent the least amount of time with us, which proved to be less frustrating for our team.

Team diversity

Both of my colleagues are number 6 on the Enneagram, which is characterized as "peacemakers." Though I can see these qualities in both when we traveled, I felt the most challenging part of our team was the little things – food habits, playing the waiting game, etc - that pestered me.

I believe I am very tolerable and patient individual, but there is so much one can take before emotions are spilled over the table. Both have different eating preferences, which became a hassle, when I dined, where I desired to eat everything and anything by local favorites. The last couple of days showed a collapse – where I began to eat by myself – and not in family style manner as we had in our earlier meals. Perhaps it was me that showed to be the weakest.

Cultural diversity
Three of us are so different – in cultures, religions, and lifestyles – which one can imagine, would pose many challenges. I am a Westernized Cambodian, who enjoys a night of boozing, partying, and adventure dining, Huma has shared that her night with me in Hechuan, was in fact her first out to a club setting, and she has never consumed alcohol in her life. Whereas Kamal, is a light drinker and not so much of a partyer as I had falsely assumed. So in short, I found my evenings pretty dull, and had wished to see more of the nightlife.


Social Networks (People)
The city of Chongqing has a complex infrastructural network, though under

developed compared to other metropolis. It's rail network is expanding by at least 7 new routes, subway stations are added to its existing lines, and there are signs of new irrigation channels to improve sewage system. The city is also famous for having over 1,000 bridges.

In terms of the social interaction of local Chongqingers, we were fortunate to establish a good base with three individuals – two are young professionals and one a current student, aged 20-22.

Kamal Raj Sigdel writes his experience in China

In Search of Rural China (Nov 16)

Kamal Raj Sigdel

Since we had no special plan, we planned all our itineraries on our way as we met new friends. While we were traveling by city bus in Chhongqing, we met Nicole. We asked her to recommend one rural area between Chongqiing and Chengdu. After experiencing the hustle and bustle of grand Chongqing, we were in search of a solitude, a rural and backward area. Nicole suggested us to visit Hechuan, which she said was one and half hour's drive from Chongqing. We decided to go Hechuan to see rural China.

 

Surprisingly though, Hechuan turned out to be something very different than what we had expected. We came to Hechuan to see rural China, but that was a big city with wide highways and high rise buildings. We came to realize that the definition of "rural" in China is different that the one we had. And more surprisingly, this was also the "small" town we were looking for. We had to redefine "small" and "rural" in Chinese context. We had hard times finding a rural-looking area.

 

The first outing in Hechuan, however, revealed us a part of rural China that caters to the demand of a growing urban centers. We were with our local friend, David, whose Chinese name is Chu Ching. He is doing his Bachelor's degree at the University of Heuhan, and has been planning to migrate to Singapore for he has been offered a position at the Singapore International Airport.

 

Walking though the muddy roads into the rural areas, we met some farmers who earned their living by selling their produce at the nearby marketplace. Most of them grew cash crops like green vegetables, potato, sweet potato, ginger, garlic, coriander and taroe. One of the farmers, who looked over 60, was toiling hard in his potato field. He was digging out potatoes to sell in the nearby market. We talked to him for a couple of minutes. He said he sells those potatoes for 2 Yuan per kilogram. Since he was near a big market, he had new hopes about his future.

 

One important place we visited in Hechuan was the ancient temple of Buddha where one thousand statues of Buddha were carved on a cliff. The temple, which had to undergo some minor renovation after the April earthquake, was built on a rocky cliff. The images and statues at the temple gave an impression that it inherits something from Hindu religion as well. It looked like the ancient stupa in Kathmandu, Soyambhu Stupa, where both Hindus and Buddhists worship. The Hechuan temple featured a godlike figure riding on a tiger, which resembles Hindu Goddess Laxmi riding her pet Tiger. Derek, being a Buddhist, made some prayers and we joined him. We were asked to offer some money as donation. Each of us donated some money and left the temple.

 

We had planned to go to a historic place nearby Hechan after the lunch. After about one and half hours' rest we took a taxi and went to the hill station. In ancient times, the hill station was used as a fortress. The stone walls against the rocky cliff reflected the craftsmanship and war skills of the ancient war lords. The place was strategically important for rulers of ancient China because it was a safe place from where one could watch the movement of one's enemies far across the Jialing River, that flows flat down the mountain.

 

We though of spending a couple of hours on the internet. The cyber café were strictly monitored. We had to borrow the special internet card from our local friend, David because no one without the card was allowed to use internet. It is China, we realized. I was shocked to see none of the Chinese youngsters using internet for email and site surfing, all were really engrossed in their internet online games. I saw most of them enjoying the virtual reality game like the Second Life. They seem to be less interested in outer world. We had some troubles using internet as the operating system was in Chinese language.

 

When it comes to freedom, we have problems appreciating China. Whatever we saw during the day -- the booming construction, huge investment in constructing highways and train networks, housing -- would hold no meaning and appear hallow the time we would realized that the people are not as free as we are outside China. Our experience of surfing in Hechuan taught us something more. Most of the news sites where either blocked or slowed down. The heavily regulated internet and the media exposed to me another horrible fact about China -- the leadership fears the public opinion and its free flow. The moment I experienced the strict censorship in the media and the internet, I thought this is where the Chinese leadership has to rethink and be more adaptive. We tried to understand what the new generation Chinese is feeling about the media censorship. Most of them are outspoken. They are not likely to be suppressed by any power. They would act on their will. They responded that the government media reports only the positive things that had undermined their credibility. The Great FireWall, a government-run project with an annual expense of 800 million US$, will turn out to be another "monumental stupidity" [as the Great Wall is] very soon as it will be impossible to sensor the internet materials.

 

In the evening when we were walking down the streets at Hecuhan, we heard a Hindi song being played in a fancy store, which was a very rare case in a deep China like Heuhan. We went inside the shop out of curiosity and came to know that the shopkeeper loves Indian songs too. We bought some warm cloths and foot wares. We had a dinner at a nice restaurant at downtown Hecuhan and went to buy train ticket for Chengdu.

 

The days in Hechuan also help us understand the group better. The first day's evening was memorable. Derek and I started drinking while Huma and our local friend David decided not to drink though they were also at the same table. After two quarter bottles, I stopped and that disappointed Derek, because that was against the normal American drinking tradition. I always wanted to see Derek get equally drunk but he would never get drunk by the same amount of drink I take, and that disappointed me too.

 

Though Huma did not join, we continued dirking that night. I came to know more about the American values and conventions regarding drinking when Derek and I get drunk. We became more frank and open and that helped us understand each other more. Derek, as a "Westernized Cambodian" seemed to have troubles sometimes (especially when he gets drunk) penetrating his filters. Drinking, in his perspective, was a major part of socializing with people. I had a long discussion with him on why one cannot categorize someone as "unsocial" because s/he does not drink.

 

Eating habits among our GIST group was a new way of making fun. I would not eat beef, Huma would not eat pork and Derek would eat "everything". However, I interpret it not as a problem but simply diversity, something like a cow eating grass and tiger eating meat. There were several instances where each one of us could not see things from other's perspective.

 

While we were very friendly to each other and the GIST made us lifelong friends, we also realized that we cannot change the way we are. I had heard about American individualism but not experienced. Derek was one example and he made me clear what is American individualism. He cared much more about his and others' individual choices than Huma and I did. I, as a light drinker, find myself in between Huma, who was not so a partier and Derek, a party animal.

Huma Sheikh from India writes about her experience in China

November 20, 2008

By Huma Sheikh

 

Prior to the China GIST, I would define our group as ''victory peace'' as I was pretty sure about our understanding and cooperation with each other. And tonight (the last day of GIST) as I look back at our nine-day journey , the scrambling scribers Phatry Derek Pan, Kamal Raj Sigdel and me (Huma Sheikh) --  we traveled over 2500 Km with an average of three days transit at five places each across Sichuan province--   turned out to be affectionate and supportive as well.

 

Though our profession as journalists makes us look like one, we don't have everything in common. Every time we ate together we realized differences among us as Kamal and I were always choosy. about certain food items while Derek was comfortable with every cuisine. Sometimes I would get angry at myself when I took long time in ordering food, ensuring I have not eaten anything 'unwanted'. Similarly, Kamal would show no flexibility when it came to eating and the irony was Kamal and I have different dietary restrictions; he would eat what I couldn't and vice versa. But, I must appreciate Derek for his patience; he never had any complaints even if he had hard time waiting hungry for food most of the times in restaurants before it was finally served.

 

Another part of GIST history, though relatively a little challenging, was differences in our lifestyle and attitude. We are completely three different personalities when it comes to our interests (regardless of profession), choice, taste and way of living. I am less outgoing and prefer to stay indoors; I can accommodate change but very rarely. Kamal on the other hand is fine in shifting his interests as long as he is not overdoing it while Derek is a completely different person. He is a 'King of Nights' according to my observation and likes to stay outdoors as much as he can. He doesn't sleep more than 3-4 hours at night and it is amazing to see his energy and enthusiasm in the morning after having slept hardly a quarter of night.

 

However, the way we allied in challenges and attached to each other by feelings of affection and personal regard stands us out from the rest. We changed ourselves in order to patronize each other for the success of our long-lasting relationship and friendship beyond team GIST. I stayed out for long in the spirit of friendship, Kamal and Derek sometimes looked alike to me with hardly any differences. Derek also in the same vein showed camaraderie to tone down a bit on his American style of living to suit with us-- Kamal and me, two Asians.

 

The team spirit and understanding among us is the perfect example of adaptive leadership. The way we enjoyed the nine-day trip harmoniously is indeed a history of sorts.

Changed Perspetves and New Insights into China

The Westward March
By The Scrambling Scribers (Kamal Raj Sigdel from Nepal, Huma Sheikh from India and Phatry Derek Pan from USA)
A group journal on China trip, Nov 2008
Nov 12 and 13
By Kamal Raj Sigdel

The foggy street in front of the Ping An Fu hotel, Beijing made an impression of an early morning at some remote harbor. The three of us: Kamal, Derek and Huma set our sail for the adventure and left the harbor. The place we were heading was virtually an uncharted land for us. The trip was going to be adventurous, especially because we didn't know anyone there; none of us could speak Chinese, and we didn't have any special arrangements for our lodging and flooding.

The challenges emerged as we left the hotel and most the time they were about communicating with the Chinese speaking general public. One of the Chinese friends that we met on the subway the other day had told us a joke, "If you are lost and don't know how to speak Mandarin, find a young Chinese wearing specks, s/he will explain you in whatever you need in English." Interestingly, the joke turns out to be no longer a joke. Whenever we feel like we are lost, we search for someone wearing glasses and we get the right answer. We reach Military Museum by subway but after that we had to ask someone the right way. The formula worked and we reached the Beijing Train Station on time. We had enough time and thought of having some food.

Whenever we think of having food we had problems. I would not eat beef at all, Huma would not eat pork and Derek would eat everything. Just to make sure that the food we want to buy was not beef or pork we had no alternative but either to draw a picture of a cow/pig or act out a cow/pig.

We happened to enter KFC fast-food restaurant and we shared a table with a stranger as there were no vacant seats. We tried to know something about our first destination while we eat. The young person, who would not speak English, called his girlfriend to help us find a place to stay in Chongqing. His girl friend, Gong Jiang gave us phone number of one of her friends and called him up to help us when we reach Chongqing.

The train station was one testimony that China is really a big country with huge population. We had to really push ourselves hard through the huge crowd, which for the first time features all sorts of people. People with sacks on their backs, people with beddings, people who don't look as well off as we saw in the Beijing Capital International Airport. This also indicated the rapid migration taking place in the country.

We had already stuffed our bags with some food. The train pulled away slowly at first then faster and faster. The view of rural China through the train window was panoramic but at times it was scary. The road would sometime fly over the villagers' roofs making it impossible for them to use the road.


The people in the train were unexpectedly friendly. We made many good friends during the 26-hour journey from Beijing to Chongqing. There were some ways to make friends. The Chinese seemed to take interest when we would try to speak their language, though just bits and pieces. We would ask their name: Ni Jau samma min cha? The card tricks and games were other means to make friends. Derek had known quite a number of card tricks and some of the youngsters came up with really astonishing kind of card games. We stayed late night playing cards with other Chinese passengers and also playing to a small kid who was really cute. When we speak everyone would laugh and that's what we seem to like most. We concluded that the degree of hospitability among the Chinese people and their friendly behavior will attract more and more foreigners to visit their country.


When we wake up early in the morning the train was still pulling southward. We were about to reach Chongqing. What we could see through the train window was surprising. Almost everywhere, we could see huge constructions going on: highways and bridges being built, high rise buildings under construction, cranes atop most of the skyscrapers, factories and chimneys and the likes. Somewhere we could see a whole new city under construction. We wondered: whom are these buildings for? Most probably for the 900 million rural Chinese who have not benefited from the recent economic growth in comparison to their urban counterparts. One of the new friends, You Jhi, who was also in the same cabin, said that the Chinese government wants to attract foreign investment in these cities and therefore it is focusing on building the infrastructure first.


We reached Chongqing Train Station at 4:00pm. We called up the new friend from Chongqing who was requested to meet us at the Chongqing Train Station. As we had expected, he came to pick us up in the station at the right time. While waiting for the new friend to come, we went into McDonalds for coffee. One of the staff at the restaurant suggested us to go to Youth International Hostel which she said was really cheap. The new friend, whose name was Xian, came and we left for the hotel. We took shower and went out in search of food, some Asian spicy food which we were looking for so long.


We had to again draw a couple of pictures of cow and pig. We had some very spicy and hot food stuff at last. The day was already gone. We had to sleep for a fresher morning.


The train journey from Beijing to Chongqing also explains a lot about Chinese hospitality. They are all friendly people who are peaceful and harmonious in real sense of the term.


We decided to take a three-bed room and stay together that night. Something weird happened that night after we slept. We heard some scary noises coming from bathroom. There was a continuous tapping sound and some noises like someone is flushing the toilet. But when we woke up to see what was going on, it stopped. Huma ran toward the other corner in fear. We looked in the bathroom and there was nothing.

The day's trip revealed us two major issues: one is the fact that there is no other country in the world where so much of construction is going on at such an accelerating rate, and the other is China's confidence to take on the leadership role is rising like anything. If we are to avert future conflicts among world's major powers (old or new), the world must respect the modern China, the center of the world.
[The day before we left for GIST, the ASEM meeting was concluded in Beijing with a call for a more transparent and inclusive international monitory and financial system, which in a way was also a call for new Bretton Woods after the US financial crisis. Being in Beijing witnessing the booming economy, I wrote an article covering this new "call" from a new rising power [China] and it was published in Ka Leo, Hawaii. Link: Call for a New Bretton Woods. http://media.www.kaleo.org/media/storage/paper872/news/2008/11/13/Commentary/Global.Economic.Restructuring.A.New.Bretton.Woods-3540990.shtml]

Chengdu, China

Lu Xiao (Brian), Bobby, David and others

Chongqing and Hechuan

David, Xie Yang, Salina, Sago, Derek and others in CQ, China

Here is Sago from Chongqing, China

Sago works at the Youth International Hostel, Chongqing, China. In the pic are Derek from USA and Sago.

Friends in Chongqing, China

Here are Henry, Sago, Xie Yang (Charlie) and You Jie

Train Journey in China

While traveling some 2500km in China via train from Beijing to Chongqing, the world's most populated city.

NEPAL: Bhutanese refugees find new life beyond the camps

NEPAL: Bhutanese refugees find new life beyond the camps

KATHMANDU, 10 November 2008 (IRIN) - Thousands of Bhutanese refugees in Nepal have been successfully resettled in seven countries, including the USA, Australia, New Zealand, Netherlands, Norway, Denmark and Canada, according to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR).

The refugees are Bhutanese citizens of Nepalese origin, known as Lhotsampas in Bhutan. For the past 17 years, nearly 106,000 refugees have been sheltered in seven camps in eastern Nepal since their eviction from their homes by the Bhutanese government, which introduced a law stripping them of their citizenship and civil rights because of their ancestry.

After several years of failed bilateral talks between the Nepalese and Bhutanese governments to repatriate them, the refugees are now opting for third-country resettlement with the help of UNHCR and the International Organization for Migration (IOM).

Since March 2008, 6,200 Bhutanese refugees have been resettled and more are in the process of leaving the camps every week, said UNHCR officials in Nepal.

UNHCR said the USA had offered to resettle 60,000-plus refugees from Bhutan over the next five years, with another 10,000 hosted by the other countries listed.

Norway, which has a quota of barely 1,000 immigrants from all over the world, has provided settlement for nearly 200 Bhutanese refugees, according to the Bhutanese Refugee Rights Coordinating Committee (RRCC).

New beginning


"After so many years of suffering and leading miserable lives as refugees, they now have a chance to live in dignity," Ashok Gurung, senior member of the RRCC, told IRIN in the capital, Kathmandu.

Gurung, himself a refugee, explained that refugees had now been happily living in host countries.

"I have a strong degree of respect for the courage it must take for refugees to make the decision to resettle and begin their new lives upon resettlement," Daisy Dell, the UNHCR representative in Nepal, told IRIN.

She added that the resettlement process was a huge cultural and social adjustment for refugees who have been living in harsh camp conditions for nearly two decades.

The resettled refugees are adjusting to their new environment and have found jobs that pay as a high as US$8 per hour working on farms, in hotels and other jobs, according to RRCC.

"They have to struggle initially and have to start from scratch as most are not highly educated," said Gurung. "It's the children who benefit the most." He added that local charity agencies and Christian missionary organisations were helping to sponsor or find financial support to enrol the children in school.

Breakthrough 

"It's amazing," Dell told IRIN. "We recently surpassed 6,000 departures in less than 10 months." She explained that UNHCR had been working towards a comprehensive solution for the Bhutanese refugees for the past 17 years. "During that time our office has faced many challenges both in terms of refugee protection and camp-management issues and the larger political and security situation in Nepal," said Dell.

The agency has met resistance from some groups of refugees who have been advocating for repatriation to Bhutan and protesting against third-country resettlement.

According to some refugees, there are 13 different armed groups still opting for repatriation and the Nepal government has stepped up security with the help of armed police in the refugee camps. UNHCR's position is that resettlement is an individual choice.

"Without the support of the refugee community, the government of Nepal and the international community, the possibility of resettlement for some 100,000 refugees from Bhutan would not have become a reality," added Dell. (IRINnews.org, NY )

Ousted Nepal king makes silver screen debut

Ousted Nepal king makes silver screen debut
10 Nov 2008
While media reports depict Nepal's deposed king Gyanendra as poised to release his own autobiography soon, on Sunday, the 61-year-old made his debut on the silver screen, courtesy Nepali filmmaker K P Pathak.

"Maina", Pathak's poignant film based on a true story from the violent 10-year-old People's War that saw over 14,000 people die by the hands of the security forces and the Maoist guerrillas, also casts the deposed monarch dextrously.

The eponymous film is about a 15-year-old schoolgirl, who was tortured to death in 2004 by the then Royal Nepalese Army headed by King Gyanendra because her mother had witnessed the rape and execution of two other young women.

Though the army denied having any hand in Maina's disappearance, her mother Devi Sunuwar, aided by Nepal's human rights organisations, began a gritty campaign for justice that moved the Supreme Court into ordering an investigation and then, asking police to arrest the four army personnel who were identified as responsible for her murder.

While most of the characters are played by theatre actors, Gyanendra plays himself as Pathak craftily weaves in two scenes taped from actual appearances by the former king.

In February 2005, a year after Maina's disappearance, King Gyanendra gave a televised address to the nation to declare that he was taking over the government and imposing a state of emergency. As soon as the address ended, the army, who backed the coup, disconnected the entire telephone service in the kingdom and shut down Nepal's only airport.

In the film, the human rights activist who plays a key role in tracking down Maina's killers in the army, is shown as struck by the announcement made by the king as she watches TV in her office, fearing that the battle for justice would now become even more difficult with a dictatorial government giving greater powers to the army.

The royal announcement is rejected by the political parties and soon, there are protests nationwide that eventually force the royal regime to disband itself. Fourteen months after the royal coup, Indira, the activist in the film, once again switches on her television set to see the king announcing he is stepping down from power.

As "Maina" premiered Sunday, there was no immediate reaction from the former royals on the interpolation. But the army, once loyal only to the royal family, is bound to feel immediate pinpricks. The film mercilessly rakes up the brutal rape and murder of Maina's cousin, 17-year-old Rina Rasaili, as well as the schoolgirl's torture inside the barracks, burying the body and offering to pay money to her family to hush up the incident.

Pathak says he had several disquieting moments while making the film. "My entire family and all my friends were against the idea," he says. "Then I began receiving anonymous calls from 'wellwishers' who advised me not to pick a fight with the army. But I have no fight with the army, it's only against a dictatorial state and a dictatorial security force."

US financial crisis affects South Asia - Commentary

US financial crisis affects South Asia
By: Kamal Raj Sidgel
Posted: 11/6/08

The unexpected U.S. financial crash and its ripple effects have thrashed the weak economies in South Asia, which were already reeling from the food crisis and the rising price of oil. India, despite being the most powerful economy in South Asia, was not immune to the impact of the financial crisis.

India has significant foreign capital inflow but, following the credit crunch in the U.S. and Europe, investors have started withdrawing their money from India. The Bombay Stock Exchange fell sharply in return. Thankfully, recent developments show new hopes of a rebound. Nevertheless, liquidity concerns in the Indian market have proven to be the biggest and most visible problem. The Indian central bank has responded by cutting the interest rate to 8 percent as a means to boost liquidity and stabilize India's finances.

Although India's central bank has been claiming that the country's economy is strong enough to absorb the impact of the financial crisis, there is no denying that India's technology sectors will be especially hard hit. This is because many of the information technology companies depend on the U.S. for business.

Pakistan is another country in South Asia that has been severely affected by the financial crisis. In fact, Pakistan seems to be one of the hardest hit. Its economy, already on the brink of collapse, is destined for bankruptcy because fleeing foreign investors have caused a significant depreciation in its currency, the rupee. Pakistan is also facing a serious liquidity crunch, with the only solution being international support.

Pakistan's request for Chinese support, however, has been denied because of Pakistan's alleged involvement in terrorist activities in China's Muslim-dominated areas. Saudi Arabia has refused to give Pakistan a financial concession on the oil trade, as well. The only option for Pakistan is to approach the International Monetary Fund, which will set highly stringent conditions for the nation. Nepal's economy is suffering, as well.

The recently elected Maoist government has unveiled a $3.5 billion annual budget - of which more than half is expected to be foreign aid. The donor countries, however, are all facing liquidity crunches and will have difficulty making their donations. Not receiving foreign aid would undoubtedly deal a heavy blow to Nepal, which is also witnessing the depreciation of its currency against the U.S. dollar.In Bangladesh, political instability has been the main factor behind its poor, private capital inflow.

Now, with Bangladesh's major trading partners in a financial crisis, the country's main trading sectors will be the hardest hit. Bangladesh's apparel industry, for example, had laid down an ambitious target of exporting an equivalent of $25 billion and creating an extra 2 million jobs in the next five years. It is doubtful whether this will be able to occur. Bangladesh's leaders, however, have a ready-made excuse: their economy cannot grow unless the current political situation is stabilized.

Sri Lanka, on the other hand, is expected to be less affected by the financial crisis. Although foreign investors have begun to pull their money out of the country's stock market, the government has been saying that this will not have any detrimental impact on the economy.

The Colombo Stock Market has shown some negative impacts, but analysts claim that it's part of a normal ebb and flow. Nevertheless, Sri Lankan apparel and tea industries are vulnerable to the crisis, as the U.S. is one of their major export destinations. Although the U.S. financial crisis has impacted South Asian countries differently, it would be simplistic to blame it for the economic recessions in most of these countries. Severe political unrest is probably the largest cause behind the economic distress of Nepal, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.

Nepal is just emerging out of a decade-long Maoist insurgency. Bangladesh is under military rule with serious political turmoil. Pakistan is struggling to establish democracy after Benazir Bhutto's assassination and Pervez Musharraf's ouster. Sri Lanka, although new hopes have emerged, has been continuously fighting with separatist rebels.Each of these nations will have a strong economy only with the establishment of a stable democracy. And India, a major economic force in South Asia, has a large role to play in helping bring about a democratic and stable future in the region.
© Copyright 2008 Ka Leo O Hawaii

Fatherhood, gender and power

Fatherhood, gender and power
 
By: Kamal Raj Sidgel
Posted: 11/5/08
During the American Women's Liberation Movement, controversial writer Germaine Greer publicly claimed that blurring the identity of father would liberate women. However, the blurring of the father's identity raises several ethical and moral questions centered on the fact that in women's reproductive potentiality lies the ultimate power - and both men and women can exercise it to rule over each other.

In the Judeo-Christian religious tradition, control over females began with God's declaration to Adam, "Thou shalt rule over all the creatures of the world," including Eve (females were categorized as "creatures" created for men). According to this tradition, Eve was seduced by Satan. Another story holds that Eve and Satan fell in love, and Adam, seeking a way to control Eve, crafted the ideas of "chastity" and "sin."
 
Ever since, this rule has been formalized. The Manusmriti, a lawbook of ancient Hindus, says that women, animals and rivers should never be trusted and should be controlled at all times. Islam says the same.
 
Some historians say that males learned methods of female subjugation from animal husbandry. They discovered that if a black-spotted bull copulates with a domesticated cow, and the cow is put under control, the reproduced spotted calf assumes the identity of the spotted bull, not the unspotted cow.
According to this theory, males observed and applied the same theory to their wives. They began to control female reproductive capacity via enforced domestication, enforced chastity, enforced pregnancy and other forms of sexual repression designed to ensure that men can confidently claim ownership of the children their wives give birth to.
We know that a father is necessary for child bearing, but, until the advent of paternity testing, we didn't know how to identify him. Today, then, women are learning how powerful they are compared to men. In the same vein, the identity of children without fathers has been a matter of fear and, therefore, most countries do not grant them citizenship. This legal framework is maintained through links to ethics, religion, chastity and morality.

Surprisingly, however, some women in far western Nepal have been able to keep the ball of power in their hands. They are not the talented and highly educated women living in the luxurious cities; they are women practicing polyandry in remote districts. All of the women have decision-making power in their families. In fact, the family is matriarchal. Women are privileged because the father's identity is blurred. One wife has multiple husbands in her own home and, fortunately, the males of the area have not yet discovered paternity testing.

If we understand how to deal with facts and utilize them for a positive cause, there may be a way to transform the "second sex" into the first. What is interesting is that power never remains in the same hand. It is inevitable, then, that gendered politics will one day be turned upside down. (The writer is East West Center fellow in Hawaii, USA)
© Copyright 2008 Ka Leo O Hawaii, USA

Hiking in Hawaii by APLP Generation 8 (some of them)

Some of the Generation 8 APLPs, namely Shawn Hall, John Taylor, Meredith Holmgren, Mihoko Shimoji, Tashi Wangchuck , Yoriko Ii, Sunita Chaudhary, Vannarith Chheang, and Kamal Raj Sigdel did a five-mile hiking on November 2, 2008, just two days before departing for China. Here is a documentary prepared by Kamal using the footages from the trip.




Greenway: Hopes for Bhutan

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

WASHINGTON: Seen-it-all Washingtonians saw something new last week: a Bhutanese temple rising on the Washington Mall amid fluttering prayer flags near the Washington Monument. The Bhutanese are in town for the Smithsonian's Folklife Festival. With a population of just 600,000, the Tantric Buddhist kingdom in the high Himalayas wants to introduce itself to America, with dancers wearing the masks of birds and beasts, archers, weavers, and the rest of what they have to show. A photograph of a Bhutanese setting up his tent graced the front page of The Washington Post.

"Druk Yul," or "land of the thunder dragon," as the kingdom is known, lies squeezed between the far larger dragon of Chinese power in Tibet, from which Bhutan's culture derives, and the elephant of India to the south.

Bhutan became a kingdom 101 years ago, encouraged by the British when most of the squabbling factions agreed to unite behind a monarchy. Having wrested much of Bhutan's lowlands away, the British were happy to see what was left remain independent. And there Bhutan remained, essentially in the Middle Ages, until it started, cautiously, to open up to the outside world in the 1960s. A road to India was built in 1961. An airport came in the 1980s. Television and the Internet arrived only in 1999.

Although no army waits at the gates to invade - Bhutan has more monks than soldiers - the country is nonetheless engaged in a struggle for its survival. Bhutan saw China take over Tibet, its spiritual homeland, in the 1950s. Bhutan then saw India manipulate Nepalese immigrants in neighboring Sikkim, taking advantage of the resulting unrest to annex that semi-independent kingdom in 1975. Bhutan watched Nepal's monarchy self-destruct in an orgy of murder and suicide, to be followed by a weak king, and a Maoist insurrection that this year came to power in an election that abolished the monarchy.

One Bhutanese said the other day that Nepal's monarchy, by not bending sufficiently with the times, had gone the way of the French monarchy, while Bhutan's was more like the British, adapting with the times.

And so it has. This year, the year of the earth rat on the Buddhist calendar, Bhutan became a constitutional monarchy, forming political parties, and holding mock elections to get the people used to the real elections this spring. Bhutan likes to call itself the world's newest democracy, all done without a revolution or a civil war. Bhutan's king abdicated in favor of his Massachusetts- and Oxford-educated son.

But the Bhutanese still worry, and rightfully so. Will its nascent democracy evolve in a constructive way? Or will it evolve as Pakistan's has, with parties controlled by powerful families and led by crooks? Unhappily, too much of the story of democracy in South Asia is also a story of violence and corruption.

They worry, too, about demographics. Bhutan has a Nepalese minority, living peacefully in the lowlands, but if too many new immigrants pour in, looking for land, that presents its own dangers. Once before Bhutan expelled a lot of Nepalese in a controversial move. They languish today in refugee camps in Nepal, many claiming they were exported unjustly.

Arguably the greatest threat comes from global warming. The primary source of income is hydropower, sold to India. The giant, modern turbines are often left with a little trickle of water here and there to power a prayer wheel. But the snows of the Himalayas are melting, and every year the torrents of spring grow a little less.

Bhutan has adopted a development model of its own, in which it seeks to grow slowly, hoping to maintain its cultural identity, its pristine environment, while advancing economically under what it hopes will be sound government. They call it a "middle way" to development under the theatrical slogan of "gross national happiness." About 30 percent of the budget goes to education and healthcare, both of which are free.

The Bhutanese have seen other developing countries adopt to modernity too fast, with cultures lost, citizens corrupted, listless youths lost to drugs, and the environment polluted. It will be a race to see if Shangri-La can survive the onslaught of the 21st century. (The International Herald Tribune).

Maoist threat continues

By Kosh Raj Koirala (Source: The Kathmandu Post)
He had nothing to do with the Maoist. Nor had he anything to gain from the state parties. With repeated threats and physical assaults from the Maoists, Sharan Bahadur Bhandari, 73, is forced to desert his ancestral home at Chattiwan VDC-7, Makawanpur four years ago and lead a miserable life along with his family members in the capital city.

According to Bhandari, Maoists had first asked his family Rs 100,000 as donation. "As we failed to pay off the amount as demanded, they [Maoist] first abducted and tortured my eldest son and then to me, alleging that we supplied their information to army. As luck would have it, we both were spared death then," told Bhandari, recounting his harrowing experience in March 2003.
While insecure as always, Bhandari and his eldest son Ganesh then chose to desert the village. This, however, made their family members the Maoist target.Local level Maoist cadres started threatening to kill their family members if the latter failed to call them back to the village. "They [Maoist cadres] would come at the house mostly in the night and ask whereabouts of my husband and father-in-law," said Gyanu, the eldest daughter-in-law of Bhandari. "Once Maoist cadres stormed into our house in the afternoon and brought me and my three daughters at the courtyard. They started pouring kerosene on us, threatening to burn them alive. Luckily, one of the cadres proved kind enough that we were left unharmed."
In April the same year, the Maoists put on their flag at the house and declared seizure of all 7 bigha of farming land. They also took away five milking buffaloes, one cow, four oxen, 62 goats, 150 chickens and a large amount of food grains. "We then had no option but to pack off things that came handy and flee the house for life," said Gyanu. "Maoist cadres still continue to threaten us. They have also denied returning our seized properties."
Bhandari family is just a case in point. According to Maoists' Victims Association (MVA), as many as 15,000 of the total 27,000 Maoist-displaced families are still languishing in the capital city or district headquarters, mostly for fear of Maoist attack.
In the historic peace agreement signed between the government and the CPN (Maoist) on November 21 last year, the Maoists have expressed commitment to help return the displaced people voluntarily to their respective ancestral village and also give back their seized properties.
Dharma Raj Neupane, president of MVA, said Maoists are not fully abiding by the peace agreement. "Only thing they [Maoists] have stopped after signing the peace agreement is they have left killing people. They have denied returning the seized properties. Lower rung Maoist cadres continue with their tactics of threat, intimidation and abduction even these days," said he.

Neupane asked the government to take initiatives for forming a committee that includes representatives of Maoist, Maoist-victims and the government in central, district and local level to help resolve the problem. He also said that the assistance the government decided to help rehabilitate displaced people is far less than adequate. "The important thing is building a sense of security among people. It also needs certain investment from the part of the government. It is obvious that people do not want to return to their home only to find their properties either destroyed or robbed," he added.
(The writer is sub-editor at The Kathmandu Post, the largest selling English in Nepal).

Pakistan facing bankruptcy as world financial crisis deepens

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