“From Nepal” will be a weekly series on my winter break in Nepal. Following this point, is the first of such stories.
I arrive in Nepal after a long flight. It’s midnight here and even later back in Korea. I’ve been in transit for the past 14 hours and I get through Nepal’s sleepy immigration, matching my mood. I couldn’t sleep on the long flight from Incheon to Delhi. I was in a middle seat with aisle-seater who refused to give me any space let alone the armrest. It was an unspoken Cold War between him and me, me usually winning. But like any Cold War, I had to be vigilant and awake. It also didn’t help that my flight from Delhi to Kathmandu was nervously anticipated, due to the fact that I neglected to get the Indian visa in order for my transfer. The only reason I knew my mistake was because of my constant Deus Ex Machina of a landlady, 엄마, spontaneously decided to come with me in the last three days leading up to my trip. She neglected to say anything earlier because she thought I had friends to go with; It was nice of her to think that but she was wrong. Realizing visas were required, she told me she couldn’t go. Visas – This was news to me. My greenness ever-present, I’m a scruffy-bearded Kimmy Schmidt I thought.
My trip’s itinerary I made for myself was packed with a day or two in each city, blitzing across India and into Nepal. A tight trip I wouldn’t have enjoyed I rationalized. It makes me feel better to think about the how bad my previous plan would’ve been. Don’t think about the oversight, I tell myself, It’s a positive kind of negative thinking. But now I had to hope that Indian immigration would let me through without a visa or be turned back in Delhi.
I wasn’t, obviously. Or this story would be a guilty pleasure of a conversation only told to friends in more intimate settings than a blog. Possibly of a cryptic Facebook post would work too.
My flight from Delhi from to Kathmandu was not quiet. I was surrounded by Americans from the Pacific Northwest on a trip for agricultural research reasons. They were interesting to talk to, but that didn’t help me sleep nonetheless, especially on the cramped Indian airline.
When I got through the airport with my lone carry-on (checked bags were a different problem entirely seeing how I booked separate flights purposely to keep my previously tight timetable flexible. My greenness is showing again. This is a case study in reactionary living, this trip a microcosm of my life) I was greeted by taxis flooding my periphery. Cars were jammed in the airport pick-up area and their drivers on the adjacent dark sidewalk waiting for tourists to scoop off their planes. This is what’s called a Nepalese Welcome Party.
Quick break for a bad joke: How do you kill a circus? You go for the juggler.
These taxis drivers aren’t into bad jokes but they practice this nonetheless. They don’t ask if I need a taxi, they assume I do and ask instead “Where are you going?” They don’t ask a question that could be outright rejected. That’s smart. They’ve done this before, they’re used to tourists. I respond “I have someone waiting for me.” which was true, I arranged it with my hostel for a small fee to ensure I got where I needed at midnight in Kathmandu. One in the background says “This flight is dead.” I know without looking he’s sullenly shaking his head, the disappointment emanates. This sentiment is probably due to the massive group of agricultural professionals who came through in front of me, they all had chartered buses, and now this mob of taxi drivers are trying to pick off the few remaining people from our small plane.
My response isn’t enough, however. I need to learn how to say no one of these days, but that’s not today. They press the hard sell. Two open their cars and just tell me to go in, “I’ll take you.” trying to look like, walking the line of ambiguity, that they’re my driver while having the plausible deniability of never outright saying as much. One just goes for my bag and motions for it, saying he’ll take my bag and load it up. I jerk back. The man policing the sidewalk comes up and asks where I’m going while the taxi drivers continue pressing. I tell him I have someone picking me up. This is where I see a man in my periphery, as my eyes darting back and forth trying to get a hold of the situation, look behind him across the street then he looks at me and says “Stephan?” But I don’t notice where he was looking at or why he did it; the mob he is a part of is distracting and it gets lost in the static of the situation.
“Yeah!” I say, excited he knows my name. He tells me to come with him. I ask to make sure “So you’re my driver?” and he responds “Get in the car and I’ll take you where you need to go,” assuming the role of my driver. I stop, I ask harder “So you’re my driver?” He motions to the car. I stop dead. I’m out I’m out of options. I don’t know what to do. I’m stuck on this island in the night. Because this is where people get picked up. Where else could I go?
The officer sees me surrounded by these taxi drivers like I’m Charlie finding the last Golden Ticket. The officer asks again “Where are you going?”, I say “Someone is here to pick me up.” and then he points “Is that him?” and points across the street. We make eye contact with the man across the street, holding a sign that reads a scribbled “Stephen,” I look back at the police officer and tell him “Yes!” as I skip across trying to get away from the taxi drivers. I don’t even look both ways. My mother stresses out somewhere. I tell the driver what just happened. All he did was hang his head and say, like a disappointed father says to a son, “Why didn’t you look across the street?” After all the trouble I made for myself getting here, I guess deserve the admonishment.
I have finally made it to Nepal.