neil horning article kantipur

Foreigner’s Eye: Viewing the East Through Western Lens

[पूर्व हेर्ने पश्चिमी नजर- नेपालीमा तल छ]

neil horning
Neil Horning

By Neil Horning
[विदेशी आँखा- bideshi ankha- Foreigner’s Eye]

A few days ago a some friends and I were on a bike ride in Bardiya. As we waited alone on the river bank for the ferry to take us across, over 20 other riders arrived, and it was clear that we all couldn’t fit on at once. So, as the raft approached, ready with a plank for us to role our bikes up, what happened? Did a line form? Did the new arrivals recognize it might be better for everyone if a few people waited for the next crossing? Of course not! We all had to race 10 meters into the water, until we were up to our knees, then fight each other while lifting our bikes over the side. After a lot of jostling and a few stubbed toes, it became clear that this loading process would take longer than two trips across would have. So, we had plenty of time, and nothing to do but stand sweating in the Terrai heat and talk about why this happened.

“Well, in the west we start out this way. It’s just that our teachers drill us over and over until we stand in line, and then this happens on buses, shops, trains, government offices and anywhere else not everyone can be served at once. Why? Because public education was invented to serve the industrial revolution. As people moved into cities and started working in factories, the owners needed a labor pool to be able to stand in line and move on time according to a schedule signaled with a bell. In Nepal, education was banned until 1951 and the level of industrialization is blah… blah… blah…”

At university I read “Orientalism” by Edward Siad. It professed among other things, that westerners would research the Orient through filters of their own assumptions, form “expert” opinions about Asian people and societies, and then feed these opinions back to the West, eventually contributing to a discourse that justified colonial and imperial exploitation. A few years later, I was in an Enfield repair shop in Pokhara, swapping anecdotes over beer with the regular set of ex-pats, when I realized that our topic of conversation would never stray far from some amateur form of Orientalism. “Why is it so slow / Frustrating/ discriminatory here?” “Why can’t people stand in line / wait for the next bus when it’s full / look both ways when they cross the street / stop beating wives/children/dogs/dalites?” Of course, then there’s the inevitable admission that our countries have their own problems, the placing into cultural context, and explanation of the underlying factors, the recognition that it’s getting better here, maybe even faster than we think… But still, “If people would just simply change x!” Even after having noticed this I haven’t been able to break the habit, even years later. Now I’m beginning to think it’s the reason most of us are here.

I’ve been living in Nepal on and off for the last 5 years, and when I meet someone who’s been doing the same I ask what keeps bringing them back. They very rarely have an answer. There is just “Something.” about the place. As for me, I studied the conflict for my international relations thesis, became fascinated, came here around 2005 and found that it was very hard to leave. That “Something,” just kept drawing me back. So, I spent a couple of years writing about the conflict and post-conflict online while teaching English to pay the bills, caught a tropical wasting disease and went to Korea to recover, came back and found a place with an INGO. But nowadays I think the “something” that was drawing me back may be more about what happens when I visit home. Upon arrival I find that the US has suddenly transformed into a vast landscape of freeways and parking lots that allow people to drive large and pointless cars to enormous malls to purchase increasingly big screened TVs and other useless things. I enjoy being with my friends again, but eventually tire of the vast majority of conversations, which seem to revolve around something trivial or fictional. If you ask any ex-pat here, you’re likely to get the same story about home.

So, we come back here, find an important sounding job, and enjoy much more fulfilling conversations with each other: We complain about how things here need to change – how if society improved just a little more here it would begin to resemble our own countries… that we hate.

Horning is a familiar name to many UWB readers as he has been contributing to this site since long. His personal site: Neil’s Nepal

[विदेशी आँखा- bideshi ankha- Foreigner’s Eye] is a column in Kantipur newspaper, Nepal’s top daily in which foreigners who have lived or visited Nepal or are living in the country write about their experience with Nepali society. A translated version of this article appeared in today’s issue of Kantipur (see the pic below).]

neil horning article kantipur
click to enlarge (ठूलो पार्न क्लिके हुन्छ)

Earlier columns:

Foreigner’s Eye: Re-learning Nepal by Megan Titley

Foreigner’s Eye: Kuire Jokes and Nepali Thatta by James Sharrock

Foreigner’s Eye: Encountered Nepal in the United States by Denise A. Freeman



One response to “Foreigner’s Eye: Viewing the East Through Western Lens”

  1. […] and for making me write it in the first place. There is an English version available on his blog here. Recently, Dinesh seems to have posted nearly all of the Nepal related diplomatic cables from […]

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