Archive for March 2011


It's Holi! The holiday where we celebrate the miraculous escape of young Prahlad from certain doom in Hiranyakashipu's murderous bonfire by throwing water balloons and buckets of water and colored powder at each other why not! For over a week little kids have been throwing water at buses and female tourists while the papers say that police have been confiscating illegally smuggled caches of water balloons. This has to be the greatest idea for a holiday ever.  

In the village the only colors available were red from tikka and black from ash.

We traveled around with a gang of water balloon-wielding hooligans, occasionally encountering other gangs of water balloon-wielding hooligans.

From every rooftop awaited snipers with water balloons and buckets of water. 

Outside my school in Bistagaon.

We were attacked by people wielding yellow, green, and blue tikka on the road to Chapagaon.

My mother was visiting. She brought cascarones, confetti-filled egg shells that Texans smash over each other's heads during Easter. I'm not sure how widespread the practice is in the US, but I think it originated in Mexico. She also made some really good cheese enchiladas. A pretty good representation of Texan culture I thought. The cascarones were very well received during Holi.

This child, however, was not amused.

Spelling Ash in English Loanwords: Hail Kyanada

This is the sign on Lazimpat road that points the way to the Canadian Embassy. I pass it every day I'm staying in the Lazimpat flat, and the Devanagari rendering of the word 'Canada' above the arrow always strikes me as odd - 'kyaanaaDaa.' The 'y' inserted after the hard 'k' sounds strange to my ears, and I wondered why the Canadian embassy didn't just make it 'kaanaaDaa.'

But if you look carefully you can see this all over the place, especially on the billboards for colleges - the word क्याम्पुस - 'kyaampus' - 'campus'. There are many other English loanwords that have that extra 'y.' Some examples I have found by looking at signs throughout the city are 'pyaaket' for 'packet,' 'byaatri' for 'battery,' 'kyaafe' for 'cafe,' and 'phyaast kyaash' for 'fast cash' (on the instructions for an ATM).

Apparently it has something to do with the 'short a' sound in English, which is in the first syllables of each of those words. This is a lax front vowel that doesn't exist in the Nepali language. Either by convention of sign writers or by their reflection of the way Nepalis pronounce these words, a glide is inserted before a Nepali long 'a' - आ -  to represent it (the Nepali short 'a' - अ - is too far back, I think, and as a 'reduced vowel' it takes the place of the schwa in English loanwords).

So 'pat' becomes something like 'pyawt.' 

Why does that sound like a reasonable substitute? I think what is actually going on is that Nepalis are pronouncing a diphthong - /ia/ - 'kiaanaaDaa,' 'piaaket,' etc. This sounds like and is written as a 'y' sound. This quick diphthong approximates the English 'short a' because it has the effect of bringing the vowels up and forward, closer to the English 'short a.' In Nepali ears it sounds like a good approximation. 

Puzzle He'Art' - "Fresh Honey"

Title: "Fresh Honey"
Size: ACEO/ATC - 2-1/2" x 3-1/2"

Notes: It took a week to put the puzzle together ... only to discover it was missing a piece!
So off to the art bin it went ...

To see hearts from around the world, visit "Random Hearts" - and share YOUR heart on Guest Heart Thursday!

Graffiti Art - 'Don't Touch'

Title: "Don't Touch"
Size: ACEO/ATC - 3-1/2" x 2-1/2"

Notes: Made with REAL graffiti (see sidebar)

To see and encourage amazing artists from around the world, be sure to visit Beth's Artworx and join us for "FAT Tuesday Artist Spotlight!"

Deelybobbers and Diphthongs

In Devanagari, vowel symbols attach to a consonant (e.g. क - k) like this:

कि  -  ki                      की  -  ki:

के   -  ke                  

क   -  ka                      का  -  ka:

को  -  ko

कु   -  ku                      कू  -  ku:

What is cool about this is how symmetrical it is. In the upper vowels and the lower vowels there is a length distinction (mostly lost in modern Nepali pronunciation but preserved in spelling) - ki vs. ki:, ku vs. ku:, ka vs. ka:. The symbol that describes the upper vowel in the long is a reversal of the short: कि/की, कु/कू.

However, the 'deelybobber vowels' don't have length distinctions. The deelybobber vowels are mid-vowels, /e/ and /o/, and their Devanagari symbols look like deelybobbers: के and को . This is a very scientific term that I just made up. The Nepali term for it is eklaakha for one and dolaakha for two

The dolaakha are used for the two written Nepali diphthongs:

कै   -   kai

कौ  -   kau

We might expect, given the symmetry, that कै would represent /ke:/ and कौ would represent /ko:/. Instead, they represent diphthongs that contain neither vowel. However, the trajectory of the mouth as it creates these two diphthongs passes through the vowel in question: कै starts at /a/ and moves up and forward (passing /e/ along the way), and कौ starts at /a/ and moves up and backward (passing /o/ along the way).

Again, weirdly symmetrical. I wonder if this suggests a historical vowel shift in the middle vowels, which used to contain long mid-vowels that have since been diphthongized.

[Note: I've simplified the /a/ vowels, which I'm pretty sure are two fairly different vowels but that have been explained to me as 'reduced' and 'full' versions of the same thing. Also, I'm pretty sure 95% of the people reading this have no idea what I'm talking about, and the other 5% are laughing about how wrong it is.]

Piece #83

Mother Language Education in Thailand

"We firmly believe that the inclusion of local languages in schools helps students improve their academic performance and strengthen their aptitude in the Thai language, while preserving the individual languages and cultures that make us unique...

... students in pilot schools learn to read and write in their native tongue, Pattani Malay, and then use that as a bridge to the national language of Thai. The children are doing very well – in fact, they are seldom absent, they participate enthusiastically, their self-confidence is growing, and their Thai language abilities are already 35% higher than similar students in monolingual Thai control schools. In addition to improved language abilities, we’ve also seen increased performance in science, mathematics, and other subjects..."

The Leading Edge of Knife Discussion

- King Pratap Malla
- 'New Pinch' origins
- The low form when addressing...
- stall words in foreign languages
- onomatopoeia in Nepali

These are all phrases that people have typed into search engines to find this blog. Which is pretty cool, because I have written blog posts that have touched on all of these topics. Somewhat more inscrutably, people have also found this blog by typing the following phrases:

- Language study. Spanish speakers less smart
- I was in middle school nobody
- Sejuti porn movie

These are not things that I have written blog posts about. I hope those other people were not too disappointed. I just passed 5000 hits on the blog, with about 63% of the traffic coming from the US, 17% from Nepal, and the remaining 20% from a hodgepodge of Asian and European countries, mostly India, South Korea, the UK and Germany.

The single biggest referring URL to this site comes from, which according to their FAQ is "the largest, most active, and best knife discussion website in the world" (their tagline: "The Leading Edge of Knife Discussion"). Apparently the picture of a khukuri knife on my Dashain post inspired this blog post on

Anyway, in an effort to better provide my audience (you, the noble reader) with observations and discussions relevant to your interests, I hereby resolve to tone down the language stuff and focus more on cutlery and adult entertainment. Watch this space; big changes ahead!

Piece #82

Graffiti He'Art' - Red Bubbles

Title: Red Bubbles
Size: ATC/ACEO - 3-1/2" x 2-1/2"

Notes: Made with REAL graffiti (see sidebar)

To see hearts from around the world, visit "Random Hearts", and share YOUR heart on Guest Heart Thursday!

And be sure to visit Beth over at "Beth's Artworx", as she spotlights AMAZING artists every Tuesday on her meme - "FAT Tuesday Artist Spotlight" - link up to share your art, then support and encourage fellow artists from around the world!


The road to Chapagaon was filled with adorable little extortionists on the morning of Shivaratri. Little kids strung up bits of rope across the road and refused to budge until motorcyclists and trucks and pedestrians payed them a few rupees. A slightly older student of mine, leaning against a cudgel that he used to mock-threaten the passerby, explained to me that this was the tradition on Shivaratri. I asked him what prevented us from simply driving through the rope and continuing on our way. He gestured to his friend who was dutifully holding up the rope from behind and said, "If you keep driving, he will have to go to the hospital, and then you will have to pay us even more." I gave him three coins on the condition that I could photograph him, but it turned out to be a bad move: there were six other roadblocks in front of me, and my bhaai Sabin and I did not have enough coins and 5-rupee notes to satisfy the precocious toll-takers. Sabin had to do some fast talking at the last four posts and convince the kids to let us pass.

Before I left the house I had been told that it would be impossible to get to the holiest Kathmandu temple complex Pashupati, the focal point of the craziness. I later found out that more than 400,000 people visited Pashupati on Shivaratri. 

We had to clamber over walls and hills just to enter the Bagmati Park. The main temple complex is generally off-access to foreigners. On this day even Nepalis had to pay 500 rupees to enter the complex.

The park was filled with stoned Nepali teenagers, Western hippies, and holy ascetic sadhus.  Why does everyone smoke hash on Shivaratri? The only answer I got from my teacher was "This is Shiva's Day. Shiva does drugs and so people do drugs to honor Him. He is The Destroyer."

On the stone steps of the park we first started hearing a 'whhhhoooooaaaa' noise, the sound of dozens of people running for their lives, and seeing people dash in different directions. We climbed the white steps of the adjacent wall for a better view but we still couldn't see what people were running from. Finally maneuvering into the danger zone for a better view, we were rewarded with a view of completely naked sadhus waving peacock feathers and large weighty sticks, striking out at the crowd. All the sadhus were pretty ornery, especially to the Westerners coming up to them with their giant cameras and the stoned Nepali teenagers stepping around them. An interesting social dynamic there, definitely: yesterday there was a short piece in the Kathmandu Post regarding the naked Naga Babas (Holy Snake Fathers?).

Before I left the house I was told, in Nepali, "Be careful not to lose yourself." I imagine this advice was intended with multiple meanings. There was no reason to worry, though, because I'm nervous enough around large crowds and naked men chasing me with sticks; I didn't really need anything else making me nervous.

That night, after eating some delicious prasad back in Boharatar, I fell asleep to the sound of the nearby temple's PA system blasting traditional religious songs sung and played on the harmonium.

If you want to see incredible pictures of the Shivaratri festivities, then you need to check out the website of Taylor, talented free-lance photographer and my fellow Fulbrighter, poker buddy and co-viewer of the epic tour-de-force Dinocroc vs. Supergator.

Piece #81

Dispatches from the Patriotic Agents of Linguistic Imperialism

An editorial from the Kathmandu Post, written by my teacher and friend Prem Phyak:

Dying Mother Tongues

The dissenting opinion. English, I hear, is the only useful mode of communication; what is the point of anything but English medium education? Even my school is technically becoming English medium. The native languages are not economically useful and do not need to be spoken much less engaged with as a medium of instruction. At my school I see the 5-year-old kids speaking Tamang to each other in the playground and only Nepali and English in the classroom, and I'm reminded of how the language of my grandfather began its slow decline in 20th century Texas in the English-only classroom. At least there are a few loyal dissenters, like these guys.

The NELTA conference was fun. My presentation was halted by a stubborn audience member who needed to have his questions answered immediately, which as far as I'm concerned is a good sign. Better than snores anyway. In comparing what I know of the Texas and Lalitpur educational systems, one of my main goals was to simply introduce the idea that the USA does not always provide a superior model for everything: I looked specifically for instances where the practices of Lalitpuri teachers struck me as more successful than those implemented in Texas, and vice versa.

The other ETAs gave some interesting talks, and the other presentations by professionals from Nepal, India, Europe, and the United States gave me some ideas for the new school year (it's just about time for another monthlong break, arglbargl). Prem, of 'the-beginning-of-this-blog-post' fame, gave several talks himself.

But the simultaneous Fulbright ETA conference was the most fun. We met up with the other English Teaching Assistants in India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Kazakhstan, and Tajikistan. We were put up in The Godavari Village Resort for a few days and had some interesting discussions and talks, and then we were bused to Pokhara for the NELTA conference. They're a pretty great group. After the conference I went bungee jumping with some of them.

From there. woooooooooooooo.