06.05.2012 - 06.28.2012 30 °C
One thing that I can say about Kathmandu and Nepal in general, after having spent just over three months here, is that one way or another, they manage to make things work. Often I feel both frustrated and delighted at the same time that this place is so chaotic. From an urban planning perspective, Kathmandu is a mess! There are no street names – were you to send mail here, it would be addressed to a district, which includes many unnamed streets, alleys, walkways and paths. I don’t know how the mail even gets delivered to some people. Yet, still I can manage to find my way to the main sites around town with just a map and a few questions asked.
When I extended my visa by two weeks, I followed the map in my Lonely Planet to the Central Immigration Office, only to find it deserted. There was an alternate map outside the building, but the wind had wrapped it around a post. I had to find a guy to ask before this was cleared up, but I made it to the new office in time just the same. As I don’t speak the local languages around here all that well, nor do I know where I am going, nor do I have completely reliable maps, nor are the streets organized in any reasonable fashion, traveling in this region is somewhat akin to being on a giant scavenger hunt in some friend’s neighborhood I’ve just met. I like that. It makes me feel like a kid again.
A few years ago, I played in a couple of big kid scavenger hunts in Seattle and Vancouver, put on by City Chase. We ran all over the cities trying to beat various challenges like tightrope walking, asking random people to dance, or drawing nude portraits (bonus points for getting nude and having your partner draw you!) When in Seattle, I spent at least a good month and a half driving all over the city, learning landmarks, studying street names, learning bus routes, practicing things like rock climbing and coordinating strategy with my teammates. All said and done, we finished the race just before the time ran out, and well after the winners. When we went to race in Vancouver, I did next to no research beforehand. I hardly knew the city versus having lived in Seattle my whole life. My friends also didn’t know it where anything was. Yet, we still managed to finish the race in the same amount of time just by asking around and following people that were obviously on to something.
As far as civil engineering goes, a well-thought-out city plan goes a long way in helping to develop the future for that city and its people. But the truth is that cities without a ton of planning – that are just thrown up helter skelter by their inhabitants, and strung together like so many overburdened telephone poles and city busses – these cities manage to work somehow as well, and people there manage to find happiness just the same.
Of course, no matter what sort of planning or lack of planning is going on, there are always going to be problems and challenges that come up. Not everyone is going to be made happy. Not everyone is going to be well served, especially when the city reaches the edges of its capacities to handle the people and environmental conditions at the same time. Eventually Kathmandu is going to have another big earthquake, and a lot of people are going to die when the poorly constructed cement and brick buildings come down on top of them. But things will be made to work again.
In my life, I do a lot of research and planning. I coordinate my time and resources well. I have organization systems for my organization systems. But on this trip, I have learned a lot about letting go and just allowing life to unfold as it needs to and on its own time. Occasionally, this has left me feeling like I am floundering or fooling myself, but inevitably it all comes together as it needs to. Now that I am seven months into my trip, I have a few questions to answer about what is coming up next in my life. Naturally, I want to select very good decisions about my future and this will require adequate research and development to pull off. I get meticulous when I get into master planning.
But maybe, just maybe, I should take a page from the Kathmandu book before I go. Or one from the Vancouver City Chase book. Maybe I don’t need to have everything dialed in 100 percent in order to make it all work. Maybe a general direction will be good enough from time to time and I should just let things grow up organically. I don’t know what my answers are for my future right now. Not precisely. And I am not saying that Kathmandu has given me the answers I am seeking. Perhaps it has just given me another way to look at the question