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Friday, May 04, 2007

Travelling #7: A Place to Hang Out

[Note: I didn't like the flow (or the grammer mistakes) of this one that well so I've edited it. Sorry to the purists.]

"I'll meet you at the Full-Moon Cafe later"

"Full Moon"
"Blue Moon"
"Half Moon"
"New Moon...? "

"Geez...It it's one of those anyway... you'll find it. It is next door and upstairs to the big Internet cafe just up from the Kathmandu Guesthouse (a major landmark)" "Ask around if you have any trouble"

"Meet you there at 8pm. "
"See you around 9pm..."
"We'll be there any time after 8:30pm..."

It is properly the Full Moon Cafe and has quickly become my semi-regular place to hang-out and have a couple beers. It is funny how nice it is to have "a place" you feel at ease and how quickly you can fall into one.

I really like the place. It is a very relaxed atmosphere, raised cushion seating and on Thursdays has a quite excellent live jazz band.

I don't know why sitting on cushions on the floor hasn't made the sell across the ocean in North America. It is so luxurious and comfortable. Everyone I meet in Asia loves the relaxed and casual feel of eating or drinking lounging on cushions on the floor. In India, Thailand, here in Nepal, people of all walks of life seem happy to fold their legs or stretch out and do it, chatting and laughing comfortably at ground level. So why have so few thought of it back home? Hmmn, maybe a business opportunity to file away. Feel free to steal it. I don't care if I make money on it or not, I just want it available. Especially for live music, if you're not standing at a concert, second best is in a concerted lounge position. Think of how nice it is sitting on the grass for summer festivals. It also promotes easy mixing as the tables and seating are not so regimented.

My first foray to the joint was 3 weeks ago before I left for my trek. I was emailing at the Internet cafe. I was alone at that point, my trekking partner not having arrived yet and I had not yet build a crew. Getting out of there I was thinking of finding a place to sit and chill for a couple hours. Wandering out the door to the street I can hear some sweet jazz emanating from the 2nd floor of the next building. Whew, that was a hard & long search. Up I go. Live music, especially decent jazz, is not to be passed up.

The place is small and L-shaped with all the seating on raised, cushioned platforms. I ask a couple in the corner if I can claim a space beside them, kick off my flip flops and settle in with my back nicely wedged in the crease of the bamboo wall paneling and an Everest beer within reach. Nice life.

I doubt Kathmandu is on the International Jazz Circuit, but the boys are pretty good, better than I would have expected. They played an hour and a half set straight (and in typical jazz format this was about 5 "songs") and started up again after only a 15 minute break for refreshment. Cool crowd. Not nearly as busy as I expected. It is not a large place. Mostly locals and people in the know it appears. I can't figure why more tourists don't wander in like I did. Did they not hear the music from the street? It isn't like most of us have any place to be. But who knows, maybe Shakira is playing down the street and I'm missing it. For me, coming from 5 months in Chennai (John McLaughlin excepted) this atmosphere and a place to hang out is bliss.
I make a mental "wish you were here" list of people I know who would really dig the scene.

Comfortably settled against the wall, I am in a very relaxed mood and I draw inward with the music and just chill. And in many occasions, that would be the end of the story: I enjoy the night and the vibe, but struggle with feeling isolated - like there's walls between us - and go home at the end of the night, satisfied, but not quite. But that isn't the story tonight.

I run through the Spanish girl sitting beside me with little rapport and then a pair of Israelis before eventually shifting over to join a couple I had been exchanging grins and laughs with the enxt table over (who were Filipino and not a couple, but I didn't know that then). We chat for a bit, listen to some more music and then somewhere along the way I found myself in the circle of the local crowd like we were all old friends. The Nepali are warm people and treat well anyone one who is open and friendly. They seem happy to include me. One offers me half his sub the restaurant staff went and got for them. I'm the Ferengi dancing unabashedly with the locals to the dance-ish music once the band quit. Many songs, laughs, stories and an extraneous couple beers later, I wander down the street puzzled as I regularly am about how this process all came about and how these things just happen somehow when you're not searching for them.

It is a funny thing. I count myself as a generally shy person, not the first to wander up to a group I don't know and strike up a conversation or hold everyone's attention as I entertain. I find cliques of chatting people intimidating (although here, like most traveling, you have to remember that most groups of seemingly close "friends" are likely only an hour old, but more on that later). And so I regularly feel isolated in an unfamiliar place. And of course sometimes you make connections, sometimes you don't. But though I find it hard to actively meet people, somwhere along the way I often do. It is a juxtaposition that I don't know how to make them happen, but they happen more often than not. Beats me how this juxtaposition fits together, but I thought I'd share it. I think partly is that I'm scared of openings, breaking the ice as they say, but once it is broken or in situations where you don't have to formally break it, I seem to be a naturally good skater/swimmer from there. So maybe if that is the explanation, it is not so mysterious. But then, I've long ago learned I do better, as most of us do, when I just be and not worry and over-think too much.

Anyway, back to my story,...the gate to my guesthouse is, unsurprisingly, locked when I arrive and I can't see a buzzer. Hmmn kink in my plan (what plan? I didn't get 10 feet from the Internet cafe before getting distracted for the night!). Thankfully after pondering my options for a minute, a woman cooking in a stall across the street points out the obscure bell toggle behind the pillar. Oh yes, cream toggle on a dingy, ivory night. Silly of me to miss it. I worry briefly about getting hassle from the watchman as I don't know if they have curfew rules, but after chummily watching a cricket world cup match with the night staff last night, they just smile and usher me in warmly when I ring the bell.

So from there the Full Moon Cafe became a convenient and relaxed place to suggest as a meeting place. Citra, Mike, Raz and I meet up there before heading out for New Years. When my trekking partner Harsh arrives from Bangalore, we chat about our plans there over a couple drinks.

Now that I'm back from trekking, with a new crew met along the way, it again becomes a natural place to while away a few hours.

Last night Adrian (UK) and I were looking for a place for a drink after dinner and again we caught the music from the street. Ah, it is Thursday again (dates and days of the week hold very little attention when you're travelling) and the jazz band is playing again. Well, can't pass that up so up we go. It is similarly quiet for the jazz sets, playing to 10:30. We make friends with the others sitting in our half of the "L", some really nice people with the usual global spread: a couple from the UK, a German guy and Dutch girl, a couple German girls. My Filipino friends are there too and I happily catch up with them. After the band, the dance music cuts in and, as before, dancing starts, this time with a stronger contingent of our foreigner contingent. The place gets really busy and our "fun half" of the "L" becomes a full-fledged dance zone. Most everyone is up at least part of the time. More people join.

This is where I get a good, quick lesson in remembering to not be intimidated by groups of travellers who seem to be close friends and having a private riot amongst themselves. Partway through the evening, a newer joiner to our little dance party asks me how we all know each other, indicting the crew behind me of people laughing, sitting shoulder-to-shoulder, calling out back and forth between the tables. I chuckle, looking around. "Well, Adrian, that guy there, and I met trekking, these two [Filipinos] I met here 3 weeks ago, the rest we've all just met here a couple hours ago." In traveller destinations like here, a seeming tight group might only be as long-lived as the lobby of their guesthouse. Close friends may have met last week and laughing groups might actually be new conglomerates of several pairs and individuals that just fell in together like this lively crowd. Such is the way of travelling and one of the most vibrant.

There are several people already that I will miss and as I head back to Chennai, I am going to miss my new hangout place.

If you're in Kathmandu, check it out and have an Everest beer for me!

1 comment:

Hot Soup said...

The implementation of this realization, then, is surely to hang out at the guesthouses and hostels in your home city of Chennai and pick up some new transient friends?