Jim Phelps’ travel log: A little perspective on southeast Asia

Editor’s note: The following is a travel log submitted by Jim Phelps, owner of Phoenix Traders fair-trade store at 215 7th St. Phelps is traveling through India and Nepal, and will be sending updates about his different experiences along the way. This is the second entry in his travel log.

Wednesday, April 5, 2006

“Maoist system of education: Bomb-making in the fourth grade.”

“Kathmandu: Fourth graders in Nepal wouldn’t have to study math if the countries Maoist would take control. But they would learn to make bombs and grow vegetables.”

—The Times of India, April 4, 2006, page 29

Happy Home Guest House—used to be known as “Hotel California”—near Freak Street.

I decided to sequester myself in the Happy Home Guest House. It is relatively cheap at $5 a night. The staff is very friendly, unlike the half a dozen other places I checked out. The other places were staffed with rude and very pushy people.

Life under wartime. The sheets at Happy Home are clean, the light works, and the water runs. My minimum standards are met. 350 NP rupees a night, with balcony. And NO TV, THANK YOU VERY MUCH!

I started to visit wholesalers today. I won’t get too far because of the strike scheduled for tomorrow.

All seem very happy to see customers. The seven-year war and the Maoists have not been good for the commercial sector of the economy. Bomb-making is up, blouse-making is down.

Don’t get me wrong—freedom is a good thing. But liberty, well, that is just too much responsibility for most folks. Even for good Maoists. They definitely don’t want liberty to flourish. They would like to take Nepal back to the way of Pol Pot. And I think they would tell you so—at least their leaders make noise that way.

Who needs an Army when 70 percent of the rebel forces are women? We know who is truly the most fearsome sex. Ask a married man.

This rebellion is not about getting democracy back. The Nepalese, like most people, never had “democracy.” No, this is about betrayal and revenge. Betrayals of trust and love for a king and queen, and the terrible event that started this sad state of affairs. Revenge for the return of the rule of law. Pay attention, Americans!

The Maoists may very well win this fight—and that would be a terrible thing. Worse would be the continued stalemate of martial law; the end of parliament, the military and police crackdowns the Nepalese face; and the disenfranchisement the average person on the street feels toward the monarchy, and former king and queen they loved.

They died in a hail of bullets, you see, from one of their sons. It is a national tragedy that only the ancient Greeks could devise. Ten members of the royal family gone in a blink of the eye. With it, the hope of a nation.

It’s easy to imagine, in a relatively modern world like ours, that this could never happen to us. Nepal is no backwater of the universe. The hotel manager has a nicer cell phone than I have back in the States. But, come on, can’t we all just get along, boys and girls?

This is the problem of constitutional democracies. They always seem to end badly. Pol Pot or a free republic—which is worse? At times, I don’t know.

If this country goes the way of Cambodia, with its killing fields and its God-worship of leadership, don’t expect India not to be affected.

A strong country to the north of India, buttressing the expansion of China, is desired by the Indian government. The rumors circulating in the Asian press is that the Indians have large numbers of intelligence assets in place here in the Kingdom of Nepal.

Rumors, being what rumors usually are, are based largely on truth. And the truth here is that the Monarch will not be allowed to fall. India is already dealing with the insurgency that is flowing over its borders in Uttar Predesh and other states. This is nothing new for the Indians. They have dealt harshly with peoples’ movements for years. India does have the military might to quash a rebellion at home or abroad.

Most Americans don’t know the true reality of Indian economic, military and political power. The Chinese understand—once a powerful Soviet client state, until a change of government brought free market reforms.

Yes, George W. Bush has a friend in India. With these economic changes comes an overdue place on the world stage. And India wants to lead that dance in southwest Asia. Just ask someone who had his or her customer service job outsourced to John Smith in Mumbai.

Jim Phelps is owner of Phoenix Traders fair-trade store at 215 7th St.

From the April 26-May 2, 2006, issue

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