Objects of Beauty, 8.

In Objects of Beauty Series, Travel by David20 Comments

Tara, Bronze. Kathmandu, Nepal.

This is Tara, the goddess of compassion. She sits on my dresser in Vancouver, but I found her in a little dusty shop in Kathmandu, and fell in love with her form, serenity and sensual lines. I carefully packaged her up and put her into my duffel and gave her no further thought until she was unceremoniously pulled from her wrappings at the first checkpoint coming into the Kathmandu airport. It wasn’t the first time I’ve had to bribe my way out of a country.

Years before, after spending a Zhivago-esque winter in Russia the year after the wall fell, I was bringing an antique samovar home when the man putting my bag through x-ray told me that while I was free to leave the country, my samovar was a “big problem.” In Russia, he said conspiratorially, “we have 200% duty.” He then took out a small ziploc bag, from which he pulled another ziploc bag, from which he pulled yet another bag, inside of which was a calculator. He did not remove the calculator. Instead he furiously typed random numbers until I was sure he was going to tell me he’d solved Fermat’s last theorem. Instead he told me I owed him $5, looked confused, went back to his calculations, and demanded $50 instead. The transition to a free market economy was not an easy one for Russia. I know this not only because this man was openly defrauding me of my last $50, but because only the day before I’d been part of an attempted mugging, had a razor blade pulled on me, and when I didn’t comply the man stole a painting from a nearby wall tucked it inside his jacket and walked back to me, flashing the painting, and asking me in flawless English and a heavy Russian accent, “You want buy painting?” I didn’t. But back in the St. Petersburg airport I made a donation to the local economy and took my samovar home.

In fact, it wasn’t the first time I’d had to bribe myself out of Nepal. The year previous I was frisked at security and told to remove my wallet. Inside they found Indian 500-Rupee notes, which it turns out are illegal in Nepal. The man explained this to me. I explained to him that in light of this new information I could not possibly leave the money with him.

“Why not?” he asked.

“If I leave this money with you then you will be in possession of 500-rupee notes, and you and I both know that is illegal in Nepal. You seem nice; I couldn’t possibly do that to you.”

“Well perhaps you could leave just a little of these rupees with me.”

“I don’t think that’s a good idea.”

“Well, you see, my boss, he is a very bad man, and if he finds out you have this money, it could be very bad for you. Perhaps you should be leaving it with me.”

“Like I said, I’d love to do that. But as you explained, your boss, he is a very bad man. If he should find out I’ve given you this money, it could go very badly for you.”

“Well, he is not that bad.”

On and on it went until I lost my humour and gave him several notes, threw my much-lighter wallet into the plastic bin to be x-rayed, only to have my wallet pulled out, examined and told I could not have Indian 500-rupee notes, and that, (I’m not making this up) “my boss is a very bad man.” I sighed, made a donation to the local economy, and went to catch my flight to Delhi.

So it was with this background that I stood at the entrance to the Kathmandu airport being told Tara could not come with me. We played the game, danced around, and then I finally said the magic words (take note), “Surely, there must be some way we can resolve this. Is there some way you can help me?”

I made another donation to the local economy.


  1. Pingback: Objects From the Past #1 – Messenger Bag | fozbaca’s WordPress

  2. Love these stories!!! The one about the “Bad boss man” sounds like an Abbott and Costello routine Tara is beautiful and well worth the donation to the local economy 🙂

  3. Hey…I’ll take you up on that sometime…just the coffee of course and If you ever pass thru Portland, OR, I’d be happy to spring for the coffee.

  4. Author

    Tom, if you come to collect it, I’ll give you $5. And I’ll buy you a coffee.

  5. Tara is beautiful and compassion is needed for all of us. May she watch over you.

    Can you spare a buck? US currency?

  6. This story is very much enjoyable! Being from a country where dances under the dark light of money is rampant (talking about bribery here..) it’s fun to see somebody talks about it lightly in a social context, despite its obvious bad nature. As to where I’m from, It’s a country that rhymes with India, in the southeast asia region.

  7. Great post David! I thought I just heard Galen Rowell say “leave only footprints, take only photographs”. P

  8. Hi David – I think I have to catch you on your grammar here: “magic words (take note)”. should “note” not be plural here? 🙂 sure sounds like it! Happy days…

  9. Tara is indeed beautiful! And, as your first comment says, some things are worth the price.
    Just lucky you didn’t go home via Thailand, where all “icons” that are shipped have to be cleared by the Fine Arts Department, whether they are new or ancient, local or not! Hand-carry of up to 5 is ok…
    This included the modern carved wooden Rama and Sita we bought in Bali and moved to our home in Bangkok from Australia! To save the fuss, we hand-carried them out of Bangkok when we moved to Australia. Of course, arriving back in Australia, we had to declare all the wood we had taken out of the country in the first place.
    Such is modern travel. 😀

  10. I always feel a bit honored when traveling and I’m asked if I’m Canadian – and not American. Maybe it was my close proximity, living in Seattle. I hope the CIA or TSA isn’t monitoring your site. LOL Thanks for the honorary status.

  11. Graham, I’m not aligned with Canadian immigration policy, but i say the more the merrier. I welcome you as an honorary canuck!

  12. Well, as a former resident south of the border (the Canadian border, that is), I have no doubt it’s the US “getting even” with Castro when he wouldn’t play by US rules. I mean, as you alluded, the US is open to China. Sheesh. Back to beautiful Tara . . .

    Oh, and my grandmother lived just south of Calgary. Does that give me honorary Canadian status?

  13. Graham – At the risk of getting too political, anything Cuban should be allowed into America. It’s high time the embargo was lifted. For God’s sake, China is America’s largest trading partner. If the ghost of McCarthy is still worried about the red threat, it’s there that he’ll find it. But then I’m Canadian, so what do I know. We’re kind of OK with other political orientations. 🙂

  14. “Starbucks and McDonalds should stay at home in America…” Agreed. But Cuban cigars should be allowed into America. That is, unless you’re an international smuggler where it could seriously affect your wallet. The first thing I heard exiting a Mexican/Cuban flight return was, “All those with Cuban cigars move to the left.”

  15. My own ‘donation’ took the form of an exit fee. “Your bag is overweight sir” No it isn’t I say pointing to the underweight scale reading. “You wan’t to fly today?” “$35 for overweight bag.” I am ushered off to the exchange where my 2 $20 bills are changed to Nepalese rupees. The $35 portion is counted out and shuffled to one side. “illegal to take rupees out of country” my exchange man notes and pockets the balance before waving me back to the counter. Sense overcame irritation – a $40 exit fee is far cheaper than a missed flight. Some ‘donations’ are worthwhile 🙂

  16. Author

    Amryl, you and I have the same misgivings. Tara’s beautiful but she’s only about 20 years old and really not meant for much more than separating tourists from their cash. Antiques of significance should stay at home in places like Nepal. And Starbucks and McDonalds should stay at home in America… 🙂

  17. I like the word “donation”.I’m assuming that Tara is not an artifact, because I have misgivings (to say it nicely) about taking out artifacts from it’s original source.

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