I discovered and learned a lot about myself outside Nepal, a lot of which I probably wouldn’t have had I never left the country.
For instance, I would have never discovered my versatile tongue. Even if I had, it would probably not have been recognized as anything interesting, worthwhile or useful, probably. As a matter of fact, forget worthwhile, in the nineties, my Nepali friends in Kathmandu took issue with the North-American accent I had acquired during my time in the US!
I would have probably never discovered my skill at recognizing and identifying accents and languages either! Often, when I meet international travelers etc. for the first time, one of their first questions is, “Where are you from?” After that happened for a few times, I started playing a game of, “Let’s guess one another’s nationality/ethnicity.” I give my opponent ten guesses AND have a beer on the line for whoever loses, for obvious reasons of course! Namely, they usually lose!
One of the reasons others struggle with this game is the combination of my North-American accent and facial features! I, on the other hand, am able to guess nationality of a person from their accent relatively easily. One that I am kind of proud of is getting correct the nationality of a fellow traveler at JFK airport in February 2017 in my very first attempt: she was Serbian!
I had some really interesting and fun experiences centered around my facial features, my heritage, nationality coupled with my North-American accent and what/who people thought I was etc.
While in Nepal my facial features (and my name) and what it represented (ethnic Tibetan) were something to be embarrassed and shameful about, outside it was just the opposite. I would have probably never known about — and enjoyed having — the facial features and traits others saw as exotic and/or international had I not left Nepal at all. (Of course, I was discriminated abroad too for my looks but NOT for the same reasons as in Nepal.)
The following are two such experiences from my time at Lancaster University in Lancaster, UK, the Spring of 1993 when I was a study-abroad student there!
This one took place outside the on-campus supermarket. My Grinnell College friends Elisabeth, Eva, and I were coming out of the supermarket when this British guy comes running up to me and asks me point blank: “What’s your name?”
Really perplexed, I go, “Why do you want to know my name?”
He goes, “Oh, ahhh, I am applying to go the US on an exchange program. And the application form requires an American reference. I thought a Red Indian reference would look really good!”
I went, “You know my name is Dorje Gurung but that’s NOT a ‘Red Indian’ name!”
Amused, he goes, “Oh!! So…what’s a Red Indian name?”
I went, “Dances With Wolves? Sitting Bull?” And I think Elisabeth and Eva also joined in and added a couple of others!
The following one a British friend relayed to me.
She had walked into our college kitchen for some food when she overheard the cleaning ladies talking among themselves. Because of where they were holed up, she couldn’t see them but could hear everything they were saying.
She realized they were talking about me and they were trying to figure out what I was, where I was from etc.
One of them would guess a nationality/ethnicity and then another would go, “No no no no, he’s such and such” and then another would have a guess etc.
One of them is supposed to have said, “No no no no…he’s one of those who live in an igloo!”
The following, an experience on Santorini island in Greece, I shared on the timeline of a Kiwi friend of mine.
I have also been mistaken for different personalities.
There was that time on a beach resort on Mindoro Island when I was mistaken for a famous musician in the Philippines. At a bar having a drink, I realized a couple of waitresses, at a distance, were talking about me. I could tell that from their body language — their posture, their furtive glances, and gestures etc. I share this with Chad, my traveling buddy at the time seated right next to me. We decide to call them over and ask what was going on. That’s when we discovered it.
The other time was just last winter at the Kathmandu International Mountain Film Festival. A group of Newari women managing a stall selling Newari food confused me for some Nepali actor. They were able to hum a song supposedly from one of “my” movies but none of them could recall its name nor the lyrics to the song nor “my name.”
So, just to have a little fun, I told them that I would come back after the documentary I was watching to see if they had managed to figure out my name!
Yet another person I have been confused for is actually someone I know personally and he is Amrit Gurung, the frontman for Nepathya, the most enduring and probably also the most popular band in the country.
I didn’t find out anything about the Filipino singer who looks like me, nor about the Nepali actor who apparently also looks like me but…the photo below is that of Amrit and me.
Does he really look like me??? 😀 😀
Had I remained in my home country, I doubt I would have had any such experience centered around my Bhote features.
What do you think?