Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Lunch With the Nepalese

Since last week, I have been working at yet another restaurant located in some corporate complex. I have worked at this restaurant before, several times, covering various holidays (vacations). As I indicated, yesterday, in "Viva Nepal!" I am working with several Nepalese, here. Besides the three who work in the restaurant, there are six others who work as cleaners in the offices.
The first time I worked at this restaurant, over a year ago, I met and worked with, Jum. The chefs call him Jumbo, but I always call him Jum, which is the name he introduced himself under. He's pleasant enough, but doesn't talk a lot. He seems to understand English well enough, but speaks with a very heavy accent and is not particularly fluent. This is probably why he doesn't talk a lot. He speaks much better English than I speak Nepali. I find that, around him, I seem to start speaking broken English, sounding like a bad imitation of Charlie Chan.
The first time I was assigned there, I worked at the restaurant for two weeks. I noticed that at lunch, Jum would direct me to sit anywhere I liked...except with him. He always sat with the Nepalese office cleaners, who would have lunch at the same time as we did. The other Nepalese restaurant worker, Lox (pronounced lock), ate at a different time, so he didn't join this lunch group. I used to sit on my own. One day, toward the end of the two weeks, he gestured to me to sit with them (Jum uses a lot of hand gestures to communicate, backing up his English). This was like being invited into an exclusive club and I was happy to join them. Since then, every time I work there, I eat lunch with the Nepalese. They often chat to each other in what I presume is Nepali, the dominant language in Nepal. To date, no other non-Nepalese has joined them for lunch. I am the only one.
About six months ago, a couple of additional Nepalese have joined this group. The restaurant hired another, Named Kul (pronounced cool), to replace an English guy who had quit. Kul is a retired Gurkha, from the British army. Gurkhas are a group of people from Nepal. Gurkha soldiers have a reputation for loyalty and bravery. They so impressed the British, while fighting the British East India Company, that Gurkhas have fought in British armies since the early 1800s. In recognition for their service, Gurkha soldiers and their families have been granted the right to immigrate to Britain, which is how so many of these Nepalese have come to be in the area. Kul is older than Jum, although I haven't found out how old. He speaks better English than Jum and although he will talk a bit more, he's still relatively quiet. Although I often try to joke with him, he usually just rewards me with a blank stare. He probably thinks I am some sort of nut. Yesterday, I had a major breakthrough, comedicly, as he burst out laughing, heartily, to something I said. Doing comedy for people who don't speak English all that well can be difficult. The chefs have taken to calling him the Colonel, once they found out he is a retired soldier, but I call him, Mr. Cool. I tend to like making up my own nicknames for people.
Since he stated, Mr. Cool has joined the Nepalese lunch group. None of the cleaners have bothered to tell me any of their names. I have made up names for a couple of them. "Uncle," I call the oldest looking one, who started working as a cleaner there, within the last six months. He sits near Mr. Cool and I. It's like all the older of us sit at one end of the table. Next to Uncle sits "Cousin," who seems a bit younger, possibly in his thirties. Then there is a fairly talkative one, I call, "Billy. who usually sits to my left." Then a silent one, who never speaks to me, who sits on the other end with the two women. One of the women looks Indian. I once asked Mr. Cool about this, noting that she looks Indian, but seems to speak Nepali. Of course, you all know that Nepal is bordered by India, to the south. Cool said I was very observant and that there are some people in Nepal who physically look like Indians. Since she is married, I don't mind that she doesn't talk to me. The rest of them look somewhat like Tibetans, although Billy and the silent one look like darkish Chinese. Recently, I found out that Uncle is vegetarian, although the others all seem to eat meat. During lunch, I make some conversation with Uncle, Cousin, Billy and Mr. Cool, in English. When they are not talking to me, they chat with the others, in Nepali. The thing that puzzles me is why have they tolerated me sitting with them, but no other non-Nepalese? Is it simply that no other non-Nepalese have tried, or that they have never invited any others? Today, I asked Mr. Cool about this, but he didn't seem inclined, or able, to explain.


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