How Many Stars Are in the $25 Per Night Hotel?


We all stood in the middle of Tribhuvan airport and stared uncomfortably at Ramesh and my Dad, trying to decide what to do.  The silence was piercing.  No one, not even my dad, wanted to determine the depressing fate of our trip.

Again, our options were the following:

  • Option 1: Wait at the airport a little longer to try and take off later. Drawbacks: we’d already been waiting eight hours and given the weather, the odds were against us.
  • Option 2:  Wake up at 5:00 a.m. and try again tomorrow by taking off even earlier than we were scheduled to today.  Drawbacks:  We risked a repeat of unsuccessfully waiting at the airport eight hours, which would mean that we will have spent a majority of our time in Nepal in an airport, as we had to leave to go back to Delhi and fly home a day and a half after that.
  • Option 3: Leave the airport and immediately begin an alternative hike somewhere else in Nepal.  Drawbacks: the hike would not be in Sagamatha National Park, so we would not be seeing Mount Everest.   Therefore, not only would it be less cool, it would give us zero street cred and zero bragging rights. Worse, it would still mean we were hiking, which none of us really felt like doing, especially after having woken up at 3:30, flown an hour and then spent eight hours strewn across a tile floor.

**Other bonus drawback I later found out from Ramesh: this other alternate location we were going to hike at was replete with leeches.  Had we known this beforehand, this would have made our decision much easier, but Ramesh purposely didn’t tell us.

How do you go about picking the least worst of three options?  We cared but we didn’t care.  Ramesh couldn’t make the decision for us, so our family had to decide together, something we are not good at.  I’m not sure if my parents deliberately raised four indifferent children or if they instilled it as some sort of necessity, like brushing your teeth and flossing.  None of us get hyper about anything, which is an attribute I value in people (exhibit A: Deirdre).  I find in life that it is easier to not care 98.5% of the time.  Until I have to decide whether or not to pull someone’s life support plug, chances are I am not going to care about most other decisions.

I guess I get it from my parents, a hybrid of my dad’s go-with-the-flow attitude and my mom’s iron-fisted refusal to upset anyone with a decision she makes.   So on the whole, the Andersons are people-pleasers and have few enemies, but it also bites us in the butt.  For example, it is emotionally draining for us to decide on something as basic as a restaurant.  My mom will say, “I don’t care where we eat; I’m not even that hungry,” but then be mad the whole time when the restaurant doesn’t have vegetarian options.  While I am not as extreme, I unfortunately inherited her mantra that it’s better to screw yourself over than upset anyone else.

So, everyone was saying they didn’t care: We didn’t care if we made it to see Mount Everst, we didn’t care if we hiked or not, we didn’t care if we just hung out in Kathmandu, we didn’t care if we just went back to Delhi and hung out with the Thalanany’s for the rest of the trip.  This case was particularly difficult because the two most fragile characters that did care were the very people who nurtured such indifference in us:  my parents.  Kevin, Morgan, Tim and I suddenly found ourselves driving the station wagon and the two of them in the car seats in the back.

What impresses me most about my parents is that no matter what debacle we are in, they manage to find polar opposite reasons to be pissed off.  When Kevin accidentally hit a raccoon and messed up my Dad’s car, the two of them couldn’t even agree on why they were mad, which makes them mad at each other in addition being mad at us kids.  Mom was mad because they took so long to get back from where they were driving and my Dad was mad because he thought Kevin and Tim were lying about what really happened.

In this case, my mom didn’t want to be in Nepal in the first place, and my dad didn’t want to blow his once-in-a-lifetime chance to see Mount Everest.  It’s reasons like this that we four kids need to actually start remembering their anniversary, because Lord knows how much longer they will be able to put up with each other, especially once Tim moves out.  We didn’t want to upset either of them, but quickly recognized that it was unavoidable.  I felt like a kid in the middle an ugly divorce, where the parents try to make you choose between them.  Ditching the plan to hike and see Everest was going to crush my dad, and hiking without bathrooms and living out of a backpack for three days was going to break my mom.

Even though I was as indifferent as everyone else, the silence and lack of anyone offering any opinion or insight at all forced me into my prototypical oldest child role.  At first, I was a big advocate of going on an alternate hike because it would at least ensure we had something to show for our trip to Nepal besides some pictures of chickens in an airport.  To me, the worst thing would be to try and go to Everest tomorrow and get stranded in the airport again and end up not going anywhere, deeming half of our vacation a giant 3-day layover in Nepal.

“I’d like to hike and do something rather than nothing.  The only difference is that it’s a different trail, and who really cares what trail we hike on?”

“I guess,” my Dad was the only one who even acknowledged that I’d said anything. I couldn’t tell if Dad was on the verge of crying or punching someone in the face.

Choosing to go on the alternate hike would mean Paul Anderson was tapping out.  If we were to decide to hike elsewhere, that would end the anticipation, excitement and adventure.   The only reason anyone comes to Nepal is to see Mount Everest.  No one goes to Nepal to just hike around a random forest.  If we were going to do that we may as well have gone to Laos.  In Nepal, it’s Everest or bust, and any alternative we took was going have a major damper over it.

No one else was expressing any other insight besides me, so it seemed like we were going to go for the alternate hike.  Even if she had an opinion, Deirdre knew better than to say anything.  I’m not sure exactly what she was thinking, but I’d guess that this is when the WTF’s started going through her head.  If there was any point when she started thinking, “Why did I waste my last vacation before I start my working for the rest of my life on this BS?” it was right then.

I tried to console my dad, telling him that sometimes things just aren’t meant to be and that everything happens for a reason.   I told him we could come back and try again another time, which is perhaps only less illogical than reasoning that if the Cubs made it to the World Series this year and lose that they could always make it again next year and then win.  When would be passing through Nepal again?  It was an insult to my Dad, because I was essentially comparing the Dream Trek of his to one of Tim’s trips to Taco Bell:

“Mom, can we stop at Taco Bell?”

“No Tim, not now.”

“But Mom you said that if I did my math packet…”

“You know what Tim, quite frankly I don’t care what I said.  We can always go later.”

It takes 15 minutes to get to Taco Bell from our house.  It had taken more than 15 hours to get to Nepal.  So with this in mind, we my dad decided to take our chances flying out to the Himalayas tomorrow, a huge risk.  But there are few things Paul loves more than a good gamble (Paul Anderson Forces His Kids to Learn About Investing  Starting  At Age Eight 101: “Greater risks yield greater returns”).  The reasoning was that if he was going to get shut out of Mount Everest, he wasn’t going to go down without throwing some punches.  We were going to try again tomorrow in pursuit of Everest.

I backtracked over everything I had just said in order to reestablish group cohesion.  “You know what, Dad, you’re right.  We’ll regret not trying. Besides, we always somehow get really lucky on on vacations even in tight situations.”  Go ahead, call me a hypocrite.

So my dad told Ramesh to call Prem to come pick us up and book us a hotel in Kathmandu for the night.  With Prem on the phone, Ramesh asked my dad what kind of hotel he wanted to book. We would stay in town for the night and head to the airport early the next morning.

“How many stars would you like in the hotel we book you for tonight?” Ramesh asked my dad.

This seems like a straightforward question, but it’s actually a very delicate one, like negotiating your salary.  If you give too high of a number you are coming off as conceited jerk flaunting your wealth.  Say too low, and you look like a cheapskate American.

“How much are the hotels, roughly?” my dad asked.

“Well, they range anywhere from $25 a night to around $100 a night for a four star hotel,” Ramesh said.

“Hmm, how many stars is the $25 per night hotel?” My dad asked.

I let a mocking laugh slip out, but don’t think Ramesh realized why I was laughing.  My signature judgmental smirk and sarcastic laugh  is one of the top five things my mom hates about me, only trailing biting my nails, talking like a truck driver, not blow drying my hair.   But she was sleeping so was fortunately or unfortunately not a part of the hotel booking process, something she has very strong opinions about.

“It depends which one you go with, but it’s probably between two and three,” Ramesh answered.

It’s hard to justify paying $100 for anything in Nepal when your entire bill for a group of seven to eat lunch is $21 and an individual ticket to a temple is the equivalent of 23 cents.  So I sort of backed my Dad’s decision to go with a $35 dollar/ night hotel option.  It wasn’t quite a happy medium, but it wasn’t the cheapest either.

About 15 minutes later, Prem came to pick the eight of us up and take us to the hotel.  We checked in, and I thought, “Wow this place is really nice; I can’t imagine what the $100 place looks like.”

But anyone that knows me knows I have a horrible gauge when it comes to hotels, so am easily fooled by a flashy lobby.  Deirdre, Morgan and I went up to check out our room: 4 beds, one pillow on each, one sheet, a small TV in the corner and a bathroom. Which really is all you need, but it isn’t exactly what you are looking for after the day we had. Plus, our hotel in Delhi was very nice, so it’s tough going from a king-sized bed with 1200 thread count sheets and 15 pillows to a smaller-than-twin-sized cot in consecutive nights.

“Everything okay?” Ramesh could tell we were slightly distraught at the hotel.

“Oh yeah, totally,” I said, forcing a smile.  “I think everyone is just really tired and more upset about not being able to fly out to Lukla than anything else.”

Lies, Lies, Lies. My mom was really, really, really, ticked.  Her one indulgence on these ridiculous trips we take is a nice hotel a small part of the time.  For short stays in Cambodia, Thailand and Zimbabwe, we’ve stayed at fantastic resorts with spas, pools, and ridiculous breakfast buffets where the staff is insulted if you do so much as pull out your chair or put your napkin on your lap yourself.  I am actually very uncomfortable at the concept of these poor hotel servers treating us like Egyptian pharaohs.  We only stay a night or two in them, though.  The reason for this is because there are no middle-of-the-run hotels Holiday Inn Expresses in remote areas of the world.  In places like this you are either a poor 20-year-old backpacker roughing it or you are a wealthy retiree, so there are youth hostels and Four Season-esque hotels, but nothing really family friendly.  Besides, this is my dad’s way of getting my mom to buy into sleeping in log cabins and tents the rest of the trip.

We had 2 other rooms, one for my parents and one for my brothers, but they all hung out in our room for a while and channel surfed our way through various cricket games on TV.  Ramesh left us and went back to his place in Kathmandu, but said Prem could pick us up and take us around Kathmandu later if we wanted to.

I felt defeated and depressed.  This was one of the lowest points of the trip.  So again I embraced my oldest child role:

“Is this is all we we’re going to do, sit here and watch cricket in a crappy hotel room?”  Even though it felt like an entire day had gone by already, it was only 4 o’clock.  And while I was tired too, I hate not doing anything. “I mean c’mon guys, we’re in Nepal for godsakes.”

“Just wait a minute, Amanda.” My dad said.  “We’ll do something in a bit.” As go-go-go as my dad is, I also get my love of sleep from him. But really, what had they done with my real parents?

So now I was pissed, too.  I wanted to do something, but everyone just looked at me like I was crazy.  They tried to be interested in cricket in attempt to ignore me.

I have a theory that by watching 4 innings of baseball a European could figure out the gist of the game.  I do not think the same precept holds for cricket.  I for one cannot figure it out to save my life, and I work in sports.  I am really trying to understand it too, especially since ESPN has been promoting the T20 Cricket World Cup (which is going on right now and available to watch for free on ESPN3.com) by handing out free stuff at work.  I now own a stress ball shaped like a cricket ball and a mini ESPN cricket bat.

According to Espncricinfo.com India played Pakistan today. I don’t understand the score though:

India 159/5 (20/20 ov); Afghanistan 136 (19.3/20 ov)

India won by 23 runs

But there is a line below this score that tells me that India won by 23 runs.   Unless you are inept at basic math, you can figure it out that the Bears lost to the Packers by 13 if the score was 23-10.  Cricket is the only sport I know that has to have a line independent of the score to tell me how many points a team won by.

That should help a little, though.  But wait.  Ireland played Australia today:

Ireland 123/7 (20/20 ov); Australia 125/3 (15.1/20 ov)

Australia won by 7 wickets (with 29 balls remaining)

This time, the line below the score tells me that Australia won by 7 wickets.  For starters, how can you win by different measurements in the same tournament?  Why are there fractions, decimals and parentheses?  Why did Australia have so many balls remaining?  Why didn’t the Indians have any balls? (Let’s pause for an obligatory “That’s what she said”).   It is fair to say that I am more connected to cricket than the average American.  But I still don’t get it.  Embarrassingly enough, I’ve put together cricket video that has aired on Australian Sports Center, but have no idea if the footage I took from Australia v The West Indies was of good things or bad things that happened during the game. No idea whatsoever.

So the seven of us watched cricket for a few hours in our hotel room, mostly in silence.  Everyone was still cranky.  It was awkward, kind of boring (sorry cricket fans) and only slightly more comfortable than lying on the airport floor. Morgan and I shared one of the twin beds so the others could come into our room and watch the small 1990’s TV (#firstworldpains, I know) together.

Finally, Dad called Prem to take us on a short tour of Kathmandu.  We visited some temples and took pictures.  After a bad day, Nepal’s unassuming beauty still managed to impress me.

But walking around the temples we found ourselves taking more pictures of pictures of monkeys than Buddhas. There were monkeys all over Nepal. No matter how many we saw, we squealed and took pictures of each one.  Imagine how hard you would laugh if you saw an Asian oooohing and aaahhing as they snapped photos on their iPhones of every single squirrel they saw.  That’s what we looked like to the Nepalis.

Baby Monkey

After a nice walking tour around Kathmandu, Prem dropped us off back near our hotel and we went to dinner at a small steakhouse nearby.  The day ended up being less terrible than we envisioned, yet no one had forgotten all that we had been through in what had been the longest day of our lives.

During long lapses in conversation on Anderson trips, my go-to discussion topic is having everyone go around and say their favorite part of the trip thus far.  It took me back to 2nd grade where on the first day back from spring break everyone sat in a circle on the classroom rug with their legs crossed and tried to outdo each other with what they did on vacation.  I knew we were poor growing up because went on one spring break trip my entire childhood, and it was a road trip in our station wagon to see my relatives Minnesota.  The Mall of America pales in comparison to Mickey Mouse as far as I was concerned.

From age 7 to 13, I had a severe anxiety over spring break because half the girls in my grade returned with their hair braided from their trips to Sanibel Island, Orlando and Puerta Vallarta.  I was intensely jealous of their Limited Too tankini tan lines and burnt scalps, exposed by each tightly pulled braid. They swung their braids from side to side as they walked to class.  All the boys teased the girls with their hair done, touching the tops of their braids and pulling their multicolored hair wraps.  It was a week of torture in which everyone played with their hair and discussed their experiences getting their hair done and swimming with dolphins.

I wanted my hair pulled, too.  So one spring break, where I was home with no one to play with but Morgan, I tried to give myself a hair wrap with the string I used to make friendship bracelets. But I just ended up with knots in my hair.  I begged my parents to take us to Disney World, telling them that I was the only one in my class that had never been there when most of my friends went ever year.

We eventually went to Disney World a few years later, albeit in January when it is the cheapest and not beach weather.  I also never got my hair braided.  But none of us, not even my father, could have predicted that 12 years later we would find the six of us (plus one!) seated at table in Kathmandu discussing our trip.   But there we were, recapping our travels in New Delhi.

Surprisingly my Mom, who normally hates playing my queer games, jumped to give the first answer to my question of everyone’s favorite part of India:

“The hotel, for sure!” She said. At first I thought she was joking and mocking the game.  “No I am serious, that hotel was a great find.  I have to pinch myself to believe that you found it, Amanda.”

That’s right, I did find the hotel.  When my dad told her we were staying in a hotel that I found, she flipped at him, demanding he book a different one.  However, this was a valid complaint on her part because the last two hotels I booked either started with “Econo” or ended with “Johnson.”  Therefore, my success in booking a hotel up to my mother’s standards was a major step forward in my quest to become a suitable daughter/debutante/wife/Kate Middleton.

I said the Lodhi Gardens were my favorite part of India, Kevin said the Taj Mahal, Tim said the stray dogs, and Morgan said she liked messing with the people that tried to take her picture the entire time.

Then it was my dad’s turn.  With a completely straight face, he said very matter-of-factly, “My favorite part of India was when we got lost on the way back from the Taj Mahal.”

Nope, FF Readers, his favorite part was not seeing one of the Seven Wonders of the World, but rather attempting to drive home, our backs turned away from this Wonder of the World, through a part of rural India so remote that our GPS didn’t work.  This “highlight” of driving from the Taj Mahal took us six hours to get back to Delhi and almost got us abducted and/or killed by the mob that we drove through in one of the electricity-less towns that I am not sure had seen a car before.

Before my dad could even elaborate, Deirdre burst out laughing uncontrollably.  I’ve never seen anyone start crying so quickly while laughing.  Seconds after my dad said that, tears started flowing down her cheeks.  She could barely speak, struggling get out an “I’m ….sorry” as she gasped for air between laughs.  Initially all Kevin, Morgan, Tim, my mom and I could do was grunt and make faces at each other to say “Did Dad really just say that?”  But then we too started laughing because Deirdre was so tactfully making fun of my dad.  As a master guru of passive aggression, I couldn’t have done it better myself.  Our laughing spell lasted a solid five minutes.

I don’t think Deirdre got a chance to share her favorite part of the trip thus far, but if she wasn’t sure what she was going to say, she surely had a favorite now.

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