When I booked my stay at the monastery, I told them I would be leaving today. However, over the last few days I considered extending my stay by a few more days. I was enjoying having the company of like-minded people and it certainly was much more peaceful at the monastery compared to Thamel. In the end I woke up this morning with the idea of going back to Boudhanath to take some photos (I neglected to take my camera when I went on Monday) and then returning to Thamel in the afternoon.
Bram also wanted to go back to Boudhanath — he said he had gone in the evening when it was dark, and he wanted to see what it looked like during the day. So we set off after breakfast, this time taking a more direct route, as we followed some monks going in the same direction.
Once we got there we went up to the elevated base and did one circuit around, as Bram was unable to do this at his last visit. We strolled around on the street a bit and then had a cup of tea, at a different rooftop restaurant than the one I had gone to with Paola on Monday.
Bram spoke fluent English, French and Dutch, and when I asked if he spoke Flemish, he answered in the affirmative, but also explained to me that Dutch and Flemish are basically the same language but with different pronunciation. In fact, he said, they are written in exactly the same way, as evidenced by the joint Dutch-Flemish spelling bees that Bram told me about.
I learned that Bram had just completed a year of medical school. However he was not what I would call a “traditional” med student — he had studied law and worked in Europe as an intellectual property attorney for several years, then decided to change careers to do something he found more meaningful. He explained that he entered university at 17 without a clear idea of what he wanted to do, and ended up studying law somewhat by default.
We had a good discussion about the differences between the European health care systems and the U.S. system. He said that although there were constant concerns about rising health care costs (and of course the corresponding taxes to fund these costs, given that Belgium has a government-funded national health insurance scheme), he and most everyone he knew were satisfied with the system. He noted that in addition to the basic coverage provided by the national health insurance system, Belgians could also purchase commercially available supplemental coverage. He in fact had such supplemental coverage, for which he paid the equivalent of about $230 per year. When I informed him that I was paying $330 per month for basic catastrophic coverage in the U.S., he was quite surprised and said he felt he had no right to complain about his commercial health insurance premium when compared to mine!
Bram went on to Thamel to visit the Belgian embassy to conduct some business, and I stayed for a while in Boudha, meandering about the market stalls and some of the side streets that sprouted off the circular main street around the stupa. I had some momos and another masala tea at a different rooftop cafe, then returned to Kopan by the same more direct route by which I had come.
In the afternoon I settled my bill at the monastery (just over $60 for four days’ lodging and meals!), then returned by cab to the Blue Horizon Hotel in Thamel, around 3:00 p.m.
I must note that since I was not sure how long I would be staying at the monastery, I had not booked a room at the hotel prior to today. I called to confirm that they had a room available, and they quoted me a price of $20. However, when I checked online through TripAdvisor, I saw a single room at Blue Horizon for $15, tax included. There was no WiFi available at the monastery, and the data service (through the local NCell SIM card I got last week) was spotty at Kopan, so I was unable to book the room online despite trying for over a half hour to do so. Finally, I booked the room on booking.com through TripAdvisor, in the cab on the way to the hotel, just minutes before I arrived. It is amazing how cellular communication has pervaded and transformed so-called less developed countries. Everyone here seems to have a cell phone, including the monks at Kopan!
I decided I would go straight to Pokhara tomorrow, and purchased a bus ticket from the hotel receptionist. I also booked a room online for a hotel in Pokhara. The bus was to leave at 7:00 a.m. tomorrow so I went to bed early after another meal at Revolution Cafe.