As we were queuing up for another game of chess, a young Spaniard came up the steps and into the cafe. He saw the Malaysian and broke out into a big smile.
“Ah good, you’re still here!” he said.
“Of course,” the Malaysian answered with a single nod. “I am here every afternoon. I have nothing else to do.”
He turned to me, and said: “You know how I describe traveling? I say: traveling… is like Sunday afternoon.” We both laughed.
I sipped my tea and thought: Sunday afternoon…
The Spaniard was older than I, but still a young man. Perhaps he was in his late twenties. His hair was balding slightly, but he had the high spirits and indefatigable optimism of youth. He joined us around the chess board. The Spaniard’s story was much the same as mine: the Malaysian had flagged him down off the street. Every day since, he’d been coming back to play chess in the cafe.
There were a number of these people—disciples of the charismatic old man with the crooked teeth and the bushy white beard. The Spaniard was an artist, he said. “I’m taking two months to travel around Nepal and build a portfolio,” he said. “Sketching and painting.” He sat and scribbled while the Malaysian and I played chess.
My own art lay completely abandoned: I hadn’t been able to summon the emotional honesty needed to write for quite some time. I had hoped Pokhara might prove rejuvenating for that; but instead here I was, smoking hash and playing chess.
“What do you do?” I asked the Malaysian.
“I am retired!” he said. “I travel the world.”
“Wow,” I said. “Very nice.”
We sat in contemplative silence for a few moments; he crocheted and I considered the board.
“I am fifty-four,” he said. “I worked as an editor for a trade publication in Malaysia for a very long time. You know Bloomberg?” He asked. I nodded. “Bloomberg prides itself on not using personal articles or opinions. I did the same type of writing. And I did it for a very long time, and I did it very well. I was well-paid, and I had the opportunity to travel for work quite a lot. But when I turned fifty, I realized I did not want to do it any more.”
He captured my queen.
“So at fifty-one, I reorganized my entire life and I travel full time. I have done it for three years now. I come to Pokhara and I stay at my same guesthouse every year.”
The Spaniard and I clucked appreciatively.
“I spend four months here, four months in Dharmsala–do you know Dharmsala?” We both shook our heads “It is in India. Dharmsala, India. And I spend four months every year in Malaysia.”
It sounded like a nice life. To spend every day in this cafe, relaxing, crocheting, smoking hash playing chess and making friends… one could do much worse. A cubicle for forty hours a week; a constricting relationship; a life spent in front of a computer. If those were the alternatives, why not re-arrange your life, like the Malaysian had done?
“I wish I could do as you do,” the Spaniard said.
“You can!” the Malaysian exclaimed. “How wealthy do you think Malaysia is? It is not a rich country. Yours is much richer.”
“I simply chose to rearrange my life,” he said, repeating himself. “I am no millionaire. I am not Donald Trump.”
We laughed, and our discussion turned towards American politics. It was March 2016, and the Republican primaries were in full swing. I was in Nepal, stoned in a cafe, discussing the finer points of American foreign policy and political etiquette with a Malaysian and a Spaniard. In many ways, they had a firmer grasp of the candidates and issues than most of my friends back home.
“What I don’t like about Hillary is she will say whatever she needs to say to win,” the Malaysian said. “She is… how you say…
“Inauthentic,” I ventured.
“Yes!” he exclaimed. “She is not authentic; she will say whatever she thinks you want to hear. And that scares me,” the Malaysian said.
Although I’d gotten used to talking politics with foreigners, it was still surreal to hear a man from the other side of the world parrot the same lines I was hearing from friends back home.
But I suppose Hillary Clinton was set to impact his life just as much as mine.