nepal in philippine pop culture
If Nepal and Philippines were friends on Facebook, what will they be talking about? What will they be posting on each other’s timelines? Will they be tagging each other with photos from the past?
I am not really sure if there really are any documentations of historical relationship between our two countries. Nepalese old civilization never explored our side of Asia. In fact, Nepal was a closed country and opened only after the second world war. There are no historical information in the world wide web that will show connection between us and perhaps, it will take a lot of serious physical research and archive digging to trace the thin threads of linkages.
55-window palace in Bhaktapur Durbar Square
Every time I talk to a Nepali and they find out I am Filipino, the first thing that always comes up is the follow up question “Oh Philippines, so you like singing?”
Wait, the last time I checked, we export Nurses and Seamen; but I never thought we are also sending out karaoke testers. Apparently, just like the rest of our countrymen, Nepalese are also seeking opportunities outside of the motherland and landing jobs where they get the rare chance of meeting friends form the distant Asian neighbor, the Pinoys.
So it seems like our OFW ship crew and F and B staff all over the globe are making a good impression that we are good singers and we lose sanity whenever the box of magic sing comes out. No wonder, whenever I am on a work related trip, other delegates always ask me to do a song and dance number.
Copper flag of Nepal in front of the Bhairabnath. Notice the old design where its moon is still engraved with a face.
Back to our trip. We were slowly walking around the medieval town of Bhaktapur in search of the perfect street where we can just sit and burn time over a cup of masala tea. All the while, we thought there is no such thing as a perfect street unless we can count one that involves a big yellow bird. We were wrong, Bhaktapur has a lot of beautiful alleys and squares and we could not choose because everything seemed to be like a set of a movie. It even made us anticipate that Daniel Day-Lewis will jump off a window anytime soon.
When I saw the open space of Taumadhi Square my eyes immediately fixed focus on the scene stealer, the grand Nyatapola temple. I stared and tried recollecting all visual memories as to where I have seen it before. Then it hit me, like a wing chun one-inch punch…
It matched the peg in my head: Five roofed temple sitting on five level terrace, with statues protecting the entrance, each pair of creatures are positioned according to their level of strength… OH SHIT! THIS IS IT!
BRUCE LEE’S GAME OF DEATH!
Here’s a back story. For a Bruce Lee fanatic like me, his last and unfinished film is like the frozen legend worthy of a pedestal in the Smithsonian. In 1969, Bruce Lee together with Hollywood script writer Stirling Silliphant and actor James Coburn worked on a script for a film called The Silent Flute, and went together on a location hunt to India. Lee crossed the border and stumbled upon Bhaktapur and saw the five- floor pagoda guarded by pairs of wrestlers, elephants, lions, griffins, and goddesses on each ascending levels respectively, which became the inspiration for the final battle in the ambitious film, Game of Death.
The Pinoys flagged the banners proud when the movie was released in 1978. The warrior on the third floor was played by Dan Inosanto, the Pinoy martial arts master and one of the best friends of Lee. The novelty comes from the tragic death of Bruce Lee while filming the project. In honor of his friend’s untimely death, Inosanto named her daughter Diana Lee who grew up to be a gorgeous Hollywood producer and stunt director. She also played parts in films like The Fast and the Furious, Rent, Hulk, and Resident Evil to name few.
Screen capture images from youtube clips
Being a Filipino, a teenager and an Arnis martial artist wannabe, this movie was the pinnacle of all martial arts movies. Remember that iconic yellow jumpsuit? It was from this film. I always wanted to score a Bruce Lee yellow overall, until a friend asked why I wanted to have an Uma Thurman Halloween costume. True story.
It is sad that even the people of Bhaktapur are not aware of the pop fact that their quiet and humble culture has inspired a world wide cult. We asked a handful of Nepalis we met and they turned a gaping mouth on us.
In recent history, the only time we heard Nepal flooding the news stands and primetime slots on TV was when the first Filipino planted our flag up the summit of the world’s highest mountain. That was the only time we, as a country, felt so connected with the land locked Nepal. But what we do not know is that there is one more string that connects us to Nepali history. It dates back to one of their most significant events in the 20th century:
When Sir Edmund Hillary reached the summit in 1953, he did not skipped, hopped and magically twirled his way up on his own. He was with a team that supported him to make a feat for mankind. Contrary to what to books state, now the world believes that it was the humble Sherpa Tenzing Norgay who actually reached the summit first and pulled-up the “rumored” douche, Hillary.
So the underrated icon, upon reaching the summit, buried an object as offering to the Goddess. Tenzing Norgay once mentioned during an interview “Nima [his daughter] had earnestly asked me to put the pen on the summit of Mount Everest. It was quite an ordinary pen, but one of my daughter’s dearest things.” That story of his daughter’s blue ball point pen resonated through various write-ups and stories in the past six decades.
Nima Tenzing grew up to be an accomplished mountaineer too, but later on she was lured by another pen that made her decide to settle in the Philippines for good—And marry the Pinoy graphic artist Noli Galang.
It is difficult to find the historical links between Nepal and Philippines, they are the people of the mountains and we are of the sea. Despite the differences, Filipinos will feel so at home in Nepal because of one dead-obvious reason, we look like Newars. No one will think that we are foreign tourists, so it is easy for us to blend-in. Then you will realize that Filipinos and Nepalis got a lot of things in common: We treat visitors with utmost respect, we grew-up with similar political landscape and we will all lose sanity whenever someone asks us to take the microphone and sing.