I always had a thing for James Bond.
OPINION: With all that international travel, fast cars and late-night cocktail parties, who wouldn't want to become the international man of mystery?
And while my lack of any meaningful physical activity beyond repeatedly lifting my right arm to my mouth means I'm unlikely to compete with Daniel Craig any time soon (read: ever), I thought I had finally nailed my dreams of becoming the suave spook during my visit to Nepal last year.
In fact, you might as well just call me Mackay, Sam Mackay.
For I was basically the living embodiment of Bond in the Himalayas.
I had the high speeds, the roads clinging to cliff faces, and the hairpin bends. All the while overtaking on blind corners in an attempt to get to Kathmandu to save the world (read: get to some meetings on time).
There were just a few slight differences.
For one, I was in a Toyota. With little in the way of suspension. An Aston Martin DB5 it was not.
I also had potholes to contend with.
With little in the way of suspension.
I'm sure Bond has never had to worry about potholes as he has chased down some villainous scum to save the world before seducing the girl.
To top it off, I was wedged in the backseat with two other not inconsiderable men and a driver who hadn't slept the night before and thought that keeping the window wide open was the solution to safer journeys together.
(Fun fact: in the Himalayas, it's often quite cold).
Rather than engaging in witty repartee and playing with seat ejection buttons, I was scrabbling around in my bag in a futile attempt to seek the finer details of my insurance policy and how one goes about requesting a medivac from remote alpine areas.
So not quite the brave Bond archetype I had dreams of becoming.
At least I got to admire the scenery.
And, with some of the world's highest peaks on show, what a view it was.
Wedged between the two giants of China and India, Nepal could be considered the Jan Brady of Asia.
Yet while it may be overshadowed by its larger neighbours, Nepal's population is nearly seven times that of New Zealand. That's despite being about 120,000 square kilometres smaller in land area. In spite of the country's beauty, a sizeable chunk of the population leaves every year to find opportunities further afield - sound familiar?
Some 2 million Nepalis are now estimated to be living abroad.
Many have found their way to New Zealand. At the Southern Institute of Technology, 34 Nepalese students have enrolled in the past couple of years.
A Nepali celebration hosted at SIT last year brought out more than 100 people from the Nepalese community.
The reason so many Nepalis leave is largely down to the economy and recent events. With GDP per capita a low NZ$1440 (2011 estimate), other economies offer better coin for one's efforts.
The country's infrastructure is creaking, its geography hampers development and foreign investment is stymied by political instability.
Nepal is still dealing with the after-effects of a decade-long civil war, kicked off by Maoist guerrillas in 1996. That war caused about 12,000 deaths, including the royal palace massacre in 2001.
While representative democracy has since been implemented, Nepal's new political system remains unstable.
To top it off, the country is also prone to earthquakes.
Not that any of these challenges have put me off Nepal. In fact, it is the perfect place to film the next Bond movie.
I'll just be sure to top up my life insurance first.
And maybe hit the gym.
NEPAL AT A GLANCE
- Capital: Kathmandu
- Population: 29,890,686 (2012 est)
- Land area: 147,181 square kilometres
- Arable land: 16 per cent
- Urban population: 19 per cent of total population
- Lowest point: Kanchan Kalan, 70m
- Highest point: Mt Everest, 8850m
- Religion: Hindu 80 per cent, Buddhist 11 per cent, Muslim 4 per cent
- Official language: Nepali
Sam Mackay is Southern Institute of Technology's international manager. His occasional column features his personal perspectives of the countries he visits as part of that role.
- The Southland Times
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