For most normal people, once the oblivion induced by festive season-partying clears, the dull dread of winter sets in. Traditionally, this is when resolutions are broken, relationships walk a knife-edge, and life seems to lose its shine. It's probably just the sudden absence of fairy lights and tinsel, but it feels authentically horrible.
There are the usual ways to counter this excess of melatonin and melancholy-cosy evenings with a heater, warm food, good music, dvds, intimate gatherings of friends, etc. But most of us still feel mildly psychotic. A Nepali Times straw poll found that the people who get through winter without committing crimes (actual, emotional, or substance abuse-related) usually tinker. Some fly airplanes on their computers, others knit with a steely glint in their eye, still others undertake DIY projects involving power tools. At least one person in the Valley, on the loser end of the scale, has downloaded book cataloguing software and entered titles they don't yet own to create My Dream Library One of the best ways to pass the time is to put to good use new, slightly unusual gadgets. We\'ve put together the cream of the crop for readers to hunt down and buy, or at least dream about.
Ipods, mp3 players, and your cheapo FM radio aren't the only sources of sound on the go. Shortwave remains one of the best ways to source foreign news and entertainment. It also has a certain retro cache, kind of like travelling by steamship in the jet age. You cast your net wide, and so can catch everything from genre-bending jazz on the Brazilian Radio Zamba to impassioned dissident propaganda on clandestine radio stations such as Voice of Khmer Kampuchea-Krom, to the now-legendary spy stations on which the streams of related numbers, letters, and words in a jumble of languages make for fascinating bedtime listening.
Unless you go for Gruding's Porsche-designed radio (which has a real problem with drift), the Sony ICF-SW7600GR AM/FM Shortwave World Band Receiver with Single Side Band Reception is your best bet for tuning into all the strange sounds the world has to offer, for about $200.
Sunny side up
Stay plugged in when on the go. You can, for $300-500, buy portable solar systems such as CT Solar's Backpack Solar Power Solutions which can be charged as you walk along the trails, being affixed to your rucksack, or on the highway, attached to the roof of a vehicle. A 32-watt four-part panel that weighs just a kilo can charge laptops, mp3 players, satellite phones, video recorders, and similar electronic devices, taking the hassle out of keeping in touch with the office while trekking, or conducting research in remote areas. Even better is the $230 solar bag from Voltaic Systems, which appears to be a regular high-end rucksack-until you notice the solar panels embedded in the fabric. Voltaic bags cannot charge laptops, unfortunately, but perhaps this is the kind of technological breakthrough we need in Nepal!
A Swiss Army Knife may not be a beauty-functional is the word that springs to mind-but it can be a joy forever. The knives are a standard part of NASA astronauts' kits, and a resourceful Nepali Times staffer especially recommends the serrated knife attachment to saw through net doors if you need to break into your flat late in an inebriated night. What mobile phones and pocket PCs are to geeks, Swiss Army Knives are to fussy people of a more recondite order, perhaps the kind who also own portable martini bars. Yours has a wire cutter? Pooh, how about the cap lifter on mine! The ultimate in Swiss Army weaponry is the new Giant Swiss Army Knife which, weighing in at a kilogram, is perhaps not the most portable model around, even if it does feature 85 attachments-virtually every single one the Wenger company has ever made, from the mineral crystal magnifying glass to the 300 m-range laser pointer, golf-club face cleaner, cigar cutter, 12/20 gauge choke tube tool, and 'special key'. On his 1970 expedition on the South Face of Annapurna, Chris Bonnington reportedly used every single blade in his Swiss Army knife, except the fish scaler, fish, as he deadpanned, not being thick on the ground up there.
For readers who drive around in very large automobiles, getting the evil eye from pedestrians must get old, as must the endless waits in traffic jams. Yes, one could bicycle, but that entails fitness and a certain foolhardiness. Electric bikes are a superb way out. At 20-30kg, they weigh in at less than half of the lightest scooter and they're narrower, which is good for manoeuvring through traffic. You never need to run around for fuel-just plug them into any outlet (or into your solar-charged batteries). Electric bikes offer top speeds of 30-50km on uphills, depending on the model, and up to four hours of driving. You can even carry an extra battery around, if you want to do a day-long trip round the Valley. Keep an eye out for the few Chinese- and US- made electric bikes in town. They aren't as powerful or attractive-or expensive-as Electricmoto's Blade bike, but they do the job for $300-$600.