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Down Memory Lane - Glimpses of Paradise

“Are we in paradise?” our manager asked, “There are angels all around us.”

Well, if blue eyes, blonde hair and fair complexions were the criteria for angels, then it did seem that we had arrived in paradise. The street, a no-vehicle zone, was full of angels, and most were dressed in blue denim and fur jackets. The glass doors of our hotel opened automatically, “Even the doors open by themselves!” our manager exclaimed. There was an automatic shoeshine machine in the adjoining lobby which further elicited from him, “And there’s no need to polish our shoes either!” A vendor machine served tea, coffee and chocolate. All one had to do was drop a five kroner coin into the slot and place a paper cup below the nozzle. It all seemed magic to us at the time.

The year was, by the way, 1983, and we were in Copenhagen, Denmark, to compete in the 6th World Tae Kwon Do Championships. A lovely pink faced, cuddly sort of girl manned (?) the front desk in our hotel. A framed photo of the hotel owner in trekking gear with the Himalayas behind him stood proudly on the reception desk counter -obviously kept there recently to impress us. Taking the lift up, we walked the richly carpeted corridor to our rooms carrying our luggage. There were no bellboys, everything was self-service, and because everything was so systematic, and because everything worked, there was no problem at all.

A half hour later we were out on the streets. Naturally, we were impatient to see what this famous city was like. And, wham! The very next moment, at the very first corner, we were brought to a complete halt, our eyes drawn up to a signboard on which was emblazoned, ‘The Biggest Sex Shop in Denmark’. We looked at each other, my two friends and I. Our over-the-hill manager had gone a little way ahead. “Is this heaven or what?” my compatriots’ eyes seemed to say. I don’t know about the others, but speaking for myself, this was the first time in my entire life that I was in front of such an establishment. We looked at the shop more closely. On one side there was a booth like the ones you see in a theatre with a small glass fronted cubicle. Behind it was a flaxen haired woman. A small notice read, ‘Live Show – only 10 kroners’. We passed it for the moment (minds already made up see it soon) and looked into the display windows. A blonde haired couple with two small kids were also viewing the products with casual interest. Well, what do you think were displayed? Sex toys (dildos, I could recognize, the others I couldn’t), plastic dolls, pornographic films and magazines, whips, leather dresses, masks, and so on for the most part.

We walked along the enchanted streets. Girls in tight jeans, almost all of them tall, slim and blonde, smiled as they passed. We gawked at these blonde goddesses. Two teenaged girls, heavily made up (punk style with spiky purple hairs) and clad in short leather miniskirts and knee length boots, threw a question across at us casually, “Want to have a good time?” We looked at one another, my dazed comrades and I, and then stared at the girls. They were gorgeous. Lolitas, I thought. We smiled at them, shook our heads sorrowfully and passed them by (determined to catch up on what we were missing as soon as possible). In case you are interested to know about the hotel we were staying in, seeing that you might make it to Copenhagen soon after reading all this, it was called Hotel Absalon on Helgolandsgade 15, Copenhagen DK-1653 – the so called red light district of the city. Aside from its zany location, it is also convenient that the central station is just a three minute walk away.

Of course, you might ask as to why we were put up in the red light district in the first place. Let me tell you, we were not the only ones – our hotel also accommodated the Turkish and some South American teams. Guess it must have been because of the relatively cheaper prices. Anyway, the first day was a blast and as a result, we didn’t sleep much that night. The long night would find one of us three always at the window looking down from our third floor room at the interesting boy meets girl scenarios all night long on the sidewalks below. As I at last drifted into sleep at around 3:00 pm, I was convinced that we must have done some great and noble deeds in our previous lives. Why else would the gods smile on us so? How else could we have landed up in the sex capital of Europe and that too, slam bang in the middle of its red light district?

The next morning, while the one who couldn’t stop peering through the window the whole night, snoozed, I and my other compatriot decided to go for a morning run. Like we used to do back in Kathmandu. We had hardly covered a few blocks when what should halt us again dead on our tracks but a huge movie poster over a two storied brick building. Of course we had seen plenty of filmy posters before but really, none like this. The scene depicted would have caused the dead to rise, that was for sure – a man and a woman in the buff (in less literary terms, totally bare-assed) making love (in less literary terms, having explicit sex). After that, our run became first a brisk jog, then a more leisurely trot, and finally all we did for some five blocks was saunter and gape at similar posters. On the wide pavement (with colorful flower pots lined up on the far side), we saw a number of vendor machines. One was a cigarette vending machine; one sold newspapers; one sold cellophane-wrapped packets with two big bananas and an orange; and one vended pornographic magazines!

We went back to the hotel and after breakfast decided to have our dirty clothes washed. We needed at least our national dress (the famous daura-suruwal) in tip top condition for the march past the next day. A Laundromat was situated near the hotel. We took the clothes we had gotten dirty during the course of our journey from Kathmandu to Delhi (RNAC), Delhi to Paris (Air France), and Paris to Copenhagen (Scandinavian Airlines), all in all, a nineteen hour journey. The Laundromat had about a dozen huge washing machines. Directions in English printed in large letters on wide signboards made our task easy. Ten minutes later we were out of the laundry with our clothes clean and dry and not a drop of water on our hands. It seemed a miracle. Remember again, this was all twenty six years ago, and we were from the backwaters of the world, namely, Nepal.

As we stepped out onto the pavement, a police car skidded to a halt at the kerb. Two gun-toting policemen jumped out, and grabbing a long haired and bearded man standing on the sidewalk, handcuffed him. From one of his pockets a policeman removed a glass vial. A moment later, the police car sped off, the drug dealer (according to a bystander) in the back seat. At most other times, we hardly saw any policemen around. And definitely no traffic police. Of course the roads were all quite broad, rows of trees separated lanes for cyclists, all traffic lights worked perfectly, and I guess, most importantly, drivers were well aware of their responsibilities – so no traffic police. We did see a police car one other time though. A friend and I were talking to a couple of girls on the sidewalk one evening, the gist of our conversation being, “Want to have a good time?” and “How Much?” when my friend suddenly whispered, “Police.”

Conditioned as we were back home, I too became wary at seeing the police car cruising down the road, but the next moment better sense prevailed and I said to my friend, “Relax. This is Copenhagen. We’re not committing a crime.” In fact, we were in a city where affection (in more literary terms, frank ardor) is displayed quite openly, any place, any time. I saw a tall bearded guy in an unwholesome embrace with a heftily built woman on the sidewalk. As I watched, the woman broke away from his grasp and delivered a tight and resounding slap on the guy’s cheek. People passing by hardly seemed to notice this little drama. Here, I must hasten to confess that most of my Copenhagen experience (at least the most interesting ones, understandably) was limited to its red light district, so perhaps things are different elsewhere. However, from what I could see, the city’s youth did seem to be pretty bohemian elsewhere too.

We made friends with two girls (not the red light district type, but decent girls), methinks their names were Michen and Christina, and they became our guides. When we parted in the evenings (we parted quite early because we couldn’t afford to stand them dinner – the kroner was trading at one to our nine rupees then), they said their farewells with hugs and kisses. I’ll never forget one of my companions remarking, “Imagine if we were to do this in New Road!” By the way, this fellow, although the shy type, always made sure he was in line for the goodies by staying right behind me when we said our goodbyes. Anyway, this aside, the two girls took us around the shopping district along the famous pedestrian street ‘Strøget’, a maze of several walking streets, said to be the largest and oldest of any such street in the world.

The two girls were particularly helpful because they took us to a lane lined with small shops selling eastern curios and jewelry, many of them owned by long haired ex-hippies who had apparently spent some time in the Kathmandu of the 1970s. The presence of the local girls gave us confidence to negotiate more forcefully, the sale of the many turquoise, garnet, coral and silver jewelry we had brought from Kathmandu with a mind to make a few kroners on the side. Did we make a bundle? Well, enough to feel comfortable and buy some gifts for folks back home. And, by the way, in case you might think that we are only frustrated perverts, let me assure that it wasn’t all girls and sex shops we saw in Copenhagen. We were taken on a guided tour around most of the historic places and the prominent sights of this charming city including of course, the world famous ‘Little Mermaid’ on the Copenhagen harbor. We also saw the changing of the guards (in their beefeater hats) at the palace gates. Many of the old houses in the city are also worth seeing as are the lovely parks – usually set around beautiful lakes. One will also come across impressive bronze and stone statues and embossings at many street corners and squares around the city. Madam Tussaud’s Wax Museum was unfortunately under renovation and the Parque Tivoli was also closed, but we did spend some time capturing the Danish atmosphere sitting on a bench at the city square. And oh yes, riding the Metro train from Central Station to Brondby and back was a most pleasant experience as well. One of the best things about Copenhagen are its many canals – a boat ride on the clear waters along ancient looking houses on the shore, is certainly called for when visiting the city.

As far as the competitions were concerned, they were held in Brondby Hallen, a magnificent stadium, where, besides sporting activities, big musical shows are also performed. The first fight of the competitions, my shy but hungry-for-hugs friend was against a guy from Egypt. I remember him walking up to the ring reluctantly, behind our coach. He reminded me of a goat being taken to slaughter, the expression he had on his face! The interesting fights were the ones involving Koreans. The first Korean to fight had a Saudi opponent who threw maybe ten wild kicks before the one single kick from the expressionless Korean knocked him out cold. My fight was on the third day, so I really enjoyed seeing guys being taken away on stretchers. Only, sometimes, a chill would go through me, when I remembered that I too would be facing the music soon.

My fight went off quite well. My opponent, a Swiss, took a tumble in the first minute, result of a good old Gorkhali side kick, and in the next round, clutching his throat, slumped to his knees. Result of a good old Gorkhali punch to the Adam’s apple. That, as it turned out, was a sucker punch, and elicited a penalty point. The third round he got me twice with turning kicks on the face, I don’t know how I could have been so careless. Anyway, that was the end of the road for me. However, we did get a trophy to carry home, it was meant for encouragement. Returning home, we stayed a night in Paris, and the hotel we stayed in, I swear, it was the eeriest place I have ever stayed in. It was so frightening that I have even forgotten its name – talk about auto-erasure of horrible memories! Dimly lit corridors, blood red furnishings, sixteenth century furniture, claustrophobically mirrored creaking lift, and Dracula manning the front desk in a tiny lobby. He never smiled so we couldn’t see his fangs, but he was tall, thin, waxy complexioned, balding, and he had – trust me – he had blood shot eyes sunk in deep dark sockets.

None of us slept well, although we returned to the hotel only around midnight as we were too busy walking up the Eiffel Tower (the lift was under repair), clicking like crazy at the Notre Dame Cathedral, strolling on the Champs De Elysee, posing under the Arc De Triomphe. Sadly, the Versailles was closed for some days – so no Mona Lisa. A curly haired Frenchman in a department store asked me point blank if I was gay! He had probably noticed the thick silver bracelets I was wearing, remainder of the silver jewelry I had brought from Kathmandu to make a few kroners on the side. So, French gays were already coming out of the closet twenty six years ago!

We left for the airport in two taxis. I was with the coach and the manager in the first taxi. My two compatriots were in the other. At the airport, I noticed a beautiful airhostess walk up to a wall and slide a card into a slot. Then, clicking open a small door, she punched some numbers. From another slot, crisp notes came out. I was stunned. ATM, if you please, and remember I was seeing this two and a half decades ago. Half an hour later, my compatriots still hadn’t turned up. I was now almost sure that they had decided to do the disappearing act, although back then it wasn’t as common as it is today. They did turn up eventually, seems they had to take a U-turn after almost fifty miles because they had left the glittering trophy behind!

Anyway, after that it was all down hill. Landing in sweltering India, waiting out an uncomfortable night at the Delhi airport, catching the morning flight to Kathmandu in a plane with doors that refused to close. The poor airhostesses were embarrassed all right – all that pulling and pushing! And, finally, breathing the cool air at Kathmandu airport, although to be absolutely honest, I wasn’t happy to be back home so soon.

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Down Memory Lane - Glimpses of Paradise by 


went to copenhagen to fight – spent msot of the time carousing with pretty bonhemian damsels.

Tags

nepal, copenhagen, denmark, prostitute, taekwondo, amar, red light area, amar b shrestha

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