Himalayan Fair (Berkeley)

On Saturday, May 19, 2007, I went to Berkeley to attend the Himalayan Fair. I'm glad I went -- it turned out to be one of the most consistently themed festivals I've attended. Not only were the half a dozen food booths all themed (Indian, Tibetan, Himalayan, etc.), but so were the booths, hawking items as diverse as rugs and tapestries, to jewelery, incense, scarves, clothes, wood carvings, religious statues, mortar and pestle, and metal bowls. There were even a non-trivial number of people in appropriate garb (not many but a few).

I imagine a major reason why the festival managed to have so much stuff so well themed was because Berkeley has so many people interested in that part of the world. Indeed, it felt like a Berkeley crowd. It felt like the alternative medicine and yoga people were there, and, as such, the festival had an older tilt to it and had many more women than men. (Proof of the presence of some Berkeley kooks: a booth selling stones that "generate healthy negative ions.")

These pictures and movies do a reasonable job capturing the atmosphere.

To get there, I took the BART back to my old neighborhood and had a nice stroll up Shattuck to Live Oak Park. It gave me an opportunity to see what's changed and what's still the same. Incidentally, last year I attended a fair at this park.

Just outside the fair, it being Berkeley, I wasn't surprised to be handed a glossy page promoting the Revolutionary Communist Party. Only weeks later did I realize the irony of handing out such propaganda outside a festival devoted to people who live in the Himalayan region, some of whom are being oppressed by one such political party.

Asides from retailers, other booths dealt with tourism, culture, or economics. For example, there were booths promoting touring or trekking in the region, booths promoting visiting and donating to preserve sacred sites, and booths asking for charity to improve economic conditions.

Incidentally, the items I originally thought were unconventional mortars and pestles were actually singing bowls, in effect inverted bells.

I chose to get lunch from the Tibetan Association of Northern California booth. I got two types of momos (Tibetan dumplings). My meat ones were quite tasty ("mmmm"), containing (as near as I could tell) cabbage, onion, cilantro (?), meat, green onion, and celery, all wrapped in a nice, soft pasta skin. Especially in comparison but even on their own, my veggie ones were only okay: quite bland and hence nowhere near as good. They were vaguely cheesy, which is odd given the ingredients: cabbage, spinach, carrot, tofu, garlic, potato, and onion. (It's odd that they listed the ingredients for the veggie momos but not the meat ones.) Accompanying these momos were a salad (eh) with a few tomatoes.

Later, I wanted a snack, and so I grabbed one from the Nepal Association of Northern California booth. I had a sel roti, a pastry that's supposed to be like a doughnut or funnel cake. Ick. The one I bought was dried out. It had no flavor. It was just dough, fried, but without even the fried flavor. I threw it out. I guess the one they sold me had simply been fried too long in the past.

While at the fair, I saw a number of hanging plaques with quotes from the Dalai Lama, including this one that struck me:

We have bigger houses but smaller families;
more conveniences, but less time.
We have more degrees but less sense;
more knowledge but less judgment;
more experts, but more problems;
more medicines but less healthiness.
We’ve been all the way to the moon and back,
but have trouble in crossing the street to meet our new neighbour.
We built more computers to hold more copies than ever,
But have less real communication;
We have become long on quantity,
but short on quality.
These are times of fast foods but slow digestion;
Tall men but short characters;
Steep profits but shallow relationships.
It’s a time when there is much in the window
But nothing in the room.
-the 14th Dalai Lama
When I was ready to leave, rather than return down the path I previously took, down Shattuck to the Downtown Berkeley BART station, I decided to walk west through residential areas to the North Berkeley BART station. The two stations are equidistant from the park so it didn't cost me any time. Further, as you can tell from the photos, I spotted many lovely flowers on this walk. It was definitely a change of pace from my noon walk through Shattuck's commercial district.