As soon as I stepped into the entrance of Bhaktapur Durbar Square in Kathmandu, I was swarmed by a group of men. I had been in Nepal for 3 days now, but I was definitely not comfortable with the male attention I was getting.
“Hey, do you need a guide?”
“Are you alone? You will need a guide!”
I ignored them and swiftly moved on, trying to walk into any door that would lead me to somewhere.
I entered what appeared to be the Palace Courtyard. There were some tourists taking photos with two local children, while a boy in yellow t-shirt (presumably their brother) looked on. I followed suit with the photo taking and then moved on. The children started following me.
“Photo money!”said the little girl with an outstretched hand.
I gave her a small token amount.
“Money no good, don’t give money. I don’t want money,” said the boy.
“Are you here alone? I can show you around. I don’t need money. What’s your name? Where are you from?” he asked.
I mumbled my name and started walking. He followed, and gave me a brief introduction of the Golden Gate. He told me he was 12 and his parents are working.
“Let me see your map. From here you can go to the Hindu Temple and the Buddhist Temple in the Square. Then, it’s about 5 minutes walk into Pottery Square. I can show you!”
I followed him and he showed me the sights, like a true guide. We even stopped by a pottery shop which was selling singing bowls and learnt how to use the singing bowl from the shop owner. We trotted past many sandy streets in Bhaktapur, which displayed the devastating impact of the 2015 earthquake.
“I don’t need money. I just need a book for study. Books are good. Maybe you can buy me a book later?”
I agreed and he brought me to a book store nearby and showed me a worn English-Nepali dictionary.
“This is good. It teaches me English. See, there is translation to Nepali!”
I asked for the price of the dictionary.
The shopkeeper peered and said, “1000 rupees (USD10).”
This was way exorbitant for a locally published book! Well, I was shopping around the bookstores at Thamel the day before and had a good idea of the prices of books in Nepal. I was beginning to wonder if the boy was in cahoots with the shopkeeper. Or, the shopkeeper was deliberately quoting a higher price to a foreigner.
I replied to the boy, “No, I will give you money to buy the book instead. The shopkeeper saw me as a tourist and gave an expensive price for the book.”
I passed him 400 rupees, which was equivalent to USD4. It was approaching the end of our “tour” and he brought me back to the entrance of Durbur Square, where we first met.
There, he pointed where the entrance of Durbar Square was and we parted ways. He probably went on to look for a new target, and I was left wondering if I did the right thing.
How is it right to give a boy money when he should be in school? Should I have given him a pen instead, as advised by Lonely Planet? But that advice was meant for responding to child beggars. I hope he didn’t have to share the USD4 with the bookstore keeper, who would definitely have profited from the sale of the book if I bought it at USD10.
And did the boy genuinely wanted the dictionary? Or was it just a plot to get money from tourists?
I had loads of questions but no answer. As I walked around the streets aimlessly, I decided it was probably time to leave for my next destination.
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