Smiling in Nepal

As part of his integration with all the strangers that Grønkjær meets on his travels, he sought a Tibetan monastery where the local lama personally tonsured the Dane and dressed him as a monk.

Grønkjær performed his magic show among the prayer flags and incense in the beautiful Himalayas as well as at a cremation by the holy river.   


I love adventure and the unpredictable in my journeys. With my magic suitcase as a steady partner, I have seen and heard people laugh out loud regardless if they where tribes living in the jungle, descendants of the old Incas, cowboys in Texas, indians in South America or people living in the largest cities of the world – for instance New York. Now the time was up for the monks and the convents in The Himalayas.    

The chaos of Kathmandu

28 Hours after leaving my home in Denmark, I suddenly found myself in the center of crazy, chaotic Kathmandu, the capital of Nepal.

Nepal ranks 8 at the list of the poorest countries, and it is remarkably different than home: Buses drive with passengers clinging to the roof, small scooter-taxis, rickshaws, colorful hindu-parades and Buddhist monks, monkeys crawling the trees, piles of trash everywhere, trucks that have seen better days, people shouting and drivers honking the horn nonstop.

I actually counted one taxi drivers honks to 34 times a minute at a random drive. And in between this madness the holy cows stroll the roads, which kind of puts a perspective on the danish problems with dog-shit on the sidewalks! But if I was a holy cow, that no one could touch, why should I bother, if I was shitting on the street, even if it was just in front of a sidewalk café?

 In this adventure I had a desire to meet people, that had given their lives to religion. Monks in the convents of Nepal and Tibet are greatly different than the people and the audience, that I met in previous expeditions. Just to get in to the convents was a possible challenge, and furthermore I had to see if it was possible to give a show in there, to which I had my doubts. You don't just walk in to a convent, ask to see the holy chambers and then start pulling a rabbit up the black hat.

For starters you would definitely get the boot, and furthermore it is important to meet the  locals with the respect they deserve.   


Shaved as a monk

Not far from Mount Everest with a great view of the snowy peaks of Himalaya the dream came true. At a local temple with colorful flags blowing in the wind, monkeys playing in the trees, incent sticks smoking and the monks studying the holy writing, I was for a short period a student under the wings of the local Lama.  

He heard of my mission, and quickly he became interested in my magic suitcase, which bears photos of my audience from all over the world. From chiefs to drag queens

When he saw my photos from some of the most impassable places of the planet, he offered to help me stage a performance for the boys and men of his convent. He lead me to a small plateau, where the youngest of the monks was studying the holy writings. I had entered the heart of the convent.

I always make an effort to integrate with the locals and everywhere I go, I perform in the outfits of the locals. When visiting the cannibals of Irian jaya, I wore their small penis-hiding tube. In New York I performed as a dragqueen.

And faster than a monk can spell nirvana the Lama had found a knife and shaving equiptment, and   after a short while I was bald as a baby and dressed in an orange monk robe.

And that's how the prayers for Buddha shortly was replaced with laughter and screams of joy, when the holy men saw their first magician performance. Nirvana was forgotten while they focused on danish fairy dust, when a monk got a sword through his throat, pieces of paper turned into bills, things floated in the air, and balloon animals was made in all the colors of their prayer flags.

When you give a piece of yourself to others, people will open both their hearts and homes for you. And I was subsequently invited into the private chamber of the Lama. It was 4 x 4 meters and contained a mattress on the floor, a small cooking set and posters on the walls of Buddha......and one of the band Boyzone and a footballposter! 

Show at a cremation

One of the more macabre experiences I had, was when I performed at a cremation. Outside the walls of the temples there are daily cremations alongside the holy river. This day relatives mourned, others sacrificed gifts or clothed themselves in the traditional kirtle, while the rest of the citizens followed the cremation curiously. In different places orchestras played for the dead, and holy men stayed close in the hope, that the tourists might give a penny or two.

When I walked by some of the holy men, I couldn't resist making a bill appear as a trick. They were clearly astonished and wanted to see more. I opened the magic suitcase ajar and a few crafty tricks were shown. It didn't take long before the stairs, where I performed, where packed with people – and the holy men sat of course on first row.

Actually it was a grotesque experience to act in front of a screaming crowd, while the air filled with smoke from the bodies burning by the river, completely exposed. In Denmark the most macabre magic experience have been to stage a show at a circumcision, but this topped the charges.    


Forbidden Tibet

From the chaotic Kathmandu the journey continued in Tibet, which we crossed in a land-cruiser. Months before I had cleared the necessary permissions and all expenses where paid, so we got quite a chock, when we were denied access to the country.

Few hours before crossing the Chinese border, where no-mans-land separate Nepal and China (Tibet lies within the borders of China), we were told, we couldn't enter. We didn't understand why, since we months before had examined every detail and had figured out, that it shouldn't be a problem traveling to Tibet. I had read and researched a lot about the country, and I had really been looking forward to this, so I got both frustrated and sad. Normally I would have pulled out tufts of hair, but this was impossible since I was still bald as an egg. I still wanted a reasonable explanation, though,  but the authorities wouldn't give us one. We were just told, that we could try again the following day. This lead to rejection after rejection the next days. We tried both morning, noon and night, but nothing helped. But other tourists passed the borders easily within minutes. If they could have given us a reasonable explanation, we would have understood this, but we only met an arrogant attitude from the embassy, where they firmly let us know, that we weren't welcome, and that they by the way didn't give a damn about our papers or the fact, that we had paid well to cross the country.

It didn't help, that we had contact with both the government and several important officials. We finally had to realize, that in this case the capital of Tibet, Lhasa fulfilled it's name as the forbidden city, which vexed this magician quite a lot.     

From poverty to abundance

Now I just wished to get moving with help from our travel agent, but no matter where I wished to go, the planes were either fully booked or the visa was to difficult to get with such short notice. Suddenly the phone rang. It was our agent telling us to be ready within ten minutes to go to the airport. I was of course quite curious about where we were going. It could be anywhere: China, India, Burma .....or maybe back to Denmark. At this moment I didn't know anything, but shortly after, we sat in a plane heading towards Bangkok, where the contrast to the poverty in Nepal were put in perspective.      

Our travel agent wished to make amends after the unfortunate incident with Tibet, which meant that we were showered with luxury upon arriving in Thailand. We went from one of the poorest countries in the world, where everybody tries to squeeze some money out of you and where the locals live and eat quite miserable, to a hotel, that could house royalty. Everywhere waiters tiptoed to open doors, put the napkin in your lap or fill your glass every time, you had taken a sip.    

In the Himalayas we lived in in small, rickety cottages, where there would be a bonfire in a barrel in the center of the room, while sleeping on stone hard beds below windows, that didn't fit the sills in the wall. The toilets were holes in the ground, sometimes swarming with mites. Now I was sleeping in a canopy bed large enough to contain a small village with orchids spread on the sheets, and with 3-4 waiters at hand. It was fun to experience such luxury, but the contrast to the poverty only hours away was unpleasant.


The giraffe women

There was an advantage in ending up in Thailand instead of Tibet. Then I could make another dream of mine come true:

I have a burning desire to meet different populations. On my top 5 I have always had the so-called giraffe women, who have had rings placed around their necks since their childhood, which has given them an absurd posture. Now I had the chance to visit them an perform in their village, so within five days I found myself in a small motorized trunk-like boat, that brought me and my magic suitcase down the river to the border between Thailand and Burma, where civil war tears the country apart.

After a beautiful trip down the river with lush, jungle-like plantation on both sides, we saw small, crooked wooden houses appear on the riverbank. Even before we put a foot on land my eyes caught the first long-necked woman strolling. On shore the first women were ready to greet us, and every one we met, where nice and forthcoming, but the experience had a darker side to it as well.

These women dress this way because it is a tradition, but partly this helps the village to survive as well. They make money on their deformities, and for some it might give the expression, that the tourists walk around a zoo, staring at animals. Actually I had been looking forward to studying their necks and decorations, but when confronted with the women, I got embarrassed on their behalf, and in the beginning I only looked into their eyes instead of looking at their rings.

But on the other hand I usually experience, that different tribes think, that I am a fun and exiting stranger, because I let them look at me, when I open my magic suitcase an perform a bit.

Hence here at the riverbanks, where both children and adults soon gathered around, laughing of, what they thought was a crazy magician, who made strange things happen. Money suddenly appeared, a girl got a hole drilled in her stomach, one got a sword through his throat, and a guy in a jacket suddenly ended up in a bikini. Those, who hadn't seen the show from the beginning, ran through the village, when the loud laughter caught their ears, telling them, that something unusual was going on.     

 This was an amazing place to visit, because of the villagers colorful clothes, body-decorations, their joyful ways of being and their big smiles. Even though they are really poor, they brought me gifts and thanked for the experience after the show. I refused, but they insisted, saying, that I had  given them joy from the bottom of my heart, and their gifts was meant as a way to express their gratitude. They said, they had never seen anything like that, and that they would always remember my visit. As I sailed back towards civilization, I happily and humble thought of the expression, that  “strangers are just friends, you have not yet met”.

The Smiling Fairytale Society