The Chuwan family is part of a wave of recent Bhutanese immigrants to the United States, part of an effort by the U.S. government to resettle 60,000 of the estimated 100,000 refugees living in Nepal and India. The Bhutanese government had expelled the ethnic Nepalis from southern Bhutan during a fit of nationalization in 1990. The Pioneer Press connected with the International Institute of Minnesota, a social service agency on Como Avenue across from the Minnesota State Fairgrounds, to take the family to the State Fair for the first time.
Man Chuwan pauses as he passes the GMC car display at Nelson Street and Judson Avenue on the Minnesota State Fairgrounds.
"New models," says Chuwan, 36, who worked as a Toyota mechanic while spending nearly two decades in a refugee camp in Nepal.
Meandering up Judson, the father of two points to the facade of the Village Idiot shop, where dried-grass awnings and skull-topped staffs greet customers.
While in the refugee camp, Chuwan says, he had never heard of Minnesota - let alone its State Fair.
"Only the United States," he says.
So when he and his family - wife Hema, 32; son Nabin, 13; and daughter Niruda, 9 - were resettled in Roseville by the International Institute of Minnesota in mid-August, they had no idea what the Fair was.
The family remembers traveling fairs in Nepal, says Kamala Chuwan, Man's sister, who arrived in Minnesota 14 months ago.
But they only sawthose from the outside.
"They were too expensive to go in," she says. "We could only see the top of the rides" as they swung above the fence line.
On a recent morning, a Pioneer Press reporter and photographer hosted the family at the Fair, in part to welcome them to the state and in part to see the Great Minnesota Get-Together through new eyes.
Minnesota and Nepal might be a world apart, but everybody likes deep-fried cheese. And almost any request can be granted at the Fair.
L L L
In the Agriculture-Horticulture Building, Man pats a 500-pound pumpkin as he tours a room of gargantuan vegetables.
"Very nice," he says.
Nabin pulls out a cellphone and starts snapping pictures.
Man points out a display of Minnesota-grown fruit.
He points to a basket of tiny Reliance peaches.
They grow the same fruit in Nepal, he says.
The first Fair food of the day is a glass of apple cider for Kamala and two cider freezes for the kids. Nabin shrugs when asked if he likes the frozen juice.
L L L
The next stop is the Space Tower. At the top of the needle, the family points out the skyline of Minneapolis, downtown St. Paul and the tree-covered rise that marks Roseville. The family leans forward to get a better look. Niruda just stands up.
Back on the ground, the family begins an excited conversation.
"How high was it?" Kamala translates.
Three hundred feet, a ride operator replies.
L L L
They pass the Food Building. They've been at the Fair for about 45 minutes. Are they ready for more food?
Man shakes his head, no.
Unconvinced, the Pioneer Press reporter heads for Sweet Martha's cookie stand. The family passes around a cup of the gooey treats. After having one apiece - and approving of their goodness - Nabin and Niruda say they'd rather have a Dole Whip waffle cone. Pineapple. Kamala gets one, too.
The kids snack on the ice cream en route to the Department of Natural Resources Building but can't finish it. They hand the cones to Hema, who gazes, double-fisted, at mounted deer heads and wildlife dioramas.
L L L
Which animals do the Chuwans want to see first? Horses, cattle or swine?
The crew decides to see the Swine Barn and takes a shortcut - the alley behind the sheep and poultry building. Farmers groom sheep on a back landing as the animals bleat.
"Are they going to butcher them?" Kamala asks.
No, at least not at the Fair.
Entering the Swine Barn, Niruda puts on a pair of pig ears and pinches her nostrils shut - the universal sign for "This stinks."
Man is disappointed - the promised giant boar has already left the Fairgrounds. It's all right - Niruda leads everyone out of the barn after a couple minutes.
L L L
Hema and Kamala talk excitedly and pull out an empty plastic soda bottle as they walk through the Cattle Barn.
Are they thirsty?
No, Kamala says.
"We want urine."
Kamala is eight months pregnant, and Hema says the family needs a small amount of urine from a female calf so it can conduct a Hindu baby-naming ritual.
Most of the cows in the barn are too large, they say, so the family heads to the CHS Miracle of Birth Center.
Once inside, they hand the reporter the bottle.
Instead of collecting a sample, the reporter finds a veterinarian and explains the request.
The doctor says the family can't get it at the Fair, but otherwise she doesn't seem fazed.
"I know plenty of places to get urine," she says.
She meets the family and talks to Kamala. They work out an arrangement where the vet will send a small vial of frozen urine from an outstate farm to the family in a couple of weeks.
Hema seems pleased.
L L L
Walking through Carousel Park, the family passes a gaggle of folks sitting on bleachers and watching a soap opera behind the WCCO-TV booth.
They don't linger and instead head to the Cheese-on-a-Stick stand near the Giant Slide.
Kamala, Nabin and Niruda each eat lengths of the battered and deep-fried pepper jack.
Would the kids like to try the slide?
Nabin says nothing, but Niruda shakes her head a vigorous "no."
L L L
While riding the SkyGlider up to Machinery Hill, Niruda spots a bumper boat ride in the Kidway. Once on the ground, she insists on trying it out.
Heading south on Cooper Street, the children pass a corner souvenir stand, laden with inflatable heroes, fur-trimmed hats and stuffed animals on leashes.
Nabin slows down and stares. His parents usher him along.
The family reaches the Kidway as a light rain starts falling. Niruda decides against the boats and opts for a spin on the Beetle Bob's, a raucous ride that spins kids forward and backward in undulating circles as music blares. After a few turns, she smiles.
L L L
What do they want to do next?
"Go home," Kamala says.
Heading south to the Loop Gate on Como, Man hears the 34th Infantry Division "Red Bull" Band playing at the Leinie Lodge bandshell.
The five Chuwans find a dry space under the awning of the beer stand as the band jumps into "Stars and Stripes Forever."
Hema claps in rhythm with the John Philip Sousa march; Man rocks side to side.
Their favorite parts of the Fair?
For Niruda, it was the Kidway.
Hema says, "Everything."
Man sums up the experience: "Was very nice. Good."
John Brewer can be reached at.