Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Guest of Bhutan

“Sometimes we visit your country and live in your homes
Sometimes we ride on your horses, sometimes we walk alone
Sometimes the songs that we sing are just songs of our own.” Eyes of the World

Today I was woken from a nightmare where I was choking on beetle nut chew. This is a vice enjoyed by the men of Bhutan that provides a mild stimulant and stains their teeth crimson like vampires after supper. They wrap the beetle nut with lime in green leaves. In my dream the leaf was lodged in my throat and I was at the BHU (Basic Health Unit) at the back of an endless line. At 7:15 Namgay was wrapping at my door. I ignored it twice until I heard him yelling “Mr Tim, Mr Tim.” My floor had been flooded by my H2O filter that is not working properly. After attempting without success to fix it, we had some tea and headed into Trashigang about two hours away. Accompanying us was the schools game master and his adorable daughter of two. We stopped along the gushing whitewater river to pick some sour fruit that was not to my taste and take a pee break along the road which is common in Bhutan. Crossing the infamous bridge I was of course required to check in with the guard before continuing on to our destination. We then went shopping as I spent most of my last moneys on a rug, pressure cooker, and more dishes. This has been an expensive endeavor to volunteer in Bhutan. After shopping I was treated to a wonderful spicy curry lunch with boneless beef which has been impossible to find. As I’m writing this the power went out as the rain pelts my hut. So to be continued I guess… 

Two days later and the powers back on. We have electricity from 6pm to 5 am most nights. The water shortage is very real especially considering that my expensive purifier leaks all over my concrete floor. Despite the help of the village it remains broken. This is a major challenge. So is my resistance to bucket baths in cold climates. I have only washed my hair once so far. And yes mom I ceased bone stimulating in Thimphu but will resume again. I think mornings will work better for me now.

Yesterday I ambled up to the ancient ruins which are little more than a few crumbling walls and a gate situated on top of a mountain. Above the ruin is the most enchanted temple. Its shrine depicts all the unusual suspects and deities including Buddha and some crazy multi-headed deity subduing some sort of demon. Outside the temple an old man sang while spinning an unpainted prayer wheel while inside a small boy recited his prayers with fervor. The robed child gave me a blessing of water from an alter which I drank (yikes!) and then ran through my hair. As I prostrated myself I noticed an exquisite patch of emerald marble on the wooden floor. He then took me up a secret staircase into a second and smaller chamber. Here the paintings depicted meditating figures and a particularly striking tantric image with a naked lady sitting on a cross-legged blue man’s penis. The detail was exquisite her head thrust back with pleasure, her nipples erect. From there the boy led me up to an attic with bare floors and a simple alter. I could feel a rare breath of purity enter my mind.  It was a remarkable and peaceful place that felt truly indigenous in nature. It is a place that I will surely visit again and I left with tranquility in my heart. From the temple I crept through a farmyard to a pine tree lined path continuing up the mountainside. An hour later I reached a remote settlement attracting some attention as I marched right into their habitat. I attempted to communicate to no avail as it seemed that I had landed from another planet with, “the look of an alien who’s home planet had been destroyed!” (An observation coined by my former pupil Jen in Korea) Despite this fact an old toothless elder opened their simple temple, a cold wooden room with butter lamps blazing. I left some rupees on the alter. Scampering back down the hill passed beating drums and growling horns emanating from a farmhouse  I found more ruined walls, and again passed through the gate with its faded paintings from another lifetime. This was the dwelling of a 9th century Tibetan prince banished from his homeland, familiar eh! I returned the next day in an obsessed desire to purge the ruins of its litter a major issue in Bhutan. It all started with a Pepsi bottle an offense to my god of Coca Cola. So it’s only fitting that I am now head of the clean up club at Tsenkharla campus. I found some long tall prayer flags by a lower ruined wall and watched the sun set over an endless chain of mountains. The wind carried my tune “K.C Moan” into eternity.

School meetings commenced on Friday and Saturday mostly conducted in the native Dzonka tongue. I did however find out that I am teaching 7,8 level English. I am excited to work with an older age group and now have experience from K-8. Everyone here is welcoming and I’ve already found my “canteen” where everyone knows my name. Ironically the Bhutanese are more adept at understanding the British ascent than my California ascent. Here they serve noodles and coke, what else do I need. My cooking attempts have been beans and Pringles so I have a lot to improve on. Other household obstacles include blowing my fuse and squatting over an eastern toilet to do my nasty business. Household chores seem exasperating and I apologize mom for being such a lazy bum at home. Karma’s a bitch I’m finding. In other news my initial reservations of the scenery have transgressed into awe and wonderment. Tonight the stars seemed close enough to play with along with the odd twinkling lights that dot the inky landscape. I dined with my neighbor who has given me his book written in English to edit, (ha ha Mare, jokes on me.) I realize I will be asked to do many things here. After dinner and a coke at the canteen (I’m down to two a day!) I went over to my BFF Karlos’s house where I watched “The guest of Bhutan” a film about a wayward Western traveler who falls into the care of a beautiful Bhutanese girl in Gasa. If only life was like the movies, LOL. This is a very small community and my social life will be restricted and monitored. So Same Same as America I presume. But sitting in the wooden canteen around the fire laughing I have arrived in “The real Bhutan” Most people here have never ventured as far West as Bumthang and I realize how fortunate we travelers are. Since my time here will leave little opportunity for travel, Tshenkharla will be my entire universe for the year.

“I’ll be back in just a little bit” in the meantime here’s a glossary of Bhutanese terms,

PMA=GNH (Positive Mental Attitude =Gross National Happiness)
Night Hunting = the pursuit of women at night in rural Bhutan.
BST = Bhutan standard time, a flexible interpretation of universal time
Blah Blah Blah = Yada Yada Yada (that’s where Kimock got it from)

Life is okay now. My anxiety overwhelms me but is alleviated by a cow at my doorstep or the hush of the river far below. Outside my door is a perfect sitting rock which overlooks the divide of Bhutan and India. I have to get my house in order and start preparing for my classes. Of course I'm nervous but I have learned that negativity is futile here. Your attitude defines your reality and that reality is not my strong point. Nevertheless I made it here which is miraculous. I carry all my donors and well wishers with me at all times and the community has expressed gratitude for my impending service. The rumor before I came was that I was Japanese or Canadian. I am honored to be one of a few Americans to ever teach in Bhutan and the first foreign teacher at Tshenkharla in 25 years..

 In this life my challenge is letting go of attachment. My fierce loyalty manifests itself in obsession and remaining in the past. Speaking of my true love and my true pain by the wood stove a villager offered sound advice, to paraphrase in less eloquent words he said, “I gave her my gift so if she moved on to another man and relationship it’s okay.” So to my family and soul mate if I seem distant it’s only to cope with my absolute attachment to you all in this life. Same for my BCF clan, I miss your company and am always here if YOU need to talk. My hut is always open to any who wish to visit. Your support on the front end will not be forgotten.

It’s 3 AM and I’m off to bed in my freezing cement house. It’s very well built, but cold. My heater seems merely for show. 9 AM is the latest I’ve slept in Bhutan and I am always grumpy and groggy in the morning. My poker face is the pits and my expression has been interpreted by locals and BCF teachers alike, “Are you okay?” or “Are you sick today?” Both are common remarks. Ah young Jen said it best, but maybe I can call this new planet my home someday. I need to portray consistency for the sake of my students. Note to self, “Don’t forget to smile.” Thank you for indulging my blah, blah, blah.

Mr. Tim

From Tshenkharla, MSS

May the force be with you, always!

Part 2 Welcome To The World

“New ones coming as the old ones go
Everything’s moving here but much to slowly” Cosmic Charlie

Today was one long meeting from 9-5. Bhutan seems to revolve around formalities and meetings. And today as I fried my fuse again and continue to have trouble with water, I had some WTF am I doing here moments. It’s surreal being an outsider in a foreign community. Despite their genuine hospitality I am definitely the odd ball. Tonight there was a party in honor of me and our new principal a kindly man who arrived the day after me. It was also a going away party for Namgay who first received me at Tshenkharla. The assembly hall was transformed into a simple elegant room with two banquet tables and a small table for the honored guests myself included. We were served yummy tea which is my favorite thing here. It’s made from powdered milk, tea leaves, and sugar. (I don’t know how to make it yet) I made a small token speech expressing my gratitude in joining the Tshenkharla family. Then a simple dinner with the Omni present national dish of chilies and cheese that always burns a hole in my stomach.  The meal also included rice, and fresh salad including red onions and tomatoes (no lettuce) which is a luxury. After our meal we did a community dance that was very similar to Native American dance. Contrary to my free flowing rock n roll moves I am terrible at proper dance. The harder I tried to emulate the steps the worse I performed. The chanting that went along with the dance was enchanting, illustrating the community vibe of this place. How often do teachers dance with their colleagues and principals? It was a nice ending to a blah blah blah day. I did make the tribe laugh on occasion today but communication is difficult at times. I must remember to talk slowly and use complete sentences. I have a habit of using broken English with the natives. I feel like I'm in Dances With Wolves or Northern Exposure. The students arrive tomorrow and my little community will soon have 500 more members. I will be teaching 7th and 8th grade English maxing at 32 classes a week plus chairing the literary and clean up clubs. Life will be busy here with extra duties and six day work weeks. Sometimes I’m getting lonesome in a crowd of people. I often get asked the same questions, “Is this your first time in Bhutan?” or “How big is your family?” and of course “Are you married?” Most people here are coupled or married except my neighbor and only true friend Karlos. I haven’t spoken to any BCF teachers or headquarters as of yet and have no Internet. I will paste this in later. So life is good and hard as expected. But I feel relatively healthy.
“You can’t stop the waves but you can learn to surf” Jon kabat Zinn

Tim Grossman from California (as introduced tonight) Also I was presented the traditional white silk scarf which is a custom.

Part 3 Hell In a Bucket

"May be going to hell in a bucket but at least I'm enjoying the ride"

Ive truly come to appreciate that water is life and having a water shortage is a trip. My busted filter leaves me with drinking mineral water that can be purchased from the store. I spend my time hauling heavy buckets from the pipe down the hill to my house (hence the title of this entry). Ive decided I need one more huge bucket to sit in for baths. I heat the water with a nifty heating rod. I'm astounded by electricity and all technology which seems out place here. Now its cold standing naked on my cement floor. Nights here get cold but my sleeping bag and heavy coat courtesy of my ex's keep me toasty. And my I Pad is literally my salvation. (Thanks mom for that and everything else) Like Camile said at Champs bar on the Norwegian Sun, "You have a cool mom!" Today the students arrived. I got a kick out of the primary ones in their mini ghos. I made a welcome speech addressing 400 or so pupils. The part of me that loves to teach was awoken and I got the first view of my class 7. Students here are not adept at speaking English like in Korea so it will be challenging I'm sure. My house is slowly coming together but far from comfortable. I am fortunate to live in a beautiful place with a great campus. We have some impressive Cypress trees and roses, geraniums, and bogenvia just like my garden at home. (rather my moms house, enjoying your freedom ma?) Ive been blacked out on Internet for over a week so I will try to catch up on e mails tonight. Life will become outrageously busy soon, so I'm enjoying a little down time tonight. At night I go out the gate to the village (a loose assembly of shops and farmhouses, where people watch tv on bare wood floors.) where I have a coke by the wood stove and listen to people shouting in sharshop the local dialect. It always sounds like their fighting. So my loudness will be tolerated. Its a funny culture. Cell phones and private conversations during the nine hour meetings are acceptable. But its also steeped in traditions. The food is well prepared but is ONLY rice, dried fish and ema datsi (chillies and cheese) I cant handle the chillies. Wheres the beef? My view is stunning with its dry river valley stretching into India. And the tiny oasis of our campus. People are nice but I finally broke down and called Sarah and Becky to have a proper conversation. They both seemed happy which pleased me. I have a semi pet dog I call red and the cows wanders around my porch freely. I am extremely close to the boys hostel and they are stacked 26 to a room. It makes me happy to have my own room at least.

Hope everyone reading this is feeling good, please take a hot shower for me and eat some meat!

with love and affection

the banished prince of San Rafael

Here's a suite of poems. They always come out depressing which is not my intent. I wont even bother sharing my valentines poem that's a doozy.


Strolling in the void
chased by the demon rGyal –gong,
on the pass to nowhere
it seems Drukpa Kunley didn’t tame them all.
winding up the path to the ruins of Tshenkharla Dzong
flowing through the ancient gate
its paintings faded
like the memories of a former life
meeting the
banished ghost of Prince Tsangma
we are together at last


Tshenkharla Dzong is a 9th Century ruin established by the banished Tibetan Prince Tsangma above Tshenkharla village in the Trashiyangtse district of Bhutan. The rGyal-gong demon is a demonic entity praying upon the weak, young, and infirm. Inducing nervous disease and insanity.


Loneliness is a dry canteen
in the vast desert of the heart
searching for an oasis
to break the spell
let go of desire
and you will be free
not the goat
nor the monkey
but the reeds swaying
along the river.


  1. Dear Tim:

    Tyler and I were both disapointed we could not connect with you on Skype today. A real bummer!I think I can get an international phone connection like I had when you were in Korea! I believe you do have a cell phone? Please relay that phone number including the international connection to us in your blog so that I can find out how much it costs and see if you can call from your end and have it billed to our end.

    Following your blog every day to see if you post. Keep your spirits high--it will get better!

    We all love and miss you!


  2. Wow bra. Amazing blog entry and experience thus far. Keep those smiles coming and appreciate life - it is precious as you know.

    We will try to call your phone at 10am on Sunday AM (your time). If that's not a good time then send an email telling us when is best.

    Take care Mr Tim and pontificating about you daily.

    - Tyler