Sunday, March 11, 2012

Tiger 2.0

 Tiger 2.0

“I’m still walking, so I’m sure that I can dance, it’s a saint of circumstance, it’s a tiger in a trance, the rain falling downBob Weir

Dear readers,

I apologize for my last rash entry. I realize that I owe it to my donors, family, and self to keep this blog alive. After all I need a place to rant and rave. Those who know me well accept that I have a propensity for self pity and negativity, two qualities useless here. Please forgive me! As for my grammar skills I have checked out several grammar books from our school library to study. Please feel free to edit my work in the comments section of this blog. I will also continue to disclose all personal details of my bumpy ride in Bhutan. After all I have nothing to hide. Speaking of topsy-turvy rides, the drive from Thimphu to Tshenkharla takes about 24 hours to cover 500 miles! Luckily for any prospective visitors they have one domestic flight a week from Thimphu to an airport near Trashigang in the east. Unfortunately only my immediate family (brother, mother, father) get a waver of the $250 per day tourist tariff. If any of you would like to visit you must let me know by this summer as the tourism board needs a six month advanced plan. All our welcome!  

Warmly TKG

Part 2 Good Morning Little Schoolgirl

The first day of classes was exhilarating and exhausting. I talked too much straining my voice. I tried my best to solicit questions and responses but the students are very shy about speaking English. I introduced myself including my family history and teaching back round. And told them of my congenital nastagmus. Then I made a seating chart for the purposes of practicing their names. They laughed mercilessly when I couldn’t pronounce their names properly. I especially had a difficult time with the “Tsh” sound in “Tshwing” which sounds most like the c sound but not quite. And their gho’s and kiera’s are adorable but indistinguishable. Plus they pronounce the “z” as “zet” which was confusing.

Today was also school elections and they have been lined up huddled in the dark rain voting for several hours. Karlos has been tirelessly organizing the election using these antique machines that beep when a vote is cast. There are serious security measures in place to ensure validity. At almost 100% turnout this election truly defines democracy in its truest form. Bobby and the headcount folks would be impressed. The students gave campaign speeches in English and Dzonka before the election. Then they filed into booths to cast their vote. I’m proud of all the students and learned something of Karlos’s passion for democracy.

I have prepped my lessons for tomorrow and tried to modify them to be simpler and accessible. The unit is on identity focusing on several poems. The theme of the week is “Who Am I?” Poetry is hard enough to discuss even when you are fluent. I will bring my mirror and encourage students to look in it and consider the face looking back. Eventually I will have them write a poem about themselves. This way I can learn something about each student and their writing capabilities.

Part 3 Water is Life

“Bring Me little water Sylvie, bring me little water now, bring me little water Sylvie, every little once in awhile.

“Bring it in a bucket Sylvie, bring it in a bucket now, bring it in a bucket Sylvie, every little once in awhile” Leadbelly

After almost a week the water flowed filling my red and blue plastic buckets. Hallelujah! Time for my weekly bath, LOL! As I gleefully watched the water start and stop and stop and start trickling into my buckets recalling the old folk song, “There’s a hole in the bucket Dear Liza Dear Liza, There’s a hole in the bucket Dear Liza my Dear…So fix it Dear Henry Dear Henry Dear Henry so fix it Dear Henry Dear Henry my Dear” So fix that water shortage Henry wherever you are? Apparently they are trying to tap a waterfall which cascades over the road to Yangtse and the villagers boast that the water shortage (crisis) will be over soon. The problem is water comes on random days primarily between 5-6 AM. Most of you know I like to sleep as late as possible which is 8 AM here. I must change my routine and collect water at dawn. Water is truly precious as thirsty students often come by to get a cup from my filter. I’m glad I brought plastic cups but I’m running out of them. I can’t believe hundreds of boys live in crammed bunks and I assume the girls do as well. Bhutanese students rarely complain about anything as they all work extremely hard from an early age.      

Part 4 Chalk Dust Torture

“Can I live while I’m young?” Phish

One cool thing about a Bhutanese classroom is its utter simplicity. Wooden chairs, bare bulb lights, pane-less windows, and chalk board. By the end of my day I am covered in chalk like the abominable snowman. The lack of teacher resources really challenges the teacher to be creative. Fortunately each student possesses their own book, pencil, and brain. What else is necessary? I have been impressed so far by my student’s attitude and aptitude. Of course they struggle with English after all it is their third or fourth language. As an ESL teacher it’s easy to forget that they are thinking, speaking, reading, and writing in a foreign language, as complex as English. Heck I even struggle with grammar and the finer points of my own language and am a horrific speller to boot. I struggled so mercilessly in Sister Martha’s Spanish class that I still get anxious just thinking about it. I have bondless respect for ESL learners and the responsibility of speaking and critical thinking in another tongue. They did a fine job in group work analyzing and discussing the meaning of poems. This week’s theme is, “Who am I?” My favorite class is 8A. They are fun, enthusiastic, and hard working. Although teachers must never publically play favorites we are often drawn to certain students. One of my favorites is Namkith who reminds me of Jen from 4-1 in Korea. She hasn’t displayed the humor or wittiness of Jen (AKA the alien whose home planet has been destroyed) but has proven herself responsible and a deep thinker. I met her before classes began since she is the relative of one of our staff members. Initially she was painfully shy but I encouraged her to choose a seat in front of my class when the session began. On the first day she had chosen a front row seat and taken on the duty of class captain despite being new to Tshenkharla and shy. I am not taking credit for her decisions but perhaps my encouragement had inspired her. Stories like hers are what makes teachers press on through long hours and persevere for the sake of their students. As an ESL teacher you must take the small victories as fuel and inspiration. Many of these students come from poor illiterate families and are doing their best to improve their lives.

“Faces start to blur, no one is who they were, moonshine and ghosts how can I be sure?” Jus’ Like Mama Said

I met two boys helping Karlos prepare for a Puja at his house. (A puja is a spiritual cleansing performed by an army of monks) Both these class ten students came to Tshenkharla from tiny villages and farming families which grow maize to make arra (the local moonshine.) The puja takes place tomorrow as a blessing for the new home of the newlyweds. Tonight a group of red robed shaved headed monks are making preparations. I have lent Karlos and Sonam my curtains, heaters, spare mattress, and cutting board for the event. Since I share the same edifice occupying the smaller portion of the duplex this ceremony indirectly benefits my quarters. I am also invited to stop by in between classes at lunch break. I am fascinated by Buddhism which permeates every aspect of life here. We start each day with an enchanting prayer which is sung by our students. The chorus of voices is as moving as any Christmas choir but today was interrupted by a lone cacophonous Raven who was cooing, squawking, and even barking. Ravens have a tremendous vocal range beyond their standard AH! call. This Raven seemed upset in every way as his raspy pronouncements went on for several minutes from the top of a cypress tree. I began to wonder if he wasn’t channeling the ghost of the banished prince Tshangma himself.

As much as the philosophy of Buddhism enthralls me like any religion it has its imperfections, at least from my point of view. Buddhism is the official religion of Bhutan which has driven the ancient Bon religion into virtual extinction. The government also physically drove many of the Nepali Hindus out of the country (in the 1980’s) and into refugee camps in an effort to preserve their unique identity. Some Nepali’s (with proper documentation) remain in the South of Bhutan.  Buddhism like any savvy institution has absorbed some of the Bon traditions as an appeasement to the old ways, much like the Catholic church in its absorption of Mexicans and Native Americans into the church in the 1800’s. I know very little of the Bon religion except that it is polytheistic and centers on nature spirits, i.e. worshiping rocks and trees. Why must religion always center on man and the celestial body? It reminds me of my favorite book “The Mists of Avalon” and King Arthur uniting the Briton kingdom under the Christian banner thus abandoning his alliance with Merlyn, magic, and the Lady of the Lake, the very pagan traditions that had bestowed Excalibur to him in the first place. (FYI King Arthur and his Majesty of Bhutan are my heroes and both the Arthurian and Wangchuk dynasties are eerily similar in uniting various tribes into a solidified kingdom. Hence enjoying absolute love and devotion from their people) In the case of King Arthur his vow to Christ and monotheism replaced the Goddess religions forever installing a patriarchal institute that still retains power today. For me nature displays a perfect balance of both male and female forces i.e. the diamond being, (which is the perfect unity of male and female forces) Once we label God as a “he” we as a people strip the power from woman and the men thus deny the femininity in themselves. Although I don’t find Buddhism as overtly patriarchal as the Muslim, Jewish and Christian religions, it still perpetuates the mold. I see no female monks wearing the robes. I prey his majesty and his wife sire a girl who will preside as queen someday. I believe this would be a great boon for the country and especially its female citizens. I will try to absorb as much of Buddhist culture as possible as it seems a sensible way of emphasizing values and moderation. In Bhutan there is no separation of church and state. The Dzong’s serve as administrative and religious centers for each district.

Right now it’s Thursday night the most auspicious evening of my week (The designated night of “The Circus”) I am going to my neighbors to dine with the monks and family. I am rapidly acquiring a taste for Emadatsi although Kim chi is still most revered in my heart. For those who don’t know emadatsi is a dish made from spicy red or green chilies and smothered in velveta like white cheese. Kim chi is Korea’s national past time and side dish. It is pickled cabbage and as distinctive to Korea as emadatsi is to Bhutan. Ironically on the whole I disdain cabbage and chilies.       

Part 5 The Wheel

“If the thunder don’t get you then the lightning will” Hunter/Garcia

Last night was an epic thunder storm in the land of the Thunder Dragon. The lights went out, it hailed, and thunder shook the foundations of the house. (Even louder than that blasted hydroelectric project messing with my cherished river below) I went out during the blackout as fog swirled around my torch beam like a Scooby Doo episode. I went up to spin the prayer wheel to prey for power restoration and it worked too. When we awoke this morning the upper peaks of the inner Himalayas were coated with snow and the morning sky was a silvery blue.

I made my first batch of fried rice, tea, and popcorn. It was satisfying to begin my long process of cooking for myself. I hope to graduate to more complex receipts soon. Making popcorn in the pressure cooker was a lot of fun and tasty too. The simple things are easy to appreciate here and it’s a challenge to stay one step ahead of your self in cooking, cleaning, washing, and prepping. When I complained to Becky about feeling bored at night she replied, “How can you be bored aren’t you always busy cooking, cleaning, and washing.” She had me, as there is always something to do in “THE LAND OF TERROR,” and as a teacher there is always more to accomplish. Thanks again Becky, I’d be lost without you! The trick is to transform the tedious chores I disdain into enjoyable tasks. I recall Aunt Mare’s twalets in Yellowstone. (Sorry for the spelling Mare) She thoroughly enjoyed her cleaning regiment in the early morning and late afternoon. One of my greatest pleasures here is heating water and soaking my feet in a bucket. Of course I feel dirty all the time and even a bucket bath does not replace a long hot shower or two too wash away the day.

The hardest challenge is being isolated from my own kind. The culture is extremely different and I marvel that I haven’t seen a Westerner or non Bhutanese person in over a month. My occasional tete a tete’s with Becky and long distance calls from the USA, have been my only link. I fear if I didn’t keep this blog I might forget how to write in proper English.        

Nature and weather stole the show this week with a forest fire, thunderstorm, hail, snow, and even a little hazy sunshine. The deciduous trees are already starting to sprout tiny blossoms but the weather remains cold, especially inside my hut. And today I almost got hit in the face by a kamikaze hummingbird! I also saw a dog with a broken leg hobbling through the courtyard during assembly. It was sad yet inspiring to see this scrawny k-9 enduring a very difficult situation. I empathize with the dogs as they huddle together on pine bows to weather the storm and frigid nights.

I finished “Radio Shangri-La” by Lisa Napoli where I picked up this exercise of reflecting on three good things each day. It was an interesting read centering on her volunteer work for the Bhutanese youth radio station in Thimphu. Thanks again for the I Pad mom it is the coolest thing ever and my virtual BFF…Some class 9 students (not my class) have stopped by to have me edit their essays. It took about an hour to complete the tutorial. Even with my poor grammar, I assist them on singular and plural words, past and present tense and forming complete sentences. The upside is a get a glimpse into their lives. For example one boys account of his first trip to the capital, Thimphu. I am realizing how fortunate we Americans, Canadians, Australians, and English are to enjoy our “gold” standard of living. People portray the Bhutanese as the happiest people on earth, or as barbarians. The truth is they are neither of these. They have a difficult life and envy the western lifestyle that they observe in movies. The boys spend their vacations plowing fields and making money for their poor families. In a way I find teaching and living here a karmic penance for being such an obnoxious entitled brat in my prolonged adolescence. Of course I’m hardly enlightened and continue to be self centered and selfish. Nevertheless Bhutan provides valuable prospective on so many aspects of life, including the simple luxuries I’ve taken for granted. And as I hear the monks and family laughing next door (before their mass sleepover) I realize how family oriented and pleasant the Bhutanese folks truly are. I also realize how much I’ve cherished the time I’ve lived with both my parents over the last decade. I hope they feel the same and realize how much I love them. By the way mom I’m actually using my reading glasses on occasion and they help. (When I look up from the page it’s as if I’m under water.) I also am fortunate to have a great brother for a best friend and he is lucky to have his wife Beth. The icing for me are my niece and nephew who I will cherish as my own for the rest of my days. As I get older and the prospect of having a family dims, I understand that being a teacher and an uncle gives me a chance to positively affect children’s lives without having my own.

I was so tired today partly because the dogs were at it again last night. It seems between midnight and one is “prime time” in the doggy universe for howling. Now I will plan for tomorrow’s lessons. Being a teacher tests all my areas of struggle including my own laziness and lack of patience. I can still recall the agonizing nights of student teaching retyping the lesson plans that my computer had zapped. Ally if you are happening to read this, thanks enjoying teaching in Sonoma! As for the here and now, I enjoy the rudimentary conditions and seeing mountains towering outside the classroom door.  It’s like teaching at summer camp. For example, I stepped out of my final class and some teachers were gathered around a fire. As they say around here, “Service to man (woman) is service to god” so I continue on the path. Like the squirrel sings,

“Hanging by a thread working like a dog” JSYK 

Three good things:

1.     Finding a battered copy of Jamie Zeppa’s book “Beyond the Sky and Earth in our school library. It was taped together and the stamps indicated it had been checked out dozens of times.
2.     The three legged dog reminding me of perseverance and the quality of “true grit.”
3.     The girl’s speech at A.M assembly stating that “life is precious and it matters how you live it.”

Ode to the Thunder Dragon

The Thunder Dragon roars
From beyond the sky
Pronouncing his rein of terror
Over all sentient beings
Untamed by god
And on the loose
Shroud in thick mist
His Snake Eyes Roll
Shaking the velvet mountain,
Hidden as a tiger
Prowling under cover of Bomdeling
Deep in HIS sacred domain
HE devours the Snow –Lion
And chases the Migoi into exile
Upon the moraine
Into the realm of untracked

Bomdeling is a National Park in Trashiyangtse district. Migoi is the Bhutanese yeti. Moraine is a ridge of rocks pushed to the edge of a glacier. This poem was inspired by a thunder storm on 3-1-12

Part 6 Mountain Song

“Gonna let the mountain be my home, I want to move, gonna let the mountain be my home, I want to breathe, gonna free my soul to roam, gonna move on” Furthur Band

I was awoken at 4:55 AM by the strangest cacophony of sound I’ve ever heard, a surreal mix of chanting and deep tones which sounded like drums, didgeridoo, and bagpipes bleeding through my walls and into the nightmare having. It was a reoccurring nightmare where I am trapped in a warzone and terrified to fight. I desperately am trying to hide in a forest as the enemy is coming. Sometimes I’m a Jew hiding from Nazi’s but this time I am an American in Tshenkharla and the Indians are storming across the border from Annarchal Pradesh. I am trying to seek refuge in the forest above our school and I can see the soldiers climbing the barren hillside and I know I am doomed. But just before they converge I am woken up by the haunting sound which in the darkness I register as the beginning of the Puja next door. A puja is an intricate Buddhist ceremony as a way of blessing a house or other auspicious occasion. There are half a dozen monks gathered and a llama. The alter room is adorned with offerings including Pepsi, beer, and chips, as well as several butter lamps. The event last more then twelve hours with chanting and spurts of vivid music while in the sitting room guests chat and sip tea. Outside a new red prayer flag (a long tall one for longevity) is erected. After class I stopped by for tea before being summoned to a basketball game. I am discouraged at how badly I suck at a game I once cherished. I wish I could blame it on my broken arm and poor foot ware but the truth is I have lost my game and my cardio vascular endurance. It also hurt my arm like heck so I think I will retire from hoops to focus on hiking. I had a nice dinner at the Puja and wrestled with Sergey (hatchet Boy) until he spit in my face. His mother Karma Om was conspicuously absent as I haven’t seen her in more than a week.   

It turns out the instruments that woke me from my nightmare were more bizarre than anticipated including two huge painted drums struck with a hooked stick, two six foot long horns that growled like a didgeridoo, cymbals, and smaller straight horns that sound like bag pipes. This is accompanied by a murmuring prayer chant. That sounded like the noise my dad used to make while wrestling in our bedroom with me and my brother (a reference meant for Tyler and Tom)

I have a soar throat from all my “blah, blah, blah” this week. I’m trying to incorporate as much group work as possible. Last May I was teaching a poetry unit and put together what I thought was a great lesson, feeling quite proud my bubble was burst. The principal of Sun Valley Julie Harris, a woman I greatly admire, handed me her observation notes declaring that I talked too much and suggested that a lesson should be 20% teacher time and 80% student activities. My ego was bruised but her remarks have stuck with me. Of course as an ESL teacher in Bhutan even 50/50 is difficult but that’s what I’m striving for in my lessons. I was greatly impressed by their poems this week considering they are written in there third language and the first poem most have ever written. Young students have an innate creativity that blows my mind. Even though their English is far from perfect the imagery and imagination are clear as a prayer wheels bell. They will read their work in Saturday’s class. I hope to sneak away to Yangtse and Chorten Kora on Sunday. I have tons to do and this adventure is not prudent but what the hell. I got to get off this rock!   

The mountains here begin as barren earth then rise into magnificent dark forests on the highest peaks. These are not the thrown of the gods like Gasa, rather a maze of steep mountains that construct the Inner Himalaya. My favorite is the mountain that is the demarcation between Bhutan and India. A tree lined ridge descends to a hard phallic looking shaft whose bulky head reaches the river with white water flowing like sperm from its tip. Compared to the few parts of Bhutan I’ve seen, this is a vapid landscape but one that forces contemplation. Not the perfection of Paro and Tigers Nest the crown jewel of the kingdom, or enchanting Trongsa. It is the antitheses of Lingmithang with its sub tropical jungle and silly monkeys scattering on the roadside. Dislike the gorgeous pine forests of Bumthang with Mount Tam’s twin sister sleeping outside Sabrina’s door. The antonym of the cozy sandy river beach at Autsho basking in midnight moonlight. Or even the inviting bowl of Trashiyangtse. This is an area with little water cast in a rain shadow on the wrong side of the divide. An area fit for banished princes and poppers. A forgotten outpost on the frontier that sank my spirit upon arrival as I pondered what lack of merit had delivered me to such an unwelcoming plot with dusty patches of scattered farms scratched into the hillside yielding scraggly orange trees.   

Part 7 Ashes and Glass

“What if all tomorrow brings is ashes and glass?” Robert Hall Weir

I woke up to a dreary feeling and day to match. My throat was burning, my arm was throbbing from basketball, and I had an ear ache. I didn’t want to get up and was late for assembly. Fortunately my students quickly dispersed my cloud by sharing their magnificent poetry. I was amazed at what they read and even when the students English was not correct the meaning of their poem shined through. They were full of similes and metaphors and remarkable imagery addressing themselves, nature, and family. I was proud of them today. After three periods my class 8A did trash detail for thirty minutes. The campus is filthy especially near the boy’s hostel which resembles a trash heap. Their bathrooms smell horrific as I didn’t venture inside to look. Picking up trash in Bhutan is like Sisyphus pushing the rock of the hill. Another words it is an impossible task at least until the “litter bug” culture is changed. Sadly all the trash is packaged goods with familiar names like Lays and Pepsi. I worry that in fifty years the rivers and forests will be choked with trash. Who would have thought the Last Shangri-La would be a dump. Seeing litter here wounds my ideology and affection for Bhutan. Namkith and her friend put in extra effort stuffing bits of trash into a burlap sack.  Namkith talked to me about the boys taunting her and trying to bully her from her position as class captain. I am so proud of her for holding that position and putting up with the boy’s harassment. She refused to name names as she didn’t want anyone getting in trouble.

The trash problem is multilayered as the only way to dispose of it in Tshenkharla seems to be burning. This creates an acrid toxic cloud that drifts into the atmosphere. It’s very defeating to spend time and energy picking up trash just to see it burned thus creating another environmental hazard. But right now it is the only way. First order of business is putting out trash cans so the students have easy access to receptacles. It would be easier and more pleasant to ignore this trash problem but I cannot. The worst are the mountain trails leading out of the village scattered with shiny plastic wrappers manufactured in some Indian factory now resting for eternity on the trail.

I checked out Jamie Zeppa’s book from the library to reread. The acknowledgments thanked Nancy Strickland and Mr. Mark who I met my last day in Thimphu. They all broke in together at WUSC in the late 80’s at remote postings in the East. Mr. Mark went on to become a successful banking wiz who currently helps fund and construct new schools in Bhutan. Jamie became an author and ambassador for the Kingdom. And Nancy is the head of BCF. Both Nancy and Mark have beautiful homes in Thimphu while Jamie is a professor living in Canada. They are all close friends and household names in Bhutan. Last night I met a principal from Shali who was Mr. Mark’s student twenty years ago and credits his position in part to his teaching. Many Bhutanese have read Zeppa’s book and Nancy is practically royalty in this country. It is inspiring to comprehend the reach of these three individuals. Of course none of us would be here without the legendary Father Mackay a Jesuit priest who started western education in Bhutan helping to establish the first college. After WUSC lost funding there was no teaching here for many years until the inception of the Bhutan Canada Foundation three years ago. Americans have only been invited the last couple years and students are most familiar with the British style of English that is recycled through India. Local lore has it that I am the third foreign teacher at Tshenkharla and the first in over twenty years. One was a woman named Catherine in Nancy’s group and one other lady whose name I don’t know. I feel a deep responsibility to carry on the work of the WUSC generation. And pave the way for more American teachers to follow. Some of Bhutan’s appeal is that one person here can truly make a difference. If any prospective teachers are reading my blog as I was reading the BCF teacher blogs last year, please don’t be scared by my postings. It is a hard existence here but also very rewarding. I am a tender foot so if I can do it anyone can! I look forward to reading Jamie’s book now that I am in the East and can recognize familiar places and people. The book is readily available in libraries, bookstores, and Amazon and I highly recommend it. Jamie Zeppa currently sits on the Bhutan Canada Foundation board of trustees.     

“Languages dying the TV blood does flow, so far away from that rainbow road” Ed Volker

The trash is just a physical manifest of the influence of the changes happening in the Kingdom. Since the introduction of television and internet in 1999 the media pipes in Western culture into Bhutan. It’s an interesting dynamic between traditional and new. This was most evident in Thimphu where most people choose western style clothes over gho’s and kieras. Even in the remote corner of the east people aspire to own cars which makes travel in this treacherous terrain possible. Although none of my students have ever been on an airplane or traveled to another country, they all are familiar with American movies and pop culture. The main problem is the youth are leaving the villages for the possibility of high paying jobs in Thimphu. Of course there aren’t enough jobs to accommodate the youth which means high unemployment in the capital. This leads to gangs and other issues. With a population of only 600,000 problems are magnified. For me the problem is the culture shock of no television and little companionship. There is always teaching preparation, reading, and cleaning but still I feel isolated on occasion. I wonder if any other BCF teachers feel the same? My antisocial tendencies do not help as I don’t go out of my way to make friends but most teachers are married and know only some English. Another issue is my abstinence from drinking which makes me an outcast anywhere in the world.

I am very concerned for the future of this tiny kingdom. They are definitely at a crossroads. On one hand it’s naive for me to admonish development and modernization especially when it comes to making life more comfortable and improving the health care system. There wasn’t even TP in the Thimphu hospital bathroom and it was filthy. But I am protective of this culture I know so little about. The mystic in me wants there to be a place untouched by the homogenous corporate world that we live in. I don’t want Bhutan to look like Korea with the golden arches and KFC on every corner. Ironically Id walk three hours for either establishment about now. It’s fascinating to be here at this time as an English teacher as Bhutan pushes subtly yet relentlessly towards modernization. TV, cars, and beloved mobile phones seem to be the biggest attraction here. So many repercussions have developed from the fourth Kings decision in 99. A few hundred years ago Bhutan was not even a united country and still most of my students haven’t ventured on the grueling national highway to Thimphu. But they know about Justin Beiber or is it Beaver I don’t even know. I think it’s safe to say no one knows about Bobby or the Grateful Dead. That’s how my friendship with Becky initiated when she remarked that my “Steal Your Face” cap was a nice addition to my gho. Being a Dead Head in Bhutan is cause for an instant connection. My friend Andre in Korea used to complain how backwards Korea was. I’m sure he would find Bhutan a barbaric place. As for me I have no idea what makes these people tick. They seem to know the minutest details of my life like the fact I have two heaters in my house, or once had a Korean girlfriend. This trivial information is passed on from student to student from shop owner to shop owner.

“Tomorrow will be Sunday, born of rainy Saturday” Hunter/Garcia

As I write this my phone rings which is rare and exciting. It was a local teacher from Yangtse Jimmey (the Bhutanese equivalent to Jimmy) If I make it to Yangtse I will call him and his wife for lunch at the momo joint. The rain continues to fall pelting my hut but if the weather clears I’m going for my pilgrimage to Chorten Kora. (I know I’m repeating myself)  Tonight I’m feeling a bit homesick. I feel dirty and cold and would love a hot shower and a proper steak. But I realize that’s all this craving is an illusion as happiness is found within. Instead I will listen to some music and prep for next weeks classes. Overall I think this week went well and after a slow start and some silly humor the students have loosened up. I’d like to thank Tree at Sun Valley for her ESL lessons to the Latino students using hand gestures for complicated words. It is a great way to teach ESL vocabulary and both teacher and students love it. The kinesthetic movement and repetition helps them remember the words. For example for blossom we reach our hands into the sky opening them up while saying the word, “blossom” I am also utilizing the “if you can hear my voice clap three times” trick as a way to refocus the class. They are not used to raising their hands and often blurt out. We are also working on attentive listening. I only know a few names but have made seating charts to help me learn the 120 names. Learning names while important was not my goal for the first week. The biggest challenge thus far is getting individuals to respond to, or ask questions. A group discussion is not easy at this stage. But they are willing to participate in group activities and read their poems to the class. I wonder how much of what Mr. Tim says they actually understand. That’s why group activities and small bits of teaching at a time is paramount for their inclusion and success.  

Three good things:

     1. Morning tea
2. Student’s reading their beautiful poems
     3. Namkith standing up to the boys

Here is an excerpt from His Majesties coronation speech in 2008, collected by Karma Loday.

“Throughout my rein I will never rule as a king. I will protect you as a parent, care for you as a brother and serve you as a son. I shall give you everything and keep nothing. I shall live such a life as a good human being that you find it worthy to serve as an example for your children. I have no personal goals other than to fulfill your hopes and aspirations. I shall always serve day and night, in the spirit of kindness justice and equality” His Majesties coronation address to the nation 6-8-08.

Part 8 Chorten Kora

“If I had my way I’d tear this old building down” Samson and Delilah

Went to Chorten Kora on Sunday which is just on the edge of “Trashi”yangtse town. I was very excited to finally see this place and was underwhelmed. Like when all your friends see a movie before you, exclaiming that you must see it and when you do it’s just okay. There was trash surrounding the complex on the river banks which upset me. How can there be gobs of trash at a 17h century temple on a pristine river? Although sacred to Bhutanese, I didn’t feel the connection to Chorten Kora as I did to Gom Kora which was situated on the road to nowhere about a three KM walk from Doksom. Gom Kora is on a river and kept immaculately clean by the monks. Chorten Kora was worth the visit but an hour was enough time there for me. Its finest feature is a white washed dome with SEVA eyes painted on it. I preferred the smaller anonymous chorten at Autsho in Lhuntse and at Gom Kora I could stay for a year. If you make the long trip from T-Gang to Yangtse to see Chorten Kora, YOU MUST STOP AT GOM KORA ON THE WAY!  One other interesting thing was workers whitewashing Chorten Kora for the upcoming festival next month. The festival is in two waves fifteen days apart. First is for people from Arrunachal Pradesh, India who walk three days to celebrate the sacrifice of an eight year old girl enshrined in the temple to appease the god’s. The second is for Bhutanese revelers who flock from all over East Bhutan. On this given Sunday, a few devout folks spinning handheld prayer wheels and handling rosary beads occupied the complex. Trashiyangtse was a stop on the traditional trade route between Bhutan and Tibet before modern day China closed the border indefinitely. This is a sad fact for Tibetans but also Bhutanese who derive much of their culture from Tibet. Oh is that a trek I’d love to do!

After my sightseeing I hung out in Yangtse where they were having a street version of “So you think you dance” I also met a nice Bhutanese dude who spoke good English and was a Jr. Engineer. I also got some momo’s at a place run by a Bhutanese of Nepalese descent from the South. I am always eager to meet Southern Bhutanese of Nepalese descent and am always curious to bring up the taboo subject of their origin in Bhutan. In the 1980’s hundreds of thousands of them were expelled from the kingdom and now live in refugee camps. These expelled citizens are known as Bhutanese refugees and some fortunate ones have found refuge in the USA or Canada.  Many with “proper documentation” still reside in Bhutan. Their features are not similar to the mongoloid Bhutanese. Next time I go to Yangtse it will be for business or visiting Bomdeling Wildlife Sanctuary, a three hour walk from town. Arriving back in Tshenkharla I felt a sense of coming home for the first time. The last mile of the road is unpaved and very bumpy to the front gate which might not be the “Gates of Hell” but certainly isn’t the “Pearly Gates” either. I feel fortunate to have my temple here above the school which is the most holy spot in Bhutan (IMHO). I go up there every Sunday evening to say a prayer and refocus my monkey mind. Each trip I see the same old man dutifully spinning the wheel like Ezekiel. Apparently there are several more temples higher up the trail a 5 hour hike from the ruins and the attic.

I’m gearing up for another week and fighting off a cold. Wish my $200 of meds showed up as the package is somewhere out there. I haven’t seen a westerner in 40 days as it’s the off season for tourism until April when a few brave souls might be in T-Gang. I’d be surprised if any tourists venture up the hill to see Thshenkharla Dzong ruins. (Even though it’s in the guidebook) I should probably make more of an effort to make friends here. But as I sink deeper into the new semester I realize how much work it will take to perform my duties in the classroom. I feel highly invested and accountable to that charge. The challenge and rewards of ESL teaching are unparalleled.

Part 9 Monday

“My time coming any day don’t worry about me no, been so long I felt this way I ain’t in no hurry no” Estimated Prophet

I was very pleased to get some large chart paper and a few colored markers from the school store. Today we will make class contracts and hang them on the wall. I have a corner for English in each classroom. The students will help create a class contract with guidelines and consequences for their actions. I want them to move away from rules and punishments replacing these ideas with guidelines and consequences. I hope they can come up with their own guidelines for classroom etiquette. At the end of the discussion they will all sign the contract and it will be displayed for the entire year. This week they will be reading aloud and working in groups. I also need to assign some paragraph writing exercises to monitor and assess each student’s writing skills. So far I am enjoying the classes despite being sick this week. Many students are also ill. One thing that is difficult about the National Dress is it does not provide sufficient warmth in the winter season as the students don’t wear coats. They run through the rain wearing wet cloth for the remainder of the day. I am teaching in my heavy coat and cap right now. I don’t prefer teaching in my ‘Steal Your Face cap” but when I’m sick my health is primary. After all one loses heat through their head. I am looking forward to spring and warmer days. The deciduous trees are already sprouting blossoms in anticipation but the weather has been cold and wet. I’m starting to cook more and I love the red onions here (so sweet) I’d love to smother a NY steak with them! I also have been brewing my own tea in the morning and evening. It is Darjeeling from India with two scoops milk powder and sugar. There is no real milk here. I typically don’t take tea in the USA but this stuff is sweet like hot chocolate and as you know I love sugar. I am trying to replace Coke which my body is rejecting in large doses. My body is constantly sending me messages here telling me what it needs and health is paramount. Taking care of oneself in Bhutan requires a fastidious nature. Cooking, cleaning, washing, prepping, and sleeping become the foundation of the day. The upshot is slowing down and realizing the simple joy of living. For instance teaching has provided me immense pleasure. Instead of being consumed by anxiety (my natural state) I try to transform the angst into positive energy. Instead of trying to survive the day I hope to embrace each moment and the magic that surrounds it. As Yoda says, “you must unlearn what you have learned” Mostly I am trying not to be so self- critical and love myself which for some reason has always been a challenge. That’s one advantage of being alone and isolated. I have always sought my identity in others. My love for Morgan and Bobby, or the way my family perceives me. This has caused me to be defensive, always feeling I’m being threatened or attacked. Letting other peoples actions dictate my own happiness. I am always seeking external validation, the next show or the next great love. This is a monumental lifelong challenge for me to conquer. Changing my perspective is helpful and one of the joys of teaching. My hero often says that while performing on stage he is a character thus becoming the song. As a teacher I am a character thus becoming the lesson. Facilitating learning helps me step out of my own busy head to fulfill a greater purpose. By baby steps, I hope to shed some of my self centered indulgences to help others in this world. The sum of the world is unfathomable and I am just a tiny part. One little star,

“One of them little stars, let it just be fine, all you gotta do now, is just hang up there and shine” Bob Weir

Three good things:

1.     Getting chart paper and colored markers
2.     Making fried rice with tomatoes, onions, and chili sauce
3.     Talking to Sarah on the phone

Bonus: Singing Row Jimmy in the forest at night and startling the nomads and mules walking through the darkness.

“This spontaneous Activity embracing each moment
  Does not discriminate between good and bad situations”
  The Divine Madman

Part 10 Tuesday Blues had em’ all week long…

“Made me appreciate those Tuesday Blues, a perfect color of a perfect bruise” BW

Spent my free periods cooking potato, tomato, and onion scramble with extra crispy potatoes (for Marty) Tuesday is my breezy day with just four periods. I cleaned my hut and did the dishes using the remainder of my water, got a third of a bucket at 5 AM this morning before it stopped. The boys were coming by for filtered water last night and I had none to give. The hostel bathrooms stink and are filthy, another casualty of the water situation since water is needed to clean and flush the squat toilets. Water shortage remains the biggest challenge and I desperately need to do a wash. Even when water is collected it never runs for more than a few minutes. Doing dishes and washing in stagnant water is not as sanitary as with running water. After a bath I transfer the dirty water into the bathroom bucket for flushing. I have one pair of clean drawers left and keep buying new socks at the store until I get around to washing my filthy socks. But at least the house is clean. I have started cooking which also means doing dishes with limited water. I need to find my Bhutanese recipes so I can start cooking more variety. But for now I am doing rice, fried rice, and veggie scrambles adding chili sauce to everything! I haven’t figured out the pressure cooker yet for anything other than popcorn. I have some spaghetti left and a block of cheese from Bumthang. I really miss bread and a proper Michael’s sourdough roast beef sandwich, with deli dill on the side. The craving game is a dangerous thing one plays with him/her self in Bhutan. I am almost a vegetarian here and have not seen any beef sold in Tshenkharla. I think COSTCO would be very successful here, LOL. I am also surprised at the lack of chocolate. The one amazing aspect of America is you can get anything you want to cook. All ethnicities can acquire and cook their native dishes. You could make emadatsi with cow stomach if you so desired but I’d settle for prime rib and a side of garlic mash. At about this point in my Korean adventure I went to Outback for a substandard $30 steak. Oh how I miss Korean food and a restaurant on every corner. I could go for some Pelicana chicken about now which is spicier then emadatsi’s wildest dreams. It was pieces of chicken cut up and drenched in a fiery red sauce and packed in a box for take out. I became addicted like Kramer to Kenny Rodgers Roasters in that Seinfeld episode. Eventually Soyoung forbade me to eat it since it gave me awful gas, hence my nickname wind-person.

The Eleven

“No more time to tell how, this is the season of what now”

Tonight I talked to my pal Becky on the phone hearing about her trials in Phonmey. Hers is a school at the end of the road in the East at the trailhead to Sakteng and Merek, home of the nomadic Brokpa peoples. A placed sealed off to westerners for over twenty years before being reopened last year. Her school is remote and lacks infrastructure and Becky is the ONLY teacher to appear every day so far at work where her principal is conspicuously absent. She is teaching a lower class level who struggle mightily in English, not to mention she is teaching them Science. She also has moved houses and has a water leakage problem in her new accommodation, which I find ironic since I have no water. She also has a bug problem as they are eating her alive while she sleeps and she is waking up covered in bites. I can only imagine the trials my colleagues are facing around the kingdom. I’ve only spoken to my wing women Sarah and Becky. Sarah seems to be doing well in Gasa in the far North but says it’s cold. For a young sprout of 23 she is wise beyond her years and a seasoned traveler including having lived and worked in Antarctica for six months. It’s always reassuring to hear her voice. Becky is wry and cynical like me (a hippie chick) who laughs at my tasteless jokes. I call her my twin since we have similar interests, are fringe characters, and are 34. I’m lucky to have a small support network. These women were incredibly helpful to me in Thimphu during orientation, guiding me through shopping, and keeping my PMA (positive Mental Attitude) in check. I shared a particularly memorable night with Sarah in the hospital as she received two IV’s. We have a remarkable group of teachers placed in Bhutan this year. Like Ashleigh says, “Teamwork is Dream Work!” and EACH ONE of you assisted me through “Disorientation.” I think of you all every day and miss your company. I am getting second hand accounts of Martha through Becky and Norrin through Sarah. I’m hoping Reidi is finally healthy in beautiful Autsho. And I think I saw on Brina’s blog or I dreamt that the doggies are being nice to her in Chummey. I spin the prayer wheel for all of you every morning. Tonight I also got a call from Ugyen the young man I met in Yangtse. He transferred there recently for work and I think is feeling lonely as I am. 

The work here is endless. I don’t feel pressured since I am completely on my own for guidance. But the guilt of my inner Jew pushes me forward. I have a yearly plan to complete, names to learn, this weeks lessons to plan, housework, finding water and much more. It’s like I taught my students today “one step at a time.” They can read and write okay but comprehension is a challenge. For instance we are reading a short story about Western teenage society. They struggle through the passages but cannot answer simple questions about them. I am still teaching them vocabulary by using hand gestures which is a successful method. I wonder if they can complete the graphic organizers to help them break up chunks of information into smaller pieces. My main goal now is learning some names and keeping class fun, emphasizing student engagement. At Dominican they poo pooed the word “fun” if it popped up in speech or one of our tedious ten page lesson plans. Students must be engaged but not having fun. I believe fun should be a part of learning as all my milestone experiences in school were FUN. As far as my 120 students, I am reminding myself that English is a third or fourth language for them. It’s pretty incredible that they can even perform at this level having never met a real Westerner and coming from illiterate farming families. I hope to help them in any way I can to become more fluent and confident in their English ability. I will focus on the four sacred ESL domains, Reading, Writing, Speaking, and Listening. My friend Liora Sponko can attest that I need improvement on #4.

I’m off to my favorite shop (the only one of the three that sells Coke) to buy some veggies, Raman Noodles, eggs, and snacks. She is running me a tab that would make Normy jealous. I am up to 2,000 Ngultrum and will pay once I get my elusive first paycheck which rumor has it could be three months. For those interested 2,000 NG is about $40 USD.     

1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10…eleven TWELVE!

“Big Bad Blues keep rolling on, never found a place where I belong” Hunter/weir

Bhutan is very different from the USA. Apparently I’ve been offending the entire community of Tshenkharla by wearing my SYF cap during assembly. I’ve been extremely sick and trying to conserve heat on the freezing mornings. Of course no one told me this fact until a teacher’s wife apparently hopped up on dolma clued me in. I’m sure good old Drukpa Kunley would have my back after all he would stroll around naked to challenge society. Maybe I’ll try that tomorrow! She also said students have been complaining that I am teaching too fast and insisted I should be polite to them perhaps referring to my enthusiasm or loud voice. She then went on to tell me I should beat them. Does that mean beat them politely? (I HOPE THIS PRACTICE OF BEATING STUDENTS WITH SPECIALY MADE BEATING STICKS WILL END SOON) Another confusing thing is that people have an interesting interpretation of the truth here. Someone will tell you something and then turn around five minutes later and dispute it. The men also seem to have girlfriends in addition to their wives which apparently constitutes acceptable behavior. One teacher told me he “gave away” a girl to his friend to marry after he found someone else. And the term night hunting which was first conveyed as a joke is really a sinister act of rape where a man breaks into a woman’s house and has sexual intercourse with her. After that they are considered a couple. Fortunately this practice is outdated. They also have a liberal attitude about marriage and relationships chalking any infidelity or misfortune to fate or the will of the gods. Men are still allowed two wives according to Bhutanese law and women are expected to cook and clean for their husbands.

I’ve often found Buddhism is a useful religion in poor countries since its main tenant is “life is suffering” which is convenient in difficult settings. Another classic Bhutanese saying from the same teacher who gave away his GF to a friend was, “Life is like a phallus sometimes hard and sometimes soft, sometimes in and sometimes out.” I also notice my students like to hit each other a lot, especially the girls. AH, I am trying to keep an open mind and realize I am not the most flexible person in the world. As respect for (HM) His Majesty I will remove my Cap but wonder why treating the earth like a garbage dump is appropriate behavior. The truth is I am an alien here, THE ONE WHOSE HOME PLANET HAS BEEN DESTROYED!!!!  I have no idea what is acceptable and will surely not assimilate in the way that Nancy or Jamie did. I seem to exemplify the ugly American, but I don’t fit in anywhere in this world, least of all Asia. I imagined a more agreeable people who would embrace me. Not to say Bhutanese are not friendly. I was welcomed warmly but it seems a more superficial courtesy, like a customary obligation more than a genuine sincerity. I have received no cultural or scholastic advice as I blindly grope along apparently offending the population. One bit of usable advice from the teacher’s wife’s tirade is that I will try to slow down for my student’s sake, even if it means a paragraph a class. Its shades of Korea all over again where my personality and individualism went against the grain of the culture. The students at Tshenkharla are nice and well mannered but I genuinely miss the Koreans who I adore even more than my American students. The truth is the cultural aspects did not lead me here, rather a fierce desire to explore the landscape of a country blessed with a terrain, fauna, and flora like no place else in the universe. What will I endure to glimpse a fraction of this place? I used to complain to Morgan that I was the invisible man and while being quite visible here I feel more invisible then ever. They see me but they don’t understand me and I don’t understand them. I will do my best to abide by their customs as I don’t want to do damage to the reputation of western civilization, but I fear it’s too late. Heck I’d wear a gho on the coldest day of winter if they picked up their trash! I need to start learning names of more teachers and students to bridge the gap. My brother always laughed when I spoke of Bhutan and referred to it as “us” and “we.” Well Tyler you were right I am only a “Guest of Bhutan” with only the ravens to keep me company.

I hope to be granted a casual day to visit the School for the Disabled outside Trashigang. This is primarily a school for the blind which has special meaning for me. I hope to observe and volunteer for a day. My Bhutan bucket list has more than five years worth of items on it so I need to revise and conquer as much of it as possible in my short time here. Items like seeing a Himalayan peak up close, a glacieral lake, and Royal Manas, but for now one SLOW step at a time! Oh yeah and praying for water.   

3 good things:

1.     I’m alive
2.     knowing the people I love are out there somewhere
3.     clean house and popcorn
Again for Prince Tsangma

“Way down by the shinning gate, the djinn reveal to me my fate, you and I we’ve got a date, and I’ll be there but  you’ll be late” Two Djinn

Where have you gone?
Abandoning your gate and walls
Now overgrown with weeds and debris
I clean your house and live in it
I sing you lullabies in the darkness
Moving my beam of light
Over your tired red and blue paintings
Eleven hundred years of banishment
Is hardly enough time to comprehend your sadness
Your secret whispered in the cold breeze
Kept by dark compassionate trees
With nowhere left to go
As I wait for your return
Stranded on this mountain for eternity

VIII Let It Bleed

“Well we all need someone we can bleed on, and if you want to honey why don’t you bleed on me” Stones

 Today was an interesting day of teaching. Whenever I feel lazy I take a walk to the old grinding stone that inspired the name of Rangthangwoon (the old name of Tshenkharla) which translates to the grinding stone. When I touch the sacred stone at the heart of our campus it reminds me of the popular saying, put your nose to the grindstone. This usually gives me the push I need to continue on. After last nights spirited cultural exchange around the woodstove at mama’s place I woke up feeling quite alienated and deflated. Luckily nature was feeling fine as the sun broke through the Omni present layer of grey clouds. Birds were chirping and patches of blue were visible. I taught today in slow motion, moving through the molasses of my mind. Checking and rechecking for understanding from my students. The challenge of ESL teaching is defining complicated words and phrases by using smaller easier words and relating the ideas to their own experiences. This can be very challenging but the students did a good job today. The best moment was when a girl stopped me and told me she didn’t understand my explanation. I believe the word was assurance. After about five minutes of role playing and various examples she grasped the definition. They are also becoming better listeners which pleased me. I have only scratched the surface as I need to learn names and learning styles. I have to admit with my blurry vision and their National Dress they all look the same to me now. But I know that will change over time. My 7th grade class did a fine job using their critical thinking skills to analyze a poem about tradition and relating it to their own culture in Bhutan. We spent a whole period discussing the poem and they were contributing nicely raising quiet hands. I have made a conscious decision to lengthen their response time to a full ten seconds or more to allow them processing time. The pace of classes in America is faster and I don’t want to leave anyone behind in my lessons.  

At lunch break I sliced my finger instead of the onion and spent 30 minutes bleeding profusely. It’s a deep gash but it should heal. I might start cutting on the floor or a chair since my table is wobbly. I’m glad the band aids were in the one and only package I’ve received. Becky also has not received her packages yet. It takes several months if they come at all. After school we had an infamous Bhutan style meeting since they changed the timetable again. I still have 32 classes a week but the schedule has flip flopped. Today was also a different schedule for club day (although clubs were cancelled for the meeting) and no one filled me in. I’m up to 65 for social service club and will launch my aggressive campaign for litter removal next week. Hopefully I can get those 65 students to change their own habits. I was teaching five minutes extra in each class today unaware of the adjusted schedule and never did quite figure out the schedule on a Wacky Wednesday. By the way the hand gesture for adjustment is turning an imaginary radio knob. The explanation is you are changing the station and an adjustment is a change. We take words for granted until faced with explaining them to inquisitive and confused ESL (English as a second language) students. The meeting lasted from 3-6 PM and was entirely in Dzonka therefore sort of a waste of time for me. Of course meetings are compulsory. After the meeting the rains came and the power went. Thank goodness for my headlamp as I enjoyed a five course meal including four scrambled eggs, noodles, fried potatoes and onions, and butter cookies. I’m feeling very hungry probably from lack of meat. I got some water during the blackout as well! I went to bed at 7 PM and before the lights woke me up at 7:30. The rain has lightened to a drizzle and I’m killing time procrastinating listening to the Rads instead of prepping. Just another day in paradise…

Three Good things

1.     Students in class 8 giving supreme effort in cooperative small group discussion.
2.     Watching a Raven soar down over the edge of my “front yard” gliding to a far off pine tree top. His wings beating on the wind. It feels like my hut is perched on a cliff. (Remembering feeding the Ravens at our lunch stop in between Bumthang and Mongor by throwing scraps in the air and watching them catch them in mid flight)
3.     Walking in the rain to get a FANTA        

Part 14 The Alter

“Oh Riley run and tell Aunt Sally just what that sunset means to you, it’s the blood of a million poets turning a burgundy, orange and blue”  Bring Me The Head of Isaac Newton, Ed Volker

Today I went for an incredible hike after class. It was the clearest day thus far in Bhutan with views of the distant snowcapped peaks of India. I hiked past the attic past the ruins to a clearing at the top of a mountain. From the plateau I could see mountains in a 360 degree vista. I have finally found my power spot in Bhutan. I built my alter with three stone piles on a flat rock surrounded by a ring of pyrite in a heart shape. It took about an hour to make as shafts of gold light beamed across the blue sky from silvery clouds. There was a single row of rainbow colored prayer flags hung between two pines and two crimson rhododendrons were in bloom. I have never seen light as vivid with life’s vicissitudes projected on a mutable sky. I said a prayer at my shrine and headed back the way I came to Prince Tsangma’s ruin and Tshenkharla. It’s about twenty five minutes from my door to my new spot. I paused at the ruined gate for a perfect sunset before descending into the well of the gloaming. For dinner I made some fried rice which was pretty darn delicious. I added red onions, tomatoes, and some greens that the shopkeeper gifted me which were grown locally by her relatives. I add chili sauce to everything. I made some home fries with ketchup for dessert. A boarding student came by to offer to volunteer his service as my personal chef for the year. I feel a little guilty but will at least let him show me some Bhutanese dishes. It was a solid Thursday but night time often brings loneliness with only my work and thoughts. You must come to grips with solitude to exist here.

We did our class contracts today and the students came up with some good class rules. Some students were throwing paper and I had to hold them after class. I am sentenced the two perpetrators to write a paragraph explaining “why we can’t throw things in class.” Overall my students behavior has been splendid especially compared to working with the “at risk” Latinos at BACR before departure. I Ran into Namkith after school (my 8A class captain) and she said she was off to prey. She said she preferred to prey to Jesus. She was the first Bhutanese who has mentioned anything about Jesus as most are only vaguely aware of Christianity. She still did the Buddhist prayers as well to appease her family but mentioned that it said in the bible that god wouldn’t get angry if she preyed to another religion. I assured her that she ought to follow what makes her happy. It reminded me of Soyoung who was born a Buddhist but converted to Christianity because she found a church that she felt comfortable in. Ironically she took me to several Buddhist temples in the countryside of Korea but I could not turn her back.

It was hilarious watching the girls play basketball today as they were having so much fun learning the game, a less hostile version of the boy’s games. I have enjoyed rereading Zeppa’s book on my rock below my hut. To get to it you must traverse down a hill which is the property of the farmer living below me. Today the students who live there were hauling huge sacks of radishes up the hill. I can’t believe how strong the young girls of Bhutan are with their giant “man hands” supposedly the Divine Madman bestowed supernatural strength upon the women of the Kingdom. It is interesting how little has changed in Bhutan over twenty years and how similar Jamie’s fears and experiences were to my own. Of course things have evolved but things have also remained the same. One interesting fact is that there seemed to be more teachers volunteering in the late 80’s then now. And as I love to mention there were no Americans then but there were Kiwis and Irish. Her description of “disorientation” was spot on and the shops in Thimphu today seem to be hawking the same wears as then. I feel Jamie is a kindred spirit and hope she has checked into “Tiger” which is a long shot as we are only FB friends. Her book is a valuable asset for perspective teachers, Bhutanese citizens, or anybody interested in Bhutan. Not only does her spirit live on here but according to Becky, some folks in her village think she never left. I’m sure a part of her never has!    

Part 15 East Meets West

“It seems like all this life was just a dream” Stella Blue

Today we finished are class contracts and the students came up to the desk to sign them. They all have beautiful artistic signatures and after signing we hung the documents on the wall. As a signing bonus I gave the students small prizes. My home class 8A got super balls, 8B got candy, and 7A and 7B got stickers. Most of my cool prizes are in the mail or rusticating in an Indian post office somewhere. I aim to learn all the names in the next month which will make my teaching more meaningful and enjoyable. After all making personal connections is what I love about my profession. Right now as I write this a class 10 student named Pema Gheltson is preparing a simple dinner for me. He is a nice boy of 17 but shy in speaking English. I guess this is one advantage of living a stones throw from the boy’s hostel. I did not ask for this assistance but he’s been coming by three times a day asking to cook for me so I’ve relented. In Bhutan students seem younger then they are since they possess a certain innocence and work ethic not found in American teens. They don’t drink, use drugs, smoke, and don’t seem to be sexually active. Can you imagine having American teens living in hostels? There would be orgies every night and it would certainly be a teen bacchanalia.

Today was a perfect example of BST (Bhutan Stretchable Time) which bleeds into school life as well. The timetable is a constant point of irritation and occasional humor for me. Everyone tells me different things about the schedule. Some say classes are 45 minutes while some say they are 40 minutes. I go by the “official” schedule which is on a single sheet of paper taped to the office wall. But when I show up to my class a teacher is teaching overtime while in the class next door there is no teacher at all. When I expect the bell to ring it never does or it rings ten minutes late. The bell is a manual gong in the courtyard. But it isn’t a gong with a low cymbal sound, rather a chiming bell that sounds like a mast clanging in the breeze on a sailboat. It’s all very confusing and I don’t know why I take it so seriously. We in the west and especially teachers are so attached to time. During student teaching I planned my lessons to the minute and my day was measured out in exact increments. I realize flexibility is important but educational time is valuable. Students don’t wear watches and seem to have no conception of time and it doesn’t bother them when things run this way. They also think it’s quite funny that I am disturbed by the Bhutanese interpretation of time. So goes my days, one moment I feel exhilarated by the beauty surrounding me and sometimes deflated by a sense of isolation. I remind myself how unique an experience being immersed in this culture is. How tourists pay $250 a day just to catch a glimpse of Bhutan and I am actually living here. Oh the games we play in our minds and Buddhism says we are only are mind. The puritans said an idle mind in the sign of the devil and Tom Waits says, “There’s is no devil its just god when he’s drunk. In Bhutan an idle mind is valuable as one must slow down to acclimate to a speed of existence different then the USA. There’s always plenty to do in the way of housework and preparation for classes but my mind wants to plot and plan or remember. In Bhutan there is only the moment. The concept of Tim is whitewashed new and my former life is only an illusion. Here I am a stranger making a new identity and the only thing that matters is my teaching. I must build my skills for today and for when I pick up the threads of my former life. Like Jamie asks in her book, “Who will I be when I get back” As she found out it doesn’t matter and as her friend said, “Wherever you go there you are.” I’m very grateful that Pema will be teaching me how to cook Bhutanese food since I’m feeling undernourished. I am not made for vegetarianism as pig meat is all I crave. My huge plates of fried rice are not susistaining me. Don’t worry mom there is plenty to eat and I will not starve and I have lost my belly bulge which you despised so much. Each day brings wonderment if not contentment, like a hummingbird darting around the classroom door or sleeping dogs lying like logs around the campus. These are the mosaic of moments making up a day, like encountering a non boarding student walking on the trail above the ruins towards their village or students in national dress playing volleyball and laughing. It’s so easy to take myself out of the picture. This life is unaffected by my presence it is authentic if not familiar. What am I doing here? How can a make a difference? Today one of the Indian teachers took me aside and warned me, “Don’t walk to the left of the prayer wheel when you come to assembly. It will offend the students and principal. One more mistake on my part. I can imagine them talking in the privacy of their homes about the ignorant foreigner who can’t cook and doesn’t know the customs. The students try to help me with my pronunciation of their names. I remind them how special they are to speak multiple languages. Each day my respect for the Bhutanese grows. I still get frustrated and feel our way is better, foolishness. Could we survive this lifestyle living off the land for centuries?

Dinner is served a wonderful meal and I am full for the first time in days. The trick is eating gobs of rice with a bit of curry. In Bhutan curry is just vegetables or any accompaniment. Not like Thai or Indian soupy dishes with savory spices. Before leaving Pema asked if he could move in since the boarders keep him up at night. I felt bad for his predicament but feel strongly that it’s inappropriate to live with a student and I am way too private for that anyway. Apparently he lived with the two Indian teachers last year before one of them got married and the other moved off campus. Supposedly Karlos suggested he ask me to co- occupy my hut. It will be nice to have a male student help me cook and put on my gho, but I will have to be very clear about appropriate boundaries as there should be a clear distinction between teacher and student. It is a perfect example of how different life is here in Bhutan. It seems preposterous to cohabitate with a student but to him it was a natural innocent question. Personal boundaries and space are different in Asia especially in the remote village of Thsenkharla. I guess one could argue that it’s sad that in the West it’s unseemly to even be alone outside of class with any student. Where you must always keep a door open when working with a female student and hugging any student is forbidden. In Bhutan you can live with a student and beat them if you so desire. Never the less I am a Western trained teacher who will not be hugging, cohabitating, or beating my students.   

I wrote a poem today which was inspired by my daily meditations on my rock. My meditation is simply watching the view while listening to STS9 with my headphones. The idea for this piece was born gazing at grazing cows dutifully chewing the grasses which slowly are coming to life as spring creeps in. There is something simplistic about these bovine creatures as they deliberately consume the vegetation moving through the forests and peoples farmland seemingly roaming free. I even here there bells at night and wonder if they sleep at all or if they doze standing up? One thing is for sure, MORE COW BELL!


Sunbeams glide across an ozone sky
as a blue ball spins spins spins
turning like a prayer wheel in the dark
a golden light breaks the dawn
feeding yellow grass to green
as cows graze graze graze
the livelong day forever as before
their bells tink in soft action
setting silver clouds adrift
in perpetual motion
casting shadows on terraces
carved into ambivalent mountains
made of impenetrable rock
with little trees
sprouting from their skin,
and from within
stone hearts rise and fall
at an ancient rate
as tiny feet pitter patter
and tiny hands tickle
their backside
by sprinkling seeds.
just miniature beings
preying to an invisible god
begging for the rain to come  

Part 16 “Tragedy narrowly averted”

“You must leave your home and go forth from your country.
The children of Buddha all practice this way” The Thirty Seven Bodhisattva practices, collected by Jamie Zeppa.

Last night my computer briefly died and for two hours I thought it was over for my laptop. But Karlos directed me to Tinley who examined the battery blowing off the dust. Unplugging and re-plugging the power strip. I’ve fried two of my three strips. After doing all these things three times my computer came back to life. This is an old laptop that was a refurbished computer. When I’m typing in word the cursor will jump all over the page inserting letters where they don’t belong. But it is my computer and without it I am lost. There is no computer store outside of Thimphu for repairs. A new computer can be purchased at the border town of Samdrop Jongkhar about 9 hours away for roughly two months salary. I hope this old Junker can make it through my stay in Bhutan. Today is Saturday and my brother Tyler’s b-day. HAPPY BIRTHDAY BRA! I wonder if you bothered to read this far or anyone has for that matter. I hope your at you’re annual funk show enjoying some HOT KARL! (KARL!) I realize this blog entry is tedious and I will try to keep it shorter in the future. The every day details of my daily life are probably boring to most readers but I hope you’re reading Becky. Sorry I talked your ear off today and that we never got to say goodbye. I’m very excited for my impending visit to do an educational exchange at the TRC (Teacher Resource Center) in Phonmey before heading to the school for the blind. I will put in my paperwork to the principal this week requesting a “casual day.” Try to exterminate those bugs before I arrive!

I was excited that in Jamie’s book she visits Tshenkharla when it was Rangthangwoon to see fellow Canadian teacher Catherine who was posted here for at least two years. It’s only a brief chapter but very beautiful account of my village. It seems very similar today as it was then, as she describes a tiny hamlet with a few shops half way up a mountain. She even crosses the infamous Chasm bridge on her way from Trashigang to Doksom. That’s the bridge where I said my third and final goodbye chasing the Wamrong bus carrying Simon, Becky, Martha, and Ashleigh across the river. Returning BCF teacher Scott Harris told hilarious stories during orientation of Kendra’s battles with the gatekeeper on her many crossings. You have to check in and out when crossing the bridge leaving Yangtse district and apparently former teachers hid in the back of trucks to avoid this obligation. At the end of the chapter called Rangthangwoon Jamie is lying in her friend Catherine’s quarters and gazing up at the stars through a window when she realizes she has come to appreciate Bhutan,

“I remember my arrival in Bhutan and how miserable I was, and all the other teachers who seemed inexplicably content. They were right all along I think. This is the most remarkable place after all.  Zeppa 127

I am tickled that the great Jamie Zeppa had an epiphany in my village. I’ve enjoyed re reading the beginning of the book as she struggles to cook and bouts of homesickness. I find her words comforting and inspiring. I also loved the scene with our very own Nancy Strickland who even in her youth was the voice of clarity and reason. Jamie and Nancy remain close friends and met in Trashigang as Nancy was leaving for a job in the arctic and Jamie was arriving. Now these many years later Nancy is back in Thimphu as a Bhutanese citizen and Jamie is a professor in Canada. Both have lived in Bhutan for many years. Reading this book gives me a sense of empowerment and responsibility. What an honor being chosen to work here by Nancy herself. (With the help of Kristen Scott, a key factor in my being here) I really want to make a difference in the Kingdom by teaching English well and addressing the trash issue. BCF has aspirations of growing the foundation of English education with qualified teachers in Bhutan. According to Zeppa’s book there were three times more teachers when she arrived many years ago then the approximately twenty working today. So if any prospective teachers are reading this you ought to consider coming here and making a difference.

I woke up feeling my age of 34 today on my stiff mattress with sore arm. Where has my youth gone? I can still remember 17 like yesterday, pursuing the rainbow trail.  I recall sitting over a plate of octopus and rice in Korea by myself, mulling over turning 30. Now I am almost 35! My rock n roll masters remind me that age is a mere state of mind. Bobby Weir and Dave Malone bring the raucous party to the peeps into their senior years. Bobby is rolling steadily into his mid sixties and still pioneering the psychedelic CIRCUS entertaining old men and young ladies alike. And I hope to have a long way to go. I consider myself a late bloomer and am just beginning my teaching career. With age comes a deeper responsibility to leave an imprint on humanity, and to give something back. To accept myself and things as they are. Maybe even to not take life so seriously. I have spent a large many years depressed and feeling hopeless. Many people feel lost in their twenties. The irony is that some people spend their best days of youth miserable, not finding contentment until an older age. I remember my Aunt Mare, who is my sage, telling me I cannot have suicidal thoughts after 30 saying it’s too late for self deprecation. I still suffer depression, anxiety, self loathing, crippling insecurity, and self pity but “Am in it to win it.” I’m also as the Bhutanese say, “single and ready to mingle” LOL. Teaching helps me gain prospective when I’m slipping down the icy waterfall of depression. My career bestows on me the duty of a role model for the next generation. I must show them life is worth living. As a student speaker said “life is precious and it matters how we live it, I repeat life is precious and it matters how we live it” For me the age was 33 to stop considering life without me in it. Jesus Christ was crucified at 33 and during my Yellowstone sojourn (32) I became resurrected as a new person. Actually I didn’t realize this until very recently perhaps in that quiet empty room at Tigers Nest. The tears I shed mourned the death of old Tim, the parts I loved and the parts I loathed, the thrill seeker, the lover, the martyr, the self centered man-child.  Now I must find myself in these NEW DARK AGES…In the middle path of moderation.

“And if you find someone whose futures not in stone
The heart you got to give is your own” Zeke

Three Good Things

1.     Talking to Becky on the phone as a group of little kids stalked me on the trail hiding in the bushes.
2.     Students singing songs, dancing, and doing skits for precious night.
3.     Having a rare two days in a row of sunshine.

Part 17 Easy to Slip

“It’s so easy to slip it’s so easy to fall, let your memory drift and do nothing at all. All the love that you missed all the people you can’t recall, do they really exist at all?”

Today I was woken up by six students who forced there way into my hut and began scrubbing the floors at 6:30. Then I was served tea and fried rice, a breakfast in bed. I got up and scrubbed my clothes doing a laundry. An hour later my hands were raw and then I fell going down the hill to hang my clothes to dry. I twisted my ankle and ironically I just read the part in Jamie’s book where her friend twists her ankle doing laundry in the creek. Its just strained not sprained but it was a good reminder that one must watch every step in Bhutan. One false move and its goodnight nurse. They are showing a Bhutanese film in the MP room today for 15 NU. I went to check it out but left after half an hour. The most interesting part was the crowd of students and villagers packed into the assembly hall. There must have been 400 people all on wooden benches with others standing on the sides and back. The film was shown on a projector and displayed on either a sheet or an old screen as with my vision I couldn’t say for sure. Everyone was crammed in shoulder to shoulder and there was a young lady breastfeeding behind me. To exit folks were climbing over one another,

And it’s bigger then a drive in movie ooh wee”

I came back home to finish my laundry and hang it on the barbed wire fence to dry above piles of cow dung. It was great talking to Tyler, Beth and Reed on the phone today and hear about Reeds first Tam trip in the fog. I can’t wait to make my first trip to Tam with Reed someday. But for now I plod along in East Bhutan. I have a huge week of teaching including learning names and executing a weeks worth of carefully planned activities. I need to take much more time before beginning the readings to activate their back round knowledge. I also need to check for careful understanding to make sure they are not just reading the words. Sometimes it’s hard to know their comprehension since they are so reluctant to speak in class. And when doing group activities I must explain directions over and over. When I ask them to explain the activity back to me they furtively glance at each other then cast their eyes to the floor. I will be mindful to teach to the struggling students in the class not just the aces. It should be an exciting week. With Saturday classes the weekend flies by, but overall my morale is steady and I feel relatively happy whatever that means. I’m just keeping my nose to that old grinding stone half way up a mountain in old Rangthangwoon.     

May the goddess bless all sentient beings and especially you…

Timothy (god’s honor)


  1. Well, Timmers, it took me 3 days to read the recent posts. I get a sense of what you're up against and how it's transforming you. 1) DELIGHTED that the invisible world is speaking to you. 2) When the nightmare returns, walk out of hiding and turn to your pursuers and ask them what they want! 3) Your most valuable lessons in this time of truly meeting yourself is the care of your body and home! Cooking, cleaning, healing, smiling, dancing, gazing at the sky. This is life! Dig it. I LOVE you.

  2. Hi Tim: I left a reply yesterday on the blog but it is not there today? Am enjoying reading your updates and particularly enjoyed the recollection of Harry Chapin's songs. I ordered a CD from Amazon yesterday! Checked him out on Wikipedia, and yes he died in 1981, hit by a 16 wheeler in his VW which swerved into the truck. They think he had a heart attack at 39! You would enjoy his bio. as he was a man of the people and the earth. Check it out sometime!

    I have e-mailed Nancy Strickland ( about your missing packages but have received no response after a week. Am disapointed she would not at least respond? Bhutan Canada could do nothing for me either! I'm guessing it was probably stolen by someone in the country of perfection! Watch your back side!

    Read Dave's blog also yesterday and here's a tip! He takes his papers in to the manditory meetings and corrects them while they ramble on in the native tongue, stopping only when the few English words are spoken! Good use of the time rather than just sitting there bored to death!

    Be well my son!

    Love you, Dad