Part One: Yangtse Excursion
“So I cast off my apparel and I dove right in” River Run, Special Ed
The original Yangtse Dzong was built in the mid sixteen hundreds. It is now home to only a few monks since the new Dzong opened in 1997. The Old Dzong is a national treasure. So here’s the report. I had lunch at Cricket’s and said hello to Chorten K then took a taxi to the old Dzong. The aged edifice is perched on a knoll several kilometers before Chorten Kora overlooking a salad bowl of vegetation. It guards a side valley which beyond, beyond, beyond, is Jakar. Under the Dzong and a giant cypress is the trailhead for the trek to Bumthang. This is the old trade route between India and Tibet an isolated vortex at the convergence of Trashiyangtse, Arrunachal Pradesh, and Southeastern Tibet. The area around the Dzong is the play date of jungle and forest. The Dzong itself is enjoying graceful retirement with overgrown flowers and weeds growing along a steep ascent of crumbling stairs. An ornate gate passes one into a courtyard. About a third of the way across the old cobbled stone I was suddenly attacked by a pack of stray dogs. The half dozen hellhounds circled me like k-9 sharks before moving in. I challenged but they charged, forcing me to turn and run screaming. As the alpha black dog bore down on my calf with his fangs a monk materialized from nowhere and beat him back with his wooden thunderbolt. He then swirled like a Jedi knight dispersing the whimpering dogs. Thank you Sangay Dempa, I was indeed in God’s fury pocket. The wind gushed through lush valleys rustling in a million leaves. I was allowed into the bowels of the whitewashed building via a bronze key. The interior was completely abandoned but clean, made entirely of ancient cherry tinted wood. I climbed multiple ladders ascending into various empty chambers harboring states of nirvana. On the top floor was a dim and rustic alter room with a young red robbed boy attending the shrine. Once emerged, I toured the grounds guided by the Jedi monk. It was an auspicious setting for a ghost ship wrecked on the rolling emerald sea between Tawang and Tibet. The living canvas evoked the voice of Bob Ross imploring you to dab a little more chartreuse onto the mountainside. Beneath the Dzong rested a Giant Cypress with the girth and splendor of a Costal Redwood. She was similar in height and dimension to Cassidy on the far side of Friendship Bridge in the Canyon. I worshiped at the big toe of (my new gal pal) Bertha for some time listening to a thousand shaman rattles shaking in her cascading needles. Or was it Zeke’s maracas? This was the immovable iceberg that stopped the ship. Her roots immerged from dust and duff as tangled serpents. I followed the trail down to the river where I tore off my clothes and waded. After my wild child bath I sat my naked ass on a hot rock watching an alien butterfly’s dance. This turquoise winged creature was one third bat, one third insect, and one third Karmaling dream moth. It eyed me through malted amber eyes its crimson antennas probing. I followed the trail into the penetrating narrow folds, a tangled maze of ferns, rhododendron, blackberry, and cannabis. Cotton candy clouds chugged along in a powdered blue sky. It was a Hailey’s Comet day in Yangtse served up courtesy of the Clock People. A mild breeze broke through the heat that was searing downriver in Doksom. The tributary moved towards The Kulongchu as I moved towards Central Bhutan.
Back at home I wandered through the grass growing on the terraces watching Angkor Wat clouds turn a purpled orange, their beehive lotus tops swallowed by a froggy gloaming. A chipped crescent winks at a tumbling Raven silhouetted on Blue Mountains. I can only think of circles!
Part 1.5: Shamalamadingdong!
“Crickets and cicadas sing, a rare and different tune, Terrapin Station”
I went for a long hike departing from Tsenkharla past Sangma’s Ruin, the Temple, my bon shrine, and the oak jungle and the Lower Ruin. At Tsangma’s I lay my head on his stony wall listening for the seashell echo of ghosts. I moved past the second temple where a dog lay dead with countless flies swarming his lifeless body. (Wild boars are known to be in the vicinity and one elusive porcupine!) Once past the farm with the cypress and banana trees I was in unchartered territory. The trail inclines through a stretch of deciduous forest with a few rogue bushy pines. This segued into several high altitude shires with Hobbit Hotels. I walked through a few back yards to the confusion of the inhobitants and ended up at a lama’s house overlooking the borderlands. The lama had built a rock fish pond without fish in the center of his garden. The house had a rounded front and was made of sticks and stones with Bhutanese style painted trim. The dwelling overlooked everywhere. I didn’t go inside but I understand he has cable. I introduced myself to a lovely young woman of Nepali origin. She was wearing a kira with a silver top and purple gray bottom. The ensemble looked like the skies above. She was hunched over pulling potatoes from the soil. She invited me into the garden for tea and I sat on a red plastic chair at a wooden table. There was a fly in my tea which I plucked out while chatting with Manu. The Nepali ethnic Bhutanese seem more outgoing and down home than the classic Bhutanese. She served me a lunch of local rice, potato and beef curry and radish leaves on a heavy plate. Her two companions, an old women and a young woman, giggled at her translations of me being a bachelor. Manu teaches down near Doksom, She was up to help the lama with his gardening. She worked the garden in a Kira and hiked up a thousand vertical feet in flip flops. This is a Bhutanese lady at her finest. After lunch I descended with the head BHU Doctor who incidentally shares my passion for cleaning the community. We have now joined forces and I learned some very interesting things on our hour and a half descent. For one thing we both share the same heartache over the Doksom situation. He also showed me Tsenkharla’s nasty little secret, a town dump in the forest behind the archery range. Apparently this waste pit has been in existence since 99. The good Doctor recently organized a clean up of the area while I was downwind on Mass Cleaning Day. But the townspeople have clandestinely been dumping again. There seems to be tons of trash intertwined with the thicket on a precarious slope, a decades worth of broken glass and plastic. It most likely is layered six feet beneath the soil. (Authors note: Sorry folks I’m afraid this isn’t the “Last Shangri-La” It is however the most beautiful place on earth. And not even a cell tower or ten thousand pieces of rubbish can deter the landscape.)
This week will begin with the students sharing their five paragraph essays and voting on their favorites. Later in 8A we will read the lyric to Bob Dylan’s “Blowin’ in the Wind.” I have some fun activities planned around the song. I will also use half of my emergency paper supply to have student’s create trash posters with catchy slogans or dialogue. My example will be a cypress tree with several pieces of trash at its base. The tree will be saying, “HELP I CAN’T BREATHE!” We will then place the posters around campus. This project was Morgan’s idea! Unfortunately this situation in Bhutan is dire and likely to get worse before it gets better. None the less I am undeterred. I have been a busy-fly marking 120 portfolios and compiling questions for my mid term exam. The test will take students between two and three hours. We have covered a lot of material in the first three months. As the tests approach one can see students studying under outdoor fluorescents after curfew. All day long students peep and peek in my window which kind of freaks me out. The boarder life leaves a teacher totally immersed to embrace the community, and when the students ask “where are you going sir?” I inevitably reply, “ROAMING!”
Part Two: Technicolor Sugar Cube
“Like an angel standing in a shaft of light, rising up to paradise, you know I’m gonna shine” Estimated Prophet
This evening there was a raven perched on the crest of Tsangma’s ruin. I took it as an omen. An omen seems merely a natural vision. The raven croaked out a message to its community. Three croaks, Ah! Ah! Ah! Her calls echoed up and down the ravine. The birds were communicating, insects buzzed and crickets chirped. From up here the river hushed but down in the valley the river roared. Its no wonder Prince T established his castle fortress on this spot eleven hundred years ago. I love hanging out in spots that were more advanced thousands of years ago. These places turn the tides of time with reclamation from nature. I was reaching for a piece of cardboard when my phone slipped my pocket and fell down a rock face. I had to bushwhack into the undergrowth and shrubs and amazingly recovered the phone. Upon doing so I celebrated by calling Becky for a “Bug Report.” Every time I call her she notes the appearances in her hut of different insects including giant spiders, leaches, moths, and a flea circus of creepy crawlies. Phongmay has been getting steady rain and as I type this a light rain falls on Tsenkharla. Thank the goddess either way. By the way we have a website now and I wrote the introduction. There is also a staff picture! Check it out by goggling Tsenkharla M.S.S. Right now, my oval of Bhutan has enjoyed a series of gorgeous days like prayer flags strung out across a valley, (Although we here in the east favor the vertical flags mounted on wood poles.) The Bhutanese landscape feels like my ancient HOME. It also shares ferns and ravens with my birth land. There is no place like this on earth. That is why I am devastated by the trash. This patch of earth is sacred. Looking into the mouth of the subcontinent and beyond, I realize it is all Bhutan expanding out from the source, a hidden valley in Lhuntse. A universe exploded from a Technicolor Sugar Cube, (an event known as The Big Bang, again my apologies to the creationists.) As a result Bhutan is California and California is Bhutan. After returning from my constitutional I ate a gourmet meal at Sonam and Karlos’s house. They were hosting a puja for Sonam’s ailing mother. There were hunks of steak, combined with red chilies, greens, producing a myriad of flavors. All These ingredients were carried in on horseback from the rural outskirts of Tsenkharla. Even the dal was exceptionally delicious. (We have only potatoes and onions available in the village at the time of report.) For this meal the local red rice set the tone, “and it reminds me of… um... the beach…” It’s hard to complain when well fed in “God’s fury pocket.” I could have devoured the whole buffet like a pride of lions devours a zebra carcass.
Across the valley from my perch at Tsangma’s, a DEAD lightning bolt is etched in the opposing mountain like marbled fat in tenderloin. It’s weirdly auspicious. The natural world pops like a Cuckoo Clock, its springs reveal a lovely medley, Cows >Slipknot>Clouds. Kids are moving through the forest in national dress with Purpha Nima calling out for Sonam Choden like the ravens speaking to each other. Back at school my students remind me, “This is not a dance club, it’s a place to study!” and Butterfly reminds me “Not to destroy the culture!”
Part Two and a Half: Bellaghana in Bhutan
“This is not the way I chose, the way has chosen me” Banyan Tree
MEEEEENNN! That’s for you dad. How’s this season anyway? Not the same without old Charlie, IS IT? Speaking of seasons what about the Yanks? I am prophesying a tough season for COCO and the boys. As for my own batting average I’d say I’m hitting about 288. I broke out of my dismal early slump and was RED HOT (or hot to Tejada) for a time. But tonight I went 0-6 in an excruciating extra innings loss. I’ll explain in none baseball ease, here goes. It was a long day in the classroom plus grading essays during my free period. After school we had a compulsory meeting which went on for five hours (Bored-fly.) The meetings are essentially held in Dzonka with a bit of code switching to English. It was decided without my knowledge that the midterm exams will be graded on a dept. basis. Essentially other teachers will grade my tests and I will grade theirs. This made me irate when someone explained it to me. How can another teacher who is unfamiliar with the syllabus mark my Exams? What’s more, how can one make an efficient answer key for questions that ask for responses stressing creativity and critical thinking? My vocal objection did not go over well. Principal quipped I was only here for a year and might enjoy it? I assumed he meant the mass correction and not the year in Bhutan. I reminded him I was considering a second term and asked if he was trying to get rid of me? A foul ball of Bhutanese protocol I’m sure. All remarks were said in good humor on both sides as I have no animosity with principal La or staff. However some staff joked that I should act more Bhutanese. Perhaps they are right. Anyway the day ended with grading student portfolios into the wee hours.
The other night (or a future night since Today is Tomorrow) I saw the whole student body PRAYING in National Dress including their traditional white sashes for boys and crimson scarf for girls. It was a moving experience hearing their voices rise up to Guru Rimpoche and Sangay Dempa in palpable worship. The reality is this is not the USA. It is a wonderful culture but can rub against the grain. I am up against 34 years of experience and a former belief in Santa Claus. Bhutan is a communal identity. With mass dances and mass (marxing) marking. A culture submerged in Buddhist beliefs, rituals, and superstitions. As one BCF friend put it, “They just can’t help it!”
I spoke to Sarah who is in Gasa. She told me the Navajo word for white person, which is Bellaghana. It has a nice ring to it but here I am known as felincpa. Felincpa translates to foreigner or outsider. Well they may be right but what they don’t know is that I share there Heart Home. We did not have a choice to come here. We were chosen. All you BCF’ers, who might be reading this, evaluate the circumstances prior your to arrival in the Kingdom. It’s no doubt a fated tale. Look at who you’ve met so far and what you’ve learned. It damn near makes me believe in reincarnation. Didn’t we all come home? Weren’t we all crying Reidi’s tears at Paro International?
Morgan if you are tuned in, the posters came out nicely. Thanks for the idea. These kids are born artists. I hope in a small way they will stop and make people think. If nothing else the six coed groups worked well together, sharing the limited crayons, colored pencils, and markers. (Thanks for the crayons mom) The idea and supplies, a joint effort from my family back home. They will present their posters to the student body on Social Forestry Day on Saturday. In class 8A we will make paper prayer flags before I sing them ‘Blowin in the Wind” under a stand of actual prayer flags near the football field.
Part Three: Drametse Goemba
“Wolves at our doorstep, drums in our hearts, songs from the ancient furnace, bringing us back to start” Zekemoto
It all began with a pastel rainbow over Chorten Kora. This was the beginning of an auspicious weekend in East Bhutan. Yangtse was swirling in clouds and river. Grey and emerald streamers flowed together into the white contrast Trashigang felt more like the jungles of Vietnam then the slope of the Himalaya. I met Miss Rebecca and we headed back towards Mongor and the Drametse Goemba Monastery. The dirt road climbed for 18 kilometers through prime potato country and dry pine stands up to the site. We climbed through a hole in a fence at into old Bhutan. This impressive edifice was built in 1511 and was beginning to sag and crumble at its corners. But far from ruin it was an active monastery. Its main purpose is to house the artifacts in the region. This is the Bhutan that tumbled from the roof of the world (Ancient Tibetan Culture.) We made our way inside. This monastery was established by Ani Chhoeten Zangmo who reportedly blew a conch as she traveled east from Bumthang searching for the most beautiful sound. She settled on this spot which she named, “The peak that has no enemy” The actual origin of her tune was above an enchanted lush pine forest swirling with a mist thick enough to conceal the mystery machine. The ancient vapors of that conch! Where does sound go anyway? We know it vibrates long after one ceases to hear it, but for how long? Between the monastery and the forest is the village school which was hosting an archery tournament. The hills echoed with hoots, hollers, and cheers. Back inside the ancient building we climbed a ladder through a shoot and into a second chamber. On the dimly lit walls were Karmaling moths including one painted on a dilapidated corner. This painted creature at the apex of two walls was a portal to another dimension. As we melted through the vortex we spun around an indoor prayer wheel inscribed with gold Sanskrit, through a creaky wood door, and into a secret chamber. Materializing inside, Becky was startled by a Chinese looking monk with a pencil mustache, letting out a cry she stumbled backwards. We had interrupted his meditation. He might have been in that room five hundred years. On the left side of the chamber was a dusty glass case containing relics and artifacts. Among them was a deck of dirty tarot cards (with naked images on them) Intense red and green masks frozen in terror. Also, several black brass tantric bells which radiated power. These were sacred objects with a heady vibe. The monk led us into another room with an amazing psychedelic- Buddhist mural, including a pair of dancing skeletons that would have made Stanley Mouse cream in his grave. There was also the horse-headed protector deity among tigers, elephants, and several other spirit animals. We led ourselves into a third sanctum containing the shrine. I incorrectly prostrated to the dismay of the robbed and barefoot monk who with Becky’s help led me through the proper procedure. He seemed far more approving of Becky’s reverence. The third floor had several padlocked doors containing weapons, a stuffed lynx, ghosts, and imprisoned demons. After minutes or years we immerged silently creeping down the shoots and ladders like two kids descending stairs on Christmas morning. Judging by the stares and bowing from the children outside, we gathered they didn’t see many tourists up there.
Trashigang was the place to be on that auspicious day. I chanced to see Vicky, Ian, J.D and Martha all unexpectedly outside Phuntso’s shop. I was buying fruits including bananas, pinnacle, and a local sample with a spiny skin and opaque flesh. The name of the young proprietor is Phuntso but I call her Phuntsy which translates to “dust particles” A perfect name for our resident demoness. Her form, a few crystals flaked off the old Technicolor sugar cube. But Trashigang has another pervasively distinct creature. “Igor” is an Armenian looking man who appears to be made out of sun baked clay. He wears sandals and shorts and has a bulbous doughy head. (Think an ethnic Homer J Simpson) It seems as if his tour bus left without him and he just stayed behind. He is always and only seen in the vicinity of the chorten at the edge of town, circumnavigating with the natives. We know less about him then Phuntso. Alien, Demon, guru, Eastern European, or exiled cartoon character, you decide?
(The Last Watusi Interlude)
“I’m happy to know you, now what did I show you, nothing that ever been seen, we ride the wild waves” The Forever Man (Ed Volker, Dave Malone)
I woke up with a gnarly eye infection on my left eyelid. It was swollen shut and had some puss. Pretty disgusting and warranted my first trip to the local BHU. The Doctor said it’s a bacterial infection and gave me ointment and drops. I was feeling healthy lately and consider this boil a mild setback. I am also suffering a bout of homesickness. A big battle for teachers in Bhutan is keeping up their health and morale. Honestly the lack of running water is very detrimental to ones overall health. For instance when I wash my hands it’s in standing water. But fortunately the magic is never far off yet for now I feel like a Cyclops Alien. You also face a lot of quality time with yourself here which can be intense depending on the individual. I need to summon a reserve of enthusiasm to keep me on task and from losing the complex plot. Old mental challenges are rearing their green ears and I must lasso them before they get the upper hand. It’s always a game for the homo sapiens to invent reward and meaning. Make dreams then fulfill them. Maybe even fall in love and create a family. On this tiny spec of Asia the monsoon edges in closer with intermittent rain. One things for certain, you never know what’s coming next. No weather reports, no expectations. But today I feet disconnected from myself and surroundings. Nevertheless I have a big month at school preparing for the midterms so what to do, la. I still feel lucky to be here and realize my problems are an extension and exasperation of my core being and not Bhutan. Right now my head is in the clouds and I need to dig into the earth. It’s always hard to get your bearings in the LOT (Land of Terror!)
A quote collected by Namkith lifted my dreary spirit. “Marriage is for those people who are afraid to sleep alone” Another winner from Nanu! Hang it up and see what tomorrow brings.
It’s been one year since the Technicolor Universe that was the Radiators stopped expanding, a barreling train that ran out of track. Whose heavy engineer pulled the E break screeching the boxcars to a halt at Tips in the wee steamy hours on June 12, 2011. .The hot tight jams evaporating in totality popping screws, the engineer screaming Everybody off! Heartbreak is always sudden even if you know its coming and you usually do. Like prey senses predator before the attack. I loved that music as much as life. And with all love it lives in my heart. The break up of the Rads and my appearance in Bhutan are intricately connected. RIP boys! I’ve never heard your equal. (Authors note: Thanks mom for the trip of a lifetime!)
Part 4: Death of the Blues
“We can’t play anymore like kids right after school, all the real important people got important things to do”
As the semester comes to a close I am evaluating the positive aspects of my teaching along with areas that need improvement. For one thing I have covered an adequate amount of material in the text. I also feel that student comprehension is acceptable. However I must focus on their writing skills and do more grammar and spelling tests. I also need to be more efficient and organized in the classroom, since we all know students thrive off routine and consistency. These are not two of my strengths. As a teacher you must focus on the positive while never being complacent. One must give their full attention to areas needing improvement while not forgetting what positive qualities you can build on. I have a positive foundation to build upon with many areas that need improvement.
At school today they told me that I had to make my exams by tomorrow. We are always the last to know. I told them it will take three days to complete the exams and demanded a model from an English exam. We are always the last to know and they assume we somehow know what we are doing. It would be nice if important things were translated into English before the last minute. WTD. On a brighter note the class 8A prayer flags came out nice and are hanging on a string in our homeroom. The rain has swollen the river by Phongmay as the skies over Tsenkharla begin to grey. We might have a monsoon any day.