Lost In Translation
“You come on so strong with that same sad song wherever you go, run along, take your ball and go home” If the Shoe Fits
I hitched a ride into Trashigang with a teacher with the intention of watching the Olympics on TV. Sadly gymnastics are over and apparently the women dominated in team competition. I did catch track and field, swimming, diving, water polo, rowing, fencing, shooting, equestrian, boxing, badminton, handball, U.S.A basketball, table tennis, and proper tennis. I watched Serina win the singles gold and started a USA chant at the restaurant which received a round of applause from the Bhutanese patrons. I love the Olympics for many reasons especially the universal dedication and determination of the athletes. Human beings are amazing creatures with boundless potential.
Trashigang remains the same with Igor circumambulating while murmuring prayers and Phuntso talking nonsense. I also go for the food not just the local characters. My favorite joint serves fatty pork chunks, dal, and potato curry. It’s nice to get a proper meal but I would hardly call it fine dining. My standards are low since in Tsenkharla we have very little. My diet at home is ramen, eggs, fried rice, emadatsi, and if I’m lucky, and we have bread, grilled cheese. I’m not feeling healthy now with a painful earache. The ride to Trashigang is beautiful with green shrubbery underneath the thinly spread tooth pick pines. The rivers converging at Doksom are raging like quarrelling lovers. The green rolling mountains curve revealing rice patties in their crannies as the lazy road shadowboxes the river that scurries and snakes like a Tim Carbone fiddle solo. Along the way the gold pagoda of Gom Kora sparkles. This is my beloved emerald triangle from Gom Kora up to Tsenkharla Dzong and down to Chorten Kora. On this rare clear day the result of relentless rain is an organic swaying palace. Rivulets cut through steep ravines to rejoin their source. I am aware of the water flowing through my own body. Aren’t we just bags of water that crawled out of the ocean a geological second ago? This is my Bhutan, a rocky rugged landscape with strings of rainbow prayer flags fluttering over deep gorges. Trashiyangtse is considered one of the most remote districts in the Kingdom and considered the Far East. National teachers don’t want to be placed here and no one can teach in Paro or Thimphu town until they have put in three years of se vice at a remote posting.
If Trashigang is the heart of the east then its Dzong is the soul. Over three hundred years old this whitewashed fortress is a power vortex. The edifice is perched on a sheer cliff overlooking an endless valley and is directly above Chasm. The compound is full of history, intrigue, and magic. I always end up there at twilight to reset my clocks, and remind myself that I am living my dream. The river shushes below as I breathe in the sweetness of the tropical air. Although clinging to a slope, the town is at a relatively low elevation. The town is pretty much the foothills of the mountain range that includes Jhomolahari, and Everest. We are actually considered the inner Himalayan range that runs north to south with deep wooded valleys. Trashigang is quite compact with mid evil architecture with steep stone staircases that run between boxy yellow, peach, and white buildings. Barefoot kids play happily in the soft gloaming shouting friendly greetings in the steamy streets lined with blossoming flower pots. A stand of prominent eucalyptus trees palisade the creek and shelters the bazaar that surrounds the dilapidated prayer wheel. It’s feels twenty degrees warmer here than Tsenkharla. Trashigang is a hub of commerce and trading for the whole region, a pleasant frontier town at the end of the world. I wonder how much has changed since the days of Zeppa. By the way thanks Jamie for becoming an official tigress (member of tiger in a trance!) I am tickled and thrilled to have an accomplished writer and heroine of Bhutan on board. Julie I was glad to hear you are tuned in too, happy birthday and say hi to Kit, J-Bird, and of course Bobby for me!
At times I feel lost in translation here. I haven’t picked up Sharshop or Dzonka so I cannot decipher most conversations around me. It’s strange being the only foreigner wandering in a town of Bhutanese with people stopping and starring. Of course this is part of the ESL game especially in rural Bhutan. Sometimes it’s exhilarating and sometimes annoying depending on my mood. I did run into J.D and one of his students on the impossibly steep staircase ascending the tiers of the town. He seems an extraordinary teacher who often goes beyond the call of duty. It is always nice to come home to the smiling faces of my own students and the adorable village kids.
“I come unglued while in midair, and land to reform, limb by limb”
Sundays in Bhutan have a distinct feel. It’s a day to do cleaning, laundry, and planning. I also always include an evening walk if it’s not pouring. On my walk I reflect on the week ahead and how I can improve as a teacher. I have a good idea of where I am going in the curriculum this semester. I have to admit I will be teaching more to the test this term as well as focusing on test taking skills. Sadly tests are everything here and students must pass the class ten Exam to have any career. Most students will be weeded out by this exam. I am also striving towards more conversational English and student based learning. I want my students speaking as much as possible in the classroom. I love doing group work but this works better in class 8 then class 7. I have definitely improved on teaching the short stories. The trick is going slowly, rereading, and asking tons of comprehension questions to continually assess them as they go. It is fun to teach them literature. I am also focusing on quality writing focusing on rewriting. The hardest for me is teaching grammar. As you all know I am not great in this area myself and explaining the rules of complex grammar is difficult. I am hoping my ear improves and am looking forward to some engaging activities in the classroom this week. With only Sunday off the weeks can blend together! I spoke to Becky who was busy picking leaches off her feet and cleaning mold from her walls. I will repeat you must be vigilant to survive Bhutan. Right now my hut is clean, my belly is full, and my work is done. As I take a moment from my day to write to you.
“We will get by, we will survive” Touch of Grey
Morgan always mocked that “Touch of Grey” the Grateful Dead’s biggest hit was a crowd pleaser. But she finally got it while wading through the sea of revelers at the Bill Graham Auditorium in San Francisco. She found me on the brink of two worlds just in time. Holding each other tightly, there we said goodbye. In Buddha 101 he teaches that life is impermanent. We humans don’t like this concept. We rush to invent heaven in the face of such a bald fact. I have always admired the atheist’s courage and conviction to shun the possibility of eternal life. I especially revere those atheists who do good deeds for the sake of goodness without trying to appease a god. To be honest I scorn those individuals who believe that if you don’t embrace their ideology your soul is damned. No skin off an atheist’s nose since they know better. In Bhutan the energy matrix transcends the Buddhist and even bon beliefs. At the source it is all one and formless. I spent some time meditating on my favorite bands name, The Grateful Dead. It occurred to me that when we are born we are already fated to be dead yet grateful to be alive. Thank you all for sharing this journey with me. Every day I say a prayer for my donors who gave me the opportunity to live and work in such an extraordinary place. Your loving hands delivered me across the Himalayas.
Timothy Gross National Happiness