Monday, September 3, 2012

Uncomfortable with Uncertainty

UFO’s Exactly

“There’s a giant sleeping by my door, I don’t know what that giant came here for” Ed Lib

Greetings Earthlings,

Someone in Thimphu remarked that she wasn’t the type to blog every time she saw a butterfly.  On the other hand I have to tell you about the butterfly hovering around the prayer wheel today. It had a wingspan of almost a foot and a circular white marking on each wing. I stopped and let IT flutter around me while pollinating some geranium blossoms. I couldn’t have imagined that Bhutan is the butterfly capital of the world, but it seems to be.  I reckon Amanda from Another Roadside Attraction would like it here as would any entomologist. So much life has sprung from this rock and one wonders where it retreats to in winter. But for now I will keep watch on the present. The ivy is winding up the cypress trunks and the maize is growing like Jacks bean stock to the giant’s door. In fact there are many unidentified flying objects around here nowadays and the landscape is buzzing with surprises. Every night dung beetles fly like remote control choppers in my cement hut. And the forest is perfumed with scarlet and pink blooms. The earth seems healthy after receiving buckets of rain this year. The students are not as healthy as shooting diarrhea, cough, and fever are the norm. I feel relatively good but am lethargic except when out roaming. We finally got water today after a three day dry spell. I gather that lack of water makes kids sick. I know they are not washing after using the toilet or cleaning the lavatories, which are merely pits dug into cement with stool piled in them.  Flies are everywhere and it doesn’t take a Scientist to figure out the problem there. Especially for me who lives a stone’s throw from the shitters. What to do la or WTDL. 

I have noticed a few of my students making excellent progress which is encouraging. One is Pema in class 7 who was constantly talking to her friends in class. I took her aside and ever since she has been very engaged in the lessons. A teacher loves looking out and seeing wide eyed students making eye contact and nodding in approval. More often one might see a distracted half turned pupil or worse a head on the desk.  I have some exciting lessons planned for the week and look forward to getting into Hectors Great Escape with class 8. Tomorrow we are making a chart comparing the pros and cons of urban and rural life. This is something I do in my head on a daily basis. For example pro, giant butterflies, con no double cheeseburgers. I am hoping this exercise will sharpen their critical thinking skills. If nothing else I hope I have encouraged students to think for themselves this year. I certainly have given up asking them to put their shoes on, partly since it is a quant reminder of where I get to teach, a place where they must wear elaborate national regalia but no shoes. Barefoot student’s is just one of the humorous aspects of being a teacher in Bhutan. As August rolls into September I make adjustments in an attempt to make things just exactly perfect. Yeah Right. But I do strive for improvement rearranging the puzzle pieces trying to make them fit. The proper ingredients help a lot and for dinner I had rice with fiddlehead fern, garlic, onion, chilies, and local cheese. It came out wonderful and paired well with a vintage 2007 Curb. Morgan would’ve been in heaven.  The fresh veggies were acquired in T-Gang which makes cooking at home enjoyable. There are only so many combos with chili, onion, and spuds one can concoct. Just adding fruit and veggies to my daily diet cheers me up, unfortunately these perishable items don’t last long and cannot be purchased in Tsenkharla.

(Eugene Interlude)

“Sunshine Daydream, walk you in the tall trees, going where the wind blows, blooming like a red rose”

The Mecca of my musical travels was seeing Bobby in Eugene Oregon, or at least the hub of the wagon wheel. My friend Julie and I made the summertime pilgrimage from 2008-2011. In those four years we saw seven shows including two Ratdog and five Furthur. Each sojourn was a magical TRIP. We lined up in the morning by the river gearing up for the running of the hippies to secure a spot on the rail. When the moment came I flew like Mercury to the glory spot just under Ace. Too many moments to recall like Bobby screaming during “Loose Lucy” in 2008, scampering barefoot around the stage in 2009, and the rain show in 2010 when I cracked my rib on the rail during “Sunshine Daydream.” 2011 was an epic three night stand where I teleported to the pinnacle of Jhomolahari during “Big Bad Blues.” In the heart of Oregon bonds are renewed and new friendships forged in a lysergic rhythm that howls like a locomotive whistling in the dark.

Early Bird Café

“It was getting early I rushed away from there, with ancient dirt beneath my feet and moon dust in my hair”        

Bhutan will test a person’s limits. You are plucked away from all you know and placed in a strange new world. At some point us foreigners must reevaluate ourselves and learn who we really are. For me this process is in the early stages as I am learning not to cling to my identity and be present as a teacher.  Right now I’m a gooey chrysalis yearning to be a butterfly. I hope next year’s larva are reading this and can come join the party. There is a table for one waiting for you and the menu includes six types of loneliness. But the desserts are the sweetest on earth.  Ask any BCF teacher worth their weight in ema and they will tell you they’re glad they came. Even if many of us have an impulse to run screaming for the EXITS without collecting Pass Go for another circumambulation of the board. You can’t script an experience as this and for an adventurous spirit it simply doesn’t get any better. Of course I didn’t feel as optimistic squatting over my toilet with shooting diarrhea this morning. 

Bird in a House

“Just another bird in a house dying to get out” The Squirrel

I have come to a stop. My anxiety and depression is grabbing hold and suffocating me. I am going through the motions of planning and teaching to my best ability but familiar demons are devouring me in this wasteland. Even when talking to loved ones on the phone I find it hard to communicate as if I am in another dimension of zombification. My brain is getting stuck in neurosis then spinning out of control. I feel like a windup toy bird banging my beak against a wall. I have been thinking about my Korean ex girlfriend since that was the last quasi stable phase of my life. I realize that I rely heavily on others to make me happy. I broke up with Soyoung because I wasn’t over Morgan and in doing so abandoned a wonderful woman who was willing to follow me to the U.S.A and build a life together. Now she is married to another American and starting the life she wanted.  As for Morgan she politely declined my plea for reconciliation last August 11. When I think of Soyoung I remember someone who loved me and went out of her way to take care of me in Korea. In fact it was Elin who introduced me to Buddhist Temples on weekend getaways to the Korean countryside (ironically she had converted to Christianity from Buddhism.) As for my first love, I never would have lost her if I wasn’t such a basket case. Now I feel unlovable and incapable of moving on in life, which is ironic since I moved as far away from home as possible. I am tired of warring with myself and suffering at the mercy of unwanted thoughts. People with chemical imbalances can relate to the powerlessness I feel and the anxiety that can choke you like a boa. There is no way out except through discipline and work, two things I despise the most. I will try not to bore you with my personal tragedies since you can flip on the news for that type of thing. Next time I check in I hope to be happier.  Since I know life is an illusion I should find more pleasure in the mirage. But to be honest the delusion is terrifying, as is being in charge of 120 sentient beings.  At times I wish I could find peace with god, smoking his opium with the masses. Julia Butterfly said life is a never ending process of letting go. But how do I get started?  

Wangmo and Zangmo

“This world it moves so fast let’s not get hung up in the past, lord we all going nowhere fast” Zeke

Seeking solace I went roaming and what a roam it was. I found a third Tsangma ruin in a secret pine grove below Zongdopelri. The twisted pines towered over 100 feet where the ruined stone castle sat on a carpet of ferns and purple flowers.  Wandering out of the forest I met Wangmo and Zangmo on the trail to Shakshang.  Zangmo and Wangmo are the alpha girls of a pack of third graders who I often run across on my constitutional. They led me all the way to Shakshang past my bonpo meadow to the outer rim of my territory. Ravens soared overhead and clouds hung above and below giving the landscape a heavenly feel. But before that there was this, another bizarre day in Bhutan. At assembly a girl had a seizure right in front of me. Several teachers including myself rushed to her aid. But then to my surprise she stumbled off with her classmate to “rest” It was heartbreaking to see her twitching in the mud and I instantly thought of my cousin who suffers from epilepsy. I also lost a ski buddy to the disease in 2007. Thankfully my cousin’s condition is stable but if I had three wishes my first would be to cure him from the uncertainty of his condition. Apparently even a seizure will not stop assembly and during the same gathering I saw one of our VP’s wonk a student on the head for talking. Of course in an informal survey 24/25 of my 7A students thought beating was a good thing. The classroom has been a wooly adventure of late. The perfect angels whose divine voices carry up to heaven during prayer become devilish inside the classroom. I have never taught teenagers before and obviously have a lot to learn. In many ways I feel more at ease with the wee ones. Back in the forest I meditated on clouds and the magic of the monsoon. Becky has found contentment at her placement and with the clouds. One might even say she has her head in the clouds! IS IT? She has been in overdrive and wholly and admirably devoted to her students. At times it feels I am merely hanging on. But oh those clouds endlessly moving and shifting. Sometimes we are in the clouds, sometimes above or below. One might even glimpse a star, the moon, or even the sun. Last night those clouds tore loose releasing pellets of rain flooding our campus. Meanwhile I had shadowy dreams on my firm cot. Faces from a former life drifted in and out of focus like the aforementioned steamy billows gobbling the peaks. I awoke from an anonymous dream at 5:45 to see a rider with a crown of gold bolting from Arrunachal into the valley. This of course was The Guru Rinpoche. I fell back into the dream to awake at 8:01 to a world steeped in mist. 

In class we study the effects of T.V on Bhutan, where now the kids watch WWE (world wrestling entertainment) and Korean movies. I can’t help but think of those innocent girls moving through the forest in miniature kiras and worry that T.V will somehow corrupt them as it did me. So here I am on a Friday night in Bhutan lonely for your company. What are you doing right now? Oh right, indulging my fantasies! Ah shucks the author blushes at your kind devotion. Tiger freaks unite! Who are you? Where are you? How are you? 

 Zangmo and Wangmo

“Salty Jane let us get together some old time, I’ll bring the mussels you surely bring the wine” Zeke

Since I revel in giving Bunky nicknames, I couldn’t resist in assigning the names Wangmo and Zangmo to us both. These names can be interchanged at any junction.  It’s invaluable to have a true blue friend and I hit the jackpot. You would think the way I carry on about her that I was deeply in love. Well you’d be correct. I have a bottomless affection for the one they call Becky or Miss. This love is born out of friendship and is authentic. Perhaps lust or passion can blind a body and it seems the purest of all loves is solid friendship. Becky would make a worthy lover to any man but I dare not tarnish the gold we possess. She is one of the very few people I can bare my twisted soul to although Morgan is still the keeper of the secret. Of course there are tidbits I confide to Becky that I would never think of telling a woman I am wooing or someone I have been intimate with, in the biblical sense. It helps that Bunks is ALMOST as weird as me. Since “The Split” it’s been increasingly difficult to get together. The last time we crossed paths was on an unseasonably cold gray day in Bartsham. I was moody on that July Sunday surprise, surprise. But hope springs eternal as we planned to meet in T-Gang to renew the bonds of our madness.  

I hitchhiked out of Tsenkharla and caught a ride with an engineer from Yangtse. We quickly fell into conservation about the U.S.A and “our” family values. He kept inquiring what would happen to my parents when they were old. Who would take care of them? What about the property? This comes up a lot when I interact with nationals. In Bhutan everyone gets married and pops out kids who are expected to take care of their parents when they get old. This is a cultural norm. This isn’t to say that there are no problems within the Bhutanese family structure but at the same times there are no nursing homes. My ride dropped me at Gom Kora where I spent an hour circumambulating spinning tiny brass prayer wheels while strolling the wide cobblestone path. Gom Kora is an exquisitely picturesque pagoda. This is one of the holiest spots in Bhutan and my own heart. Even an agnostic non Buddhist must admire this manmade testament to god. The grounds are covered in grasses, flowers, chortens, prayer wheels, and a roaming rooster. Next to the stunning golden and whitewashed pagoda are the tree of life and a giant boulder where The Guru Rinpoche meditated striking an accord with a serpent demon. My favorite river in the world rushes between the temple and a cliff buffered by a plot of maize and rice. The pagoda is adorned with golden guruda’s, brass bells, and painted tablet carvings of several Buddha’s.  A few monks and elderly devotes circumambulate in a sunny breeze. This is Tim’s bell! I walked back to Doksom and hailed a taxi into Trashigang. In Trashigang I bumped into Alan, a professor at Sharubse College in Kunglung where Ashleigh works. We shared a meal at the K.C hotel discussing a variety of topics from culture to the likelihood of intelligent life on other planets. The odds seem in favor that we are not alone considering the amount of planets with water that have been verified. Just do the math. Perhaps Jesus is roaming on the other side of the Milky Way right now. Before retiring Alan also made an off cuff remark about one of his students named Zeppa, no doubt named after you Jamie.
The next day Becky rode into town and we headed back to Gom Kora. It was a stellar day with an endless assortment of clouds. The last time me and Becky were at Gom Kora was a smoky afternoon during the festival exactly five months prior and we seemed no worse for the ware. Three months ago we began the summer on a misty crested mountain on the outskirts of Mongor Dzongkhag at Drametse. We all mark time differently and I measure IT by bunking with Bunks. For you newbie’s that doesn’t mean sharing a bed. ”Bunking” is Bhutanese slang for shucking responsibility or going AWOL. I pretty much dragged Becky out of her contented burrow to Trashigang by pleading endlessly on the phone, subsequently burning up the B- Mobile vouchers.  For Becky is my soundboard, always tweaking my weird frequencies to make a more audible tune. On this early September day we absorbed the magic of Gom Kora before moving towards Doksom. Upon leaving Becky remarked that she could “die in this place” a sentiment I had been forming but hadn’t muttered aloud. There is timelessness in “this place” and I was satisfied that despite my incessant blathering that she felt it too.

We reached the confluence of the Dagme Chu and Kulong Chu where our souls reunified at the bridge. The muddy waters of the Kulong Chu thundered like Niagara Falls bounding into the slightly calmer Dagme Chu. The rivers rejoined swiftly running for Manas, the Brahmaputra, and the Indian Ocean. We tried to recall the myth of the two birds that split in Tawang before rejoining in Doksom. Together we snared a lift back to T-Gang under the guidance of a shooting rainbow, two tour kids snuggled in gods fury pocket.  We joined Alan at dinner in the bakery garden where Becky and he reminisced about living in Alamosa and Vermont over fried rice, dal, and asparagus. I sat listening, thinking about my own account of meeting Raven at Rainbow across the valley from Alamosa in Tres Piedres. It all seemed many worlds away and a long time ago. Back in room #113 I watched a program about third world parasites until a boisterous T-storm knocked off the power rocking T-Gang illuminating the Dzong in deathly purple flashes. During a fitful sleep I dreamt of Becky and Martha traversing over a raging river in a tiny tram cart. I awoke with a start and hopped into a 6 AM taxi hoping to make morning assembly. But the roads were a mess strewn with mudslides and renegade rocks. After a stall at a roadblock near Chasm the 4 wheel drive vehicle finally passed through and rolled into Tsenkharla above an ocean of mist with the peaks of the inner Himalaya perturbing like the monoliths of Halong Bay.

Easy to Slip>

“All the love that you missed, all the people you can’t recall, do they really exist at all?”

I was enthusiastic in the classroom continuing to study the effects of T.V on culture as a class seven boy exclaimed, “Obama killed Osama!” Wonder if he heard that on the boob tube? As it happens it’s reading week at school. Getting Bhutanese kids hooked on reading is challenging. In both Korea and the U.S my students genuinely loved reading. But reading is not a big part of the educational culture in Bhutan. You must consider that these people were working the fields and walking in the mountains while much of the rest of the world was cultivating and digesting literature. So the starting point is far behind. Reading in my classes can be a problematic situation for several reasons. I enjoy teaching simple short stories and my students like reading aloud in class. But books are another matter. We have a scarcely supplied library with an esoteric selection. I am not able to accompany my students to the library as I am indisposed teaching other classes. They have a library period scheduled outside of English class. I need to be there to approve their choices of books. Some come back with comics and others thick novels. They have not been assessed for reading levels so the whole process is a crapshoot. Half of them return with Dzonka books at the instruction of their lopen. I am doing my best to sort them out and instill in them a desire to read, but when?  They have a rigorous routine as a boarder where they pray over two hours each day, and aren’t allowed to read during study periods since this is considered a leisure activity. The administration is sending mixed messages to the students. Ideally they should be reading 30 minutes of English a day exposing them to new words and scaffolding all we are doing in the classroom. They are not used to settling into a novel and I have to press them to keep quiet and read silently. When they finally do they saturate me with vocabulary questions, which is great although it exposes their limitations to comprehend advanced material. Alan mentioned that many college students are atrocious readers and remarked the librarian at Sharubse is illiterate, although I find that hard to believe. This is a huge challenge that I am addressing now as I near the end of my syllabus and can afford some extra time for reading, speaking, listening, and writing. These are the four sacred domains of ESL learning. I want for them to be passionate about books something I have rekindled in myself since arriving here. Overall this will improve the level of individual and critical thinking in a society that sometimes resembles the drone of a beehive. Admittedly a honeybee colony is one of the most remarkable creations of nature but there is another way. And there is nothing in Buddha’s Dharma that says one can’t think for themselves. It is the contrary; in fact the science of Buddhism stresses individual thought and empowerment.  We have a long way to go here and I wish I had a collection of age appropriate literature we could read together as a class. If anyone has 48 copies of “Charlotte’s Web” or “The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe” send them on please. They would love to share these stories as a group which would play into their cultural leanings. I mustn’t give up and must find a way to engage them in this lifelong pursuit. I just found out on Sundays the students are made to read aloud in front of the VP from both Dzonka and English selections. I ought to stick around on a Sunday and check it out although I’m not sure this constitutes good reading practice. However they do get a chance to hear other students reading aloud but I’d prefer a book club and one on one guided practice. I still get chicken skin remembering my Korean students eagerly browsing in the cavernous library of Poly School, and little Hamyungje devouring her book in a quiet corner of the library. I know I had something to do with her devotion to reading and imagine today a middle school aged girl devoted to books somewhere in Seoul.
One thing about Bhutan is there is unlimited potential to improve the student’s lives. Alan had a good analogy at teatime comparing traveling abroad to the sea. I would like to adapt that analogy for teaching. A teacher can swim in the water getting a brief glimpse of the educational culture or even skim the surface in a boat. Or can go a little deeper with a snorkel, and then there is scuba diving. Well perhaps it’s time for me to take the plunge and GO DEEP before I guzzle all my air out of the tank. Maybe I could switch to my reserved tank and sink, that is if I have the guts for another lap around the reef. On Mondays I take supper at the mess since they are now serving meat due to a stipend increase for student meals. They get meat or fish once a week. After dinner I had long talks with the VP and School Captain about improving student reading. It was interesting to hear both administrator and student views. But talk is cheap and action in action.   
So from my keyboard I hear the rain pelting my tin roof again as we are caught in a particularly rainy cycle in this edition of the monsoon. I reach for an Oreo and try to relax my mind and have a mobile tea with Sheal. Becky loaned me a Pema Chodron book called “When Things Fall Apart,” a seemingly negative title with a positive twist. After all everything MUST fall apart in this world. Our relationships will ALL end either by death or some other means within life’s vicissitudes. Blue Mountain’s walk into the sea and a snake sheds its skin or is murdered. Evident by the blood on my doorstep after Karlos executed a slithering marauder.  For so long I lamented the “loss” of love especially my first, the woman who stole my virginity, but also the loss of subsequent characters who wove into and out of my life’s blue brocade. The truth is love is mutable but never truly lost. Maybe there is some freedom in abandonment and relinquishment. I hope all the people I love in endless capacities are all happy in their homes tonight. And that they have found what they seek and remember me well.   


“...I need some communication to see if all of this is real now”

Every moment around Bhutan people in gho, kira, and Kabne offer up prayers to Lord Buddha and the plethora of deities that protect Bhutan. The religion is highly ritualized and complex and at times seems more superstitious and supernatural than substantial but that is part of the charm, ISN”T IT? Somewhere in the fabric are the bonpo deities springing from the elements of nature and the forgone goddess perhaps pinned down by Buddha’s fat toe. There is also a pipeline to the flamboyant Hindu gods that seem in stark contrast to the cast system they propagate. My old pal Ganesh strays and waves his blue trunk at me from Arrunachal, a remote bastion of Buddhist India. The Divine Madman merrily shakes his Wang at me AHEM I mean his flaming thunderbolt. He subdued many a snarling demoness by whacking them on their melons with his cock. Ah those were the days…And let’s not forget Guru Rinpoche riding on the back of his consort Yeshi in the form of a tigress. What are they doing in heaven today? Drinking ara, rolling dice, and trying to stay out of the scope of the bearded one and his evangelical angels. But by all accounts it’s too late. JC has been reported in the area offering eternal rewards and some mean wine.       

Easy to Slip (Reprise)

“Easy to slip now, yes and it’s easy to fall”

We all sink furthur into the mist each day and sometimes I forget my own name. Becky likes going by Miss where I beg for Mr. Tim. I dissolve into the backdrop of the void, an uneasy garrison, an open view, a rustic outpost, a Himalayan Odyssey, a river meandering through an increasingly narrow valley.  Just so much space above the green floor sucks my soul like a lady boy vampire. I want to cry, scream, frolic, or FUCK…So I teach in the daytime and FREAK at night wondering where the stars have gone? They must be congregated above Southern Oregon. I can see it all so well kicking back in  URSA’S silver dipper, that ol’ celestial bear. Down below, Mare bathes in a tub of organic soap, Reed rams his trucks, Paige poops, dad watches PTI, mom drinks white wine, and I can’t see Morgan since she is peering at me through the keyhole of the wardrobe.   

Tim Rinpoche

Shooting Rainbow


1 comment:

  1. I'm back in Dunsmuir after helping your Mom out for several weeks. PTI,Yankee Baseball (they only lead by one game now! over Baltimore, Packers vs. Niners Sunday-1st game of the season. We are all back in our regular routines now.

    Stay positive and well my son!