Thursday, October 4, 2012

Fear and Loathing in East Bhutan

“He who
makes a beast
himself gets
rid of the pain
being a man”
Dr. Johnson

Part 1: The Lord of Death, the Girl with the Knife, Cabbage Patch Kids, and “The Terror of Life”

Hey Now Kids,

Suddenly I miss my family unbearably especially my precious niece and nephew.  Meanwhile the sun has broken out of hibernation as if on cue to shine upon the land. Last week we had our annual Tsechu at Shakshang Goemba. Shakshang is located an hour and a half up a steep vertical trail passing Zongdopelri and my bonpo meadow. The temple is perched high on a slope above Tsenkharla with views in all directions. Hundreds of Bhutanese and one felincpa ascended the mountain to honor Guru Rinpoche and wash away sin. The festival features amazing masked dances, gambling, and vending. In attendance were students, teachers, and villagers from around Yangtse Dzongkhag. I had lunch with our VP and hung around with my kids. Before the picnic Karma from class seven remarked that Mr. Tim only eats Coca Cola! Everyone was dressed in their finest embroidered gho and kira that were busted out for the special occasion. Despite being a developing country the people appeared from the pages of a fairy tale in an assortment of colors, patterns, and fine silk. This was the setting of “Hansel and Gretel” or “Wangmo and Zangmo.” Karma Om looked smoking hot in her rainbow roll kira chewing on a wad of dolma staining her teeth red. Never has a chick made spitting seem so sexy. The highlight of the afternoon was the masked dance depicting the judgment of souls in the bardo. The Lord of Death wore a techno colored robe with an enormous fierce red mask that was held in place on either side by two minions. The soundtrack was snarling horns and crashing symbols to which the male dancers swirled around in an epic dervish dawning assorted growling animal masks. Their gold skirts mushrooming while a toddler took aim with his toy gun. I was transfixed by the footwork of the barefoot monks whose twirling rivaled the spinning Wookies of the Oakland Coliseum hallway. All this action and sensory delight took place under a magnificent three story banner of Guru Rinpoche. The carnal scene reminded me of Arthurs coronation as I anticipated being stripped naked, smeared in blood, and whisked off to a cave to fornicate with my sister. At the end of the ceremony there was a stampede towards the banner and awaiting lama for a blessing poured from a brass chalice. The frantic rush was comparable to the NYE charge into the Big Top for the Rock N’ Roll Circus. Aren’t all cults the same after all! At the end of the day the grounds were covered in plastic wrappers and beer bottles.

For the last week we have been in blackout mode in East Bhutan throwing us back into mid evil times. Trashigang remained lit with all surrounding villages in the dark. While scanning the horizon a huge golden swath of light exploded in the sky above Trashigang. It was a scene right out of the conclusion of Ghostbusters, a demonized vortex probably the work of “Dust Particle’s. I give Sarah mad props for enduring four months with no power and no road, living the old school dream in the highlands of Gasa. I did enjoy revisiting ancient Bhutan but had no “tiger” music, phone, or light. To compound this we have had minimal water of late and when it arrives it comes out muddy. On the plus side the full moon has flooded the misty valley with silver light and the stars have made a rare appearance in the wee hours. Far out in the valley a lone light from outer Tawang twinkled like a candle. The stars here are not arranged in a thick curtain like Selma Oregon but scattered in peculiar glowing orbs in a newly formed universe. They sag in the inky sky like ornaments on a baby’s celestial mobile. The scene is velvet vibrations and eerie music swimming in nitrous oxide. A few hours later a Raven crows in predawn interrupting my dream about a tiger.

The weekend brought a kuru tournament in honor of Tsenkharla’s establishment in 1978. Kuru is a traditional game where men in ghos throw huge darts at a target fifty yards away. There is a lot of hooting and hollering and of course dancing. The game went on for twelve hours and when the champion was declared I was at Zongdopelri taking tea with Rinchen Wangmo. During tea Rinchen began breastfeeding her baby exposing her fleshy mound to the author. I tried not to stare but wondered how long it’s been since I had a pull on a juicy knocker.

Meanwhile the Christian calendar ticks towards the Mayan age of Enlightenment but I can’t imagine October without Yankee Baseball. Every year excluding 08 where we didn’t qualify I have been glued to the T.V. set. My last vivid memory was of Matsui’s two dingers in Game Six to clinch against those nasty Phillies in 09. Embedded in those memories of thrilling victories and excruciating defeats are family ties. Analyzing every pitching change with dad, bantering with bra, and explaining the finer points of the game over baked chicken with Rabes. Now I realize it never mattered so much if we won it all, but the journey that counted most. Baseball is life as they say. It all began with that miracle 96’ team in Jeets rookie season with Joe and Andy’s stare. I was a fucking flunkey, teenager, and virgin for Christ’s sake and now...I hope the Yanks win the dog fight pennant race and my dad can enjoy the World Series in Dunsmuir and Morgan can amble into a downtown bar to read the ballplayers auras, while Tyler bemoans what might have been. Maybe I can hit an auspicious grand slam and catch the action in T-Gang, Just a taste of the gig. As Ty says “sports are cruel,” but missing them is even crueler. Bra must be pumped on the A’s and 9ers return to glory.  Sports are what bind the Grossman men together and nothing more than October baseball. 
Back in the forest I wandered the drainage canal for several hours towards Yangtse into verdant oak forests. There is a lot of agriculture carved into the sheer slopes around my village. But eventually the farms subside to undisturbed fauna. On the Western front tangled oaks with the occasional banana tree, pine, or crystallized six foot cannabis bush. On the East side, purple flowers cascade over walls of ferns and gaping vistas of the Dagme Chu as it winds from Arrunachal towards Doksom. The trails go on forever and unchartered areas are waiting to be discovered. On the west side I ran into a lovely young woman clutching a machete. She spoke little English and had obviously never attended school. I ascertained that she was 19 years old. She lived in a mud hut and will spend her life as a farm girl. She nervously fingered her blade as I prattled at her in English. Eventually I ambled on leaving her relieved and at ease in her element.
I puttered around the village on Saturday then accompanied Karlos and Sonam to Sonam’s village above Kinney. We took a taxi but had to remove huge boulders from the newly constructed dirt road that hugs a cliff. I wasn’t much assistance with my broken arm and stood lookout for rockslides. The village is etched into a vertical slope adjacent to the huge massif that demarcates Bhutan from India. This wilderness is threaded with waterfalls cascading through deciduous forests with tiny settlements interspersed. Golden stalks of maize crackled in the fall breeze as we sat in a traditional mud and earth home taking lunch. Sonam’s parents are a kind couple who speak no English at all. Resting on their altar is a glazed human bone. Outside I questioned a village student if she knew Karma Om and at that precise moment Karma burst from the maize field. I ran and gave her a hug and peck on the cheek causing her to scream and throw me to the ground. With red streaked hair, blue jeans, and rock hard body she looked primed for a Tokyo disco rather than a rural cabbage patch. Upon leaving I carried a cabbage the size of a basketball the two hours home. I felt like a tribal headhunter from the Congo with my trophy. On the way my Bhutan belly avenged and I took a crap in the forest. Ah country living! 

So finally the power switched back on and I update “tiger” for my loyal fans. (Editor’s Note: The author has delusions of grandeur and should rarely be taken seriously.) Inside the classroom can be an academic calamity as I still search for my teacher’s voice. Teaching this curriculum to these students proves challenging and foreboding but this is merely a Bullshit excuse. As educators we must find a way to reach each student, it’s our god damn job. The deadline for a contract renewal rushes forth and I contemplate another revolution on this terrifying merry-go-round. Can I survive another year in Bhutan literally and emotionally? What would Jesus do? Probably take the first camel out of Phuentsholing to Nazareth cursing these heretics. What to do La?  I have the DESIRE to flee to the nearest hotdog stand. To partake in a four day rock n roll orgy concluding with a long soak in my mother’s hot tub. Or to order a pepperoni pizza from West Brooklyn and watch Seinfeld curled up on the couch. But my life is wide OPEN here. I am a part of a world on the fringe, a tightrope walker on a razorblade teetering over a lava pit. Why just tonight on the way home I fell into a muddy hole, landing softly in god’s furry pocket. Is this Tim’s bell or Tim’s hell, only time will tell! Stay tuned for the author’s antics and more choice mental ramblings right here on “tiger in a trance” sponsored by Coca Cola, the real thing!

(Victim or the Crime Interlude)
“Like him I’m tired of trying to heal, this tomcat heart with which I’m blessed”

If I could put one Bobby song in a time capsule to blast off to outer space for extraterrestrial discovery it would be “Victim.” The song suits Bobby’s style just exactly perfectly and showcases his stunning ability on guitar. This badass ballad is best performed acoustically with Rob Wasserman on the stand up bass, for a mixture that is the essence of my soul. An absolute balance of dark and light.

Part Two: The Wild Child Diaries, Lost in Space, an Earthquake at the Bardo Lounge, and another Wacky 

“We are all the same, all the same, Longing to find our way back; Back to the one, back to the only one” Rumi

I have dreams where I am being chased by Nazis and I don’t want to fight. Mare once advised me to turn around and face my attackers. To look them dead in the eye and ask what they want. In dreamtime as in waking life I am afraid to do this. But there comes a time when everyone must apprehend their demons. Then one can walk hand in hand with their neurosis in the form of trolls, gremlins, or vindictive gnomes. There is nothing to fear but fear itself. When I walk in the village at night the natives inquire “am I afraid of ghosts?” I reply “no, only myself!” But take away the narcissistic ego and we are all made of light. So the challenge is to detach from one’s self and serve mankind. Of course the tiger is an animal, and animals are ultimately concerned with their own survival. That’s the rub isn’t it? Look out for love in its pure unattached form. This force is where IT’s at. The breeze rustling through the treetops or a baby latched on its mother’s breast. Even a mean guitar solo. Working with kids gives unique insight into this phenomenon. Teaching teens is interesting as they traverse the adolescent bridge between childhood and adulthood, where ultimately innocence is lost. But can we recapture this state of being as grownups? Sometimes life is just too difficult and it’s easier to revert to being twelve. Fortunately we can get away with this in Bhutan.  In the midnight hour hunched over my keyboard, nursing a colortini, I wonder how all living things are connected. I can hear Zeke at his keyboard pounding out a soulful rendition of “My Home is on the Border” on a sultry New Orleans afternoon. But what does that have to do with lobsters and the bioluminescent creatures of the deep? We all swap matter like water in its holy cycle and eventually burn on the pyre and are recycled back into the sea, a reincarnation into the wash and maybe the bardo. That’s a romantic notion but really it’s all the same as nothing is ever destroyed or for that matter created. Maybe I’ll start a new religion known as Natural Atheism worshiping the reunification of flesh and bone into elements. If the author/ reporter can offer his two rupees, it’s to cherish each day and party on!     

I used to think of life and death in a linear sense. Like a timeline for a sixth grade Social Studied Class. But now it seems more circular like a wheel. Whether you believe in god or are an atheist, most agree we go back to the source. What one believes to be the source depends on the individual’s ideology. If one prescribes to Christian beliefs of heaven they know it must be getting overpopulated up there. Rent for the good clouds must be astronomical. Who fills the celestial ghettos, the poor? Or maybe the rich? After all god favors the meek. But even if you get prime real estate do you really want to linger on the scene forever telling the same old stories, stuck in your prime. Winning the jackpot every time and always getting laid. I like the turnstile mentality of the Buddhist faithful who mix it up in the “Bardo Lounge” before beaming out to a new body. This club would be a happening spot. Everyone on the dance floor would at one time have been your mother, sister, brother, father, lover, and enemy. How kinky! Spend enough time around people and you wonder, “how unique am I?” So much strife inbred into our species of thinking apes. As for our resolution, samsara seems like the movie Groundhogs Day with you starring as the Bill Murray Character. And fluffy cloud heaven seems like being banished to Disneyland for eternity. Mulch doesn’t seem to bad an option for the author.

 Back on the corner of Tawang and Tibet the weather is beginning to chill and clouds enshroud the mountains creating a silver haze in the valley. The campus is full of roses, dahlia, and other late bloomers. But the maize has fallen or turned gold and the valley floor is a bumpy olive carpet. Soon the landscape will return to barren brown. The student body is suffering from cough and cold and other than tummy aches I’m well. School is gearing up towards final exams and completing syllabuses.  As a novice teacher I have learned a lot about my strengths and weaknesses. I am proud of the work I’ve done but have many areas to improve on. Teaching large ESL classes can be a tricky business and hopefully this placement is making me a more dynamic teacher. Meanwhile I am excited for mom and Tyler to visit in December. We will spend a week in West Bhutan and a week in Thailand. But the best part will be the quality time together. I am fortunate to see them on Christmas and my birthday. But before then I have a ton to accomplish at Tsenkharla. September was a difficult month for the BCF family. Martha was well loved in Canada and from friends around the world. Her loss was a tragedy for so many people who depended on her spirit.  As anyone advances through life they inevitably confront the pain of losing loved ones to death. As I mentioned so long ago I can’t comprehend living on earth without my parents. How do people recover and carry on from such profound wounds. Even non Buddhist must recognize the impermanence of existence. We wonder what we can do with the time we have left.  

At midnight I was awoken by a rolling earthquake that felt like my bed was on the tea cup conveyer at Disneyland. It also woke up two ravens that cawed from a nearby nest and set the dogs to baying.  Teachers have been inquiring if I will stay another year followed immediately by “Can I have your heater when you go?” I was getting this question the first week in Tsenkharla. When people come over they seem more interested in my stuff then my story. I suppose this is understandable but annoying. I went to buy some coke and the shopkeeper was absent. I grabbed the cokes off the shelf and recorded my purchase in the ledger. She left a drawer full of money unattended as I waited five minutes before splitting. The weather today is partly cloudy and warm. The swollen river looks spectacular meandering around the bend from Tawang.  My students resemble penguins in their uniformed national dress and black shoes. Above a massive flock of Ravens swirl in the sky ever higher until they are black specs against a silver screen. One laggard sits on the top of a cypress tree. A quintessential Bhutanese scene with the national bird perched on the national tree. Paradise!
After eight months in East Bhutan I have come to terms with some basic truths. I am an outsider but maybe that’s a good thing to be. Hide and watch. My needy nature cries out for acceptance and external validation. But you won’t get that here. Here you must love yourself and serve the needs of your students. You are on your own.   

Once in awhile a teacher has a smooth day in the classroom where everything goes right. Today my students were both studious and enthusiastic. Even Leiki a hyperactive and hilarious class 7 girl stayed on task. In class 8 we are making comic strips for “In the Jaws of an Alligator” which they had a blast doing. It’s always rewarding when you see the learning process in action. Even the sun is shining stretching its loving rays over the Eastern Himalayas. It would take many lifetimes to explore the range that stretches from Arrunachal to Afghanistan. But I have found a special spot in Trashiyangtse, nestled between Tawang and Tibet.       
The Dragon Brocade

A bronze moon drifts between silver clouds
the jewel in the Jack of Diamonds rustic crown
his cobalt eye spies men dancing
and women weaving together
the threads of the dragon brocade
as crickets chirp a serene lullaby
for Sangay Dema and Cheki Choden
snuggled in their wooded beds
below a splattering of spiral light
luminous balls deposited at the edge
of an expanded universe
cast on the elastic border
of earth and heaven

*Sangay Dema and Cheki Choden are two adorable village girls.

1 comment:

  1. Mr.Tim:We are in playoff mode. Both the Yankees and A's won their divisions on the final day of the season. (Against Balt. and Texas)Me watching on TV in Dunsmuir, Tyler and Reed in Oakland at the stadium! Exciting games.

    A's open in Detroit on Saturday, Yankees vs. Balt/Texas winner of 1 game playoff tomorrow.
    If A's and Yankees advance, I will be in Oakland for at least one game with Tyler!
    Giants (who cares!)also in the playoffs.

    I'll call you Sunday to discuss!

    Another informative and excellent post!!