Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Fear And Loathing In East Bhutan

“Trouble ahead trouble behind and you know that notion just crossed my mind” K.C Jones

Part 3: K.C Moaning in a fool’s paradise before Chasing the Dragon

On my last trip to Trashigang I washed photos for my kids and spent the night in room 113. I felt like a ragged king seated at my throne by the window. The view from the room lords over the gingerbread Dzong, the wooded valley, and sweeping mountains. The vegetation is a mix of pine, banana, and eucalyptus and colorful chalet style buildings hug the cliff. Like every Bhutanese place of significance an ornate painted gate straddles the road at the entrance of town. The hot spot is the bakery adjacent to the greasy prayer wheel featuring an enclosed bamboo alfresco dining area with tropical flowers. One can get a decent meal before retiring to their room to watch sitcoms until their eyes pop out. As far as evening entertainment I choose to banter with Phuntsho at her shop in front of the locals who give me curious looks. Nowadays one might glimpse Norwegian tourists of advanced age snapping photos from minivan windows. The K.C Hotel is run by a gaggle of comely young ladies who give a suitable rate of 600 NU a night and lock the front door at 8. The hotel provides another link to the “Tour” lifestyle of yesteryear. I don’t leave my room in the same disarray as Raoul Duke and Dr. Gonzo in Vegas but the girls will find sullied towels, coke bottles, and cookie wrappers strewn about with the key thrown on the nightstand. Perhaps there is a reason the corner room is reserved for me. The second I step through the lobby the head girl sheepishly fumbles for the key and like most Bhutanese woman my boisterous personality frightens her. On the night in question your Wild Child roams the curvy street in search of pork singing the slow version of “Odessa” just like Bobby would’ve done in 01’ when he played it with “The Rocket,” a honky tonk steel guitar. We were all more innocent back then before the bloom wilted off the thorny vine. But the ruined heart is an empty paradise where a bachelor can explore the dark root of his beastly nature. The mind becomes his psychedelic brothel where no thought is deemed unseemly or bizarre and only the prickly stars and chiseled moon remain to laugh at raunchy innuendos. Now he is free to lasso that horny and elusive “raw” moment and ride IT bareback. T-Gang is also the place to pick up odds and ends like wash cloths, dish towels, corn flakes, Coke, and Oreos. The 42Km return voyage takes an hour and a half crossing the river checkpoint at Chasm Bridge, then winding through a rough and tumble valley past Gom Kora and the sealed mine to the outpost of Doksom. This forlorn village is a ramshackle collection of half abandoned shops with stones weighting down tin roofs and is situated at the confluence of two mighty rivers. From there a traveler traverses multiple switchbacks climbing through broken scattered pines and brittle grasses up a barren ridge to Tsenkharla. The route follows the scaly crumbling tail of the dragon where it lashes into the hinder land of the subcontinent. The road is immersed in rivulets and blocked by fallen boulders and only tattered prayer flags remind a hitchhiker of a cantankerous god.         

(The Jupiter and the 119 Interlude)

“tell me have you heard the story of the Jupiter”

Last Halloween at Hang Town the rail rats and hobos dawned masks of the characters on stage. Mine was naturally the face of the Squirrel as he rocked the Jupiter to start the second set. The Squirrel banged a hole in his acoustic while Timmy scratched the course of the American on his fiddle. In the morning after meditating under a gnarled oak Tim remarked he envied me for going to Bhutan! And that night under a slivered moon the boys picked for zombies, pixies, and a nasty ballerina in a frilly tutu. When it was over I slumped through the dark arc of the Afterlife which was adorned with skulls and wagon wheels, just another portal between worlds. If you happen to go this year blow the whistle of the Jupiter for me.      

Part 4: I can’t come down licking the techno colored sugar cube, Face to Face with the Guru on the Wackiest Wednesday

“A peaceful place, or so it looks from space, a closer look reveals the human race”

Bhutan is far different from California although the two share the ancient fern. But I sailed here on another spore altogether. The local brand of Buddhism is palpable and permeates the sweet mountain air. A religious scholar could have a blissful time deconstructing and reconstructing the rich structure piled onto a muddy foundation of myth. As for me I try to capture a feeling but my cherry was popped by Jesus long ago. Himalayan Buddhism is a tornado of color and sound that would unhinge Mr. Tambourine Man. Instead of swirling ships we have flying tigers and hungry deities with an appetite for sex, blood sacrifice, and alcohol. No wonder a Tsechu brings reverence along with fresh growlers in the woods. Once you get on the merry-go-round you can’t get off until the music stops. Just hope you don’t get a wobbly horse for the rise and fall. If you believe in reincarnation you can pace yourself with karma but if you are a hedonistic atheist you must suck from the tits of the dragon drinking blood. That means serving the party of life before you get too zonked and break the hourglass. If you can’t follow the plot don’t bother the author will reset the cube. It must have been knocked off kilter when that white goat charged me in a bowl of stars.      
Your procrastinating author slowly makes his exams and prepares for the busyness and obligations of his career. There is the cool side of interacting with kids all day. But then there is the rigorous aspect of actually teaching them things. In Bhutan teaching is a dream but exams are a nightmare. The exams must follow a formulaic pattern and adhere to government standards. This will be ensured by the administration who will edit the exam questions before they reach the student.  The rub is making a fair exam while satisfying the requirements of the gho’s. While playing cards with Sangay Dema (class 4) I thought how much I missed teaching the younglings. It might be nice to teach different age groups next year but of course that is not entirely up to me. Teaching each age level has its boons and challenges. My very first teaching encounter was with preschool students in South Korea. They tested me to the limit but I have yet to connect with students in that way since. Every stage of education is equally important to a child’s development. It’s a heady gig but worthwhile and soul fulfilling. The author realizes that he can grow and assert himself more as a teacher. I imagine all teachers are self critical in this way. I realize that this is not merely a job or for that matter a career. Rather a way of life or calling. I wasn’t called to this profession but am learning to embrace the path. Actually the students pull me along and motivate me to try my best when I am tired or lazy. I need to put more effort into my students which means extending the workday and sacrificing things. Sacrificing is “like that only” you give and you get. My family and donors gave so much to get me here. Now it’s my turn to sacrifice for the kids.  Everything is a trade off and you can’t have it all. Overall it’s been a successful year and I am proud of the work I’ve done so far. I think I’ll reward myself with a cold coke.

The final day of Zongdopelri Tsechu was an auspicious one. I spent the morning preparing exams before ascending the mountain. The place was packed and trash was everywhere. I spent the afternoon talking with Butterfly and students and circumambulating the small temple. The masked dancing was especially poignant on this Wacky Wednesday. The main Cham featured a procession of students in a fine assortment of gho and kira escorting a masked Guru Rinpoche under a rainbow tasseled parasol. The mask was a golden cast of the Guru’s serenely smiling face with downcast eyes and curly cue mustache. In the center of the circle the masked dancers enacted the century’s old saga of the Guru adorned in breathtaking regalia. While the dancers twirled the entire community formed a great line to receive a blessing from the lama who sat under the glimmering mask of the beloved Second Buddha. The lama touched a sacred object to my forehead giving soothing warmth to my brow. As the sun sank behind the ridge and light crowned the mountain the dancers peeled off and disappeared into heaven. I was deep in rapture watching the amazing footwork and techno colored robe of the last dancer.  Dancing is my instrument and primary means of expression transcending everything that I am. I was hypnotized, my soul connected to the movements and rhythm of the ancient ceremony.  Although I often feel displaced here there are moments of oneness like watching the final dancer disappear behind the gloamings curtain. Something about it reminded me of the beauty of life and certainty of death.                

Cubed (Zongdopelri Tsechu 2012)

We are made of light*
only particles chipped off
the techno colored
Guru’s Cube
reincarnated endlessly
wearing our enemies mask
tearing each other apart,
making love
in samaras’ icy fire
all told in finite dance
kicking dust
upon golden earthy crown

*Line from the Jonah Bornstein poem, “We are made of light”

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