Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Fear and Loathing in East Bhutan

 Part 14: A Demonic Encounter on Paradise Mountain 

“Love is mainly just memories and everyone’s got them a few”

I paused deep in the forest hearing a manic rustling in the undercover. A large black creature resembling a dragon flew up the slope at sonic speed. I was frozen in terror as a phantom guruda’s talons simultaneously ruffled my hair. I am not convinced that either of these creatures existed but was rather a demonic force. I got the same life draining feeling that night in Autsho at the chorten with Becky. I was perturbed on the way home walking among burnt ferns and lush evergreens. So it goes in East Bhutan as the boundary between fantasy and reality blurs into a dream cartoon. I lingered after dark under a twinkling canopy of stars. Now that Sonam opened a shop on the strip I enjoy hanging out downtown. Her neighbor is a feisty shopkeeper who looks Brokpa. She yells at me while hacking dolma nuts with a large knife. Also some of my favorite kids live on the drag, including Sangay Dema and Tswering Choden who often visit my hut for candy and to look at my things. Sangay Dema is in class 4 and resembles an Eskimo girl. (Asians did cross the land bridge to Alaska several thousand years ago) As I meditated in the attic at Zongtopelri (alternative spelling meaning Guru Rinpoche’s Mountain of Paradise) I looked down on an ancient land and not even a raven perched on the gaudy cell tower could break the spell. I popped cheese balls with a Coca Cola chaser and admired the view. I have printed my exams and administer the first of many tests tomorrow. I will spend most of my time sequestered in the staff room marking papers for the next two weeks, then slowly entering grades into the database. I am already saying goodbye to some of my students who I will only see briefly while administering exams. Last night some boys came over to watch a movie and ate me out of house and home. The students have a regimented diet and often sneak off campus to buy junk food at the shops. It’s entertaining to watch them slip under the barbed wire fence like a prison break. When I go out roaming girls along the fence line ask where I am going and for what purpose. When I say roaming their responses are often cheeky like “searching for a wife sir?” I have the bachelor blues in Shangri La. At this stage in my life I have nothing monetary to offer a partner. I often fantasized about having kids and a family but like in Chuck Berry’s “Havana Moon” that ship has sailed. The choices we make have lasting impacts. I forwent a marriage and family when I let my Korean GF go. And now after two broken relationships at 35 I am alone. Heck I am still healing from parting with my first lover six years ago. (The author digresses from topics that the reader may be interested in) This sad song is a broken Jesse Winchester record and you’ve heard it all before. Nancy made an interesting comment about having to fully assimilate thirty years ago into Bhutanese culture. Back then foreign teachers had no link to the outside world. In many ways I still cling to the past like a baby to a teddy bear. This allows ghosts to slink through the portal rattling their chains in the ruined chambers of my heart. I am sure embracing the present is part of why I ended up here and maybe another year out in no-man’s-land will wash away the pain. DESIRE remains a problem for your derelict author and I am about as centered as Raoul Duke on a drug bender in Vegas. But my distracted and chaotic core might be my salvation. Perhaps I am the Guru’s deranged son inheriting the copper mountain of paradise. I can always fall back on the important work to be done.

Part 15: The Mad Dog, Obtuse Center Marking, and “A beautiful place where I can hide a long time”   

“My life in a mad dog’s eye”     

I spent the afternoon locked in a room and locked in debate over center marking. I corrected the same essay question 120 times for class 9. I got in a semi friendly but fierce debate over the merits of center marking. The teacher I clashed with felt that the Marxist Marking saved time and energy because class 9-10 has so many students. He also defended using index numbers instead of names as a way of preventing favoritism by teachers. I countered that a teacher should mark their own exams to better assess and address the needs of their students. I also remarked that even if teachers have pets, it is our duty to be impartial while grading. Most of the staff eavesdropped on the conversation. In the end they conceded that I could mark my own exams as well as assisting them in center marking. My workload will increase but it’s worth it. The scene in the staff room is chaotic, teachers are gossiping while hurriedly mass marking the students work. It makes a mockery of the effort the kids put into studying. I am told to go faster so everyone can go home before dinner. Yeshi a cute but unaffectionate female teacher tells me I often act like a mad dog. I tell everyone I want to be called Mad Dog or MD from now on. As soon as I step outside my frustration melts like clarified butter in a cold mountain sunset. I goof around with some kids then return home. It’s clear by now what I like and don’t like about this place. The adults are nice but I don’t feel inclined to build substantial relationships. I wonder how the kids are so cool and the adults not so much. I am grateful for Karlos and Sonam and their neighborly friendship. But overall my adult relationships are superficial and ridiculous. Becky actually implored me to stop trying so hard with the local chickens. Even a Bhutanese gal can smell the stench of desperation permeating my aura. Maybe some Ara would sooth my aura? The author is being judgmental and attributes his assimilation difficulties to a cultural gap and not deficiencies of the native’s character. I often talk with Becky about the sacrifices a teacher makes to come here. Some forgo jobs and relationships but everyone relinquishes something. Obviously security and creature comforts are forfeited, for me its family, live music, and cheeseburgers to name a few. And of course late night soaks in my mom’s hot tub. Even though culturally taboo, I enjoyed living with my mom and dad during my adult life. They might have another opinion altogether! The point is I am alone now and miss the company of my family. I haven’t forgotten the tumultuous relationships but recognize the gold. I am nothing without my family and wouldn’t have made it here without them or my generous donors. But in Bhutan I am left with the task of building relationships to fill in the gaps. Mostly I focus on my students and the indelible impact I have on them. I also enjoy gathering with my BCF colleagues on occasion and have found a best friend in Becky. It all reeks of impermanence, a complete turnover in my world. Nothing in front of me has been there before. All I cherished has faded into the ether like a red balloon ascending into a blue sky. SACRIFICE! I have let go of things that made me happy, trading one blessed existence for another. In this nebulous matrix all that came before is good. Love can be just as potent if lost in the steamy jungles of Northern Thailand.  

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