Part 1: Lost in paradise
“…paradise I’m living for each and every day…” Jorma
Each day I find myself in the practice of the wild, roaming the trails that lead away from my hut. The broader landscape can be defined by three temples, Zongtopelri, Shakshang, and Darchen. Darchen is the oldest and I have only reached it once with my class 8A. It sits on a mountaintop at the base of high pasture land that rolls out towards Yangtse and Arrunachal Pradesh. My only memory of this place was my students running free like characters from the Sound of Music in the illustrious green of July on the massive pastures. Shakshang is about two hours below Darchen and is quite old perched on a second peak with views in all directions. I took a student with me to talk to the lama about the horrible trash problem at this remote temple. Today I discovered a fourth temple at a village below Darchen where I serendipitously encountered some class seven boys. They are “farm kids” and let me in their tiny bare board temple, housing dozens of holy texts wrapped in cloth and sandwiched between wooden blocks. What secrets are contained in Sanskrit obscured from my limited western mind? This tiny settlement is where the new road ceases. They are planning a new temple to replace the old one and I felt honored to be perhaps the only westerner to step inside this site. The kids prattled on about monkeys and leopards while an elder served me tea. The temple was full of holes that were clogged by cow dung. The sun sank low and I descended to Zongtopelri the newest temple located only twenty minutes above campus. In between these sites are more minor temples, ruins, and wilderness broken occasionally by fields and farms. Most of the locals I meet on the path are out foraging or harvesting from the “jungle.” One beautiful woman I met on the canal (speaking no English) merely breaks up rocks all day with a tiny hammer. In rural Bhutan everyone seems to know their place. Society consists of family and neighbors which make folks accountable to one another. Where do I fit in? The huts and farmhouses seem built in to the landscape or at least in some unified space. On the eastern or dry side the river snakes through an uninhabited wasteland. Up high is the domain of ravens and wind, Blue Mountains Walking shoulders hunched to the sky and toes dipped into the glossy river. Below Kinney a giant phallic shaft presses its head into the tight crease of the river and ejaculates in cream rapids. On a chorten a stone engraving depicts deities making love in the lotus position. Yin and yang is the coming together of male and female around the natural universe. Hard wood enters the mossy cave, birth, death, growth, and decay. Nothing is immune to the sprouting mushroom not even the mighty ego of man.
Mine is a small corner of the Himalayas which stretches for thousands of miles connecting various cultures, countries, and religions. On the other end of the chain Afghans and Americans blow each other up. (What business does the U.S.A have in the Himalayas anyhow?) My part of the range flows down from Tibet and into the hinterland of Northeast India eventually crumbling into the Burmese hills, an odd locality for me to find my heart home. The world is a vast place and endlessly diverse. Being a creature of habit (or a habitual creature according to Phuntsho) it was hard to step out of my comfort zone when I sailed off to Korea five years ago. I was wounded in love and running away but ultimately happened upon a new world. That new world was the city of Seoul and its neon jungle and vast subway system, a pulsating vibrating Asian metropolis. I briefly found companionship with a lovely Korean woman who I met through the internet. The lesson here is that anything is possible and now I bounce deep into the Blue Mountains finding love again. This time my connection is with Sister Earth as my radius expands beyond identity. But wherever I go I must contend with myself and my baggage accumulated from too many laps in samsara. ANXIETY is my teacher but I don’t want to learn the lesson. You ain’t gonna learn what you don’t want to know, right? While I am slipping away into the dragon’s gullet my clan gathers at “home.” Tyler tells me he accessed Bobby’s lair (TRI Studios) for an intimate performance. Wow my bro and hero sharing the same space! That ten thousand course meal seems delightful compared to steamed rice. I am ONLY 1 + 9,999 and I hope the vacancy outside my celestial hut absorbs all the pain of this life and transmutes IT into peace. MAY PEACE PREVAIL! I know my head will always be a runway for demons but at least I can be the air traffic controller. For now I must sweep DESIRE under the rug especially the NEED for a mate. In the stillness inside Zongtopelri a voice told me to stop seeking and that I would be found. But as I veer off the trodden path I wonder WHAT will find me? Perhaps solitude is my price and as I mentioned earlier I owe the universe (friends, family, and government) tons of currency. Holding on tightly has made me sick and I can’t move on until I let go of the past. I’ve heard it said that love is the greatest possession we can have, but maybe we are ONLY possessed by LOVE. And if that’s the case love can mutate and oscillate but not dissipate. (Love is like water) Perhaps I could love myself and be a better teacher since I have been notoriously greedy for my share while not sharing with others. This is my LOT in life standing naked on a ridge straddling the void.
(Sympathy For The Devil Interlude)
While sitting on a rock between Zongtopelri and Shakshang Lucifer rode up the trail on a ruby pitchfork. His body resembled a small dragon but his face resembled a bearded human with wavy black hair. He had an onerous charm and was draped in a crimson robe. He hovered next to me soaking in my aura for awhile before vaporizing into charcoal mist. From our intimate encounter HE struck me as confident in his clout with the HUMAN RACE as a subversive deity who always evades destruction by working closely with MAN. It’s only natural that MAN would identify with a fallen angel rather than enlightened BEINGS. I remained on the rock watching a RAVEN frozen in the jet stream for ten minutes before it tumbled left gliding towards India.
Part 2: Oddball Endings AKA It’s Up To You OR everything I needed to know I learned in Bhutan
“Love is a service done” Kimock
I love Bhutan but things do frustrate me as you already know. For one thing my salary is always more than a month late. The exam process is also irritating since the students are not allowed to use their names only index numbers and both the making and marking must follow a specific format. But if the author adjusted his attitude these things might not matter so much. Last night I felt so exhausted, and exasperated I turned in at 7. I awoke at 7 the next morning to magnificent golden light coating every molecule. So I got up and got to work cleaning and marking. The best advice I can give myself and new teachers here is to be proactive when the system gets you down. It’s hard to believe I’m so resistant to things after a whole year which is one reason I need another to gain perspective. We had a whole hour of water today so I frantically scrubbed my stove, did a wash, and prepared lunch and SPECIAL TEA. Eating regular meals always helps my head instead of Kit Kat’s, Coke, and Cheese balls. You must stay friends with yourself and keep an internal ally when the going gets Bhutanese. Luckily the landscape doesn’t give a damn about my ups and downs and always IS. I had a good day letting my negative thoughts float away like a red balloon rising to the sky. Sensing my frustration Meena (from BCF) reminded me to be courteous and patient and I reminded myself to smile throughout any difficult tasks.
I enjoyed reading Reidi’s article for her hometown newspaper as she is an exceptional writer. You can find the piece on the BCF blog page. I echo many of her sentiments about the travails and triumphs of teaching in Bhutan and believe we had similar boarding schools and experiences. I would have liked to get to know Reidi better but in Bhutan we are all spread out so far. She is a remarkable woman who strived to find success for her students in the classroom each day. Kudos Reidi for a job well done and I wish you Tashi Delek in your next adventure! Speaking on behalf of my colleagues we all enjoyed personal and professional growth this year, and for some of us it was our first year in the classroom and/or traveling abroad. Those 2013 teachers who might follow Tiger through the neurotic jungles of my mind may think Bhutan is a harsh place. I am melodramatic and outrageous in my complaining and each journey into Bhutan will be different. I hope all go in with fresh eyes and take this blog with a grain of salt. On the other hand I hope my rants have been informative in some way. The truth is I am thin skinned for such endeavors but have learned something of myself throughout this academic year. If any 2012 teachers are reading this THANK YOU for all your help and inspiration…And Vicky sorry for spilling the beans early about Africa J
Back at Zongtopelri the miracles of the elements unfold in a configuration we call life. Rinchen Wangmo grinds chilies into powder while kids play at her bare feet. Pine needles fall to the ground as a raven shows off its aeronautical prowess. I sit on a rock with the blues missing things I don’t really need. But the panoramic view provides solace and for a moment I forget who I am, eyes cast down to a carpet of russet needles bathed in bullion light. One moment free from thought sparks an expansion of consciousness same as death. WHY BE AFRAID OF SOMETHING BILLIONS OF LIFEFORMS HAVE EXPEREINCED BEFORE? I crack my billionth Coke in paradise and take a swig of the real thing. I am like an advertisement for the stuff and even Becky and Vicky have consumed more of it around me. Upon descending little babes who can barely speak yell Mr. Tim before cackling and retreating. I poach a free meal of pork at the mess and recall Becky’s tale of a Brokpa dragging half a cow carcass up a muddy trail. NOONE EVER ADMITS SLAUGHTERING THE BEAST SINCE THAT WOULD BE NON BUDDHIST! Darkness finds us early as the winter solstice creeps nearer and night can be lonely and cold. THE HUMAN CONDITION IS LONELY ISN”T IT? Yes it is but that’s okay too as I am left to sort through my bag of karma. For instance what is the penalty for destroying one love and abandoning another? And what is the toll of fear, anger, jealousy, and hate? AIN”T NO TIME TO HATE BARELY TIME TO WAIT. Negativity spins its own psychic wheels with their own propulsion and momentum. When we spin the prayer wheels we reverse course taking a moment for reverence. WHAT ARE YOU THANKFUL FOR? I am thankful for all of YOU reading this nonsense and for being placed at Tsenkharla.
Ten Things I’ve learned in Bhutan (if not put into practice)
1. Be patient with culture, students, and self
2. When you fail don’t get discouraged and try again
3. The kids (although shy at first) are the best in the world
4. Be polite and graceful with the locals/ Don’t destroy the culture
5 Laugh at yourself whenever you can
6. Don’t rock the boat, work from within
7. Always inform your principal La where you’re going
8. Love Emadatsi
9. Make a good friend at orientation, your gonna need them
10. Enjoy the ride!
Part 3: RATBOY REVIEW
“Storyteller makes no choice, soon you will not hear his voice, his job is to shed light, not to master” Terrapin
Time might be on my side, but it’s running out on this academic year. I am sifting through computer issues and slowly knocking out the drab task of entering grades. I still have hours of paperwork and entering data before the task is done. Exams in Bhutan are tedious and take up half your calendar. I am also trying to clean up and pack for vacation and still have not set a date for departure and am facing some logistical complications. You will just have to take my word that I finished my first year teaching and am successfully on my way towards Paro to meet my family. Clouds have recaptured the mountains and the forest continues to shed its leaves. The trails are unusually quiet with little harvesting or foot traffic. Even the birds have migrated somewhere except the presence of a vocal raven on a pine bow. Class Ten students remain engaged in two weeks of examinations that will dictate the rest of their life. A few will go on to free college while most will return to villages or enter the workforce. The ones who don’t pass the standard can attend private school for a hefty price that most families can’t afford. Boys study outside my window on the sill at 4 A.M with blankets wrapped around them and three Indian teachers from Mongar, here for invigilation, are sleeping in my home classroom. The flowers have died except a few hearty roses and geraniums and the nights are hazy with no stars in sight for the foreseeable future. It’s time to move on. There is not much going on in the village but I enjoy sitting around Sonam’s shop eating rice with Dooktoe and the village children. In these easy silences I feel a part of something and not such an outsider.
Back in Marin Bobby graciously recorded a video message to me from TRI. My bro’s phone cut out after five seconds but I did get, “Oh. Hey. hi Tim, I hope you’re enjoying Bhutan…He was very animated with a cool wave, and his eyes lit up and he smiled when mentioning Bhutan! Here’s my brothers account,
Bobby saying Hi to you and hopes your enjoying Bhutan.
the BRUTAL part is that my phone died RIGHT after that (5 seconds long), but i pretended to keep filming as he went on to tell me that he has always wanted to go to india and bhutan and that he hopes you are finding lots of adventure there. I told him that you want him to bring scaring the children there and he laughed.
off camera i also told him that we call you ratboy, and when i asked if he wouldn't mind saying hi to you in a video, he asked if he should call you ratboy? i said no, Tim.
I am deeply grateful to both my brother and Bobby for the message that filled my heart with joy. I am also satisfied that I am fulfilling my hero’s aspiration and now must go to India.
Here is a poem I have resurrected from June and combined with “Tawny Moon.” I can’t believe some of the “raw” poetic material I have posted most of which should never see the light of day. Let’s call them works in progress…
The four winds blow
on an erect white flag
carrying a scrap of Sanskrit
down tawny terraces
over the Dagme Chu,
where the Guru’s hinterland
reveals a bare lotus
with exposed folds
pulling on the surface
of a russet shaft
now spurts the silver river
sloshes pyrite sand
through a wasteland
palisades on crags,
and the ring of mountains
crowned by clouds
(Note to self if selected for BM double space as a means to create airiness between the lines)