Subsidence in Samsara OR Shanghaied in Shangri-La
(For Miss Train wreck from Mr. Weight of the World)
“I’m still walking so I’m sure that I can dance, saint of circumstance, tiger in a trance, rain falling down” Ace
When I last left you I was hoping for a more auspicious day and I got one. I was invited for lunch at Karlos’s house which is really the other side of the duplex hut. We had delicious potato dates and dried beef while watching a special on BBS (Bhutan Broadcasting System) about tigers in Jigme Dorji National Park north of Thimphu. Still pictures of these cats were amazing as they looked the size of lions! Tigers are found in several areas in the country including the jungles of Royal Manas Park in the south but they have migrated to an altitude as high as 13,000 feet, sharing habitat with snow leopards. Bhutan acts as a last bastion for these endangered cats as here they are safe from poaching and habitat denigration. My spine tingles knowing these majestic animals roam the forests of Bhutan considering the worldwide population is estimated at only 3,500. A top predator needs lots of space and plenty of prey and apparently our population is thriving. Jigme Dorji also has red pandas and blue poppies among a stunning array of mammal and plant diversity. Suddenly my beloved Tsenkharla seems devoid of animals but no matter it is home for this tiger.
Watching Sonam Choden cook is amazing. She has incredible knife skills and using simple ingredients produces mouth watering cuisine. Strips of drying beef hang on strings in the living room and when it’s cooked it is hard to chew but good protein. I supplied the rations for the meal and closely observed the chef at work and for some reason my potato datse never comes out so flavorful. Rain smatters the land spurning sprouts and buds in the school gardens. Roses and asparagus fern flourish and remind me of my mom’s garden that I worked so hard to maintain at Baypoint, there are many similar species here which makes me content. In the classroom we enjoyed a relaxed pace as students finished their comic strips as rain pelted the roof. If I could eliminate the incessant chatter in my own head then the scene would be just exactly perfect. But even with a pervading neurosis it was a pleasant afternoon. Clouds curl around Darchin and sift through the cypress grove as rain comes and goes making love to the earth. Sometimes in a gentle rhythm that builds to an orgasmic intensity before subsiding into a gentle cadence then building again, the clouds ejaculating Cumming everywhere. One can’t help but think that we are also made of water and how rivers flow underground or into the sky. Like the title of Jamie’s novel we are caught somewhere between the earth and the sky perched high on a ridge as mist rises from the flaring nostrils of the dragon hovering under the lip of Tsenkharla. Moisture drips off the stones of Tsangma’s ruin, this is eastern Bhutan, this is HOME!
Another Wacky Wednesday
“Well the sun gets bloody and the sun goes down, ever since the watermelon, and the lights come up on a black pit town” All Around The World Or The Myth of Fingerprints
Outside ribbons of sunlight cut through the bands of clouds. Your storyteller is about to gather his books and go to class. The world has shrunk to a cloud, a tree, and tiny figures in gho and kira. Where am I? Is this place real or just some kind of dream cartoon? I always felt that the world was an illusion and this distressed me, now I know the world is an illusion and it comforts me. The Buddhist call this samsara, a merry-go-round of suffering that only ends with enlightenment. Sort of like repeating a class until you pass but in this scenario we are almost all flunkies. Helpless souls lost in space or on a sinking ship with nothing to grab hold of and no ore. The life preserver is this moment but to grab it means letting go of everything. Buddha left his palace, hot wife, and baby to go seeking truth. Who among us is ready for that commitment? Not I say’s the fly and although my journey might outwardly parallel Lord Buddha, I am not on that yellow brick road to salvation just yet. Instead I dwell in a vastly different representation of samsara and find new things to tempt me and new things to cling to. As Bobby sings to some ex girlfriend, “I may be going to hell in a bucket but at least I’m enjoying the ride! Touché. But the path has been lay if you dare or care to follow in the footsteps of Buddha or Jesus or the numerous avatars that live the truth. But it’s lonely and you certainly aren’t going to get any cock or pussy. Maybe in the next thousand lifetimes I will get around to going for the gold and checking into Zangtopelri permanently but for now I WANT a juicy cheeseburger and strawberry shake from Phyllis’s joint on the Miracle Mile. Ah shit! I guess that ain’t happening is it. Perhaps a Kit Kat and can of coke acquired from T-Gang!
Today is Wednesday and I cancelled Social Service Club AKA Trash Picking Club due to the rain. Instead I will finish marking the stack of portfolios that have been burning a hole in my desk. If one can teach effectively in Bhutan one can teach effectively anywhere. I’m not there yet trying to facilitate the learning process of 120 ESL learners is incredibly challenging. I recall the tremendous effort put forth by Vicky last year and she taught class 11 where the stakes are high. She was a meticulous marker and planner and what all teachers should aspire to be. Her husband Ian was no slouch himself but Vicky was veracious. They both spent most of their summer break marking exams and now are down in East Africa volunteering for no pay. Kudos! We miss them tremendously on the home front especially Becky who has been left all alone in her neck of the woods across two mighty rivers on a dirt road at the end of the earth. But Becky is strong and doing fine and she has an adoring staff doting on her. When she considered leaving at the end of her contract last year a Bhutanese colleague shed tears, luckily for all of us she stuck it out another year. I chuckle recalling our walk to Nancy’s for a cooking class in Thimphu where I exclaimed I might not make it through the night, I had diarrhoea and the jitters but here I am a year later still with diarrhoea and the jitters. Like Jamie says anyone can live anywhere and I’m living proof!
One of my favorite sensations is when a super cell passes over dumping its load shaking my hovel. This intense downpour can last from a minute to an hour. Although the summer is the monsoon season Tsenkharla is an anomaly getting more measurable rain in spring (at least last year) than summer which is often cloudy with steamy vaporization. It just occurred to me that I write about the rain incessantly. Well consider where I live and the subject matter I deal with. Perhaps I should write more about students. Last year I felt confounded by their shyness but a gentler demeanour in the classroom has helped coax them out of their shells. Suddenly shy ones blossom and become vocal in class. Bhutanese students are a delight and extremely polite. They instinctively know their place in their culture since in Bhutan culture reflects your identity. They’re individuals without seeking individuality and in certain ways Americans seem a jumble of ideologies that leave us disillusioned. I can only imagine the realities in inner city classrooms where students come from busted homes. I often joke about the hive mentality in Bhutan but a hive takes care of itself. Any Westerner that spends substantial time here probably comes to this realization, as soon as someone asks who takes care of your parents when they get old, and a dank feeling bubbles into your consciousness. Are we monsters casting out our young and abandoning the old? I always employed this argument being a 33 year old living with my mother. My friend Sonam Lhamo lives in Bumthang with three generations under the same roof. I can’t pass judgment on American culture since I prize rugged individuality, if I didn’t I wouldn’t have ended up here exposed to the other side of the coin.
On this rainy Wednesday evening I rode into Doksom on a whim with Karlos, Sonam, and Thinley for shopping. Thinley picked up a refrigerator and I was amazed at the stuff this tiny outpost offered. Doksom might be considered a town compared to Tsenkharla which is most certainly a village. The 14 KM drive down the curvy road is harrowing especially in the rain and fog. The mist created a whiteout and I felt like Shaggy riding with the gang in the Mystery Machine to some haunted capper. (On the return Scrappy Doo would join the episode) We barrelled towards the black pit town surrounded by rough and tumble mountains on three sides and the narrow river valley of the DagmeChu to the east. We loitered in Doksom as I sponsored a round of beers for the group and was now on Bhutanese Stretchable Time (BST) Going from one shop to another in what a westerner might equate with bar hopping where the equanimity of my companions disintegrated in amber liquid. In one shop Karlos admonished me for flirting with a gorgeous Pema Something who sold me socks and kit kats and said she was unmarried but was “telling lies” as Bhutanese females typically do, at least to me, and from my side they are rarely single and ready to mingle and I’m just being frank. The truth is I am not actively searching for anyone but like to hone my flirtation skills just to remember I am a 35 year old dude and people around the world copulate.
At another shop we ran into a man from Thimphu who works in the education department and had just returned from North Carolina. He was very intrigued with my work and of course Nancy was his 4th grade teacher in Trashigang twenty years ago (he credited her for his career choice) The other big event of the night was that I bought a puppy for Sonam Choden that I named Dawa after the novel “Dawa the Dog” She’s an adorable fluffy gold pup with black eyes and only two weeks old. After handing the pup over to Karlos I strolled to the river to urinate and pontificate. While pissing my mobile phone flashlight shone on my member casting a disproportionately large hooded shadow on the rock and I thought of Drukpa Kunley and began to shake my wang furiously leaving an imprint which someday might be a pilgrimage spot. Finally at 11:30 P.M I stuffed into the back of the cab with three other Bhutanese and a puppy and commenced the uncomfortable drive back up into the cooler climate. Karlos had the pup tucked in his gho, yet another use for the awkward garment. The gang went for a nightcap at Sonam’s shop meeting some vivacious villagers with black shinny eyes that glimmered in a psychedelic manner and one man told me that Dawa meant moon as I smiled in agreement. I was exhausted and fell into bed after reaching my hut but was tormented by demonic dreams that flooded my body with poison. I woke up with a sore throat but solid stool so health wise it was a push.
Fragmentation and Unravelling OR Thursday Blues
“Standing on the moon where talk is cheap and vision true, standing on the moon but I would rather be with you, somewhere in San Francisco on a back porch in July, just looking up to heaven at this crescent in the sky”
As I’m sailing along for no reason the bottom will drop out and I find myself standing at the edge of terror. It might be the lack of distractions here but today I called Becky on the verge of tears for support. Fortunately Bunks handles me with kid gloves and knows how to put your author back on the track. But this unravelling makes me feel weak and inadequate and ask myself why it’s so hard, then comes the inevitable closing down, shrinking away from the ONE. If I ever reread my posts I would recognize patterns and know that I will snap back to attention in time but each run through takes a toll on your author. Classes have been going well and that is my point of focus while an internal tempest rages. For all I like to believe I AM an independent soul in reality I’m needy and co-dependent and deeply miss being in a romantic relationship. Fuck spiritualism and just give me a shoulder to cry on. God might be real and powerful but it’s in the human form that we seek comfort. My heart is not big enough to merge with the divine and yet I AM not evolved enough for true love with another awakened being. Yup this is purgatory and samsara and I might as well set sail on a river of tears towards an ocean of despair. Luckily my heart is just big enough to keep a smile on my face for the sake of the kids who bring me eternal delight. This kind of rant should be confined to a private diary but you people are the pages that I scribble on, so I encourage you to take this passage with a grain of salt. Just a few bars of the Bhutan Blues...You might shake your head and ask is the author unhappy? Well it seems the path to become a warrior is not forged with happiness or unhappiness but rather awareness which would transcend conventional emotion. To say I AM on this path would be a leap of faith but we all have our doubts isn’t it? Here’s what Carlos not Karlos has to say about it.
“The only flaw is that in order for me to have a different orderly view of the world and myself, a view even more suited to my temperament, I have to walk along the edge of the abyss, and I have doubts that I have the daring and strength to accomplish that feat.
But who is there to tell?
It’s a wonderful community here and I play my small part and impact the lives of my students but I am not Bhutanese and always will be an outsider. I deeply crave a sense of belonging yet always find myself at the fringe on the borderline, like a lone tiger prowling the jungles of samsara always seeking his next kill.
In the classroom I’m focusing on speaking something that some of my class seven students have trouble with. They presented their comics but many had difficulty speaking in sentences and some were extremely shy. When a Bhutanese kid is shy they stick out their tongue like an iguana and shield their face with their callused hands. In class nine I am having the students read in front of the class instead of facing the chalkboard from their desks. Whenever possible I am doing group work and pair/share for comprehension assessment, with 35 students it’s a challenge.
Currently my panorama reveals shades of grey as the melodic dirge from the MP hall strums my severed heartstrings. I grabbed my prison tin plate and crept to the mess for Thursday Emadatsi. Cedar burns from a hollow clay stupa as I listen to the kids pray. But they aren’t kids NOW they are the voice of GOD and I want to sail on their dirge transcending the world to Zangtopelri. I want them to sing me to the next life and for A MOMENT pain subsides and my jaw drops at the most moving sound EVER heard. Amen and Hallelujah! Out roaming I had a vision concerning three ravens flying in formation tinting my aura with melancholy hues, and that’s all there is to say about that.
Readers of TIAT are privy to talk about my love for a band from New Orleans called The Radiators. The reason I love them dearly is that these 5 road warriors are tough and vulnerable spilling their souls to their fans while building a misfit community known as Fish Heads. Morgan nailed it when after her initial exposure to the band in the barn she said, “They want you to love their music but if you don’t there’s the door man!”
Take Your Dead Ass Home
“If you ain’t gonna get it on, take your dead ass home”
As Thursday trails into Friday I am sipping a Coke and readjusting my attitude. My classmate in grad school, a voluptuous blonde named Nicole’s mantra was PMA (Positive Mental Attitude) which sounds cheesy but is appropriate thought for this mad world. I’m more of a night owl although being an early bird is advantageous in the kingdom I only walk in the mornings on weekends and fail to get much down before 7 AM. Conversely at night there’s nothing happening but its still and quiet. This is when I plan lessons, listen to tunes, hang out, read and write. So that’s all I have to report and suddenly your author feels bashful for his maniacal rants. These words flow forth and I often have no idea what I’m saying (Some of my finest moments in the classroom are like that only) and that’s my story and I’m sticking to it!
TGIF, on a sunny morning in Eastern Bhutan. I took a bucket bath and put on a new pair of black slacks (thanks mom) and my best blue work shirt. My lessons are planned and I’m off to class. It’s been an interesting week with the usual manic ups and downs. I adopted a puppy named Dawa and a little sister named Sonam Lhamo. You might recall that Sonam Lhamo is the Bumthang beauty that I slipped through the portal with in Thimphu. That is not a euphemism as I am referring to the evening of the end of the Mayan Calendar at the National Chorten in Thimphu. Becky gave me a snap of my family, herself, and Sonam (which means lucky) at the Chorten that is framed on my desk. Well I hope your day is prosperous, auspicious, and all that shit.
T-Gang Tea Party
“..Yeah and its tea right here in T-Gang, where the little girls know what to do” Minglewood
After class on Saturday I piled into a bolero with Butterfly, Jigme, and another Indian teacher and his bride and went to T-Gang. Upon arrival I introduced Butterfly to Becky and we all had lunch at the hole in the wall Nepali owned joint. Later on Becky and I were joined by Lee, Jonathan, and Collin three eastern teachers who call themselves “Jungle East Massive” They had planned to meet as did Bunks and I so it ended up being a gathering and celebration. It’s not often that so many phelincpa’s join together in the same place. At Jon’s suggestion we adjourned to the bus station to a restaurant that he thought resembled an English Pub. Jon had taught at an international school in London for a decade but to me the eatery was more Japanese style with lanterns and booths. We ate some succulent (fatty) beef and curry and the boys had some ara and brews. After dinner we hung out in room 209 and chatted. It was nice to check in and here stories from others placements as the last time I saw that crew was at orientation and know they are seasoned BCF teachers. (It doesn’t take long to get indoctrinated here) This group has a rapier wit that tends to be perverse so naturally your author was amused. Collin quipped that they acted like sixth graders when together and I rebutted that that would make them on par with the students they taught. We had a blast laughing, talking shop, and commiserating and it reminded me of other nights with Ian and Vicky. The next turned out to be a “No vehicle day” but by 5 P.M Lee and Collin got taxis while Jon and I stayed behind for the night. Ironically the Tsenkharla bus was across town purchasing meat but my colleagues (who knew I was there) neglected to call me so I was stranded at the K.C. This gave me the chance to converse with Jon about International Schools, woman, edible plants, local deities, and life in rural Bhutan. On Monday morning I lugged my shopping bags into a taxi and returned home Wabash Cannonball style in time for first class. The KC store is like Costco by Eastern Bhutanese standards as I bought, pasta sauce, chips, chocolate, cans of coke imported from Thailand, cereal, a Bhutan mug, carton milk, and baked beans.
As you already know the author fancies Trashigang and would like to pause to tell you more about “Our Town” I have tried in previous blogs to paint a physical picture of the splendour of this secluded glade that encapsulates the town. I often imagine I’m a raven flying in the stratosphere and looking down on the labyrinth of mountains that form the spine of the Himalaya from Tawang to Pakistan. Lost in the folds and furrows are settlements towns, villages, and cities like Itanger, Tawang, Thimphu, Kathmandu, Delhi, Lahore, and Kabul. But really just massifs, blocks, pinnacles, spires, valleys, cut by snaking rivers it’s claustrophobic except to the raven that soars above. But Trashigang is a sparkling jewel and center of trade for centuries between Tawang, Tibet, and Eastern Bhutan and the town retains a fire that won’t go out. For a small town clinging to a wooded slope tucked into the vaginal folds of the Himalayan hills Trashigang hosts an interesting mix of characters. My favorite character is Phuntsho who has absconded to Thimphu and is MIA but there are others. Many sinewy Indian road workers live in shanties working construction jobs breaking up rocks and digging pits ceaselessly. Schoolgirl aged girls forgo education to work alongside their families even managing to smile with twinkling eyes. These are the hero’s of the earth and the meek that Jesus prophesized would inherit this ball of blue. These Indians appear hard but crack into light with a grin from your author. Without them no one in Bhutan could move just like in California we depend on Mexican labor. Their work is backbreaking and heartbreaking even more intensive then Bhutanese farm work. The centerpiece of the town is the Dzong (I love my Dzong!) which was built in 1667 in the bad ass gingerbread style reminiscent to all fortressed Dzong’s in Bhutan. This edifice doesn’t possess the grandeur of Paro or Punakha but is exceptional on its own perched on a hillock overlooking the Dagme Chu facing east. At night gold lights illuminate the ancient edifice which might actually be an alien spacecraft piloted by Zorron.
On a solo morning walk I met a raven perched on Igor’s stupa (Igor has left the planet) and we had a tete-a-tete. From room 209 one enjoys lording over the town observing the ornate entry gate, the racetrack road, and the Dzong, along with a mesmerizing montage of scantly vegetated hills dotted with assortments of prayer flags. The traditional buildings in town fall into place painted in pastel colors. If you breeze through T-Gang make sure you hit the bakery for carrot cake in the thatched bamboo enclosure set among tropical flowers pollinated by enormous bees. In the forests around town are fading poinsettia, blooming bogenvia, fragrant cannabis bushes, and cream, russet, and lilac blooms. It’s a cornucopia of scents which reinvigorate a body except I hadn’t come just to smell the flowers but to visit the renowned barber Deepack for a trim.
“Don’t let the sound of your own wheels, drive you crazy”
Deepack is the maestro of barbers, a class act, and a throwback. If you are residing in Eastern Bhutan and in need of a haircut go to Deepak. One can’t help but conjure images of Edward Scissor hands as the handsome Indian expat cuts hair with lengthy metallic sheers while chewing a wad of dolma, all to the soundtrack of the Eagles “Take it Easy” He gave me a proper cut, shave, and facial all for 100 rupees. He even offered that I pay him later but of course I didn’t. I wanted to tip but was unsure if that was considered appropriate. On the way out of T-Gang I dropped a postcard of a blue poppy in the mailbox to Morgan for her b-day. I dropped seven postcards into that drop box last month and no one has mentioned receiving them so I can only hope they arrived.
Where Tigers Rule OR Giblets
Lately I actually feel old and in the way, which I mention since I’ve always considered myself young in spirit and appearance. Although my face is aging two other body parts give it away. Someone recently pointed out my veined hands that look like they belong to a senior citizen and then there are my saggy balls. I used to consider my member as one of my finer physical attributes but these days my nuts hang lower in their forlorn sack. A reader recently remarked that the Tiger was becoming tamer so that one’s for you!
Health is a continuous battle as many phelincpa’s can attest and lately I had had some stomach pain but I returned from my sojourn temporarily refreshed in mind and spirit and was grateful as grass to rain.
After class I went roaming with Wangmo and Zangmo in toe and thought I ought to write a poem about these semi fictitious day scholars and their route to and from school. Shakshang Goempa is hours away and I have only reached a dozen times and this pack of tiny girls and boys do it twice a day. Our lower temple Zangtopelri was abandoned and locked as only Amadamma the cow met me licking the spot on my hand that Dawa bit and I could hear Scott’s words echoing in my head, “If you get rabies you will die!” I sat on a newly constructed bench enclosed with leafy trellis marvelling at the holy temple listening only to the birds and faint white noise of the Dagme Chu thousands of feet below. On the temple wall above some ornate trim is a crest depicting two deer nudging a golden seal with their black noses. I imagined these sculptured deer to have moist noses and warm breath just like Amadamma. On the way down at Tsangma’s in the cypress and eucalyptus grove I met Rinchen Wangmo and her toddler son Pema. She also had a baby strapped to her back in stripped cloth. If I was a painter I would’ve commissioned a masterpiece of that timeless Bhutanese scene but instead merely paused to watch the trio disappear over the knoll, and in typical Mr. Tim style yelled “Goodnight Rinchen Wangmo, I Love You!” The unrequited phrase hung in the air as they vanished into a silver screen. In the sky one of Becky’s portals briefly snapped open as a pinhole of golden light before abruptly shutting over a mountain that looks like a refraction of Tamalpais if she were hoisted on two huge mounds.
Today in class nine I deviated from the syllabus affording them an opportunity to write nature poems. It was satisfying to facilitate the creative process in students who don’t necessarily get an opportunity to express themselves. Even after a gratifying weekend in Trashigang it’s nice to get back to what matters a fact that was cemented when timid Jigme Choden contributed a great comment in class. Jigme has a pension for eating paper, sucking on pens, and saying “don’t know” when asked anything. She is painfully shy and it took a summation of trust and courage to share her opinion with the class. Small moments like that make a teachers day.
Today is Championship Monday with Louisville facing Big Blue. Although content at the moment your author wouldn’t mind plopping in front of a flat screen TV with a tub of guacamole and chips to watch the game. Exactly six years ago I was touching down in Inchon beginning an ESL career under a plump Korean moon. I hadn’t yet heard of Bhutan and was a bundle of nerves scanning the unfamiliar landscape a row of stunt pines outside the airport that were soon swallowed by a neon metropolis. That event relates cyclically to this moment as time is not linear. But things do evolve as I have gained some insights and my balls have sunk. At the same moment everything seems far away from Tsenkharla mountain but also close enough to touch. Like a train wreck memories collide and stack on the side of the tracks. In a rare moment of clarity I can view these events as they are, meaningless and amusing like a free bird pecking at seed not a mechanical bird pecking at the wall. In Buddhist ease words like nothingness and meaningless reflect different connotations of enlightenment not despair. Death is a realm where ego and body dissolve leaving only an essence of light. Escaping our shells we enter a crystalline dream that serves as a portal to reality, a dimension inhabited by Karmaling Dream Moths and Machine Elves dribbling down the cosmic court, adept at mountain worship and play.
Kesang quipped that I was an English Teacher for Local Deities which cracked me up. But the truth is we don’t know anything of the mysteries of the universe and each of us can only glean an imperceptible fraction of the whole.
Thanks for the care package mom especially the salami and slim Jim’s which I promptly devoured. Also thanks Beth for the book on India which was endowed with magical power, turned by phantom fingers that led us right to Goa. Becky and I hope to go there for Christmas and we think Bobby would approve! Outside the boys clink their plates and sing on their way from the dining hall to the hostel. A few stars twinkle in the sky which reminds me of a girl’s poem about a missing star. I love and miss you family more than I express nevertheless what a fantastic situation I find myself in at a boarding school lost in Lhomon.
With Love for ALL sentient beings from Mr. Tim