Happy Birthday Jerry the Space Pilot
“Goodbye mama and papa, goodbye Jack and Jill, the grass ain’t greener, the wine ain’t sweeter either side of the hill” Ramble on Rose
On Thursday I made a pilgrimage to Shakshang Goempa located an hour and a half above the school. Shakshang is a small but prominent temple more than a century old it is the sight of our communal Tsechu in the fall. It’s both beautiful and spooky as our local deity resides in a twisted oak coppice just below the temple. The deity must be wide awake after the completion of the farm road last year which has disturbed vibrations in the area. From a rock just above the new road one can see in every direction including Trashigang and Kanglung to the South, Tawang province to the East, and Yangtse side to the Northwest, plus a grandiose view of the Dagme Chu as it snakes through the narrow valley towards Doksom. From that spot I feel like a king surveying my empire and the best part is I don’t own any of it. On this evening a shaft of golden light emanated from a chunky mountain beaming back towards the western sky. The scope of the mountains are apparent as they swiftly rise three thousand feet from the river to their jagged baby bounces ridgelines, the foot of the mountains dipping their toes into the muddy Dagme Chu itself. On the Yangtse side of Shakshang the earth rolls in resplendent green terraces dotted with chortens that blend into stands of oak and bushes interrupted by a cypress or banana tree outside a traditional black and white farmhouse. I love to worship at the simple outdoor chortens that seem to link Buddhism with Bon (Eastern Pagan traditions) that conjure up local spirits and Guru Rinpoche at midnight in a rainstorm. On this day Shakshang is deserted as the natives are toiling in the fields tending the maize crop that towers twenty feet in the air and rattles like an opiate rain stick in the evening breeze. It’s a far cry from Tsechu with the VIP tent packed tight like backstage at a Rolling Stones concert with lamas, dignitaries, and Karma Om spilling Ara on her silk Taegu. Now the air is fragrant with cow pies and wood smoke a Brokpa aroma that permeates all of eastern Bhutan today stemming from an ancient barefoot hunchbacked woman in dusty kira touting a bamboo basket full of chopped wood gathered from the forest. For a moment I cannot remember what century we reside in and I chuckle at this marvel who’s managed to stop the world. We smile at one another and exchange a merry greeting that the other cannot comprehend before moving on in opposite directions. My direction was home where I had an interview with some class eight boys to help them prepare a presentation on the art of listening. This hike was memorable for the sunshine that is precious in the torrential heart of the monsoon. In fact coming to you live on a Saturday Morning the fog is so thick that the hostel is merely a ghostly silhouette and I watch out for Shaggy and Scooby to go slinking by, Zoinks! Jeepers! And the local demon might have gotten away with it too if it wasn’t for those meddling kids...But I must go now and attend assembly and a half day of Saturday classes starring in my own cartoon.
The rest of the weekend proceeded like this: First a core group of boys came over to help clean the hut and take lunch. Afterwards I hopped a ride to Gom Kora did a quick circumambulation and then a pagan prayer to the roaring Dagme Chu. One must navigate boulders and sandy washes to reach the river which is a torrent freshly merged with the Kulongchu and flowing towards the Manas. Twilights silver curtain was veiling the straining summer light as I hailed a ride to T-Gang for an interview with Rebecca. We spent the night talking (mostly I talked and she attentively listened) and we went to the bus stop where I ordered Chi Chi’s chilli chicken. Trashigang is exploding with verdant greens, pastel flowers, and ripe banana trees. The sticky air is perfumed with sweet subtropical blossoms. T-Gang is at an elevation of roughly 2,500 feet, Tsenkharla is 6,000 and the pass outside Tawang on the Chinese border is 15,000 feet which gives one a vague idea of topography in these parts. Therefore T-Gang is a tropical vacation where buzzing insects chime in your ears and beads of sweat drip from your crown. The modern version of Trashigang compared to old Tashigang offers hot showers, HD TV, and cold, nothing like South Asian infarmertials selling skin cream to housewives in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Dubai, and Bahrain. Life in the town is downright luxurious compared to Jamie’s era and the modern BCF teacher is pampered comparatively but really not much has changed as smelly Brokpa examine heaps of smelly dried fish on the pavement. But for me T-Gang proves an essential respite from the grinding stone of Rangthangwoong. On this stay the barking K-9’s kept me up half the night so I waxed philosophical on the perils of religion in my journal while eating jelly here are some highlights.
(Journal excerpt from 7/28/13)
People are the only animals that have jobs the most advanced and destructive species turning the tables on evolution. A cocky animal who is bent on satisfying his/her own ego. His biological instincts corrupted into othering his/her fellow man. But as the dogs bark and I’m watching a lioness devour a Thompsons Gazelle on television the primal truth hit me like a ton of bricks. Oh how frivolous and marvellous life is with all creation sharing in death. So much wider than our narrow perspective if you’re lucky enough to find love that’s groovy, many of us hope for grace, and most settle for survival. What are the stories of the Indian road workers huddled in dingy sooty shacks? Or the pixie shinning by my side? Or the red panda snoozing in the treetops of Merak? Even our sun will die and the Milky Way will dissipate or swallow itself whole. Let go and enjoy the ride, reincarnation a coaster called the mind eraser in Bardo Land. Race through the turnstile and take the ride again. How can one religion be correct when right and wrong are shaky concepts. Would God really be like a vindictive nincompoop playing favorites with his own sons and daughters? Religion is divisive and murderous (examine the Middle East) and all the goodhearted faithful can’t right the ship of fools. At least Buddhism emphasises tolerance and prayer for all sentient beings not just its own club members. Poor Jesus must have locked himself in a divine closet with all the shit people have flung in his name. Not blasphemy y’all just an observation on a hot night in the old town tonight. Somewhere on a steamy evening in Abilene Fat Franky eats 36 hotdogs in five minutes to win the big eaters cup while in Bombay a child starves to death!
Back at Tsenkharla I taught Cat Steven’s Peace Train to class seven. I played the original version of the song from the artist formally known as Cat Stevens. After singing them the song we made our own peace trains with each pupil making their own boxcar that we will connect on the wall. School is going fine but its challenging to get them speaking English. They admit to feeling uncomfortable speaking English especially to each other in social situations which I wholeheartedly understand. I have devised a plan to have them speak in pairs on impromptu topics in a relaxed atmosphere and I will update you on the results. But they are good kids and rarely cause trouble although some naughty boys from class eight were being unruly during afterschool reading. Another challenge especially with my class niner’s is getting them to ask questions. Sonam Choden on the other hand rapidly fires inquiries mainly concerning the origins of food items or inanimate objects in my house. She gagged because she thought a can of hot dogs actually contained dog meat (the can is from Bangladesh so who knows, right) Sonam Choden is one of a kind another classic commentary was when she announced she wanted to stay a night at the K.C Hotel and would bring a pack lunch. You have to be a foreign worker in Bhutan to see the mirthfulness in that one. They do love their pack lunches and frankly so do I. Picture throngs of Bhutanese in colorful gho and kira huddled roadside with thermoses of tea and containers of curry and rice. All ribbing aside Karlos and Sonam right now are my best friends on the planet as the whole world fades away leaving only Bhutan. How does one ever say farewell to this precious place? BHUTAN IS A STATE OF MIND! For Becky its cucumber vines training up a palisade and for me it’s that smell or the open view clear into Tawang. I estimate seventy miles through a corridor of interlocking mountains ending at a saddle fifty miles deep in Arrunachal Pradesh. In January one is lucky to see Kiney but in the monsoon or rather because of the monsoon when the sun breaks the clouds it’s clear as a bell being struck by a revolving prayer wheel. This morning I awoke at 5:30 AM to see a tangerine sky (of course I immediately sunk back to sleep in my netted grotto) and at 5:30 PM a rainbow arcing across the impossibly steep range disappeared somewheres near Doksom. Topological variance to wit: Within my field of inadequate vision on the clearest October day are peaks over 15,000 feet and the river bed at 2,000 feet the only place to compare would be the stomach tightening view from Chommerang the wheelhouse of the Annapurna Sanctuary. That view is more dramatic but nothing trumps Tsenkharla in its expansive 360 degree gaze. Oh how to say goodbye indeed? On cue the summer rain pelts my tin roof and today peels of thunder for desert after a delicious chicken lunch cooked by aforementioned Sonam. But its short sleeve weather without oppressive heat and in class a butterfly fluttered into my palm. I let it go outside only to have it return for a repeat performance. Cupping it gently I let it go this time out the door watching its black and yellow patterns gyrate and disappear into a flowerbed. Beyond the assortment of pretty petals the maize is starting to resemble Jacks bean stock towering into a silver blue puddle where Guru Rinpoche waits above the clouds. Zangtopelri means Guru Rinpoche’s copper mountain of paradise so I literally live in heaven. Made sweeter by the fact that in all likelihood there is no omnipotent God and when I die my picayune light will recycle back into the glop of the collective pot of Emadatsi. As for the precious master he is accessible here and now in this very moment. Why live for heaven when life is here and now. Internally I query why live in the past or future when I am fulfilling my dream this instant. As a matter of fact Bhutan was my dream (is my dream come true) and wouldn’t you know it I am still a neurotic mess. My veep told me I was a complaint box a revelation that hit home. What am I projecting to the world in my incessant negativity? Yet there’s a ray of hope since the old Tim would have gotten defensive at his comment but new Tim thanked him for his potent insight. It doesn’t matter though since I am one of the few who can say there dream came true. What does that dream cost? Sacrificing homeland and illusionary desires, disconnecting from my loved ones but the scope of what I am doing now supersedes the wildest nights on the rail or that forgotten fishy carnal embrace with the one whose name means from the sea. This is an illusion too but its closer to the source of awareness or ultimate enlightenment which means not giving a flying tiger’s fuck about anything. Only then can a body function at optimal prowess. I ain’t there yet kiddos and awareness of my silly neurosis only agitates the brain gremlins who strike back with egotistical vengeance. I used to think I was part of the rock n roll elect but now I realize were all meat off the same bone. Buddha battled those demons until he gave up under some tree and finally stopped the world. He left a hot princess and deserted his family forever leaving the palace on a moonlit light and never looking back. I left my mom’s house on a misty January morning and now the journey unfolds continually but my trip is no more relevant or special than yours as it’s truly all the same. Nonetheless thank you all for sharing it with me by reading these ridiculous words of unholy babble. I am still not simple enough and these kids remind me of it always. They never complain in fact Bhutanese only whinge about the weather either being too hot or too cold but it’s more a conversational piece. In that way they are like Goldilocks sampling porridge if Goldilocks was a seventeen year old girl who spent twelve hours a day toiling in the fields helping her mother. One of those fairytale teens is Karma Eden a two year pupil of mine who is in the hospital so if you have any prayers on the shelf bust them out please. Meanwhile throngs of American teenyboppers glide through the mall of America painted up like Jezebel. At heart I’m more like an entitled Yank than a humble Druk but like a river changing course change takes time. OR maybe time’s the problem we don’t have any of it at all since it’s manufactured and canned. STOP THE WORLD like the rattling of Zeke’s maracas during Devils Dream or a shaman snacking on Peyote buttons, or an ascetic in a cave high on meditation. Crawl inside the moment and give your heart to IT a particularly juicy challenge for an anxious bugger like myself. Let’s own up to our impending doom which is terrifying and causes us to fidget through life as masters of distraction. That’s why I get off on live music so much, good songs stopping the world altogether, that and sweaty blonde sweeties whose manes stick to damp shoulders or chestnut bangs obscuring Cheshire smiles. It goes deeper than that though as Bobby is a shaman rattling the pagan tambourine during Iko Iko. Now I’m on my own yet more a part of things here than I freely admit as a lot goes unspoken in the Land of the Thunder Dragon. Mr. Tim has found his place and all that comes with that wild frenetic territory. The backwash of Eastern Bhutan lies far beyond my preconceived end of the world and from this sentence onward I will be blindly trekking back to the source and to you dear reader.