Thursday, August 29, 2013


For ALL honourable adversaries

“It was a sight of such kind that when one had seen it, one could no longer wish to look at the rest of the earth” Atlas Shrugged

I have been in Bhutan for 19 months and today was one of many with both frustration and elation. Class seven presented their trash posters to varying degrees of success. I realize how daunting speaking publicly in English is for them. It was nice to arrive after at the bell to see the students hard at work preparing for their presentation. Principal La ambled by the room and peeked in briefly he looks something like Ricky Henderson if Ricky was squatter and Bhutanese. For class 9A we read Dawa under a tree in a circle on the lawn. I will really miss that class especially the students who I taught two years. One of my former students called me from Thimphu (Many BCF teachers give out their numbers) She had placed second in her class but missed the rural life and she asked me to say hello to all her friends. Afterschool I hiked up the mountain toward Shakshang Goempa and met a young woman who had quit school to help her sick mother herd cattle. She remarked her occupation was cow herder when I said I was a teacher. Like other dropouts she spoke English more adeptly than some of my class nine students and we had a ten minute confab. One PP girl in a dirty school kira was frozen on the trail staring at a plant and was too shy to say hello. I continued up through the verdant forest of oaks with ferns sprouting from their branches, plots of maize and cabbage, along a ridge with expansive views of both rivers. The trail was peppered with scarlet petals and of course some plastic wrappers and cows and horsed grazed as I gingerly stepped around them. Most prevalent out an incredible array of fragrant bushes of infinite variety, this is the land of medicinal herbs after all. At a knoll that I frequent was a new rainbow assortment of prayer flags, a cluster of vertical flags interconnected with horizontal rainbow ones. Reminded me of the chill domes I raced by on the fairgrounds. Well I have ample chill time now so I stopped for a coke and a smile. (I’d like to buy the world a coke!) The flags were stencilled with horses, Buddha’s, and other auspicious designs. It appears others share my connection to that special rocky outcropping looking yonder into Trashigang and beyond. Puffy dragon clouds swirled on the distant ridges near Kanglung as if trailing from a phantom cigar and the fresh air buzzed with crickets, birds, and unidentified flying objects. Over the phantasmagorical serenade one could still hear the beating of solemn raven wings whooshing and threading through the twilight en route to Darchin. The trail I followed winded through secret hollows, emerald glades, terraced fields, and shimmering woodlands inclining towards Shakshang but I stopped at a favorite Chorten enjoying the view of the Kulongchu bounding from Yangtse via Tibet. (The Tibet near Yangtse is not the high Plateau but rather 20,000 foot mountains) Sitting still I can only imagine what lies beyond the horizon but I’m certain there is no place like HOME! Descending the trail I saw the PP girl still ascending solo and had to laugh inside at how similar we are both lost in our own worlds of imagination. Reaching back at Tsenkharla I happened across some Class Seven students practicing dance for the upcoming Education Meet in Yangtse and then slid stealing into the mess for some smokin’ hot Emadatsi.   

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Stories From The End Of THe Universe (Finale)

Chapter 8: Shit Show-More Lickings -The underbelly of Bhutan-Take it all around

Today exposed the underbelly of Shangri-La a place I dearly love. I have just gotten home from Social Service Club where I took the boys to the hostel area for cleaning and Captain Dawa Dema (namesake of pet Dawa Dema) took the girls to their hostel. It was a literal shit show when I came to the boy’s toilets which had feces overflowing out of the squatters and swarms of flies feeding on heaps of crap. Then I was picking up trash in mud/shit overflow while the lazy boys watched. Yes Bhutanese can be quite sincere but they are also like any other kids. I called them out saying it was disgraceful to watch a teacher picking up after them and not lend a hand. Overall the girls are more solid club members and do their work more earnestly. When I got home I washed my hands OCD style (ironically I don’t wash my hands enough in this place) When I told the administration of the problem they shrugged and passed the buck off to the warden and assistant warden. The assistant warden seemed unconcerned telling me that that he will force the kids to eat SHIT someday. I will inform Karlos (the warden) when I see him later tonight. Living so close to that shit bomb I am directly susceptible to any health hazard, and from my point of view it’s a whole bowl of wrong. What a dirty place as my water is coming out black these days and this morning after my bath I was filthier than before. But at least there is H2O on occasion! I had a fine day marvelling at the brutality of the LOT (Land of Terror) My class 7B bore the brunt of a merciless beating as Pema Lhamo showed me the welts on her hand afterwards. The preferred method of administering a licking is with a thick stick some carved with jagged points like a harpoon. The reason for this lashing was for getting incorrect answers. This week teachers have been on a rampage and I have spoken up about it with many of them privately reminding them that it is illegal and does no good anyway.
I enjoyed my classes and interacting with students and now am making rice as the rain falls. My roaming has curtailed drastically since it rains everyday at 4:20 P.M. It’s partly cloudy at 3:30 with blotches of double dipped rainbows but then the clouds swoon in from Arrunachal Pradesh dumping rain. In class students worked in groups on their trash posters with one group actually taping plastic rubbish on their poster. Presentations will happen tomorrow and it’s delightful to witness these young learners working as a team. (Teamwork is Dreamwork as Ashleigh would say) It’s raining harder now and my thoughts go out to Namgang Mo who is traipsing up the mountain with her buddies to Shakshang Goempa. She is a day scholar and must commute two hours each day in the mud out of doors.  It’s not easy here and rereading this chapter hunched over my keyboard I wonder if I make it sound terrible? The truth is its amazingly challenging and for every ounce of SHIT there are gorgeous flowers radiant smiles and a simplistic lifestyle that cannot be underestimated. If any prospective teachers are reading this I ONLY want to make them aware of the reality not the BCF brochure take. For one thing travel is difficult in Bhutan but many teachers work it pretty nicely with their Principals, while some clash with their La’s for more freedom. Like the dude told Becky at Dochela on our journey east “It’s all about the village” I have had enough opportunity’s to see the countryside and now am content to make dashes into T-Gang to preserve my sanity. But take it all around I have a great situation at Tsenkharla and I have it on authority that a few alumni are eager to return to the Kingdom to teach which speaks too it. This blog appears negative but that’s just my overactive speaking complaint box. The truth is I’ve found a home here and I consider my placement providence of the highest order. (Thanks Choden, my angel!) It was my theory she just threw darts at the map over a beer but she assured me it was a methodical process to place teachers in the field. This year the ministry favoured the West probably for health reasons since we lost a teacher last year in the far -east. Not a day goes by that I forget how blessed we are to be working immersed in a place folks pay $300 just to glimpse. Ours is a different experience than a tourist, while I may never scale Jhomolahari or explore Manas I HAVE Tsenkharla and the wonderful people that go with it. Bottom line is Bhutan is what you make it, a lesson I don’t always adhere to. But I like that and I like to make it up as I go along. We are a part of something bigger that our selves a mission more profound than any of us can comprehend, WE STAND ON THE SHOULDERS OF GIANTS: NANCY, JAMIE, MR. MARK, and the mythical CATHERINE. So don’t chicken out just come and experience the adventure of a thousand lifetimes. And think of Mr. Tim when you’re sinking your teeth into a juicy cheeseburger stateside with strips of bacon and guacamole with a side of waffle fries and a strawberry shake. Begging your pardon my rice is up and I have to boil a readymade packet of Indian curry that I procured at the K.C store. Oh did I tell you those K.C folks are an enterprise featuring the best digs in town with their hilltop hotel and bustling grocery. Hell its only midweek and I already miss the Gong/Gang.

The Last: Happy B-day Dave!-Yours Truly Mr. Tim-Coda

“I’d fly away if only I could, I’d be a raven if I only could, I’d fly away”

Five years ago tonight I was in old town Las Vegas at the dilapidated Aruba Hotel seeing the Rads. It was a Thursday and Dave Malone’s birthday kicking off a three night run in the forlorn slums of sin city adjacent to a 24 HR wedding chapel whose neon blue bell blazed in the 107 degree fever (the brain boils at 106 degrees) that show was a barnburner a marathon of unbridled rock that seared my soul permanently. Cowboy Dave branded my ass all night with blistering solos coiling from his electric guitar his ecstatic smile reaching every derelict heart in the sweaty lounge. Meanwhile Morgana was up to no good burning the man on the playa, like always our defunct souls were connected by invincible waves. Despite reconfiguring my DNA with lysergic POWER that night Dave (the forever man) taught me to love what I do doing it the right way with boundless enthusiasm. Cheers Davey wherever you roam tonight, I love you man!

The ravens have returned to Rangthangwoong to roost, for whatever reason they come in the autumn congregating cawing up a maelstrom. They soar in fleur-de-lis formation up to Shakshang displaying aerial acrobats, harbingers of magic. On the border summer ploughs on as farmers cut the maize and luscious veggies sprout from the soil on terraces etched into vertical cliffs. I am fortunate to have a perch on this peak and gaze upon villages marooned on steep isolated slopes with no roads their tiny lights making them seem like lonesome constellations. I suppose there ain’t nothing left to tell so I will light out to the village in search of a chilled Coca Cola to alleviate my DESIRE. DESIRE the root of all suffering just ask Adam and Eve or Buddha. Fuck it, who is John Galt anyway???   

In Joplin Missouri in 1996 I was hit by a station wagon going 65 MPH while I was crossing the road like the proverbial chicken. Why you are required to inquire. You know it, for a cold coke and recess pieces. I had just stumbled out of the Ozarks after helping clean up after the rainbows and was out of my gourd malnourished and never saw the hick mobile coming. I flew about thirty feet in the middle of the expressway losing a shoe and bloodying my head. It was a miracle not ending up road kill and my fate was sealed on that “Show Me” pavement. Ironically the night before I supped on venison that had died in that same violent vehicular fashion. The universe is copasetic in its own enigmatic way and I lived on to make love, meet Dave Malone, and immerge in the Kingdom of the Thunder Dragon unscathed.

Non Bhutan Content...

Fern Canyon Revisited (For Morgan A Neiman)

Your eyelids quiver like damp butterflies
Opening their wings to reveal haunted golden orbs
Portals to an enchanted land your mind creates, misty castles forged from the sands of imagination.
Your soul- a grainy beach receiving the turquoise waves that tumble
Filling your gasping mouth with saltwater.  
May I enter your handmade garden? Overflowing with ripened berries, buds, and redwood bows bending in the breeze
This oasis that you visit secretly locking the rusty-gate behind you, throwing away the key.
I will meet you in that garden, and we can play together, feasting from the vine, letting amethyst juice runoff our chins
We can roll in the meadow near the blackberry bushes, absconding from the world unnoticed. 
Munching forbidden mushrooms that sprout underground, sailing on their polka dot spores awakened, splashing with shiny sea otters in the foam, grazing with Roosevelt Elk on emerald pastures.
Soon the flesh will decay from our bodies, and our bleached bones will entangle duff and clover.
Still we’ll dream of our days in paradise, where the breakers reclaimed us.  

*This poem was started ten years ago, rediscovered and reworked and is presented with gratitude and love.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Stories From The End Of The Universe (Chapter7)

Chapter 7: Corporal Punishment-Snake in the grass-Tuesday Blues

“Made me appreciate the Tuesday blues, perfect color of a perfect bruise, made me thank my lucky stars for brand new scratches and well healed scars”

Corporal punishment is an ugly fact of life in Bhutan. In this context corporal punishment means beating students for disciplinary action. Western teachers cringe and even cry at witnessing these harsh punishments and despite being illegal it happens every day at every school in the Kingdom. During assembly one administrator pulled several boys ears yanking their heads around by the lobe then this administrator proceeded to bonk the girls on the head which sounded like banging a coconut from my position fifty yards away. Then during second period another female teacher pulled one of my top students out of my class and lashed her with a thin stick. The girl’s offense was writing her sister’s homework for her.  It reminded me when that so and so American got Cained in Singapore for graffiti. Except no news coverage for young Sangay Wangmo getting licked in East Bhutan since it’s a part of everyday reality for a student. Brave Sangay came back to class but wasn’t crying which seems a typical response to a beating. They just take it and move on but I’m uncertain to what benefit lashings would provide the student. It’s ironic this happens in a GNH country with little violent crime. In Kuensal one reads about domestic homicide for example a drunken husband butchering his wife but these are rare occurrences. But daily physical punishment can be seen in village life and on school campuses. The kids themselves express themselves by clunking one another on the head with a fist or punching a friend in the arm. Heck Becky fisted me on the head last weekend and Ashleigh is a regular pinch bug after a few cocktails. As a foreigner (Phelincpa which means outsider) I don’t want to rush judgement or condemn Bhutanese scholastic discipline but it’s off-putting to witness on a Monday morning especially considering the harshness of a boarding student’s existence. The rest of assembly was spent listening to snuffling phlegm sounds emanating from the matrix of the student body. HMMMM lack of water no soap and passing stool, do the math people. Through it all I remain fortunate being privy to this otherworldly place, to wit. Last night a yellow moon rose dead red over Tawang peeking through an ominous cloudbank. A few stars winked from atop Shampula while over Bartsham ropes of lightning lassoed the local deity in Rangjoon. Take it all around I wouldn’t trade my placement for all the nymphs in Thailand. On my way to the library afterschool students were gathered around a two foot long snake in the brush. The serpent struck narrowly missing my heel. (Where’s Arwen when you need her?) It was the biggest snake I’ve seen in Bhutan and according to the kiddos it was venomous too. Well it’s Tuesday and I got the blues so what to do and who is John Galt anyway? I feel alienated from myself which is dangerous here so I try to reconcile with my soul before it’s too late. Regardless I’ll pull through with the help of the community.

In class seven we constructed posters to help promote a litter free campus (This was Morgan’s idea) and the posters are great but the problem remains and it never ceases to stick in my craw. I fervently hope for a clean surrounding but alas it’s hard to teach Bhutanese new tricks. Isn’t It? One student announced she had to go to the bathroom and pass stool, of course I let her go then another student whispered in my ear that they ONLY ask for the toilet in Sir Tim’s class. So their bunking is it? I wonder what little scams these scamps are running on this old barker.       

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Stories From The End Of The Universe

Chapter 6: Blessings-Mad Dog at Zangtopelri-Magic Mushroom-Commandeering A desk-Fat lizards-Roll out the tiger in broad daylight   

“It hadn’t ever come home to me before, what this thing was that I was doing but now it did; and it stayed with me, and scorched me more and more” Huck Finn

Perhaps the universe just happened upon itself that is to say it wasn’t created by anybody in particular, this thing called the universe just came to be on its own accord beyond the scope of any reason or imagination, and in this self made void little people made up gods as they went along. Emptying meaning makes everything utterly miraculous as we are now unburdened by fear and can make it up as we go along. An atheist told me that there was no point of origin to the universe or that the BIG BANG was EVERYWHERE which made no sense but got me to thinking anyhow. Since I’m neither a man of religion or science this spontaneous conflagration of creation makes the most sense and like a tiger in a trance I’m going on a feeling. During morning assembly we christened a statue of Jamyang the god of wisdom who the students pray to each day. At the blessing I watched the pious students file passed the statue through plumes of cedar smoke bowing in reverence while our VP bleated a long brass horn and another teacher beat a large animal skin drum with a curved striker. So thus began another day in Bhutan as someone pointed to a sundog in the sky calling it auspicious. The morning consisted of regular classes and after lunch was a quiz competition. In the local category students fielded questions about Rangthangwoong primary school established in 1978 (A few months after Mr. Tim was established) currently at Tsenkharla T.M.S.S we have approximately 675 students and 32 teachers. In the afternoon I headed up to Zangtopelri where I was attacked by an aggressive little bulldog that nipped my ankle with his fangs but didn’t break the skin. I slipped in the temple to pray where butter lamps were lit on each floor. In the attic evening light reflected off Sangay Dempa’s cheekbones as I focused on the still flame frozen on the wick of the lamp. On the return trip I passed through my shady grove and discovered a remarkable white mushroom towering to my kneecap. In that lonely grove I sat side that mushroom trying to muster up some tears but they wouldn’t come, sadly I just can’t cry. The mushroom balanced on a thin straight stem like a taut pallid umbrella. How lonesome a scene listening to the wind rush through the canopy sitting on the carpet amongst fern throngs, fallen pine cones, and grass. The gloaming glowered so I bid ado to the ashen shroom and headed back to campus via Prince Tsangma’s ruin. At home I helped Sonam with his presentation before typing these words to you, outside a mushroom moon eludes a veil of cloudlets shimmering off the meandering Dagme Chu in a timeless lunar ball.

Last week while I was out of the staff room, desks were delivered and claimed by my colleagues. Unfortunately there were only desks for half the teachers so I raised some Cain bout it. I actually go home to do most of my prep but that is because there was no comfortable place in the staff room only benches and tables. Well my VP hooked me up with a spare desk that he commandeered from the library so now I have a place to work on campus! School is busy with plenty to consume the periods and free time. In class seven students completed comic strips for a Ruskin Bond story where they each had to present their strip to the class and once for me personally. I was impressed with their speaking ability and enthusiasm for retelling the tale. Both sections of class seven are enjoyable to teach with some of my favorite students. I try not to have favorites but there are boys that spend a lot of time at my place hanging out or helping me with chores so I get to know them better.

It’s Sunday night and I just made some delicious Emadatsi (comfort food) with local cheese, white fluffy pungent stuff sold wrapped in banana leaves just one of the arcane touches that make up Bhutan. I’m also sipping on an imported Indian tall boy Coca Cola that I purchased at the K.C. (Coke in a can is a luxury item for this poor boy) It was hot in T-Gang with FAT LIZARDS (or were they LIZARD FIG’s?) scaling the walls and Bhutanese airing out their bellies by pulling up their T-Shirts. The half gho is also a popular style in the summer heat. I went to town to acquire items for my grant project but I didn’t come back with much at all which is a story I prefer not to tell. The upshot was meeting Bunks although we both felt subdued or overwrought depending on point of view. We did enjoy a classic twilight walk to the Dzong where august monks congregated on the steps to enjoy the warm breeze. The Dagme Chu snaked under Chazam Bridge and huge mountains towered over the pitiable road to Mongar. Up at Tsenkharla it’s considerably cooler as huge psychedelic moths (Karmaling Dream Moths) glue themselves to rose bushes camouflaged as leaves. Even a blind man would revel in the pallet of summer scents a base note of wood smoke layered with lemongrass, overlay with baked mud and sprayed with fragrant purple rain.  So it goes as we drift in landlocked doldrums under foamy clouds. ZONKED OUT! Year Number Two it’s a battle to muster energy to fuel the fun! Instead of energy there’s entropy and ONLY the routine of a boarding school keeps the train teetering on the tracks. But on languid afternoons the brain drifts home to hamburger stands or backyard BBQ’s poolside with loved ones as it occurs to the Rocket Man that he hasn’t had contact from his home planet in a long time. (Breaker Breaker I hope all is well back in the land of milk n’ Honey, This is Mr. Tim orbiting the LOT, do you read me??? Over and Out!) Living ones dream can be a bit of hard work actually and a downright lonely business too. A fellow can get ornery out on the fringe and I’m not sure if this experience has hardened or softened these tiger pads. Nevertheless I’m here so roll out the tiger in broad daylight!