Wednesday, August 7, 2013

tiger in a trance

It’s been a busy week on top of the mountain full of meetings and regular classes all this jam packed into a six day workweek. One gets enough free time in Bhutan but most of us phelincpa’s working in the kingdom would probably prefer an extra day off. It’s Saturday Night and I just woke up after crashing. I was so tired and awoke to Nima banging on my door shouting “Tim sir!” I rarely chase boys away but I yelled from my bed to come back tomorrow and thereafter I couldn’t move for half an hour. After classes we had an assembly in the MP hall until 4 P.M followed by my crash. Well I dragged myself out of bed and stumbled into the village to have supper with Karlos and Sonam and her delicious curry and pup Dawa Dema’s love bites revived me. I’ve had low energy lately and haven’t even been roaming every day which is unusual for me, the rains add to my sedentary mood. Fortunately the view comes to me if I choose not to wander. Yesterday we had one of our infamous four hour staff meetings conducted primarily in Dzonkha. I was devastated that half my 9C failed in English although only 1 out of 35 failed in my advanced 9A class. I love the kids but I don’t like the pressure of teaching class nine and sharing the sections with other teachers. I didn’t make the exam and thought it was way too hard and furthermore I was not shown an advance copy. Whereas in Class Seven I prepare the exam thus have control over prepping students. The reader should note that failing is more common in Bhutan as the system is geared to weeding out the majority of students with only a certain number progressing past Class Ten to higher education. Now I must retool and although I am carrying a lighter load and no home class (28 teaching periods a week) class nine takes a lot of preparation. There are many pleasantries teaching in Bhutan but also many challenges. Although English is the medium of instruction this is authentic ESL teaching and one must treat it accordingly. Other challenges include large class sizes and an entrenched rote system that favors the whacking stick to participation and diplomacy. But it really is joyful teaching here yet I feel obligated to caution incoming teachers of my perceived challenges. The joys include funny sincere students (the older ones are reticent to speak in class) and participating in all the extracurricular activities of a boarding school. There is a certain informal nature I find refreshing as the boys see me in all my manifestations considering there is no escape living on campus. Overall it might be difficult to find a more rewarding teaching gig on planet earth and that’s coming from the mouth of the complaint box! The reader knows that living in Bhutan, is a dream come true for me a peril fraught reverie full of travails and triumphs! But also the greatest adventure in the world so if you get the chance to come and join the fun don’t wimp out. Do it! One can’t find a more interesting cultural exchange and if you are attracted to beauty, well WELCOME HOME! The lows are punctuated by the highs but mostly it’s the sweet middle way of the Buddha, a simple life dictated by the rhythms of nature and governed by the tolling of the brass school bell struck at intervals throughout the sixteen hour student day.

Yesterday it was my turn as TOD (Tim on Duty) which means supervising morning and evening study along with daily teaching duties. Well at 6:30 A.M your author is a zombie but during evening study I get to chat with the students along with helping them with homework. The boys and girls are perpetually separated and free from the watchful boys the girls are more talkative with me. Conversely I can talk to the boys about personal issues that they might be having. So that’s how things progress here and I am in for a busy term in fact next to me sits a stack of sixty portfolios which take twenty minutes each to correct before returned for conferences and rewrites. Marking is exceptionally challenging with 120 students so I have opted to buy folders that contain their polished work and for daily homework I give a quick check and stamp. Having 120 students would fall in the category of aforementioned challenges but I am happy to report that I know all my class seven students by name and most of class 9. This is a major accomplishment for me with poor vision and students who all wear the same dress and all have black hair!

Let me bring you into the moment (Tim’s world) its 11:09 on Saturday Night and the rain has stopped. Dave Malone is crooning in my ear and soft light emanates from the eyes of a Buddha lampshade. Outside lights twinkle out in the inky darkness of Tawang like fishing boats off the coast of Monterey. Or like stars at the edge of the expanding universe at least the way I imagine it is out there with less celestial bods on the fringes, lots of wormholes, black holes, and weird celestial beings zipping around, electrical deities communicating in sonic waves and phosphorous light static Crackle EEP Zeak Wiz. shhhlunk kkrrr..From the village Trashigang glows like the Milky Way burning a hole in a magenta mountain. On this side of campus the mighty hump of Shampula dawns squiggly mist locks as the Dagme Chu hums a lullaby to all sentient beings. (AH THAT HUM OF THE EARTH almost drove me insane one murky night at Jackson Lake in the Tetons, The night of the Bear) but also secretive night tones for the rocks, grass, and mountains. (THE HUM THE ROAR OF SILENCE 5 A.M IN EAST QUINCY BEFORE THE FIRST TWEET STEAM FROM THE LUMBER YARD RISING TO THE CRAGS) Everything good in the universe is available to us coded in every moment beyond the register of our deceptive senses that trick us into the judgement of interpretation. (THE HUM THE RAW MOMENT UNINTERPRETED ORGASMIC) Let it go and peel away the senses so you can float away like a red balloon over Paris then report back and tell me how you did it! Back on earth precisely the backwash of Eastern Bhutan on the invisible border of Arrunachal Pradesh I type to you eating peanut butter from the jar, a bedtime snack. Peanut butter and jelly has saved me many times like a condiment hero swooping in for a daring rescue, up up and away! It’s a bird it’s a plain No its PB&J! Truthfully Bhutan is a morning place the sun rising emphatically over Tawang DEAD RED on my position (How many of these immaculate sunrises have I slept through?) I’ve witnessed a few in accordance with Guru’s Glory! But the starless blanket of night is a respite from the waves of action. The farmers are dreaming of bumper crops, the kids are sleeping or playing flashlight tag, and I’m left alone straining to hear the river HUSH three thousand feet below rushing back to the source unchecked, deprogrammed, defragmented, divorced, disentangled, dictation (BREAKER BREAKER THIS IS RIVER ONE CALLING THE FARTHEST STAR DO YOU READ ME YO?) No response from any star (WHERE MY PEOPLE GONE SILENT GONE THE ROAR OF SILENCE LIKE NIAGRA FALLS ON STERIODS LIKE THE CROWD AT YANKEE STADIUM ON PCP AFTER WINNING THE PENNEANT OR THE ROCKET MAN LIFTING OFF X’s A GAZILLION) do you read me or am I being obtuse, or maybe too damn acute...or cute? Not anymore ACE, age has taken its toll (MY SOULMATE SUGGESTED THAT I SPEND MY DAYS AS A TOLL BOOTH ATTENDENT) but I opted for teaching instead since being a teacher is the best way to learn. Okay enough shenanigans queue the lip diddles Blebleble that’s all folks!

I had trouble sleeping so I spent the wee hours reading Tom Sawyer and stepped out at 3:30 A.M to see the sky twinkling with lurid starlight. Strange luminous orbs that appeared to hang from a mobile over baby Zeke’s celestial crib. Hazy glowing balls of different sizes and depths spilling from the Milky Way some close enough to grasp and others faraway. An hour later the marmalade glow of another days wings spreading out from Tawang slowly canvassed the sky. On Sunday morning students came by and then I made pasta for Karlos before heading out of doors. It was a glorious sunny afternoon so I made a pilgrimage to Namkhar Goempa via a magic mossy Chorten I happened upon in June. Tsenkharla is at its pinnacle of greenery prior to the maize being cut. Sloping terraces of maize blend seamlessly into oak coppices butted up against the untamed borderland wilderness, a portrait of east Bhutan. As the afternoon progressed large thunder bumpers amassed over Shampula roaring and releasing their juicy pellets. The storm passed as quickly as it arrived and nightfall brought bright stars overhead while an ominous golden vortex of lightning glittered over the jagged ridgeline of Bartsham and another electrical vortex tittered over Tawang. One feels like god surveying thousands of stars while on the fringes silent lightning zips along in funnelled vortexes and one doesn’t have to be a Ghost buster to sense the pervasive paranormal activity accentuated by a blackout and the revelry of the Zangtopelri puja participants bashing cymbals and bleating horns in the bewitched midnight hour; just another Sunday in Shangri-La, a veritable fairytale land with all the perils and delights that might await Hansel and Gretel or more aptly Wangmo and Zangmo. 

Back on campus the second term has begun in earnest with all the vexation and elation that manifests throughout the day. It’s confounding to get the class nine students to speak at a time when they should be excelling in speech. To be fair they are not encouraged to speak openly in many of their other periods so class discussions are alien terrain for them. They must be encouraged and prodded to participate even in group activities. But once in awhile they shine like the rare immersion of starlight over Tsenkharla. Tonight there was a community dinner which was delicious featuring all the Bhutanese fixings including Emadatsi, dal, and dried fish, thanksgiving in the land of the thunder dragon. Underfoot tots ran amuck and the vibe was festive. For my part or rather from my side I was pensive and quiet content just to observe and marvel at my happenstances. I guess you could say after 1.5 years IT still hasn’t sunk in and probably never will. I never bothered to study sharshop but it seems natives talk a lot about other natives, places, and money. They talk about who has money and what things cost but it is that openness that relays their relationship with the monetary system. In the west we are guarded about money and it is considered rude to openly talk of it even though our society heralds cash above all. Sigh, sometimes I wish I was more like them and less like me. On the solitary walk home I registered a refreshing chill as fog enveloped Rangthangwoong. Watching the happy families sup I felt a pang of sadness at my own lonely station (TERRAPIN STATION LAST STATION ON THE LINE) but also wouldn’t swap my circumstances for all the tacos in Guadalajara or more regionally apropos, for all the momo’s in Tibet. I am a marginal figure here, something every human should experience in their lifetime, floating between the worlds except I have the advantage of being deeply rooted to this mountain in a way that secures more peace for my discord than I have ever known.     

I recall my last night on Turtle Island the continent known as North America. A tempest raged knocking out power as my belongings were scattered around the family room and I frantically tried to cut my luggage weight in half as Kristen suggested (Druk never weighed it in Bangkok) to avoid overcharges. Bra came by and whisked me off over the Golden Gate Bridge to San Francisco for one more night of revelry. The sight of that swan song was The Great American Music Hall where I had spent so many nights in ecstasy with familiar faces. Kimock was charged with the fond farewell a perfect exit into the portal. An average output from the masterful guitar monk with some splendid highlights including wickedly delicious slide which garnered a standing ovation from the player himself. After the last note faded and Kimock was packing it up I was yelling of my departure for the Himalaya from the crowd and the curmudgeon shielded his eyes as if spotting blue sheep on a distant crag and thus we played peek-a-boo in this fashion until I retreated out of the glorious theatre and into the tenderloin. Seven hours later I took off from SFO circumabulating Mt. Tamalpais with Sabrina heading over the Pacific bound for the orient.

Presently it’s Tuesday August 6 2013 at Tsenkharla in Eastern Bhutan. Clouds swallow a Monpa temple atop a pinnacle in neighbouring Arrunachal Pradesh and my stomach winces from too many Chillis’s. Entrenched in the daily grind of teaching, a never ending story of planning, delivering lessons, and marking and I can only shake my head at the career I’ve chosen that goes against my grain in such dramatic fashion. But at the same time working with youngsters is such a dynamic and fulfilling role. An ironic contradiction that leaves me to ponder if this is a calling or just a serendipitous wrong turn in my evolution. It doesn’t matter for the moment, this is what I’m doing and I am wholly absorbed in it. But I won’t lie teaching is exasperating, frustrating, but gratifying as life itself. One fact is that I am too similar to the kid’s which is both my strength and weakness in the field. Discipline is unnatural for me and unless one is the most engaging practitioner of the art, issues will arise in the classroom, especially with boys (Boys will be boys indeed) besides teaching I spent my day dolling out money to students for things they need. I’m now requiring receipts proving their purchase of the necessary items. One thing that alleviates stress is living in this environment, the lush grass underfoot, flowers busting blooms, banana trees, and a view of eternity all make it worth it! The world melts away leaving only BHUTAN! And in the void one makes it up as they go along...If Alan Watts brought Buddhism to the West, than I’m bringing my esoteric ways to the East. It’s a peculiar cultural collision and I am an oddity in the village (The village oddball) It all seems more mysterious than ever and although I’m confident I have improved my students English sometimes the cultural gaps are as glaring as a clear Tawang dawn. Class Nine are so reticent to speak compared to my class seven and I can only chalk it up to teenage angst. The classroom is not a traditional outlet for individual expression and when they do talk it is often acting out. They know no beating will be given for misbehaviour which puts BCF teachers at a disadvantage. Actually my advance class is the only one to give me any behavioral issues as 9C barely speaks at all. I’m exaggerating on both accounts as anything I write should be taken with a grain of salt. Somewhere in the middle (THE NATURAL MIDWAY!) is the truth.

A thought for the day: Christ is the Western Buddha and Buddha is the Eastern Christ and we are all ONE like it or not...I’m still confounded by an argument on the Bangkok monorail between my brother and me. He accepted the tenants of Buddhism except cringed at the lack of an individual nature that seems pervasive in that philosophy. Well after ruminating for six months I have a reply. In Buddhism one doesn’t relinquish individuality per say instead one realizes perceived individuality as an illusion. That doesn’t prohibit a body from acting out their role in the game. Alan Watts said of other people, “How will god show up in our lives today to teach us” Especially people who we might have an aversion to yet share in the divine nature inherent in all things. For me this is the hardest pill to swallow. It’s easy to define ourselves in the existence of an enemy and frankly it’s easier to hate than to love. (AS UNCLE JOHN SAYS, A’INT NO TIME TO HATE BARELY TIME TO WAIT!) Gasp, I will spend my lifetime learning how to love myself and others but the TRUTH is we all have an equal share of divinity from HITLER to MOTHER TERRESA. Some of us shy away from the light drifting into SATAN’S PITCHFORK while others SERVE THE MAKER. I’m stuck in the muck trying to join the ranks of the goodhearted people. People are the cruellest and most altruistic of God’s creatures and if there’s NO GOD than all the more reason to help each other through this Passion Play. I’m sceptical; the afterlife seems a convenient means of ensuring the ego’s survival into the next dimension. To further satiate the ego we make the afterlife an exclusive country club catering to our own kind (SNAKEHANDLING EVANGELICAL CAUCASIAN CHRISTIANS ONLY!) I spend my nights at CLUB DESIRE with multiracial transgender ravers and rovers and other heads bent on milking the utter of life as they see fit. My kids are good at having fun (especially class seven) and I admire them for it. In the two years between class seven and nine they swap their abandon for adolescence, a tragedy for all humankind. I’m primed for a midlife crisis but one only must recapitulate their youth to be satisfied. A tall order in the construct of the adult world where some find contentment in raising their own kids, others opt for chasing rock n’ roll bands or playing in them. Currently I try to re-establish the link between myself and the emptiness of REALITY, a lone butter lamp flickering on the altar of the void. But where’s MISS PEACOCK FEATHER, off seeing STS9 in HOTLANTA?            

My strategy for the day was strictness in the classroom and I got results. I am focusing on listening skills when they are reading or presenting to one another.  The thing with classroom management you must be aware of the peripheral happenings of 35 students while staying in the moment. When it works it’s an unconscious phenomenon and when it doesn’t its like swatting mosquitoes. I don’t revel in being authoritative or a disciplinarian but these are aspects of being a teacher but preferably positive reinforcement and mutual respect should be the foundation of the classroom setting. Either way my extra attention to detail yielded fine results in class and the students are no worse for the ware. It’s a heady period on the hill and I have plenty to sink my teeth into. Today’s forecast is cloudy and one might say it’s a typical August day hereabouts. Of course no two days ever were or will be alike and there’s nothing typical about life. How easy we drift in the doldrums of a mundane ocean, and village life brings both tranquillity and stagnation for our busy Western minds. Best to find a hobby (or hubby) and hunker down with work and for goodness sake don’t look directly at the dragon.

Around midnight an immense cardboard green dragon personified with glowing red eyes and steam hissing from its nostrils snaked out of its curtained cave shaking something awful over a crowd of bobbing heads. Thunder roared from its mouth as I was staring directly at my fated destiny watching the lengthy serpent wiggle into open space with some sort of pagan angel riding bareback on its hide. A lump of burning fear seared my soul as the menacing eyes spotted their treat, events were now in motion that are still yet to unfold and I was headed faraway, east into a realm beyond the intuition of the seers. Melting in the dragon’s inferno my death bloom spent, a blue poppy, my sweat stained petals falling at the bare feet of a classical brunette and her handsome paramour. After being deposited beyond a siding I glanced back to see Bobby pounding his chest morphing into the Thunder Dragon roaring goodbye, welcoming me home! 

At home eating ramen for lunch and looking out my open door down the gullet of the Dagme Chu at a chip in a Tawang saddle. On the opposite side of the corridor a spire above Kanglung would fit perfectly into that divot and the clearest day reveals a verdant bowl containing the wild lands of Tawang, Yangtse, and Trashigang. An organic mosaic of peaks, valleys, forests, crags, and terraces with a silver river threaded through it. It’s just another Wacky Wednesday in the farthest reaches of the Kingdom and I feel blessed and beseeched. Where else does a teacher deliver lessons to barefoot boys or girls with holy books on their desk wrapped in cloth? To the Bhutanese devotion is a way of life, which would make any Sunday Morning Catholic drool in envy. These kids are up out and praying by 5:15 A.M while I’m still snoozing, dreaming of the perfect taco. (THEN WE WRAP THAT TACO IN ANOTHER SOFT SHELL, AND THEN WE WRAP THAT UP IN A PIZZA, THANKS TACO TIME!!!) Or sometimes I dream of BACON BURGER DOGS raining like torpedoes shot from a HOT DOG CANNON in Tawang. (IT WAS HOT DOGS THAT REPELLED THE REDS IN THE INDO/CHINA WAR OF 62) I relish that thought but prefer mine with spicy mustard. But I digress since I am obviously thinking with my stomach this afternoon.

Tonight my stomachs prayers were answered with Sonam’s handmade beef momo’s, and before bed I was visited by Anansi the trickster spider god that knows all the worlds’ stories including the story of a tiger in trance...

*Thanks Arwin for the info on Anansi.

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