“April is the cruelest month” T.S Eliot
Life at Tsenkharla is in full swing! A universe unto itself starring staff, students, villagers, and dogs. I won’t lie I feel like I am flying by the seat of my pants as hygienic realities must be dealt with alongside daily planning and execution of lessons. Like Peter Pan I never fancied growing up which is both my strength and weakness as a teacher. I am youthful in spirit so I can energize my base but I also fall victim to taking shortcuts. However I didn’t take any shortcuts on Which Way, a story about shortcuts and most of the students are grasping the relatively complex plotline that featured dual endings. There are usually two or three excellent students in each class, a pack of mediocre, and a bunch of struggling learners. A lot has to do with background since many students come from remote farming villages off the road sometimes merely a cluster of dung huts clinging to cliffs. Last time up at Shakshang I saw a toddler defecating in a pile of trash and certain people up there are filthy. Almost none of the student’s parents speak English yet the students are adept at acquiring English from national teachers and media bits. Funny Bhutanese expressions remain in the vernacular like “by hearting” and I pick up bad habits like saying “no” after every sentence which actually means the opposite, right. This branch of English came from England via India so my American tongue is extraordinarily foreign initially before they become accustomed to my intonations. Even in the classroom they constantly revert to Sharchop so I must stay vigilant. I do allow code switching but obviously encourage speaking English during the group activities but as soon as I move to another cluster I will hear utterances in Sharchop. I find these challenges more intriguing than frustrating as I go along. When students are comfortable and approach me at home or afterschool they speak more freely than inside the classroom. Being ESL learners they don’t want to be judged by peers especially after class seven.
Weather Report is cloudy and cold still anticipating the tempests of spring which will turn the land brilliant greens and roll out the Thunder Dragon (April is his month) Essentially its cold six months and mild six months on the hill and cherry blossoms and rhododendrons are prevalent now. April will also bring relief from the cold nights and by summer I will not even need my raggedy Ratdog hoody. Bhutan couldn’t withstand a draught like California so I pray that the rains will come and right now I feel a bit like Han Solo frozen in carbonite since you never asked. I’m also hungry so I might as well amble to the shop for some ramen. It just occurred to me that there is a picture of a phallus on my last post and that might alarm some of you. These penises are painted on many houses in Western Bhutan and are meant to ward off evil spirits. This belief came from Drukpa Kunley AKA The Divine Madman who subdued demons by wacking them with his flaming thunderbolt of wisdom. In the East many dwelling have dangling wood phalluses hanging from the corner of the rooftops. Since the Divine Madman never ventured east of Bumthang the frescos are most common in Central and West Bhutan. The sexual iconology is the titillating tip of the iceberg, including cannibal gods and animal people coiled in snakes and skulls all dancing in a ring around the buggy and bloodshot eyed Guru, the religion or way of life has its solemn side too. And let’s not forget the tiny flock who found Jesus wandering the Himalayas (last seen near Tawang) searching for divinity. This is the weirdest place on earth!
Trashiyangtse is close to Tibet and India, from Bumdeling Park the terrain ascends into 20,000 foot mountains on the Northeast border where the three countries coalece. I recently talked to a researcher from Europe who has been up there with the Bhutanese doing research and confirms it’s a three day trek from park headquarters to the boarder. To the east are Monpa who are similar to Brokpa and inhabit the Tawang district of Arrunachal Pradesh. Yangtse itself is a uniquely diverse area with Druk, Sharchop, Nepali, Indians, Japanese, and at least one forlorn American.
I can’t get off the floor
children knockin down my door
Here me crying all night long
Done a poor boy wrong
Snowflakes turn to rain
Why do I play this game?
About a week ago I was down in Doksom on a windy hazy afternoon, I stumbled off the mountain to visit a young woman I had met at Chorten Kora in a form of Bhutanese dating I guess we could call it, Sitting around her shop while her entire family (including child) stared at me while I ate lunch. Predictably not much chance of reentering the world of carnal delight in such a circumstance so I instead bid ado and visited the Dangme Chu River near Gom Kora and later the pagoda itself before hitching into Trashigang. Meanwhile the road between Gom Kora and Chasm is being widened to support the monstrous eighteen wheel trucks that will carry out work on the Kulong Chu Hydropower project (Don’t Fuck with my rivers Haas!) Environmental Degradation is afoot in Eastern Bhutan don’t believe the hype y’all. A yellow tractor claws at the mountain dumping boulders the size of pickup trucks into the river a hundred feet below, my favorite river on earth. Waters that are now choked with debris and will eventually become filthy as they drain the toxic subcontinent. The very same country that the Bhutanese will outsource the power to for currency. Is this Shangri La? By the time I reached Trashigang I was suffering from a mild headache and fatigue and the following day I hitched back through the dust squalls to my stone hut where I collapsed into a feverish nightmare that has lasted for eight days. In two years I have only used two sick days but missed the entire week of classes beleaguered and besieged by a nasty viral bacteria that brandishes a seething headache, body aches to beat the band, terrible night sweats, diarrhea, and crippling fatigue. So it goes with no sleep lying on my cot a slab of a mattress at 4 AM with the barking dogs and the pounding rain that has finally arrived, apparently left for dead but eventually Butterfly came by to help out and finally after three days I was in an outbound ambulance to Trashigang for blood work. Results? No typhoid rather some large clusters of bacteria waging war within the terminal of my body. A Cuban Doc prescribed Cypro to aid the allies in their march for victory and now I am back in my cold hut awaiting the medicine to take effect so I can get back to work. I have no energy and can barely stagger to Tsenkharla for supplies and the whole thing is a dismal affair. Before falling ill Nancy visited on her yearly tour to visit teachers in the field. She graciously gave me a Scrabble board game and some edibles. She also came with a caper of sorts which reminded me how cool this place is. Apparently before Catherine’s stint at Rangthangwoong a French anthropologist who now goes by Tashi Wangmo was in Kumdung to meet a local shamanistic woman who lives up near Namkhar. The woman apparently lives a rudimentary existence going into a trance and telling peoples fortunes and the like. Now Tashi Wangmo wants to return to find this woman who is still alive and rather old now. Nancy was armed with several old photographs snapped on that day in 1982. She questioned my VP a man who speaks only some English and is quintessentially Bhutanese, a wonderful man. He recognized the woman in the photo instantly and Nancy immediately phoned Tashi Wangmo who lectures in Trongsa. So in May I hope to join this anthropologist and meet this fascinating woman who until now I never knew practiced on the ridgeline above our school.
What else can I tell you with no new adventures unfolding? Winter is revolving into spring so let’s pause to remember winter in East Bhutan. The season is not a glamorous one featuring ubiquitous hazy skies and bare earth. Let’s start in Doksom at the foot of my beloved mountain that rises six thousand feet cresting into the dense forests of Bromla. But down here at an elevation approximately 3,000 feet above sea level there is more exposed rock than vegetation. Doksom is one of the driest places I’ve seen in the overtly verdant kingdom. It’s a rocky place with steep narrow gorges and crags located two KM from magical Gom Kora and sits at the windy confluence of the Kulong Chu and Dangme Chu rivers. I recall some myth about two wacky birds separated at birth eating peanut butter on a derelict bedframe. Or wait that’s not the right one, anyway the rivers flow from Arrunachal Pradesh and Tibet respectively yet we cannot say they are pristine. But they are dazzling and the government has refurbished the dilapidated steal bridge with a gleaming new model with far less personality, and now with additional roadwork to prepare for the big show hydro project the area is torn up. But the confluence is still unyielding in POWER as any nimrod can glean. I like to watch the waters coalesce and for some reason think about Becky my other half who like that wacky mythical bird flew the coop. Doksom town is the wild East personified a truck stop dusty drag jammed with techno colored Indian ta ta’s with wood framed tin roofed shacks anchored by large stones. I wouldn’t say it’s a traditional village by any stretch but its classic far east and one can even get curry if the right place is open. It’s mild even in winter sitting beneath towering tawny and umber cliffs, beautiful outcroppings stick out from bare earth dotted with pine or eucalyptus stands and the terrain is so steep that the dusty outpost seems situated at the bottom of an enormous cone. It’s 14 KM from Doksom to Tsenkharla a twisting road that climbs towards Zongposar headquarters of the Kulong Chu Project perched high above the emerald waters. Along the way our scrawny pines cling to precipices while across the gorge impossible footpaths lead to precarious settlements perched on vertical cliffs. At Zongposar the road forks leading to Yangtse town and Tsenkharla respectively, going my way the terrain becomes more gradual supporting farms of scraggly banana trees sprouting from the boulders. Along the route one sees barefoot old woman in dusty kiras sporting big sticks, chewing wads of doma, herding cows. You can observe an ancient way of life right along Bhutanese roads as anyone fortunate enough to spend time here can attest. The road snakes its way upward turning so many times that I still can’t chart it course accurately entering Kumdung a roadside village offering the first view of India and the endless Dangme Chu River valley. After another 6 km of sparsely populated farms and barren brown terraces we reach Yartse. The author should note that the terraces lack the grandure of Phongmay or other places around the east and are battered into the rocky terrain. The naked roadside also offers a gaping view into the maw of Tawang that rips my heart wide open with each breath, even on my ambulance run dizzy from a clogged ear I still can marvel at it! There’s an openness here that I cannot find anywhere else on earth and a feeling of loneliness always pervades my soul on this drive. From Yartse it’s a mere 2k to Tsenkharla with one more rollercoaster turn revealing the eastern promenade in all its glory. Tsenkharla marks a change with vegetation becoming thicker which is how things operate in the east. As you climb you get into denser forests with the real wilderness in HIGH places like Bumdeling or Sakteng. These are the tracts of forests that are not interrupted by slash and burn farming and where the animals dwell. The bears, yetis, wild pigs and yes even tigers! But you won’t see any tiger stripes at Tsenkharla, well maybe a few. From my place the possibilities for exploration are endless as you might have gleaned from my adventures. Near the exalted Prince Tsangma’s Ruin are regal pines, eucalyptus, and fragrant lemon grass (The Prince established himself here in 847 when Turtle Island was still natives only and Chris Columbus wasn’t yet a glint in his Great Grandfathers eye) and what has changed here? Lots and nothing whatsoever! Since my arrival several new farm roads and the obtrusive Tashi Cell Tower planted on temple grounds. But the middle section of our fair Mount remains intact with shimmering oak forests and the seemingly out of place lavishly appointed cypress grove beneath Zongtopelri. Above Darchin rolling pasture rises to the tiptop of the mountain an anonymous peak which sharply descends to a ridge that connects the rich forest of Bromla with the high altitude moor of Shampula and this is where I have run out of rope hitting an impregnable wall of vegetation and steepness. My epic solo journey to the summit of Shampula last fall (we were blacked out) was as far as I have stretched my territory but since I’m idle in a pool of bacterial sweat I might tell you something about it now. The events of those two days are a secret but eventually I emerged from the oaks onto the windswept moor of my dreams weary and alone, I pressed all the way to the top summiting my first mountain in the Himalaya. The nearest Bhutanese village of Jangphu four hours below me not a trace of man exists only rolling grasses with fluffy cream blooms and views in all directions above the clouds, including an Indian valley I didn’t even know existed. Straddling the border it’s a domain claimed by no country as I roared with all my might a puny offering to the wind. On that spot a ring of prayer flags from some bygone native expedition as I’m quite certainly the ONLY foreighner to ever set foot there. This is where GOD lives or precisely the local deity that reins this dominion, a fractal entity dealing only in wind and silence. No trees, No people, No form, just unadulterated access to the void of nothingness, the intrinsic essence of everything!
It all seems far away from this feverish rant although I can see the enormous humped summit shrouded in grey from my crusty window. It’s always there reminding me that this is ALL an illusion, these words I speak, the chair you sit in, that glass of red wine sitting to your right on an architectural desk, all of it. And oh sickness and pain, why must we suffer and die? Why are we indeed born to depart? The query that sent a handsome Siddhartha from his gilded palace leaving behind his foxy bride and newborn baby never to return. I am also seeking but refuse to leggo my ego, therefore am bound for more suffering, decay, and rebirth into the madness of samsara.
Pyrite ridge glistens
Drops of Rhododendron blood
Spill from broken hearts
Gom Kora Tsechu is approaching and having the bacterial Blues I hope I might still attend. Since I told you about Shampula I might as well tell you about last year’s Zongtopelri Tsechu as well. My computer was down so I never reported on the most enchanted event. Autumn is a hypnotizing season, the payoff for the toilsome year and our second Tsechu was memorable as Thegsey Rinpoche from Tawang and favorite son of East Bhutan came to stay up at Zangtopelri. He is a remarkable man of 45 that looks as if he would be at home at a Dead Show with long hair, mustache, and pierced ears decked out in full robe regalia, wielding an ivory serpentine staff that he used to bop people on the head for the mass blessing. I can tell you it was an electric atmosphere as he levitated through the crowd with confident elegance at the precise moment that the sun was sinking below the western horizon. But there was an even bigger star among us, the Guru himself, and like the year before he actually incarnated through incantations and that eerily personified gold mask that acts as a lightning rod. The MAN or GOD is accessible at every moment but for the helpless fool he can neutralize the universe at such a ceremony allowing them to embody a pure moment (I’ve only had a few) and that’s what happened to me again just before the last masked dance commenced. Ironically the Fourth of July Interdependence Drum Circle at the National Rainbow Gathering is the only other communal event that rivals such authenticity and power that I have witnessed in my 36 years on earth in this body. It’s also a time to bond with community and enjoy! Dawa Dema barking at the Astra, posing for snaps with the kids, eating delicious food at Karlos & Sonam’s Fool stall. As before I found myself nearly alone watching the last Dancer whirling in the fading light. A frantic dervish to the clash and clang of cymbals and screeching ten foot horns. His antlers catching the first rays of a rising moon his arching bare feet digging into the dirt then leaping high into the air spinning like twinkling Venus tossing gold skirt not wanting to leave the ring. But finally he does vanishing behind the curtain and all that is left is Thegsey grinning alone watching from his dragon’s tent, a vortex of wrappers flying through the gloaming between us.
Rats must have distinct personalities because my resident rat loves socks. This rat has whiskers longer than Bobby’s and I noticed he gnawed into my bag of mismatched socks, as if it’s not bad enough to lose your sock partner then to be partially consumed by a rat! I will plug the front door from now on since today I wearily cleaned my house and even had two class ten boys wash the floors and afterwards Butterfly made me a delicious lunch of Kaywa datsi. I also managed to finish my marking and planned a few lessons since I hope to get back to work as soon as Monday but we’ll see how it goes. Signing off for now on a Saturday night in samsara.
“I could use a change of scenery, but when I get there I’m still here…”
Today another ride in the ambulance this time to Yangtse hospital for another blood test where I found out my blood type is the rare o-. Everything checked out so for now I play the waiting game with minimal symptoms except night sweats and crushing fatigue. Every night I get up to piss and see the rat snooping around the premises but I no longer scream like a girl (sexist since many girls wouldn’t scream) Too much time left recapitulating on my cot and trying to avoid feeling sorry for myself which I have spent a lifetime mastering. Outside the sky is charcoal and clouds decapitate Shampula obscuring everything east of the border. In retrospect I shouldn’t have alerted my mom who is now upset that I’m sick, it’s only that when I’m ill I want my mommy but mom if you are reading this I promise there is no need for worry and I will be fine, it’s just a matter of time. But back to taking stock I can’t help note the absence of Karlos and the students who haven’t dropped in to check on me. I can only guess that the boys are feeling shy when I’m sick but honestly I could use some help now. Oh well what to do as they say in the great range. Meanwhile Ashish has stopped by to help and Becky has listened to me moan on the phone from her new station in Southern Colorado. Down below the party rages on at Gom Kora where several BCF teachers are in attendance. I pass the time by reading The Eagles Gift a quite terrible Carlos Castaneda book and completing an intriguing book on Lake Tahoe that my former girlfriend had given me. As for my own writing I don’t seem to have much to share these days and can’t write a poem to save my life. My life force seems drained in a way I have never experienced perhaps all my obsessions and compulsions have sucked my soul dry but one things for certain when I emerge from this sickness I will have to rebuild from my very foundations, and focus my energy on health. My immune system is battered from two debilitating illnesses in 2014 and perhaps Tashi the tapeworm has taken up residence in my gut again. But for all of the yucky stuff I feel my work here is not done and all I want to do is get back in the classroom and back on the trails! I also realize that this is an integral segment of my experience here as living in a developing country one runs the risk of incurring some illness. Overall this is not severe but rather a test of my fortitude and forbearance two qualities needed to survive here. I am grateful to be here and happy I served a second year and truly believe that it’s paramount to serve for two years. I realize for some this isn’t possible but serving a second year truly benefits the community and teacher alike. Having acknowledged this I have many of my sweetest memories from my first year when I did most of my roaming with Becky all over the east. My principal is strict and does not except sightseeing as a legitimate means for casual leave where some teachers enjoy more freedom in this regard. Of course we are here to teach but allowances should be made for us to travel, meet with friends, and enjoy this unique culture during this once in a lifetime sojourn.
I know the weather is getting warmer by the spiders and moths that appear in my house. A stray cricket can even be head rhapsodizing on my porch. A light curtain of rain falls outside and the boys are busy singing and shouting and enjoying each other’s company. It’s admirable how much the Bhutanese dig themselves and I enjoy reading their similar accounts of Losar except one girl’s sad account of her drunken father frightening her. The weird thing about these bacterial blues is not feeling a part of my body as if I’m observing myself through a filmy haze. I am not very present in my body to begin with which is why I gravitate towards trekking which gives me a sense of feeling my feet on the ground. My mind is permanently stuck on overdrive like a monkey on crack and at times I feel exhausted battling for control. Maybe some of you can relate on some level as we are all ghosts in our machines. Recapitulation on my cot. How did I get here with my concentric lives first the one I left behind, or is on hiatus as one friend told me, and the other life I tried to create in East Bhutan which really does feel like the Land of Terror right now. Where do these congruent circles touch and who am I? One glaring reality is that I am a selfish person and that bothers me. Those who know me observe my tendencies for defensiveness which also upsets me. I’m a terrible listener and I am quite habitual as Phuntsho would say. This passage isn’t meant as self-effacement because at the moment I am detached from it all just observing and wondering why? Of course I have good qualities also but it seems at age 36 sweating through my fifth t-shirt of the night the weaknesses stand out more. On paper things are wayward since I haven’t been in a loving relationship in over six years. I sabotaged my first love for reasons still yet discovered and abandoned my next paramour and have been solo ever since. Since I don’t feel comfortable in the company of other people this might just be the state I will live out my days which might be alright. I have a student debt that I have no inclination to tackle therefore unfairly transferring the onus onto my poor mother. I have no savings no credit and have chosen a career that I am not suited for. Don’t get me wrong I enjoy teaching in Bhutan which is a special circumstance with the most special children but the thought of teaching in California makes me want to vomit. Student teaching nearly gave me a nervous breakdown after all. I should probably delete the above passage but might as well disclose my skeletons in a moldy closet. Someday if I’m ever courageous enough to reread these words I will probably consider myself a sniveling brat. Hopefully through my narcissistic ravings some valuable information on teaching ESL in Bhutan comes through or at least some amateur nature writing. But since I abandoned my diary long ago this is it people, HOW DO YA LIKE IT?
I can’t help ask myself what good works have I accomplished here? It’s hard to see the result instead I see a lot of room for improvement which is a good thing. For me the Bhutanese are hard to read and a teacher’s job is rather thankless. The elementary teachers who made a difference in my life I never paused to express my gratitude, which is not the way of youth. So I plug on often uncomfortable in the role as leader or facilitator of knowledge. However my teaching career plays out I don’t regret any of it for a second. My time in Korea and Bhutan has been the most worthwhile endeavor in my life. The others worth noting are my first love affair and my POWER exchanges with Bobby. I know my life hasn’t been in vain and perhaps your feverish author is merely relishing an extended midlife crisis. None of it matters anyway its ONLY imperative that one keeps moving forward.
“Not even the trees recognize me anymore”
Your author has been depressed lately as I’m sure you have ascertained from the above writing. Depression is a useless emotion that I have succumbed to throughout my life. The cause is simple an inflated ego. The intrepid book The Power of Now lays it out so clearly but like most readers I choose to ignore the truth. I want things to always go my way. I want my needs to be satisfied and when they aren’t the whole world be damned. I am well aware that as I lay with my mild malady that there is genuine suffering taking place all around me, including the mangy dog caught out in the rain. Buddhism offers the sanest view of it all admitting that life is pain. Christians (for the most part) have their head up their own asses looking for heaven meanwhile excluding the heathens. But I’m an agnostic that can’t see a semblance of reason in any of it. In the end it’s all about choices and that scares me most of all. Free will? Tell that to the blind cripple or the child with leukemia or the raving schizoid on the streets of San Francisco. Pain. The veil of samsara it’s all an illusion, that same illusion that sent Siddhartha packing. But he found his piece of mind impervious to the seven devils that tempted him under that Bodhi Tree. How did I get here? A full grown adult arrested with a child’s greedy DESIRE. (There is an I in Desire) Pile on the shit until it reveals the diamond vehicle. Saddle up and ride along with the buggy eyed Guru who said Fuck it long ago. Or dismiss this post altogether as a delirious aside from a peculiar man living in a stone hut on the borderlands of nowhere.
Looking out of ambulance window
Thirsty banana tree with shriveled leaves
Boulders painted white
Trace the blood rain red rhododendron
Swishing in the vile
Returning past waterfall Boo young
But where are those silly monkeys?
Staggering from BHU
A soulless shell
Gazing into mercury fog
Let it go to Tuesday
This year despite being sick I attended Gom Kora Tsechu with my three friends including two Indian teachers and Jigme sir. After sponsoring lunch for the boys I slinked down to the river circumventing the steaming piles of stool stripped down and ladled the cold water over my feverish skin. This year there were more tourists in attendance than Brokpa or Monpa but I did accost two shy ones from Merak wearing crimson wool tunics and spider spout hats. The Bhutanese looked resplendent in their finest gho and kira and overheated countenances. I was delighted to see many of my precious student’s roaming around the kora including Sonam Choden who I taught in class eight who came to sit by me and I was impressed at what a fine young lady she had become. She is on par to qualify this year and if she gains a bit of confidence in speaking she will be unstoppable. Smiling boys including a jovial Sangay Tobgay who despite making my classroom into a carnival last year I still love dearly. I glimpsed many familiar faces from Tsenkharla, Doksom, and Trashigang including my barber Deepak. At my most vulnerable point I was overwhelmed to see both the people and land I love. The Guru made an appearance although HE didn’t transcend for me in the same manner but today was all about reconnecting with my community and beginning the long road to recovery. I slogged two kilometers into dusty Doksom eating peanuts and wiping toxic sweat from my brow. One Indian teacher asked if I had chicken pocks, no just pimples I replied. I crammed in a taxi with Karma Om’s ma, Hatchet Boy, and a group of schoolgirls including the mischevious Phuntsho Wangmo from class eight. Deposited back atop Tsenkharla where the temperature is twenty degrees cooler, I am eager to resume teaching tomorrow even though I know I won’t be healthy for a few weeks. I was disappointed not to see Jon and Sara but did my duty appearing the last day of the three day event. I have previously only attended at night which is a different animal altogether but this year the addition of Tsenkharla students really made it worthwhile on an otherwise trying afternoon. Gom Kora Tsechu is the crux of Eastern Culture so I felt it mandatory to make an appearance even in my bedraggled state.
“Baby baby pretty young on Tuesday oh like a rum drinking demon at tea”
Someday if I revisit these words I might wonder why all the melodrama and hopefully I will be able to laugh at myself. But I also harken this blog back to the days of letters between confidants. Well y’all are my correspondents so in that light making privy all my demons in a public forum might be considered in the same vein as Sylvia Plath or Jack Kerouac who went mad at the end of Big Sir. Sometimes I feel embarrassed about the things I write but follow the muse wherever it takes me. Such is life also in Bhutan where the first time I’ve been genuinely frightened for my health. If you are healthy in Bhutan or in life that is everything. I have felt forsaken lately even though I am supported here. Home feels very far away right now and this home seems extremely vivid and surreal simultaneously. After Gom Kora I realize that I have made an impact here and shouldn’t be overly critical. I can always improve on my pedagogies but on a human level I have touched lives and academically taught them many things. The tradeoff is I’ve learned a helluva lot of what I can’t exactly put into words. Heck I’ve learned it’s all interchangeable and that a person can love people from a different world. I’ve learned that I complain far too much but I do have a good sense of humor that often gets wasted here, but laughing with the students is the best. They go for a more physical comedy they’d probably dig the antics of Jim Carrey. Bhutanese love to laugh and they love both drama (romantic) and comedy equally and they adore their pop music. Movie night at the MP feature three hour saga’s in Dzonkha with lots of singing and courting in fields, always appropriately attired in gho and kira. They have all they need as far as culture and arts go but still they furtively crave Hollywood, Bollywood and Korean cinema. By the way those aforementioned Bhutanese movies are broadcast on a large sheet while the kids sit cross legged on the floor, I can hear them cheering at the appropriate parts from my cave. Life at a boarding school is ruled by the rhythms of the bell, with bell captain Sangay Tobgay and his erratic scheduling usually running late or early according to his subtle desire. Teaching at a boarding school can be vexing but it also an interesting place to work! You probably thing I oscillate more than the dragon after his third cup of sugar tea but other teachers have manic swings here too. I like Scotty from Yadi because he’s consistent. He was once a pharmacist and is the de facto doctor of the group. Plus I could speak about my medical issues and have his knowledge and command of the English language. No joke when you’re sick the language and cultural barriers seem unbearable. Other times these interactions seem cartoonish and hilarious. Bhutan is a completely different world than the United States and it can get under your skin, literally in my case with bacteria. For certain people Bhutan fulfills their destiny and can alter their path permanently. The events set in motion the night I heard about Bhutan eating goose eggs and the tenderest pork imaginable in Anyang City prepared by the nut who told me about this place. It all started with a dream which has turned into a temporary nightmare, ha it’s all interchangeable! In reality this experience is challenging and rewarding and a helluva ride that I cherish right down to awful lonely nights. But the peaks and zeniths have been unimaginable and I have a wild imagination…
“You know it’s gonna get stranger so let’s get on with the show, let’s go”
Spring seems slow to emerge this year as we have had a few solid rains but the pattern hasn’t broken yet. I noticed the rocky cliffs above Gom Kora had begun to turn an olive color but Kumdung is dry as a bone. The splendid forest towards Yangtse is always in bloom now with rhododendron and pink and white cottony fluffs. The vines are thickening in the hollow near the waterfall and tree fern. Chorten Kora and Gom Kora exist in vastly different landscapes for being twenty five miles apart but somehow it all seems seamlessly connected. Gom Kora is nestled in a dry gorge situated on a bend of the Dangme Chu River with its rushing chocolate and cream waters. The cliffs rise immediately from the opposite shore towering a thousand feet. The Kora is an oasis and power spot where Guru Rinpoche subdued a pestilent demoness from Tibet, so for him coming back would be like Bobby returning to the Fillmore West. There we were assembled in his presence near the aperture in the black rock where he wrestled that pesky serpent who dared to disturb his meditations. You don’t disturb GR during meditation that’s like intruding on a swami’s secretive third eye ritual. The viewing area was so spread out with natives lining a natural amphitheater stretching up to the road. I collapsed beneath a huge rock in the front but still seemed far from the dancers. It lacked the intensity of local Tsechu but also was absolutely unique and special in its own way. (THIS IS THE FREAKIN GOM KORA TSECHU!) Refreshing by the river a monk sat on a flat rock along the bank enjoying the timeless bounty that led the Guru here.
Thursday morning entering the classroom I had never before felt so grateful to be at work. There wasn’t much fuss on the student’s part over my return but I was so happy to see them. But no time for sentimentality as the work began. Overall Bhutanese students are delightful and never malicious. I’m getting the names of class seven and look forward to forging new relationships with this batch that have poured into Tsenkharla from the hills. They matriculate from smaller rural primary schools eventually boarding at Tsenkharla. Class six are all local with some still commuting on foot from Shakshang or Shali. Some students from six are unhygienic with dirty ghos, drippy noses, and unwashed faces, this usually indicates they are from a remote mostly uneducated village. By the time they become boarders they are much more salubrious comparatively speaking. Anyway my energy is obviously low but it’s great to be back at school engaging with the student body. I even took lunch with Karlos and Sonam who I miss these days, overall I feel fortunate to have this community in place around me. The day itself was beautiful with hazy sunshine evoking buds and birdsong. In the final reckoning a typical rhythmic workday on campus will imprint in my soul most of all, those moments when you remember why you are a teacher and how enjoyable it can be. Other than the certainty of successfully teaching a concept these easy moments are the best in a teacher’s life. Today I was struck at how interesting teaching Bhutanese kids and living in Bhutan is. The students are not unlike me in many basic ways but they are also very different including possessing more life skills including planting and harvesting crops and chopping down trees. Apparently my up ringing in Western Civilization left me inept at many things and it can be humbling. When the natives laugh at me its best to join them (it’s lonely at the top) I’m so busy surviving that I wonder if I have learned anything at all. I have honed my craft of ESL teaching but have endless opportunity for growth in that arena. I can make adequate K Wa datsi one out of two attempts yet I still can’t pronounce Tswering properly. Only a fool wouldn’t kiss their lucky stars for living here, and I am too often that fool, heaven help me.
“No they never stopped rocking going round and round…”
Somehow I ended up down at Gom Kora to close out the festival on a Thursday Evening (The Freaking Gom Kora Tsechu) Not many people remained except the shopkeepers and some pious revelers. There is something intriguing about the Kora at night with the moon reeling off the bow and blue gold light emanating from the tarp city. The tiger was prowling playing nocturnal games with the girls of splendid Himalayan array, Nepali, Sharchop, and mongoloid. I went with Karlos, Sonam, and a colorful cast of characters from Tsenkharla along with pup Dawa Dema and we circumambulated a baker’s dozen spinning squeaky wheels and laughing in the dusk whirling into the pitch night. Then down to the terraces for momo’s at one of the makeshift hotels equipped with refrigerators, plastic chairs, wood tables, and lights. Hip hop and traditional music alternatively bumped out of the darkness and the roulette wheels were spinning in the outdoor casino with a fox at every table. Night time is the right time at Gom Kora my babies and there is a definite sexual vibe in the air, not a tawdry Bangkok scenario but the overflowing of our natural sensuality all loosely centered on the Guru and his freewheeling footloose tantric legacy. Behind my bravado I end up meeting some interesting felines and chuckling at the gambling racket run by the same cats as the year before and the year before that. Police watch casually from the periphery and even a few marooned robed monks place their bets on either China, India, or Bhutan on a Himalayan Wheel of Fortune (Spin the wheel like Ezekiel) it’s nice to see the playful side of the Bhutanese including my best friends who are no strangers to enjoyment. Tonight felt like Sunday Night at High Sierra with a blissed out crowd hawking discount wares, packing up, saying their goodnight prayers or gulping their last libations the energy from the blowout reverberating softly as memory off the canyon walls and now the sound of the river reintegrates with chirping crickets. The beautiful ones remain tucked in tents making dried fish or huddled atop the staircase, where I met a pair of nubile gals from T-Gang suggesting they become my two wives, then flirting with a sultry Nepali in leopard print pants frying up some fish heads who asked where my guide was. Of course she turned out to be a former student of Karlos in from Thimphu. I gave my heartiest Namaste and when someone asked if we had met I explained that in my past life she was my wife, and the life before that my sister, and before that my mother, and grandmother, and even my daughter. NAMASTE, I love those renegade Southern Bhutanese with their frankness and dusky sub continental eyes. Many swarthy faces recede into the night Indians laborers mixing into the thinning crowd, little monks with cap guns and the older generation in faded gho and kira perpetually barefooted, God bless the Bhutanese intoxicated in the name of Guru Rinpoche and all things sacred. It was very auspicious to roll around the Kora with Karlos and Sonam in a rare night out with my Bhutanese peeps, there was even a lot scene with scattered trash, veggies, VW busses, and miracles. No phelincpa’s in the house only the dregs left, radiating an elastic consciousness of palpable magic under a luminous egg splitting the narrow sky and the springy breeze ruffling the leaves of the Bodhi tree, breathe in sir and remember where you live, REEP IT!