Sunday, October 26, 2014
“Most of us fear death. Most of us yearn to comprehend how we got here, and why-which is to say, most of us ache to know the love of our creator. And we will no doubt feel that ache, most of us, for a long as we happen to be alive” Jon Krakauer
Love for the Universe! Ain’t No Love Connection, Empty Notions and Violent Head knocks…
One by one class eight girls streamed from the classroom gagging and fanning their lips, they had been eating straight green chillies and with bright red faces they wretched and made heaving noises. October in Bhutan is wondrous. The maize is cut and the mountains turn hazel and gold with clouds fringing the continuous rolling and sometime jagged peaks. The gapping valley sprawled out below comforts my soul and I know that the rest of my life I will long for this place more than anything in the universe…Even now I can’t seem to get enough of the landscape as I attempt to thread my essence into the spirit of the land. I am teaching grammar the best I know how and the students love it since it’s interactive. They like to come to the board to correct sentences with Tendy Zangmo, shouting “Me Sir! Or Thinley Gyelston shouts, “I sir!” Some roses hang around and orange Marigolds high as my eye burst forth filling the morning air with their pungent aroma. After school our last Social Service Club picking up trash and weeding the garden near the generator room. After club I took the trail to Shakshing memorizing trees and rocks or greeting familiar landmarks. It’s a wonderful path through pines, oak, farmland, and pasture with access to two groves. From Shakshing you can go higher to Darchin and the big forest nearing Bromla. But just hanging around Shakshing vicinity has plenty to offer with oak trees and dwarf forests and the grove with its hundred foot twisted oaks now sprouting rusty ferns from their gnarled branches. A mountain sunset over Trashigang signals the demise of another fantastic day at the eastern end of the Himalaya. I miss my mom and Aunt Barb and some little one asked in the forest, “If they had reached America?” There visit was one of the greatest experiences in my life, and somehow this place seems more blessed now in the aftermath of their sojourn. I thought this as I walked the trail in the very footprints of The Twins. I can’t believe I got my mom to Bhutan twice but I think she can attest to how much I love Tsenkharla. I feel my soul was made for this land and vice versa. The mountain completes me like nothing ever has! I have documented the hardships that are part and parcel on this trip but it’s all worth it and I thank fate that I got this placement. There is a plan in the works to add two hundred or more new students in the next few years. I hope they account for water shortages! What a long way the school has come from Catherine’s day a decade after the school opened in 1978. Rangthangwoong was only a primary school then and I heard there was an orchard on campus. The house where Catherine lived still stands and I’m sure the giant cypresses must have been there but I think the village bazaar itself has moved from the football ground up to its present location. The old grinding stone must have been there but not the clock tower. Prince Tsangma’s castle has been there a thousand years but Zangtopelri wasn’t there in Vera or Catherine’s time. Farm roads and a cell tower have been constructed but I still know places untouched by time. From my doorstep I gaze a hundred miles into Tawang and on the clearest day can see two glaciered peaks completely removed from our world. The holiest places undisturbed even by the ripples of man’s prayer. We all need these places in our life. In October the world changes in front of your eyes cicadas whir frantically during daylight and a lone languid cricket keeps the vigil at night. Tremendous flocks of ravens, dark forms circle the skies migrating the short distance up to Shakshing from Tsenkharla each afternoon. Why do they congregate in flocks in October when they are more solitary the rest of the year? When they fly the wind, a razor sharp whoosh rhythm and beat by ebony wings and at night in the cypress grove they croak raspy lullabies to one another in the straining light.
As hypocritical as it is I love the gho and kira. I say that because I don’t wear the national dress but really appreciate having it worn around me. I admire many things of Bhutanese culture some tangible and some intangible. I love the artwork although it’s religious but also artistic, the architecture of a simple farmhouse clinging on a hillside or the granddaddy of them all, Punakha Dzong. I love prayer flags and the sound of prayers. I enjoy spinning prayer wheels so I can hear the ding of the bell as I walk away. Many things I love are woven into the people and the land and that is difficult to speak of. I don’t care for the visiting rat but at least he stayed unseen for mom and Aunt Barb’s stay. It rained last night maybe the last substantial rain for awhile but maybe not. It rained the second night I was hear a short burst wetting the brown earth. My first night the remnants of that Lhuntse moon hanging over the open valley a sigh of relief I thought, there aren’t a lot of trees but what a view!” There are actually plenty of trees and in October flowers blossom in the depths of the forest and on the floor of the narrow meadow, pink and purple flowers lustrous in a pastel twilight. On the ridge near Namkhar a sizable Chorten is planned to honor the sky dancing dakini’s yeah how about that! It’s near to the Delog’s house with astounding side views of the valley including sweeping views into Tawang and back towards Trashigang. My mom and Aunt Barb know that view first hand! October even has glittering stars and a frosty Milky Way the embodyment Triple Gem.
It’s very busy now and for the second day in a row I never made it for roaming. Today I watched a mesmerizing sunset from my stoop until only Tsang Tsang Ma and The Matterhorn peaks that lay on the Indo China border the NEXUS of Arrunachal and Tibet. Becky told me she heard that China and India are disputing some areas near Leh and Kashmir. I recall that China still claims Tawang and the other half of this valley but in reality the land belongs to India but Chief Seattle would dispute all claims. Afterschool Social Service met for more than two hours to prepare our exhibition for Club Day. Principal Sir announced the Club Day on Wednesday leaving short notice for members but I am pleased with the results comprising seven posters with mottos, slogans, and artistic renderings. All the work was done by the students who worked well as a team with boys and girls choosing to work separately. Our members are mostly from class 6, 7, and 8 with the older students choosing other clubs. The twenty or so members contributing today did a great job and the markers my mom gave me proved invaluable.
It’s been a great season for me and I feel revitalized from my mom and Aunt Barb’s visit, a shot in the arm to boost morale and keep me trucking. I’m still processing the events and feel I rushed through it in my meandering account. I am eternally grateful for that time together in East Bhutan. Somehow it reminded me too how fortunate I am to have found my place in the world. Pacing along the MP wall waiting for the student’s to finish their dirge and wondering where all those prayers end up I remembered showing my Aunt Barb and Mom the evening prayers.
Tuesday was a gorgeous day with only a string of lace clouds fringing the crests but somewhere beyond Tawang the Matterhorn Peaks sparkled like dragon fangs framed between a small cypress and shimmering banana fronds. All within reach in the eastern Himalaya, steep escarpments line the broad valley concealing a multitude of upper valleys and hidden cirques, amulets strung about the neck of local deities. Many forests of pine, oak, or shrub subside to grassland crisping in the warm October sun along the curvaceous river. The rice and maize are mostly cut but patches remain soon to be harvested leaving a checkerboard of tan and gold on the slopes, a brilliant chartreuse paddy fades to gold near Gongsa that favored oasis similar to the larger Gom Kora downriver. I was at Gom Kora killing time waiting for the roadblock to reopen to Trashigang. I had forgotten that two little palm trees live near the row of Chortens on the hillside above the Goempa. The inner compound with the great rock and Bodhi Tree is the place to be on a warm afternoon, a river breeze rustles the dappled canopy, duck into the grotto where the Guru rendezvoused with the snaky succubus who disturbed his meditation. I hitchhiked to Trashigang through the gashed roadway a typical ride with a young Bhutanese couple with a baby. I remember tottering on the abyss to the consternation of the mother who hissed the Sharchop way like sucking air through her teeth. In Trashigang I met Jon from Wamrong who I hadn’t seen for a year and two teachers Brett and Angie who I’d never met before. We ate outside in the veranda of the bakery and as always it was nice to meet with other BCF teachers. As it happened four Americans which is a novel thing in the Kingdom of Bhutan, but everyone at the table had lived out of the USA for some time. Brett and Angie have spent many years down under and Jon worked in London for a decade. Angie teaches in Khaling and Brett is an environmental engineer and works with the Mountain Hazelnut outfit. They are good people and Jon is a good friend although I rarely see him since he lives four hours south. Jon is fit and has a shaved head appearing streamlined like the runner he is. Brett is stockier but is an avid hiker along with his wife. Later the men retired to talk sports and other relevant topics and eventually it was only Jon and I making too much noise laughing hysterically about the burgers at the Zone in the capital that come without meat. I ate through half of mine before I accepted the fact that no meat was in the bun not even invisible beef particles, just the bun itself, lettuce, tomato, and onion. So I had to sheepishly reorder saying a Hamburger with meat and cheese please. Jon had seen others fall victim to the same chagrin and the funniest part is no one sends it back right away they nibble at it thinking where’s the beef.
The next day I went to Sherubse College for a meeting with a female teacher I had met when touring campus with my mom and aunt. The “date” was awkward although she was nice I am old enough to know when a woman doesn’t fancy me. I admired her achievements but our personalities weren’t a match. I visited Zangdopelri a large temple adjacent to the bazaar that feels a world away from the college across the street and the roadway where Ta Ta’s roar tooting their bugle horns. The monk who had been to Tsenkharla found me and led me through the capacious Lhakhang which is not ancient or new but feels worn in spiritually and far grander than Tsenkharla Zangdopelri, although the three tiered design is the same, downstairs an immense Guru with skulls impaled by his scepter greets the devout, and what’s this in the attic is Buddha flanked by Yeshi and Mandarava? Not possible!
Back at Tsenkharla more grammar and enjoying the last few weeks of direct contact with students before it blurs into the mayhem of exams. It really starts next week with class ten trials and I will begin center marking. I have completed my syllabus and plan a week of review. In the afternoon bullion light illuminates my body as I walk the rough stones towards Zangdopelri, a flock of ravens more than a hundred it seems circles a maelstrom in the last bars of light projecting shadows on the crags of Shampula now a humped hazel mass. Some class one girls are rolling around laughing on a grassy bluff for no apparent reason exuberant with the joy of this moment. It’s nice that in some way I was a part of that joy bringing them at least some form of entertainment. For dinner a repeat performance of lunch K WA Datsi a good batch with garlic, firm red and green chillies, and local cheese which is very delicious and would probably fetch a good price in the Whole Foods Cheese aisle with a fancy label of a yak. Actually its cow cheese with consistency like feta and refines the K WA Datsi. The pressure cooker whistles like an evening train melding flavors for my satisfaction. It took me nearly three years to get a handle on one dish. Yellama! The countryside is resplendent the glorious payoff for months of rain but on the heels of the stellar days are cooler nights although
I am only in a sweatshirt and no heater plugged in.
I still have highlights of the twins visit dancing in my head and to give you an idea of how small Bhutan is in two separate rides this weekend the passengers were talking about Nima and Dawa at the Shakshing Tsechu. It’s often that the driver who stops is someone who knows you or one of your friends as it happened when Sonam one of Ashleigh’s friends picked me up near the junction. The Dangme Chu runs with an emerald streak clearer than in other seasons pursuing purity even while the cliff face above is ravaged by tractor teeth sending debris into the ancient aquatic artery. One must push ahead at this time of year the final stretch and soon it will get cold at night but remain mild in the sunshine of autumn days. Summers hand can still be seen in the lush vegetation that slowly flowers and eventually wilts into December. October is a bountiful time and also a busy time indoors at school. I have been marking portfolios and practice essays but everything is on target for the end of the term. These are simpler times as my soul unwinds into traceless patterns of light. Well maybe not yet but one can visualize like those zealous golfers that imagine holes in one from air conditioned cubicles atop skyscrapers. As a Maitreya I can visualize bursting into rainbow light leaving only a scorched sack of testicles behind like Drukpa Kungley. Seal them up in the Chorten boys for posterity.
I munched my last batch of popcorn (purchased in Thimphu) reading about Lord Buddha who was lavished Prince Siddhartha son of a tyrant king, then wandering ascetic Gautama before becoming Buddha or the awakened one. He left his loved ones and station behind to test his limits wasting away in the jungle lost in meditation knocking but unable to pass through the portal to Nirvana. When he finally defeated Mara or the devil under the Bodhi tree he liberated his soul for eternity. His last tests were pestilent demons and three hot naked chicks frolicking in a pool begging Gautama for a moonlight skinny dip ménage. Gautama saw them as an illusion and like all things they turned to a pile of dust as did Mara himself and without anything to hang his horns on Mara was vanquished. Life is suffering and we must detach from the wheel of life, death, and rebirth breaking our bonds of humanity glued with perpetual desires forcing us to cling helplessly to the world and its funhouse illusions. When the sun rose Gautama stood up as a Buddha and never looked back or forward instead he resided in the resounding peace of each moment. So it goes we must conquer our mind without trying to conquer our mind, no sweat eh? Villagers, students, and my Vice Principal asked if the Twins got back safely and I smiled and answered, “Yes they have!”
My knee still stiffens up and I imagine I will feel it for some time but I’m grateful to be back on the trails finding new adventures in the woods. A huge avalanche just knocked out the trail on the Annapurna circuit killing trekkers. This was my planed route for winter but now I will reevaluate. I am certain that I want to return to Nepal and hope to retrace Siddhartha’s renegade footsteps. I am so grateful to live in this region, on this ridge, and at this school. I will never enjoy these circumstances again and the magnitude of my fortune continues to dawn on me as if the first rays from the east are still above my sightline. If I can make it long enough I might get a glimpse of IT or at least get to hang around this place, working my way into the community, threading myself into the woven tapestry of Tsenkharla.
Currently a moonless night exactly two weeks since my mom and aunt left and their bedding has still not been claimed although the bed frames were finally hauled away. All the meat sticks and salami devoured and their visit seems another beautiful dream within a dream. I would have liked to give one more hug to my mommy. The light is saturated this time of year captivating alive as the trees, monkeys, or tigers prowling the hillsides in search of prey.
Buddha left us with no notion of God and so we seek god and goddess in our collective imagination. We quarrel over whose God or God’s (a product of culture) is the true god. I see the divine in nature and in human faces. If there is no Godly order than no matter since LIFE still retains the holiest essence of mystery. It’s all one and it’s all interchangeable, Dude! I digress while they pray which in itself resembles miracle as people join together singing and chanting the glory of the unknown mysteries to the rhythm of a bell a triumph of the Dharma spirit. My job is teacher and observer and lately I haven’t been connecting the dots for y’all but you must realize as the quest expands the signal will breakup but never leave you entirely. I want to go blank as a slate but be able to function and teach effectively, the universe passing through my transparent spirit like particles through a beam of light, ah! It was said Buddha felt dull and detached before he found his tree and made his vow not to arise until enlightened. After the farm girl revived him with rice milk he mourned his forsaken wife, all those years as a diehard ascetic and he was still attached. Why would anyone undertake a philosophy that tosses them asunder from all they love and cherish, isn’t that just narcissistic and pessimistic? The other selling point is moderation and mindfulness, any takers? The Dharma is a grind but also the reality that cannot be avoided. Buddhism can also be applied in a family life and work but I am attracted to the extremities of Gautama’s ascetic vows that took him into the astral plane. I tried that trick teleporting myself to distant crags but don’t know if that’s the same or not. I live in the Holy Land for Bhutanese the very soil consecrated by Guru Rinpoche himself who wandered on the banks of the Dangme Chu River (Yeshi sang songs above Omba) The Guru scored a huge victory for the Dharma subduing the temptress in the secondary cave downriver from Gom Kora. The Guru reigned supreme in Bumthang and performed miracles at Taktsang (Tiger’s Nest) and Singye Dzong in upper Yangtse on the Tibetan border. The Guru is the patron Saint of both Tibet and Bhutan but some would have it that Tibetans betrayed their covenant with the Guru but on this I can’t speak. Nonetheless I live in the Holy Land which is out of sight! The Second Buddha Padmasambhava came to Bhutan in the eighth century to settle a dispute promptly converting the denizens to tantric Buddhism with displays of powerful mojo. The bloodline of the Sharchop people runs older than Guru Rinpoche or Prince Tsangma traced east into modern Arrunachal Pradesh maybe coming up from Burma? It’s as much a mystery where my people came from or the content of my own soul that I thought I knew so well. Personality is transitory like a cloak our soul wears on its endless journey through the immaterial world of Samsara. Our karma or previous actions bind us and perpetuate our souls through innumerable lifetimes but at each of our cores is a Buddha Nature which has no sense of individuality an uncomfortable pill for many to swallow. Is life that painful that we must turn away? Or turn back to the great unborn star shinning in each of us! This has nothing to do with the dualistic dramas we play out orbiting each other in iniquity or virtuousness. Beyond it, we are all the same in our fears and desires that bind us tightly together through the furrows of many life spans. Our pain and fear weaves us like fleshy strands birthing the bonds of attachment known as love; but with love we must take care that it’s bonafide. Only then can we free one another and enter the heavenly realms- dissolving into bliss.
These are precious days in the classroom still able to meet uninterrupted with my students the people I spend most of my waking hours with. The sun was shining down all over Gods Country but after assembly I witnessed a beating that upset my stomach. The offender’s three fourth graders had forgotten their Kubney’s ceremonial white sashes for boys to wear on religious occasions. The students were punched swiftly in the head or what is commonly known as a head knock. These head knocks were forceful enough to jolt the students head askew. They looked violent to me at a time when beating is a sensitive issue in Bhutan. Corporeal punishment is officially illegal but widespread throughout the Kingdom. One must understand that this form of discipline has been a part of education since the beginning a hundred years ago. Modern education started less than fifty years ago so the old ways of beating remain. None of this matters to the three students who had tears in their eyes and sheepishly slunk away after the scolding. This particular person had committed to not beating students after our GNH workshop but I didn’t confront him since everyone knows my stance on corporeal punishment. I had actually had a fifteen minute discussion with him the afternoon before. I won’t soon forget the thud of knuckles on skull and the kids won’t forget it either. Occasionally physical punishment takes place out of doors on the assembly ground but mostly it’s done in classrooms where I rarely see it.
The village is low on vegetables and I made good emadatsi but ingested too many devilishly searing chillies. While at the row of shops I noticed large bags of rice with swastikas imprinted on the sacks, this is an ancient Buddhist symbol stolen and perverted by Nazi’s. As a Westerner I see something dark and sinister where a Buddhist sees something else altogether. It’s getting cold at night with crisp days sporting glorious blue skies and golden sunshine. Tsenkharla falls into shadow early in the afternoon and the shadows creep east to the borderlands and beyond to the hinterlands of Arrunachal Pradesh. The valley slowly drains of light, the last rays funneling to the pinnacles gleaming off the cragged spire of Tsang Tsang Ma, alas illuminating the Matterhorn’s in left field bathing them in orange and finally magenta spheres of light reverberating off icy cornice’s, a puzzle of overhanging bergs and jagged peaks. It’s dark now another moonless night with a Buddhist requiem playing on the cosmic radio. Actually strike that, it’s the student’s prayer a particularly droning dirge drifting up to celestial realms.
I think about God a lot dwelling at this outpost where the banished Prince Tsangma became King of the East. I’m ambivalent on the subject while on one hand there is no proof of God, on another everything is proof of divinity. Is it the Chicken or the Egg did God create the Universe or did the Universe create God? And if there is no God or Goddess (as if that entity wouldn’t embody both genders) who or what created the matter that spawned the Universes. Did the whole thing just become self aware pluming like a thunderhead -but how did the elements the essential foundations of dust and gas come into being, that’s the mind bending inquiry that will drive one mad, that’s why melting into meditation is the only key to discovering the precepts of the inner workings of everything. Only then have the great ones dissolved the ego and penetrated the pregnant mysteries. I like to dabble and then often complain when things don’t go my way. The religious zeal of Bhutanese is as much cultural as divine or rather in Bhutan culture is divine. The King wear’s a saffron sash like Buddha himself and every other students notebooks contains clippings of HM or the Royal Family. A framed portrait of the Fifth King hangs over my head right now, in the picture the Fourth king is placing the Raven Crown on the Fifth King’s head. Earth spins rotating through space and the days become shorter. Today I taught letter writing in all my classes and now all that’s left is review. I have to make exams, review quizzes, and starting tomorrow central Marking begins. I will be doing my share of the Class Ten Student’s Trial Exams and it will mushroom from there. It’s not an easy time of year although pristinely beautiful, the humor of the students brightens my days and always pulls me through.
A funny observation about eggs is I don’t consume enough when they’re around but when they’re gone I really miss them. I told this to Jimba who laughed a single short noise “Ha” Jimp’s is pretty solemn on the whole but she spontaneously brought tea and toast (resembling French toast) at 7:38 this morning I poked my head out with puffy eyes in my boxers. I went back and enjoyed breakfast in bed! It was a nice deed and nice deeds make the world go around. I can’t ask for better neighbors and doubt they would say the same. Although they have never reproached me once and only rarely comment on an exuberant late night phone call with my dad or Becky. My voice carries and the walls are thin (we share a duplex and mine is smaller) they brought tea for Aunt Barb and Mom and even let them use their toilet the next day. They have a western toilet not a “Two feeter no seater” as Bubba Ganush quipped. Of course I miss the company of Karlos and Sonam as neighbors and Sonam Choden is due in December for their babe. They were married my first month here on a night a vividly recall still bewildered and wide eyed at my new situation. (I’m still bewildered and wide eyed!) Student’s stream in at night to ask questions and Nima Gyelston offers to do the dishes and I turn him on to Garlic French Fries. Last night Butterfly came by to make his famous Butterflies Chicken using my old ketchup with Masala with chillie, onion, and garlic in a soupy curry. In India they call such a meal “non Veg” Only a culture based around Vegetarians could have that expression. HOLY COW though haven’t I seen Ashish eating beef? After throwing the bones to the dogs we sat on my bed and talked about India and the Caste system which I find utterly fascinating and inhuman. India is such a trip so expressive but constraint in its vibrant nature. Butterfly still awaits a wife from his caste with a matching astrological chart that must be arranged by his mother and sisters. They advertise my Butterfly in the newspaper hoping to attract a mate. He will either marry or not but never go on an awkward date like mine on Sunday. Maybe he’s the lucky one? Bhutan seems open by comparison but I’m still an interloper an outsider tolerated nonetheless. Bhutanese treat me kindly and that’s why I choose to stay here, that and the awe inspiring mountains stretching in every direction.
It’s late October and I’m not watching Yankee Baseball, seeing Bobby at the Fillmore, or camping amongst the ferns with my paramour. This is something entirely different although there are ferns here but definitely no Bobby or baseball. I dreamed of touching a woman last night, she was blonde and buxom some projection of a grownup Brooke Siebel and I woke up realizing just how far I’ve strayed from romantic love. Perhaps the dream was merely reminding me that the seed is dormant within me and someday love may blossom again. Meanwhile there are other outlets to get in touch with the factions of that LOVE that rules the cosmos. It’s true, amazing sexual intercourse is the purest form of loves expression but the diluted path can be rewarding too. Weeding a garden, tutoring a lad in English, or sending out positive vibes to the Dangme Chu are all good solutions.
One of my great pleasures is too sit back at my desk in my wobbly padded hair and read books on my I Pad. Right now I’m reading Under the Banner of Heaven by Jon Krakauer. It’s an intriguing account of Mormonism and certain lurid crimes within the churches. Like the Mormons, Bhutanese Buddhist can also be fanatical but in a completely different way. Buddhism simply permeates all aspects of life here but it’s pretty live and let live. The book is written like a mystery and reminds me of one of Paul Winfield’s City Confidential episodes that I used to watch on A&E Daybreaks. One gets used to living alone maybe too used to it. A nice treat tonight, grilled cheese sandwiches with a decent batch of bread and Indian processed Cheese not unlike American.
Fear and loathing in Lhomon & Dreaded Central Marking
Well it’s that season again, the season of center marking where we all get together in a cold room and mark exams. Starting with class ten trial exams and I was saddled with letter writing. The tedium of marking hundreds of papers doesn’t distress me like it did two years ago. You are doing a service for the students even if they aren’t your own pupils and even if you’ll never know there name. It’s all part of the job anyway right. Of course I prefer teaching in the classroom and I’m still having the opportunity to do that. It’s Friday night and I’m rundown, I taught eight consecutive periods followed by two and a half hours of marking letters. It’s genuinely cold tonight although I’m managing in my disintegrating Ratdog sweatshirt and a ski hat but I plugged in the battered Chinese heater. BRRRR! Not much to eat so I scrounged a few potatoes and made K WA which was elevated by copious cloves of garlic. I chased that dinner with a second supper of grilled Cheese sandwiches and I’m still famished. Oh no maybe it’s a tape worm but more likely I often feel two meals behind and am rarely stuffed (packed as the natives say) I suppose living hungry keeps an edge as long as one doesn’t become emaciated. I sure do crave a pepperoni stick right now or a piping hot pepperoni pizza from Uncle Veto’s and maybe some fresh pie for desert upstairs. I’m afraid those days are gone though. It all led me here though and I’m gratefully hungry for a cheeseburger, fries, and a chocolate milkshake! AH isn’t the food game a riot Alas? Yes it was another blissful autumnal afternoon with clouds streaming into the valley fracturing the light. Ravens and marigolds mark the passage of time and someone placed a bundle of orange blossoms above the chalkboard tied on a string. Marigolds are sacred and offered at Hindu shrines and in class 7 B where Tendy Zangmo winds her arm around like Popeye and punches little Ugyen Norbu (Revenge for the girls!) Across the aisle Nima Zangmo gets bonked on the head by Thinley Gyeltson and the score is settled. In the U.S.A these antics would garner parental complaints and Principal intervention but not in Bhutan where bonks and head knocks is standard procedure. Either way I am compelled to announce “There is no hitting in this class!” A surge of laughter erupts from the culprits who take it all in stride. So passes the days and cold nights alone in my hut texting Pema Zangmo in Wangdi for any means of contact. Here I am in my concrete hovel perched on a grassy ledge on the lip of an abyss stretching east for over a hundred miles into darkness. In daylight not much can be seen that is civilized, the settlement of Khiney directly below our ridge at the foot of Shampula. Shampula itself uninhabited humped summit with moors stretching into the forests that flank Bromla. A radial as impressive as the Wheel of Life! Beyond Shampula Lumla perched atop a pinnacle the first village east of the border in Arrunachal Pradesh. Dirt roads crisscross both sides of the invisible demarcation and on the other side of the Dangme Chu Yellang Temple shines like a pearl. A few scant villages cling precipitously on high steep slopes but mostly its trees and untouched land to steep to live on, graze, or cultivate. I don’t foresee much growth in this valley over the next several generations as the land will only yield to people so much. In the entire splendid valley the best spot is right here buttressed by the boy’s hostels. My range is limited but what I have could easily satisfy me for the next nine lifetimes. I told our senior teacher Prabu G a Brahmin from Tamul Nadu that he had fortunate karma to be a bachelor living at Tsenkharla for seventeen years.
Hands Across the Himalayas rages onward against the dying of the light. A prophetic slogan indeed it took your help to get me here and the assistance of many others once I arrived. I consider myself a loner by rights but it isn’t exactly so. Even as an introvert many wonderful souls touch my life. It’s a strange thing making a life and in Bhutan mine has expanded in ways never available to me before. Simply put here I finally touched the hearts of people where in North America I was sheltered. Paradoxically Tsenkharla is lonely but also I’m part of a community. I recall having some impact on Turtle Island and even wielding the Sword of Power but here is where I fulfilled my destiny. My personality is different here than in California. There I am shy but here more outgoing as my Aunt Barb observed it’s like the stoical Bhutanese unlock something in me. The students are easy to get along with and easy to discipline because they are the best youth in this world. The environs of campus are another boon. Our campus is endowed with towering cypress trees and views in every direction and my mom was quite impressed with the buildings and the vibe of the grounds enhanced by students milling around in matching gho and kiras, a tide of black, red, and purple plaid.
Two weeks after Nima & Dawa departed and their hard mattresses are still on the floor along with Karma’s bedding. They might have felt cold now and although the days are markedly similar to the ones they spent here there is a nip to the air as soon as classes adjourn. It happens drastically with the monsoon ending their first full day in the Kingdom and a week after they left colder air amassing. The wild grass on my lawn a precipice on the lip of a voluminous valley remains a lustrous green, but the mountainsides have a hazel sheen. On a recent walk down the paved golf cart road I noticed the first poinsettias of the winter appearing. My mom loves poinsettias and she missed the bloom by a few weeks only. Her presence remains with me and I see her in all of Great Spirits marvelous creation. It also seems like a swift dream her visit or even this short life. My lasting impression is that I’m blessed to belong to a great family and have as Camile says a “Cool Mom!” I feel lucky to be here and recognize that it was my loved ones who put me here. There support all these years gave me the courage to come and stay. Tyler, Beth, Mom and Dad, Aunt Mare, Aunt Barb and Cousin Larry are the principles, the foundation of my existence. Living in Bhutan is literally a dream come true for me so I like to say I’m living the dream. Oh I still have the same old neurosis and hang ups and extensive travel and insatiable adventure won’t satiate my soul. That doesn’t take anything away from the experience since one lifetime is ONLY a learning process a lesson in letting go. Moreover life is fascinating in this part of the world and even after a few years I still struggle to adapt and am still waiting for my feet to touch the ground. Up until now I’ve led an itinerant life but here at Tsenkharla I can put down roots. How fitting it’s at a place I never knew was part of our planet eight years ago. The end of the world can be a tad harsh and scary but it’s also my HEARTHOME. When I asked my mom her impressions of the East verses the West of Bhutan she said that the beauty of the East was unsurpassed. She remarked that in the West one looks up at the mountains from the valleys where in the East one is always on top of mountains. A very astute observation and although my heart is of the East the West holds many favored spots too.
A cloudy Saturday with stratus clouds overtaking the valley. It was a full day starting with three classes (a half day) in 7B the students were sulking from a beating by their Dzonkha teacher. Many Lopen’s come from the old school and often beat, the sharp stick left on the desk by the logbook. Rigsar Wangmo was upset and last I saw she was skulking away after the bell. The kids know it’s illegal and asked me to report it to the Principal. I have voiced my objections to Principal Sir but also know it is not appropriate that I intercede in these matters. If I saw a dangerous beating I would be compelled to complain but ultimately the Bhutanese must police themselves and one cannot save the system here. I suggested they write anonymously and I would give their letter to Principal on their behalf. After third period I supervised the burying of two trash pits that Principal Sir wanted removed because he felt they were an eye soar for dignitaries who happened by that pathway. It was demanding work as some bigger boys used a pick to break up the rocky earth and after an hour of labor they had filled both pits burying hundreds of scorched plastic wrappers under the earth. After lunch I went to the staffroom to do Center Marking until 5 P.M. It’s a chilly evening and I just made K WA Datsi with ample garlic the same old dish day in day out. My health holds out but my nose is snotty along with everyone else at this time of year. The Bhutanese attribute the unhealthiness to changing seasons and maybe they’re right since a lot of people get sick around the spring and autumnal equinox. A light wind also picks up in late October but Tsenkharla is a remarkably placid place considering the exposure and elevation. Perhaps being a hill among giants that buffer the fierce winds that I assume whip Tsang Tsang Ma. Now I will turn my attention to making exams and preparing review quizzes and games for the students. My afternoons will be filled with Center Marking. Tomorrow is Sunday and I hope to make the most of it.
Nothing came of Sunday since I awoke at dawn to rumpling thunder that seemed to emanate from where the sun was absent. Charcoal clouds hung in the valley all day and it rained heavily in the morning. I stayed in my sleeping bag until 11 A.M the latest I’ve ever slept in Bhutan. I puttered around doing dishes and making curry eventually going to the village dropping nearly $300 dollars, they didn’t open a burlesque on the three shop strip, but I pay my debts to Karlos and Sonam and Aunty Kezang. I also took tea at Karlos and Sonam’s which hit the spot on a blustery afternoon. I love the Bhutanese sweet milk and sugar tea and don’t drink enough of it. Dawa Dema followed me home where I read Tibetan Peach Pie a Tom Robbins autobiography and planned review lessons for the upcoming week. I also had a long talk with my brother on the phone which was nice. Memories from this cloudy weekend, Guru Wangmo proclaiming that I roam everywhere while Chongola lost his English portfolio sitting cheerfully with his arms folded across his chest seemingly unconcerned. Saturday night Center Marking where I discussed with principal Sir the phrase “pass out” which means graduate in Bhutan means to become unconscious from too much drink. Bhutanese English derives from India via Brittan and terms like Bunk are not known to Americans. Now it’s Sunday evening soaking laundry and washing dishes an endless cycle of chores that I neglect as long as humanly possible. The upcoming week will be busy but Friday, Saturday, and Sunday is Zangdopelri Tsechu. I will have three days off to do as I choose. Tomorrow is a work day although my syllabus is covered I will spend the last two weeks of classes wrapping up grammar and reviewing. I also have to finish marking Class Seven Portfolios and then for a month and a half I will be invested in Exam invigilation and center marking.
Monday, October 13, 2014
“They tell us in the temple that true joy is found only in freedom from the Wheel that is death and rebirth, that we must come to despise earthly joy and suffering, and long only for the peace of the presence of the eternal. Yet I love this earth, Morgan, and I love you with a love that is stronger than death, and if sin is the price of binding us together, life after life across the ages, then I will sin joyfully and without regret, so that it brings me back to you, my beloved!” The Mists of Avalon
The cypress grove below Zangtopelri is a world unto itself left to the animals and trees that dwell there. The path has been abandoned and is so overgrown in October season that one has to brush aside thorny plants and pass through multitudes of spider webs wrecking arachnid tapestries of fine silk. I belly crawled under one such work of art avoiding a huge black spider with yellow hourglass abdomen who hung about with its feast of entangled flies. Occasionally through the feathery foliage hanging from cypress boughs one glimpses that other world viewed as the gaping valley towards the East. But in here rusty ferns sprout from a newly fallen trunk obliterating the last of the scant path. I mark my way by stone steps, an overgrown Chorten reclaimed by a thriving forest where the scent of wild honeysuckle perfumes the air. This is the dominion of oriental pixies, elves, and the unseen entities that peoples the grove. Lichen colors the trunks and huge stones and on the carpet of needles and decay white and red mushrooms spring forth. I have just been gifted a beautiful framed portrait of Guru Rinpoche from Karlos and Sonam. The Precious Master is floating in a lotus on the lake of enlightenment, garbed in pastel robes with the Holy Grail sitting upon his lap. A spear impales three skulls no doubt the little tribal folks who stood against the dharma. I am deeply grateful for the gesture from my best friends in this far away land. Guru is the face of Bhutan the face I will always carry in my heart. As a boy I reached for the Christ but he always seemed more remote although something of his love touched me. I’ve walked in Guru Rinpoche’s footsteps and he is the one loved well by the Bhutanese who make up my life. If one takes an oath to return or remain in Bhutan it is an oath to these people and marriage to this land. We belong to them now! My Aunt Barb and mother also gifted me a tankpa depicting Four Friends. It is richly embroidered set in emerald brocaded with auspicious symbols. The legend says that the elephant, monkey, rabbit, and peacock must work together to get the high hanging fruit but it seems the fruit is nirvana and we must all help each other out of this jam until the illusion is empty and all souls released. Or so Yeshi would have it!
I was not made for this world, but nevertheless I AM here
Right now translucent rays stretch like the beckoning arms of Christ enveloping sister moon in a holy embrace. I’m in my rightful place in my hut on my throne a wobbly old chair writing to you. My left ear is completely blocked due to my foolishly probing it with a Q Tip (don’t do it) some days are remembered through the lifetimes and today was such a day. I awoke in my underwater clogged world to the echoes of my mommy snoring and murmuring sleepy sounds. The setting of our departure was Linkhar Lodge in what is luxury in the far east of Bhutan. Dawn splashed newborn light on the high ridges reminiscent of the beginning of the world. But sadness and disquiet wrought my heart and my throbbing ear drum impacted with earwax only dimmed my spirits further. It wasn’t the goodbye I envisioned but it never is, is it? Settling the bill our very words laden with the anxiety of separation dragging the suitcases into the parking lot, hugging my mom goodbye the tears unable to flow (I haven’t cried in years) as if my very heart was frozen. My mom and aunt with their tenderest heart shed spontaneous tears that drove home the anguish of the moment. I bit my lip and turned my back on the one I love the most in this world moments later climbing into a diesel truck that bared me away down the twisty grade towards Trashigang. It seems Bhutan is always testing the spirit but I wasn’t expecting a trial so soon as I found myself walking to the hospital a place I have visited too many times this year again locking eyes with the sickly looking Cuban Doctor who calls me brother. Bhutan is remote and you might forget that only in the bowers of Linkhar but are reminded when they shine a cell phone light in your ear instead of a scope. The nurses tried in vain to flush my ear with a syringe and I went away dizzy with pills and drops and a heavy burden. As usual I called Becky (Soon to be Bunky) who laughed good naturedly at my plight (She is Bhutanese at heart more than I will ever be) I ran into another TMSS teacher and we crammed into a taxi to Zongposar then hoofed in the blaring sun to Kamdang where we were collected by a taxi and deposited on the hilltop. I quickly changed and made my afternoon classes which were strange since I couldn’t hear anything. I was fretful of my Principals reaction to my missing morning classes even though I had to stop and try to treat my malady. Auspiciously he flashed a rare smile that put me at ease after a very trying day. Thankfully the twins are safe at home after enduring Guwhatti. At the mess under radiant green moonlight students asked upon them and I said they were in Guwhatti hoping the student’s prayers would sail them both home expediently. A week to the day a solitary walk up to Shakshang on an identical day save a little cooler breeze as I came to the place near the farm house cresting onto a bluff surrounded by maize and other golden low lying crops and my mom remarked with deep emotion, “Oh Barb look at the Light!” That light illuminating a scare crow as Aunt Barb alluded and it remained on this day a week later. Creamy October light with day moons and the fragments of an endless monsoon clouds ringing the mountains. But in the morning the shinning Matterhorn peaks (Twins) shine off in India maybe 75 miles yonder I will never reach them. Tsang Tsang Ma and the serrated contours some rounded or chipped a shark fin or dragon’s tail and the great spire atop the bee hived spire like the Great Temple of Angkor that joined Hindu and Buddhist, this formation a crown with the spire its apex conjoining Arrunachal Pradesh and Trashiyangste. A local deity must dwell there but what god lives on those horns with cornices and gleaming moraines. (Ah so many mountains I will never see always my mind seeks east out of the kingdom in homelands lost to me)Up at Shakshing as expected a graveyard of wrappers scattering in the breeze. The cramped and littered courtyard surrounding the modest whitewashed temple is deserted except the family cheerfully shucking heaps of maize which makes me smile at the rural scene. Across the valley towards the West houses perched on abysses tiny huts and scratched terraces incised impossibly on cliffs and for a moment I pity the farmer that clings for survival tied to a ledge above a cavernous drop to the Kulong Chu a thousand feet below. They must get vertigo but there they work the land and bear their rice and rear their children. Tsenkharla to Shakshing is blessed land indeed with views in all directions. A hallowed golden saucer pierces the clouds beaming otherworldly light streaking the Dangme Chu near Gongsa where its curve is noted even in darkness a enormous S winding from Tawang district in the far West of Arrunachal Pradesh into the remote Eastern reach of the Kingdom. Like a Halloween moon rising within seconds like a witch soaring above the silhouetted eastern ranges. My ear is unstuck but still irritatingly plugged and I have finally succumbed to a cough and cold which is plaguing campus from administration to PP students. This month chicken pocks and mumps have sent children to be quarantined in their villages. Today was mass cleaning and in a short time trash will accumulate again. I hope I have spread some awareness anyway.
Enter the Dragon
I was so eager to make the connection with mom and Aunt Barb that I begged my way through the Dragon portal decorated with Snow Lions, Garudas, and Tigers and walked at a breakneck pace into Daranga the quant border town spilling onto the plains, with the foothills of the Himalaya rising jagged behind fields of palm trees. Samdrup Jonkhar is actually bigger than its Indian sister but Daranga always refreshes my mountain hardened spirit. Immediately across the border with the façade of the gate still in rearview rusty bicycles lean against dilapidated walls, little buggy rickshaws await languidly in the muggy air, students in skirts and ties the national school dress of India, Muslim conveys rolling the avenue bleating prayers from their motorcades with men in boxish hats and the open arms of a silver Jesus standing meekly atop a cute mosaic style church. All on the doorstep of the mighty Buddhist Kingdom that rises from just above sea level to the roof of the world. I never saw a finer Christ and I could have kissed his feet while on the other side the flamboyant Guru with impaled skulls on a sword like a shish kabob announces the rise of the world’s most foreboding range. The Daranga bazaar is a low lying collection of furniture and electronics shops amongst palms, trash, and dust. Across the road is an immense tea plantation with the haze of the subcontinent filtering through the bonsai branches. I was so keyed up I just kept walking past a barricade and family of goats until I was alone on the road heading into the never ending plains of Assam. Eventually a sedan abruptly stopped on the curb and that is how I came to meet my mom and aunty Barb! Thunder clapped the arrival of our party into the Land of the Thunder Dragon and god’s spigot poured down onto the border gate. WELCOME! After clearing the twins we settled in at the Mountain Hotel on the main street of lively Samdrup Jonkhar where one immediately encounters the Bhutanese architecture of pastel painted boxes that are common in towns. But the folks on the street are Assamese shop owners, day laborers who walk back to Daranga at night, mixed in with Southern Bhutanese of Nepali descent, Druk and Sharchops. It’s quite the diverse spot spiced up by the presence of India over a brick wall.
The following day after breakfasting, we began the arduous trip up the mountain on the sinuous road that words cannot adequately describe. Past the venerable Guru statue beneath a crag a slit canyon with fern lined walls and myriad of alien warm blooded plants like Venus fly traps. Cattails line the paved road to the left through narrow fern laden walls a bubbling grey stream courses, seeming to have lost its way but will eventually find itself on the plains. These are the foothills of the Himalaya with jungle buttes with strange formations rising abruptly into the endless corridors that form the labyrinth of the inner Himalaya. Soon the concrete two lane road narrows to what is called the National Highway. The road becomes broken pavement interspersed with mud splashed by cascading waterfalls and the torn up by the gnawing tires of Indian Ta Ta trucks in their tooting techno colored splendor. At times vehicles must play chicken usually giving way to these behemoths edging onto the shoulder lingering over the abyss. The scraggily foothills quickly expand into vast rolling mountains with valleys so deep that one cannot see the bottom. More waterfalls cover the road and a troop of small brown monkey’s parade across the muck. Rocks that seem they might fall at any second stick out of bare earth looming hundreds of feet over the tenuous road. Wongda our driver navigated perilously close to the drop-off to spare his vehicle and to my aunt’s dismay yapped on his mobile in Sharchop while casually wielding the wheel with the other hand. Thick fog enveloped our truck and curtains of rain pelted the windshields as we twisted up the precipitous and narrow track, the vegetation still lush curling like serpents green slithering over vertical crags and winding up cypress trees and oak forest alive with flourishes of blossoming shrubbery but nowhere was a break in the foliage which overwhelmed the soul. Occasionally a valley spotted through multilayered fog and thick mists as the perilous road clings to jungle slopes, the last day of the monsoon as soupy and soppy as a mid July storm. Around the settlement of Wamrong the surrounding range is densely blanketed by sprawling forests quintessential of the inner Himalaya, leech country in summer. On to Khaling where I pilgrimage to the giant cypress sheltering the old Lhakang and below the school for the blind where I visited with Becky two and a half years ago. Finally a looming pass with a neat triangular pinnacle topped with a monastic estate and the cones and spire formations that I always witness on a clear ride in that neck of the woods. Finally over the pass of 9,000 feet at Yongphula descending through the hill stationed college town and through the craggy and shadowed cirque of incredible proportions finally dropping and tucking into the lower Hill Station of Trashigang unchanged in spirit from its ancient splendor, a trading hub in a hidden wooded hollow a respite from the endless mandala of mountains surrounding it. A creek runs through the town with Chortens and colorful pastel buildings in the Bhutanese architectural style. At the foot of the town is the historic Dzong built over 300 years ago perched atop a thousand foot vertical cone wedged into the cirque a commanding position that can be seen from great distance. We spent the night at the Pepsi K.C Hotel where I had a Coca Cola and the ladies helped themselves to spirits to unwind from the torturous drive. For newcomers to Bhutan the roads seem a harrowing affair with some having more trouble than others. I remember a few BCF teachers on our maiden voyage east had garments slung over their heads or were curled up in fetal balls. My Aunt Barb had more trouble than my mom who had experienced the roads before in her visit to West Bhutan. At dinner Tenzin the middle aged shopkeeper who has eyes for me sponsored two bottles of wine for the Twins who were forced to lower their standard and endure the lesser port wine availed in Bhutan. We all had a great dinner in the gardened veranda and were hysterical trudging up the hill to the hotel past barking hell hounds on a muggy blessed night.
We awoke to sunny day Trashigang Dzong shinning like a jewel fixed upon the crown of East Bhutan. Trashigang is the heart of East Bhutan and we had a commanding view from our rooms. We visited the Dzong a place I haven’t been to since I met the King and Queen in February. The courtyard was torn up and being redone but the splendorous Dzong as an architectural marvel of power and grace. Something so familiar and intrinsically fairytale about the grand structure. The inner courtyard through a giant wooden door with paintings of the fierce guardian deities of the sacred directions. If they protect us and look like that then I can only wonder at the faces of those we must be protected from. They were serving the monk body and natives a lunch so we moved on politely declining a generous entreaty to go to the front of the line for eats. But we had to meet Lobzang and headed to Rangjoong, my heart pounded with excitement since I haven’t been that way in two years. Rangjoong sits along the Gamri Chu River with a cute Bazaar with approximately twenty shops, two schools and a Chorten and portrait of the Royal Couple between fenced off hedges. The centerpiece is the Tibetan style monastery perched on a striking mound in the center of the verdant rolling valley. To the North a pang at the sight of old Meme or Becky’s Mountain at the beginning of another world gateway to the wacky Phongmay fanatics and the mysterious tribal Brokpa who aren’t afraid to adapt to modern life building roads and using mobile phones connecting their remote settlements Merak and Sakteng. It’s a huge piece of wilderness with Yeti’s and red Panda’s and the precious Blue Poppy blooming briefly in summer. Radii and its famous terraces swooning across the slopes some etched into vertical cliffs as the Gamri Chu and offshoot tributaries barrel with silted water through tight spaced earth. OH how I yearn to complete my quest there!
The monastery on Rangjoong appeared impeccable with banners and pennants flapping in the breeze bearing scripture carried by horse gods. Eight Chortens in a row according to Lobzang who looks like a Tibetan Lancelot remarks and a steep staircase lighted with vermillion buds and magenta bogenvia. Red blossoms hang down in a coppice as I point out Ian and Vicky’s old traditional house by the river. This monastery was built recently in the last fifteen years by a great Lama who I don’t have any personal knowledge of but it resembles a monastery I once envisioned in a dream, fashioned after Tibetan design adorned with more defined points seeming grand but slanderous and altogether a beglamouring sight in the noonday sun with clouds drifting down messages sent from Meme (Somewhere near Bomdela Meme’s other half rests with the Monpa) Peach and gold trim deck the monastery and a grand courtyard with a view of the valley enclosing and slopping towards Trashigang. The monastery is a warm and inviting place almost stately in a traditional sort of way. In the entryway frescos of the flaming blue sword of wisdom (Excalibur!) wielded by a wrathful Guru, another image of a minstrel Guru Rinpoche thrumming a banjo, and the carnal wheel of life with too many symbols to absorb it’s a blur man! I recall beast and men working the fields under their god’s watchful eyes and the womb of the great mother bearing fruit for the monkey. Inside the great chamber a monk in maroon robes inaudibly murmurs prayers from ancient scrip in a shaft of light. The walls crawling with brightly colored murals in fairy tones of day glow tones neon bleeding hearts ravaged by tigers and tantric couples copulating all over eternity the walls moaning or was it a conch? Beyond the altar an impressive statue of the Guru winged by his two Goddesses later to be called consorts, Yeshi Tshogyel and the Indian Priestess Mandarava both bejeweled in robes and jewelry holding magical scales, books, and holy regalia. No wonder the Guru beams with two ladies like that flanking him. Outside we circumambulated and Lobzang thoughtfully helped my Aunt down the crooked stars. In the bazaar we ate a round of momo’s then went to begin our stay in relative luxury.
Later that night it was great to laugh and talk and hear news of my family. Good news like my cousin Marty flourishing with a newborn baby in a happy relationship with a dog. Most importantly he’s healthy too. Karl doing well with his family, my brothers latest photos of Paige and Reed and news of the Canadian cousins, all was well! Aunt Barb (Bubba Ganush) was able to text her husband Wally no doubt for morale. She had flown directly from two weeks in Italy into the throws of what I once regarded as The Land of Terror. They got a taste of that life when stopped at a road closure near Gom Kora where the once serene road has become a destruction zone as little Tonka trucks claw away at rock overhangs at the foot of a towering three thousand foot mountain stubbing the toes of the giants, boulders the size of our vehicle cascading over the precipice splashing into my beloved Dangme Chu River. Gom Kora was gleaming as we ran into a pair of German tourist who were also lodged at Linkhar. The gold pagoda glistened in the perfect light. My mother and aunt dutifully spun every prayer wheel (something I never do) as we circumambulated the temple walls (which takes a few minutes only spinning sporadically) The bodhi Tree rustled in speckled morning breezes and the rooster poked about on the cobblestone promenade. Inside the Goempa with exquisite cherry floors that gleam a group of Buddhist pilgrim/tourist from Macau, one young woman seeming my own age stood with an enraptured face staring at an encased stone- a relic from the days of the Guru or something consecrated by Guru Rinpoche. There was an inner light on her face that I will never forget. Imprinted on my mind also, the twins circumambulating my beloved inner sanctuary with the sacred demoness rock (The rock of mother earth) Was a demon or pagan ways that Guru Rinpoche came to slay causes me to shudder. Or was it the inner demon in all of us that he conquered? Or did he conquer the demoness at all? All queries to spin while spinning, rattling wheels flow from hand. We made a brief stop in Doksom to refresh ourselves and I went to pay Doksom girl back for a coke and introduce my mom. The drive from Doksom climbs through a craggy canyon with dwellings clinging on ledges over sheer drops. On cliffs they grow their share of crops on hard won terraces. Twisting into another narrow valley where the vegetations is dense is Buyoung waterfall, tree ferns, and a lanky languor dashing across the road before jumping headlong into the vines draping the lush canopy swinging from his long tail on a huge limb, an acrobatic monkey. The town of Trashiyangtse sprawls in a bowled valley a holy chalice opening up from the stem of the Kulong Chu ravine. After driving through the simple ornate gateway painted with snow lions, tigers, and dragons one glimpses Chorten Kora which my mom remarked looked ancient. It was modeled after Bohdnath to scale on a radish but the radish wilted in route back from Nepal and thus the Kora is remarkably smaller. The dome shaped kora is surrounded by whitewashed outer walls with gilded points at the corners. Inside a maiden from Tawang is entombed self sacrificed to the Gods. The Monpa come to pay homage in the spring on a pilgrimage in their spider hats and pink, crimson, ruddy attire like the Brokpa. A light mist blew into town lending a brooding feel to the heavenly chapel. Atop the dome the painted eyes of Buddha look out on the world with compassion and a pointed gilded rod signifies the heavens with invisible pulse. The whole structure is phallic if you gaze at it afar, another phallic symbol on the commons where woman and men alike circumambulate in forgotten tribute to deities of the forests before the enlightened ones came. I had caught up with the twins there after the cobbler fixed my shoes and joined my mom in circumambulation eventually catching my aunt in our orbit. We lunched at a local Nepali run joint but the twins found the curry very spicy. Nima and Dawa felt road weary from travelling and glad when we finally arrived at my door atop Tsenkharla ridge.
When we arrived at my house my neighbors Kinzang and Jimba offered tea and biscuits and later Karlos came over with fresh linens and port wine repeatedly filling the twin’s cups until they were giddy. They had a bit of trouble adjusting to the “two feeter no seater” as my Aunt calls it. And I had to ask my neighbors if the twins could use their toilet which received a rightfully hesitant look, but of course they acquiesced.
One of my best days ever in Bhutan was the Tuesday I brought the twins to school. Nima Gyeltson my trusty Man Friday dressed me in gho synching the belt tight enough o leave tracks for days. The purpose of the day was that they got to see everything from the pomp of a Tuesday assembly with a formal and kindly introduction from the Principal to night time prayers in the MP Hall. It was also Scout Day which meant the scout anthem was sung in addition to the National Anthem. The scouts wore their orange kerchiefs wrapped around their necks and there was proper saluting and marching-Ah the pageantry of a morning assembly would impress King Arthur himself. It was also a spectacular day which could only be made at the very departure of the monsoon into the blueness of autumn but the air still clung to summers warmth. I took Nima and Dawa (sun and moon) to school. All twins in Bhutan are named Nima and Dawa with the older Nima meaning sun and the younger named Dawa or moon. The atmosphere in class was charged with positivity and the students were on their best behavior but did an excellent job speaking nonetheless. The class 7 students interviewed the twins about life in the U.S.A, the childhood of Mr. Tim, and what it’s like to be a twin. I never knew my Aunt Barb is a natural teacher, talking deliberately clear to the students and easily connecting to their backgrounds. Aunt Barb has travelled the world and lived abroad but I’m sure the students gave her a new experience. It was a magical day, in class 8 we did a vocabulary exercise as preface to an upcoming story. I wanted to give both students and mom and Aunty as much time to converse as possible and was pleased with the result. It’s good for students to hear other Americans speak English too. I was very proud of the students who conducted themselves with grace and enthusiasm. That night we were treated to a wonderful dinner party at my closest friend’s Karlos and Sonam house in the village. I entreated Sonam to prepare a dinner with as little spice factor as possible. My tolerance or yearning for hottest emadatsi is the ONLY similarity I have in common with the natives but the twins…not so much. Sonam’s made chicken, with sides of maize, and Dahl. Thinley and IT joined the party and all were refilling my guest’s cups after each sip, the Bhutanese way of hospitality. Many rounds of drinks and laughter before the food was served. I have spent so many hours in the company of Karlos and Sonam in two and a half years so it truly felt like a family feast. Dawa Dema was still growling at the twins in her overprotective manner. After the banquet we stumbled gaily into the night splattered with flickering blue stars and a glorious new moon. What a tremendous blessing having them here among my community.
Wednesday was another stellar day with my beloved Matterhorn peaks shinning in the distance ringed by curly clouds. The monsoon had packed up its raindrops and dissolved into sapphire skies, leaving a necklace of puffy clouds hanging about the ranges. I tried to conduct business as usual but all the classes had planned talent programs and we only gave out gum meekly in return. The kids sang English, Bhutanese, and Hindi tunes and danced. Class 8B which has been my most challenging class put on a great program with mischevious Karma Sonam emceeing the proceedings. The day ended with Class Six’s exuberant skits and songs showing their primary colors just being the kids that they still are. Shouting songs and attracting some younger ones who had their faces pressed to the window pane. With dirty little ghos and runny noses they clamored for sight. It was a touching farewell and one of their skits was on the poem I had just taught that morning showing their ingenuity and cleverness to apply learning so quickly. Of course Augusta led the charge and was probably the impetus behind most of the program. I requested they give us one last song and why not the National Anthem, so they obliged with a spirited version making both my Aunt Barb and mom cry.
Shakshing and Farewell
The Linkhar Lodge is an oasis of hospitality in rugged and remote East Bhutan. My Aunt was happy to get off the roads and the white knuckle journeys on sinuous dusty roads through the mountainsides. Although at times they seem to close in on you others you can see for miles but it’s intense and often precipitous in a way one can only experience. The hotel sits in a sunken mountain and our cottages faced out on ripe chartreuse rice terraces and a narrow grassy archery ground where we witnessed a match between the Hotel Owner who was once an esteemed politician before retiring and his friends. The men had rainbow flags tucked in their belts according to how many bull’s eyes they struck and the targets are at least a football field away. There’s circle dancing and singing when targets are struck, and this is the same with these men in shiny ghos with gleaming expensive compound bows as it is with the village matches with men in half ghos and shooting with bamboo bows at closer range. Anywhere a ground can be made in this steep country it is availed on glade or terrace. We all went down for a gander unfortunately I don’t have eyes for the swift arrows. I wouldn’t want to be a Tibetan attacking Drukyul in Paro with the Bhutanese shooting arrows from the fortress walls, yikes! The rooms were exquisite with marbled bathrooms and I took two proper baths as good as my mom’s own bathtub at Bay point. On a sunny day we headed up the windy road to Sherubse College. We watched a basketball game on the well maintained court under the famous clock tower. Father Mackay established the school and it is the pride of East Bhutan attracting students from around the country. Sherubse is the primary undergraduate university in the country and brings an air of respectability to the East. The campus is within the village of Kunglung a hilltop location with spectacular views. The campus itself is gorgeous with many resplendent trees from cypress to willows and wide paved promenades like any proper college grounds anywhere on earth. Aunt Barb or mom mentioned what a great opportunity a place like this would be for one of my students, now they had observed a huge gap between a remote boarding school and Sherubse College where you can strike up a conversation in English with just about anyone. I hadn’t spent much time up there only once visiting Ashleigh on the tail end of touring Eastern Bhutan in spring 2012 with Becky. Other times I have only seen it from my seat on the bus. So it was my first glimpse at Kunglung’s Zangtopelri, the three tiered pagoda abode of Guru Rinpoche. In the spacious courtyard was a well fountain with statue of Yeshi Tshogyel. I was approached by a monk, a tall and thick maroon robed lad who was a student at Tsenkharla my first year (not one of my pupils) He led us inside the temple where a puja was going on with dozens of monks sitting cross legged on the floor chanting prayers from ancient texts in ancient Sanskrit or perhaps a Tibetan dialect. We all spun some more prayer wheels, handhelds accruing merit for this passage into the next lifespan unless we can gain enlightenment forthwith. The sun shined over the temple the college and the expanse of mountains stretching in all directions. We headed back to Linkhar where we retired to our comfortable quarters to chat and relax. The evening light saturating each particle of space in rich mellow colors eventually blending into a purplish gold ray creeping up the ridge until the mountainside became awash in hues of blue. By now Nima and Dawa were tiring of rice and curry but still bought up the unremarkable white wine and how entertainment it was watching big Kunsang from URA twisting off the cork and offering up the bottle to the twins. These down tempo moments were the best for me just sitting and soaking in the wonderful Magner Twins, watching them interact and admiring their bravery for making it. On some nights other tourists sat in the dining room. A group from Petaluma, a seemingly homosexual couple of burly fellows in matching pink plaid from merry old England, and a German couple. One large tour group had come back from Phongmay where the Brokpa had put on a cultural program for the group. I haven’t been up there since Miss Becky’s time and the thought of Meme or Becky’s Mountain caused a pang. Most of all I loved getting stories about the family and especially cousin Marty who like myself after years of struggling has found his place in the world, enjoying a new baby and in a supportive relationship with a good woman. My brother and Beth are celebrating their 10 year anniversary next week. How auspicious that I had Mom and Aunt Barb all to myself since they lead such busy lives, yet sitting out on the balcony over the chartreuse rice paddies curving sumptuously into the earth we had each other. Above forested mountains loomed into the heavens as the night critters took their posts.
The crescendo of our quest was a trip up to Shakshing for our annual Tsechu. We went on a Sunday full of surprises and never once did I ever see the Guru. Karlos graciously awaited us and helped me into my gho and at mid morning under a blazing sun and cotton ball clouds we trekked up the mountain. This was special hiking in the great wide Himalaya with my beloveds. We stopped at Prince Tsangma’s (King Tsangma’s) castle now renamed Chariot Castle in my heart. He was exiled from Tibet a prince but was emphatically a King in his new homeland of Tsenkharla or whatever they called it then. We had visited Zangtopelri on Tuesday so we headed straight up via the Bon Meadow up the spine of the mountain towards the small whitewashed temple bedecked in gilded bunting that waved in the breezes. The day was a blur of activity including many brief encounters with students all wearing their finest gho and kira. The kiras silky Taegu’s shinning in every imaginable shade of every imaginable color. A colony of kings in queens assembled beneath the banner of the Guru. Ah but that Tangpa had been taken down leaving only the scaffolding today. Someone told me only half the crowd remained from the previous day but as always on the last day of a great festival the vibes were loaded with emotion. Hawks glided overhead a rare site as we milled around the shops all selling plastic slippers, chewing gum, ramen noodles and toy pistols (the trash accumulating in piles) Nearby someone had set up a make shift roulette wheel after all what would a Tsechu be without Casino. We sat under a tarp at a canteen for shade then joined Karlos, Sonam, and Karma Om’s mother for lunch. We had to hunt around for a suitable lunch spot and ended up traversing through some pasture lands past one of my student’s farmhouse squeezing onto a knoll to picnic under a pine tree. We made salami sandwiches (imported salami from USA) and local crumbly bread and a packet of mustard Becky had sent along in a package. I ate K WA also with local cheese. We returned to the ground, a cramped court adjacent to the temple. Shakshing Lhakhang is modest in comparison to the ornate blissfulness of Zangtopelri but the action was out of doors with whirling dervishes, bleating horns, banging drums, and clashing cymbals a remarkable and deliberate cacophony. Little dudes ran around shooting cap guns and cheese ball wrappers blew through dancer’s akimbo limbs. The students with rachu sashes sang and did the traditional wavelike dance and the yellow skirted horned ones did a dance too while the astras’s or jesters goofed and solicited donations. but it’s all building up to the Big Dance and one that I wasn’t familiar with. I had thought it like Zangtopelri with the procession and the transfiguration of the Guru after the Judgment of the Souls but it was an entirely different Chaam. One by one the dancers appeared as if perceptibly possessed by deities as old as the dirt the trounced. One by one they appeared all in assorted gowns that seemed woven by the cosmos themselves. On the garment growling black boogie men bearing fangs with bulging red eyes but the horned masks elephants, pigs, and Stag and more horrible creatures from the depths of human imagination. Long gowns of stars and stripes, hanging beads, shells, teeth, or was it bones all rattling from ribbons of color dangling from belts. God Men turning together bounding, whirling in crystal light, a dozen or more fluid beastly whirling dervishes gyrating to the intensifying waves of sound enough to frighten any devil in any realm. A phantasmagorical and glamorous display of POWER something delivered from the edge of madness but that is always the way it is here. The men wearing or assuming heavy great horned masks. Each man spinning striking an animal skin drum with a curved hook all while spinning spinning spinning! Standing on the edge of the ring the robes scrape my belly and I am caught in the eye of a dancer with a black dilated pupil, a tiger in a trance! One by one they peel off into the darkness behind the curtain into an anteroom (the Bardo) How long were they out there? My mom says “I hope they can go in now?” it might have been hours I blink, they move as one or at least together in the world but then they die alone like all of us die alone. One by one leaving the world behind one dancer at a time disappearing until there is ONLY ONE LEFT who doesn’t want it to end whirling and prancing like a dying stag his demon mask writhing in agony a glimpse of face under fang dripping with sacrificial blood. A huge charcoal cloud eclipses the sun and it seems the hour is late, the twilight of man’s struggle and look! There he is all alone, THE KING STAG He takes a meandering course lunging leaping his feet shocking the bare earth sending waves through the crust that I absorb on the pads of my feet. Invisible currents of lightning -Waking from my own trance I look around to see my mom and Aunt Barb, Nima Gyeltson and his Ama, Pema Wangmo with rainbows in her eyes and a green Taegu the color of the forest. Somewhere in the VIP tent is a pregnant Sonam Choden but Karlos is standing near the doorway to the other world in a black gho and soon we will all be but a shadow. And that last dancer knows that and doesn’t want the tale to end but finally with a flare and flourish his shells and bells jangling to the horns and drums VIBRATIONS he crashes to the ground whirling before two watchman grab his horns and lead him swiftly through the portal.
We had seen it all in a day and left saying farewell to Karlos and Sonam, turning our back on the following procession of gold skirted muscular men in animal masks that looked subdued compared to the lunacy and mayhem of the regalia of the Chaam. With a friendly Dawa Dema in tow we took the dirt road home a timeless walk together happy with my loved ones and my loved land stretching endlessly in a great yawn from Tawang to Trashigang and all the places between that I’d been or would never go to. Oh how to describe such happiness that the bonds of love bring us. Ah look! Tsang Tsang Ma shinning like a jewel in the Dragons crown. Dawa chases a rival and Gyelston Wangmo and her family want a picture with the twins. Ah the light my mom remarks indeed golden light flooding the crisped maize and the earthen farmhouse with tradionally carved windows. Follow the light over green crest and it will take us home through the cypress lined stone pathway that leads past Chariot and into the village of Tsenkharla. More pleasant encounters so many people to meet and relationships to strengthen. At the hut we watched my eighth grade production of Oliver that my mother had thoughtfully made into a CD (Yes she still thinks I peaked early) and watched my solos eating garlic home fries. Ain’t no party like a village party! But I could feel the weight of parting heavy on my soul when I woke up the next day and we packed up for Linkhar. Our last supper was unceremonious indeed as I stupidly probed my waxy ear with a Q tip clogging it completely so I felt on the edge of vertigo. On a sparkling morning we said goodbye in the driveway of the Linkhar Lodge I was too sad and uncomfortable to cry but felt more like throwing up from grief. I hitchhiked towards Trashigang in a diesel truck riding with two anonymous Indians and I don’t think I even looked upon their faces. Immediately I started praying for a safe return for Nima and Dawa, my sun and moon.
They would have to tell you about how they made their way home on the long tortuous drive to SJ and out the Dragon Gate and into the armpit of Assam, Guwhatti. We had arranged transportation and their second driver stayed with them for two days. It is said they had a compelling riverboat ride to an island shrine in the mighty Brahmaputra but all I know is they both eventually did make it HOME safely my Aunt Barb to Cherry Creek, and my Mom to the Bay Point. I glance behind me and their beds and bedding are still there. No one from school has picked them up and the sheets haven’t been claimed by Karlos yet. It seems to me a holy thing a profound miracle that they were actually here reaffirmed by students asking on them. It will always be the Highlight of my Bhutan Experience like the first trip my mother and brother made to the West of Bhutan. Family is our most valuable treasure, and I cherish mine! I can’t express the love and gratitude to mommy and Bubba Ganush for coming to see what I’m doing here. Bhutan is not an easy place for anyone to visit and it meant the world to me that at 69, they would undertake such an awesome adventure. I have thanked the students but they will never know how grateful I am for their part in making a wonderful experience for Nima, Dawa, and Mr. Tim.
(Still Awkward after all these years Intermezzo)
Yesterday we had a very important visitor The Speaker of the Assembly which was an honor for our school. Everyone was on high alert decked with kubney and rachu and the students were seated in rows in the MP at 12:30 listening to Bob Marley’s Buffalo Soldier on the impressive PA. At 1:45 Principal Sir got a phone call and announced that our guest had just left Yangtse. The four hundred pupils all sitting Indian style hissed in that comical surprise leaky expression, a collective Yellama. At two thirty the teachers lined up in a drizzle as the caravan arrived to our modest metal front gate with rainbow streamers hung along the lane. I had only seen The Speaker on T.V and was impressed at his dignified disposition. I bowed shook hands and introduced myself swiftly. I noticed this man was revered like a religious figure. Once inside the teachers formed a procession to present The Speaker with a Tashi Kater or a white silk scarf. Gulp I don’t feel comfortable in these situations. I had rarely had the opportunity for this and never in front of such a grand audience. I wish I could tell you I nailed it but quite the opposite occurred. The objective is to step forward, bow, and unfurl your white scarf in a graceful streamer. Mine was unraveled in a wad of silk, clumsily offered. He smiled and asked if this was my first time presenting a Tashi Kater, I replied, “I know I need practice La” His remark wasn’t meant to embarrass me but I was blushing due to my lack of grace in an important situation. He addressed the students for about two hours speaking like a teacher and was familiar with Tsenkharla visiting Rangthangwoong to open the water source at Buyoung the year I was born. After the speech I made another more serious transgression when he came to shake my hand I was standing on the MP’s stoop, Principal alertly coaxed me down but again I was bashful. The Speaker who had a luminous countenance was very kind and had remembered my name from my quick introduction hours before. Like His Majesty, the Speaker was very cordial with foreigners (Including Indians) and during his speech also spoke a lot of English. His entourage included Royal Police with blue berets, coat of arms patches, and semi automatic rifles. There were also a photographer with a huge lens, and a woman who looked like a dolled up Thimphu gal in a velvet kira clicking around with I PAD. I thought of how different rural East Bhutan is to the Capital City and smiled.
My mom arrives in four days and it’s been pouring rain for the last two. The campus is a mucky puddle and I am sitting at home on a Sunday afternoon. Blessed Rainy Day is approaching the unofficial end of the rainy season. It will rain off and on for another month before dwindling away revealing those distant Matterhorn peaks beyond Tawang. Syllabus coverage is on track and I’m ready to receive the most dignified guests of all my mom and Aunt Barb. It’s been an eventful summer with my Humpty Dumpty impression, restless itchy nights to a more stable landing. One constant companion has been rain never away for more than a few days. One might enjoy a sunny spell in July sandwiched between monsoon deluges in June and September. It’s been a heavy rain season proved by a thin coat of green mold on my duffle bags and under the brim of my hat, and the puddle on my floor where the roof leaks.
Ravens and Rainbows
“Roll away the dew”
Right above campus is a regal cypress grove completely distinct from anything I’ve seen before. The air is always moist and sweet although not as dank as the grove beneath Zangtopelri. A few eucalyptuses are sprinkled near the apex where an hour ago a flock of ravens emerged from a swirling mist that seemed to be chasing the bird’s beating ebony wings. Today was a lugubrious Sunday with heavy rain which finally ceased in the afternoon. I had a plan to trek with Piet who called from his bike halfway to Zongposar to tell me he was aborting. He recently strung together a trek of all the holy sites (with Bhutanese coworkers) that it has taken me two and a half years to complete separately, if I ever get six days though I’ll do a solo. I didn’t have a productive weekend doing some cursory cleaning (not my laundry) and short walks between deluges. Summer can be dreary although mild and hauntingly beautiful but the most beautiful place on earth has its melancholy side and I know it well. Sunday has always been for me, tinged with a hint of dread, going back to school or work rejoining the responsibilities of the world. I like what I’m doing but my anxiety is still omnipotent, WTFDL! Tonight I am digging to the bottom of the food box (the rats business whatever that is revolves around the closet) and retrieving a pouch of readymade Indian curry. It’s a sparse menu including KWA, fried rice, scrambled egg, and ramen. Believe it or not it’s hard to get potatoes even as thousands of them are being loaded onto trucks bound for India. Therefore the food gets repetitive and that and laundry are two headaches. Creature comforts are not abundant but one has enough to survive and things come and go. My first year electricity was haphazard but internet was available so you just never know.
This Friday evening I left the planet, it happened up at Shakshang in the sweetest air imaginable. A storm brewed with dashing lightning and faraway thunder but unlike the fierce spring tempests this scene was subdued like watching an electrical storm from space. From above a heavenly mist floated down yet somehow a patchy scarlet sunset was transmitted through the layers of smothering clouds. I can’t explain the feeling in words conveying a glimpse of POWER or as Don Juan put it, “stopping the world.” Not in essence freezing time since that concept dissolved into nothingness ACTUALLY leaving ONLY the pretty illusion before the eyes. Passing the grove where the sacred deity lives a stand of ancient oak draped in vines, ferns sprouting fronds from the gnarled limbs towering in the mist. In the grove the pearly illusion shatters into the MAW of RAWNESS. Shakshang descent is a classic, on this night the last children had safely returned home for their delicious K WA Datsi made special by ama, doing homework assigned by Mr. Tim who returned into the world which was beautiful and smelled delicious even on an empty stomach. It occurred to me that Guru Rinpoche might not have any doubts but he has boundless empathy for all of the rest of us. That’s why I love Buddha, since he suffered immensely for his cosmic soup. Reincarnation has been on my mind these shadowy summer days, it’s starting to make a lot of sense and reverberated in a sweet spot when Bunks mentioned Karmic Vision, a concept my Aunt Mare hit upon long ago: that group’s of us are traveling in tandem through innumerable JIGSAW incarnations, And what of enlightenment? Can I get a tour of Christian Cloud Nine and Buddhist Nirvana before I commit? Do we really want that eternal reward of being separated from this raunchy raggedly plight, ain’t Samsara like a pig wallowing in shit? Anyhow I feel peculiarly connected to certain Bhutanese which begs the question? When I shouted to three 8 B students on their way home to make a wish on the sprawling rainbow Pema Wangmo responded with a hearty “Yes Sir!” in her hallmark raspy voice. Their silhouetted kiras superimposed over the opposing emerald mountains. The view from the head of the village is stellar reminiscent of a bow of a ship spurring this thought, the best moments in life are always the simplest, ISNT IT?
As for the internal weather report it mirrors the forecast of the outer world, brooding with amazing clouds and occasional bursts of immeasurable bliss. Sorry no weekend outlook available but I plan to attend the School Variety Show tomorrow night continuing my string of Saturday Nights at home, lord knows some housekeeping is in order. Oh my goodness, it’s the end of an era at the Pepsi K.C Hotel which informed me that their rates have increased for locals to 1.200 NU a night (double the friendly price we’d gotten for two years) So my weekends rejoicing in Trashigang will be drastically reduced a trend that has already begun. You’re LIVE with TIGER on 10:22 B.S.T Friday Night in late August in the Christ year 2014 (Year of the Wooden Work Horse) I hope these words find all of you well, and that’s a fact. On the way up the mountain I walked into what Robert Hunter calls “Splintered Sunlight” through a corridor of towering maize that reminded me of Jack’s bean stocks. Oh Becky only you could understand East Bhutan at the pinnacle in Late August, “Right before the maize is cut” as you always said. We debate the pinnacle but it might be NOW at T.M.S.S and begging your pardon I forget if phongmey runs ahead or behind. Heck I haven’t even been that side in over two years, LA! My world is shrinking into this village incognito where classes have been going well of late for those of you who track my progress in that arena. I was impressed with the critical thinking of the students throughout the week, GOD BLESS EM’
When asked to share what they are afraid of 7A students piped up with death, demons, witches, ghosts, going out at midnight, tigers, snakes, and haircuts by the Vice Principal. My response, rats. Haven’t been reading that much but am digesting Emerson who would have gotten on well with Buddha I reckon sharing pots of tea in the waning Indian or Massachusetts sun. Emerson is so stripped down to the elusive core that he comes off like a great lama. It’s wordy but once in awhile an astounding nugget shines from the heart of the Dharma Wheel itself. A thread connects us all as we race through furrows of time and I was privileged to step out of this furrow, to leave the world for awhile and gaze back at IT with wonder, far below I could hear the drone of happy Buddhist honeybees in their honeycomb of prayer, above Zangtopelri near the Mani Wall and new trash pit, beneath the cell tour is a prayer wheel with the most mellifluous chime followed by a satisfying clonk of wood repeated on a dimming cycle until only the hushing Kulong Chu remains. Up the trail I encountered an attractive mother and grown daughter that looked like sisters pitching rock along the newly ploughed dirt road in shiny blue gumboots and tones calves (I reckon in anticipation of Tsechu) the muddy road is a blemish on our mountain but I have become accustomed and it hovers in space over the valley with a sweeping vista from Lumla to Trashigang. They didn’t speak a lick of English, well everyone seems to know some if they reach way back. They were the last two people I saw before slipping the bonds of the world as Shakshang was eerily silent in that fog of another dimension. I made a loop down the western slopes bowing to auspicious Chortens, thankful for a flashlight along the beloved trail I stopped to greet a pair of itinerant monks bearing enormous sacks of rice.
I found an indiscriminant trail through an oak grove below Shakshang with hundred foot twisted oaks laced with fronds and the spongy floor of an abundant forest, inside the grove was cool and moist. Saturday nights cultural program was energetic with an amazing Dakpa dance with all the girls in ruddy Monpa regalia and the boy’s in gho’s and special Dragon boots. On Sunday I met Piet at Shakshang and we hiked up to Darchen through a curtain of lacy mist where we met the ascetic lama before we descended past the holy pond to Namkhar. I was late since I overslept and felt unwell but graciously he waited when I called him from Tsangma’s ruin. He told me of all the far flung places he’s reached in Trashiyangtse and the border eggs he’s seen like the one on Shampula. To my knowledge I was the first foreighner ever to summit Shampula but Piet did recently on his trek with colleagues. He’s explored more of Yangtse than I ever will and we talked about the spire on the border along the Dragons Tail (Tsang Tsang Ma) apparently about 100 people (Dakpa and Sharchop) pilgrimage to the apex of my dreamland every fall. According to Piet it’s at an elevation of 4.9 meters or 14,000 feet? He has a device to gauge every elevation and Tsenkharla comes in at 2,000 meters around 6,000 feet? We also talked about the Dakpa migration from Tawang to Chorten Kora over a high pass (the easy way is Blithing) and the Ludlow butterfly which he saw recently (The world’s largest butterfly inhabiting Bumdeling) I queried him about species and learned that the two pines in my area are blue pine and chir pine. On our descent I showed him the second ruin and he told me about the third or original defense tower on a hillock near Gongsa. We took tea and momo’s at Tsenkharla bazaar and he rode his bike away to Trashiyangtse town. He will be leaving Bhutan this month but will probably resurface here as certain people do and besides he’s been turning up in Yangtse for twenty five years. One distressing thing we talked about was the massive levels of trash along the Shakshang trail that he mentioned in his report back to the government. He was researching the trek of the local temples for future tourist excursions touting the trek as a four season’s possibility. We stopped briefly at Darchen and Namkhar which is the second most elaborate temple behind Zangtopelri with 108 Buddha statues piled into one corner and nice wooden floors. Namkhar is a government temple and is relatively lavish for such a far flung location. There’s a fifty foot dormant rhododendron tree on the pleasant trail between the Delo’s house and the Lama’s house. I make a pilgrimage to this tree often in the spring when its showy red flowers explode off the limbs there expended petals littering the trail.
Last night the flying rat was back again almost jumped on my face when I roused him from his rummaging atop of my closet. Actually he arced about twelve feet in the air before sticking the landing and scurrying under the bed. I rattled the bed frame and he took off under the crack in the front door. He looks like a different rat from my fridge rat from last year and early this year. Or the original rat changed MO’s and got a haircut, dye job, and hit the treadmill pretty hard. IT was another stellar day with billowing clouds rising from vertical emerald slopes with improbably incised farmhouses. You never tire of those views or the feeling it evokes. It was an interesting day of classes writing poems in class eight. One thing any prospective teacher in Bhutan should realize is that students love to plagiarize because that’s how they learn. Morning speeches and many other sources of knowledge are picked up and recycled since resources are limited. I busted several students outright instantly recognizing lines from poems in the text book. So I weeded out the offenders and sent them back to compose original work. In the end you can bet many were recalled lyrics or lines from movies mixed in with fresh ideas. There’s nothing new under the sun right? Some were very creative even if I had a nagging doubt. The poems were written in class but they habitually copy catchy lyrics in their notebooks. They were also instructed to illustrate and you can bet there are some awesome artists, they draw mountains adeptly with little carton Dorji’s and Dechen’s in national dress walking in valleys dotted with prayer flags. The only difference from reality is there’s no trash in their renditions. For class six we read by the prayer wheel away from the mud as an ebullient sun baked the soaked earth. They were attentive listeners as everybody shared a paragraph about themselves and Principal Sir’s son Sangay Rinchen even committed his to memory. That’s a great class comparable in spirit to my returnees in Korea. Heck they showed up early for the afternoon reading program beating me from the bell in a minute flat they were engulfed in storybooks. Of course there’s a huge gap of achievement between Augusta (the Indian boy) or Yeshi Dema compared to Pema Wangchuk who Butterfly says just comes to school for food. He has a great smile and is funny as all get out though much like Karma Wangchuk who pilfered milk from my house last year and today tore his gho isn’t academically minded. I just retrieved Karma Wangchuk a new textbook to replace the one he’d lost and the store in charge wouldn’t let me pay since they thought he ought to learn his lesson. The book costs 69 rupees as the slender kira wrapped bookkeeper lass kept repeating. Karma Wangchuk the grubby little lad (Not like I should talk) is also a fine illustrator but not much of a writer in English. Class seven boys are mischevious as yesterday I caught Chongola out of class frozen like a statue in the field watching a sparrow hover, a few minutes later he was asleep in class. Bhutanese students have a good sense of humor and are creative but have trouble expressing themselves in English especially in the east.
On Tuesday September 2 the mountains shined their contours popping in the electric blue filament, the rim of the valley festooned with iridescent ribbons of clouds that looked like rings of smoke from hookah puffing caterpillars. In this wonderland it was a resplendent afternoon unfortunately I missed it since we had a two hour (short) review meeting. On the trot home from the meeting hall (original dilapidated structure from 77’) I conspired with a raven turning tricks in the wind, flipping and tumbling in ecstasy. Making chili spiced French fries right now using two and a half year old ketchup, smells promising. Just ate them up and ruined them from too much salt, as Chef Ramsey would say, “What a shame”
The next night the fries turned out perfectly and I wolfed them up. We’ve had a string of clear days with rainy nights. At noon the clouds retreat to the periphery where they billow into the stratosphere. I had to discipline a girl and two boys in class seven B the girl in tears. I wasn’t harsh but some are very sensitive and I hate that part of the job. By this time of the year both students and teachers are entrenched in their routines and things are going well as far as syllabus coverage. I have improved a lot since my first year and enjoy teaching Bhutanese students more as I go along. Class six is a delight with enthusiasm and no behavior issues they make me feel like a good teacher as we usually smoothly sail along. Last night the rat ran right through the crack in my front door stopping just short of my toes making me screech. I barricade the door but the supple son of a bitch wriggled back in since I heard him gnawing away at 2:38 A.M and was too lazy and frightened to chase him away. In class 8 we finished our semi-original poems and some were very good especially the heartbreaking ones about the death of a parent. Many of my students have lost a parent already even thought heir barely teenagers. One girl touching lament was about her mom who died this year. Dawa C. Seldon lost her mom when she was five and one boy lost both parents and when he’s not a boarder lives with his brother. They display incredible resilience in the face of adversity since that’s just the Bhutanese way. My adopted sister who I haven’t met except via telephone (We met on a wrong number call) just lost her mother last week. The poor thing said she cried for three days but she’s still herself if that makes any sense. To paraphrase she said, “I cried for three days but what to do.” Life goes on and then we catch up in the next generation (life) Death is never far away in Bhutan and it keeps you on your toes. Her mother was only 40.
Did some laundry today, Tshoki Lhamo style (soaking in a bucket) since I have running water this week you can rinse them properly and no brush required. It’s the lazy boy approach but I have clean underwear laid out for tomorrow and lesson plans complete. I saw Booty the cat today for the first time ‘in six months with his tormented cry and Dawa Dema got shaved and looks like a wrinkled sausage peppered with flea bites. Karma Sonam (Lucky Star) went to her village quarantined with mumps, Guru Wangmo still wears a mask from her chicken pox and I have itchy legs and yet another vapory array over Lumla this evening with a silky salmon sunset. Yesterday, a pilgrimage to Shakshang prostrating in the darkness before a flickering butter lamp the last silver rays reaching through the crack in the door, the Guru engulfed in shadow in the depths of hell or heaven. On the dusty altar thirteen bowls filled with water, earlier that day a girl proudly presented her poem exclaiming thirteen lines sir. On the way out of the village an old man in crimson gho carrying a staff spoke to me in presumably Sharchop (or Monkey language) inviting me for tea, but I declined as politely as possible in a hurry to descend in the waning light. Further down the undulating glade a shy young woman taking in her cow for the night asked me in Sharchop where I came from and where I was going which is the proper protocol. A splendid moon hung low in the sky, a friendly moon and a rare sight in this part of the galaxy. I made it through the portal just as the barefoot Abi was constructing the temporary cow fence from brush. The air was scented with drifts of cedar smoke permeating the stalks of maize. I bid her a hearty farewell and scampered on down the ridge just in time for special curry at the mess.
A Bhutanese school day is the best in the world. For one thing when you walk from class to class you see incredible things like forested cliffs you’d never spotted, a giant moth, an rusty butterfly, or a new flower in bloom, the kids rolling by in national dress adds to the atmosphere. Sparrows dart in and out of the classroom and only the teacher takes notice. I can take the class into the field or basketball court and sit under my favorite tree with class six and read a story in the breeze. I haven’t missed a scheduled class except for being sick but when I turn up after lunch bell both staff and students take their sweet time to assemble for sixth period, BST has advantages compared with time in the outer world. The bell itself although it rules my life is still a delight to the ears, a brass oval struck by a hammer, a sound that carries to Zangtopelri and beyond. If I have the nerve to keep teaching for many years I would no doubt long for these sunny afternoons teaching in Eastern Bhutan where I like my community, worship the mountains, and adore my students! The acrobatic rat snuck by me but I caught climbing up my closet he jumped nearly hitting my face with his claws and I golfed him with my broom a perfect hole in one out my door, AWESOME!
That rat has been in and out of my house in the last week, an array of rain and astounding beauty. I haven’t written lately but a lot is going on as usual both internally and externally. I have been walking in the woods daily although only going as far as Shakshang about two and a half hours roundtrip along the spine of the mountain. Once you approach Shakshang the mountains begin to unfold and stretch out in a radial display of perfection. One can view a distant electrical storm over T-Gang then turn around to see an ethereal moonrise over Tawang. You can still hear the faint whisper of the Dangme Chu four thousand feet below in the valley where a lone light from the paddy bivouac we rested at on the way to Gongsa shines! I love the sense of place that comes with living in Rangthangwoong. Around Shakshang is a sacred grove with towering oaks that sport mossy trunks and fronds sprouting from twisted limbs. Meditating on the queen of the grove an enormous gnarled oak with so much life sprouting from her boughs and I thought as a teacher I should be like that tree nurturing and sustaining all the life that sprouts from me like that tree. Outside the grove in the otherworld tufts of mist evaporate from the silhouetted escarpment vanishing over the Dangme Chu that is etched too deeply into the narrow valley to be seen yet is audible (A different tone from its brother river) Below the Lhakhang (God’s house) is a cluster of homes and three wondrous chortens (artifact receptacles) the uppermost decked with rainbow prayer flags the second tier has a stone tablet with an engraving of a Buddha and Dakini doing it, intrinsic iconography in tantric lore representing the unity of male and female energies and through IT, the unity of all things. The lowest tier has two simple unadorned or whitewashed crumbling chortens that resemble holy cairns. Turning left towards Tsenkharla the trail goes through an oak wood to a cluster of rainbow prayer flags. The spot has a commanding view of Zangtopelri below and beyond Trashigang whose lights come up glittering like an orange constellation. Once you pass the interceding dirt road (also built during my stint along with the cell tower) A wonderfully gentle descent past the meditation hut where I was stopped dead in my tracks by three conch blows that reverberated rattling my dome before emanating out to the universe using me as a conduit. YELLAMA! Then on the next evening some drum and horn duet interspersed with a twisted dirge some kinky entreaty the local deities who were awaking for nocturnal revelry, perhaps going to meet the Lumla goddess for a romp on Shampula. The other realms are active with hungry ghosts, elves, sprites, pixies, all chattering in the void unseen by many human beings who simply aren’t attuned.
Teaching goes on steadily with ups and downs. I know I’m a better teacher now than when I arrived but I’m not as consistent as I want to be. We had consistent water for a week and I washed all my clothes and Nima Gyeltson helped me wash the floors. Now the water is gone and I miss it already. It’s a dwindling summer’s eve with shadows absorbing the massifs leaving bars of bullion light forming a checkerboard pattern from Tawang to Trashigang, even a rare scarlet sunset illuminates the cotton candy clouds GOD”S GREAT CIRCUS and we his children, forever grateful. Outside, a cornucopia of vegetation at its peak with flecks of gold streaking the sea of green, including the maize which turns gold before it’s harvested. The rice paddies also tinted gold now. Rain still saturates the land daily and plants seem to grow until they die which seems a noble notion, isn’t it? It’s been a heck of a year and I’m feeling crazier for it and a tad isolated too, but I love my post and therefore must embrace any challenges that arise whilst I stay.
Tonight’s curry y’all straight up emadatsi just chillie given by Pema Dechen class even, and one slice of processed cheese salted over rice. Put oil into pot fry up the chillie, add water let it boil them, and then add cheese at the end, delicious!
Summer winds down and you can taste autumn when you arise each morning and taste it again when you collapse at night. The lustrous mountains sparkle joyously in the sunlight illuminating unnoticed contours and surprising the eye with previously unseen settlements dotting the rough borderlands. One guesses is that hovel with the tin roof in India or Bhutan, as if it matters. We might be past the peak now but it’s still unimaginably green although more hints of autumn abound. Pink and purple blossoms in the forests that appear this time each year as if by magic. We don’t get alpine varieties but we do have seasonal blooms. Undoubtedly, this is the most beautiful part of the year although each season has its magical essence. Yet a sunny summer day in Bhutan displays a richness of green that words cannot capture or remotely convey so you ought to come and see for yourself. Marigolds sprout just as the final rose wilts off the vine reminding us that change is a necessary aspect of life. Why then I’m I so resistant? Can’t find any spuds since every available local potato is being diced in Bangladesh or India right now. Currently the sun shines and rain falls simultaneously so we wait patiently for the rainbow to appear. My emadatsi boils on the gas stove and I got local cheese to top it off. It hasn’t been an easy time for me as the shadows of my mind eclipse the light of my soul creating undesirable discord in my spirit. Yet hope springs eternal and each day I hope to emerge from my sleeping bag cocoon as a BUTTERFLY. The students keep me honest and in the game when all other checks and balances have dissolved. I appreciate this unique opportunity more and more as the great DRAGON schematic unfolds with sinuous movements and painful revelations. On campus an outbreak of chicken pocks and mumps claims a few new pupils each day as kids are sequestered in the hostel or sent to their village to recover. Life on the frontier isn’t easy when your upbringing was in pampered Marin County California. The gap between the lifestyles and thinking is as deep as the valley itself. One boy who was at my house for lunch on Saturday has never left this mountain. He’s 16 and hails from Shakshang and has only been to Omba and Darchen once and NEVER been as far as Doksom at the foot of the hill, let alone T-Gang or Yangtse. WOW! That means he’s never touched the two rivers he’s gazed at for 16 years! I feel lucky to have travelled this far in life, and also fortunate to get a taste of sitting still on this mountain that we share. If I had to trade it all in for this mountain I would though, (if the DRAGON threw in a Sharchop wife) Lunch is ready but at least I cook my chillie, students pour salt in raw ones and suck the juices before eating the shell, YELLAMA! When I came up with this blogs title “tiger in a trance” lifting it from the lyric Saint of Circumstance, never did I imagine how prophetic it would be.
If the story ended here what a fine ending it would be, maybe engaged in a teachable moment with the students, or sitting on the lip of a green knoll under the eaves of a cubed Chorten decked in rainbow prayer flags. My face sprinkled with plump raindrops and baked by the sun. Cows low in the fields and mist obscures the highest ridges while the valley turns and shines beneath made by the sacred two rivers and their relentless push to the sea. Yesterday I accompanied a former student Nima Gyelston to his mother’s house at the village of Yartse. We took a short cut through steep terraced maize fields interspersed with rice paddies as we approached the village. The road to Doksom winds around the shortcut and we hit the paved road above Kamdang. There are few trees down here shrubby oaks, eucalyptus, and lone pines along with stands of bamboo that tower thirty feet in the air. Also lemon grass grows eye high but mostly the land is farmed on steep slopes and maize is the bumper crop now turning a pale gold and soon will be harvested. Maize is rubbery corn that’s used to make ARA (local brew or moonshine) or kadung a rice maize blend that is hearty and nutritious. Nima is a Kidu student and his father left early on so he is sponsored by the king. His mother or his older sister didn’t speak a word of English but welcomed us with smiles all the same. The house looks like something out of Grimes, a dilapidated stone hovel leaning askew raised above ground with bare board floors and no furniture or appliances except a gas stove. Outside red chillies dry on the tin eaves. Ama did have a cell phone and they grew plenty of vegetables to survive but live a sparse life sleeping in one room on the floor on thin mats with blankets. The hearth was located in one corner along with a rusted drum for stored water. Unlike most traditional homes there was no altar, only pictures of the King tacked up along the charred walls. I don’t want to romanticize that living condition because village life is hard and many live a meek subsistent lifestyle. But it seemed a cozy setup to me and there is a lot to be said for a simple life. A more middle class farmer lifestyle would be more comfortable or living off a teacher’s wage or government position. I sat Indian style on the floor with the hot sun at my back through the wooden carved windows, covered at night by sliding wood. Nima served me pomegranate, cucumber, and his mom prepared suja (butter tea) a staple in the Himalaya. I don’t care for it usually but under special circumstances it’s memorable for reasons little to do with gustatory satisfaction, and being offered this in a simple home is an honor. I went outside where his sister was coating a Kamdang student’s hair in mucky dye that would eventually tint her tresses maroon. The girl was draped in a plastic tarp and the scene resembled a third world beauty parlor. The proper term is developing world and that fits about as well as third world over here. There are medical realities and conditions of life that make it a developing country but the spirit seems highly evolved. And what measurement does sense of community fall into these categories? If only I could get them to pick up their trash. We walked back up the maize terraces with sharp views to villages incised on the slopes of the opposite mountain. At night the lights twinkle in every direction and although the population isn’t sizable one is certainly not alone in this remarkable valley. The riverbed is sparsely settled and the mountaintops uninhabited leaving most of the population farming between 3,000 and 8,000 feet. The lights of Trashigang are highly visible throughout the valley a glowing orange constellation. Before Nima departed he told me he left the money his mother and sister had given him at home which seemed dubious but I gave him 150 Ngultrum. Later on at my house Butterfly stopped by for Nepali spiced milk tea (he loves the spice I picked up in Pokhara nearly two years ago) He told me that Prabu G offered to buy Nima a new gho to replace his faded school gho. Nima took the money and bought a fancy black gho from Phuntsho Wangmo’s shop. So days went by (Butterfly tells it so much better since he is adept at impressions) and Nima kept coming to school in the faded gho. Finally Prabu G confronted him and Nima admitted he bought the fancy gho and Prabu G and Phuntsho Wangmo got into a scrum since Phuntsho wouldn’t take the gho back. It makes me think young Nima is a tad mischevious but I can verify he comes from simple upbringing and must envy the students who have their own nice gho and pocket money. Nima says he works construction in wintertime to support his mother.
Today is Sunday I went up to Shakshang to prostrate and noticed an amazing fresco of the Guru with flowing orange and purple robes and his two consorts with a particularly alluring Yeshi showing a lot of skin and a more demure Maharaja, the Guru’s eyes seemed to meet both of his consorts and track my own (Night at the museum style) Outside, I paused many times to admire my beloved place reveling in its glory and realized I’d never have this connection again. Visiting a national Park is awesome but living in the midst of a functioning wilderness that serves both tiger and man is exhilarating. My eye problem prevents me from driving, so back in the USA I’m isolated but here in Bhutan I have the world at my fingertips. Nancy once told me as we sprawled out with a picnic with half dozen other folks including my Principal near the Mani Wall below the ruin, “Why would you ever go anywhere?” Well these days I’m going only as far as my legs will carry me. On my way home two familiar characters, the old man with the staff, and the old woman halfway down to Zangtopelri at her farm, neither wore shoes as nobody of that generation does at least at this elevation this time of year. Shakshang enjoys a 360 view with a great sightline to Trashigang from the temple stoop, the rolling range towards Yangtse and my beloved valley stretching east reversing the course of the Dangme Chu, and above the temple an impressive oak grove and the way to Darchin. A few dogs bayed at my entrance into the Lhakhang and it wasn’t until I was navigating the stone stairs shaded by overgrown bowers that I encountered the old caretaker. Moments later I saw an awesome slender bird with long tail feathers perched on a pine treetop with an amazing song who seemed the Neil Cassady of birds talking to a hundred other birds at once. He had an interesting darting flight too. Standing on a rock imbibing a radial display or an outward manifestation of my soul? MANIFEST! Flocks of ravens caw and soar on the wind announcing their busiest season I don’t know what all the ruckus is about though because I don’t know enough to think like a raven. In the ancient grove I tread on a carpet of clovers and ferns beneath towering oaks whose buttresses are laced with spider webs and cascading purple flowers. I gingerly Step over rotting logs, stinging nettle, and mossy rocks, a tight twisting ascent to the Lhakang, emerging into pastures with enormous black butterflies with blue globes printed on their wings, and brown and tan stripped diminutive ones that flit through fragrant bushes reminding me of swarthy country girls performing morning chores. I lean back on the wild grass and watch mist engulf distant forests expanding towards Dung La. Take a last glance at those spindrifts of mist engulfing the high peaks.
My emadatsi bender continues so if you’ll excuse me I got to chop some chillie. We’re at that part of the year where weekends barely register with six day workweeks. The environment alleviates some of the overworked feeling with sparrows darting in the classroom, the girl’s funny clogs accentuating their kira and the boy’s stately knee socks. I’m not eating much these days and am gaining no pleasure except from cold Coca Cola and its sweet consistency and handfuls of cheap éclairs. I haven’t touched meat for about a month which is probably the longest I’ve ever gone. I haven’t even eaten a dried fish or leather in ages. My hundred pairs of socks drying on the line caused a stir amongst the boys who said I had more socks than the shopkeepers. I gave a few pairs away to alleviate my guilt as much as for a good turn. The ones without a match I assume the rat devoured. Speaking of Coke I need to run to the shop for a few to make it through the busy night. Its Sunday late in the afternoon and sunlight floods the valley illuminating the infinite contours of the daisy chain of mountains. Back from shop, chatting with students, sunlight creeps up the mountains leaving pools of shadow in diamond cirques (my good karma to be here) In reality these are the foothills of the Himalaya but I’ve never seen grander mountains in my life rising sheer from the river more than five thousand feet joining in endless escarpments that form an intricate mountain mandala stretching and unfolding in every direction like the UNIVERSE. Yes, nowhere is as homey as the EASTERN INNER HIMALAYA, a verdant paradise, home of freakishly large cucumbers. Its quiet the kids are watching ten hours of football matches on the grassless muddy ground while a few bunkers play kuru in the field below my house. I am hungry, prostrate, and grateful.
If the story ended here what a fine ending it would be…walking down the trail with warbling night birds, a tapping drum and conch jam floating on a river song under a milky galaxy of shooting stars…stellar lightning flashing on the fringes of earths rotunda reminding me I’m alive…and she’s out there...the voices of the student’s prayer a beacon guiding me home...5:38 P.M, the mountains fan out in a golden accordion of summer bliss…midday walking through the rustling maize dodging raindrops and inhaling sweet bovine perfume cavorting down the trail with familiar goat and horse and blue pines that recognize me evermore…the world is cast in shadow as snow white clouds build cobalt cathedrals in the sky…the illusion warps shattering momentarily revealing NAKED IT!!! Rematerializing into bluish mountains, the loveliest DREAM…last Sunday at a Chorten Ugyen Chopel told me that Yeshi Tshogyel sang songs in the crags above Omba!!!
(I want to believe we’ll all be okay)
Sometime in September, a day of dharma, a beautiful young woman died at age 21 in the hamlet below Shakshing. Kinga Choden one of my students has taken leave to attend the funeral. Meanwhile my adopted sister called to say she’d run away from home after a quarrel with her elder sister, two weeks since her own 40 year old mother died. Bhutan is an idyllic place but like all places is touched by tragedy including suicide. When Buddha proclaimed all life is suffering he wasn’t being pessimistic he was merely looking at facts represented in the constant cycles of birth and death, meeting and departure. It still rattles me that Buddha is described as an agnostic or someone with no opinion on the existence of god. No one has told me otherwise. Many Bhutanese endure difficult circumstances usually making the best of things. As I’ve stated before boarding school is like boot camp for them and they have a heavy regiment, enduring twelve hour routine days and sleeping thirty to a room on steel bunks. They are fortunate to be getting an education and in Bhutan schools have to be a surrogate parent to students studying away from home. Also rules are important to maintain discipline and order. Religion plays a significant role in everything from eating to studying. I’ve met a few Christians of all ages, one atheist, and a ton of Mahayana Buddhists. My Indian pals are Hindu’s, and I saw a Muslim on a park bench at Phuntsholing Zangtopelri enjoying the shade of a tree near the fountain.
I just hide and watch and absorb what I can.
Stenciled horse pennants snap against a baby blue sky and I think of Buddha, an ordinary man who emancipated him -self from the wheel of suffering. We all have the Buddha nature inside of us as a dormant seed. Could you extricate yourself from desire and thus be free to love mankind? Tall order isn’t it? The Dharma is a similar vehicle to Christ Love as long as neither have an agenda. Becky was almost struck by lightning while pondering Lumbini on a Southwestern riverbank. I wonder if she knows that the ancient pillar to Lord Buddha erected by an emperor on pilgrimage was shattered by a bolt of lightning before the Lumbini complex was abandoned to war and wilderness for more than a thousand years, being rediscovered around 1900. A lustrous rainbow shimmered over Yellang sprouting from indescribably intricate mountains, a scope of unfathomable beauty that warmed my soul’s marrow. Yes, I’m still here on a perfect summers eve with thundering rainbows and what a wonderful place to be, isn’t it? THERE Ain’t NO CLOUDS like BHUTANESE CLOUDS I feel grateful to have recovered my health compared to the beginning of the season and I’m grateful to my legs for carrying me around the mountain that I adore. I’m also grateful to teach these students even if teaching language arts to ESL students is exasperating. Lastly, I feel grateful to be alive in an imperfect world.
Three Good Things:
1. Doing Social Work with club
2. Doing Crossword puzzles in Class 7A
3. Dried Fish
Above that rainbow Tsang Tsang Ma appeared from hibernation the peculiar contours of the dragons tail above twelve thousand feet a serrated ridge that marks the boundary between Bhutan and India. At assembly a Tawang helicopter flies overhead and my VP says that Chinese copters are banned over East Bhutan. It’s hard to believe Tawang was a warzone fifty years ago with blood being shed in my beloved valley spilling into the Dangme Chu, Shampula scared by now overgrown trenches, Becky’s testimony of a crashed Chinese helicopter in Sakteng. This is the peaceful valley on earth tracing the faint flicker of headlights winding down a road somewhere across the river from Lumla, maybe a man in love going home to his wife and new baby since each one of us has a story.
Assessing students is often a rude awakening of your own and their own limitations. The curriculum is far too advanced with only a few grasping the stories without a lot of coaching. And too much emphasis on poetry (which I love) but they can’t grasp vagaries. I’ve been teaching class eight students for almost two academic years and I know they have improved but I’m very disheartened by the lackluster speaking ability. I know how hard it is for them but I wish for more effort and less shyness. I have designed more activities focused on speaking and they love reading aloud but I can’t say what lasting impact this has had. I can applaud my successes but realize I need to continue to readjust during my stint at this post.
Last night a remote sky of twinkling stars spread across the middle with one stray hanging low at the east end of the valley. A crescent moon hung upside down beneath the celestial horizon and starlight tracers enveloped the crown of Shampula. On the fringes heat lightning flashed, nocturnal mountains posing for the end of summer. Bhutan is a land of myths and symbols I couldn’t sit on the rock under my favorite tree to read because my students said there was a deity living in it. One girl in class nine calls herself STAR (Karma)of course there’s Moon Tshomo of the Monpa contingent, and recently on the way up to Shakshang Pema Dechen of class five and her younger sis nicknamed me Meme Shing (Grandfather Tree) first they thought of tokala which means bowl but they wisely settled on the second.
Fall is here the rice paddies on the riverbank turn from chartreuse to pale yellow before harvest, the needles on the cypresses are hazel cascades brushing blues skies. The maize turns golden brown with thirty foot stalks awaiting the sickle. A few red roses remain, the galaxy of marigolds only emerging their pungent aroma filling the morning air. The courtyard is complete jazzing up the already pomp filled assembly. The singing of prayer, speeches, announcements, admonishments, encouragements, awards, and the singing of the National Anthem all packed into thirty or forty five minutes of fun! The scouts salute the unfurling of the Dragon flag on the mast another blessed day in Bhutan! My home class is in the old classroom building on the top end of campus. I’m sure the building was constructed before Catherine’s stint at Rangthangwoong and I get to teach in it. Behind the small building is an abandoned shitter and health hazard piled with trash (I have informed administration who plans to demolish the derelict toilets) Behind the room is a maize patch and view of the Kulong Chu and valley towards Yangtse. It’s an out of the way classroom and I’m getting to know my new class 7A students that I inherited after midterm. The room is spacious and if I howled no one could hear me. There’s room for group activities and space to move around and seat 31 students comfortably two to a table with a few broken chairs. 7A is a good class but their shy in speaking compared to 7B. I do think I have an impact on students speaking English but perhaps don’t notice since I can’t see the forest for the trees.
A medley of weather thunderstorms bumping around the hidden cirques rumbling through hollows rolling off the brow of Shampula. Deep metallic drawls like the taste in god’s mouth. One can almost see the dragon in curls of lightning turning a charcoal sky purple. Next the mist swooped down enveloping campus shrinking visibility to the head of a pin. The fog dissolved into cloudscapes and a solitary ray spotlighted a distant settlement maybe Melenkhar, Pema Yangdon’s village. A solid kind of day feeling embedded in a weird cartoon living in Smurf village. I’ve become invisible to certain folks but the students keep me sane and engaged. A full day of Dzonkha and I felt lost in translation which usually doesn’t bother me. I taught all eight periods and classes were fine and I enjoyed it but by the meeting in Dzonkha to select next year’s captains I was over it.
It’s Friday night, I’m hungry and there’s no water. Both situations could have been remedied but for now I go bachelor commando with a coke and hunk of processed cheese. A funny thing about that water, we had two consistent weeks of flowage, maybe the first time in two plus years. Now when it went away which is the norm, I really got irked. There’s a lesson in that I’m sure. Why the bleakness when surrounded by wonderful faces, sacred rocks and trees. No matter, it’s a righteous place to be a somnambulist. WAKE UP MIDNIGHT BUDDHA! RISE AND SHINE! It continues to rain even after the land had its fill. It drips off eaves and palisades and the matted fur of cows unable to stop binging on sweet juicy grass munching through a curtain of ceaseless precipitation. Clouds sink filling the valley in multitude layers of thick mist above and below sifting by your face a raindrop on your nose.
Authors Note: Sunday September 21 2014: There are ONLY 12 boys in each hostel room equivalent to my studio in space. Last night Nima Gyelston was over for dinner and I asked him his version of the Prabu G Gho story. He wouldn’t admit to lying and only said that Prabu had made him Tai Kuang Do Captain this year. We pottered around fixing light bulbs and washing clothes but I missed Sangay Tobgay and others in the singing show up at the MP. Probably a good thing as the program ran four and a half hours. As I stepped out of doors to smell the rain at 10:28 P.M I heard singing from the bend of the road near the BHU where the yellow school bus inched its way through the blackness. The kid’s were singing at the top of their lungs returning from performing in a cultural program at a school across the Kulong Chu three hours away. I marveled at an intact culture with the cheers spilling from the MP and the approaching bus packed with jubilant soul’s rejoining the hive. Living in your village IS the epitome of the experience here, like the dude inside Dochu La Lhakhang under the shimmering chandelier told Becky in winter 2012. THAT MURAL STILL STALKS THE HALLWAYS OF MY MIND -I feel blessed that my dart landed on Tsenkharla! Lunch was KWA with broccoli and egg plant thrown in pretty gooey. Maybe due to second Losar more is available on the hilltop. An hour later I fried the leftover rice with onion and broccoli and I’m still hungry but too wet to go out for CRAZY CHEESEBALLS!