Thursday, April 30, 2015

Love for Nepal...

The Vomit of a Mad Tiger

“And even if he forever flies within the gorge, that gorge is in the mountains so that even in his lowest swoop the mountain eagle is still higher than other birds upon the plain even though they soar” Moby Dick

The Leviathan Mountain

Today I’m exhausted not exactly sick but worn down to a nubby point but Bhutan waits for no one and life at a boarding school is tedious and wonderful. For example every day I receive visitors mostly Nima and Pema who have the Monopoly on me. Actually I need to invite others so I can influence them too. It’s hard to pinpoint the Bhutanese psyche and lying is embedded into the ethos of the population, just look at the histories where exaggeration is commonplace unless the Guru actually went to every holy spot between Pakistan and Tawang. An example right at home is this, last weekend Karma Tenzin a newcomer from class six came over to fetch some hot water and told me a sad tale about his parents dying in a car wreck on the way to Gom Kora Tsechu five years ago. I was deeply affected by the story and gave the lad some cash and told him I’d help him in whatever needs arise in the future. The next day Pema Chedup told me that Karma’s folks were divorced but still alive. So one of the parties was lying and I can only speculate. Was it the boy trying to curry favor from me or was it Pema Chedup perhaps not wanting to relinquish his prime position in my household. That is why as much as I like my two man Fridays I also feel that they dominate my time and that I should reach out to others. I’m not naïve I realize that beyond liking me Nima & Pema like the getaway of Mr. Tim’s house with all the perks included. Furthermore although I implore them to bring studies for help most often they beg to just hang out, eat food, or play Monopoly. Actually I prefer helping kids with homework to hanging out. I like to hike with the guys but just slurping tea and rummaging through my things hasn’t much appeal and I do it to be nice, whereas I gain real enjoyment from helping students one on one with homework and stories. Today is Thursday although no circus is in town as my soul feels like a vacant lot. The rain continues to douse the land which is good news for the farmers and last night I had to hightail it in a downpour from Karlos and Sonam’s place where I greedily ate second share of dried chillie and rice. I’m quite hungry and live a hungry and lean life here where simple pleasures are exaggerated. Who would imagine that I get all a twitter over packets of mango pickle sauce or the satisfaction of a cold coke which is my link to the outer world as my primary pleasure. Now is lunchtime and today I’m Tim on Duty so I took food at the mess still sane enough to enjoy the buzzing Sharchops moving about in shiny national dress. If the reader will excuse me I shall depart for afternoon classes where I’m conducting group work. Yes I’m the maestro of a weird and wooly symphony staring 115 learners and we make some peculiar music indeed.

Its afterschool now and presentations were successful since we must measure such things in baby steps. How did I assess the success? Well the information presented was in their own words showing some level of synthesis on the student’s part. Yes not every member of the group participated equally but the ones who slacked on the written part were made to speak. Would you believe me if I told you that only 1/50 class 10 pupils can speak in complete sentences and that many of the teachers also have difficulty in that regard. Oh what a row to hoe and we must remember that almost all come from illiterate Sharchop homes where there is no such thing as a written language. Imagine, the ancients were writing in many parts of the world but here written communication remained obsolete until now. The Sharchops are not stupid enjoying a proud oral tradition that is too devalued in “modern” society. I only illustrate this point to any perspective teachers who might someday find themselves in a Sharchop village and classroom. While the performance of speakers in the west is far better all the same challenges are here. Dzonkha is a far different language then Sharchop and not as musical to the ear. When I hear Dzonkha my blood curdles bristling at perceived formalities yet when I hear Sharchop I think of cows lowing in pastures and fireside Ara sessions. I like the Ningma lineages from Kham the eastern wilds of the Great Himalayan Range by no means the mightiest sector but definitely the most forgotten. Go look at a political map of India jammed packed with places except for one blank spot in the Northeast corner representing Arrunachal Pradesh, even more sparsely represented with labels than the Leh region of Kashmir. That black hole is where I live over on the Bhutanese side of the border physically depicted by the Leviathan monstrous Shampula, the spine tickling formations of Tsang Tsang Ma and that pyramid mountain perched in the valley that has no inhabitants only a forested apex where I dream of retiring into meditation or heated contemplation someday. One irony in Bhutan is although it is a bastion of peace when strolling in a virgin forest villages and schools are noisy places and I dare say all BCF teachers are up against things that go bump in the night. Those things might be vermin knocking over pots or 4 AM dream weavers thumping (woofing) out designs of silken threads on strapped looms. Here at Tsenkharla now officially a Central School it’s the boys with the noise living in close proximity in fact I can smell their shit oozing from the septic tank as I type these words with a half bowl of ramen next to me. They sing and shout and carry on with ample loads of testosterone coursing in their pubescent veins. I’m exhausted and in about an hour I’ll be back on campus supervising night study. I recall little Dema a cute shaved headed boy undersized for class seven lying on the table coloring his poster with bare feet dangling over the side and that’s my impetus. He loves to ask me silly questions with big glowing eyes like flying saucers. Outside buckets of rain pour off the eaves with peels of thunder emanating from an unseen dragon. Last night lightning ripped me in two the mighty fork descending from the stratosphere down to the river illuminating than effacing my consciousness momentarily peeling my essence from ego so I could clearly relate to all matter, the message lingered in sulfur traces of purple, white, orange, and gold-everything is one.  

Its Saturday high noon in station with clouds layering every peak and pinnacle like foam undertow swirling around toothy Leviathan monoliths, the mountains look like an archipelago protruding from an angry sea, the secret portal to Tawang opens and closes rapidly with intermittent cells depositing rain on our own little mountain. Last night I had Karma Wangchuk brother of Pema Chedup over for a talk since the boy was caught bunking from my class with best friend Chongola. I will have to take him under my wing since he has potential but is perpetually lazy. This year I feel a tad overextended but the more The Dragon feeds on me the better off it’ll be in the end.

Circumambulating Beney Lhakhang

Today I feel rundown with a scratchy throat but I just finished my workday a pot of emadatsi is boiling on the stove with local cheese that I bought wrapped in a banana leaf. I seem to have a slight fever so I thought it might be a good time to update my loyal readers (if any remain) Many have said my posts are too long and I guess in the modern world y’all are busy, but in truth it feels that as my world exponentially expands and my duties widen that I barely touch upon what happens in my daily life. So here’s a brief taste of what’s up with me. On a rainy Saturday I walked down the sinuous road about a mile past the junction at Zongposar finally getting a lift into Yangtse town. I immediately headed to Chorten Kora to pray for the devastated people of Nepal where the great earthquake struck. Anyone who’s been to Kathmandu winces at what it must be like now as the city was already in disrepair and lack of infrastructure is a Nepali hallmark. Now they will have to rebuild the devastated and beautiful city and mourn the thousands of dead in the heart of the Buddhist world. The Nepali’s are incredibly resilient by nature so I’m sure with time they will endure this heavy load but it’s so sad nonetheless. These thoughts and more rattled around my overactive brain as I circled around the whitewashed Stupa in a drizzling rain occasionally spinning a greasy prayer wheel squeaking while churning my meek halfhearted prayers. Not that I’m not sincere but it seems impossible for me to hold a pure thought before another one taints the first and rapidly on down the line like a misery train off the tracks of reason. The Kora shines with rainbow Buddha eyes the roaring whitewater and steep green cliffs bleeding with dashes of red Rhododendron climaxing with a thousand blossoms crowding one tree. At the Karmaling I arrived to meet the Dasho (Head of Yangtse Dzongkhag) for Klaus’s farewell speech and dinner. Klaus is from Germany and was here to raise awareness on waste management. Piet was also in attendance along with twenty other dignitaries and I stuck out in my bleached pants that even the students razz me about. Luckily Piet and Klaus also were attired informally compared to the gho clad Bhutanese men. It should be noted that no women were there denoting the lack of equality in positions of power. After his presentation Dechen Wangmo and company put on a fine spread which I ate greedily.

Early the next morning the clouds parted and I met Piet and banker Sonam at the bazaar for another epic hike. Again Piet and Sonam were painting arrows leading prospective tourists along the route. Piet is currently devising ways to promote tourism in Yangtse and as it stands only a fraction make it over to Chorten Kora for a daytrip mostly returning to T-Gang by nightfall. And by the time we climbed three thousand vertical feet and arrived at Beney Lhakhang the lama told us we were the first foreigners to have set foot there. Surprising since the Lhakang is only three hours off the roadway (a knock at the door, Karma Wangchuk needs something-I stir my Emadatsi and return to my desk) the beginning of the hike follows power lines and a dismal transformer where they have clear cut the forest to both Piet and Sonam’s consternation. But looking around one sees many mountains and impregnable forests including northern facing slopes of old growth peppered with extraordinary crimson rhododendron flowers. These forests beyond the arc of civilization are home to Himalayan Black Bears, deer, and leopards among other animals (including Bromla where I prowl) On the way to Yangtse while hitchhiking I saw a brown monkey who looked like curious George hanging out on the road. Beney Lhakhang is a well kept temple with a fascinating story. Whereas many remote temples are faded and dilapidated this one was immaculate with cherry wood floors and amazing relics. We lit butter lamps and Sonam translated the Lamas stories to our eager ears in English. This lama was middle aged with a prayer like timbre resounding off the interior walls. It was cold so as we could see our breath as he told us the temple was built around a relic an old Tibetan woman brought from the other side of Me La. Therefore the temple is renowned for a long life blessing. Later on a lama built the temple proper and spent his days until death meditating on the hillock with fine views north towards Dong La, Bumdeling, and the high peaks along the borders on this Sunday crowned with clouds. When that lama died his disciples cremated him and a beggars bowl (like Buddha’s) was discovered in the ashes. They sealed that Buddha bowl in a Chorten but rain destroyed the stupa so the dakini’s came and reclaimed the relic bringing it back to their invisible realm. But the olds woman’s relic remains and the central statue above the torma’s is an effigy of the Buddha of compassion with several heads and a thousand arms which try to lift every man and beast out of Samsara, funny how the goal is to clear the field of players. The most remarkable part of the temple besides the stunningly bright frescos depicting lama lineages were the painted slates exquisitely made from natural mineral dyes and satisfyingly tactile when you trace your fingers into the grooves. Even the door panels housing holy books were inlayed with these painted slates depicting the many forms of Sangay. There is so much detail in any temple (80 in Yangtse alone) that I feel sheepish trying to write about them and am too lazy as a writer to take the time and I can guess that perhaps my dwindling audience might be equally impatient and probably only reads this to be nice and not for quality of prose (riddled with grammatical mistakes) Where’s Herman Melville when you need him to give the same attention to Buddhist iconology as he does to the finer points of whaling. Anyway what finer pleasure than being served hot tea and salty crackers sitting with companions on plastic chairs overlooking the Himalayas. A fine young lady (TMSS) grad offering the refreshments saying, “Tea, La” Before we depart the temple I would be remiss not to say something about the fresco at the doorway depicting the Wheel of Life. One could write a thousand pages on this one fresco but I’ll give just a few points. The wheel itself is enveloped in the jaws of a tiger like wrathful being and inside the twelve stages of life in Samsara along with the four main realms of Samsara. You see we are stuck in the wheel of suffering as either Demi Gods, humans (that’s you) enjoying a high birth, hungry ghosts, animals, or in hell. According to our actions and karma we fluctuate between the realms until we attain enlightenment and are released (I just bribed 5 kids shouting outside my window with munch bars to go play somewhere else) Humans are closer to attaining enlightenment but hungry ghosts are stingy ones who are hungry and thirsty all the time with fat bellies but tiny throats so they can’t satisfy their cravings. Since I cling so frightfully and am so stingy and selfish I feel bound for this realm especially since I have ADD and likely will be easily misled by the colored lights of the Bardo. Worse yet the beastly realm where we are doomed to prey upon each other as a tiger devour the deer. Or hell where one must endure every conceivable pain and misery. Buddha taught us that life has three bummers, Birth, death, and suffering. We are born (punishment) we get sick, and we die. What’s terrible is these are unavoidable. To attain enlightenment we must detach from all pleasure and desire freeing ourselves once and for all. In the center of this wheel are three animals, the cock, the snake, and the pig representing obstacles in our path. The cock symbolizes worldly desires, the snake aggression, and the bore ignorance. If we can’t obliterate all of these three traps we are forever caught up in the hamster wheel. So now that we know it should be easy, right?

Leaving the temple we climbed over a latter fence and dropped into deep forests of thick bamboo, oaks, and Bhutan pines native to the East. The eastern forests have a splendid mix of vegetation and woven through all these distinct biospheres are bleeding rubies of rhododendron often entwined levitating in the treetops. STEEP AND DEEP! Cuckoo birds and crows (mostly not ravens) also inhabit the canopy and we also stepped over bear scat which Piet photographed with high powered lens and dissected while a Himalayan griffin soared overhead. Piet is a butterfly expert so he pointed out many species with exotic names like chocolate tiger, painted lady, or pea blue. Some even mimic other species but are not adept enough to fool Mr. Piet. The trail wound through layers of mutable forest crossing wooden planks over gushing streams before emerging into green pastures. The weather also changed with intermittent showers interspersed with liquid sunshine. Many of these pastures were once forest cut back centuries ago by villagers but we lunched in an abandoned village where they used to make the famous Yangtse wooden bowls highly valued and expensive too. I ate red rice and curry from one of these bowls with fresh asparagus that scented my urine a musky flavor. Horses grazed and we could see the town of Trashiyangtse and the old Dzong reposing below. About two hours later we walked into town and I found a ride home. The ride was a wild one sitting in the back of a pickup bed atop supplies so I almost bounced out over the precipice which drops hundreds of feet straight down to the riverbed. I’m not much for roller coasters and this seemed even more dangerous and then the rain fell. The driver stopped to give the old woman and me a yellow tarp to put over our heads as we barreled down the road in the gathering dusk. Oh Lhomon! So dark and beautiful like no other land on this earth as the reddest rhododendron thickened like clotted blood folding into the charcoal gloaming, a Grimes dusk with Dragons and lost damsels roaming with picnic baskets in scary forests evermore. I was safely deposited at the Kiney junction and collected by a Shali bound taxi and eventually arrived home with Nima G waiting on my stoop needing help on his homework. I also managed to mark 115 notebooks and deliver my lessons the next day.

Currently a gorgeous evening with Dakini lotus clouds billowing and the iridescent mountains shinning gilded with purple and blue hues. HMMM I’ll celebrate with a cold one -How are things in your world? I step outside coke in hand and a student asks, “Dreaming sir?” I guess I look like a somnambulist on a tightrope walking backwards. The old tiger drifting and dreaming and when I look in my dusty mirror my reflection indeed looks phased, frazzled, frizzled, and rundown from this sporting life. CRISPY N CRUNCHY…I hope I rally for a hike with the kiddos manana.

A Shit Show

I awoke feeling peeked and itchy from bites and a sore throat with Nima & Pema at my door. Today is a holiday for Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel who is the man responsible for the Bhutanese culture including definitive songs, gho and kira. He helped unify west and east and created a distinct Bhutanese identity separate from Tibetan. In honor of him Prabu & Surgit and I accompanied the boys to Shakshing. We met a group of day scholar girls (all of whom I’ve taught before) in shiny kiras with bright smiles looking like Christmas packages. The boarders were imprisoned not permitted to leave campus and I had to seek permission from the Warden to take the lads. Up at Shakshing I got shit on my hand that I’d stepped in when removing my boot. The feces smelled human and I rushed to wash it off in the spigot. This place can be disgusting and I already feel under the weather so that encounter didn’t enliven my mood. Nonetheless my karma is to share germs with Bhutanese and since I prayed for long life at Beney I should be okay. On the way down we visited the meditation house where a puja was in progress. The longhaired lamas are in retreat for three years three months and three days almost exactly how long I’ve resided in eastern Bhutan. But unlike me they are confined to the property with no vacations to Goa during their stint. We took tea and I ate with my stool covered hands which was just lovely. It was quite a scene up there with many old timer villagers I recognized including the curmudgeon old woman who carries wood on her hunchbacked barefoot. Old toothless crones and breastfeeding mothers rounded out the eclectic mix. It’s a beautiful spot for retreat on the spine of the ridge with views of both rivers in opposing valleys. We wrapped up the afternoon by stringing two strands of prayer flags under Prince Tsangma’s castle ruin.          

Rainy Daze

It’s been raining cats and dogs or Wangmo’s and Zangmo’s, and while I’m sitting here feeling sorry for myself spewing a vomit comet in a trail of useless complaints REAL suffering is abound in Nepal where children are smashed to death in piles of rubble but empathy is hard when enrobed in ego because if it doesn’t happen to us or our peeps directly how can we relate? I spent all day feeling lonesome and unwanted when I am in a position to make positive change and give a whole lot more. But what of such primal sufferings it makes me wonder if there is a god at all and I tend to say NO because how can we say that those good hearted Nepali deserved such a death? What was their karma? Oh Langtang my beloved mountain near the epicenter as if the destruction emanated from that crystalline peak leaving a wake of misery and destruction when in reality it was simply the shifting of plates of the earth like an old man rolling over in bed trying to get more comfortable or relieve the pressure. I was mildly sick today and muddled through classes in a haze literally my head in the clouds a thick Scooby doo mist like pea soup for the soul enveloped our dark green mountain the drumming of the rain incessantly falling I felt very much the hungry ghost plagued by unknown desires that cannot be satiated and trapped in the hamster wheel of my own obsessive thoughts that have nothing to do with anything and at times seem out to get me. Eckhart would remind me that my thoughts are not connected to my essence and therefore I should merely detach from them like a train switching at a siding. But my ego is a buff masturbating monkey ONLY concerned with its own survival and these valuable lessons in life are hard to come by or as Bobby sings, “you ain’t gonna learn what you don’t want to know”

The Vomit of a Mad Tiger

Prabu was on fire on the hike the other day accosting villager woman and hugging and kissing everyone in his wake circa the tiger 2012 before I became impotent. He also was meditating at all the pertinent places including the retreat hut which was certainly charged from all the midnight ramblings I’ve heard out there with rain sticks and incantations. He also swore that Tsenkharla was claimed by the red Chinese but I refuted. It is true however that Beijing claims Tawang and most of Arrunachal Pradesh and that trenches for defense remain overgrown on the summit of Shampula. In 1962 a beleaguered Indian sentry single handedly repelled a legion of Chinese Rambo or Alamo style before being gunned down yet in the end the Indians rebuffed the Reds reclaiming their renowned Monastery and province. From Tawang Arrunachal Pradesh stretches north along the Tibetan borderline then China proper melding into the Burmese hills. All these tribal’s are governed by either India or China.  But it was Southern Arrunachal and Tawang that held interest for the Chinese in their rush to annihilate Buddhism. Tawang was traditionally part of Kham the southeastern region of vast Tibet but the lines were redrawn separating the Sharchop, Kham, and Monpa forevermore. These musings and more lit up my brain peering across the border at night through an ocean of mist with the silhouetted hump of Shampula breaching like Moby Dick from Java waters. Can’t say I remember the moon at all Alas but I do recall the cow. When I was careening down the road in the bed of that bouncy pickup through the eye of a tempest Cricket called saying she felt I was in trouble. Ah little Cricket a Pentecostal worshiping Psalms trying to proselytize her teenage peers and subdue the pagan Buddhist by the sword of Christ. If she only knew that that would be the end for the peaceable Bhutanese, fortunately she won’t get more than a few stragglers to join her in the underground churches of the capital. Yes like the Muslim reposing by the fountain at Zangtopelri in Phuntsholing or the Hindu worshipping his homemade Shiva shrine in the South these folks are minorities in the Buddhist Dragon kingdom. Hindus are like old school Buddhist so no threat there but what of those Muslims and they’re loudspeakers blaring prayers into SJ. Only the Christians are bold enough to establish stealth churches in Thimphu and allowed to worship quietly there. But if Cricket and her Christ can’t save my soul from perdition who can? The Guru and Yeshi were helpless bystanders in the tide of suffering unleashed in Nepal. It’s all too clear we’re on our own hurdling helplessly through space, circles or wheels spinning ceaselessly and for what purpose? Or are we merely playthings created by an indifferent creator? Or if he’s all loving he certainly won’t interfere with the inertia of the very chaos he instigated. Reminds me of the Chicken or the egg and the mystery of that folly…What of the drunk driver killing the pious family on their way home from church? Agnostic or not I admire the devotion and creativity of Himalayan Buddhists and enjoy pilgrimages whenever possible. The Lama at Beney informed us that when a road is built to a temple the merit decreases for the pilgrim and he also reminded us that pilgrimages are good for exercise. Ho! Sometimes I grow weary of this sporting life even though I’m fulfilling a dream but mostly I wish I could weather this storm forever and leave the rest of the world. My life is made up of moments and when I choose to be present they can be sweet as Coca Cola. Even on a lugubriously misty day the students carry me on their wings of natural cheer, even if they happily point out every pimple. I don’t have worthwhile adult relationships despite loving Karlos and Sonam so its nature and the students that keep me from loony tunes. Let’s have Pema Chodron our beloved Phelincpa nun close this chapter shall we, “Pain is a result of what’s called ego clinging, of wanting things to work out on our own terms, of wanting me victories” That’s courtesy of my Pocket Pema given by Miss Rebecca my long lost pal in Chume. When I feel particularly constipated mentally I open up my Pocket Pema for wisdom to grease those dharma wheels and get them creaking forward. There’s another Pema’s I’d like to shrink and keep in my pocket if you get my drift…Mom and Bunks will know who I mean!

Location Location Location   

All three members besides me in my nuclear family work in real estate. I’m a teacher by trade although I can’t believe it. In their profession there’s a famous adage that states the only things that matter concerning a property are location, location, and location. Therefore my hut is the most valuable property on the Sharchop Monopoly board, Boardwalk if you will. If I scoured the entire series of valleys and myriad of ridges I loosely refer to as the Tawang Valley I would choose to settle right where I perch on this lip of earth gazing due east into the maw where the capacious valley widens to its vastest breadth. Right here right now!

Authors note, I’d be remiss if I didn’t make a few corrections that to the reader will seem insignificant but in actuality are extremely important. Tsang Tsang Ma the crown jewel in the formation I affectionately call the dragon’s tail is actually spelt Tshongtshongma. Secondly my favorite river on earth is the Gongri Chu sweeping into the Dangme Chu at the confluence with the Kulong Chu in Doksom. The Gongri plus Kulong equals Dangme which ultimately joins the Manas. This info is from Piet’s booklet on tourism that includes a picture of me climbing the stairs of Rigsum Goempa on a misty Sunday last June and it’s said that if you can’t make it to Tibet a trip to Rigsum will accrue the same merit, so I got that going for me, which is nice! His book touches on many places I’m yet to visit or will never be able to visit including a series of glacial lakes up near the Tibetan border and restricted Singye Dzong where Yeshi and her Guru meditated bringing the Dharma to the heathen Lhomon. It also outlines the Far Out Eastern Trek including Shakshing, Omba, Gongsa, and Shampula. Although I’ve reached these places separately I will be glad to string the trek together…a five day adventure marking the tiger’s entire territory, GRRRRR!

Rat Shack

Its midnight and I just found a decomposing rat in my suitcase. Lying in my sleeping bag I smelled something rotten and when I investigated the open luggage that my gho was in I found the corpse of a dead rat maybe the rat that has plagued me for two years. Was he a casualty of rat poison? When I flipped the case and swept him out the front door clumps of hair and rat bits broke apart and now I’m airing out my hut…As I said before this place is disgusting, guess it’s time for spring cleaning eh. Not much in the mood for sleep now opened all windows smells like a hospital during the bubonic plague in here. Washed my hands with heated water feeling like nuking the hut altogether. Not salubrious with no hot water and creepy crawlies everywhere. Right now it’s living up to the moniker “Land of Terror” isn’t it. East Bhutan is so frigging intense where as Bumthang is halfway to Thimphu in advancement and Thimphu is halfway to San Francisco with cheeseburgers and a Baskin Robins the first franchise to penetrate the kingdom. Meanwhile out in remote eastern villages ones halfway to nowhere and you can’t find fruit, bread, or poultry but plenty of Crazy Cheese-balls. I feel like teleporting to one of those five star hotels in Thimphu that cost about a thousand bucks a night, everything embalmed with lemongrass. Sweet dreams my babies broadcasting live on a Thursday morning from the LOT. Keep cool my babies keep cool….Over and out….

Rainbow Mountains

Today the sun reemerged illuminating a spangled mountain mandala everything sparkling in the wake of the flood. I heard that the rain complicated the rescue efforts in Nepal and that a man was saved alive from the rubble surviving 5 days. Looking out at the valley ringed by multicolored mountains it’s hard to imagine a world full of suffering. The mountains have turned a dark green with undertones of brown and purple with flowing bluish hues. Streaming clouds curl around the snow encrusted easterly peaks and all over the steep slopes the deciduous forests turn emerald and strange shadows fall upon them…       

Spring Fling Photos...

Sangay Dema

Beney Lhakhang & Big Cypress

Trashiyangtse Forests

Wheel of life

Sonam, Lama, Mr. Tim

Piet, Sonam, lama, Tim

Horses for Mare

Old Dzong TY

My doorstep looking East, Shamphula left

Sangay Wangmo, Tashi Yangzon, Tashi Lhamo, Mr. Tim, Surgit, Prabu,Karsang Dema,Sherub, Dorji Wangmo

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Work Done on Premises

Presently I’m busier than I’ve ever been in my life more than those interminable double shifts at Garwoods or all nighters pulling graveyard at The Crystal Bay Club emerging from the glow of slots and the mechanical fembot chorus of blinking Betty Boop- bleary eyed bopping past vacuums and lounge lizards with coin slot eyes emerging into a blanket of fresh snow covering state line. I’ll never forget having a fever and melting the microwave when I put a metal ramekin full of syrup inside starting an internal combustion. I was called off that day and soon was on the TART trundling towards Dollar Point in surreal afternoon light. Too bad Morgan is likely engaged elsewhere and probably isn’t tuned into tiger since she’d appreciate that anecdote. Come to think of it I might’ve called in the story that very evening fifteen years ago. This is more than just work it’s being absorbed into a community and striking a balance between service and leisure time with more service these days but thankfully I like my job (and love my students) This year I have been working exponentially harder which also coincides with greater external demands all for a whopping 300 bones a month. I never think about money when I work but rather am interested and anxious about the results of my pupils. For the first time I feel invested in a career and am currently cutting my teeth as a teacher. There are still growing pains and even experienced cream of the crop educators don’t have an easy time of it teaching ESL in the kingdom. Today a few T.M.S.S teachers redesigned the classrooms in clusters of students instead of rows, difficult due to number of students and limited furniture. I teach four sections of 7 and 8 with 120 students ranging in age from 12 to 18. Although I’m quite used to it and find the rooms cozy they’re bare bones by Western standards. Talking to fellow BCF teachers who taught in international schools where touch pad interactive computers are being used and parent teacher conferences are required, I feel lucky. Speaking of I pad’s mine was soaked from a leak in the roof but thankfully its working fine. All I’m armed with is chalk, some chart paper if I can scrounge it and ideas. Our Book caterpillars are colorful and cleverly strung together across the back of the classroom well half the circles are plagiarized but this is Bhutan after all. It’s frustrating since the language level is so low that we must move slowly to cover our lessons properly. Even though I’m cutting out selections that aren’t pertinent I still have yet to incorporate a fraction of my ideas but I am covering a lot of grammar this year which is beneficial. The tenses and articles remain elusive for certain learners but others like Yeshi Dema have nailed it. If I had the inclination or energy I could ponder in this forum on teaching all day but actually I have been which is why I’m not keen to write about it excessively. Likewise I could regale you with funny stories about them till the cows come home like when Dawa Nidup fell ass over tea kettle out of his wooden chair when we were rearranging the desks amidst a loud clamor of Sharchop that sounded like a flock of wild birds quarrelling in a cage. What a place this is that I live in! My students are literally cowboys and cowgirls and I have to admit the new arrangement seemed odd to me after delivering lessons in rows for three years. I do a fair amount of group work so these desks are better suited. I spend too much time trapped like a rat (who was last seen slinking off my stove at 3 AM) captured in my own head. Yet sometimes I observe others and it’s amusing especially when their Bhutanese. Not that I pretend to know what makes them tick although I find it endearing that most refer in their writing to “Our Bhutan” as if referring to a commune. But I know for instance where Guru Wangmo likes to repose on Sundays in tall grass. Before I came here my bra teased me because I included myself as “we’ when addressing Bhutan. Now deep into my journey through “The Land of Terror” I definitely separate myself from the beloved hive. Hell maybe in my next life or generation as the kids tell it I will be born as a Bhutanese. Not a bad notion a little hut on the hill perhaps with a Monpa wife and some curry with red chillies in the pot.

How isolated is East Bhutan? Well from my doorstep I can see three valleys where three different languages are spoken. Kiney is a Sharchop village but above on the shoulder of Shampula they speak the Tawang dialect Monpa and over on the other side of Doksom they speak Kurtop the Yangtse dialect. The national language is Dzonkha similar to Tibetan and the medium of instruction “officially” is English. Everyone hereabouts speaks Sharchop but some villagers are as limited as me whereby they speak only one language the prevalent Sharchop. Weird wild stuff Johnny! Somehow or another I manage to communicate and form relationships but since we learned at the workshop that communication goes far beyond understanding or comprehension so I’m bonded on subconscious and subatomic levels to my peeps here. Most of my relationships are with the youth beyond cordial relations with colleagues and Karlos and Sonam who I rarely interact with these days except visiting the baby every few days while picking up Coke.

Last Saturday Prabu, Surgit, and the boys and I went up to Zangtopelri on a drizzly afternoon picking up trash and visiting the Lhakhang together. On the walls a fresco of a headless nude woman holding her own head and dancing with a shaved yoni. In the sidecar room where the fierce deity resides and only men can go, a shield and riffle relics from antiquity. Now I have shared that Lhakhang with Becky, Mom & Aunt, and friends. Rinchen Wangmo upkeeps the ornate temple that was funded by Tawang relatives as Rinchen herself was I believe promised to the lamas son (who is never there) as she jokingly proclaims in broken English to be a graduate of the fourth grade. Nevertheless I can’t believe such a place exists in my remote locality as it truly is one of the finest temples in Bhutan and my most venerated palace on earth a true paradise. If there is a god I find IT there in that thick air or the cool marble on which I prostrate. Sadly the outer grounds are littered but I’m planning a Social Service Mission to assist. After that we strung some prayer flags up at Tsangma hightailing it home in the rain. Monopoly with the boys then a baby shower at night made for a communal day. Those who know me best might be amazed that I am interacting this way as I am a known recluse but the Bhutanese are cartoonish enough to draw me out into their Wangmo Zangmo world… Actually they’re kindly folks and I feel more at home in their culture than my own. When I met Piet at the canteen in TY for dinner a few weeks back a dignitary was so hammered post archery that he was illegible except to venture in slurred speech that America had no culture. I like to think although we slaughtered or corralled our indigenous people we have accepted the cultures of the world in our new age salad bowl. Bhutan is also wonderfully diverse with denizens from Nepal, India, Tibet and other far flung oriental places. Recently I have learned something of Azerbaijan correcting umpteenth essays on the fascinating country bridging Eastern Europe and Western Asia bordering mother Russia and Iran among others on the Caspian Sea, but that’s another story.

A lugubrious morning with pouring rain, a sadness pervaded my soul and when I arrived at school no one was there like that twilight zone episode when the man awakes to find all humans have vanished. I found everyone at the MP hall where the Dasho was speaking as apparently I missed the memo. Although I planned all my lessons to a T things bombed in the classroom with the new seating arrangement leading to chaos and the prescribed group work being too difficult. Of course there was ample Sharchop spoken too and this made me feel inadequate helpless and depressed. All my efforts and what is the result? I know there are days like this in life which at times seems like a useless illusion. We must invent ways to lift us out of the dreariness of Samsara where one is simply born to decay and die. We must invent god, religion, love and other means to make it through or attach some meaning to the meaningless and that’s where we find ourselves. I have health and that is indeed everything so I have no excuse to feel unworthy and sad but I do today, turned loose in a master -less universe set adrift drifting and dreaming….The day didn’t improve much when a spit ball landed on my head while I was helping another group obviously too absorbed and not monitoring the students properly. Sometimes I think I suck at this job, can’t win for trying methinks. A curtain of rain swoops down on my hut and all I can do is watch the puddles collect on my cement floor and think about my empty stomach, meanwhile the lads riffle through my fridge licking spoons. At the center of my soul ANXIETY a constant companion the fleeing animal rather than advertised tiger although the trance part is valid. That is if a trance is ten million coinciding negative thoughts pressing on the ineffable heart.   

Dinner with Karlos and Sonam ama and little Pema Namgay managed to lift my spirits some I love my life here but still have to be Tim just like we all have to be ourselves in this mixed up world.    

Spring Shot

Giant Cypress and Tim & Karma Dechen Phodrang

Backside Dechen Phodrang Bumdeling Park

View from front door of Arrunachal pradesh


Darchin (white dot to right and eastern Bhutan)

Shampula with Tawang Backdrop

Tsang Tsang Ma

Monday, April 20, 2015

Going Home in the Rain

Dedicated to Papa Jack

“When the five luminous lights of wisdom shine, fearlessly may I recognize myself, when the forms of the peaceful and wrathful ones appear, fearless and confident may I recognize the bardo.” Tibetan Book of the Dead

Rain has returned to our catchment refreshing our valley from suffocating smoke while grey caterpillar clouds slink over the layers of mountains encompassing them indiscriminately as god intended. I just finished marking 110 notebooks taking approximately 5 hours. I awoke to a stellar day with the mountain mandala popping, every detail outlined in this great bowled valley; the great eastern cornices glistening Dakini clouds in varying shapes, hearts, clubs, mushrooms, and cupids sailing across the horizons. The birds are going crazy, raving sparrows jacked up like crack heads after a score. Tonight a cultural show visited from Thimphu in support of vegetarianism, some have it that if we eat meat we might be reborn as a pig. It was amusing watching the kids rush the entrance like rabid fans rushing the gate at a Pink Floyd concert. The dancers were sexy though with their ever alluring kiras so shiny and concealing those live fleshy women underneath.
At this point in the journey TIAT is a ghost ship (no readership) so I might as well fly my freak flag since no one will ever know. I’m at war with myself which is too bad since a cup of kindness would balm my agitated soul. I had to visit Trashigang (via Chazam which is checking permits diligently again) to return a camera that didn’t work leaving me without capability for taking photos for awhile. I met Reese and Nakita BCF colleagues from Mongar and we visited the historic Dzong built 1667 now being dismantled for repair which is heartbreaking. One can now see the hill station tucked into a verdant cirque through what used to be the wall of the ancient edifice. While at the hill station I placed a call stateside to Morgan who informed me nonchalantly that she had found true love. She added a huge weight had been lifted off her shoulders and at that moment the weight of the world fell upon mine. All I can compare my feelings too is hearing about the death of a loved one. BIG PHONE BABY! My body actually went into shock and I was shaking for several hours. Logically it seems absurd to be so crushed after nine years out of the relationship but who says the heart is logical. Truthfully as the days pass I see that it’s for the best since finally my heart is broken. A break is much better than the pulverized still thudding mutilated organ hanging from bloody tendrils just dangling from charred chords but still clinging to false hope. I never truly let go and now I know she has cut the lines and now my heart is finally broken which like I said is preferable to fractured. It hurts on so many levels though, the imaginings of their sexual relationship, the longing for the closeness we once felt now enjoyed by them and the reality that our love is an artifact buried under rotten despair, and what is dead inside me blooms tender shoots for Morgan and her beau.  

A big fat What to Do…

On top of this hill I’m struggling with work and it seems the more I try the more I flounder. Go figure! I’ll admit I’m doing the best job I’ve done to date in the classroom but now that my eyes are wide open I can see my shortcomings glaring back. Every time I’ve asserted myself it has had negative results. I went to monitor social work at the common toilets two of which were not cleaned with growlers piled up around the bowl. When I made an announcement in assembly I angered the respective house master and we had a heated exchange in the staff room. Next I implored the VP to allow me to go to the book fair in Mongar and when he refused I threw a minor hissy fit and said some stupid things that I regret. The fact is he is following orders. It is best not to rock the boat, isn’t it? The warden even scolded me for keeping Nima and Pema late for a Monopoly Game on a school night. I am feeling utterly helpless when it comes to teaching reading since the books in the library are far too advanced for the students. There is a lack of material for the elementary level, no wonder the kids lose interest when they cannot define every other word. When reading with class 3 and 4 students I observed they could read the words but didn’t glean the content a pattern that marks the plight of adolescent Bhutanese readers. BCF alumni Andrea is diligently working on introducing a reader series of leveled material into Bhutan so if anyone wants to donate funds to a worthy cause I can direct you. Instead of building dams and hostels India should kick down some dough for that cause. Presently I’m toiling in Moby Dick for the better part of two months getting only half way through the onerous novel and I feel that I’m neglecting this periodical even though most of my readers abandoned ship already. Meanwhile I do what I can in turn and burn fashion and today I conducted afterschool reading in the library then proceeded directly to evening study to try and help kids with their Azerbaijan essays and when I got home the lads were waiting and I tried not to be a curmudgeon. All this work and I’ve only been roaming once in two weeks and that was yesterday on official school business. I accompanied a group of teachers to Shakshing and Daka to conduct a census on a drearily beautiful afternoon with charcoal clouds canvassing the peaks, muting the whole wide world. Still new leaves enrobed trees in chartreuse against a misty backdrop of hazy blue- mountains as the valley veers left into the province of Tawang. My sadness seemed reflected back at me everywhere in shades of grey but I still realized how lucky I was to be sad in Bhutan where faded red rhododendrons are enveloped by fresh greens and wild birds tweet up a storm. It’s mid winter in my heart so perhaps the abundant new life will remind me of the starriness of every empty moment containing immanent joy for those who want it. On the other side of this life is the tender heart of sadness that is our birthright. Three good things on that cloudy excursion were three cups of tea as only a villager can offer seated Indian style on the floor in a smoky hovel privy to a world that hardly exists anymore. THANKS! The forest outside is reminiscent of the Bardo with peach blossoms budding on limbs above and moldering duff below while I cruise the middle ground wondering which colored lights to follow while tangled up in the lines of my mind. One thing’s for certain my neurosis and negativity ain’t gonna help me none.

(The Dauntless Girl Interlude)

Tendy Zangmo is a funny and intense creature. She’s incredibly bright with primal features hailing from the western slopes of Chakademi and when a boy angers her she glares with an expression that could turn Mr. T to stone and points her index finger in an ominous manner at the culprit as if to say, “I’m gonna kick your ass afterschool.” She will even wrinkle her nose at me if she disapproves of my lesson and in class passionately implores, “Me Sir” a hand raised when wanting to be called on. Here’s to you Tendy Zangmo one of my 115 wonderful students, each with a story. By now I know half the student body by name and have taught approximately 400 Bhutanese learners. I’m concerned with my legacy and that’s why I’m trying to improve my pedagogy and employ more kindness in the moments that remain, but remember Mr. Tim don’t rock the boat and for goodness sake lighten up!

In morning light I descry an enormous yellow moth with frilly patterns bordering its wings that look like musical scores hanging to a stone at the foundation of the academic block.
Today we had a visitor named Klaus from Germany who is here to inform us on waste management during morning assembly. He gave me some very good ideas on sorting trash and recycling including what can be burned and what must be recycled. It was inspirational and now I will have to see it through at the school which will mean tons of work and organization. The good news is after three years I have a vision and some direction to curb the trash problem in the community. That means we’ll have to build bins for separate wastes and we already have constructed an incinerator that will burn waste more effectively. I want to implement his ideas and send him a report of the progress we’ve made by the end of this year. In class we completed our book caterpillars compiling 28 circles strung together with string, the students did a good job and although to an observer the whole scene might of seemed chaotic with kids running around swapping colored pens and stringing the critter together in reality it was a successful lesson and a bunch of fun which is always a boon in the schoolhouse. I’m so busy this year with more things planned then I’m able to implement but the results are better. I’m focusing on simple tenses and structuring sentences and although it’s slow going many are getting it. In my free time I’m marking essays for both my own and former students. Overall my attitude has improved and I’m fully engaged in my duties keeping true to my promise for a breakthrough year.  It’s gorgeous outside with curly clouds festooning the highest snowbound ridges with the entire dragon’s tail exposed including the sharks fin and the tooth of Tsang Tsang Ma looming 14,000 feet over the Dangme Chu. The elevation gain is impossible to comprehend and although I loathe comparisons it is if I live on the lip of a verdant grand canyon. So much open space and there’s nowhere like it on this earth and somehow this is my home. Even the Guru is back in high spirits giggling in the classroom eyes twinkling. Police did a fantastic job facilitating the assembly of the caterpillars and I was very pleased. I’ll keep you posted on the development of the recycling project and instead of the book fair I will be attending a workshop on English in Yangtse this weekend. Who knows maybe I’ll meet the elusive Ash or see Lynn as now 4 phelincpa’s reside in the Dzongkhag but in 2012 it was only me. Despite having companions I see them infrequently but am lucky to have Piet to lead me on some intrepid hikes around Trashiyangtse. This weekend we went to Dechen Phodrang with three Bhutanese and it was a powerful experience. I bought some homemade paper scrolls and have started a queer poem about it but maybe I’ll lay down some prose.

Dechen Phodrang Excursion

“…we won’t care just what who say, if it’s truth or lie, we’ll still have our place of peace, our love won’t never die…”

I wrote extensively about this particular magical day on a scroll of handmade paper but due to my weak eyesight and the stream of consciousness nature of that poetic scribbling I thought it more applicable to jot down my notes in a more orderly fashion here on TIAT. I checked into the Karmaling loft on a Saturday night enjoying the cozy lounge to myself watching Man vs. Wild. On Sunday I met Wildman Piet and his companion Sonam and another Bhutanese gent and little kid Karma for our trek. This was a working day for Piet who was armed with orange paint. Along the route he paused to paint orange arrows on stumps or rocks to guide future tourist both domestic and foreign on this epic pilgrimage walk. We were deposited by a taxi at the small primary school at the head of a secluded valley at the trailhead shaded by a majestic cypress tree (the size of a California Redwood) The trail winds through a picturesque settlement with newly sown potato crops and whitewashed chortens weaving deeper into a valley comparable to Bumdeling but separated from that valley by a spine of snow crested jagged peaks the dominant one appearing like a sharks fin reputedly home to meditating yogis. In this valley they make handmade paper and one can see the sheets drying in the dappled sunlight near troughs of mashed pulp. Yangtse is famous for this paper along with the precious wood bowls also made locally and sold throughout Bhutan in tourist shops. The trail leads over a suspension bridge that would make Indiana Jones bite his lip over a rushing tributary of the Kulong Chu. Although we were only ten miles out of town civilization ended and only a virgin verdant wilderness stretched northwards to Me La and Tibet. 

This is the area where Tawang, Tibet, and Trashiyangtse intersect and therefore a power spot. Rounding a corner near a gushing stream is Dechen Phodrang an auspicious meditation site of 
Ugyen Guru Rinpoche where he stayed for a year meditating so fervently that his own body print is embedded into a massive boulder now enclosed by the temple walls. The Lhakang is three stories high recently expanded according to Piet who first visited the holy structure back in 1997. The lhakang is impressive but the three story edifice is dwarfed by a towering cypress about 300 feet in height and perhaps my most cherished tree on earth. The knotted roots stick out above ground as the tree sits on a collection of remarkable boulders the size of houses. One might wonder how a tree of such size and girth (like sequoia) could precariously balance on those rocks. The answer is that Guru Rinpoche pounded his wizard’s staff into the rock and the cypress sprang forth. It would take ten people holding hands to circle the base of that mighty tree and equally amazing to the gnarled roots and zophtic bark are the curly branches that sprawl out in all directions sprouting cascading feathery foliage entirely ethereal in nature. In fact one cannot explain such a tree the queen of a grove of slightly less rotund specimens. To try to explain this tree is like trying to pin the tail on the donkey of the universe and therefore an act of mystification but such is the writer’s course upstream in this frivolous life. Inside the temple a spry snaggletooth lama told us many stories about the guru’s stay at the spot. The name of the temple roughly translated means, peaceful palace and the spot is exactly that. Mutable clouds swirl around the highest peaks revealing a distant cone that seemed more a part of sky than earth. Inside the temple the customary statues but this temple is unique like Gongsa blending seamlessly with the rock itself the very rock that has the concave body print of Guru Rinpoche emblazoned into its ancient surface. This is one of three such body prints in Bhutan including one at a more famous temple in Bumthang. Yet it proves that Guru Ugyen Rinpoche was in Eastern Bhutan and here at this peaceful paradise he left behind a myriad of relics in stone. We sat in the cool grotto in a circle on the floor with shadows flickering on the walls cast by butter lamps. There the lama passed around various stones each with a story to tell, first a replica of the Guru’s phallic cast in stone looking like an impressive member of a man the rimmed ridge separating the shaft from the mushroomed head of the penis. This the flaming thunderbolt used to whack a demoness or pleasure a consort. This stone is sought out by barren women who want a son they must bring their husband to the Lhakhang and bearing the stone must sleep out of doors and do the deed with their man while bearing the stone and thus are guaranteed a child. Other stones included the boot of the Guru and the dagger he used to slay the serpent deity that resided in the rock when he arrived on the scene. Several of the serpent’s internal organs were also cast in stone. Next we were instructed to make a wish with all our heart and press our head inside the body print the concave impression embedded deep inside the rock. Careful what you wish for isn’t it as we took our turn one by one. Inside that impression I felt significant power that was exhilarating but also made me nauseous as I made my wish but I’m not sure my wish was wholehearted so I can’t guarantee it will come true. Next we offered songs to the Guru before exiting the grotto so I sang the refrain of Eternity which Willie Dixon wrote for Bobby and then I offered IT to Guru. Upstairs the lama busted out some precious relics and according to Sonam these were usually not shown to anybody so it’s entirely reasonable to presume mine was the first Phelincpa head to touch these artifacts. The most precious of all was a small statue of Guru Rinpoche made of wood brought to this spot by an itinerant Tibetan lama hundreds of years ago and when the caretaker placed it on my crown muttering a prayer I felt the weight of a thousand lifetimes crush upon me. The little Guru had a contorted acidic grimace and was clad in silk rainbow robes.

Outside the fun continued as I crawled through a birth canal of stone to purify my sins. The space was so tight that I had to wiggle one arm at a time through the crevice but made it out. Above the temple another huge rock that is home to a black cobra that the caretaker has encountered on various occasions. Here is a quartz rock face that is the doorway to heaven made of encrusted diamonds, turquoise, and all manner of precious jewels known to this world. The story goes that long ago a man was investigating the rock when the door swung open revealing heaven but the man rushed back for his family and when he returned the door had closed and remained locked ever since. The moral in that tale is attachment has dire consequences and one cannot become enlightened unless they disengage from all attachment. Above the rock a mysterious spring delivers cool clear water from Tara the Goddess. There are several other rocks and deep pools nearby where the Guru’s consorts including Yeshi herself frolicked and bathed. In another rock I swear I caught a glimpse of Yeshi topless like a river mermaid beckoning me into her mossy slit cave.
So many concurrent events and numerous blessings occurred in such a short time that this explanation falls woefully short in describing the power of those moments at Dechen Phodrang. This was exactly one week after hearing from Morgan and as low as I felt on that day was the zenith of this particular Sunday in Samsara.       

Going Home in the Rain

I’m sitting in the staff room and outside an epic maelstrom whirls about in vortex of wind and hammering rain accompanied by the drumming of thunder and forks of lightning walking on rogue legs like a herd of purple elephants stampeding the earth. We’ve probably received more rain in one minute than California has had in two years. Looking across the valley patches of blue peep over Bartsham ridge whereas Shakshing is swallowed up by grey cloudburst. The smell of rain and earth marrying wafts into the room and I’m glad I’m alive to taste it. A deluge of biblical proportions bends the cypress treetops and nearby Nir Mala Tapa in repose her Taegu the same lightning infused purplish grey as the sky, her beauty just as terrible. The Thunder Dragon blesses the newly sown seeds spilling over into the Monpa realm running over the mountain mandala in sheets and buckets (runoff) filling the waters of the Dangme Chu and Kulong Chu pounding the nexus at Doksom threading past Gom Kora under Chazam bound for Manas and the Bay of Bengal. Ah! Moments like these make this lonely life worth living, so eventually or rather temporally leaving the expansive bowl of the valley washed and sparkling under a layer of brooding charcoal clouds.
The wind knocked out the power which made for a lovely moonless night standing on my hilltops flat ridge beyond the invisible borderline lights flickered in tiny Tawang settlements and across the gorge in Yellang. The stars that never shine also shined this night with one perched on the crest of Shampula slowly rising higher to bathe in the Milky Way. The next day I awoke at 5:30 to the croak of a raven and when I opened my door the first rays of orange sunshine crested over the dragons tail signifying the presence of Guru Pema who promised Yeshi that he’d appear in that fashion every clear day to the east. I met Sangay Tenzin and we walked down the sinuous road for a workshop on English Medium in Bhutanese Schools to be conducted at Yangtse L.S.S. Karma Om and her driver picked us up since she was also attending but dropped us at the Kiney turnoff where we met Lynn and her colleague and hopped in their vehicle. The workshop was beneficial with about 30 teachers representing all the schools in Yangtse from Bayling to the smallest primary schools most of which I can descry from Tsenkharla ridge. One L.S.S teacher was a former student of Aum Nancy Strickland our esteemed Executive Director and self proclaimed favorite student of hers. I couldn’t resist asking him how she was as a teacher and he replied very strict in the classroom but very jolly outside the classroom and went on to tell me that they played some form of badminton making their own rackets and birdies out in Phongmay the remotest eastern placement 30 years ago. The workshop brought to bear all the challenges facing the ESL teacher where all my students come from illiterate Sharchop households and rarely use their English outside or inside the school grounds. And where teachers code switch using dialects to teach subject lessons and where students are too shy to speak. Having said all that it’s a wonder they do as well as they do. Driving home in the rainstorm next to Tashi Choden (namesake of Tigress Dakini who Guru mounted to Tigers Nest) but this retiring young lady teacher from Chakademi will not be my consort methinks. Lightning and thunder the world outside the car as Samten kindly delivers us directly to Tsenkharla (Rangthangwoong) in the midst of a howling storm in the blackest night. I met the mysterious Ash who has resided in Yangtse town for two years, I commented that she must keep to herself like me and she refuted saying, “She doesn’t keep to herself” then walked away to talk with a Bhutanese colleague.       

Seven Story Mountain (Excerpt from backside Scroll #1)

“Perhaps all the dragons of our lives are princesses who are only waiting to see us once beautiful and brave. Perhaps everything terrible is in its deepest being something helpless that wants help from us”  Rainer Maria Rilke   

Bright morning light bathes the eternal mountain in new gold welcoming pure azure a new day tufts of mist drift over cypress boughs……deep green twisted Brongla forest above Darchin the last outpost white dot temple perched undulating pastures foot of groves within primordial dripping clinging slanted wall vertical oaks side-winding upwards mossy trunks twisted serpentine branches wriggling boring into my consciousness (louder than a city block) everything writhing together rolling on thick carpets of fluorescent mosses entwined vegetation feeding off itself self contained dreaming under gigantic grey petrified mushroom barnacle glued on wooded trunk draped in hairy moss furry stumps under dancing gold leaves flickering opening and closing like ten thousand butterflies long haired lichens covering all matter red rhododendron hovering in upper reaches of venerable oak a bleeding ruby dripping on fallen logs spongy mats chartreuse floating in space sprouting all kinds of life -fern fronds like octopi pulling me down into depths of decayed layers of moist duff reaching upwards for rescue honeysuckle cascades cream bells scarlet interiors dappled feelers project scent sweeter than secret woman smells sitting under the tallest oak like a Buddha muddy lotus floating on a terrestrial wall steep and silent–belly crawl emerging into a snow globed world an eastern mountain mandala unfolding a breathing accordion of smoky blues and gleaming white crown snow peaks a bank of mountains soar over Merak stretching East into Tawang adjacent Shampula a purple green whale breeching from a sliver of the serpent Dangme Chu far below -across the valley (really many valleys separating and rejoining) Tsang Tsang Ma a honeycombed snow dusted antenna for Thegsey and his host of deities running amuck inside our hearts poisoning spirits but the perfect unity of male Guru and female Yeshi Tshogyel unify beings trapped in identity clinging to illusion- unfettered lacy Dakini clouds rim the snow clad peaks frilly vast wilderness a sector of the eternal mountain layers revealed while below this seven story mountain Tsenkharla Tsangma’s hill commanding the parched lower valley and between lonely Darchin on the threshold of wild virgin forests where melodic yellow birds warble to distant companions with nothing else to do… 

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Death of Love...

One last time, for Morgan

Where were you when love died?
I was standing at the window of the K.C Hotel
and when she told me her heart had been captured
the skies opened and rain fell
Isaac, a solid Hebrew name
a young musician, "I'd like him"  she insists
he can drive a car which she admits is nice.
he plays the instrument of her body -tuning her up before
making love in the closet,
Orgasming, their juices staining the quilt we once slept on
she says a HUGE weight has been lifted off her shoulders
(the weight of our incubus)
that weight shrugged and put upon my shoulders
heavier than all the inanimate Himalayan  Mountains combined
pressing on my ragged heart
crushing my soul
Pebbles falling from my shaky eyes
MY OCD mind infinitely stronger than faded Buddha Nature
a Big Cat whimpers below the Dzong
with its walls dismantled- half in ruin
through that gaping wound the hill station
never looked sadder
see the tawny tiger drop down the slope
in that goldern sunshine that shines on their new love
his paws squashing bloody rotten fruit.
finally collapsing on his side over a flat rock
overlooking the muddy river that once had meaning for him
body shaking in grief- he draws
a last pathetic breath
his bones scattered in spring grasses
bleached and forgotten.

Thursday, April 2, 2015


Nima & Mr. Tim outside my house

Special Assembly

Nima & Pema near Darchin

Pink Rhody

Pointing the way to Bromla

Out of the Back of Beyond...

“…Cast up upon a serendipitous isle, enjoy the abundance of whatever you desire, delighting in a vision replete with jewels contented in the disappearance of matter and mortality, Now relaxing in the dawning of permanent pleasure…” Guru Rinpoche addressing his consort


All the rocket fuel I burned yesterday exhausted me and I awoke lethargic. That previous eve I sauntered up to Zangtopelri and as I approached the courtyard a big white dog (who looked like the floppy creature in the beginning of “Never Ending Story”) approached me amicably. Rinchen Wangmo and her ama were in the kitchen preparing chana (wild beans) and offered me a scoop. It seemed like my maiden voyage inside the opulent temple a place that is tattooed on my soul. The main chamber, always cool with only the sound of prayer music piped through an iridescent lotus penetrates the thick air. The main altar has an assortment of torma’s strange geometric designs made of thick butter like substance and dyed rainbow colors a kin to three dimensional dream catchers, behind the main altar eight statues representing the eight manifestations of Guru Rinpoche reside including a wrathful expression copulating with a tigress. There is also a golden statue of Lord Buddha holding a beggar’s bowl. (According to legend Buddha prophesized that he would be born again as a supremely enlightened entity named Pema, Guru Rinpoche is also called Guru Pema, lotus born, the second Buddha)The primary statue is a thirty foot tall Guru flanked by his two lovely consorts Mandarava and Yeshi both wrapped in silky crimson and indigo garments bedecked with embroidered stars dawning crowns bejeweled with beads. Looking at the Guru and his two worshipfully beloved I felt bereft. Everything in Zangtopelri is perfectly placed and immaculate with nothing crumbling and methinks the ancient Hebrews couldn’t keep a finer shrine in Old Jerusalem than Rinchen Wangmo maintains. I visited the second and third floor (attic) with little Pema and Jamphel in toe, I noted that toddler Jamphel wasn’t shy anymore looking like a mini Rinchy except with cropped hair. When first I came she was a blob all cheeks and snot bundled and strapped to R. Wangmo’s back in colorful cloth. Speaking of Rinch she was outside pounding dried chilly with a club on a grinding stone making flakes. I tried my hand at it but was worn out immediately handing the big stick back to the professional. When Rinchen struck the grinding stone the earth shook and that kid’s is how it’s done. I departed happily with blessings from Ama and Rinchen and returned home to play Monopoly with Nima G, Pema Chedup, and Tandin Wangdi (Police) after the game I got to thinking I should invent a Sharchop version of that great American game. Doksom would be Baltic, Pass Go might be the Trashigang Gang prayer wheel and every time you spin it you collect 200 Ngultrum. Instead of railroads you have the four Eastern Dzongs. Boardwalk would doubtlessly be the Linkhar Lodge with the K.C as Marvin Gardens and so on. A community Chest card might inform a player to precede directly to the BHU or maturation of Yak fund collect 50. I’m still working the kinks out but expect to get your copy constructed of bamboo at the roadside stall near the Mongar/Lhuntse junction. At dinner I talked chillies with Guru Wangmo who has the habit of materializing in a most peculiar noble manner.
That green eyed monster had me by the nuts again as Gyelpo and Nir Mala made mutual eyes. Gyelpo! First he stole my best friend and now my admire girl. It took me a long time to warm up to Gyelpo and now I consider him a friend in that loose sense that I consider all adult Bhutanese except Karlos and Sonam my friends. Gyelpo is a wisp of a man bearing a swarthy countenance while omitting a fermented musk, hailing from Gelephu. The young man has an affinity for drinking Ara with a permanent scowl denting his sloping brow and more than once I’ve likened him to a monkey. Somehow or other he’s popular with the ladies and is the only chap who sits with them at meetings. Those same ladies are on a kick to groom Gyelpo and fix him up promptly with young Nir Mala. Meanwhile nobody is rooting for old Mr. Tim as the ladies jest that I should marry my own kind. Heck it’s practically illegal to marry into the tribe and again I get that hollow feeling of being an interloper doomed to observe the happy Bhutanese making merry. Talk you of marriage tiger? Talk you of fancying a girl fifteen years younger? Wake up and smell the emadatsi! So perhaps I ought to write this girl out of the script but something tells me it won’t be that easy, either way the outcome is doomed.

Classes went okay except a few jeers from students mimicking my voice which happens a lot in this part of the world, apparently I sound like a whiny Muppet. I’m having students act out a poem which was fun since everyone seemed in a funk on hump day. Even the rendition of the National Anthem was bad. An interesting dichotomy is that I’m an outsider which is painful but by the same token am appreciated more than anywhere else since this is the place I’ve chosen in the world. Where does that leave me? My infatuation will lead me nowhere though and it’s best I rebury my heart in the dirt where it belongs. The rat wriggled through the barriers and I chased it at 3:57 AM trying to crush him with my yellow broom. The rodent is able to jump higher than Michael Jordan leaping from the floor onto the table before dashing out the crack in the door.
Afterschool we had a meeting that lasted exactly three hours and thirteen minutes primarily in Dzongkha. The thing about the Bhutanese is…as Prabu put it, “there like a happy family” He nailed it as he should, being an Indian veteran in his 17th year at Tsenkharla. They’re casually chatting threshing out the details for our school Rimdo and laughing especially Gyelpo and Mala ever like pees in a pod (or more aptly like seeds in a chillie shell) whispering in the others ear and by the by seeming a promising couple. So midway through that interminable meeting I vowed to terminate my obsession, why not, I already annulled my wannabe girlfriends which will net returns on my phone bill. In reality it was the prospect of love that peaked my curiosity, that, and an unadulterated attraction as a bee to bud. Alas I’m now firmly on that remote path to nowhere…and there’s no turning back (Back to the drawing board shall I heed my ex’s advice and seek a gal who speaks NO ENGLISH) I hide and watch still too connected to my thoughts circling like Jaws chomping away at my Buddha Nature which is nearly imperceptible nary a blip on the Dharma Radar. My infatuation has left me feeling physically ill my poison thoughts like Coca Cola on an empty stomach. This black road is long, dark, and slippery but I take solace in Siddhartha, who bravely or foolhardily left the thing I seek, abandoning a hotty wife (probably looked like Nir Mala) and newborn just to torment his soul in search of peace. In that manner I have a head start, so many have walked that path before and after Buddha’s lifetime the difference being he broke through stumbling upon Nirvana. Others have done that too but the kicker is that Buddha remains a teacher.

I want to marry this land so I’m devising a pagan ceremony to consecrate and consummate that solemn deed for eternity. I’ll have to invoke local deities and recall the blue maiden of the mountain to assist, some blood may be shed. My ally will be sparkling by my side when it all goes down…I haven’t located the exact POWER spot possibly near Tsangma’s Castle under the string of faded flags some boys and I strung over a thick bed of maroon pine needles. Or maybe a more solitary spot near the Magic Chorten. I’ll keep y’all posted although I’m hardly certain anyone reads this blog anymore.

Water is in short supply again running about ten minutes a day at uncertain intervals. A big fat what to do…I will rally.

This episode with Nir Mala shall we call it, “Eight Days in HELL” has dredged up murky unresolved conflicts from the trenches of my soul. We must reap karma as I sabotaged one relationship with my undisputed Champion and abandoned a lovely runner up, how can I expect to net another in this lifetime. I’ve been fortunate to know true love and bitter heartbreak. I’m well acquainted with jealousy and worst of all flat resolution. When you come to realize you’re perceived enemies our loved by god as much as you and that you own no deed for baby’s heart or body (in short the same sun shines for everyone) A terrible hollow feeling takes hold when the pedestal of self righteousness and victimhood gets kicked out and you’re face down in the muck naked and alone. Get up! Get on with it…

Little Pema Lhamo has gotten in the habit of shoving sticks under my door a far more civilized method of torment than the bang and run and the little urchin must be commended.
Spring is near as alluring signs of pubescent pink cherry blossoms, hatching flies, and tawny butterflies prevail. Soon the mountain will nurse abundant life as the Karmaling Dream Moth will return to prey upon the weak. Wistfully recalling my first spring out east with mammoth thunder bumpers rattling the mountain lightning annihilating a prayer flag right outside my door. Like Black Elk I wait for the thunder gods to renew, invoking the Thunder Dragon’s fierce return, calling the reining lord of the sky. HO!

During homeroom Rigsar Wangmo asked if my mom was coming to Bhutan this year and I replied that she probably won’t get time. Somehow or another Rigsar thought I was Indian which made me laugh. Others have assumed I‘m Australian, Canadian, or Japanese and as an international man of mystery I guess there not entirely wrong. Class seven did a fine job acting out, “Be Proud of Who you are” a poem that relates to their traditional upbringings. It ended up being a free cultural program in class since they acted out the dance scenes. I want to incorporate more kinesthetic learning since all students had big smiles and my learning objective was met. Bhutanese students are quite creative and are only obstructed by language barriers. It was a positive step for both student and teacher and all were engaged and smiling.

Nir Mala wore a shimmering purple Taegu and looked sublime but I tried not to stare since there’s something haunting in that face, I felt a pang of desire but I think the worst is over and in the end I realize my life here is lacking nothing. It’s unfortunate I still have the hang-ups I came with since my tangible life has never been sweeter. Pema Chodron would encourage me to cultivate loving kindness towards myself and this morning I even practiced a bit of Tonglen for Gyelpo. Tonglen is breathing in pain and breathing out loving kindness for others and in that way we work to liberate ourselves and other sentient beings. It’s a sunny and hazy Thursday with temperatures climbing making for pleasant afternoons and nippy nights. Large helicopter beetles are zooming around my cement hut which means winter is drawing to a close. Equinox might be a good time for my Bonpo ceremony up on the hill I thought I’d do it in the dark fashioning a garland of leaves for my head and dancing about or lying prostrate absorbing the vibrations. We have a lovely campus and I enjoy having the students read or work on skits outside under shady trees with birds flitting around. A few roses never perished from last year but overall our landscape is devoid of flowers while in the forests the rhody blooms persist, showering crimson petals on the ground like droplets of blood. It makes me ponder Bon and the even more ancient ones who worshipped here long before Guru Pema spread the white light of Dharma into the barbaric land of terror, untold years before Yeshi Tshogyel was accosted by Bhutanese villagers in her grotto at Singye and long before she sang a tune perched on a crag at Omba. Its midnight and the dogs are barking outside they are a vocal part of our community and I know Scotty from Yadi has pretty strong opinions on the matter of stray dogs and I’m sure he would elucidate them point by point if you happen to meet him.   
The lads cooked me dinner and as happy as it makes me to see them I should expand my visitors and include some of my seven or eight boys. As it is Nima Gyeltson and Pema Chedup are my regulars. Pema’s brother is Karma Wangchuk and they have a sister named Pema Yangzom. Karma Wangchuk who I’ve taught for three years is quite mischevious why just today he chuckled forty five seconds into mind training and we had to start again. I’ve taught many brothers and sisters which is cool. Why there’s Sonam Choden a graceful one now at Bayling and her affable younger sister Tashi Yangzom. There’s Sangay Wangdi and his two brothers Yonden and Karma who all look alike (almost like twins) the trio extremely tall and fare skinned with large twinkling eyes. Lhamo Yuden and Tendy Zangmo (B) since she flunked and now has befriended and sits next to Tendy Zangmo A who is a dauntless girl. The two Tendy’s are quite different with Tendy A the topper and outgoing and Tendy B shy and struggling academically. The newcomers from Chakademi and Shali have blended and found packs of friends and like anywhere the boys see to assimilate much nicer than the girls who don’t always subscribe to GNH and tend to be cliquish. Overall though Bhutanese students are nice to one another but kids are kids anywhere in the world. Not like us adults are great examples.

Pema Wangchuk and the School Rimdo, Traversing the Mountainside, Evening Prayer & Sick Day

Saturday was the annual school Rimdo which essentially is a puja for the school to chase away the ghosts and unwanted evil spirits that have accumulated over the year, basically our collective bad vibes. I reported to school at 6:30 A.M but someone had already set up the chairs under the dragon tent so I went to the kitchen where my former pupil Pema Lhamo was hard at work chopping vegetables and washing plates so I enjoyed a simple repast of porridge dished from a steel bucket then stumbled home and fell back asleep. The day was rather uneventful with the usual prayers inside the MP Hall while over in the primary hall an original building from Rangthangwoong days kids chanted mantras some rocking back and forth in a trance. I went for a midday stroll so I missed the throwing of the maize and rice kernels in the MP but I did return for the evening Howling session. This is the custom where students carry blazing torches and with the help of lamas or monks exorcise demons from dwellings by throwing water and stones while brandishing those torches. This year they bypassed my house as I waited eagerly with Prabu and Surgit so now I’ll have to live a whole year with resident demons oh no! It’s a primal scene with the boys hollering and leaping about but subdued compared with my first year when Nankhar Lama levitated from building to building in a towering red and gold hat and puffy crown brandishing fire but he wasn’t the same man I had taken tea-rather an agent of the deities. The girl’s hole up in the hostel as howling is for the fellas and the atmosphere has a Halloween quality as everyone loosens up a bit unwinding in the communal moment. I watched a few student dance in the sparsely populated MP with Lama Tashi (Zangtopelri Lama who ironically I have little contact with) on the high throne with some attending lamas while on the other side about 20 young boys watch the dances including Omni present Pema Wangchuk who looks exactly like a hobbit with a cherub countenance and thick calves and is always barefoot relenting to flip flops only at school. Nir Mala was serving all day and made the rounds with a thermos of tea pouring me a steaming cup as I leaned against a post looking moderately bedraggled watching the performers of class ten boys and girls. She wore an aqua Taegu over plaid kira and for an instant I saw that terrible beauty that some woman of the world posses. Her flush cheeks hardening to a set jaw, a pronounced nose of Ancient Greece lineage, a touch of Arian in her blood. She made a polite comment and proceeded on, a boy tailing her with a bucket. I observed from her interactions with little kids that she must love children as she pinched a cheek here or palmed a head there as she went about her tasks. Meanwhile Gyelpo was primal almost whacking a student in an interaction that I’m not sure was serious or play in the maelstrom of Howling which is for chasing ghosts away. It’s an unusual time for Tsenkharla since the entire admin is absent from school attending to personal affairs. An elder Dzongkha Lopen with crude teeth who makes long speeches which I don’t understand since I never bothered to study either Sharchop or Dzongkha, this fellow assumed temporary leadership at our heavyweight school weighing in at approximately 650 students losing about 100 to another juggernaut on an opposing ridge. We are however a Center School which means Tsenkharla is now boarding kindergarteners and above. Pema Wangchuk says they’re crying at night rightfully fearful away from apa and ama at age 6. Watching that simple dance and watching Pema Wangchuk watching his role models strut their stuff as he himself is a great dancer all this made me euphoric in that hard won Bhutanese way. Pema Lhamo was all smiles at the end of her twelve hour shift sparkling in a green Taegu and matching Kira. She and her friends were having a high time with the cooks and I supped on the bare board floors with the Indians.

I was awaken rather early on a hazy Sunday morning by Pema Wangchuk asking for money so I shelled out 100 and asked where he was going and he said his village. I asked if he informed anyone and he said “no warden” a big grin on his face. It’s true my neighbor the warden is in Wangdi since Jimpa just gave birth meaning I will have a newborn next door very soon. I also gave cash to Nima G since we’re all waiting for Kidu money. I spent half the day out of doors following the Kamdang canal on the eastern side where I encountered older boys from scout club cutting down shrubby trees for construction of a fence. The trail hangs hazardously on a precipice over the road so I had to focus inching my way down. I set down the dusty farm road hooking up with the canal that runs to Sep along stone walls, red rhododendron blooms, and carefully planted crop of onions in corners of fallow fields. White buds people the barren slopes interrupted by occasional pine or stand of giant bamboo. When the wind rattles the bamboo their husks creak like the bowels of a wooden ship and the sunlight shimmers through their leaves like rays permeating water. Villagers smile and greet me asking in Sharchop where I’m headed. Then replying with an agreeable eeeh sound. I found the two Chortens I hadn’t visited in a spell with a commanding view of the valley which was quite hazy. But one could still see a few tiny farmhouses on the floor and the super S curve of the Dangme Chu as it snakes towards Doksom with its sandbars and beaches (the last great un- damned Himalayan River) It was a long hot return via the Sep dirt track noting pink frills fringing the cypress strands or minute butterflies that looked like tigers and zebras circumambulating my ankles. I encounter the same toothless barefoot Abi in dusty kira either gathering wood or herding her cows in the woods and it seems no one told her it was the 21st century since hairdo and dress our classic mid –evil along with perfectly calloused grey feet. She usually grunts at me since she’s a bit prickly.       

Hazy twilight with cedar scented smoke from burning boughs a nightly offering to our mountain spirits. Just saw Nir Mala at Sonam’s Choden’s shop wearing PJ’s escorted by Pema- oh not Gyelpo but another bachelor king also called Pema, she really gets around isn’t it? Even in fuzzy puppy dog bottoms the terrible beauty remains as we passed in the doorway, me holding three bags of cheese balls and a coke. She asked if that was my dinner and I said yeah. I left promptly figuring my presence could redeem no benefit. Actually I ate cabbage up at the mess for supper where the students were engaged in an extra long prayer session singing and chanting over an hour while banks of butter lamps flickered. More aptly the prayers were singing the students as they were entranced in their anthems hundreds of voices separate but together like waves rolling across the expanse of the Milky Way, An epic crescendo of mutable gold rolling into a royal blue dirge crashing on deserted Dharma sands. The layered tapestry of their prayers twisted together like Dragon strings played upon my heart as I rode a magic carpet woven with their fervent benevolence to a faraway star. I love them and their devotion and how it transforms the hive into supernatural immortality-an eternal Dharma vessel. They meet and depart and meet again and some get enlightened while others toil but the name of the game according to Tshogyel is to free every sentient soul until we’re dancing as one in the void. I’m simply an audience and teacher in this lifetime leaving an indelible mark.

Today I didn’t leave any such mark since I was in my quarters sick with diarrhea and a fiery knot in my stomach. I did try to go to school absentmindedly putting a marker pen in my trouser pocket that bled all over of course staining my last pair of suitable work pants ironically it was the second pair of khakis I’d ruined this week in the same fashion. After that I napped all afternoon. Its evening and I feel somewhat better but faraway in the Land of Terror, as anywhere, one must avoid prolonged emotional and physical funks that are detrimental to overall health and I hate to consider the damage all my worrying has had. I haven’t felt myself in body and spirit for a few days after having a very positive beginning to the Female Wooden Sheep Year. I realize I’ll have to take some bitter lumps with my sweet tea once in awhile too and we still have a long way to go. When my father confided that my latest post was long enough to put him into a state of torpor after half an hour I realized that I might be a verbal ghost ship drifting in the doldrums of cyber space. Oh look! There’s Face Book a veritable Carnival Cruise Line with tinkling glasses, couples canoodling on deck- ooh sounds like a party going on mates. This castaway might sport a derelict barrel (with no crew) that’s slowly sinking. A heavy charcoal sky holds its water over the torrid earth while a melancholy dirge pours out of the MP Hall imploring the rain to fall. The conch invokes the thunder but the pensive sky remains silent. Tomorrow I’ll be back in the game for ill or good. The heart is fickle as I’ve already torn away from my latest infatuation but relapsed with a phone call to a phony girlfriend, the astute reader might recall the wrong number girl Pema Zangmo. Good grief Charlie Brown always desiring that redhead girl but never doing anything about it. Like old chuck I’m basically a good egg but like to set myself up for calamities of the heart. Why? I don’t know except that I’m both lonely and timid a dangerous concoction. I know woman is not on my immediate karmic path but there are trees to hug.

More March Madness, Baby! Lobster Dream & Looking Standard

It’s been an expedient winter by the by initiated in Chitwan National Park on a quest to bag a rhino, which I succeeded in with the help of my guides capturing the prehistoric beast in my heart. An auspicious winter too as I did fall in love not with Nir Mala but Langtang Lirung. I had personal contact with Ganesh Himal who assured me plenty more obstacles until the day I die. The reason we must embrace the raw moment -letting IT pass through us like a wave is because it all becomes a dream afterwards tainted by sentiment or regret. I recall the students that have passed out of my life forever. What’s my legacy with them? What more could I’ve done? I’ll never know as it seems life’s a jigsaw puzzle with many separate pieces that don’t all fit together. We never finish the puzzle either and might never even place the most important middle piece, like the December 24th Santa Chocolate hidden behind the double panel door of the Advent Calendar. I haven’t had a nibble of chocolate or scrap of pork in weeks so if you have a bag of M & M’s melt them in your mouth for me. I did make Dhal today which seems to have reset my digestive track since my intestines felt like a coiled serpent attempting to digest a necklace of hot rocks. Daddy if you’re reading by chance in between spring training reports I’d love to teleport yonder with an extra large Pizza Factory pepperoni pie and regional game baby! Call a T.O baby!

Lately I’ve been annoyed that I cannot teach writing effectively. I need internet and resources since the grammar book issued is a joke, far to advanced for ESL learners and with no cohesiveness. I spend hours correcting writing in notebooks since it’s all I can do but I don’t think rewriting is enough especially since I cannot even identify where they are going wrong. Regret. I am improving as a teacher but feel this is an inexcusable weakness on my part. I’m trying to learn sentence diagramming but will have to take a few days in town to research the topic. My friend Jon also has some info but he’s two days drive away in Thimphu. Again I feel that unnatural weight of my position on my shoulders and I hope I’m helping them evolve. I guess I’m certainly not hurting them but I must shore up my faults and improve my strengths in the remaining time I have with these particular students.

I ventured out and luckily Sonam Choden had a pair of slacks she’d procured in SJ that fit well enough so now I have something to wear to class. Karlos and the boys were engaged in the national pastime sitting around drinking moonshine-Ara and chatting in Sharchop. A few crickets chirped in the cool night a surefire sign of spring, welcome back crickets- thanks.
I recovered from my stomach ache but didn’t sleep the following night dozing off after rising bell 5:15 A.M. A long night trapped in my head and at 8:30 the sun was shining at assembly. Somehow I mustered gallant energy in the classroom and had a fine day of teaching with the jigsaw groups in 8B successful with all students participating and staying through interval working on their answers on chart paper. Which Way is a complicated story so assigning one question to each group makes the information more accessible for all. Tomorrow they’ll be active listeners and slowly they may put the tale together.

I like to star in people’s dreams so I was tickled when Becky told me that she dreamed I was eating lobster adorned with a proper bib and apparently exceedingly happy. You were just so happy she said and I gather this is no mere dream rather a premonition and someday be it in Maine or Sydney we’ll dine on Lobster.

The talk of the town (it’s not a town I know!) were my new pants which are indeed short. When I stepped outside my door my neighbor looked me up and down as one would a goat at a county fair and said I looked standard. One might only assume that on any other day I look substandard and even today he suggested my shoes needed more polish. Sukmit Lepcha said I looked smart and student Dechen Tshomo ventured that I looked handsome. My mop hairdo suits me just fine just the way I like it on show night eventually I will go see Deepak for a trim. I came home and resisted the urge to nap and did housework and planned lessons. So far I’ve noticed a considerable improvement in teaching but the ceiling is limitless in my profession and it would take me a million years to perfect my pedagogy. What I’ve noticed is I have control of my classes while still fostering a nurturing environ for learning. The Education Minister is visiting later this week and the school is preparing for the event. As usual I’m on trash detail which is fine by me but I am reminding them that they don’t need a special reason or visiting dignitary to clean up or better yet keep clean. If you’re wondering where all the litter comes from its plastic junk food wrappers from the dozen shops spread out in the village. The prime shop is Aunty Kesang’s enjoying a primo location right where people arrive on our humble hilltop. She’s a shrewd business woman (once friends with Catherine) and is the Lee Chong of our hamlet except not as benevolent although I enjoy our chats. Right now I owe her money and she inquires about it every day imploring me to go to T-Gang to collect some currency. I’d love that Auntie believe me.

The truth is the work in Bhutan never ends, one might choose to jump off the carrousel but before long one will jump back on the ride and work. Today my classes picked trash for three hours and it bothered me their lazy attitudes regarding cleansing the campus. There must be ten thousand tiny scraps of plastic among other debris and sadly Bhutanese just don’t get it, that they’ve been blessed with the truest Gods Country and have a responsibility to preserve it. At times they just watched me work and that is unacceptable. Piles of litter broke my heart that first morning in Paro three years ago and what breaks my heart now. I try to lead by example and now am a broken record, a cliché not to be seriously regarded. Perhaps if the National Teachers and Admin cracked down things would improve. Presentations went well in class eight remembering that they are limited in their abilities I felt I got the best out of them. Still controlling 30 students is not an easy job and the layman might not comprehend the innumerable nuances that a teacher must play with to succeed. Sometimes the teacher feels embattled, annoyed, and even angry at their pupils. I maintain a good rapport and for that I’m grateful and a day a teacher might lament might not be noticeable in a student’s estimation. Just show up tomorrow and do it again.  

Five of the six black puppies have died including the runt of the litter who perished right outside my door. I nudged him with my foot and he barely squeaked and by lunch he was dead. I’m looking out my window and mother is sitting by the body grieving silently. It’s strange since just the other day I’d picked the runt up and looked in to its eyes and now he’s gone. Perhaps he’s cruising the puppy Bardo as we speak following the lights. I always fed him separately since his siblings pushed him aside and now he’s gone.

Due East, Packed Weekend, Return of the Thunder Dragon  

“When you forget the self, you become one with the ten thousand things”

It occurred to me walking why I love this valley so, and that is simply but remarkably it faces DUE EAST. East is after all the direction of renewal and enlightenment where our enchanted sun awakens each new day. When Guru Rinpoche departed from this earth he told yeshi Tshogyel (who was tearing her hair out) that he would make his presence known each morning with the rising sun soaring over the crest of the ridge crowned by morning light. So be it Guru. If I open my door on such a clear morn there’s nothing between me and the saddleback deep in Tawang, due east (for now anyway) this eastern proximity truly makes this the land of spiritual awakening (the moniker of Trashiyangtse) I’m still a somnambulist a tiger in a trance but I stir. Presently three boys arrived at my house to apologize for their behavior in class as I had to ask them to stand outside since they were talking incessantly during a test. In the U.S.A you can’t banish a student from the classroom unsupervised but this isn’t the states. There goodhearted mischevious boys like I once was in my golden youth before I became this mountain curmudgeon. Back to the east where a wildfire raged scorching the slope from the river to Yellang sparing the historic temple itself. It’s been an intensely busy time for your author who is making good choices these days trying to give more freely and be less stingy. Last week the Education Minister dropped into Tsenkharla to monitor our progress towards becoming a pilot Center School. The visit was of royal proportions including photographers and armed guards so naturally classes were cancelled for two days in preparation which meant I spearheaded the trash picking campaign while others helped prepare food or pitch tents and streamers. Plus we rehearsed assembly and all the other proper pomp entailed for such VIP. By the by it was exasperating but when the big day came everything went smoothly as Tsenkharla shined. The assembly led by our large scout troop resembled a military ceremony with the orange and yellow dragon flag flapping in a smoky wind. In the next few years Tsenkharla will expand to include class 11 and 12 with approximately 1,000 students. They have already started boarding Kindergarten students and soon are building two hostels including one directly under my house where the hazelnut trees are sown. This will impede my view of Tawang and box me in with hostels. TERRIBLE! What to do. The noise will be annoying too I’m sure along with the construction of new classrooms nearby the academic block so I might as well enjoy what remains of the glory days. When I arrived on the lip of this valley on Rangthangwoong hill there was no road above Zangdopelri nor any cellular or T.V towers. Below the immense hydro project will commence and one can only marvel at the changes.  

The Education Minister was a good man who remarked that he could see why I had fallen in love with Tsenkharla. I couldn’t have said it better but love can be excruciating isn’t it? The weekend was packed, on Friday I attended a scout program in which the power went out and we danced by candlelight. I was astounded at the poise of Sangay Yangdon a class ten girl who seemed the archetypal Bhutanese maiden entranced in graceful arcs her hands threading air her feet catching the rhythm whereas I looked like a fish out of water, next Monopoly with Nima G and Pema and on into the weekend we went. Saturday they helped me clean the floors and we shared lunch before Saturday Nights “Fresher Night” which evinced the talents of newcomer students. On Sunday we hiked to Darchin and beyond where smoke consumed the entire valley but we set out enjoying the rhododendron blooms near Daka and the giant cypress planted by the Guru’s staff in a peaceful glade. By the holy pond I even saw a pink rhody as smoke filtered through the towering moss covered oaks, they took on ghastly shapes mossy monsters harboring black secrets within their depths. The temple was locked as the ascetic lama who has resided there for nearly a century was in Thimphu convalescing at the hospital. Above the temple we circumambulated an ancient stone overshadowed by a lovely ruby studded rhododendron. By a great stone that was pleasurable to lean on perfectly straight for a man’s back, there I lunched with the lads my surrogate sons who told me there combined sad tale of being abandoned by their own fathers poor Pema Chedup’s dad somewhere in the Kiney catchment perhaps drunk or shacked up with another Sharchop woman. Nima’s mom never remarried and lives with his uneducated sister in a basic unfurnished farmhouse in Yartse. The boys were told about the Darchin Lama by a passerby a Nankhar denizen and his grandson. The sinewy elder wore a plaid cowboy hat and had a large mole on his chin so he led us over the pastures and into the primordial forests of Bromla where white bell shaped flowers cascaded over bamboo shoots shaded by rhododendron and towering oaks dripping with strange mosses. I had taken a wrong turn on both my previous attempts at this elusive peak which is the top of my mountain! He led us up a vertical slope cutting me a fine walking stick with his machete. Eventually we bid ado and the three of us huffed and puffed up the mount emerging into a narrow pasture harboring a cluster of dilapidated vertical prayer flags. The smoke squelched the view but I knew what and where everything should be and I shouted to the gods my voice reverberating off the cirques below. It was special to finally reach the top of my mountain a feeling I cannot express properly in these hollow words. Both Nima and Pema were abandoned by their fathers as toddlers so I feel some responsibility for their keep. They’re both kind and intelligent with bright futures yet they’re not a shoe in for Bayling so I’m encouraging them by helping at night with homework. While descending the peak Pema picked a bouquet of honeysuckle, primrose, and rhododendron while I stuck moss in the back of my cadet cap. On the way down my heel separated from my boot and repair seems unlikely. That will force me into my reserve boots that didn’t fit right or I’ll just go barefoot. We picked up trash along the trail home. Phase two of that day had me descending the desolate fallow slopes, in glued boot, dropping steeply to the Kiney Road past simple stone dwellings and surprised inhabitants. Yella! Zaicarumba! From Bromla one drops about 5,000 feet to Kiney where I met BCF teacher Lynn (a 58 antipode for supper) she put out a savory spread including papaya salad, various curries, and a banana and pineapple platter for dessert along with stoking me with a pair of trekking pants that didn’t fit her. THANKS LYNN! It was an EPIC day in Bhutan.

But Monday came too fast, in the evening the thunder beings returned with voluminous vengeance, thunder banged on the drum of creation that seemed to emanate from Bromla. Pallid lightning dashed across the sky illuminating the ghostly mountains and the air tasted like a first kiss. Copious rain showered the receptive land. Classes have been going well as I’m staying as on top of it as Mr. Tim can possibly be which is also making me feel overextended but also free and easy.

Third World Realities, Hands across the Himalayas, Bunking Club, Over and Out…

For my first life skills lesson in homeroom (Class 7A, 30 students) I covered hygiene particularly washing hands, brushing teeth, and using the toilet. Toilets are a huge problem at Tsenkharla and despite the fact we’re becoming a juggernaut Central School we still have a water shortage. If there’s no water the stool cannot be flushed since in this place toilets are flushed manually by pouring water into the hole in the ground. The feces piles up in and around the bowl but the students neglect to wash their hands. This spells trouble for our mountaintop community. When I asked our VP he stated that the government doesn’t budget for soap which is too bad considering they pay for teachers to study in India for their masters, In fact if bars of soap are placed in the outhouses than they are inevitably stolen that same day. Toilet paper is not used culturally so water becomes paramount so one can at least wash off bacteria. I bought soap for my home class and am keeping it in the homeroom where captains will lock it in a cupboard afterschool and I ‘m taking a 5 rupee collection for health materials from each student. Those disadvantaged students like Pema Wangchuk I’m purchasing soap, toothbrushes, and toothpaste. I don’t mind spending out of pocket since I’m a volunteer and it’s my duty to help. Also as Social Service Club Master I’m taking upon myself the onerous tasks of monitoring and cleaning toilets which will take initiative. Now that flies buzz around my head it’s the time for action.   

It was a marvelous morning the whole world ringing like a blue bell and one could descry every nook and cranny of the range that sprawled eastward, the massif of Shampula a redoubtable lilac hump tumbling into the smoldering blue layers of Tawang, to the Northeast the perpetually snowbound twin peaks straddling the Tibetan Arrunachal border. Prabu G claimed China claimed Trashiyangtse and it’s a well known fact that most of Arrunachal Pradesh including Tawang Town and its famed Monastery is disputed. Across from Shampula Tsang Tsang Ma’s spire towered over the gaping valley below the Dangme Chu a silver snake with its swooping curve vanishing into Indian hinterlands. Up on campus around 9 A.M I guided 30 students in a hand washing drill as the kids passed the soap with gleeful hands playing under the spigot. The scene is imprinted on my mind a perfect moment in a long journey. Their National Dress and laughter and I knew them all by name and they also knew me. 

I was frustrated that half my club members bunked only are second session. Half of the ones who bothered to come did a lackluster job including Guru Wangmo and all the 7 and 8 girls who simply bat their lashes at me holding hands acting helpless. Are these the girls who plough the fields at home? Sadly the boys are even worse. Kinley Wangmo is spirited though a little one scampering over a slope cleansing a bed of pine needles from lurid yellow and blue ramen wrappers. Captain Samten Wangmo was detained at school and late and my other Captain Nawang was useless with a foot injury and indolence. Tomorrow I have to order 50 teenagers to meet after final bell and sort out who didn’t show up since I forgot my attendance register. Sigh. They’re generally not very sincere regarding trash and the littering problem is rampant far worse than the states proportionately. These folks will pray till the cows come home but ask them not to litter and Guru be damned. Yeah I said it! You be effacing his treasured landscape YO! I also pledged to VP sir to get involved in managing toilets but I don’t know the schematics for toilet cleaning among the various houses and classes with the various timetables. After 3 years I don’t know Jack about who belongs to what house since it’s all done in Dzongkha, LORD. It’s peculiar being the single white man among a thousand Bhutanese Natives so weird that I rather change the subject thanking god they’re not cannibals, although many men carry bows and arrows made of bamboo and wear unusual garments.

As is my wont I enjoyed my constitutional to Shakshing a 45 minutes romp up the ridge (with taped hiking boot) a tough climb that mom and Aunt Barb managed superbly. By then clouds rolled in, hazy otherworldly gold filtered through a stand of oak and rhododendron, a peel of distant thunder, sprinkles by the farmhouse where bamboo whistles and lathered horses munch dry sprigs along the trail. Pines sway in the breezes and Bhutanese ambrosia fills my nostrils with sweet delight. Sail Away!

I had a long talk about teaching with Becky. Afterwards I marked 15 books out of 30 for 8A that took two hours. The odds are undeniable and teaching can seem is as the restaurant adage says turn and burn.

My brief infatuation with Nir Mala imploded in a heated banter session witnessed by gawking staff in staffroom that ended up in a nebulous unspoken discord. She did however say that I must be a romantic lover alluding to my passion in the matter I assume. Later on at the basketball court she told me to go away and I quote “I don’t want to converse now” dub in a snappy overtone. We’ve been avoiding conversation the last few days. Oh Look! There goes another spark with a Bhutanese woman. Yawn. You’re on tiger live at 11:11 P.M on a Wacky Wednesday broadcasting (delayed of course) from the Land of Terror. Is anybody reading this…Over?

Gom Kora 2015

“Small wheel turn by the fire and rod, big wheel turn by the grace of god”

The big wheel revolves again landing on Gom Kora for the fantastic annual Tsechu. This year made doubly auspicious by the return of Miss Rebecca to the Land of Terror. I lit out on a hazy Saturday riding in the back of a loaded pick up bounding down the sinuous road white knuckling all the way to Doksom. Can you believe that it was my first trip to the foot of the hill since returning from winter break as we raced down the roadway shadowboxing the lovely Kulong Chu in its last free moments before hydro project begins. This year Gom Kora Tsechu fell on the weekend beginning on Saturday and concluding on Monday. Saturday was low key but the steep canyon was already dotted with tarps and the tented bazaar was erected on the terraces below the marvelous pagoda. I was naturally on the lookout for Monpa denizens of the Tawang province of Arrunachal Pradesh wearing their trademark attire reminiscent of Brokpa from Merak and Sakteng. If there are subtle differences in regalia I cannot tell. So I breezed around the Kora before hitching directly to Trashigang where I lunched among a canteen full of Monpa including a teenager who spoke some English telling me that her classes were in Hindi and that she had one English class. Monpa’s would pass for a Bhutanese if issued a shimmering kira and Taegu but they have browner skin, rounder apple cheeks and dark shinning eyes, at least this description fits the reticent teen I was interviewing. In actuality most Monpa who dash over the boarder for the Tsechu are much older. The men wear crimson wool tunics even in the 80 degree Doksom weather, fastened with broad belts and ubiquitous blue gumboots and blue trousers. Some are adorned in cowboy hats and tennis shoes too complimenting the traditional apparel. The women’s dress is more complex with an embroidered ruddy kira type garment and the famous spider hats (looks like tarantulas are roosting atop their heads) these hats dispel water that falls upon the head. Either your Brokpa or Monpa are extremely proud and shy with collective roots in Tibet and the two group’s trade openly across the mountainous border. After lunch I took a pleasant stroll above the hill station looking down upon the Dzong perched on a hillock at the bow of the gorge. From here the Tibetans were repelled unable to cope with the arrows and hornets in the stifling lowland heat, and that is why you can’t get egg fu young in town today. The Dzong reminds one of a ship cast upon tawny rolling waves. Arriving back at the K.C I bumped into Kirsten a vivacious blonde teacher placed in Bidung. We made fast friends swapping stories and that’s how Becky found us. We enjoyed a Saturday night in town sliding down to Chi Chi’s for some chillie chicken and assorted curries before libations and eventually bed. One incident of note was when a passing boy lifted his leg and fart a salutation as we sipped beverages on a porch. Kirsten is hilarious and spun some pithy yarns that had us in stitches as the point of such gams is laughter and venting, isn’t it.

Sunday was a weird day in Trashigang and eventually Gom Kora. As is often the case no one was in a hurry to begin their day at the comfortable K.C but by 9:30 Bunks and I sipped milk tea on the deck of the hotel with a kingly view of the ravine and its swaying eucalyptus above the Dzong. A lengthy procession of cars with blowing horns and billowing cedar plumes drove slowly out of town to the site of an accident that claimed one life and injured several others the previous night. The tragedy occurred when revelers returning from the Tsechu went off the road. We caught up with Kirsten sitting on a bench with a self proclaimed lazy monk so the three of us knocked around town before returning to the hotel where we met Dylan and Meghan a South African couple returning from Gom Kora. The two are placed in Rangjoong and it was my good fortune to make the acquaintance of three new phelincpa’s. A dozen tourists milled about town too spilling out from mini vans. As nice as it was to see my own kind I was exhausted from social interaction but the day was just beginning. In the street I saw Nir Mala Tapa and Sukmit Lepcha and apologized to Nir Mala for my impudent behavior in the staff room and she brushed it off saying “No matter” She would make a good sister methinks. Next Becky ran into two Phongmey friends so we adjourned to the veranda adjacent to the bakery for drinks. There we saw Aum Deki proprietor of Linkhar and it wasn’t until five that we sped off the Gom Kora with Becky’s pals Ugyen and Cheki.

We arrived as twilight enveloped the scene with blue tarps glowing sprawled out round the kora that was bedecked with lights on its various points, a spaceship preparing for lift off. We dropped down the crowded cement staircase merging with a stream of people entering orbit around the luminous pagoda and its magnificent rock and tree. There folks circumambulated in clusters holding hands with brothers concealing virgin sisters from hunting stray cats. Constellations of Monpa and Drukpa spun accumulating collective merit in this shared incarnation, thousands coming together to pray to Guru, shop, drink and gamble either with hearts or currency. Down on the terraces we stopped in a makeshift canteen for momo’s and cow lips and while the rest of my party drank whisky I sipped coke. Nearby a pirate who appeared to be on PCP bored into our skulls with glazed eyes, lips curled into a sneer and I swear I’d seen this character before although admittingly he’s an archetype. His disheveled hair hung about his shoulders wrapped in an army green doo rag his body absolutely ridged except for rapidly twitching hands. I’ve seen that look a few times at music festivals from a body that had consumed too much MDMA or other designer narcotic. But this pirate didn’t disclose his drug of choice and eventually vaporized into thin air, god as my witness none of us saw him leave. Somehow I felt a kinship with this tormented apparition that seemed to repel the others yet I could identify with his position so alone navigating the fringe of humanity unaccepted. I bumped into some former students from Bayling and Nima Gyelston presented me with a plastic long stemmed rose like in the bachelor. In a bar I adopted a Monpa teenager named Dema as my sister and before departing I grabbed Becky for one final circumambulation and whispered in her ear asking if it’s real gliding in circles under iridescent moonbeams.

On Monday I saw the vehicle that went off the cliff (the cougar Tenzin who sponsored wine for the twins was a survivor) it looked like a crushed beer can teetering on a ledge over the river. Any other spot and all would have perished. At Gom Kora I hooked up with my peeps Karlos, Sonam and Pema Namgay along with Karma Om and hatchet boy who’s grown considerably. Karma Om was cold as ice but Nawang was friendly. On Tuesday the valley sparkled after a hard rain with Lumla close enough to brush. Clouds and fog draped the innumerable peaks and pinnacles eddying around the dragon’s tail in a mutable sunspot strip tease, the secret door of Tawang briefly opening before dissolving.    

t’s currently morning and students are sweeping the courtyard in gho and kira their brooms whooshing in another fine day. They love to sweep in this part of the world but not pick up trash, a fresh start with tufts of fog drifting and dreaming. The rain has returned showering the land with fortunate misty clouds blanketing the mountains like a Chinese dreamscape. But instead of the Giant Panda it’s the smaller Red Panda shrouded in gloom. Peeking through cloudy keyholes at the snowy eastern ridges of Arrunachal Pradesh where Monpa’s retrace their steps. Busy days at school keeping me from my beloved trails meanwhile stuck in my head unable or unwilling to open up my blind eyes to the world.