Thursday, April 2, 2015

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.  

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