Friday, October 30, 2015

Around the Wheel

Zangtopelri Tsechu 2015

For all Khandromas

…Bells are ringing its way unreal, I’m trying to tell y’all just how it feels, and it’s bigger than a drive in movie for real…”

Zangtopelri is an extravagant privately owned temple perched on a hillock overlooking the confluence of two valleys and two rivers. Every October they put on their own three day festival which is every bit as extraordinary as Shakshing which is our local Tsechu. So we are fortunate to get another round of holiday although the students remained on campus with regular study hours. On the first day I opted out since only a hundred or so gathered and I peddled up the chain of green mountains to Brongla. I couldn’t sleep so I rolled out of the hut while the stars were still twinkling and hanging low below the silhouetted hump of Shampula and one at a time they faded until only the burning morning star rose higher and higher and then disappeared. The sunrise viewed from a Chorten scorched the dragon’s tail and Tshongtshongma. It took me six more hours to lumber to the sublime golden pastures of Brong La. From that vantage point one can peer clear over the top of Shampula spotting snowcapped Tawang peaks. Following the overgrown pastures with decaying bamboo herder huts and thigh high brittle grasses the view opens like an accordion westward beyond Yangtse. On my daylong trek I never saw another human only the melancholy birds in the deep and twisted jungle on the sheer face of Brong La peak. Those oaks rise hundreds of feet sprouting from a near vertical slope. Their serpentine branches keep leaves now sprinkled in autumn gold and red. The canopy intersperses and one feels like a hovercraft or a diver on the continental shelf. It’s a WILD place with no trail. Atop the pastures a few pruned hemlocks look like a bonsai wet dream. I breezed through the Tsechu late that first afternoon but the real action lay ahead.

Tsechu is an opportunity to worship and celebrate life with ones community and so that’s exactly what I chose to do on a Thursday and Friday in East Bhutan. I hiked up the hill with Nima and Pema meeting many familiar and unfamiliar faces along the way. Smiles were in abundance and the sun spread its loving rays over everything. Before reaching the Lhakhang we hit Shakedown Street an array of tarp bivouacs selling beer, momo’s, clothes, and toys and down in the pasture a makeshift casino with roulette and darts was in full swing. At the Lhakhang we did a kora which means circumambulating around the three tiered pagoda called Zangtopelri. The name Zangttopelri means Guru Rinpoche’s copper mountain of paradise and it’s an archetype meaning there are numerous Zangtopelri’s across the country but this cute little gem is ours. Perhaps the guts of the event were ingeniously orchestrated by caretaker Rinchen Wangmo who kept the train running on the tracks and batted an eyelash while serving me tea and crispy rice in the VIP tent. The myriad of colors and cornucopia of religious artifacts and sacred regalia all swirl in a phantasmagorical display of revelry that sizzles on the tongue. It’s easy to get swept away in the festivities and infinite interactions happening constantly at this gathering. I spent the Thursday roaming here and there with Nima spending some quality time with my former student (although former students are still my students) since he will be moving on soon. Pema was marooned in his uncle’s canteen making momo’s all day. Girls are nuts about snapping photos and the boys like it too so I take them and promise to “wash” them later. It’s a real treat for them since most families don’t have cameras. Everyone is decked out in their finest handspun gho and kira except the kids who are wearing their penguin school issue uniforms. I’m wearing my gho that Pema has put on and many others have adjusted as I proceeded up the trail. There’s a shakedown street (makeshift bazaar) selling all manner of clothes and snacks including warm coca cola and peculiar clouds hover over the peaks and ridges in all directions, the party rages. Many of the students see the Tsechu as an opportunity to socialize, flirt, and shop while others do watch the Cham’s intently like Dechen Wangmo with a scowl to match Bobby’s. I love the Cham and as Mare likened Tsechu to a Bhutanese Ratdog show for me specifically the Cham’s where I’m riding the invisible rail doing dervishes in my own mind matching each step and bounding pirouettes. Leap, spin, and twirl you name it! Pairs of Bare feet kicking up clouds of dust, the men’s flexing bronze sinewy calves move in unified precision (like a Swiss watch) Thursday featured the Bardo Cham which is a juicy interpretation of our common situation immediately following death. We will end up in this Bardo or in between realm where our fate will be judged and decided. A Mormon might shit his pants when he sees the monstrous lord of death boogieman instead of a white bearded old man at the throne. It takes some getting used to let me affirm. The deceased kneels down while ghosts wail around him and if he’s lucky some dakini’s might swoop down and guide him. His good and bad deeds are weighed and the Lord of Death is joined by an angelic figure in gorgeous porcelain mask. Bhutan might be a developing country but I’ve never seen such a regal display of silky rainbow goodness anywhere on earth. The Bardo Cham goes on for about four hours punctuated by circle dervishes with gold skirted dancers whirling coming together then flying apart. Each dancer, about fourteen in all, wear stunning animal masks depicting the years, Tiger, Ox, owl, horse, and so on…not in that order. The music a cacophony of twenty foot long bleating horns, crashing cymbals and nifty hand drums that resemble ping pong paddles played by the dancers themselves. All the bells and whistles are played by red robed monks. A drunkard in a disheveled orange shall insert’s himself into the dance and is dragged off by a VIP guest to the amusement of the crowd. I’ve witnessed the Bardo Cham several times in two locations but I still can’t make out the resolution although I think it’s a happy ending and the departed is ushered off to a higher realm another step towards ultimate exulted enlightenment. That was a good day in Bhutan for me and in any excellent run there often is a standout where you’re rolling the most-and why not a Circus style Thursday and oh what a long strange trip this big top has endured. Born in the pastures of Humboldt and delivered to the pastures of East Bhutan. I had wonderful encounters with students and villagers and even tolerated the heckling of the Atsara’s (holy jesters) who make dirty jokes and solicit donations. One wore a huge red dong on his crown pinched with a condom. This clown harangues and harasses even class nine girls, embarrassing for everyone. They play an integral role though which might have something to do with the whole crazy wisdom bit. In the tantric lineage these lamas were all about drinking and balling their way across the Himalaya spreading the good word of Buddha. Ho! Things might have toned down a bit but the great ones are still revered by the farmer and poet alike.    

Friday was another sparkling morning and I arrived at the temple early to see the unveiling of the giant Tanka banner which is a magnificent boon for all present. The tapestry is three stories high depicting Zangtopelri itself and its three tiered pagoda. And there’s a smirking Guru with his two fetching consorts embroidered at his sides. There’s also the whole world stitched in with naked farmers being subdued by wrathful deities. Musicians and holy men and all the beasts along with forests, mountains, and lakes. Unbelievable craftsmanship blowing any art out of the water this sucker is alive and crawling with energy depicting the simple story of the world and all its realms. The colors of the rainbow dancing off the cloth while the red hats chant A.M incantations. Some student dancers assist in the ceremony including Broomsha. Not much happened between the morning ritual and afternoon Guru Cham. Nothing like a Guru Cham at his own palace, eh? When I came back from lunch the dance was in progress and the precession already lined up with the Guru and his retinue all represented by extravagant masks that are transfigured into characters. The Guru his priests, a wrathful manifestation with fangs and skull necklace, and of course Yeshi and Mandarava his faithful consorts flanking. The dancers are wearing the silks like the Black Hatters but animal masks remain instead of the huge geometric black hats with dark side prisms painted on and topped by antennas. The animal masks are amazing and a few other blue and red deities join the round robin of beasts. Today they wear serpent boots to complete the regalia holding bells and streaming silken scarves. Everything has meaning but one misses more than he sees at this show. The weather has responded to the whirling performers and the crowd has thinned out, the students sent back for study, only diehards and stragglers remain. An ominous soaring black cloud extinguishes the sun and a fierce wind kicks up out of nowhere. It’s time for the parade to return to that realm where we cannot follow and disappear behind that velvet red curtain. In a procession of horns the masked characters move together a constellation of transitory form an ancient tale passed along each generation. The Guru departed a thousand years ago but he lives on and it’s real. That mask is charged with holiness and the Guru is there among us as we carry him through the crowd, the features of the mask come to life and his smile broadens and bloodshot dilated pupils track us wherever we move. The class ten students (now holy men and women) draped in gold scarves and matching sashes sing a mellifluous melody waving their arms in rhythmic unction while the horns bleat and cymbals break all forms crackling in the void. They bunch together, duck and pass through the portal leaving the last troop of gold skirt dancers and us behind. The wind is roaring now and the sound seems to surf on mighty gusts and one by one the dancers peel off for their final gyrations. Until only one remains in green top and flowing gold skirt prancing around before coming home leaping four times his feet vibrating the earth tickling the soles of my feet. He bows to life spreading his arms wide and tipping beast mask upward then slips through the portal his headgear supported by two pairs of hands of the unseen handlers. Its over! For me anyway as I retire to the canteen with Karlos while the students do a number to close out the ceremonies. Wind rattles the shack where I join a splinter of my community for refreshments.           

Jelly Doughnuts

“…Every time that wheel turn round, bound to cover just a little more ground…”

I tripped down the mountain for some shopping in Doksom along with a pilgrimage to Gom Kora and my favorite spot on my favorite river. Doksom is a strange outpost jammed with Hindi themed Ta Ta trucks and row of shanty shops with tin roofs weighted down with stones and tires. A few of these roofs are covered with drying red chillies. There’s a decent canteen serving beef curry with a Nepali flare although the lady cook says its Indian infused. I love the walk from town to the Kora although I loved it more when the road was cute and not a dusty track marred by construction. They have been widening the road from Chazam for nearly two years now curtailing my trips to Trashigang with roadblocks. All in favor of the Kulong Chu Hydro project that is significantly impacting the Trashiyangtse area. Alas a heavenly image appears on this dusty afternoon a swarthy angel in a do-rag and hundred watt grin comes sweeping by with Cinderella broom fastened from long reeds a Himalayan delight-hotty Indian road sweeper. I didn’t see another human until I reached the oasis of Gom Kora. I detoured through blooming aromatic weeds, sand gullies, finally scampering over giant boulders to the rocky bank of the Dangme Chu. Set in a deep canyon with blood stained rocks and sea green water this is a stark landscape the lowlands closed off by steep hills within a sinuous V shaped canyon. There are always many days between my landing on these rocks and I appreciate getting back to this spot enveloped by roaring whitewater, the zillion water voices in a ceaseless raging chorus. Gom Kora itself is an oasis with scraggly palm, flowers, and great bodhi tree with flapping leaves. This magnificent pagoda inlayed with painted slates is adjacent to a huge black rock where the Guru meditated and encountered a temptress in the form of a ravenous serpent who wanted to devour his family Jewells. After several rounds of wrangling the demoness was subdued.

Central Marking has begun and I’ve had a mundane week at the desk in a room full of boisterous Bhutanese picking through piles of examination papers. I managed to get out on Monday evening for a rare moonrise over Tawang seen from the newly cleaned trail to Shakshing which is already scattered with wrappers. The valley and ranges bathed in moonlight is a wordless phenomenon which almost dispelled my loneliness and softened my hard edges. After a good ski run, tasty jam, or good lay one feels softer in the middle, less solid, more doughnut like. This lighthearted non attachment is more characteristic of Bhutanese who are more like doughnuts to my Danish. Some are becoming jelly filled though as the western styled sensory delights enfold their enclaves and tiny black and white farmhouses dotting the cliffs above waterfalls and hollows. Now T.V lights flicker along with the stars.    

Most Bhutanese are kindly exemplified by the middle aged Shali-Pa who told me in broken English that she’d bring me walnuts the next day at Tshechu and did so to my surprise. They were delicious too even though I sliced my thumb on a shell. I should beware of nuts since I’ve chipped a tooth and sliced a thumb on shells this year. Weather Report is cool and clear with a layer of cirrus clouds, still wide and good visibility an infinite panorama of mountains with exquisite formations spreading in broken spokes from the radial of my stoop.

On a sad note Dawa Dema has a broken paw and is hopping around on three legs. She looks scruffy and emaciated and I’m feeding her any available scraps and even gave her some beef jerky from the U.S.A. She’ll pull through but it’s a trying time for a young dog.  

Monday, October 26, 2015

2nd Day Action.

Guru Cham Friday

Monkey Dance

The Guru at Home

Horny Horns

Last Dancer

Shakedown Street

Guru's Consorts in parade

A Taste of Zangtopelri


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Boogie Man

Last Dance Thursday

Red Hats

Coming Around


October is a sterling month in East Bhutan with stellar views out over the eastern horizon and the uninhabited Matterhorn Peaks of Tawang/Tibet. What make the Himalayas so special are the layers upon layers of mountains. In one eyeful one captures banana trees and snowcapped peaks and all between. Mountains are piled upon mountains on a scale that cannot be fathomed. From my stoop I descry places that are unreachable or many days walk. Now the valley turns golden while the highlands retain their greenness. Billowing clouds cling to the mountaintops and escarpments and it’s difficult to discern where one range ends and another begins and where the nexuses are. It truly is a mountainous mandala and like the sand mandalas of tantric Buddhism these geometric features are impermanent. Maybe this impermanence gives this life its piquancy, consider it? Isn’t the Christian notion of Cloud Nine pretty boring the same old people and situations frozen in perfection? Imagine, an egotistical God with flowing white beard angrily calling the shots from on high. Maybe the reason Buddha didn’t rap about god is that he knew spirit was something different for each of us-something personal and rapt that needn’t be defined. The Bardo offers a scary rendition of the afterlife where one wanders in an intoxicated state in a fearful transitory realm full of colored lights and clawing demons. As for enlightenment I just don’t get it-escaping ego and rebirth means sizzling back into the primal soup of ecstasy melding with eternity. How is it then that some Buddha’s can retain their identity and beam back to earthly realms to assist us, I just don’t understand. Maybe I just never learned to share properly.

In this area of the globe the world’s major religions are worshipped in close proximity. Down in Samdrop Muslim men repose on benches at Buddhist pagodas while subversive Christians pay homage to Christ-All under the watchful gaze of Lord Shiva the King of all gods. Whatever you believe make room in your heart for others beliefs too.   

Afternoon, walking up the spine of the ridge with three little girls who remembered that my mom’s name was Marti and then asked the names of my other family members. Then this morning Karlos showed me a photo of Reid and Paige dressed as superhero and princess (what a world) Evening descending my beloved ridge a Nepali crescent moon rises through eucalyptus leaves, on the fading frontier stupa clouds ghostly white abode of sky dancers. Stars vibrate and come into being one by one at first and then suddenly all at once UNFOLDING UNIVERSES reflecting cold blue dead light. Yet somehow space seems cozy to us, why? Because silly Billy YOU are the universe. 

Sunday, October 18, 2015

The Dragons Mantle

For Aunt Mare who taught me the Dharma before I knew what it was…

All you need is love

Deposited by a dream moth at the Karmaling Hotel I witnessed a powerful thunderstorm which is unseasonable for October. I had breezed into town to renew my contract for a final year coming directly from Trahigang. It had been too long since I was freewheeling on the winding roads of eastern Bhutan spotting languors and little brown monkeys. Purple lightning pirouetted above the jagged escarpment of Tong Bra, and in an instant- more lilac forks ripped the sky before exploding thunderheads shook the hotels foundation. Soon ominous clouds swallowed the peaks and hailstones pounded the tin roof while flashes of lightning froze the steep cliffs and trees in lurching strobe action. The previous day I was in Trashigang that fabled Hill Station which is more remarkable than ever despite the changes which include renovation on the Dzong, the gutted bakery and veranda, and the closure of the only viable store. Nevertheless the vibrant pastels, sunshine and puffy clouds, the swaying eucalyptus, and the clink of Ugyen Deepak’s scissors remain the hallmark of that enchanted ancient settlement. It was refreshing spending a few days out of station but that’s not what matters most. The prophecy of the gentleman under the chandelier inside the Dochila Lhakhang rings true, “it’s all about the village!” That man was talking to Becky and she relayed his words later on-on that day so long ago moving eastward to our placements during winter2012. Almost all of those faces have vanished from my life but Becky remains in Central Bhutan while I toil onwards at a Central School. The other chestnut of that faithful noon was Nancy’s “don’t get all worked up about it.” One last thing to mention about my weekend getaway was that Chorten Kora glimmered from a recent whitewashing. Back at HOME a busy day in the trenches and my voice is throaty. The only nagging health problems are an interminable boil over my left eye and a strained tendon which isn’t healing on the top of my foot but forbearance is a must when addressing maladies in the Kingdom and water comes and goes as it pleases.

Today is my turn in the rotation for Teacher on Duty (Tim on Duty) and each turn last two days. After supervising night study surely Pema Chedup will visit for help with homework and perhaps supper. Pema is a reliable Man Friday and quite a nester. He will scrub laundry in a pinch and is happy to turn down my sleeping bag before lights out. I rarely ask him to do these things rather he offers freely. When he’s not here he’s often at Prabu G’s pulling double duty. My other adopted son Nima is visiting less frequently due to his approaching board exams but both came over on Saturday night for a spirited Monopoly game. I spend many hours with them but since in Bhutan everyone NEEDS a friend it satisfies that GNH requirement. For an anti social loner I find myself mingling frequently mostly since my job requires that I stand in front of a crowd yapping all day long. I’m also surrounded by forests and stunning mountains radiating in all directions to keep me company. Today is cold with grey skies and we’re entrenched in autumn. Crows congregate then flock in mass to Shakshing for whatever it is they attend to. We often forget in our own business (busyness) that animal’s, and microorganisms are also hard at work. Dust Mites and Bed Bugs people! Life thrives if we want it to or not and things constantly change. Decay…Birth…Love mutates and takes other shapes like water filling a new container and the world is your container and you are the liquid. Gulp! How many vessels can we fill with our love? Don’t forget to water yourself too! Drink Up…I know who you are…Ah life in Bhutan when you want to shut down there is always someone crying out for attention and it’s usually me.  

I dedicated this post to my Aunt Marilyn who taught me about dharma once at Marin Bay Park in the spaceship (down in the laundry room to be precise) when I was a moody teenager already in love with Bobby. She told me while ordering me to refold to embrace the darkness and make friends with it. Pema Chodron would have us fire up our Tonglen and breathe, Inhale that black negativity and exhale ticklish white light for all to savor. Thanks Mare! To refresh the reader the word dharma simply means the Buddhist teachings but the Buddhist teachings are everything everywhere especially the juicy rotten stuff. For example if you suffer from OCD then that’s your dharma or perhaps you’re an angry bird than that’s your dharma. Passion, aggression, and ignorance are the three poisons represented by the cock, the snake, and the pig- and these three animals we ride on an ever revolving carousel with all the delightful blinking lights and circus music of Samsara. CANDY! Step right up for eternal rebirths only two tickets at the gate, a midget will take your stubs. How to stop the ride? Simple, chuck your ego and stop identifying or clinging to phenomenon just simply relax in the void. If we stop carrying our made up burdens then we’ll have no load to bear. Easy isn’t it. Speaking of pigs Piet, Lynn and I came across some uprooted earth in primordial forest upturned by wild boars searching their grubs –DESIRE! I’m sure they ate them mindfully though. Blackout at study hall and now the hive is humming in prayer where like a hornet’s nest it’s best to leave it alone. Passing out photos to the students I felt the joy of Santa Claus except I also felt guilty for not having one for each pupil in the class. They really appreciate the simpler things in life even though they live without many niceties that many of us consider our birthright. Beside me a steaming cup of specially brewed milk tea with a dash of magic masala and I made it ALL BY MYSELF!  

When I walked into 8B they were so attentive and quiet making a genuine effort to atone and then we commenced with the poetry slam. None of them incorporated the gestures I suggested out of reticence but some of the writing was cathartic about deceased parents and the transitory nature of life. Tshering Penjor a strapping lad who wrote about MR. Tim frolicking under the Golden Gate Bridge in the sunshine-in the image I was happy! The last time I stood on that exact beach was after flunking another State Math Exam in pursuit of my credential (although I wouldn’t get the result for months, good old Washington H.S in the Marina) and again attempt and conquer the math. I tell this story for my-self not the reader since you wouldn’t believe the effort I put in to get here. As Hands donor Professor Bill Gholson stated “I’m a representative of determination” and that’s why I’m still here.  

Observations regarding students, shall I put on my anthropological hat and jot a few notes. Big Kezang from the agricultural hamlet of Shali never wears shoes including on this nippy October evening (a good night for baseball) she has an intoxicating laugh and hobbit sized heart and feet. Pema Wangchuk seeks alms almost nightly with winning smile and dimples like a cherub and his donation of choice is ramen noodles a delicacy of the student community usually eaten cold. When I answer the door he sheepishly utters, “junk food” and scratches his head eyes on the floor (Another hobbit like disposition sort of an extraverted loner) When trying to converse with Guru Wangmo (the Guru) in a crowd she hides her face in her hands and will only initiate a confab alone or with a group of intimate peers. Preschooler’s in kira demonstrating hand washing out of buckets at assembly is highly adorable! Knock Knock-Whoes There? Oh it’s Pema of course coming to alert me that emadatsi is the sup at the mess. He grabs my plate, flashlight, and finds my keys where I hadn’t known I’d left them and off we go into a starlit frosty night. 

Right now I’m in the process of planning a grammar lesson on an obscure topic, active vs. passive voice. Insert your blind leading the blind cliché here. I have to teach a range of discursive unrelated concepts and worse yet I’m not making the class 8 exam. It seems that one teacher in the Dzongkhag makes the exam for all grade level classes. Basically that means I can’t even make my students exam which is unsettling as their teacher. This is an extension of Central Marking which will certainly remain at our newfound Central School. Meanwhile the goods keep coming new wall clocks, blankets for the kids, paper. At my level I haven’t noticed a spike in teaching supplies although it is easier to get marker pens and chart paper. The whole school seems ill- a mumps outbreak across the valley on the border and one girl in my class has scabies while another has ringworm. Karlos is sick along with the VP and half the staff but most are still on campus covered with surgical masks or clutching handkerchiefs. The Bhutanese blame it on the changing seasons or perhaps demons. I have some residual snot and fatigue from a long day where I taught seven classes and my second to last session of Social Service Club which has been a bumpy ride this year although a lot of trash was purged by many whining students (and many bunking ones) I have something to prove before my time is up with regards to waste management. Most frustrating is that the makeshift oil tin trashcans have been bashed or stolen and cannot be replaced since we don’t get oil that way anymore. You can’t even have dustbins or I haven’t been industries enough to figure out a way. Things have improved, slightly, and one must start with baby steps isn’t it. Only a few fields of golden maize linger but the crops have been harvested and the land begins its introspective journey towards golden fallowness. Yet the forest remains brimming with honeysuckles and whirring insects the burst of autumnal life in all cool glory. 

Field Trip 

Today I took the core members of Social Service Club along with Nima Gyelston up to Shakshing to clean up the disaster of rubbish leftover from Tsechu. It’s been a bumpy ride with club this year but the ones who joined on Sunday were the boarders and more sincere group. You have to make it worth their while so that means arranging Emadatsi from the mess. I awoke feeling like shit with a list of minor maladies then my club members keeping with their MO this year were late. Out of 22 who embarked on this trip 15 were girls almost all my students and five fellas including Nima, Pema Wangchuk, and Karma Wangchuk all boys I know well and spend time with outside class. Among the girls Kinley Wangmo had the best day since she was the one who instigated the trip and hounded me all term. Both Dooptho Wangmo and Kinley Wangmo (not sisters) hail from Daka a village of six houses in the pastures below the grove. I gave them permission to visit their relatives and they dragged the Guru and a few others along returning with giant cucumbers and sour pears. Along the trail Tendy Zangmo and others scoured the trees climbing high up in the canopy for some sour fruit that didn’t tickle my fancy as much. The most sincere workers were Nima who carried the juice and burned the trash and Rinchen Wangmo who got down and dirty in a makeshift dump below the ridge. In that pit I touched urine, stool and later when washing my hands students found a dead rat in the basin we drew from. An exceedingly rare phelincpa spotting as two Australian lady tourists and guide parked their truck up at Shakshing and headed to the next village. They asked about all the rubbish and I explained that it was from the local festival. We chatted briefly while my students stared and afterwards remarked about their beauty, I called after the trio relaying the message, “Hey my students think your beautiful” They perhaps didn’t know how to respond to such a Motley Crew. My students all thought it was Ms. Lynn at first (if any phelincpa comes they assume it’s a friend) and many of them ask about Ms. Lynn frequently and they still ask about Nima and Dawa my mom and aunty. We continued our toilsome work and as usual I spent my time pleading with them while doing the lion’s share, meanwhile my ear was clogged and my throat burned. We started burning heaps of trash on open ground which is terrible for the environment. We have an incinerator we recently constructed on campus but it would have been too difficult to haul it three miles down the slope. So we sloppily burned dirty diapers, plastic, bottle caps and cardboard sorting out the glass and plastic bottles. The amount of trash was startling and to be frank we only completed half the job. Only poor Rinchen got down in the tangled thicket and at that point I knew I’d gotten what I could out of them for the day so we had lunch. Everyone paired off into their group friends and I supped with the boys. Tendy Zangmo and shy Pema Tshoki ate nearby Guru Wangmo and her group friends and so on. After lunch the old lama opened the temple and we filed in together for prostrations. I followed my Sanga (Buddhist community) into the Lhakhang again marveling at the revitalized paintings including a spanking Sangay Dema (the historical Buddha) we held up by a Chorten awaiting the girls who had split to visit relatives and naturally we had to wait for a lengthy duration. Eventually descending the club picked some more fruit and merrily headed to the bazaar (five shops) to feast on momo’s that Sonam Choden prepared. It was a fantastic day so much so that I forgot my sickness completely until arriving home where I hosted Nima and Karma Wangchuk for milk tea.

Almost half the kids on the trek were Kidu meaning that one or more parent had died. Kinley Wangmo lost her mom and openly said her daddy drinks all the time and she is raised by an auntie. Once they open up Bhutanese kids are the best in the world. The ones that come from the sprawling hills to TCS (Tsenkharla Central School) are a fine mix. In my estimation, although they speak broken English, the youth of Bhutan are strong and ready to assume the Dragons Mantle.  Shakshing might be heaven on earth with a radial view of the mountain mandala and two opposing valleys spanning two countries. There’s mighty oaks and as Lynn aptly described, “it feels like the top of the world” Now don’t think that’s cliché until you visit. It was a great outing since in the final reckoning this is what matters- the fruition of a lifelong dream. Making memories with these tribal moppets out in farthest flung earth-it truly doesn’t get any better!     

Field Trip

Pema Tshoski & I

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Daka View

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Well Wishing...October 16 an auspicious day!

"May be going to hell in a bucket, but at least I'm enjoying the ride..." 

Happy anniversary Beth and Tyler congrats on 11 years of happy marriage. And Happy birthday to my hero Bob Weir for rocking the socks off the world for more than fifty years generating boundless good energy and creating sacred space to dance.

Much Love from Far East Bhutan


"Walking backwards slowly with our eyes closed" Zekemotto 


It's Thursday and the circus is in town...well it's a mundane big top but a circus is a circus right? The dramatic poetry slam wasn't that dramatic however a few students incorporated some gestures and a few more even memorized their poem. The intent was to build confidence in speaking which cannot be underestimated in Sharchop communities. Some students come from Monpa villages or even Kurtep which is a Tibetan based language. We don't have any Nepali kids this year where as Becky teaches grips of them in Bumthang. The sun is shinning over sparkling mountains but a thunderstorm creeps in from the west. Poor Dawa Dema pup is disheveled and like it or not I'm her owner but I can't feed her properly and she looks ragtag. Truly the dog belongs to Karlos but won't go there anymore since they chain her up. How did I get dependents, Dawa Dema, my two sons, Pema Wangchuk along with my official duties. I'm rather aloof but eventually even a lone wolf may fall into a pack. Whatever it makes for an interesting existence in fact life will never provide for me in the same way ever again. I'm also ragtag wearing pants that are too small with no button (hidden by a belt) My hair is neatly trimmed and my boil is receding although one has popped up on my inner thigh (sexy) Lunch was emadatsi and I overindulged  forgetting all about mindful eating meditation instead going for pig at a trough style. Oink! It's a busy day since I'm TOD (Tim on Duty) which meant supervising morning study at 6:30 in a somnambulist state. After sleepwalking through assemble I became human again. Afternoon will find me supervising night study, dinner, and then chicken at Karlos and Sonam's house. This is the best time for roaming but also a busy time and although I have taken some nice walks I'm due for a heroes journey. I pulled a tendon in my right foot that isn't healing but it isn't slowing me too much. I took a nice stroll below the Dzong in T-Gang where I had sat devastate in April after finding out my ex girlfriend had fallen in love again. But this time things were renewed and fresh and I sent out well wishes for the happy couple embarking on their new found life together. For my part it can be lonely up on this mountain but I'm also HAPPY to be alone since I'm selfish by nature and like to live with a certain degree of solitude. Love is mutable not finite and even if one "loses" a soulmate love is never lost.

Friday, October 9, 2015

Wishing You...

Just taking a minute to wish you a happy day...That's what we call it out here. Tired today and the mania that has driven me on all week subsides. I haven't slept to much and today teaching is getting on my nerves although I'm prepared and monitoring my inner voice. Bhutan is intense the colors, the hygiene, the highlights and low-lights alike. That intensity is where the magic lies and one must bash on regardless. Another sunny day in the hills of Eastern Bhutan but a busy one with six periods, supervision of night study followed by dinner and Monopoly with the boys. It's a juggling act to keep all the balls in the air without dropping out. Last night went begging for alms at Karlos and Sonam's house and they hooked me up with some chicken, yum! There is absolutely no veggies for sale right now so eating is always on my mind like any tiger I presume we all gotta eat right? Whats for dinner on your side? Classroom management is what I don't like about this craft even on a good day when I see these matters as a challenge. Interacting with young people is great but that's the downside controlling and facilitating 115 students everyday. Overall I'm proud of myself for giving it the college try in what is now my fifth year of teaching if I include Korea. I wouldn't trade this experience for the world and it's good to face challenges head on in this seesaw life. 

Thursday, October 8, 2015

The Tiger Roars

Dedicated to anyone willing to read this stuff…


It’s Midnight and a new week. Spent the weekend in Trashiyangtse town and it was a classic and today I discovered a wonderful Lhakhang at an ascent of about 2,500 feet out of Yangtse on a never-ending gradient with a well kept but slippery trail cut through villages, then oaks before I finally gave up and retreated back to town which only took an hour and a half in a forest whirring with cicadas. The temple was perched above a cluster of homes partitioned by flopping bamboo fencing entwined with banana trees and fragrant fields alive with butterflies. I crushed one marble blue to death I felt horrible but had to continue on down the mucky terraces to the farm road that led back to town across the bridge draped in prayer flags spanning the Kulong Chu in its glory before the dam is constructed along with more roads. It was a sweet ramshackle temple with a tin pagoda or what passed as a pagoda loosely. The door was locked but a butter lamp flickered inside the sparsely adorned inner sanctum which was dim enough to pitch black and could’ve concealed the Holy Ghost. A butter lamp is always burning the eternal flame like the one in the clockworks or at the entrance to Squaw Valley.  

It’s now October and the sun is consistently shinning after being shrouded in mist for six months. Everything takes on a surreal quality this season and the valley below is already changing into gold. Since we last met in this forum so many things have happened and maybe I’ve even changed too. Buddha taught us to regard all dharmas as a dream. For instance if you chow down on a T Bone and it tastes great that is only phenomenon distracting you from the true empty nature of the universe. Likewise if you are suffering in heartbreak that too is only a trick or delusion pulling you away from what is. When we see the truth we can shed our possessions and egos more easily or as the school cook’s shirt says, “Your ego is not your amigo!” I’m still tied to my ego which is why you will continue to read the word I in this blog until the tiger is a skeleton in a jungle cave maybe somewhere Bumdeling side in the upper reaches of Khoma. So where to begin, I suppose we can backtrack to our last proper post somewhere around the time Becky came to visit her beloved Eastern Bhutan just before summer break. We went to Dechen Phodrang which translates roughly to “Palace of Extreme Happiness” naturally the Guru spent some time here frolicking, humping, and bathing with his precious consorts including the fetching Yeshi Tshogyel. Sorry if I appear crass or bawdy in the above description actually what I referred to as humping is not mere fornication- no this is the secret precepts of tantric unification for the benefit of all sentient beings. I’ve been fortunate to experience such fluid and intense lovemaking long ago before my sexless thirties commenced. As usual I digress from the point, oh yeah Dechen Phodrang with Bunks! It was a lovely day that was more like the palace of headiness than happiness which found us gazing northward towards Tibet and gibbering with unseen forest sprites and gremlins crossovers from stranger dimensions. When two dharma seeking phelincpa’s enter that sacred space sparks are bound to fly and that was Miss Rebecca’s first visit to the grotto where the Guru’s ferocious meditation burned an imprint of his body into the boulder which the temple is constructed around melding into a cavern. Trashiyangtse is a special place in our personal history where we practice the precepts in our own asexual way together and if this was our last chance to make magic there in the ever flowing greenery then so be it!

Summer break was a whirlwind that began on shaky ground and continued to break up like leads in the monsoon soup. I was directly ordered by Mother Superior Nancy into Linkhar to attend the retreat. As usual Nancy knew best and unwittingly set a new and rewarding course for my midterm break. I can’t speak for Nancy but I assume she figured it might be good if I had some contact with my own phelincpa kind instead of hiding out as many of you know is my Modus Operandi in this incarnation. So she sent Nima to collect me after picking up Ash from Yangtse town and Sarah AKA Sweet Muffin who accompanied for the ride to the lodge. There I began a social interaction lasting for nearly fifteen days with a great bunch of folks teaching for BCF. The core of this group I will henceforth refer to as “The Mafia” a moniker selected from the camp style mystery game that they play together and roped me into once. The de facto leader of this Mafia is Dan a young strapping lad from Vermont who is gregarious and kind mannered. Several of the dudes in their twenties are extremely intelligent and witty including Alex a handsome Kiwi and Adam a Washingtonian who rode off into the sunset early on his scooter but not before a wholehearted mock anti Canadian soliloquy on the night one after party. Mostly directed at poor Holly a B.C native who fits the description salt of the earth a quality easily confused with Hoserness. I’m just yanking’ your chains Canucks so you might catch the vibe of the night. At Linkhar I was the outsider but was able to bond with the new teachers in particular Sebastian (Sea Bass) and Kirsten AKA Borsten. The three of us share a similar sense of humor and introverted tendencies and acted as a satellite orbiting the Mafia. Three days at Linkhar included the compulsory meetings and meals, a bon fire with some interesting official characters, teachers, and the attentive lady staff bustling about in blue Taegu’s. Aum Deki runs a shipshape outfit and the customer benefits at what’s the nicest inn in the far flung east.

Fast forward to the end of summer break where I wound up in Tang Valley with Dan, Cat, and Judy spending the last enjoyable days of rest and relaxation with newfound friends. After spending two weeks with phelincpa’s I was both enriched and exasperated but it was good to sharpen my social skills and realize that I can still interact with my own kind under duress. I garnered a reputation for being eccentric and blunt neither which can be denied. Dan and I went to Thowadrok a Lhakhang clinging to a cliff face at the north end of the Tang Valley at the entrance to a Bey Yul or hidden land. In fact this Mandarava settlement might as well have been within the secret portal and it was a strenuous hike to get there through superb alpine forests on a challenging and delightful single track overgrown with clover and marked by mossy chortens. Near the top we scampered over loose stones on a near vertical staircase adding an element of suspense to the pilgrimage. The temple is not remarkable in design and appeared under renovation but the spot speaks volumes with a commanding view over Tang Valley Bumthang’s northernmost and sparsely populated settlement. You could sniff Tibet in the pine scented air and if one had a guide they could lumber up to the border in a hard days slog. North of this temple is uninhabited forest that reaches up to the impregnable wall of the Great Himalayan Range and it’s 25,000 foot peaks. We stood at about 10,000 feet so that means the gain of elevation is about 15,000 feet in fifty or so northern miles, staggering! From the deck surrounding the temple one peered out at sprawling pine clad ridges and the narrow fertile Tang valley from which we’d risen. One other family of devotees was present but unfortunately the temple was locked. I desperately wanted to get inside since the site was founded by Mandarava the wise and virtuous consort of Guru Rinpoche. Much admired by Yeshi too who venerated her when they met and vice versa. Peering through the dusty window panes I noticed an impressive ivory tusk carted up some time ago from the steamy Southern jungles. The elephant is holy in Buddhist lore and a tusk is a rare treasure for a Lhakhang to possess. I couldn’t make out much more and after spinning some prayer wheels we headed out onto the cliffs following a death defying sin testing path hovering over a fathomless abyss. Talk about walking meditation if you miss a step here you’re done for. Mindfulness! We talked about life as we descended and it struck me that Dan was similar to my brother Tyler. Both are kindhearted people who want to include everyone in their circle. In this way I’m dissimilar since I’m a loner by nature. In this incarnation I may never see Dan again which gets me thinking about impermanence and reincarnation. What if our souls too break apart and only aspects of “individuals” reform in subsequent births? Isn’t it just ego clinging to aspire that we continue on with our own soul intact. I don’t know how karma would apply if my conjecture is reality but likely the truth is inconceivable by the finite human mind. It’s kind of beautiful to think that we might separate and rejoin with aspects of one another to journey on piecemeal towards ultimate enlightenment. If we share a collective pain body than what else can be shared alike-Infinite joy and liberation…

It’s never easy coming back to the village after a taste of freedom and more so when your computer won’t start. So that is where we split…The monsoon was raging and this year the landscape was smothered in clouds and copious rain. On and on it goes and things get greener and deeper and danker and darker with maybe an hour of scorching sunlight every thirteen days to break up the monotony. When the sun hits like a sea crab I scuttled into the shade of the pines unable to bear the direct light. This monsoon season impacted me too and I fell in love with the oozing darkness, the foam, misty, soupy, steamy wet and wild monsoon. The mountains always awash, silver buntings in layers upon layers of mutable mists swirling. The dark shadowy greens and flat light of an endless summer day interspersed with showers pounding my tin shanty. No other season leaves such an indelible moldy mark as the monsoon of Southern Asia creeping across and wetting the interminable plains of India before dousing the inner hills and finally stalling at the great barrier of the Himalayan Range. Places like Lhasa and Ladakh on the Tibetan plateau are cut off from the full effect but still get a stray shower from the advancing beast. What was I doing during those moldy months? Local roaming up to Darchin and discovering the rounded top of my own mountain a pasture lined with vertical prayer flags called Shering La. Also a significant chunk of teaching and presumably learning has been occurring during the blackout. One memorable escapade led me up the throat of Brongla on an inclement Sunday and while reposing on the muddy slope plopped in duff fraternizing with enormous fungi a humongous tree branch broke off and crashed ten feet from my position shaking the ground vibrating under six feet of decay, yikes! I missed the path and belly crawled through towering grasses vertically clawing my way to the summit that was completely socked in. It was cold for August and my fingers were frozen until descending an hour to Darchin. The disheveled ascetic Darchin lama resurfaced from his sabbatical and I saw him one afternoon in the pastures resting in a sunbeam that cut through the impervious mist.

I stayed put for about 50 days at Tsenkharla a new record if your keeping track involved in teaching and hosting my adopted sons Nima and Pema most every day. One Monday was a meltdown in class which culminated in writing up the Guru and Sangay Wangmo two of my simplest students. I refer to this as Black Monday and hopefully all is forgiven on both sides. Half the class was murmuring then openly chattering and I blew my top. So when one blows their top which is less cool than flipping ones lid-many factors are usually the source and not necessarily the trigger event. After my initial shouting and the obvious ensuing silence I caught the Guru giving Karma Wangchuk her notebook to copy and I busted her recording it for posterity in her school diary. Guru Wangmo is the model student so obviously everyone was in shock and it was an overreaction on my part and a low point in my teaching career but we learn from such practical discourse. Being a teacher is dynamic in that sense you have the reins of this class for nine months and it’s like a living organism with complex mutable components. Kind of like that Chucky Cheese game where one tries to smash the jittery critters down with the mallets but new ones keep popping up. Ironically I sucked at that game and often my brain is one move behind the clever cherubs. Talk about holding back a flood. This has been a successful break through year in my teaching though and I know all my students by name which is mostly possible since I taught many for two years. I’ve enjoyed spotting Sangay Tobgay on the road to Yangtse and tracked down Lhamo Yuden when visiting the art school with Mr. Piet. I think I told you about the PP kids with booger faces attacking me while subbing to the amusement of my class eight pupils who already think I’m Mr. Bean. There have been highlights too but teaching is no piece of cake for me anyway. But as they like to say I’m transparent this year with all lesson plans, teaching aids, and marking completed. A strange exotic journey and somehow the job gets done. Teaching ESL English one wonders precisely the results and they just don’t speak English outside the class. Inside my classroom Sharchop is uttered amongst English although other BCF teachers claim to have a zero tolerance policy with success. It’s more than just unfashionable to speak English outside school it’s a breach of etiquette in the rural east and it wouldn’t go over well in the hostels.
My health has been good except a boil that has come and gone for over a month and some other minor afflictions that are part and parcel. Water has been flowing with some exceptions but we’ve come a long way since nativity. The rats have vanished for the summer which has been a relief.  

One of my best solo hikes was an epic and comical journey. I left in the dark at 5 A.M in high spirits along the road an hour to the trailhead for Omba at Sep where a blue serpent is painted on the rock face. A few hours later I was hopelessly adrift in a thicketed labyrinth of shrubbery to the bemusement of primal looking farmers perched on wooden platforms overlooking there jungle plots on steep dugout terraces. One attractive villager in that National Geographic sense took pity on me and led me to a scant break in vegetation pointing the way. No one out there speaks a word of English and my ten Sharchop words weren’t relevant in this situation. Her way didn’t pan out so I backtracked and remained in that thicket for what seemed a lifetime before the same lady reappeared and bounded through the growth like a leopard. I haplessly attempted to keep pace over very rough and hidden terrain scrabbling and scrapping through the brush. The whole escapade ended in me tumbling out of the bushes and falling five feet my face bashed at her bare feet a total yard sale. I would be lost so many times that day including a misguided descent in the hamlet in a rocky gully to a raging torrent with no crossing. I had to retrace a brutal slope in the hot sun and then got lost all over again in that confounded village with three sweet water driven prayer wheels. I crossed landslides in the darkness and stumbled home fourteen hours after departing satisfied to be safe and sound.     

Tim Speaks,
Just got back from Karlos and Sonam’s house cum shop where I had dinner and played with adorable Pema Namgay who was born the day I was in the Langtang Valley on December 28. He is still in his first year but his little legs have power pushing against my chest and he recognizes me by now.  He looks like a little Karlos and Sonam is a doting mother. The supper was dried beef with chillie over rice with some bomb tomato garlic ESE that tasted like awesome pizza sauce. Small pleasures are the best isn’t it? Like the Ritz style biscuits (crackers) I scored from Auntie Kesang’s shop. As you can imagine she’s always chasing me down for my credit tab and I always procrastinate. Stopped by a trio of Chortens on the way home sitting in the grass in the mild night gazing at a billion stars filtered through the Milky Way stretching from Shampula over the boy’s hostel. All those cozy night critters click clacking away and the smell of burnt juniper offerings fill the crisp air.  Night settles on this sector of the Himalayan Range. In the wee hours a waning moon raises a glowing wedge over Tshongtshongma. In daylight on the far left of the mighty valley are the Matterhorn peaks in India or perhaps Tibet. They are bound by an enormous saddle and both have impressive glaciers or at least snowfields. One looks like an elephant with a long flat ridge leading to a pyramid trunk of rock. The other is a more graceful triangular peak but very sharp at the apex. The two become one in a swooping saddle of gleaming snow that glows tangerine then a red ember before turning a ghostly ash. Both peaks have enormous depth and the area in the saddle seems its own snowbound paradise collecting purple pools in decaying dusk. I only glimpse these peaks in spring and autumn when clouds are absent and air quality is clear and thanks to the binoculars mom gave me I can descry their details. The twin peaks hover in the ether a few layers beyond Lumla although I doubt one could see them from the Lumla bazaar. Closer and to my right the bumpy spine of the dragons tail culminating in Tshongtshongma a perfect fanged spire reaching 14,000 feet above the Gongri Chu and valley floor. The landscape is overpowering but also comforting -a perfect balance of stone, sky, water, and earth. This mountain mandala spreading out from the soft arc of Tsenkharla to the rounded massif of Shampula and the saddleback in Tawang with frontier peaks gliding back into the dragons tail and an imperial escarpment topped by gyrating furs. Never did any illusion sparkle like this a spangled chalice all burning in impermanence. If only we knew that impermanence and death gave all this life meaning. Butterflies such as chocolate tigers bold black ones with blue globes like twin worlds on opposing wings (is that all we are) and silk moths –oh birdlife is abounding spotted a black eagle soaring outside of Jangphu on the eastern frontier and to the westward valley exotic darters with long tails to match the languor’s in that forests above Chakademi. Out there among albino giants the elongated warbles are both mysterious and melancholy but relief comes every fall with murders of crows congregating on campus cloaking the line of giant cypresses in iridescent ebony feathers.    
It occurred to me on a walk that the biggest difference between a Christian and Buddhist is one fights for their beliefs while the other lets them go…              

Festival Time

Tsechu is a special event to join with ones community to pray and party. In that way Himalayan Buddhism is so much groovier than church. The tantric faith flows in comparison to hearing dogma lined in pews. Bleating horns and crashing cymbals spawn phantasmagorical delights that tickle the senses or beat one over the head into they beg for mercy. FESTIVAL! You cannot recapitulate such fantastic movements of mankind-that would be like trying to describe the coy smile of Sangay Wangmo captured in afternoon sunlight, but one can try to share something from the edges, just a nibble. It wasn’t the same without mom and Bubba Ganush but the show must go on and it done did. Plenty of Ara and momo’s were on hand to celebrate under the painted giant banner of the Guru. The tapestry overshadowed the event on Thursday with vivid depictions beyond comprehension. Yet Wacky Wednesday was my jam and like I said before my feet never touched the ground. In the end I’m left with just a feeling of gratitude and remnants of laughter.  

Up To Date: In & Around Yangtse..

Glorious Trashi Yangtse

Ema datsi anyone?

Big Cypress

Cosmos means autumn is here!

Runners after completing marathon

Traditional House

Kulong Chu

Mr. Tim and Tshering Choden