Friday, February 20, 2015

Still feels like the first time

I was in the field supervising a group of enumerators for the Second nation wide GNH Survey, if you remember. I was in Samtse last month and now I am in Samdrup Jkngkhar. I got here yesterday. My team has been here for 19 days already but I had to take leave -- remember, I made a short update from Singapore? It was for that purpose that I had to take leave.

Once I got back home from that visit, I was unsure when to join my team because the New Year was just a few days away and if I didn't stay back to celebrate it with my family, I was going to travel on the New Year. No matter how hard it was, I had to decide on the latter. I travelled on Losar and got to the field to  eat dinner with my team. In a way, that was a huge relief. But leaving my family was didficult. One friend said, 'I can't believe you are leaving on Losar. As a mother, it is very important for you to be there on Losar'. I know that, but when I have to make choices like this, I also know that my husband can take up a role much better than me. He can be a super mother in my absence and I love him extra for that.

The parting was hard though. First, it was my daughter I had to say goodbye to. She didn't cry this time. Neither did she beg me too much not to leave. She came right next to the car, talked to me sweetly and said that I should come back soon. She stood by the parking and waved goodbye till we were out of sight and I couldn't help cry. Tears streaming down my cheek, I feared how the duration of two months or more will pass. We will be getting back to Thimphu only when we have completed the eastern dzongkhags and it means having to be away from family for two months or more. 

Next was saying goodbye to my husband. We rushed to get my bus ticket -- which we had booked through a friend. We rushed because we worried that if we didn't make there a bit earlier from the departure time, the counter girl might sell it to others. She had kept it for us as agreed.  After getting the ticket,  we had half an hour more before departing. So, we wandered around the stalls and it gave us time to feel settled and less rushed. But when I got in the bus and said goodbye, I cried again. And shamelessly, I must admit that though I am a mother and no longer a teenager after parting from her boyfriend, I felt the pang so hard. Should I consider it wrong for me to feel love because I am old now? In fact, I felt love rushing in my heart, and I felt like it was the first time I was saying goodbye to him after having fallen helplessly in love. 

I listened to Don Williams, wiped my tears and kept looking out the window, so the person sitting next to me won't know I was crying. This time, I felt a bit of dislike for our culture of having to be discreet with our affection. I wanted to kiss him goodbye and I couldn't. All we did was hold hands and look each other in the eye. Anyway, when you feel the heart nudging with love, that is enough as well and I quickly felt content and the tiny dislike for our culture disappeared. 

Maybe, in the rush of our everyday work and hustle bustle, we had forgotten to show that we love each other. And it  was a reminder that after 14 years, we are still going strong and everyday is a first day of love with him. And yes, there are many days that I feel like it is the first time and my friends from High School were wrong when they said I was reading too many novels and fantasising on true love that does not exist in real life. I have found it and I am lucky. 

Friday, February 13, 2015

Meeting Rima, the Bhutanese Lover

Let me introduce her first. She is known has Rima and she is known to many Bhutanese because of her active blogging. I came across her blog for quite sometime. Until we started talking on Facebook, (which was quite recently), I had been wondering about her. I wondered whether she was Bhutanese and where she lived. So for the ones who are wondering like me: she is originally Indonesian Chinese. She is married to a Singaporean and lives in Singapore. She first visited Bhutan with her parents through the travel agent as tourist and she fell in love with Bhutan ever since. So, the second time, she visited Bhutan through the invitation of one of her Bhutanese friends.

Since then, she has been in touch with Bhutanese through the Bhutanese bloggers and those visiting Singapore. This time, I happened to be the lucky one and thus meet her, in person. She is a lady with an easy smile and warm heart. And she doesn’t mind taking the trouble to meet you, even if it means stretching beyond her normal schedule of the day.

We first planned to meet at Swissotel Merchant Court, but later after I told her that we (my friend Sonam and I) would like to go to Viva City, we changed the plan. She said, ‘wait in front of FoodRepublic on level 3’. I was bit worried wondering at the possibility of missing the opportunity but when I reached there, I was glad that it is a very specific place, right in front of the escalator from the level below and you could easily spot it. She walked up to us after a few minutes of our waiting and there it was – smiles and hugs already, feeling like meeting a long lost friend.

She took us to Sentosa island (skipping the detailed descriptions), Mustafa Shopping Mall, and then on the second meeting, to China Town. On our second meeting, she brought along two of her best friends and we had a celebration of the Chinese New Year (which falls on the same date as Bhutanese New Year). We were already talking easily and laughing together in celebration. Please read about the description of the celebration and the meaning of the food we ate on her blog.

For, pictures speak a thousand words, here are some as a treat for your eyes:
Siloso Beach in Sentosa Island. Quite an impressive place. Peaceful and calm.

With Rima at the beach, making connection

With Rima and Uden. Sometimes even when you are from the same place, you connect more because of someone far away.

It is called the Merlion and it sits gigantically overpowering you, showing its ferocious teeth

After Sentosa, food it was. We ate at the Indian Market, giving me priority because I am veg.

This is our dinner on 12th Feb 2014. Various Chinese food to celebrate our meeting, yet again. 

This, Rima explained is called 'prosperity toss dish' that is eaten only during the New Year Celebration. We were privileged. 

And here we go, tossing for the new year, wishing prosperity, happiness, good health and more of goodness of everything.

Before parting, smiling together and hoping to meet again. 

Her present: a red scarf which served me beautifully right the next morning.

And her present again: a red wrist watch. She probably observed me asking time to my friend and not wearing one. (Thank you Rima for your thoughtful observation and the beautiful presents. Until we meet again.)

So, though it was a short visit of four days and we had classes from 9-5 and assessment to do, she made it very memorable. We thank her from our heart and we hope to see her again with that beautiful smile. 

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

A bit of what I saw today in Singapore

The pictures here are from the Garden by the bay--a wonderful human creation. It is described by some as the Avatar in real life. I will be writing a separate account of my visit here in more detail in a few days. 

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Kindness still rules

I have been away from home for exactly two weeks today. The first night I set my foot in Samtse, I felt a little depressed and unhappy. I couldn’t help think that I will spend one month in this dzongkhag and five months in the field – scattered around four other dzongkhags.

But we were welcomed and people were all ready to help us. In Sipsu, I must say we didn’t quite feel welcomed, as much as we did in Namgaycholing (Laherini). I started writing this article when we reached there, where the Gewog ADM and the Community Centre staff were both very friendly and kind. The census was going on in Sipsu when we got there and though I called the Gup, he told me that he was busy with census work and he would ask the Bellbotay (Tashicholing) tshogpa to help me (after that I started seeking help from the ADMs). This Tshogpa was not a big help, I must say. We had to go to his house and all he gave was direction of the respondents we needed to meet. You see, I mention this because in other villages we had such marvelous, coherent coordination. The ADM asked the Tshoga or Mangap, and then they asked the Chupon and they took us to the villages, showing us each respondent’s house. If we don’t call that help, I don’t know what is!

We had been at Sipsu, Peljorling school for 10 days and we were finally moving our camp. I am grateful to my friend Padma and Nima Wangchuk for their help in arranging accommodation for us at Peljorling school. It has remained our best camp so far. We were unsure of what it would be like in this gewog but there was no need to be anxious at all. Though there was little bit of water and toilet problem (there was no water in the toilet and we had to take it in the bucket from outside), we were made to feel like a part of their gewog administration family. They had the census going on as well. So, the ADM arranged one of the two rooms in Community Centre for us girls and he sacrificed his office for boys. But our boys opted to rather sleep in the tents.

Despite being crowded with people coming for the census, they were so kind that they had all the logistic arranged. This is also one place where we didn’t have to go hungry. The Chupons arranged the preparation of lunch for 13 of us on all the three days we had to visit three chiwogs in their Gewog.

It is really not that they did something so extraordinary for us to feel so at home and welcomed. They were just so human, exuding kindness and genuine willingness to help us. They said it was their responsibility to help us when were in their gewog, but not everyone takes it that way. Must I say, I am an emotionally intelligent person (with a smile) and I always see people’s faces to know what is going on in their mind – to see if they really are doing what they are doing from their heart. I do not like to burden people at all. But when we are not received like another equal human being, that is when we I feel unhappy. So in this case, education really did not rob him off his basic human qualities. Not everyone gets affected the same way from outside forces, no matter what these forces are. I think what matters is to remain who we are and always treat others as we would like ourselves treated. Is that rule too difficult? Anyway, I do not mean to complain. My team and I are very grateful to Namgaycholing Gewog Administration, Dorokha Dungkhag office, Denchukha Gewog, Sipsu Dungkhag, Tashicholing RBA, Charghary Gewog, Tendu Gewog, Biru Gewog and Tading Gewog for their help and generosity. (We had to go hungry in Charghary and Bara). I also thank Gomtu PCAL staff and their families for their cooperation in helping us complete our survey in their colonies successfully. Until next time, Samtse!

I think all these difference come from one thing: the more affluent or more exposed you are to modernism (which in this context it is having access to modern facilities such as road, car, shops (towns) etc.), kindness, readiness to help strangers and generosity seem to disappear or become secondary. It is almost as if an attitude that says, ‘why should I help him? What is in it for me?’ stands right on the forehead. Other opposite variables such as pride, antagonism and individualism seem to override them. Of course I cannot generalize, but it is almost always true.

Note* this article was begun on 16th January 2015 and was left unfinished. It should have been published before the previous article about being in Gomtu.

From 'inside the sleeping bag'

I have been so lazy for so long. I have been traveling, walking to different villages in Samtse. Right now I am in Gomtu. With the help from here and there, I managed to get accommodation for 16 people at the MD's mansion turned guest house. We were welcomed by our host, an electrical engineer at PCAL who my husband knows; I think I met him twice as well. We were given four rooms, with mattress and blankets as well. But our joy was short lived because I was called to inform that we will have to move downstairs where we will have to sleep in our sleeping bags. We were asked not to take even one mattress from the rooms that were previously given to us. It seemed a little strange but anyway, who are we to question? We were here under their favor. The reason was that they were having some monks as their guests. The mysterious monk guests didn't arrive that day, neither yesterday. I feel like it was a lie. While they showed their generosity and kindness, it was half hearted, it seems. And no matter how grateful I am, I feel kind of cheated or not welcomed enough. I get a feeling that I must meet the ADM who ordered this change in person and must let him know our unhappiness. 

In fact I met him very briefly last afternoon. When my host introduced him, all I could do was greet him because he was on the phone and though I waited enough close by, he had disappeared before I knew.

This is just a little unhappy feeling anyway. The gewog offices and people in the villages are so kind and they make us feel so happy. While we journey interviewing people on GNH, we see that education has only given formal qualifications and stripped off all basic human qualities and values. In a way, years of schooling is such a waste. 

Reporting this from my phone, inside the sleeping bag. I will write about the better experience soon.