Wednesday, April 5, 2017

My trip to South Korea


As part of the GNH dissemination workshop series, I was nominated along with three other colleagues to travel to Malaysia and South Korea in March this year. I was in a dilemma about whether to join them or stay back – because my second child had just turned one year. But having watched so many Korean dramas from being a girl to now, I was tempted to visit South Korea so much that I wanted to join them. And so I did! My husband, my mother and my niece had to take extra responsibility of caring for him; putting babies to bed and soothing them back to sleep when they wake up in the middle of the night is quite a tiresome job for non-mothers. But my boy being a very amiable baby gave them little trouble. 

Our counterpart in Malaysia had arranged so many meetings – from meetings over breakfast to lunch to dinner besides presentations to different offices and gatherings, we were left tired to our bones on our last day there, which was 23rd March 2017. Our flight to Seoul from Kuala Lumpur was on 24th March, very early morning – which gave us only two hours of sleep. Having had a late supper with our friends in Malaysia, we hardly caught that two hours of sleep before we left for the airport. [The RGOB’s rule of having to buy air tickets through quotation victimizes us into having to take inconvenient flight timings – and budget flights]. On the flight, I had to even ask for medicine from the flight attendant for my headache.

At the end of six hours flight, we finally landed in Seoul. And a staff of our coordinator there took us in a taxi at a frightening lightning speed because we had to make to the meeting that was already in full swing. And between bright flashes of light, we were escorted on stage at the 2017 International Buddhism Expo in Seoul in our dream like state! But it was worth all of these small troubles.

What struck us in particular was their trust and integrity. We were told that if you forgot or left something somewhere, it would still be there, untouched, if you visited after a few days. And they are so polite to each other. Or maybe, it is just that the accent and tone of their language is like that.
One night, we had to catch the last train back to our hotel from dinner with our counterparts there. We rushed and just to make sure that we did not mistake between the outbound and inbound trains, we asked two young boys at the station about whether we were going to the right route – and they were so polite to us. They spoke passable English and were interested when we told them that we were from Bhutan. I still remember how they told us to listen, to concentrate on the announcement of our station because they had to leave two stations before ours. And in the entire duration of our stay there for four days, we did not see the owner of our guesthouse. The reception remained empty all the time. Such is the trust! 

And one night, as we returned to our guesthouse after dinner, there were two men outside fretting and restless. Our coordinator had blocked their car. They had waited for one hour! They did not see the phone number left on the dashboard. We were surprised to see that there were no screams of anger and blame. They parted bowing to each other and in smiles. 

But Bhutan has much to offer too. They may have symmetrical lines of skyscrapers with shopping malls and hundreds of cosmetic shops but I doubt they ever saw a clear blue sky! Or breathe clean air free of pollution. 

Our friends/coordinators in Malaysia. They truly made our trip meaningful



At the Dharma House Society in Malaysia


Probably the only Bhutanese to be at the Seoul Tower in kira
 






Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Small things matter


I am driving to office and it is already past 9:00 a.m. I must tell you, it is not easy juggling between works and caring for children. I try to do everything from changing baby’s nappy to feeding him with the minimal haste and then, I rush to office without looking in the mirror to check my hair.

And just when I have gotten out of home on my way to office, I must endure the Thimphu’s traffic that is getting worse by the day. It is much thinner after 9 in the morning and 5 in the evening though. But this morning, there was bit of indecision on my part as I was at the round about near the Ministry of Information and Communication’s gate. I thought I could pass, but a taxi driving from below sped up as if to compete with me to check who could reach the round about first. You won’t believe he maneuvered past me by giving the scariest glare. And this look hurt me. I completed the rest of my journey to office churning thoughts upon thoughts of how such small things matter in our life. If only his look was a bit gentler and kinder, we would have both gone our ways feeling good in our hearts.

A few weeks ago, I took the way from India House to get to my office and a lady driving a brand new Eco Sport comes from the opposite side and though she crossed half a meter into my lane, she drove past me with the loudest honk, blowing a shrill into my ear drum. I am a very sensitive person. Such honking seems like a sharp scream into my ears with the biggest tantrum possible from a person. I wonder if it is so difficult for us humans to be a little less righteous and cross at the smallest disturbance in our life and be a little more caring and considerate. Would it cost us a lot to change a bit in our attitude to see people the way we want to be seen by them?

I think if we start now, it is not too late.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

The Pain of Growing Up in Thimphu

I look back at my childhood with blissful happiness filling my heart and if I could, I wouldn’t hesitate to go back and live there again. Cornfields, and a small orchard of different tropical fruits surrounded our house. During summer, the air was filled with sweet natural odour from fruits and flowers, and our ears were naturally lent to music from different insects and birds. Right next to the fields lay abundant forests, unrestraint and free. We feared of the tigers, wild boards and foxes. We lost a few cattle to tigers, and corns and paddy to wild boars. It was hard work but we reaped abundant grains, vegetables and fruits. Some might think it is a life without happiness, filled only by backbreaking work. I don’t doubt my parents toiled, but in all my childhood, I did not see sadness creasing on their faces. In fact, my mother told us that we were blessed to have abundant food.

As children, what is more important is a good place to grow up—with free spaces to play and run around, shout and scream all to our hearts content, soil our clothes, dig mud, jump in the muddy puddle, or play with insects, or anything natural without an adult’s interference. And that is exactly what I had as a child. I pity my daughter who is supposedly born in a better time. I empathize her when she laments of getting bored every single day.

I let her go to our neighbors’ houses to play with their children. I take her to my friends’ house whose daughters are her friends. I take her to the park. I play with her numerous times everyday. But she sinks in boredom the minute I have to attend to something and can’t give her company. Is it really because she is accustomed to the fast images of electronic games and videos? One day, she comes back from a neighbor’s house and tells me this: “I told my friend that I will come back, but she asked me not to. Why is it mummy?” I have to give in to her requests, but I do fear that the neighbors may not like to have her come to their houses frequently. When she sees their kids playing outside, she rushes out but her excitement gets crushed when they refuse to play with her. As a mother, I want to bring her back inside and pamper her right away, but this is how she must grow up. So I hold my heart tight and let her stay—praying that she will pick up the right social traits and she will grow up strong.


I am not boasting when I say I might be one of the many mothers who give a major chunk of her time to her daughter. I do. And yet, when she rolls in the boredom she says she is in, I can’t help wish we had a free space where she could enjoy everything I did as a child. She might have different dresses and food. She might have heard different fairy tales that I knew only when I could read myself and watched them come live without having to imagine but she still does not have what a child needs. I do not blame her for being bored. I do not blame her for getting restless. If only I could let her grow without the fear of cars running over her, or a stranger carrying her away, she would have what I did as a child, and I could simply watch her grow. But it is a deprivation, the price today’s children pay for growing up in a town, blessed with bountiful modern gadgets.

Thursday, December 31, 2015

The Layap's Hospitality


This post is long overdue. I visited Laya in April and I have been meaning to write about it for such a long time. But somehow, I couldn’t. It seems absurd that my excitement of it did not burst beyond the normal routine that ate up my time.

Anyway….

My office, the Centre for Bhutan Studies and GNH Research began its 2015 nation wide GNH Survey in January 2015. There were six survey teams: each team comprised of 11 enumerators, three drivers and one supervisor and one assistant supervisor. My team went to Samtse, Samdrup Jongkhar, Tashigang, Punakha and Gasa dzongkhags. The survey questionnaire was revised and it was shortened to 147 questions from 249 questions from 2010 survey questionnaire. But it still took 1 and half hours on average to complete one interview. I will not repeat the nine domains of GNH and any other aspects. For those of you who are interested more in GNH, please visit www.grossnationalhappiness.com

We were in Gasa district towards the end of March. The Layaps move to Gasa to escape the harsh winter in Laya and settle there for a few months – also witnessing the annual Gasa Tshechu. Towards April, most of them go back. It was because of this coincidence that my survey team could contact many of the respondents’ household in Gasa and only five of us had to go to Laya to interview those households who had already returned.

We teamed up with the election commission’s team that was going to Laya to conduct the election of Tshogpa. However, we gave up the hope to get to Laya on the same day like them. We took eight hours to reach a place called Koina (originally called the Ku nye sa – the place to take rest – it is at this place that Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal took rest on his way to Bhutan from Tibet. There is a chair like stone near the river where Zhabdrung rested).  The government of Bhutan has constructed a small one storeyed guesthouse at this place run by a government paid caretaker. Everyone moving between Laya and Gasa take rest here – while some stop only for lunch or tea and snacks, others like us stop to halt a night. The caretaker is from Laya and he was in RBA. His wife is from Tsho Tshalo in Samdrup Jongkhar and they make quite a home there for the travellers. Despite our tiredness, our mood lightened up and felt doubly welcomed when we were joined by a group of Layaps – among whom two were our respondents from the previous day. Quite naturally, we felt akin to them and we shared the resources for dinner – in fact, it was them who gave us their ration, including cheese, which is a rare specialty when we have to travel on a long journey.

The guesthouse had enough blankets to fight the cold and we had a good night. The next morning, we left at 8 a.m. and reached Laya at around 4 p.m. By the regular traveller’s standard, we had walked at a snail’s pace but we were quite happy we made it. We packed lunch and ate on the way by a stream, sitting in the light drizzle. We hardly enjoyed the lunch but we had to eat to keep ourselves strong for the journey. We were served tea by the RBA stationed before reaching Laya called the Tashi Makhang. Those of you who are travelling to Laya for the first time must be aware that you need a letter (called the pass) and you have to show it to the person on duty at this army camp.
After two days, it is at this place that you get the mobile signal. All of us called home to inform that we had no problem on the journey and would be reaching Laya in two hours. In reality, we took longer and before we reached the village, it started to snow and we stepped into our destination cold and unsure of what the tomorrow would be like.

But, the Gewog ADM, who happened to be related to me through marriage, was very kind and arranged everything for us.

The second morning greeted us with a blanket of snow around us. We all felt jubilant by the sight and we went on with our work despite the difficulty it posed for us.
After two days in Laya, we went to Lugo, two hours walk from Laya village. We put up with our respondent we met in Koina called Aum Pego. She is by nature talkative and opens up easily and that is why we felt comfortable with her from the start. All of us put up at her house in Lugo and while there, we also went to her sister in-law’s house who treated us with tea and gave us chugo (dried cheese) on parting. What will surprise you is their hospitality and the resources. They have packed rice, blankets, mattresses and grocery items stacked up against the wall to the ceiling. They surely would survive in the times of calamity.

Aum Pego had sought help from one of the teachers (Dzongkha teacher) from her community school to prepare dinner and breakfast for us. They had also packed our lunch for the day’s journey. The house is usually not partitioned and all of us slept in a line in the room. She is two years younger to me but has three children already and seems strong and hardened by life. At dinner, what I noticed was that, contrary to her, her husband is quiet and sits next to her without much to add, while she talks almost exuberantly and flirtatiously to the teacher who had come to help prepare our dinner. She told us that he usually helps her household in cooking during the times of annual rimdro and other big gatherings.



What I would like to add is that, before you interact with them, you would feel that you are different from them, and as you come to know them, you will be surprised by how similar we all are. As humans, all of us have the same basic needs, and the same human values trigger the most humble and honest emotions. If not for their hospitality, friendliness and generosity, we would have enjoyed half our time there.
Laya Village
Preparation of dinner at Aum Pego's house
At the Gewog Guesthouse
Snow greeting us on the second day







Wednesday, December 16, 2015

I will be a beneficiary

I just read the following:


I can't contain my happiness right now. I feel like I am finally seeing better days coming my way. When I was expecting Dechen, my daughter who will be five years old in just four days, there was discussion of maternity leave being extended to four months from the existing three months. I looked forward to it with fervent hope, my expectation overriding the reality. And then, it didn't happen. 

But this time, I am going to be a beneficiary of the six months mandatory paid maternity leave and the six months flexi time. My baby could not have come to me at a better time. This makes me feel that he/she is lucky -- despite the Bhutanese's belief of the coming year not being the best one. I have never believed in it so much anyway--will the year we are born in determine who we become? I don't think it will. 

Anyway, I am not here to justify that my baby is going to be the lucky one despite his/her zodiac sign. I am here today to thank the government, policy makers and the stakeholders who had input in finally endorsing the extension of maternity leave. A working mother like me welcomes nothing better than this news.