Tuesday, April 26, 2011

BBB: Bathroom, BHU and bird watching

We finally met our house owner a couple of weeks ago. We had been wondering to whom we should pay the rent so his visit was timely on that account. He was understandably very glad to be handed two full month’s rent.

There was an unexpected dispute as to just how much the rent was. We maintained that it was 3,000 per month but he was adamant that it was 3,500. I showed him the email from the BCF and he was forced to agree with us. The question of the geyser was the next sticking point. We were under the impression that a geyser, or bathroom hot water service, was on order and would be installed forthwith. This was the first he had heard of anything to do with geysers. Our contact person from the BCF was a little hazy on the exact details too when asked.  Our landlord said that he could install one but that we would have to pay extra for it. A bit of to-ing and fro-ing ensued and we finally reached an agreement on the post geyser rent as well as a timeline for installation.
As we were expecting guests, we asked him if it could be all installed before the 14th of the month, a deadline he did not seem to have any problems with. I guess one could have predicted that on the 14th of the month the bathroom would be in a complete state of upheaval. 
There was a ‘Maintenance Monk’ from the monastery and his offsider wielding spanners, wrenches and most alarmingly, hammers in our not quite water tight little bathroom.

The story goes that they were unsure about which pipe led where so they decided to investigate a little further by smashing through the tiles behind a couple of the taps to reveal the labyrinth of pipe work within. The pipes were eventually identified and tracked back to the geyser so it was all hooked up.

I think they managed to get their choice of hoses 100% wrong; the cold water hose was of the reinforced type and the hot water hose of the ordinary plastic type. The latter hose blew off the hand basin about 24 hours later and we awoke to the sound of gushing, running water. 

The hot water hose from the geyser was of a similar construction and was actually ballooning out at the join when we decided to change it over.

There is a shop in Rangjung that sells plumbing bits and pieces as well as a shop that sells spanners and wrenches, not the same shop mind you… I got a spanner from one and nothing from the other despite it being full of dusty plumbing bits and pieces. The man took one look at my exploded hose and just said, no, no, no.
So, to cut a long story short, I took the remaining reinforced hose from the cold tap on the hand basin and fitted it to the geyser, so far so good.
Now we can enjoy showers on demand, providing of course that there is electricity and water at the same time!!

Some time later....I sure hope I didn't speak too soon there, as now the apartment below us is experiencing some unauthorised water entry and fingers are being pointed at our geyser...
Hope the Maintenance Monk doesn't have to come back...

The monastery in all its glory at night 

I am having a sick day today and have been to the local BHU or Basic Health Unit. Last Thursday my voice deserted me but I managed to croak through the day. Friday I was a little better voice wise and Saturday, with only one lesson was quite easy. Sunday a bit of a cough developed and by today I was just jack of it so I called in sick and made my way about one km out of town to the BHU. It is, as the name implies, a basic health unit. It does have wards and beds for really sick people but most of them go to the hospital in Tashigang.
It was the geriatrics and me first thing in the morning I can tell you. I felt like a bit of an imposter there with old folks who have chronic diseases, but we all smiled and nodded at each other. The staff slowly breezed in and soon I registered and was in the queue to enter Doctor’s Chamber No. 1. Luckily for me she came to the door and called me specifically, as, if she hadn’t I think I would still be there.
The patient’s protocol seems to be you stand at the door, peeking in occasionally, until you feel the previous patient is about to leave, or has had enough of the good doctor’s time, then you insinuate yourself through the door about the same time as they are leaving, voila, new patient ready for diagnosis!!
She questioned me about my symptoms, listened to my breathing through her stethoscope (no comment) and took my blood pressure before telling me that they didn’t have any cough medicine but that she would give me some antihistamine tablets and if I was not better in 5 days to come back for some antibiotics. I certainly hope I don’t have to see her again soon… Good on her for not just jumping on the antibiotic bandwagon though, there is far too much of that I think.

We see these crazy looking Hoopoes regularly and they remind us of woody woodpeckers: most especially when they start their sewing machine action in the ground and exercise that special muscle they have for opening their beaks under ground! They are just too active for us to have snapped a shot yet so we are relying on the information that allowed us to identify them in the first place to post a picture.

We have a resident pair of Oriental Magpie Robins nesting in the roof above the veranda. They have built their nest and it must be very close to egg sitting time for Ms Robin at least. They say that their nests have a distinct aroma so we will keep you posted… Mr Robin gets up very early and almost sings his beak off.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Spring Is here

Firstly I should apologise for the long break between posts. We are now in full swing at both our schools and it is a rare day when we get home much before 6pm. Sporting, cultural and social events seem to occur with regularity and almost always at very short notice. In the last 2 weeks have had a welcome performance for newly arrived students, basketball, table tennis and volleyball competitions and a baby shower as well as a dinner with Bhutan Canada Foundation which was hosted by the district Governor himself  and the busy schedule doesn't look like letting up anytime soon. We also had house guests from BCF on the very day that the bathroom was semi destroyed in the attempt to install a hot water system.

Spring has certainly arrived in Rangjung and with it the weather has become unpredictable, ranging from thunder storms with heavy rain to hot sultry afternoons or incredible, damage causing winds. We have noticed the major effect of these storms is a much less reliable electricity supply but they also supplied us with some delicious field mushrooms which I collected before school one morning. One thing that is great about the change of weather is the school grounds are ablaze with flowering trees and flowers. Unfortunately one of the windiest afternoons resulted in half of a callistemon (bottle brush) tree literally being blown off.

Last week a  huge prayer flag was strung up on the aluminium pole that has been standing by since some time last year. At 7.30am as I strolled into the school grounds the smoke from the purifying fire alerted me to the fact that something special was occurring and then the chanting, singing and music that always accompanies these types of rituals became audible. How many schools have a conch shell playing class IX student I wonder?

A group of students led by one of the ancillary staff was assembled in the car park and they were dutifully and devoutly chanting while others laboured at the pole to hoist our newly painted and blessed flag. It took several hours of patience and determination to get it flying and then later the same day heavy winds resulted in it coming down again so the whole process was repeated the following morning.

 In the end it took no less than 3 attempts on 2 consecutive days to get it to want to remain flying but it is now a striking feature of the school entrance. Construction has now begun on the prayer wheel which will stand next to it and from the model in the staff room it too will be very ornate and striking.

 We now have a full compliment of Class XII students in roles of responsibility in the school and each one has a deputy elected from the Class XI group.

All these house captains, counsellors, and students appointed to be in charge of various essential activities in the school including health in charge, time in charge (who rings the bells for study) mess in charge, cultural leaders, prayer captain, sanitation captain, those who are custodians for various extra-curicular activities and many more I am sure I have now forgotten, were acknowledged formally in a ceremony at the morning assembly on Saturday.

A portrait of the king placed on its own throne stood on the stage where badges of office were pinned on and white ceremonial scarves were given out by the principal and deputy principal. The entire school paid their respects and the newly appointed officers all prostrated.

They were also honoured with a morning tea in the principal's office and I was one of the teaching staff delegated to serve it.

I am now also in the throes of establishing a Photography Club. With only one camera to work with I limited the members to 10 and aimed for a balance across year levels and genders. More than 50 students expressed an interest so we are now embarking on a course of fund raising to buy more cameras so that more students will get the opportunity to participate. Since every time I take my camera to school I am mobbed by students wanting their photo taken, I have decided to sell them prints to start our fund raising drive. The local photo processing shop in Trashigang gave me a good discount for the 300 odd prints we got processed on Saturday. The proprietor was sympathetic to our cause and happy for the new business so he is willing to continue to offer discount prices too. Class photos and individual shots are the most popular but small groups of friends and a shots with Madam Vicky also feature. Our house guests, Kristin and Raewyn, suggested that BCF might even assist us in our fund raising if we write a proposal so that will be on the agenda for the first club meeting this week.

I love that Saturday is a casual dress day and all the students wear their own colourful ghos and kiras instead of uniform.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

A few thoughts on teaching.

A few thoughts on teaching in Rangjung Higher Secondary School.

At last we seem to be getting into the swing of things at school.

I began all my classes with the writers’ workshop as suggested by the curriculum guides and was amazed to discover that 99% of students had never done this before. It is a rather drawn out process, which involves a lot of conferencing and group work. The 10-lesson format suggested was both time consuming and work generating but I figured that I should at least try it. For a single section of class nine it seemed worthwhile to start them on the right track of planning, drafting, redrafting and editing and to set up expectations about how to write successfully. The common habit of assuming that a single piece was done and dusted on the first attempt didn’t seem to be entrenched in them at this early stage so that was good enough motivation for me. The class eleven group however with 3 separate classes of almost 40 students were mostly actively involved in the process in the classroom but that generated 24 hours of after school time marking and for the second piece of work I have now set, many of them went right back to the no plan, no draft and one attempt and it is done system that they have employed up until now!! If nothing else the experience gave me a benchmark for all the students I teach all 117 of the class XIs and the 40 in my home group class IXC.


There were some incredible essays written and some astounding insights into the lives that many of these students have led thus far. Common themes across both year levels included the impermanence of existence, my first love, our benevolent king, my struggle to get an education, my journey to this school (sometimes involving 2 or 3 days of walking), the importance of studying hard and Gross National Happiness. Strong family values, a sense of commitment and responsibility and deeply felt Buddhist beliefs underpin almost all their writing and make me marvel at the mix of innocence and maturity their writing displays. One unusual student chose me as his topic and after waxing lyrical in the most poetic of terms, laden with metaphors of buds opening and fresh spring air about the new teaching style he has experienced in my classes, he began the paragraph assigned to my physical appearance with, “She is tall and old and fat.”

Class nine have now finished their second piece and there has been compliance with the process so I am feeling hopeful that I will see big improvements over the year. There are still plenty of surprises and shocks in the revelations about their lives that the content of their writing exposes. One student when comparing a previous English teacher to me wrote, “If he looks also he will never look line by line like our madam here.” I struggle with the “if” implying that he may not and also find it hard to believe that her work has never been thoroughly checked and she is in class XI. Although I am not capable of checking 157 papers that thoroughly every time, it certainly motivates me to keep doing it as often as possible.  This sentiment appeared in several of the class papers and I am still in a quandary about it.

I am also impressed with the classroom behaviour and willingness of most students to participate in all activities and tasks. Although there certainly are a large number of chronically shy students, there are also plenty who can confidently express their options and are keen to discuss and share ideas in both group and whole class settings regardless of their ability. Even the shiest of the shy have something to say when asked and can often be coaxed out of the shells. Almost without exception when a task is set they set to it like their very lives depend on doing it well and plead for more time and one more explanation when they feel that they have not done it justice.

I think I fear the exams as much as they do given that I am not at all sure that I am teaching in the way I am expected to and I fear that I am not preparing them for the rigors of the system when I hardly understand it myself. It has come as a shock to me that those who can often participate well in class and be lead to understand the texts later demonstrate almost no understanding in their writing!

Still the biggest surprises of school life are in the non-teaching times, when doing Socially Useful and Productive Work (SUPW) means that we all go to the river bed, now, and carry rocks back to school so that a new prayer wheel can be built or when an envoy from the king with a full entourage arrives at short notice and all sponsored (by the king himself) students and their class teachers are  required in the office immediately for a formal meeting. 
Both of these things occurred in the last week.