Thursday, September 29, 2011

Royal Visit

September has been an odd month in terms of the activities that have fallen in our laps and events that have occurred! I was supposed to go to the district sports meet but eventually didn’t due to the phaffing about of the authorities! It was cancelled once too often for me. This week, along with other teachers of English in the district, we have attended a fabulous and very useful “Writing Workshop” conducted by Nicole Pluss, an Australian novelist who writes for young adults and whom I am very interested to read now. 3 parcels from Australia have arrived in 2 days with all kinds of treats and education resources. We took ourselves on another taxi ride adventure and got to visit Julia and Charly in Mongar, for a very relaxing and fun weekend. But without a doubt, for me meeting the king has been the highlight of the year thus far in Bhutan!!!

Rangjung LSS even prepared a special publication for the occasion
We were first told that the Royal Bride was going to visit our town, about a month ago and a frenzy of activity was inspired by this news. Banner making was at the top of the list. Then the day before the much-anticipated visit, we were told that maybe the king would come too. Suddenly breaking news was that the king himself was actually coming and on the day before we thought. We had already planned to spend the afternoon in a massive clean-up routine and that was accomplished in record time with sickles flying and the sweeping up of everything in sight. In fact it is the first time that I have ever seen the verges trimmed and the road swept!!

We all trooped out to line both sides of the road in front of the school at the end of the school day in an atmosphere of excited expectation. Our task was to wave as they drove by but after 2 hours of waiting we were then told, no it wouldn’t be happening and that maybe it would tomorrow!

That meant that I had to be at school at 6am for the royal drive by and Ian had to be at the monastery at 5.30am with his entire school cohort. Of course Bhutanese stretchable time told most staff that it wasn’t necessary to meet that deadline but I was there and had even had my breakfast and got myself into the most presentable of my kiras for the big occasion.

By 8.30am I was predicting that we would be lucky to see him before midday but the MPH was all set up for an actual audience not just a drive by. The interior was festooned with our banners and they are still on display, so the effort that went into making them did not go to waste. We did nothing but stand around in the sun and try to find shade and wait until 10.15am.

At one stage we were escorted into the MPH and told where we would be sitting in the unlikely event that we would be able to stay and hear His Royal Highness speak to the students. At that point it seemed obvious that the audience would most probably be students only as that is what had happened elsewhere. I was also singled out and informed that he might speak to me as he had spoken to some other other BCFers, but not all. Despite my optimistic nature I took this information to mean that I would be one of the ones that he would choose not to engage with and thus felt quite calm. We staff were told that our role was to be the reception and see-off committee only.

Once again we were assigned the task of standing in the car park in a line, and bowing at the right moment and then watching a dignitary walk by. I was happy to have the opportunity to be that close to this enigmatic figure and as we have done the same now for heaps of dignitaries, I was confident about the procedure and it was nothing new!! Just moments before the official cars arrived those around me stared practicing the step forward bow with ‘rachu’ touching the ground and then step back routine that was required and my calm evaporated! Lead with the right, no left! Even the Bhutanese were confused so I then started practising too and ruing the day that I bought such a short ‘rachu’!

I was thrilled that on the way into the hall the much loved and benevolent 5th King of the Kingdom of Bhutan, Jigme Khesar Namyel Wangchuk, stopped and shook my hand and spoke to me. Although it was a simple conversation beginning with, “Are you one of Nancy’s people?” I answered his volley of direct questions and don’t think I remembered to step forward or back leading with either foot and he didn’t appear to be in the slightest bit worried about protocol. He spoke to me again on the way out but stopped and addressed several of the Indian teachers first. He informed us how important he thought the work we are doing is and how thrilled he was with the progress made in education. I was in shock that I actually got to shake his hand and speak to him twice. When he was about to depart, I finally remembered to stammer, “ It is an honour and a privilege to meet you,” and I will remember forever the charm of his response. “The pleasure is entirely mine.”  Before his arrival it had been clearly explained that there could be “Absolutely no photographs”, but I didn’t need evidence. What a thrill.

great banner
His bride, Jetsun Pema said nothing to either the kids or us but I guess she is overwhelmed by all the attention she is receiving right now, with the wedding just a few weeks away. I have to agree that she is stunning but like so many others I wanted to hear her views. The king also is a striking individual. He is much taller and broader shouldered than I had imagined. Though his handsome appearance and uncanny resemblance to Elvis is legendry, his physical presence came as a complete surprise as his intellect, charm and charisma are constantly promoted.

the official royal couple poster 
The whole event certainly put us all into a spin. Just as the hand-holding royal couple were about to get into their vehicle to leave, the king suggested that we all have a photograph taken together and the royal photographers both started snapping furiously. We must have looked a motley crew as it all happened so quickly but it was great that one of our Indian teachers was dragged from the back to stand next to His Majesty. I suspect that we will never see these shots but we were still all wowed that they were taken. Before making good their escape, he insisted that we have a school picnic for the students and that it needed to be on a weekday as that would be so much better than a weekend for the students and promptly handed over 60,000 ngultrums to fund it and away he went.

The kids have still not come back down to earth, even though many of them have met him before.

Those pesky kupneys worn by the boys
The biggest shock of all was that just moments later the principal announced to the entire school cohort, who were still sitting quietly and savouring the experience in the hall, that the picnic would be held at some later date, and then he uncharacteristically decided that since the teachers hadn't even had breakfast, that there would be no more classes on that day either. It gave me the extra time I needed to get on top of all my short story marking and just escaping at 1pm seemed a treat after the 6am start.

Kupneys at the ready
Ian had quite a different experience waiting at the monastery with his students and finally glimpsing the king through the crowd. His school’s beautifully crafted banners only saw light of day once, the day before the actual visit and were not displayed for the king and Ian himself was hiding at the back as his kupney was in no fit state to be seen by royalty! The vagaries of how to get a kupney in the right position and how to make it stay there have not yet made themselves apparent to us. At least the pictures he took are some evidence of the occasion, as I didn’t take a single shot.

RLSS displaying their banners

Sunday, September 18, 2011

The Royal Wedding Cup

Kick Off!!

Rangjung Higher Secondary School recently hosted the 'Royal Wedding Cup' Football tournament. 
It was  a month long affair and teams came from far and wide to compete. 
It is said that the high school has the largest area of flat ground this side of the new Yongphula Airport! 
I believe it too!
It has a full sized soccer pitch which is something few schools here in Bhutan can boast. 
The slight undulations, odd rocks and canine friends only added to the challenge for players and spectators alike!

The prize money of 150,000 ngultrums for the best two teams certainly brought out the competitive spirit in an otherwise pretty compassionate people.

We saw some players arguing with referees, the odd referee arguing with players and sometimes players arguing with each other.

Overall though, the spirit of ‘Fair Play’ was upheld and opposition players often assisted each other up after bruising encounters and were genuinely apologetic if they bumped, kicked or otherwise upset each other.

Unlike Aussie Rules, soccer is a non contact sport and the High School Principal and Captain of his team, Rangjung Bullets, can be seen below doing a fine job of not actually contacting his opponent as they both struggle for possession of the ball.

There was only one serious injury that I am aware of and that was a player from the High School student’s team who broke his leg after a sickening collision with his opposite number in the goalmouth. Luckily, the ambulance was standing by and he was rushed off to hospital in Mongar for an operation on his leg. 
I believe he is back at school now and healing well.

This SMD Kanglung player needed to be stretchered off the field but was OK after some treatment.

The team representing my school, the Rangjung Rangers, in blue, won their first round match but alas was defeated in the second round. 

Nice try boys but the keeper just managed to tip it over the cross bar.

The High School student’s team was surprisingly and sadly beaten by a much older and far more physical team in their first round match.

The Bullets also exited after their second round encounter with eventual winners SHERCOL, in black and orange. They are the student team from Sherubtse College in Kanglung, about two hours from here.

The action was fast and furious. The bullets tried their best.

Despite the depressing score, the Bullets did not give up. This goal ward drive from Chogyel Sir ended up netting them a face saving goal to finally go down 

The SHERCOL keeper was very athletic and highly skilled.

Nice pass, as the Bullets player can only look on.

The final was an all Kanglung affair. SMD Kanglung, in yellow and SHERCOL battled for victory.

Speed and accuracy

Superior ball handling skill.

Half time at the final was the chance to showcase some non-sporting talent for the crowd and visiting dignitaries.

The Dancing troupe from the high school did a great job performing some traditional Bhutanese steps.

The final score of 3 nil to SHERCOL belied the closely fought game we all enjoyed. 

A well deserved win. The boys did a victory lap carrying and waving all the corner marker flags.

The Cup in the winner's hands and the BIG cheque!

With the win just sinking in I wonder if they are thinking about next year's Cup defence... 

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Grow your own!

Here in Rangjung and I guess in many other parts of Bhutan too, people often grow their own veggies in gardens, spare patches of ground, old buckets or whatever and where ever. 
They practice self sufficiency. 
This means there is seldom any surplus to sell in the market for the likes of us who have no garden.
Vicky and I constantly bemoan the lack of fresh veggies available and greens in particular. (don't start me off...)
We have been here just over 7 months now and it's not that we have quite developed the symptoms of scurvy yet, but....

Sooooo, sprouts thinks I (in a rare moment of genius ).

Take one empty oats container or any similar sized jar.

Get some material for the top. 
This must allow water to flow in and out freely and easily. 
I used a small piece of fly wire left over from doing two of the windows. 
A piece of old t-shirt would be OK I think. 
You must be able to tie it on the top of the jar quite tightly, I used a short length of wire, string is OK too.

1. Go down to the nearest General Shop and get a packet of Chick Peas, (Chana) or Soya Beans or any beans.
2. Take one cup of the beans  and soak them for 6 to 8 hours.
3. Drain them well and leave them in the jar. Rest the jar on its side and spread the beans along its length.
4. Every morning and evening give them a rinse and drain well.
5. After about 3 days for Chick Peas, they are ready to eat!!!

Chic peas soaking on the left and ready to eat sprouts on the right, deeelish!!

Sprouts resting on their side and growing between rinses, this lot is ready for the fridge!

If you like, give them a final rinse in filtered water, drain well and they can be kept in a plastic bag in the fridge for a good few days.

You can lightly steam them or add them to your 'curry' just before serving. I eat them raw too (Dare devil thrill seeker that I am..).

Sprouts are living food choc full of nutrients too numerous to mention.

Have a go!!!

Wednesday, September 7, 2011


From the time that I heard that poetry was a quarter of the syllabus in schools here I have had doubts that I could teach it well. Despite having loved it at school myself and having written poetry all through my high school and college years, I was not at all sure that I could inspire interest in it in Bhutanese students. Thankfully none of my efforts in those days were ever offered up for publication and these days few of my high school musings exist anymore.  The paltry examples I stumbled upon when packing up our house before leaving Australia are something of an embarrassment and I am glad I kept them to myself. 

However in the past few months I have read a lot of student written poetry in addition to the course material and once again written a few pieces of my own, thinking 'Well if they can, I can too.' Given that this is now the second post on the topic of poetry I guess those doubts are still with me but I am persisting.

The concept of alliteration didn't seem to be getting through to many of my students so recently I was inspired to motivate them with an attempt of my own. I chose my Bhutanese students as my first subject as I have seen from the incredible popularity of photographs of themselves that the adolescent ego knows no bounds. Of course they respect and value anything that we do for them and even more so when the textbook is laid aside for a moment, so my feeble efforts met with applause and bouts of dictionary searching when I left each class with a single hard copy.

Perhaps readers of this will hold much less appreciative views but I figured I would throw caution to the wind and post my efforts and see if any comments are forthcoming. I am expecting "don't give up your day job!" But what do you think?

Bhutanese Boarders

Bored with boarding,
Bunking and rule breaking,
Brimming with the bright bravado of bachelorhood,
Blessed, bullied and beaten,
But not brazen, bewildered or broken,
    are our boarder boys.

Grumbling with grievances,
Greeting and grooming,
Guiltily gutsy and game for good gatherings,
Gracious, gregarious and grateful,
Guarded and giggling but never garish,
   are our guru-guided girls.

 This second effort was an attempt to describe our first 2 weeks in Bhutan and perhaps other BCFers can relate it it. 

Destination or destiny? Dreaming of Druk Yul,

Entering the Land of the Thunder Dragon, early but elated,
Energised by months of anticipation, preparation and expectation,
Enthralled by the exciting extremes of custom and tradition,
Enchanted by evergreen environments and easy engagement,
Engrossed in perfecting protocol and elegant etiquette,
Enthused and accepting a unique, educational experiment.

                        Eastward ho!

Fearful of falling: steep ravines with treacherous switchbacks,
Festooned passes, startled fauna and prayer flags fluttering,
Feigning nonchalance as imminent and unpredictable futures loom,
Feelings fluctuating: elated and exhausted by turns,
Frequent and fond farewells depleting Dorji's passengers,
Final destinations featuring more uncertainty and fluidity.

Given that tomorrow is International Literacy Day this maybe a timely post and we should perhaps follow it up with the short story on the theme of "The Dignity of Work"that Ian wrote for his classes.

NB All the photos are of Rangjung students but most, not all are boarders. The sentiments are true for day scholars too but they just didn't get a look in for alliteration's sake!