Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Where has October gone?

It seems that October was never meant to be a full teaching month as every week has had its own public holiday, celebration or special event and each and every one of them have interrupted classes and left me more concerned about how I will ever finish the syllabus before the exams.

Of course the big one was the King’s Wedding and no-one would have wanted that to be less than the 3-day extravaganza that it was.

Unexpectedly the very next week relics of Buddha arrived in Trashigang and both our entire school cohorts, were given the day off to be blessed by them. For boarders the journey there and back was far from conventional but credit must go to the school for providing them with the means to participate.

We left home knowing that the crowd would be a very big part of what we would get to see and the source of much amusement that day. In fact, the usually camera shy Brukpa people in town and still arriving were a huge highlight for me. As it turned out, had it not been for Lopen Samdrup from Ian’s school we might well have been in the back of the tipper with my class XI boys, as transport to T/gang was at a premium.

The crowd behaviour we perfected in China came back to us instantly and survival instincts ensured we actually got to see the relics and didn’t plummet over the cliff or get crushed in the mob. Thankfully the rumours that some less fortunate locals had died in the mêlée were just that and although injuries did occur, there was soon a controlling presence and a system in place to keep the devout safe.

With the end of the year approaching fast and the sure knowledge that that will mean many of the BCFers we began this adventure with in February will be moving onto different adventures, we decided to make a weekend trip to Kanglung to visit Lisa and Scott last weekend.

I was thrilled to observe Lisa’s famous pot inside a pot oven baking and even more delighted to consume the scrumptious results. Now I am tempted to try it myself to increase the variety in our diets.

We enjoyed the relaxed atmosphere of the college town and were glad to have got a glimpse of the renowned Sherubste College. The easy and pleasant hike uphill to view the town from above, the many different birds on the wing in the last of the Autumn sunshine and the gorgeous statues and paintings proudly shown to us by monks at the monastic school were welcome distractions from the grind of teaching and exam preparation. But by far the highlight of the weekend was the hospitality and warmth of our hosts.

We are now hoping that when the time for the much-anticipated Trashigang Tsechu comes round, we might be able to host all the BCFers in the locality as a final hurrah. We have yet to see this amazing spectacle and are certainly keen to join the thronging masses in the Dzong again for it.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

The Royal Wedding weekend

Unfortunately we didn't see any of the live coverage of the wedding here but only due to our own indecision. I didn't know exactly when the ceremony would be and so I didn't fancy sitting around with all my schools' boarders until it happened. The school had organised a big screen and the live coverage was available in the MPH. We had a 6am prayer session for all staff and students and while I am not a morning person it was a great spectacle and one I have longed to see close up for some time. Just as my legs and feet were turning numb from sitting on the floor of the stage in the staff line up, one of the Dzongkha "Lopens" indicted to me that I should get up and take some photos. That was all the incentive I needed and I was glad of the reprieve.

The hall for prayers with the student counsellors 
lighting butter lamps on the balcony

Anyway, we have now seen lots of photos of the big event from various international and national news sources and I am grateful to those who sent me links from around the world, including this one from Italian Vogue.  Thanks Jane. We asked the local newsagent in Rangjung to keep us a copy of that day's paper too. The papers here arrive sometimes 2 days or more late but I suspected that there might be a special edition for this once in a lifetime event and sure enough when we got it yesterday there was a glossy book of all the greetings from businesses and schools etc around the country. The paper is printed in both Dzongkha and English and the English one is often sold out so our lovely agent often keeps us a Saturday one which has a kind of magazine in it and she kept that one too, as we asked her to. 

I just love those heels.

 On Thursday I was happy to get home after prayers and help Ian with the colouring-in, cutting out and gluing of his props for the variety show to be staged that night. His class 4's had done their best drawing and colouring their pictures of animals but they needed a bit of a helping hand with the presentation.

The staff on stage 
(my handbag marks my abandoned spot!) 

I loved the variety show and especially the tiny little ones. PP (meaning Pre-Primary) they call them here. All my staff, who had kids in it asked me to get shots of their kids and I tried but it is not easy even from the front row. A group of about 20 foreign tourists who must have been staying in the monastery guesthouse also arrived and were stationed in the front row as honoured guests. I thought it was a bit rude that they all left at exactly 8pm when there was another half hour to go but the upside was that all the kids who had already performed squashed into their seats at 2 to a seat in a flash.
They were mostly doing traditional line dances so kids at the back just can't be captured. Luckily for them most of the teacher's kids get put in the front so I did get photographs of many of them. We find ourselves going to bat for the poorest of the poor in true Aussie battler style but it will take a long time yet to break the cycle of rank equals privilege it seems. To be fair some of the best performers were also the teacher's children and they did deserve their places up front. 
 Madam Kezang (LHSS) and Lopen Tshering's (RHSS) talented daughters

There were some great performances of Hindi songs and some hip-hop and other more modern numbers interspersed between the huge number of traditional Bhutanese song and dance acts. 
The old lady delivering the moral
Ian's class 4 kids were the only ones to do a spoken word act and it was a hit. They did "There was any old lady who swallowed a fly." Being Buddhists they had to end with a moral and the old lady, who by the way was played by a boy, stood up and told the audience, "The moral of this story is don't eat animals." The moral was entirely their idea. 

It was great though, as they  volunteered for their parts instead of having a teacher select the best. Some of them had obviously never had a chance to be on stage before and one boy who Ian had said was great in rehearsals just went home at the thought of it on the first night and didn't show at all on the second. Luckily he was a chorus member and the show went on. 

As much as I loved it the first time, I decided to stay home and try to finish my exams on the second night. They are still not quite done and dusted but the back of it is broken so I feel quite pleased with myself about that.

 Class 2 giving it their best shot.

Yesterday we got a reprieve as the final show was cancelled. The VTI (Vocational Training Institute) sent all their students home to celebrate the wedding so that show was cancelled. 

The finale a candle dance

We decided that we would give it a shot to walk to Radhi. It is about 8kms by road from Rangjung but we were confident that there would be a short-cut. There always is one, straight up the mountain. We lucked out as it was a cooler and overcast day and we set off at 9.30am heading across the fields from Ian's school in the vague direction of Radhi. 

It doesn't get much clearer than that!
24 kms to Trashigang on the side panel.

 The fields in front of our house were thronging with harvesting activities by the time we set off too. We expected to hit the road at some point despite taking off on a barely discernible track but the path petered out on us a few times and we landed ourselves in mud up to the ankles a few times too. 'The road not taken' came to mind a few times as we reached dead ends, barbed wire fences, tethered oxen or sheer drops. Should we have taken Robert Frost's advice?

Harvesting is going on everywhere at the moment and the paddies are being drained so the trails are flooded or simply not discernible at some points. We were scrub bashing, hacking our way through over grown and disused paddies and stumbling along the edges of paddies still full of water and rice for a lot of the way but we eventually launched ourselves out on the the road about 3kms from our destination, with the help of some much amused local farmers pointing and shouting at us in Sharchop. We guess that is what language it was since we still understand nothing of it. 

By then we were glad of the steady incline and clear trail of the unsurfaced road and only about 3 cars passed by before we made it. This town is famous for its weaving and I was hoping to see some women weaving but it was not to be. There were a couple of woven items presented to us to see if we wanted to make a purchase but Bhutanese are certainly not pushy about selling their wares and in fact it is often difficult to even find them at the source. They seem to prefer to let the buyer come to them or order in advance. I was happy to see a loom or two and I have a new kira from Radhi on order, so I will wait to see it, before I buy more. 

We made our way up to the school we had visited about 2 weeks ago with Australia writer Nicole Pluss and family.  Surprisingly as we walked through the school gates we were also greeted by RHSS students playing volleyball. We continued into the school grounds and sat on the cliff edge overlooking the incredible terraced valley to eat our picnic lunch and then set off back down the road to get home. 

The magnificent view of the terraces from our picnic spot 
with the road home clearly visible.

We didn't think it wise to try anymore short cuts, though we did spot several branching off the road in a steep downward direction. At one point 2 girls from my school presented themselves directly in front of us having run down the slope where they had been harvesting rice with their parents and their first response was, the all too familiar, "One photo madam." Of course one turned into 3 or 4 but we were happy to oblige and they showed us the short cut that we could have taken directly down from the school to the point we were then at. We were not at all sorry that we had stuck to the road more travelled, this time.

We carried on with the road route and only took a couple of short paths that cut across the hairpin bends where we could see the road ahead and by about the 4km point we were both thinking that it would be nice to stop walking sometime soon. That was not possible and we trudged on. We arrived home in less than 2 hours after a 2 and half hour haul on the upward journey and the harvesters, reapers, threshers and winnowers were all still hard at work in the fields in front of our place. Although we were foot sore and weary, they were still laughing and joking as they worked until almost nightfall. As always the views and the striking sights of chortens and huge stands of payer flags make these walks rewarding.

While we are resting again today and merely contemplating a game of table tennis in the evening. The hard working locals  are once again out there hard at it in the rice paddies and soon the crop we have watched flourish for several months will be available for sale in the bazar.

After a 4-day break I feel more relaxed than I have in ages, so I guess that there is something to say for just staying home sometimes and not always taking the opportunity to travel when time off presents itself!! 

Rangjung seen from above on the weary walk back through town

Saturday, October 8, 2011

RICE: An Ode to Autumn, with thanks to John Keats

Perhaps because we are in the autumn of our lives or perhaps because it is really the season of plenty and beauty we are currently feeling blessed by autumn. This is the quiet time of the school term too. The curriculum is largely done and dusted and the exams are still a comfortable month away from the frantic activity that they will become. Leaves are starting to change colour and the mountains are glowing with the faint hues of red and yellow. The harvesting has begun and this has inspired a look at the whole cycle that we have witnessed and Ian has recorded, in the paddies surrounding our home in Rangjung and the environmental changes that have taken place in our vista as a direct result of this essential crop.

When we first arrived here things were decidedly brown and from our southern hemisphere perspective that was odd. With our winter rains (when they come) winter is the green season.

For months that didn’t change and the barren fields in front of our home were the playground of cows and horses and the prime location for archery contests on Sundays.

Then suddenly in about mid-May the paddies were transformed by a slow process that was incredibly man and woman-power intensive.

Only one motorized contraption appeared in all the months that followed and while that power tiller got a good workout, it was the oxen that did the brunt of the work.

What magnificent beasts they are.

For most of the short summer break and weeks afterwards we observed back-breaking labour performed with smiles and laughter and a good deal of joking around.

There was no shortage of work to be done but it was really after the hard yards had been completed that the stunning beauty of the crop came into its own.

Water naturally filled the paddies as the weeks passed and it was a miracle to me that at exactly the moment when it seem that it would never happen the monsoons came and the rice crop flourished.

The winds seemed intent on wreaking havoc but no matter how hard they blew the stalks straightened themselves out in the warmth of the afternoon sun and braced themselves for the next attack.

Even the cows returned to cheekily try their luck at getting their teeth into this prime fodder, but any passerby on the path knew to shoo them away and they never really got too much.

The wind, rainbows and changing light and water conditions all played their part in making our views from the living room a living, breathing and breath-taking vista.

And the rest of Rangjung was taking on an achingly beautiful new appearance.

The scenes have returned to energised and co-operative labour as the harvesting has begun. Once again there is a separate but essential role for each individual and great good cheer dominates the hours of enduring burning sun and never-ending toil.