Saturday, May 24, 2014


In class nine there is a narrative essay with this title and although it is set in the Civil War period and recounts the African-American narrators’ personal experience, it strikes a chord with Bhutanese readers. Many texts in the curriculum do not appear to have relevance to young readers in this kingdom but this one is a noteworthy exception and for that reason I have enjoyed teaching it. Given my own discussions with students on this particular topic, I can easily see why they grasp the concepts and make the connection with their own life experiences.

Below is just one of many student-written sagas I have been privileged to read and less enthralled with correcting, as a response to studying this essay. Although the English may not be perfect, for it to reach this point, considerable effort has gone into self correction and some teacher input is evident. I think it throws some light onto the plight and resilience of many children in this country, and for that reason thought that it was worth sharing.

It is published below with full consent of the author: Karma from Class IXB Samtengang Middle Secondary School. Please feel free to comment and share your reactions.

I can recollect when I was seven years old that my brothers were going to school but at that time I didn’t know the value of an education. When I was nine years old all my elder brothers dropped out of school and forcefully my father and mother sent me to the school. It was so difficult for them to send all of us to school, as there are seven siblings in my family. Some of them had even left home.

In the year 2004 I was in Class PP (pre-primary) in the Kazhi Community Primary School. My brother, sister and I were the only children who didn’t have adult guidance and many children were always trying to bully us. Whenever some naughty things had been done at school, after school was over the teacher and children’s parents blamed us because we were the only children who didn’t have adult guidance. My sister burst into tears more than three times a day because she couldn’t bear the pain.

I believe that life is like a dream because till I was in grade five, I was an infant in mind and confused about which way I should take. Time had just blown like the wind where I felt as if nothing went into my brain. It was blank. At that time I failed in class five. As a result I received many scoldings from my family. They all felt sad and blamed me. I thought of giving up my studies but they didn’t want me to be a farmer. At the beginning of the year 2009 I repeated 5th standard in Samtengang Primary School. There the teachers and students were co-operative and I felt happy.

When I was in class six, my sister and brother had graduated from primary school and went to middle school and I was all alone in primary school. I didn’t have a proper house to live in as I changed accommodation often. Most of the time I lived with different types of people. They all treated me well at first but after some time they tried to treat me as their servant and I always went against them. Lastly I lived with my friend Sonam Dorji (Batu). We were best friends and from the same village. I felt comfortable with him. At that time we were also the only children who didn’t have adult guidance but we were big enough to fight back if people unjustly blamed us for wrongdoing.

To be frank, we never used to clean our house properly: it was like a sty. Our parents never used to visit us and we had to go to our village on weekends. We had to carry our vegetables and rice from our village because we had no relatives living nearby. Most of our time was spent playing, chatting and shouting at each other. As the time passed by and the exams came, my mind was full of tension, as I had made a great mistake earlier. I studied so seriously but I studied at the last minute.  It was so difficult for me to cover al the subjects. However I did my exams very successfully and the result was successful. While thinking of my past mistake I really regret it.

Saturday, May 10, 2014



Let me begin by explaining that I am no expert on this topic but I do have an enduring fascination with these symbolic and spectacular structures, which dot the landscape across Bhutan and often take one’s breath away with their whimsical appearance in the most unlikely of settings. I never seem to tire of seeing them or exploring their interior courtyards.

Basically a Dzong is translated as a fortress and they do have an almost fairytale castle look about them. Most are ancient structures built in imposing locations high on ridges, overlooking valleys and dominating the surrounding landscape. 


Many if not all, were constructed of wood, stones and rammed earth in the 17th century. The inside of each, is as distinctive as the exterior and the location in which it has been placed. There are similarities, which make even a novice like me certain of when I am looking at one or the ruins of one. There are courtyards and three storied towers, high walls and intricately carved and painted woodwork and steep ladder-like stairs with banisters smooth as silk with a shining patina created by the thousand of hands that have slid over them for centuries. To stand inside one for the first time is a magical moment. 


Even those newly constructed have been created to duplicate the best of the ancient fortresses.


As the centres of government administration in each district, they play an essential role in the lives of the local people but they also house bodies of monks and are places of deeply religious significance. They signify the unification of the Kingdom of Bhutan and are a tribute to the mastery and ingenuity of the trade’s people of ancient times. Bhutanese need no reminder that they must adhere to strict dress codes and rigid protocol and etiquette are essential within these hallowed walls.  They come to life during the festivals and Tshechu and teem with people throughout the year.


When the Wangdue Phodrang Dzong tragically burned in 2012 there was no loss of life and the monks living within the compound managed to flee down the steep cliff face carrying the ancient treasures once housed within, but the nation mourned. In every remote corner of the kingdom prayers were chanted and blessings sought and solace derived from participation in these consoling rituals and prayer. 


Even those of us who had seen the dzong only once or twice crossing the country felt the loss and I still feel a lump rise in my throat every time I sight those ruins on the ridge above Bajo town. Like all Bhutanese, one immediately comforts oneself with the thought that in the not too distant future it will be painstakingly resorted and rebuilt and to the untrained eye it will not be at all obvious that the original was destroyed.  


We feel privileged to have been able to see so many of these ancient monuments and at different times, festivals, seasons and even historic moments. This is a photographic showcase of the stunning architecture, of what I consider to be Bhutan’s most distinctive manmade structure. 


I was inspired to compile it, by being able to visit the Semtokha Dzong today. Having driven by it thinking we must go there, so many times in the past, now seemed the right time, given that yesterday’s public holiday was to honour Zhabdrung Ngawang Namyal, who unified Bhutan and built this, the first of its Dzongs in 1629.


Saturday, May 3, 2014

oNe PhOtO a DaY fOr ApRiL


1. SOMETHING PURPLE: Bhujel Sir with his predominantly purple gho. It is great that the colour palette is equally available to men and women, when  it comes to national dress in Bhutan and  if anything in everyday clothing it is the men who wear the more vibrant colours and often pinks and purples.

2. IN MY HAND: as much as I enjoy wearing Bhutanese national dress on a daily basis, because it is ankle length I often have part of my “kira” in my hand just to be able to walk but most especially when I have to climb up or down these stairs just outside our front door

3. SHAPES: Bhutanese architecture contains many hand-carved wooden shapes. These are the lower windows in our home. They are all approximately the same size and shape but they are totally sealed and cannot be opened hence the blurry smudges on them.

4. GOOD TOGETHER: These two students were certainly very good together - exactly what the Peer Learning Support Club is supposed to be all about

5. NOT MINE: and not theirs either but my home class VIIIC have adopted 3 trails near our school and this stretch of road between the primary and middle schools and have pledged to do a clean up campaign to remove all the rubbish and put up bins to reduce the reoccurrence.

6. A TASTE OF SPRING/ AUTUMN: Noticed this iris blooming on campus today. No stem to speak of but still a definite taste of spring.

7. WHERE I’D RATHER BE: In Manhattan at the top of the Rock or anywhere else with that skyline visible (taken 2008 on our second visit to the Big Apple)

8. HOBBY: our purchase of just 5 hula-hoops for the primary school has not only created a sudden epidemic of kids whose hobby has become “hulaing” but also dads with the new hobby of making home made versions for the smallest of their offspring. I love that this one made by one of the Dzongkha (national language) teachers, is also covered with the cloth so often used in temples and on altars.

9. DARK: I have felt dark all week about the number of teachers who feel it necessary to have and wield sticks as punishment. This one is purpose built and every time I see a student sent to fetch it from the staff room I shudder. A line of a poem I have been teaching class VIII comes to mind. “He moves in darkness, it seems to me,”

10. MY FAV PART OF THE DAY: like many of these primary students on the track between the school and our home, my fav part of the day is often ‘home time’ Today they were all preparing for Sports Day on Saturday hence the lack of traditional dress and uniforms.

11. THREE OF A KIND: well almost but they were trying their level best to be uniform and fair at SMSS Sports Day: -the finish line judges for declaring place getters!

12. ON MY LEFT: as I was leaving the primary school campus today it occurred to me that it was our new home up there on my left

13. MORE PLEASE: Every single day, 3 times a day our boarding students line up to receive their meals and no matter how many times I see them I always think of those lines from Oliver Twist, “Please Sir, can I have some more?” Of course they can always get more but they rarely do. Their diet is often bland potato or radish “curry” with rare treats of meat or eggs on special occasions but they don’t have to pay a ngultrum for it. Along with their basic boarding facilities, the government provides them for the token annual fee of less than $1

14. DIRTY: not only dirty but also dangerous considering this is a primary school classroom wall

15. I ’M READING THIS: my long standing rule of reading only about the country I am living it at the moment, taught to me by a dear Dutch (Thank you Jan) friend, more than 2 decades ago, has been broken this time in Bhutan because I have read almost everything worth reading, available for purchase or in a school library and published in English about this country already, but I am glad that this is one of the few books I currently possess that fits the bill and I am savouring it right now

16. MY VICE: My true vices would have to be cheese and wine but in Bhutan neither are a possibility! This is my Vice Principal greeting the Member of Parliament for Wangduephrodrang District as he arrived as the chief guest for the Sports Day held last Saturday. I actually think excessive pomp and ceremony are the major vices of the whole country so this just about sums it up for me.

17. SOMETHING I LEARNED: from our first stint in Bhutan- if you have an addiction to real quality coffee, not instant, then bring it with you, buy it whenever you see it and protect your stash! You can see we have learnt our lesson well and are true addicts in this respect.

18. GOOD: India may not be famous for its coffee but not only is this coffee good it is even better that it’s available here, well, in Thimphu which is not that far away.

19. MONEY: Bubble Gum is a form of money in Bhutan as it is often substituted for the one-ngultrum notes which are hard to come by! Although I am not running a photography club at SMSS, I usually have my camera with me.  Therefore students constantly request photos with their friends, and this of course means getting them printed and collecting the payments. With the current price in Bajo set at Nu 12 per print I end up with a purse full of tatty, old, small denomination notes and handfuls of bubble gum to give out as change

20. EGG: Although I am not seriously trying to learn Dzongkha this handy picture dictionary can tell me many simple words when I need to know one. The real egg I substituted for the sketch took on a ‘surface of the moon’ type appearance when it was flashed

21. CLOSE: Many an experience on the lateral road in Bhutan is really ‘too close for comfort’ but somehow despite the narrow margin for error and the sheer drops concealed in the fog we have at least thus far, managed to survive. This shot is from our road trip crossing the country from west to east and back again last September but the local roads where we now live are if anything more treacherous given that they are not sealed at all and the monsoon is coming.

22. FOUR THINGS: When I saw this prompt what immediately came to mind is this image of “Four Friends.” It is depicted on almost every monastery, dzong or temple in Bhutan and many private houses as well.  It is the well known fable of how the strong and mighty elephant, needs a monkey’s agility to get the fruit from a tree but the tree itself would not exist without the seed carried and deposited by the bird and the nurturing of the roots underground by the hare. These 4 creatures also represent the four terrestrial habitats: underground, ground the air and the sky.  It is a story of the connectivity of the all creatures in the natural cycle of life and its extols the virtues of co-operation 

23. ENTRANCE: probably one of the few entrances in a school that students would rather be on the outside of and are definitely not trying to get in. I myself felt exactly the same way when I was summoned to the principal’s office today and I must say my instincts were not wrong!

24. A POP OF COLOUR: Literally! Not one but many lollipops of several different colours actually and there would have been more if we hadn’t been doing grammar practice and needed a bit of a motivator. I know this would be unacceptable in most educational institutions but in a boarding school in Bhutan where treats are few and far between it is indeed a real motivator  

25. REMEMBER: the war memorial in Adelaide. I can remember, as a teenager in the 70’s refusing to attend the dawn service or watch the ANZAC Day march because like so many others at that time, I believed it was glorifying war, and then reconsidering and realizing that the sacrifices made require acknowledgement, are worthy of respect and need to be remembered. “Lest we forget.” Years later as a city resident walking to this very memorial for the dawn service became an annual ritual and though we are now thousands of kilometres away I have been somber and contemplative all day today.

26. ENJOY THE LITTLE THINGS: After a trying week and an ordeal to get out today, even with no power in Bajo, a slightly cool beer is a little treat well worth enjoying in the candlelight.

27. UNDER MY FEET: walking back from the Sunday market in Bajo this morning we saw huge gum trees along the side of the road and though many places consider them a pest, I delight in seeing them here in Bhutan and all across Asia. For an Aussie a long way from home it brings joy to my heart to have gum leaf litter under my feet

28. CHAOTIC: moving the book collection in the store, from the hut to the room above the kitchen at Samtengang Primary School, using hundreds of little hands. That narrow staircase was certainly a scene of chaotic activity!

29. CONTRAST: After a brief rain shower today there is a noticeably clearer view across the fields and beyond to the distant ridges. This is in sharp contrast to our usually hazy view with little but a blue, grey silhouette of mountains discernible

30. SOMETHING SILLY: a monk, with a penis attached to his mask, playing the role of a jester (apsara) with the specific intention of amusing the crowds at Tshechu: the annual performances of masked dances in monasteries and temples all across Bhutan.
This photo is from Trashigang Tshechu in Nov 2012