Wednesday, August 12, 2015

The impermanence of time

“You may delay, but time will not.” Benjamin Franklin 

By far the thing I find most frustrating about Bhutan would have to be the kingdom’s sense of TIME. I know I am sticking my neck out here and totally being a foreigner, as many Bhutanese wear Bhutanese Stretchable Time (BST) like a badge of honour, but for me the ambivalence about deadlines, due dates and appointments drives me insane.

There are so many calm, compassionate and kindly aspects of this culture that I am simply unable to comprehend this one stumbling block. It appears that it has long been the case that time is a flexible notion to be interpreted at will by any individual and it seems to permeate all aspects of society. I cannot move past the idea that if you keep someone else waiting then you are undeniably conveying the message that you think your time is more valuable than theirs.

However here it is commonplace for whole bodies of people to be left standing in line awaiting the arrival of someone significant for hours on end. Taxi drivers booked in advance for long distance hauls have no qualms about arriving over an hour late, with lame excuses ranging from it wasn’t an auspicious departure time to just getting fuel, being reluctantly offered up. Being directed to arrive promptly at x o’clock with out exception, can still mean standing around for an hour or more expectantly hoping the guest of honour and those who instinctively know that doesn’t apply to them, will turn up soon.  I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve waited for the key to miraculously appear in some incongruous person’s hand. In exam scenarios with moments before the time expires students still feel free to tell you “I’ll do it later,” or even continue to write answers with 3 different teachers shouting at them to stop writing. Anyone questioned about why they are not where you were expecting them to be, will immediately say that they are on their way but hang up before you can confirm just how far away they might be or when they might arrive. Roadblocks can emerge from nowhere and turn into huge snakes of cars stranded without anyone present batting an eyelid!!  In fact if the situation persists for more than a couple of hours there are likely to be tea stalls popping up and momo vendors appearing around the bend plying a car to car service. All those lessons you loving prepared are prone to being shoved aside because an impromptu meeting, VIP arrival or fortuitously timed guest speaker made an unannounced appearance and took precedence. It almost seems that no-one will do anything until the very last minute. I am in the habit of calling these guys the “last minute Nellies”. It is as if it would be a horrible shame if you prepared something and then it was postponed when in fact my experience has been that things are more often ‘preponed’. Meetings can be announced ad hoc, impromptu or not at all while attendance remains compulsory. They may also extend well into the night without any intermission. Schedules and timetables can be changed with the alterations posted on a notice board you didn’t even know existed but heaven help you if you aren’t following the amended version at the next ringing of the bell. Even class six students on Saturday afternoon are quick to inform you, who can’t leave until they do, that they are playing now and will call their parents to come get them later.

“Yallama!!” as the locals might say. Is that why the clock in Clock Tower Square has been stuck on the same time for as long as anyone can remember?

Perhaps it is because I am suddenly feeling much older than I ever used to. Is that what happens when you start teaching younger and younger students? However I am of the antiquated opinion that time is still more valuable than money and becoming ever more precious. I suppose the real answer is patience and the impermanence of time along with everything else, is another lesson I am supposed to be learning here.

‘It has been my observation that most people get ahead during the time that others waste.” Henry Ford


  1. Wow I can imagine the stress...take care..this is Junu
    Btw...I love reading ur blog when ever I can..

  2. You nailed this one on the head.....I never did understand their version of time, appointments, & expectations.