Monday, April 8, 2024

A long overdue update from life in Thimphu



 Thursday April 4th

We are finally feeling that we are on top of things and it’s not a daily struggle to get through the schedule and try to make headway at night with the paperwork demands that can never be attended to at school.


Having lodged our year plans a load was lifted. Surviving the chaotic first two weeks and then having writing, speaking and listening assessments for each student in each class, gave me the knowledge base I need to move forward with each of them and shift the focus from classroom management and individual evaluations to learning needs. It also helped me realise that I can still motivate them and hopefully instil some better self-discipline and more focused learning.

My doubts about my own ability are disappearing and my confidence is finally returning. Writing up lesson plans that are comprehensive enough to teach from and having them approved and available before I started this week’s teaching, I finally felt I was on track and back to a routine I can live with.


A completely school free weekend after being overwhelmed for so long was also more than welcome. We have now been out hiking a couple of times. We have another hike up to Tango planned for this weekend and this time with both Lhendup and Thinley and both their wives.


I have finally started to feel the school routine can be balanced against some quiet private time and some social activities with people we have been deferring until we reached this point.


My birthday was lost among the pressure of getting classes up and running, although we had a quiet and lovely night out, we were so exhausted it was easier to just go small and simple. However, a couple of evenings spent with Dependra, Anjana and Liza in their home have been real highlights, most especially last week’s unexpected Tuesday night invitation which included a belated birthday cake for me and truly stimulating, insightfully revealing and honest conversations. We love these two and the way they embrace the present with vision and intellect.

Getting the snail mail project restarted and receiving our first salary also helped the work-life balance and the wellbeing factor.

Sunday April 7TH


What a very special day we had with Lhendup and Kinzang and Thinley and Kezang. They both drove up to Tango and we all climbed up to the Tango Monastery and Institute for Advanced Vajrayana Studies.

I had to look that up and am now informed that “Vajrayana Buddhism is a form of Buddhism probably originated from the Mahayana tradition. It is based on a complex philosophical and ritual system meant to provide a path towards enlightenment.” It is sometimes referred to as Tibetan Buddhism and that is what is practiced in Tibet, Bhutan and Nepal.


It was an easier hike than I thought it was going to be and we entered from a lower track so we were under the sheer walls and intricately painted wooden window frames of the newly restored sector of the monastery. The upper track we have always used in the past, we saw later is now crumbling away in places.


We also entered every room on all three levels and saw the 17th century statues and incredible ancient murals that had been cut in stone slabs from the walls and then reinserted. The process is not quite complete at the top level so we got a glimpse of how it was done. Only one room had a canvas mural which had also been removed and reapplied. I found the murals very enchanting and the work that had gone into reinstating them must have been painstakingly slow.

Our young companions all wore traditional dress and prostrated at every altar while we were happy to wander the rooms and see the completed restoration and valuable artefacts and treasures within.

The brisk hike down was punctuated by stops to watch the antics of a troop of Grey Langurs playing and sleeping in the tree tops. The young were swinging wildly from vines and branches hanging in the rhododendrons while the older ones lazily looked on or slept.


Soon enough we were back at the car park and driving on to the Jigme Dorji National Park heading for a picnic spot they knew near the river. We had never been inside the park before so that was wonderful too.

They were disappointed that there were so many cars when we arrived but quickly opted to walk on a little farther to find a secluded spot on our own on the rocky riverbank.


We all contributed to the picnic feast and enjoyed being surrounded by giant rhododendrons and even spotted more langurs cheekily jumping from stone to stone to cross the river onto the island in the middle, with their stolen picnic spoils. Not ours but a group nearby who seemed more amused than annoyed by their theft and actions.

We had brought prayer flags and Thinley and Lhendup were happy to hang them in the trees over hanging the crystal clear water of the river.


As the wind picked up and the sun disappeared behind the snow-covered peaks we packed up and made our way along the riverbank crossing to the island where our langur friends had feasted, on fallen logs and stones a few times and avoided getting wet feet. This alternative route avoided clambering back up the steep track we had come down and I was very grateful for that as I had been fearing how my knee would hold up.

Before getting back into cars we made plans for a weekend trip to Haa at the end of the month and then took a new to us route back to Thimphu via Kabesa. That was along a bumpy, dirt track in places but well worth it for the interesting homes and views along the way. It’s a vegetable growing area and we had purchased in the market on Saturday from a grower who had just brought in broccoli from there, when all the stalls were still closed.

We came back to main road at Pangrizampa and there were still long queues and crowds waiting to be blessed just as there had been last weekend when we abandoned going in and walked back. This blessing wipes away all your bad karma for the previous year we are told and it is incredibly popular and extends over a full week.


I have to hope we don’t have too much bad karma to atone for, as we didn’t stop and proceeded along the road we had walked down the previous week to Taba before crossing the river again and taking the newer highway back into Thimphu.


A red letter day for sure!


Monday April 8TH


And today was an unmitigated disaster so I guess we are still on that roundabout of struggling to get on top of things and stay on top of things after all.


Sunday, March 31, 2024

oNe PhOtO a DaY mArCh 2024

MARCH 1st MORNING COFFEE: is vital for me and when it’s -1°C outside it might actually be lifesaving. From a life in the tropics to a life in the Himalayas it’s only breakfast and coffee that remain the same

MARCH 2nd SUNSHINE: Not every day does a pack of horses and mules wander along the main thoroughfare through the centre of the city. Like us they were seeking the sunshine in -2° degrees! We too, walked along the road. At 8am this morning this was the scene in Norzin Lam, Thimphu and the police had to herd them back onto greener pastures

MARCH 3rd HOME: For at least the next three months our home is in Thimphu. “Word nerd me.” When you unexpectedly find a whiteboard in your new place of residence and you are always collecting quotes, begin a new quote a day routine. Pretty serendipitous since we have come here to teach!

MARCH 4th SELF PORTRAIT: Starting a new routine on Monday morning with three mindful circumambulations of the chorten above the school compound. Back to casual clothes again as the students are not yet in attendance

MARCH 5th ARCHITECTURE: Traditionally Bhutanese architecture features these wooden beams and window and doorframes beautified with colourful designs and the eight auspicious symbols. This building we visited today is a wonderful fusion of newer construction and materials but with all the traditional designs and symbols that have adorned public places for centuries. I also love the reflection in the doors of the mountains and today’s brilliant blue sky


MARCH 6th GOOD TOGETHER: Giant prayer wheels, butter lamps and chortens are always good together. After we finally got our Medical Certificates completed today we stopped by the Memorial Chorten and lit a butter lamp, circumambulated the chorten and spun the prayers wheels in gratitude


MARCH 7the TINY DETAILS: The parable of the four friends is well-known all over Bhutan and wall mural illustrations of the story abound in public places. This is a tiny detail of the one in the entrance to our school


The bigger picture of the Four Friends Parable

MARCH 8th STYLE: When you always wear shorts and you haven’t experienced a winter in seven years, style just doesn’t enter into it. It’s put on enough clothes until you are warm and go out and buy a track suit tomorrow. Taken the day we arrived in Bhutan exactly two weeks ago


MARCH 9th SHADOWS: This morning we are not actually at school but the sun is playing hide and seek. This was taken early Thursday morning when the shadows of me, the plant and the roof, playing in the entrance to our new school amused me


MARCH 10th ON MY FORK: there was fried rice but that was the only forkful I ate. As always, I reverted to eating with chopsticks after I got my shot. The things we do for PAD!


MARCH 11th HANGING: These are Gyeltshens and they always hang under the eaves of traditional buildings especially Lakhangs. They add a splash of colour to public places. I spotted these walking to school this morning

MARCH 12th THE COLOUR BLUE: Today we were at school at 7am to participate in the Buddhist ceremony for purifying and sanctifying the new school buildings. (Lapsang) We had the privilege of witnessing this ceremony conducted by monks and local language facilitators. We sat on carpets and listened to the chanting and classic instruments being played. This Buddhist symbol was directly in front of me during the ceremony and it is the colour blue

MARCH 13th HANDMADE: These beautiful handmade baskets come in a variety of sizes and can be either round or square. They are hand woven in the east of Bhutan and traditionally made to carry food. The top fits tightly over the bottom to seal the container. This one is intended for an entirely different use but while we are here in Bhutan it is a welcome addition to kitchen storage


MARCH 14th SYMMETRY: The wheel of Dharma is a metaphor for the spiritual teachings the Buddha used leading his disciples and to subdue negative forces. I saw this embroidered representation in the Green Weaving outlet adjacent to our school today and it is both symmetrical and very visually appealing to my mind


MARCH 15th BOOKS: I spent a great deal of time today cataloguing my class library and all of the books, which I was more than grateful to have and the three students who shouldn’t have actually been, were chafing at the bit to take them away! The bookshelf might arrive next week but for me the classics were a walk down memory lane and the new releases were a revelation but only one Bhutanese author among them so I had to feature that book and I wanted to take it home to read myself


MARCH 16th LOOKING UP: Out in the sunshine today walking and had to take the opportunity to take a selfie looking up with the prayer flags flapping in the wild wind behind me


MARCH 17th VINTAGE: These are koma. They are used to fix a full-length Kira at the shoulders and usually joined by chains. These were in a beautiful antique shop we often gaze in through the windows but it was open today so we popped in to take a look inspired by the prompt. So many vintage items and the most adorable elderly Tibetan trader who was determined to get Ian to don some of the things


MARCH 18th SIMPLICITY: Today was the first day at school for students and I wore traditional Bhutanese dress to mark the occasion. It won’t happen every day! This tego and wonju (shirt and jacket) combination is always held together with a brooch. My brooch is simplicity itself in design but treasured by me as it was a gift from a dear friend


March 19th MOTION: A giant prayer wheel in motion at one of the many downtown Lhakhangs where there are always plenty of devotees chanting, praying and prostrating, especially when the sun comes out


MARCH 20th REFLECTIONS IN WATER: It was raining today and we were waiting outdoors for students to arrive when I noticed the opportunity to see our borrowed umbrella and ourselves reflected in the puddle in the carpark

MARCH 21st ORDER: These days I eat lunch with my home class and there is definitely a distinct order to the way it plays out. We all put out a napkin, open our lunches and arrange them on it, then all the children chant a prayer in Dzongkha before wolfing down their meal so they can get outside to play for the rest of the break. My lunch was certainly the most orderly in the room


MARCH 22nd OLD & NEW: one of the oldest traditional buildings on the main street  of Thimphu as far as I can recall. Many we loved have now disappeared but this old treasure is now adorned with neon signs commemorating Indian’s Prime Minister Modi’s visit to Bhutan today. There have been traffic restrictions and huge preparations for this and it was cancelled yesterday due to bad weather so there is a festive atmosphere in the capital tonight


MARCH 23rd STREET ART: in downtown Thimphu.This wall art that contains all eight auspicious symbols and has been there for as long as I’ve known the city. The wall gets a lot of runoff water so they are very worn and faded but I still love the effect with the cascading flowers. The Endless knot is the symbol of the endless wisdom and compassion of Buddha. I like it the most.


MARCH 24th AN UGLY FOOD: A flattened chickpea snack that I bought to try and has now turned into dinner. We have been in a training session all day and we were overfed delicious vegetarian food for morning tea, lunch and afternoon tea. Having got home after dark and still full from the day’s indulgences that’s enough for dinner tonight


MARCH 25th ABANDONED PLACE: These circular constructions have long intrigued me. They have never been used to my knowledge and certainly appear abandoned despite being in sound condition. We used to walk past them daily when we lived here years ago and now the eco-park is open and adjacent to our new school but they are still locked up tight and empty


MARCH 26th CLOUD FORMATIONS: through the trees and showcasing the gorgeous, natural setting of the Bhutan Institute of  Wellbeing where we attended an all day “GNH Journey…..Walking the Path” workshop on Sunday. Today is completely overcast


MARCH 27th PAIRS: A pair of iPads and a pair of coffees. That just about sums up free time after school these days


MARCH 28th ADVENTURE: Since arriving there has been precious little time for adventures but last weekend while attending a workshop we did get to experience the great outdoors and indulge in a bit of Shinrin-yoku! This natural forest zone with prayer flags gave me some much-needed mental respite. Now that we are feeling more on top of things a similar adventure is planned for this Sunday


 MARCH 29th MESSY: The national dress of Bhutan for males is a gho and children wear them to school in most cases. This shot was taken after lunchtime when all the children had been enjoying the sunshine and playing outdoors. The back is certainly not crisply pleated and folded, and that is how his mother would have ensured it was, when he left the house this morning. However, his class teacher quickly fixed him up before the children returned to their classrooms

MARCH 30th LAUGHTER: I have restarted my snail mail project and today I bought this collection to send. I’m hoping their arrival will induce laughter. The Phallus is an often used symbol in Bhutan and its origins date back to pre-Buddhist Bon rituals to generate fertility and prosperity


MARCH 31st FAMILY: This is the Bhutanese family we have known the longest and it’s a real joy to be a part of that family and our Bhutanese family of friends right now