To Vote or Not to Vote

It’s less than a month before we will be electing our parliamentary leaders. And here I am, far away from home, with absolutely no idea of who I will be voting for. Yes, there is one familiar name – and one of my distant nephews is in the fray too. This is all I could gather from a very rationed media coverage this time. I have been craving for more information on the candidates. What do they stand for, what solutions they have for our issues, what visions they have crafted for our country. But absolutely nothing.

Other than these two candidates I even don’t know who the other candidates are from my Dzongkhag, Tashigang. So I might vote for one or the other – or not vote at all. I don’t want to be undoing the very spirit of democracy, which is to vote for the best. In voting for someone familiar, I would be diluting the decisions of well-thought votes of other Tashigangpas, who would have made a more informed choice – a privilege that we living abroad don’t have. But it seems the back-and-forth blame game between the Election Commission and the media is pushing us in that direction. And mind you, we are not electing a class captain for the school year. But national leaders whose decisions will impact us one way or the other and have solid bearing on our collective future.

Is this how our democracy is going to be, henceforth? Where we vote for familiar people, friends and relatives? Where we make uniformed choices because of a very restrictive so-called electoral laws? Aren’t laws supposed to be subordinate to the provisions of the Constitution, which, in my view, is crystal clear? This is not how I understand the Constitution – especially Articles 7.2, 7.3 and 7.5 pertaining to freedom of speech, press or information. No law is above the Constitution.

Or is it even the electoral laws that are limiting? Anyway, I don’t think this is how we build, or how a vibrant democracy works. I always thought that as a small country, we are better than this. That we can sit down and iron out the differences in understanding and interpretations of rules and processes. Ours is a new democracy and obviously not everything will be perfect. The media agencies and the Election Commission should sit down and clear this fog. Are they not working for us, the people?

Or, do we brace ourselves for a set of parliamentarians who come from big or influential families and not necessarily from the best lot? And after the elections, we just whine for five years, right? Or should we just enjoy the massive campaign of misinformation and disinformation that dominate the current political narratives?

Just asking.


Myths, memories and contentment

Rukha (Wangdue) – Eleven years ago, today, I landed in this village, with officials from Tarayana Foundation. My job was to visually document this village and its way of life as forces of modernization eventually took over. That was my assignment. Nothing more. I later produced a documentary titled, “People of Darkness”.

It was a two-day trek – braving landslides, heat strokes, leeches, cobras, leopards – going through some of the harshest terrains and jungles. However, if the journey was a killer, what I saw there was even worse.


Known as the Oleps, this group is the smallest ethnic group of Bhutan

The place was in terrible condition. Something that I had not seen anywhere in Bhutan. People living in empty and makeshift bamboo sheds. Little children, most of them barefooted with just one set of cloths they had on, playing in the dirts. There was no water to farm. Other modern amenities like electricity that we take for granted, was not even heard of. The land was almost fallow. Of the 18 households only three had barely something to eat. Many were going hungry. I had seen poverty elsewhere but not misery. Here was one. It was as if God had forgotten this people. The place was lifeless.

I was shocked. I was sad. I was angry. Although I had just resigned from BBS and didn’t even have a job, then and there I made a wish, “For each day that I live from this day, may I be able to help this people out of this hell”.

Back in Thimphu, I shared my prayer at the Tarayana annual dinner where Her Majesty Ashi Dorji Wangmo (the Patron) was extremely pleased. I signed up as a volunteer for Tarayana. And then together with Sonam Pem – project officer, and Passang Tobgay – the field officer, and with rock-solid support from Chimi Payden, the head of the foundation, (actually Passang and Sonam did most of the work. I just provided some essential back ups and occasional views), and together with the people of Rukha, who started believing in themselves, we took off. Step by step. Building one house at a time; sending children to school and providing non-formal education for those who have been left back; water, hygiene lessons, seeds distribution, fishery ponds, nutrition classes, farming tools, solar electricity. And above all, giving love and care that this vulnerable community badly needed. They just wanted someone on whom they could say, he or she would there for us. They found that in Tarayana.


This long bridge is from where we used to start the long arduous trek

In few years, life slowly came back to this village. Ten year since, it is one of the few villages in Bhutan that is self-sufficient in food, and the overall life is pretty decent. “Now we only buy tsha-tshotor” (salt and oil), says Chokila, who played the chairman of the village project committee to help Passang, who was stationed there. Now these people gift me with rice, cheese, smoked fish and fruits when I go to visit them.

What a transformation! 😍😍😍

Moral of the story – If Rukha can become self-sufficient in less than ten years, I am sure our country can. We just need to work together. But that is too difficult to ask, I know. Two Bhutanese put together will have three opinions, these days.

Anyway, what has remained from this decade of engagement? Tarayana project closed in 2011-12. But I stayed on to help build a community temple – again together with the people, who did most of the work. The full story is blogged here. Their life has changed forever, for sure. Some challenges remain but people are generally content. And so am I. It has been a wonderful journey – a life-changing one for me that led me to find contentment and terrific sense of fulfilment.

If there is one valuable lesson that I learnt from this experience, it is that you can do a lot with very little. People talk of money and resources. Yes, money and resources are important and they make life easier but sometimes it is more than that. But you got to be there – giving your time, heart and your ears, so that people will feel loved and cared for. I applied the same approach thereafter in many aspects of my professional and personal life – with fair amount of good results, I must say.

So what next?

I would like to raise and establish a trust fund to organise an annual Baza Guru Doongdrub (collective prayer ceremony) for perpetuity. However, it won’t be just for Rukha but also involving the whole valley that includes Samthang, Lawa and Lamga, where I have worked and in fact where I am as welcome – if not more.

Imagine a week or fortnight of togetherness in prayers and contemplation – in absolute isolation from mobile phones and materialistic thoughts. In that beautiful valley. In other words, this valley will become, not only a self-sufficient valley but also the first contentment valley in Bhutan. This is my vision. This is what GNH stands for me – contentment. Happiness, we know, is subjective – and it has been elusive too. Lasting happiness is what we all seek and never find. Contentment can be. And lasting happiness is known as contentment.

May all of you find contentment.



What we found. (In the picture is Sonam Pem (left), who headed the landmark project and Karma Choden)


Passang (extreme left), Tarayana field officer, lived with the community – worked, ate, slept and drank with the village for over two years. An amazing guy. Wonderful soul. (From right to left: Kingka, Nima Wangdi, Chador and Passang)


One of our first meetings. Terrible outcome. The people didn’t believe us. Took time to convince them. Maybe they were neglected for far too long. (From left to right: Yeshey, Gyetse, Kingka, Ugyem, Chokila, Passang, Dacha Gyetse, Chador, Tretay, Gyem Lham, Payden, Baychu, Passang and Sonam Pem)


The house design. “Oleps will never have a home, so says an ancient myth”, one guy told flat on my face when we were trying to sell the project. Really? We broke that myth, if there was one.


The celebration of something as mundane as water. We piped the irrigation water from a spring that we found some 2 kilometres away in the jungle. If there is one thing that started the upward change, this was it – water. It costed us Nu. 700,000, which is what the state gives to every member of parliament to buy a car – every five years.


Rukha was granted to Oleps in 1982 by the His Majesty the King. Until then they lived as hunters-gatherers in the Black Mountains of central Bhutan. Their origin is lost in time.


A temple is not just a place of worship. It is a social space. A space for negotiation. A space for reflection. A space of peace. A space of rest. With this in mind, I helped build this for them.



There is a place in your heart
And I know that it is love
And if you really try
You’ll find there’s no need to cry
In this place you will feel there’s no hurt or sorrow

There are ways to get there
If you care enough for the living
Make a little space
Make a better place
From the song, Heal the world, by Michael Jackson

Spicing your way to success

My last blogpost on the Australian dream garnered a huge interest – and lots of readership. I am surprised, and also embarrassed, because my post was only a review of an article by another blogger, Karma Choden. It was a short article. Nevertheless, what I concluded from that piece is that there is a real hunger for more such articles from me. 😜😜😜 

Well, jokes aside, of course, everyone wants to do well and get some sense of fulfilment out of one’s life. Therefore, let me share some tips here – assuming that I have a “successful” life. Of course, I did few fun stuffs and so it has been a fulfilling one as far as I am concerned. But note that these tips may not take you to your Holy Grail. They worked for me. You will have to decide what works for you. If they aren’t useful, skip this post or swipe back to your smartphone.

I have been to Australia but have not lived there. So I can’t write more on the life out there. All I can say is the Australia is not the only answer if you are seeking the much-needed break into some meaningful life.

My approach is, when in doubt, you step back and ponder hard on what you really want; find your life’s purpose and greater meanings; and prepare well – and then eventually pounce. This will definitely spice up your life, to say the least – and may be lead you to some success too. So Ponder your Purpose, Prepare and Pounce. This is the strategy.

Ponder. What do you really want to be?

Whether you are a teacher in a remote school, an engineer in Thimphu, or freshly out of school/college or still a student – whatever you are, you must take time to reflect every now and then – even if the going is good. What do you really want to be? What is that you can do more? What is changing around you? Agreed that you have a job or a degree. That’s the mistake we make. Our job or education is a means and not an end. Meaning, your job or your degree is a platform for you to something greater in life. For example, let’s say you are a teacher (sorry, I have a soft corner for teachers), don’t you want to be a better teacher? A real good teacher and specialised in one subject? Do you want to upgrade? Or do you want to leave teaching and be something else? If the answer to any of these questions is Yes, you should decide what is that you want.

In this world that is travelling at 3G speed, you also need to watch out for changes around you that might affect you – directly or indirectly. Don’t be a sitting duck. Move, if you must.

Now this is difficult, I know. Here is what I do. I fast-forward my life and think, “If I am dead and gone into bardo, what would be one thing that I regret not doing, looking back?” If there is something I have left undone, I do that now, while I am still alive. The bold idea of bringing TV to Bhutan happened that way. The crazy idea to go back to school for PhD in another field at 50, as Thais say, same same. Isn’t that simple? I also use another technique. When a place really bugs me and I can’t do anything about it, I look around and ask myself, “Is this a message from the universe to move on? That your time is up?” Quitting BBS happened in that fashion.

If you are happy where you are, stay! But do the same things better. That’s called innovation.

Purpose? Believe in something

These days one phrase we hear from our aspiring politicians is “serve the tsawa sum”. Fine, but how? Obviously, they can’t solve all the problems. Their time is limited. Which one would they be taking on? Unemployment? Climate change? The rising national debt? Economic self-reliance? Public service delivery? Emerging social issues? Like the politicians, your time here is also limited. So you can’t be generic. Don’t procrastinate.

One way of looking at success is that people look up to you, accept you, believe in you, right? How do you achieve that? Well, you need to find your passion or give meaning to your own life or be in service of others – or do all three. I believe as milay rimpoche, we are all born for a purpose. Find that purpose and live by it with conviction and consistency. Be genuine – like Tashi Namgay of Kidney Foundation and Tsewang Tenzin of Chithuen Phenday – or be passionate like our Thrash Guy, Karma Yonten of Greener Ways. You can also turn your opinions and frustrations into actions like how Passu Passang Tshering did. The Chablop (Toilet Master) of Bhutan was upset to see dirty toilets everywhere. Or share simply what you have discovered and your ideas like Dumcho Wangdi. Unless you believe in yourself, no one will. Do not fear haters and cynics. We care so much about what others would say that we forget to live our own life. They will always be there – no matter what you do. Even Gautama Buddha was challenged. Gandhi was even shot dead. So what are you? Bigger than Buddha? Greater than Gandhi? There will be discerning advices. There will be pressure for you to stop. You will be laughed at. But you should be persevere and believe in yourself. In the 1990s, people derided my proposal to bring TV to Bhutan. I was even threatened. When I became a documentary producer, some of my own colleagues at work back-stabbed me from all angles. When I started social works in Athang Rukha people were suspicious. Now, my works in middle-path communication is being ridiculed by some back home. What do you do? Give up? Well, that’s exactly what your cynics want you to do. Instead, you shift your gear, work harder, go faster, refine your ideas better.

You could be also living a purposeful life already. In that case, keep going. But once in a while, ponder. No dikpey-attitude, please.

Prepare. Find your nest

Once you have decided what you want to be, start immediately – but start small. First, specialise. Focus. Be different. Nobody has become famous or successful by doing the same things and by being like others.

Second, prepare in silence and with patience. Don’t shout on the social media. If you are trying for scholarships, prepare. If you are competing for a higher post or a job opening, prepare by researching on what it takes to do that job well. If you are planning to move from school to university, prepare by studying more. If you are planning a career in football or films, prepare by practicing hard.

For example, six months before I left BBS, I started preparing. I got a trip to Singapore and I took the opportunity to buy filmmaking equipment. I started refurbishing a room in my house as my office. I started pitching story ideas and projects. I started writing scripts and honed my skills in editing. Then one fine day in 2005 I proudly dropped my resignation. Everyone thought I resigned suddenly. I didn’t.

Lastly, everything takes time and patience. When I was teaching in Sherubtse in 2013, I noticed a guy, who was very passionate about filmmaking. So that year we organised the first film festival there and got our filmy people over from Thimphu to encourage students like him. That boy’s name is Tashi P Dorji. This year he just won the Best Actor Award at the National Film Festival. It took Tashi five years.

You also have to experiment. Try new things. Chencho Gyeltshen, the footballer, is one name that comes to my mind when I say experimenting. Our chance encounter in 2015 is detailed in my blog. Chencho was actually doing Taekwondo and picked up football quite late. So while you keep doing what you are doing, pick something and try out. You never know. Tashi completed his studies and became an actor. Chencho switched to football and he has now conquered the Indian soil. If you don’t like something, move to the next. If you find something exciting, don’t be scared to leave your comfort zone. You can’t guess how many things I tried and failed. But you will ultimately find your call.

BUT, do not be so overwhelmed with what you are doing now (like many civil servants) or think that you are absolutely indispensable. Time will pass. You will be old soon. New people will replace you. So while you are there, there is always some space for you to do more. If you are a forester, you can become a cypress or agar-wood expert. If you own a restaurant go beyond selling junk noodles. If you are in agriculture, get some sticky rice to Bhutan (because I love it). If you are a vet, let’s breed some beautiful riding horses or Yak dogs.


Finally, do not wait for everything to be ready. We are Bhutanese – not Japanese. We are never ready. When you are more than 60 percent sure, just pounce!

So, Ponder your Purpose, Prepare and Pounce.

And while you wait for things to change, keep smiling, keep shining. Most probably the world will smile and shine back on you because no matter what, there is always something to appreciate for what you are and what you have – already.



Hong Kong Airport, 2017 – On my way to Dallas, Texas, to speak at a conference and receive an award on an academic paper that came out from a simple Bloggers Meet in Paro. You never know where your ideas will take you. Keep generating as many. Focus on few

Australia Dollar Rush – myths and reality

There are few key takeaways and thoughts that come to my mind as I read this excellent article by Karma Choden on the Australia Dollar Rush. This new gold rush is currently draining our civil service, especially our teaching profession.


–  Dollars don’t grow on trees. Actually, they don’t come easy at all. Don’t expect a windfall at least in the first few years of your stay there. Be ready to go unemployed or underemployed for an extended period. And in any case be willing to do odd jobs.
–  Be honest with yourself about your abilities. Are you OK to live on a small or no income, starve for good food, wake up at midnight, drive or commute to work every day or night with red eyes? Do you understand the emotional and psychological consequences – besides the financial risks and the danger to your life? It is not for everyone, mind you. I know many who did everything to get there, found the sad realities and came back after few months. These stories hardly get to the glittery social media – let alone our mainstream newspapers. Nobody shares their personal failures, hardships or struggles because of our strong face-saving culture.
–  If you are ready to take all these risks and if you have nothing to lose, I guess, you could give a try. If there is someone willing to defray you for a while or if there is a job waiting, it is even better. But do not get enamoured by the selfies and celebrations from picnic outings and parks from Down Under. You might earn, no doubt. But tough life awaits. Be prepared.


–  If you are willing to wake up at midnight, do double shifts and odd work round-the-clock till 5 pm in the evening – for many years, won’t you earn the same? And together with your folks and community in our own country? What is really standing between modern Bhutanese and hard work at home? Is it our ego? Is it the social pressure? Is it because we are so judgmental? I had to pay Nu. 13,000 to a plumber for a real shitty job he did over a weekend last year. Can we have Bhutanese taking up such jobs and do better?
–  Why can’t we create similar opportunities back home? I first heard the phrase “private sector development as the engine of growth” during the Vision 2020 exercise – way back in 1996. The exercise involved all the government employees above Grade 7. That was 21 years back. Since then, nothing much has changed. Our private sector continues to struggle with unpredictable rules, over-regulations and substandard services. Can we take a very honest look at why this “engine of growth” refuses to roll on? Except for few in tourism business, why is it that our economy doesn’t enable for people to move up, from lower income level to the next? This despite all the chest-thumping statements of fastest growing economy, ease of doing business and untold riches from hydropower development. Isn’t jobless growth dangerous? In 11th Plan Nu. 140 billion (140,000,000,000) was pumped into the economy, besides a similar amount in the hydropower projects. Where is this wealth going? Outside? Or into just a handful of people here?
–  Lastly, seeking fortune elsewhere is fine as long as it is an individual choice. However, I am totally against sending young and unemployed Bhutanese to the Middle-East as a solution to the growing unemployment problem. I don’t agree with this short-term quick-fix response to a very serious national issue. It is one thing for people to go seek greener pastures. But it is a failure if our youth are forced to leave the country and face exploitations of all sorts in a foreign land.


These views do not pertain to those receiving AusAid scholarships. I, myself, have recommended several applications for postgrad studies. Besides, if advancing your qualification is your aim, just go for it. The above article is a cautionary note, and not a dissuasion, for those planning to give up well-paid jobs, take loans and mortgages – looking for ‘better’ future in the Kangaroo Land.

I built my cafe and the bakery without resorting much to expatriate labourers. My reputation has not gone down the drain for doing this

Return of the native

My visit to Lamga village, in Athang Gewog (Wangdue) where I am helping the community build a temple.

My first involvement with this community was as a volunteer for Tarayana to build them houses and settle them properly here. They are originally from Phobjikha. In 2015, we initiated a community hall and temple. This visit was to see the progress.

Humbled by the elaborate reception party and preparation.


Pollutions and politics

I am back to my university in Macau – and away from the pollutions and politics that seem to have completely engulfed my home city of Thimphu. Both were killing me. And between the two, I don’t know which one was worse. What a sad development. I always thought we, as Bhutanese, were better than that.

First, the pollution.

Has anyone measured the level of dust particles in the air in Thimphu? I am sure it will be at dangerous level We boast of being a carbon-negative country but the construction boom and rising number of cars have resulted in unbreathable air in Thimphu. What does that mean? Well, more respiratory problems such as bronchitis and asthma, allergy attacks, lung impairment in the long run and increased overall cost on public health. However, all these are preventable. The Building Regulations require construction sites to be covered and pollutions to be contained. Who is supposed to implement and why are people so irresponsible? As someone who is allergic to dust, and I know many who are, winters in Bhutan is hell for me. The dryness itself kills me. Now add to that the dust from open construction sites.

The second cause of pollution is from cars. Just since my last visit in July, Thimphu suddenly is swarmed by more cars. Well, we can’t prevent people from buying cars but we can regulate the way they move around. Meaning, through effective traffic management, which unfortunately doesn’t seem to be the case. Thimphu’s traffic is planned more to ease the works of some organizations rather than for convenience of commuters. For example, it is ironic that a country that doesn’t produce a drop of oil is obsessed with one-way streets that you are forced to do several merry-go-around to get from point A to point B. To ensure that you are channeled into a jam, there are several dividers along the road in Thimphu. The dividers along the Chorten to Chubachu round-about is unnecessary. Those around the BOD station is idiotic. Adding to the chaos is the public transport system network that is small, sporadic and unreliable. Taxis, as told to me by several taxi drivers, are considered a nuisance – as a poor man’s option. There are, in fact, signs in major public offices that say “Taxis not allowed”.

Hence it was such a relief to be away to Punakha, Athang Rukha and Bumthang. Thimphu, as a city, is gone. Hopefully, it will be the only place we would have ruined in Bhutan.

Second, the politics.

I am not allergic to politics. Fortunately. After all, politics means “affairs of the states” from the Greek word, polis – meaning cities within reference to city-states of Athens. What is unappealing, though, is the perception and narratives that we are creating around it. “Politics is dirty”, “Don’t mix politics with religion”, “No public gatherings during election”, “Apolitical civil service”. In an earnest attempt to carve out clean politics in Bhutan, I am afraid we have irrevocably marred it.

For me politics is just another reality that we have embraced. It is neither dirty nor clean. It is a part of our civic life. So why should it override other aspects of our society? I work, I pray, I eat, I talk and every few years I vote. They all blend seamlessly. As is in one’s life, so it is in the life of a nation. Every five year, we will listen to new aspirants and old leaders.

However, the overbearing rules and restrictive regulations, while done with good intentions, are killing the interests in politics that people are refraining from talking openly. Only individuals supporting a particular candidate or a party are getting together. Furthermore, by letting the political process take over social functions, we may also be losing the essence of Bhutanese society. They should be at par. By overemphasizing not to mix politics with religion, we are implying that politics is dirty. A dirty place, whether perceived or real, will not attract good people. Is this what we want?

Politics or democracy should be a harmonious part of life of a nation – not an exceptional event that overtakes religious gatherings, public functions, cultural events or wedding parties – and that too for an extended period. If there are people who get mixed up, and there will be, they should be allowed to grow. This is the only way how democratic ideals are internalized. This is the only way how democratic principles are sown. A blanket ban is an easy method – not the best solution.

Still, at the Bloggers Meet, which had to be a closed-door event, it was nice to have two attendees bring their children to the meeting room. While our presenters presented and adults talked about plans and projects, and about stories, dreams and illusions, the children went about with their life. Crying, sleeping, making noise and running around, etc. As the moderator, I wasn’t disturbed. Rather I was happy. This is how a village zomdu used to be. Women bringing young babies and old men groaning some irrelevant topics. And no one noticing because they all flow seamlessly. This is how Bhutan was – or should be. Everything that exist in harmony.

I am not sure how the new or future Bhutan would like. More pollutions? More dirty politics? More overbearing rules and regulations? Perhaps.

But life, you must know, will go on. And what doesn’t makes sense will disappear into irrelevance.


Two babies (one regular, Ninzi) attended our annual CBB meeting