Water supply: Danger to public health

A tweet on the problem of water during rainy season in Phuntsholing made me think of something strange that is with our municipal water supply system. Water shortage during rainy reason? But why? and how? It is not dry season. And someone explained that it is because of leakage into the piping system that blocks the flow.

Now if true, this could also be a major public health concern because that means at several points, where the supply pipes crosses drains and sewage lines, the waste water and bacteria can break into the pipes. Is this the reason why we have high cases of H Pylori and E Coli in the Bhutanese population? H. Pylori is bacteria that causes peptic ulcers and then stomach cancer in the long run.

Could our water supply be contributing the rise of stomach cancer in the country? I hope the Ministry of Health will take some random water samples and test them in the public health laboratory and publish the results.

Meanwhile I know everyone doesn’t drink tap water directly but during the rainy season, or at all time, it may even be safe to brush your teeth or wash salads with boiled water.

Stay safe everyone.

Kuensel news report

 

#Greta #Effect

There is an anti-Greta movement brewing in the horizon. That’s understandable. After all, some groups – especially at the extreme left, have thrived for years on this platform, often achieving nothing, and they wouldn’t want to share the stage with a 16-year old girl – sprouting from nowhere. On the other spectrum of the universe are the large and heartless multinationals and corporations and who were profiteering at the expense of the planet – and often in collusion with politicians. They are now scared that the world has woken up. And who rang the ultimate alarm? Greta.

This little girl has definitely stirred the conscience of a complacent and indifferent humanity – and has caught us all sleeping over a looming catastrophe. Little wonder then that everyone from Left to the Right are uncomfortable with her and will try their best to discredit her – and different groups will do for different reasons.

Besides them, everyone was amazed with Greta Thunberg’s speech (read as rebuke) at the United Nations. I was one of them. But there is no use of saying how terrific she was and how inspired you were, if from the next moment you go back to same old BS of mindless consumption and back into waste generation mode. One has to start taking positive actions – no matter how insignificant. Just sharing her video or paraphrasing her will not save the planet. In fact it might further push her haters to hate her more.

On my part, I have stopped accepting plastic bags while shopping – or eating processed food. I have decided to stop buying new cloths too. Not that I was buying much anyway. In the last 5 years I must have bought one pair of jeans, few tee shirts and a Uniqlo jacket. I will walk as much as possible. Slowly, but surely, we should make small changes in our lives that will help heal the planet. Then you are free to like Greta. And be really inspired.

#GretaThunberg #HealTheEarth

"We found Greta Thunberg videos on your computer!"

A pedestrian Thimphu Centre. Is this time for real?

I fully support the move and can’t wait for it to happen. Thimphu (read also as humans) need to reclaim its historic street back from cars and pollutions and create a shared space with a urban vibrant community. Norzin Lam can serve as a model for other towns – a carless street.

One suggestion though is to strategize this plan and be gradual with the implementation so that the impact on business and livelihood is minimal. For example, we could start with both weekends only – and then increase the number of days of closure. On Sundays artistes and musicians can be invited together with ara-bangchang-suja stalls to have some cultural activities. Thimphu badly needs a cultural life beyond the occasional tshechus and moelam chhenmos. Otherwise gambling and gadgets will send the society down the drain soon. The other idea would be to close from 10 am to 10pm to let the shops refill and large consignments be delivered or bought. There are many best practices from around the world to choose from. But do it! Don’t let it be hijacked by another uproar.

I believe the new multi-storied parking building has commercial spaces? This is one thing that should immediately stop. Government agencies becoming landlords and retailers using public funds is not acceptable. Leave that to the private sector. Selling Johnny Walker whiskeys and renting commercial spaces are not your job. Can BCCI raise this and put an end to this? As it is, the market is small and government agencies are in direct competition with private sector, NGOs and just anybody. If private sector doesn’t grow employment will be a pipe dream. I understand with large manufacturing or the hydropower sector. But retailing and rental business? Come on!

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Complacency killed the child

Some of my FB friends have been asking me to speak out on the Dagana case where a child died because the hospital didn’t have the fuel for its ambulance. I refused to do it immediately. I put it away for two reasons. First, as a father of two daughters, I was deeply shaken by the incident. I was imagining the pain the father must be going through of losing the first child, who looked healthy and absolutely beautiful. The social media is understandably full of finger-pointing, blame game and outrage – made worse by the deafening silence of the people in the higher realm who could have actually prevented this tragedy.

However, the social media activists are looking for scapegoats – not calling for the real solution.

And this takes me to the second reason for my not joining the howling match. There is simply no use, as I wrote to someone is Australia, to point out flaws in the system. It is a systemic failure and not just of the HA or the BHU or the ambulance driver. For some time now I have stopped bringing out any articles on our public services – preferring instead to drop humorous one-liners – and laugh it off. This is because our people in the system have built a high wall around their territory. No one can do anything. No one. And forget about listening to outside criticisms positively, even inter-agency consultations or suggestions bear no fruit. That’s why there is no coordination among the government bodies. To engage with the system with a hope of improving it is a sheer waste of one’s time. And besides, as someone trolled me on Facebook, why should I be always the only one who is not happy?

And then this happens. A life is lost. A father’s soul is crushed. And no words of guilt, acceptance or remorse from anywhere.

Complacency, indifference and self-serving mindset are so firmly set in our system, at all levels, that some people there now live in a parallel world of alternate reality. A world where life is filled with a long list of privileges and entitlements, of immeasurable power with no accountability and without any fear to anyone. Literally they just don’t give a damn about anything or anyone. Simply. No. One. The mass that they are supposed to serve is a burden. The authority they ultimately report to are just source for more favors, medals or kidu – and not to be inspired from or listen to.

I am not exaggerating or being malicious, but there is simply no hope of any change happening – no amount of hard-hitting editorials on Kuensel or social media screams would matter. And yet, positive changes are what the media, social thinkers and critics aspire for when they invest their time to pen down social commentaries. They don’t do for personal vendetta against anyone or to win personal favors. At least, I don’t. I know now I can’t speak for everyone.

There was a time when writers and reporters were highly regarded – and even feared. When we were considered the conscience of the society – to speak the bitter truth. Nowadays, forget about the rich and powerful, even upstarts in public offices, whose diapers we saw them clean, are ready to sermon us by the virtue of holding a government position. For those in higher ranks, we are nothing but a threat to their self-preservation and utility. To the rest of the populace, we are but a subject of laughter and ridicule in their countless official dinners and social gatherings.

I think a lot about our country and the world – the state of our nation, and the future of our children. I see that our public discourses are dominated by rising unemployment, growing external debts, rural-urban migration, melting glaciers and pollution from plastics and traffic. But to me all the above are surmountable challenges. Instead nothing scares me more than the growing apathy, greed, complacency, loss of respect for authority and territorialism that plague our civil service. Ironically these regressive mindsets are spreading to the corporate sector – from banks to sawmills . And private citizens are feeling the weight of the overbearing power and responding to its toxicity by chasing wealth – through every means – both legally and illegally. This is leading to corrupt practices and rent-seeking activities everywhere. All these will not just hamper our growth or peace but will also pose a huge threat to our security and sovereignty as a nation.

No, the health assistant is not solely responsible – nor is the BHU the only scapegoat. It is not our health services either. Our widespread complacency killed the child. This incident is just a symptom of a more serious underlying condition in our much-coveted civil service. Accidents don’t happen in isolation. They are result of a domino effect of a series of systemic failures. As the Russian philosopher, Mikhail Bakhtin, pointed out, you cannot trace the origin of an event in one place, person or another event. When you think you have found the source, there will be another – and another. I will be ‘somewhere’ you will never know.

If we continue to be complacent with our complacency, if we still live in that alternate reality – in the Walled City, if we don’t retrieve the genuine love and service to King and country, we will kill our future and our nation too.

Postcard from Bali

Very few places attract me back as does Bali. This is my second visit. My first was last year and I just realized why. It is the spiritualism of the place. The Balinese are so connected to nature and the divine that for me, even as a Bhutanese, it is inspiring. I just attended a fire and water ceremony at a 13th Century temple where they pay gratitude to the water god and the fire god. Nowhere have I felt water as so sacred than here in Bali.

We say in Bhutan that if you maintain the connection with the deities, they will stay. If not, they will leave. My own feeling is that Bali, which is considered as the land of gods, is still very much “a land of Gods” – meaning the gods have not left.

I hope, in Bhutan, we will continue to stay connected with the outer and the superior beings so that the place is blessed for all time to come. May be we don’t feel it. Like, they say, fish cannot feel the water till they are out of it. But those thousands of tourists and visitors do.

Lastly, with so much problem that we are facing with water, maybe we need to re-invoke our water god (But do we have one?)

Education: Back to the future

Abstract

Public education system all over the world is in a serious dilemma. The model developed to fulfil the needs of the Industrial Revolution is not relevant any longer. Likewise, the pace of change is so fast that no single solution can withstand it for a sustained period either.

As a cowherder I was told that, when lost, turn back and trace your footsteps. We are bit lost with education and might as well turn back and trace our roots.

In this talk, we will look at how a key player in the education system, the teachers, can be equipped to respond effectively to these new challenges brought about by the new era and demands. At the core of this offer is the premise that no learning happens with an unmotivated, stressed out and an unmindful teacher.

We look at a set of tools, known as the Wellbeing tools for teachers, that puts the focus on the teachers as opposed to the student-centered policy or curriculum-based learning. Simply put, these tools offer to make teachers better teachers through an infusion of traditional values and SEL skills and create a healthy environment for themselves, for the class and lastly, in the whole school.

 

My full presentation can be downloaded from here Dorji Wangchuk Education_Back to the Future Finale

The academic paper on the validity of the curriculum is here. Contentment.Corbett.Paper

What does spiritualism mean for you?

I got asked this question yesterday at the Bhutan Dialogue, and honestly, for me this is the most difficult question to answer – especially in a Vajrayana country. What does it mean to be religious? What is spiritualism?
 
So here is my struggling reply: 🙄🙄🙄
 
“For me it has been a lifelong balance between my search for inner peace and stability (infact in Bhutanese languages, Buddhism translates as Religion of The Inner – nangpa ghi choe) and fulfilling the inherited rituals and traditions. As a leading member of my clan of some 50-55 people, and a descendent of several religious families and lineages, I have inherited some 17-18 deities and gods and goddesses to seek refuge and protections, and to conduct some 4-5 large annual rituals in four different locations. With the help and participation of my family, we fulfil this responsibility dutifully. I also do it with great honour and pride, afterall not everyone has that privilege. Interestingly this gives me peace and stability too.”
 
With time and age, I have also realised there is difference between being religious and being spiritual. The former refers to being part of an institution, its dogma and the inherited traditions – an important responsibility – a social responsibility perhaps? The latter is to be in continous dialogue with myself: who am I? I practice this by making pilgrimages to sacred sites – such as Bumthang or Paro. While I find this more liberating, one cannot ignore either of the two. Afterall, you are who you are because of where you are born into. In a collective society like ours there is only a blurry difference between the social self and the inner self.
 
The two, I guess, are the two sides of the same coin, the coin being myself. I can call these two sides the religious me and the spiritual me. As a layman I have not been able to merge the two. I hope to be reborn again and do it – like my two living masters, Tsugla Lopen and Rangshikhar Rimpoche – and the masters of the past – especially Drukpa Kuenlay and Terton Pema Lingpa.
 
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Under-age admission issue: a suggestion

I understand that there is this rule, or that policy of minimum age, and that the Ministry is right to enforce it. As an educator, I also don’t contest the body of research on the benefit of a minimum age to enroll a child into a formal learning environment. However, the fact is that the cat has been let loose. How does a parent explain this drama to the five-year olds who may be looking forward to going back to the schools when they reopen next month? Can one reason out with a toddler on a government policy or on a finding from a scientific research? if you have been a parent, you know, you can’t.

My point is, at the core of this issue should be the feelings and welfare of the children. Otherwise, what is the essence of a system or rules or policies?

From my experience, both my daughters (they are big now) simply LOVED the school that they even found weekends to be boring. Everyday they looked forward to their classmates, their teachers, the dogs, the singing and the play time. I can’t imagine what psychological impact would they have had, if they were suddenly stopped from doing what they loved at their age. It would have been devastating to their psyche, their self-esteem and their dreams.

Yes, the respective parents or the guardians may be defaulted, but let’s not forget that behind those rules and policies, and the possible infringements, are some 900+ innocent children (our children) who have nothing to do with what is happening – or what has happened. Should they suffer the consequences? I don’t think they should.

I am not affected directly by this saga. But looking solely through the lenses of those 5-years olds, I hope the government and the ministry will bring out a human face on this issue and not just pull out the rule book or policies. This is a small country, after all. We are all affected. Maybe a one-time condonation order can be passed by the Prime Minister and the Cabinet to regularize who are already in. And also impose a huge penalty hereafter to whoever is willfully defaulting this rule – if we are serious with it. It is just a suggestion.

The condonation principle in governance is not unusual. It is done everywhere in the world by every government in cases that are of non-criminal nature.

I feel this one merits such an exception.

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Grazie, Italia

Fiumicino Airport, Rome – Exactly 32 years ago, I landed here on a cold Saturday morning with a group of other Bhutanese. Sleepy and tired after a bumpy and noisy Air India overnight flight. We were on an Italian government scholarship to undergo university studies. I was 19 and spoke no word of Italian. It took us a week to reach here. Thimphu to Phuntsholing to Siliguri to Calcutta by road and then to Delhi and to Rome by air. Druk Air had only few flights per week with that small unpressurised aircraft and it happened to be monsoon when all the flights were cancelled. It was also the era when you had to collect your tickets and ‘travel permits’ from Calcutta. I really didn’t know what to expect. Or where I was going. All I had was a destination – Italy, and a dream – to make it big in my life and build for my family and my country a better place in the world.

I was poor, I was hungry (both physically – and mentally for knowledge. I still I am, for knowledge) and this wonderful country embraced me, taught me their language, fed me, clothed me and treated me like one of theirs and sent me back with an advanced university degree in engineering after 8 long years.

So, it is always an emotional return to this paese mio, although it will just be for few days. I left Italy in 1995 but it seems Italy never left me. I continue to support them in World Cups, feel passionately about what’s going on here, eat pasta, drink espresso, retain the language, and, of course, continue swearing in Italian. Porca miseria!

Italy, nonetheless, continues to reciprocate. For, every time I come back here (this is my third visit after 1995), Italy welcomes me back like my old grandmother – with love, affection and fondest of memories – not to even mention the great food and unmatched beauty. The friends I have made here are friends for life.

I will always be immensely grateful to this country and its wonderful people for playing an important part in my life.

Grazie, Italia

(NB – Visiting Rome to look for some old manuscripts from Zhabdrung era (1627 circa) at the Vatican Library. The famous letters from the Jesuits, Cabral e Casela)

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cof

Drinking with deities and hungry ghosts

This study examines the phenomenon of social drinking in the small and remote community of Lamga in Athang gewog in Bhutan and it is studied through the lens of communication scholarship. The key research objective of this study is to describe the symbolic sequence of the toasting and drinking ritual and interpret the cultural meanings that ultimately help identify the sacred object of the communication ritual.

Drawing from the cultural view of communication and using the cultural discourse analysis as the methodological framework, social drinking in Bhutan can be understood as a structured sequence of symbolic acts – in which, firstly, there is the acknowledgment of non-human denizens such as wandering spirits, local deities and hungry ghosts that are believed to co-habit the same space as humans. Second, participation and performance in social drinking is a reaffirmation of the sense of community, social order and of interdependence of the various phenomena that come together at a specific place and time.

Third, it reveals the possibility of sacred time, where ordinary people’s lives are dictated by the spiritual rigour and not the clock, event or nature as expoused in the Geography of Time.

The significance of this study is that it looks at the social phenomenon from the lens of a communication scholarship. It, thus, fills a gap in, and contributes to, the sociological studies in and on Bhutan

The presentation can be downloaded from here:

Wangchuk_Drinking with deities and hungry ghosts June 12