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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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

History repeats. It does. It will

The death of a student in India and the fatal bus accident that killed seven and injured dozens may be relatively small compared to bigger tragedies happening around the world. It maybe just one girl or one bus, but it is simply one too many for a small country like ours. However, as much as they are painful and they tear your hearts apart, the bitter truth is – they will keep happening more and more. Wider roads, faster vehicles and poor monitoring plus increased distractions from 3G/4G and smartphones.

They will  also keep happening because we don’t learn from them. We just shrug them off with simplistic conclusions and we don’t do enough reflections and investigations on them. I am not saying that they will stop happening if we do. But I can bet there will be less of such incidents if we are bit more careful. For, investigations are not just to find who is at fault – or to start a blame game. They also provide useful recommendations as to what we can do in future to minimise such tragedies. They make us learn from our mistakes. And mistakes we would have made because nothing happens out of nothing.

Otherwise, what have we learnt from all the suicides so far? Nothing. What have we learnt from all the bus accidents so far? Nothing. What have we learnt from Wangdue Dzong fire? Nothing. This is because we close the cases too soon. We just want to bury our heads in the sand. I have no idea why we do that all the time.

It might sound like I am nagging over a spilt milk – but I hope from now on we can go beyond the prayers and butter lamps, or Facebook condolences. If we really want to honour those who are gone for no reason, we should not let their deaths be in vain – at least. There should be thorough investigations. And findings should be kept as state secrets but released through the media – so that we are informed and people become wiser. I would assume that not all the fires are from short-circuits or from butter lamps; not all bus accidents are from mechanical failures or drunk driving and not all suicides are committed by the mentally ill.

Even after the initial shocks are over and tears have dried down, and a slice of our heart is gone forever with the embers of the cremation, a question will linger in our minds: Why did that happen? Was it a suicide? Was it the boulder that pushed the bus off-road? I hope we start getting some answers.

Otherwise to quote a cliche, history will repeat to those who don’t learn from it. My apologies if I am sounding bit heartless or ominous.
😵😵😵

My first domestic flight

Yonphola – Paro

Did my first domestic flight. It was Sunday and so even memay Dangling must have been sleeping. He didn’t throw clouds around, or mists or wind, which are typical of Yonphula.

In keeping with the local tradition, I put on my only non-gray and new gho to ensure a good tendray (auspiciousness). This is Sharchopa culture

From high above I realized two things. First, how small our country is. From high above, you can see both ends of the country from one window. And second, we still have lots of forests and unexplored land.

Flight review

Ticket cost Nu. 4,800 one way. Cheaper than taking the car and doing a 2-day and 540km of roller-coaster ride. Good ground and onboard service. For someone who once took 13 days to get from Tashigang to Phuntsholing, it is rather surreal to make it to Thimphu in 30 minutes.

Suggestion to Druk Air

Have local pilots or air hostesses who can explain the places we are flying above. I could identity all the places but not many Bhutanese are familiar with our own country. On that route you can see famous places such as Dremetse, and all places along Kurichu valley, Chamkharchu valley, and Mangdechu valley, plus Phobjikha, Khotokha, Punatshangchu valley, Thimphu and all the mountains from Gangkhar Puensum till Kanchenjunga.

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#bhutan #airtravel #airservice #atr72 #yonphula #airport #airfield #planes #airctafts #planespotting

Take your life with an open mind

I did a guest lecture for final year media students at Sherubtse College. I introduced to them one of my pioneering work in academia – the middle path journalism – a theoretical framework for the Bhutanese media. The book chapter by the same title is already used in some foreign universities as a required reading. I am glad it will also be included here from next semester.

Besides the academics, the students asked me for some advices as they complete their college life in two months time. Here is what I shared with them.

1. Learn to communicate.

As a media student you will be expected to communicate well. If you don’t, you will be doubly handicapped – as a graduate and as a media graduate. Even otherwise, in any career or in life communicating well is a prerequisite to a successful life, career and relationships. Not communicating and not knowing are the same. Make sure you are able communicate so that you can share your knowledge and take our country and humanity forward. 

2. Prepare from now.

Make the most of your time left out here to start preparing for whatever you will be pursuing as a career. If you heading for the civil service, revise your maths skills because that’s where media students suffer in the BCSE test. In other sections of the exam, you should be okay. If you are going for career in media, start collecting your portfolios of photograph you took, video you made and articles you have written. This will come handy when you apply for jobs. Be ahead of your competitors in life. Don’t lazy around.

3. Take life as it comes.

Most importantly, as you move into the next phase of your life, always remember that many good thing will happen – but so will bad things. The key thing to remind yourself is not to be too sensitive or be to reactive to either and to let go both eventually. Don’t take life too seriously. Enjoy your life, have fun, cherish each moment and people you meet and above all, be open-minded on everything. Do not discriminate between jobs, or people or experiences. Take everything with an open mind. People say that things happen, and people come in your life, for a reason. I would say you find reasons and make the best of everything.

Have a long-term vision, but do what is immediately placed in front of you. Grab anything that comes your way, do as many things as possible, go see places, meet as many people.

Lastly, whatever happens, especially if you are going through hell, keep going.

 

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When in doubt, turn back

I grew up looking after cows. The job entailed herding the cattle into the jungles and leaving them there to graze – while I dipped my head in books or catch crabs in the stream. As the day passed and the Sun dropped towards the horizon, it was time to regroup the cattle and head them back home. Some cows, however, would have strayed off the herd and my job was to find them in the thick forest, where quite often I would lose my way.

“If you are lost, you should go back and find your own footprints,” my grandfather would advise me.  I followed him and never got lost – even once.

For over 40 years, I followed the same advice when it came to my life too. Quite often I got lost in the medley of wrong choices and decisions – and found myself in the thickets of confusions and lack of confidence to move on. So I often turned back and found my footprints – from the place and the path I followed.

Hence, it is nice to be back to where it all started for me. This is the spot, where 51 years ago, among these splendid mountains of memay Ralang, Tshong Tshongma and Serkemla, with the Vajra Dakinis (Dorji Khandum) presenting at my birth, I saw the light of the world. The auspicious nativity was however countered with the sad economic conditions at home. My family was poor, and had nothing. We lived in a one-room hut that had to be repaired with each passing storm. For much of my childhood, the piece of cloth I wore was the only one I had. I had no slippers or shoes. We scrambled for food and there was not much to be found. So my sisters and I would wait for our grandfather, who was a lay lama and was served with some meat and rice for conducting rituals and religious ceremonies in the nearby villages of Radhi and Chaling. He rarely ate his lunch and instead packed them for us at home. All along my father was away, drafted into the army, following the brief war between our neighboring countries in 1962. 

Nonetheless, the extreme poverty didn’t deter us from being happy. My mother had an endless supply of jokes and songs and stories. Some, she made them up. She was extremely talented. She taught us never to blame our misfortune on someone and instead smile against any adversity – and never to lose our sense of humor. My grandfather assured us that everything was temporary and that we would one day be back to our former glory. He used to tell me how our great grandfather used to launch long pilgrimage expeditions to Tsari Rongkor in Tibet – with 30-40 horses and several servants and porters. My mother and my grandfather also kept reminding us that we are descendants of “givers from top and not receivers of alms from bottom (a Bhutanese aphorism to mean noble families who are not only wealthy but generous too) – and never to forget this fact even later in life. I was also told that one of our ancestors came from Aja and was a great yogi while our great-grandma who was still alive and living with us was an ashi from Tawang. 

Today I stood here in silence for few minutes and paid tribute to my two greatest persons whose lives, characters, and optimism shaped me and my life – and the lives and the characters of all my siblings. From this ground, where three prayer flags stand today, like the wind, I fluttered away – launching my own expeditions into my own dreams and journeys. As years rolled by, I rose to positions of power and prominence. I did things that I wanted to do and achieve what I wanted to achieve. I travelled the world – and continue to do so. I have not only managed to come out of those miserable conditions but have personally helped hundreds of families to do so in distant places like Athang gewog. And of course I have tasted glory and fortune too. Yes, I have come very far. My grandpa was right. The condition we were in when we lived here was temporary. 

So, in life if you are doing well, push harder. But if you are getting nowhere, just turn around. Retrace your footprints. Trace your roots. And launch yourself again. You will appreciate from where, and how far, you have come; what kind of hurdles you have crossed and how many things you have achieved in your journey called life. It will give you the confidence to move on.

For, you and only you can find your path and walk your dreams.

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Where the three flagpoles stand, stood our hut I was born. A chorten in the memory of my late mother and grandfather would be just as befitting

 

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The view to the north – memay Ralang (that looks like a back of an ox) and behind it, in the distance is the Tshong Tshong Ma peaks
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Yul Pemachen, the legendary kingdom from the Khandro Drowa Zangmo tale, is on the hill to the left of the picture – with cluster of pine trees. It is a 30-minute walk from where I was born. This village is flanked by Bartsham, Gongthung, Dremetse and Korila
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Drung Gonpa (from the word, Drungpa) is now the official name of my native village. It was established by my great-grandfather
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Here in Tongling Pam once stood the manor of my great grandfather, who was the Lord of the region
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One of my 21 cousins receiving me in his house in Tongling Pam
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They give me everything they have. Truly an humbling experience
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More cousins and nephews paying visits with loads of gifts