Drug tests can be weaponized

This pertains to Kuensel news article, TCB Officials Undergo Drug Test. While I commend the move by the Tourism Council to create a drug-free sector, and have absolutely no doubt on its noble intent (after all, who would like to be guided around the country or be driven by a drug addict), I would invite some caution in jumping into this practice as mandatory requirements at workplace and professions.

Although, I am a no expert on this issue, I was associated with Chithuen Phenday during its inception period and have engaged in deep conversations with hundreds of clients to get some insights into the use and abuse of illicit substances. During that same period, I was also involved in cases where I had to help fight certain stereotyping, legal abuses and common misconceptions. To put it simply, drug addiction, testing or recovery are not a straight-forward or black and white matter. It is very complicated, multidimensional and intricate. I would like to share a few examples here.

First of all, drug tests carried out at workplace or on-site such as sporting facilities and events, are not conclusive. It is only indicative. In simple words, drug tests can never be 100% correct in first instance. In general, the results can be interpreted in two ways:

  1. False positive. False positive means that you have not taken any illicit substance but you are tested positive (as having taken drugs) nevertheless. Even with the best and latest drug-test kits, getting a false positive is a real possibility.  False positive may appear in cases as simple as after consumption of natural substances and common over-the-counter medications – such as food with yeast (bread or yogurt), cold medications, antibiotics and antihistamine (allergy medicines) and even common painkiller such as ibuprofen or taking prescribed antiretroviral drugs. Passive inhaling like being around with friends who smoke marijuana can also produce false positive. False positive, however, means you have failed the drug test. And in a small and gossip-prone society like ours, such a result for anyone, although just indicative, would have a devastating effect on the career, morale, and dignity of a person and would leave an indelible stigma to his or her family and relatives. Worse still, it can be weaponized by someone who may or may not like that person for some reason. For example, bosses and heads at workplace may use them to suppress or eliminate young, upcoming and brighter colleagues. Rival companies and tour guides may use against each other. The possibilities of misuse of false positive results are simply endless.
  2. False negative – False negative is when one actually consumes illicit substances but is smart enough, or accidentally, comes out as ‘clean’. This could occur when the person who is being tested goes on to manipulate the sample (urine) through easily available adulterants and techniques (there are many available online); or when the labs pre-establishes a high drug cut-off levels – and so while the sample contain illicit substances or their metabolites, the concentration levels do not cross the very high cut-off set by the lab or the agency. False negative can also happen when the labs and test kits are not current with the latest drugs in the market. Mind you, drug dealers and serious users are three steps ahead of the Law. Needless to add, that the way our body absorbs, or responds, to alcohol and drugs vary from person to person. Two people consuming the same thing and same amount will produce two different results. Ask any medical doctor.

While the mandatory drug-testing policy, which was also toyed by the Royal Civil Service Commission for all civil servants, may look good on the outside, such a move could open a myriad of unwanted and unintended consequences from the inside. It is an explosive issue – to be dealt with with a great caution. I will mention just two additional unintended outcomes and consequences:

  1. Displacement effect – whereby users will shift from use of easily (and often less harmful drugs) to other drugs that are more difficult to detect – and which are more harmful. Drug and alcohol abuses are not just behavioral issues. It is physiological. The body demands it. It is a disease to be treated like any other diseases. 
  2. Defensive mechanism and creativity – whereby users will explore creative ways to avoid detection – instead of reducing the use. This can be achieved by medications that are legal and which will produce false positive – or use some masking agents, which the drug dealers will discover sooner or later. For example, from my personal experience, lots of my friends, who drank some whisky before going home from work would chew tea leaves that masked the smell of alcohol. That way their wives thought they were always clean.

In conclusion, I am neither here to condone drug abuse nor to criticise the noble initiatives to control drug abuse in the country. What I am saying is, I hope, among others, the above issues and potential ramifications are discussed thoroughly, and experts advices are sought.

For, such as policy could sway either way. Just sharing my experience


Technical education and not vocational training

It was nice of Kuensel (11 Nov 2019) to highlight my school, Don Bosco Technical School (although it was erroneously mentioned as Don Bosco Technical Institute) as the epitome of technical skills and knowledge.

I am an alumni of DBTS. Few years after I graduated, it did become an institute and that was the beginning of the end of technical education in Bhutan. If there is one thing that led to the slow death was when arts, humanities and science subjects were removed and a bare vocational trade subjects were retained. The so-called reform was a disaster.

The DBTS curriculum I went through had all the subjects of a normal school. So I studied Shakespeare and also physics and maths and our exams were conducted by Meghalaya Board of Examinations. Plus we had to complete the Indian Technical Institution (ITI) curriculum. In other words, we were subjected to two full curriculums. And hence our day started at 5am in the morning and ended at 9 in the evening – before we were sent to bed. In other words, we got a well-rounded education, which allowed the graduates to pursue either an academic career (I am currently doing PhD in communication and social media) – instead of being relegated to the blue collar jobs only. 

Unless technical education is mainstreamed back into the school education system, no amount of money or autonomous status or wage improvements or legislations will restore the skills mentioned in this editorial. It should be technical education as it is done in countries like Finland, Norway, Germany and Italy and not sidelined as vocational training, which is demarcated for less “intelligent” students.

Ask any of the alumni from that curriculum and their suggestion will be the same. Current Opposition Leader Lyonpo Pema Gyantsho, MoWHS secretary Dasho Chencho, former Home Minister Dawa Gyeltshen, Supreme Court Justice Rinzin Gyeltshen were all from that curriculum and my seniors. Maybe they can provide some valuable suggestions too.


Hydropower: A second thought?

This pertains to a front-page article and an editorial on Kuensel of 10 November 2019 (I reproduce them below)

Well, I haven’t changed my mind. But does my opinion count? Of course, not. In a country where official position and power are everything, a view of a private citizen is often ignored at best – and considered a nuisance at worst. Nonetheless, as with many things, I do or say even when I know that it is not going to matter anything. That’s called sticking to one’s belief. It is called principle. It is called integrity.

For me, it is still a big NO to any hydropower projects larger than 120MW. NO to any projects that we cannot finance or that we have no control over. And NO to anything that will put our future generation at risk. And a big YES to intergenerational equity as provisioned in the Constitution – and leave some rivers and resources alone for future generations. Twenty years back I believed in this dream. I documented the entire project construction phase of Tala Project. We were promised of untold wealth. We were made to dream. Today we are in a huge debt. We can’t even cough without asking permission. We can’t even sneeze. What a tragedy!

Maybe I missed something but what REALLY has changed in this sector in the last few months? What have we REALLY learnt to merit a “second thought”? Why this sudden turnaround? Nothing that is happening in this sector begs any reason to be optimistic. Can someone send me the big picture, if there is one? Until then, from my little pond, I really don’t understand this new narrative that Kuensel, or the government, is trying to sell.

Lastly, to say that we have only the hydropower eggs basket is like smashing the eggs on the face of educators like me who see and work on deriving the tremendous human potential our Bhutanese youth have to offer.

What a downer! 


Taking tourism to the top? A perspective from Taipei

I have often wondered why Bhutan appeals a lot to foreign visitors. Why is that most tourists leave our country totally enamoured and with lasting impressions of our land and people – despite not staying in the best of hotels, and driving around in pothole-ridden roads and eating chilis whole day? Why does Bhutan regularly show up as one of the top destinations in the world? The latest is by the global travel publishing company, the Lonely Planet.

Here is a perspective from an avid traveller – me.

In Bhutan, we often talk about our unique culture and unspoilt nature as the selling points. Yes, we have some colorful traditions. So do other countries – and each culture is unique in its own way. We have high Himalayan mountains, for sure. However, the peaks in Nepal are taller, while many in Switzerland are even more gorgeous. As for the unspoilt nature, tropical rainforests in our own neighbourhood are bigger and as pristine.

Then, what is really magnetic about Bhutan? If there is one thing that I have to pinpoint to, it is the spontaneity of our people – the human element – our genuineness. So I disagree with some eminent writers who have, in the past, pointed out that we are being hypocrites. We are not. We are, as Lonely Planet best describes, “kind-hearted people” who are inherently nice to strangers. 

Lessons from Bali and Taiwan

Two places that I have been visiting in recent times are Bali and Taiwan. Both these destinations boast of a very robust tourism industry. Taiwan has some mind-dazzling achievements to show off too. Their high-tech industry has also translated into fast and convenient public services making everything from applying for visas to booking air tickets to paying even street shops traveller-friendly. The high-speed rail and the roads are world-class. The temples and landscapes, and especially the paddy fields and tea plantations, are simply poetic. And, of course, the cuisine is one of the best that I have come across.

Bali, of course, is Bali.

Nonetheless, more than the stunning natural or man-made beauty, it is the ordinary people that will ultimately draw or drive away the visitors. From my experiences in these two places, I realized how important it is for the locals to be welcoming, friendly and helpful to outsiders. It is something missing from many countries I have visited. From the moment you step out of your flight you don’t feel unwelcome. On my first visit to Taiwan, I travelled extensively and all I can say is that I simply basked in the warmth of hospitality and smiles wherever I went. Nobody was even close to being rough on me. I interacted with indigenous people as well as street vendors, with young students, with professors and with people in upscale tourist markets, malls and Michelin-stared restaurants. Wherever I went, I felt accepted and at peace.

More than the stunning natural or man-made beauty, it is the ordinary people that will ultimately draw or drive away the visitors

On the second visit, this time to Fu Jen University, one evening I was scanning down the countless eateries and cafes when a young professor who was at one of my lectures cycled towards me. “Hey Dorji! Are you looking for something?” “Yes, a place to eat”, I said. “Okay, follow me”, he suggested and diverted from where he was going to where I was heading for. When we finally found a place he also insisted that he pay for my meal – although he already had his dinner. He added that he learnt many things from me and that it is an honour for him to do that. He left shortly after my food arrived. I was so moved by his gesture.

And coming to Bali, one of the most exquisite destinations on Earth, last summer, on our return hike from the sunrise trek to Mt. Batur, my daughter who had twisted her ankle was struggling to walk the last couple of kilometers of the dirt road – when a construction worker stopped his work and came zooming on his motorcycle. “You are fit. She is not. I pity her. I take her to the van”, he offered. I later caught up with him and thank him and reciprocated his kind gesture. Another time I had forgotten my purse after I had eaten in a road-side stall. The woman just laughed her life out seeing me embarrassed and told me that it was okay. I could return anytime with the money I owed her. I have many stories of local generosity in these two places that I can write a book.

All in all, Taiwan may be advanced and awesome, and Bali may be blissful and beautiful, but it is thanks to such personal accounts and tales of random acts of kindness that an outsider ultimately feels at home – and talks nice about a place. Even in this age of TripAdvisor and Google Maps, word-of-mouth will continue to be the most influential form of advertising and marketing. There is still power in human speech.

Taking Tourism to the Top?

There is so much talk about taking tourism to the top in Bhutan, which, of course, is welcome. There are also the government flagship programs in several pre-selected districts to increase the tourist inflow. Like any other government plans, I am sure there are constructions and hardware involved. My view is that, tourism in Bhutan will eventually succeed or fail depending on how ordinary Bhutanese people treat the visitors. For, nothing can substitute the experiences with the locals, and their genuine smiles and spontaneity, which are still very vibrant in Bhutan – just as in Bali and in Taiwan.

So, what can we do? The government will do what it has to do. As a society, we have a greater responsibility. As academics, the socio-cultural and educational fundaments from where such altruistic behaviours emerge should be researched and mainstreamed. This is a long shot, I know. As parents and educators, the traditional socialisation process of respect, altruism and selfless service towards others – and the urge to help someone in need or a complete stranger, should be sustained and strengthened among our younger generation. Lastly, as journalists and social media influencers, the feel-good narratives and stories of human spirit should be brought out in the public domain and celebrated.

Never mind that just across the border our fellow travellers and truckers are not accorded the same kind of treatment. Let the law deal with that. As for us, we are who we are and we should remain that way – and persist.

Only then I see tourism not only going to the “top” but staying there as well.

(The original article appeared in Kuensel, the national newspaper of Bhutan on Nov 2, 2019. Click here for the online version)

I was drawn by the spelling – as usual. I think I have OCD with spellings 🙂
I didn’t see the Garuda Air staff when I took this selfie. I wanted the plane
Our country is beautiful. No doubt. But we, the people, need to continue to be beautiful inside, if we want people to visit us.
After Day 2, I was like a member of the family. The day I left Bali, Mrs. Danu woke up at 3 in the morning and made coffee for me. “I know you need this,” she said.
Bali – This guy offered to help my daughter reach the van. She had twisted her ankle


On my maiden visit last year, the locals thought I was the tour guide and my prof (American) was a tourist. They spoke to me in local languages – ignoring him who instead speaks and writes fluent Mandarin, We had so much fun


Taiwan’s dizzy economic growth has not made them lose the sense of humanity


Research methodologies

In this post, I share the presentation slides on the research methods in intercultural and cross-cultural communication. This is semester-long course but compressed to a two-day workshop. Therefore, it just provides the reader/participant an introduction to research.

Second, I am a communication scholar specializing in intercultural communication, sociolinguistics and discourse studies. Hence, the methods I proposed here are for my field that may applicable at the most to sociology, pragmatics and applied linguistics. Others disciplines will find other methods and methodologies more appropriate. 

Nonetheless, I hope these will be some use to you. You may leave comments if you feel there are ways to improve these slides.


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!


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?)