Archive for June, 2015

Wangdue Phodrang: Happiness

Monday, June 1st, 2015

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On the way to Trongsa, we stopped in at a primary school in a small town along the way. Despite the admonishment to dress appropriately, we invited ourselves in (politely!) for a visit.

Wangdue Phodrang 2

The buildings were beautifully constructed, the administration wonderfully accommodating, and the students…well…polite of course. Out on the basketball court, a class was widely and evenly dispersed to take a test: that way there was no cheating. I walked into one class managing without a teacher that day and noone was acting out at all. They were all studying. Seeing that they were busy with math, I walked up to the blackboard and whipped off some completely incorrect equations in an effort to get them riled up, but noone took the bait. I’m sure they now believe that foreigners do not understand math. Lately though, and I did not admit a word of this to them, I lie awake at night trying to remember how to solve differential equations…I can’t for the life of me remember how to do it.

Math Test! (On the basketball court in order to prevent cheating)

Math Test! (On the basketball court in order to prevent cheating)

The principal acknowledged that 45 people in a single class was difficult on the teachers, but this far from a significant town it was difficult to recruit more of them. Class in any case, is still taught as a sage on stage affair, the internet and alternative teaching methodologies not yet making an impact. The computer lab did not have internet access. What interested me the most was the focus on Gross National Happiness. While we didn’t get any insight on the impact it had on lesson plans, the prominent signage suggested it was taken very seriously.

I wonder if, instead of the Pledge of Allegiance or perhaps on top of it, we had our American kids take a minute every day to consider Happiness…what would happen to our collective national neuroses. It makes me wonder, actually, what the point of all our teaching actually is. Are we interested only in making productive workers and steadfast warriors? Are we interested in developing contented adults? Is there actually even room for Happiness in our national agenda, or are we only interested in the pursuit of it…Happiness being that bus that never seems to notice you chasing after it…exhausted, burdened, desperate to catch the ride…but keeping you running. I suspect deep down that the Puritan spine of the American psyche disapproves entirely of happiness, or at least has its suspicions: equating it with extravagance, or sloth.

Concise breakdown of Gross National Happiness

Concise breakdown of Gross National Happiness

Do contented nations meddle with neighbors and antagonize strangers? Of course, you say: Happily!

Trongsa: Yakkity Yak

Monday, June 1st, 2015
...so we met this guy wearing a yak suit...

…so we met this guy wearing a yak suit…

The bus leaves early, the drive to Trongsa easily 8 hours on a single lane highway handling two way traffic. Rising slowly through deciduous forests along a steeply sloped river, through Wangduephodrang and Chuzomes and Samtengang, and Nubding, to the turn at Ngesa where we crest a pass into a coniferous valley of yak and wild boar.

Approaching the town and Monastery at Gangtey

Approaching the town and Monastery at Gangtey

Below lie alpine meadows and sprinkled houses and yet another monastery. We eat lunch in a second floor restaurant, the room dark and low, eating fiddlehead ferns and potato and rice and carrot and kale. Also thousand tiny bones that could kill you if you’re not careful chicken, the market ripe for new slaughtering techniques.

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Lunch in Gangtey

Entrance to the Monastery at Gangtey

Entrance to the Monastery at Gangtey

The monastery is another forbidding and courtyarded affair, the perimeter lined with monks quarters and the center occupied by a temple. Young monks scurry about, each intent on their mission, though I did catch two red robed kids gleefully mocking the tourists inside the temple. On one side, a number of monks on the ground were preparing sacrificial cakes for the ceremonies of the Buddha’s birth the following day, a number of supervising monks standing to the side as if it were a public works project. Inside the temple, the layout resembled the temple of yesterday at Punakha, though smaller and less maintained. Perhaps I was fatigues by too many landmarks, but I left to sit outside the complex, happy to feel the breeze and stare down the valley.

Next time you're in Switzerland, tell 'em it reminds you of Bhutan

Next time you’re in Switzerland, tell ’em it reminds you of Bhutan

We climbed back to the main highway and continued the ascent to the pass at Pelela, where a small monument and a smaller crafts stand offered a break. At 3390 meters I expected to feel the altitude, but there were no noticeable effects.

Chortan plus incense burner and souvenir stand at the pass

Chortan plus incense burner and souvenir stand at the pass

Downwards now, chatting about our lives in the US and Costa Rica and everywhere else the group is from, we wound past overhanging rockcuts and waterfalls and stream crossings, stopping once for the King and Queen and their entourage. The guides were ecstatic to have encountered both Queen and King on this trip, the karma quotient set almost impossibly high now. The Queen Mother only got two escorts the other day, the King and Queen at least 18 or 20 including personal chef, bodyguards, provincial governors and ministers and a van from BBS, the state broadcasting service. The monarchs had been east apparently, meeting with nomads.

The new hydroelectric project approaching Trongsa

The new hydroelectric project approaching Trongsa

We reached Trongsa at dusk, winding around the massive hydroelectric project under construction in the narrow valley below, up past the massive fortress and new courthouse, to a hotel besieged by clacking frogs and plagued with lousy internet service. Dinner was delicious. They have this cheese and chiles dish here, a national dish of sorts we’ve had everywhere, that balances spicy and mellow in the most spectacular way.

The Dzong at Trongsa

The Dzong at Trongsa

In the morning, the clouds clear and Trongsa spreads out below us:

View of Trongsa from my hotel balcony

View of Trongsa from my hotel balcony