I went into town the other day, with the main goal of buying a can opener to open some tuna I had bought in Thimpu.
On the way into town, I passed two teenaged girls sitting on the side of the road. We exchanged greetings, and I continued on my way. When I returned about two hours later, they were still there. When I looked inquisitive, they explained that they were waiting for a car, bus or truck to Trashigang, (92 km or about a 3½ hour drive on these windy mountain roads) and none had come yet. I wonder how much longer they waited?
Waiting is never a big deal here. No one gets impatient, or fidgety or flustered. They just wait. Things happen when they happen. Or not.
So I proceeded into town. I passed the butcher shop, which will stay closed until the first month of the Bhutanese new year has passed. I think that will be about March 14th. I took a photo of the shop and of the signboard showing what they sell. The list is impressive, but the look of the shop makes me think I will continue my new vegetarian habit.
Apart from the small vegetable market, shopping consists of a choice of many small, dimly lit, shops. There must be 15 or 20 of them, but they all have virtually the same stuff! There is always a countertop with many jars of small wrapped candies and gum. The proprietor is usually behind the counter, and behind him or her, the wares are displayed on shelves lining the walls. Typically there are some food items, (never much choice), a few house wares, and a couple of clothing items.
Most shops also sell pan, a leaf which is smeared with white paste (lime?), and sprinkled with chopped betel nut and a variety of fragrant extras, such as cardamom. The leaf is folded up into a little bundle, which enthusiasts shove into their mouths, and chew and chew and spit and chew and spit some more. Consequently there are nasty red splotches all over the roads and pathways, making it look as if someone has been hemorrhaging. Not only that, but often when someone smiles, their teeth, lips, gums and tongue are all horribly stained, and their teeth are quite rotten. Apparently it gives a bit of a buzz, and it must be addictive.
I had one short pan experience. When I was with our driver on one stretch of road, he stopped to buy some packets of pan, called WIZ. He said he uses them to help him focus on the tricky roads. He offered me one, so I bravely dumped the whole little packet into my mouth as he had done. It was bitter, and gritty and disgusting!! I wanted to spit it straight out, but I thought that would seem unappreciative, so I kept chewing for a few minutes. I couldn’t stand it any longer, and spat the whole lot out the window. It was really gross and I didn’t even get a buzz! The car had remnants of pan stuck to the door for the rest of the trip.
Back to Mission Can Opener: I went into shop after shop after shop, but no one had a can opener. I pointed out that they sell cans, and asked one woman how they open them. She said, “We are using nail cutters. This is working well madam.” I’m not going to use my nail clippers for that purpose, but I guess I’ll use the can opener on my Leatherman multitool. *Postscript: I had tuna with my salad today, and lo and behold, it had a pulltab!
For those of you who were asking about the significance of the phallus, this is what I have found out. I thought they were fertility symbols, but not so. Apparently, the reverence for phalluses (phalli?) began with Lama Drukpa Kunley (1455-1529) who is one of Bhutan’s favourite lamas, and an example of “crazy wisdom”. I know that Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche in Boulder, Colorado was also known for a similar “style”. There are many anecdotes about Drukpa Kunley, and his sexual exploits are legendary. The phalluses which adorn houses are supposed to be his, and are said to ward off evil.
By the way, if you haven’t seen the Bhutanese film, “Travellers and Magicians”, I highly recommend it. You’ll see quite a bit of typical life in Bhutan, as well as some gorgeous scenery. I watched it on youtube in 11 ten minute segments.
Some of you have asked what we did for our first two weeks in Bhutan, during our orientation period. I will try to fill in that gap soon!