Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Where Are You Going Ma’m?

As usual I'm having trouble getting the photos where I want them. Sorry about that.

Welcoming Lama Namkhai Ningpo Rinpoche
to Mongar for the puja.

Keira, Lynda, me and Andrea

Typical house decoration

Inthu, Lynda, Keira, Nick, Andrea, Natalie

me, Grant

View of Himalayas from plane

Monday, March 1, 2010

I am finally in my new home in Mongar, Bhutan, and it feels great. I’m sitting on my bed, typing on my laptop, listening to James Taylor’s Greatest Hits, and hoping that I will get online to post this within the next day or two. I spent almost an hour at Bhutan Telecom today trying to get broadband internet set up. The men at the office were all very kind and helpful, but it seems they need to speak to my landlord regarding whether to have the phone line in my name or his. I know he is in a meeting today because I had spoken to him earlier. Perhaps tomorrow.

It is pouring with rain. This is my third day in Mongar, and it has rained each evening. I don’t know if this is typical or not. During the day it has been mild, with varying amounts of sunshine. Yesterday was particularly sunny and warm. The weather varies hugely from valley to valley. Mongar is known for its moderate winters and warm summers. Perfect! The altitude is 1600 metres (one mile), similar to Antigua, Guatemala, which has a similar climate.

The town of Mongar is built at various levels on either side of the main trans-Bhutan road as it zigzags up the side of the mountain. My school is a couple of zigs below me, and the main part of town a couple of zags below that. I should become very fit just walking to and from town.

I have a comfortable house, fully furnished. It isn’t as quaint as the traditional wooden houses with shutters and beautiful carved details. Their outside walls are usually painted with interesting designs of lotus blossoms, dragons, lions and most commonly, penises. The penises are often very realistic, with pubic hair, and semen spurting. Ribbons often adorn the penises. At other times they are like cartoons, with a face, and sometimes a mustache, glasses, fangs or horns.

My house is a two storey concrete house, with a concrete patio to one side. One of the advantages of a concrete house is that there are no cracks for wind, rain, rats or other critters to come in. Downstairs there is a living room with lots of wooden furniture and cushions. There is a tv which is not yet hooked up. Next to that is my kitchen and dining area. The kitchen is very simple. There is a counter with a sink and hot water “geezer” above. On the counter is a two element gas stove. There are wooden cabinets for food and dishes. No fridge, but my landlord promised he will get one before the weather gets too warm. Off the patio is a pristine pink-tiled washroom, with western toilet and sink. There is even a washing machine!!!

Upstairs there is a large bed/sitting room with a wooden floor, a nice big carpet, lots of wooden furniture, and a second tv. This one works, but at the moment I only get a Chinese channel which was broadcasting in English when I checked it out last night. I have a double bed, a single guest bed, desk, couch, cabinets and “vanity”. There is a simple washroom off my bedroom, with western toilet, and hot water shower, but no sink.

The house is built on a slope with many plants and trees. There is a banana tree with a huge bunch of nearly ripe bananas. There are also lots of rose vines, rhoeodendrons and many other plants which are not yet in bloom. Spring is just starting here. From my balcony, the patio, and any of my windows there is a gorgeous view of distant mountains and valleys. Often these are shrouded in clouds, but I do get the occasional glimpse.

Continued March 2, 2010

Chador, my landlord, has phoned to say that Bhutan Telecom should be coming soon to hook me up, so I’ll sit tight for now.

There are lots of birds chirping in the trees around my house. That is always a lovely sound. I also have a little dog friend, who often greets me when I come home. I don’t know if she is a stray or if she belongs to my neighbour, but she looks to be in good shape. I have named her Tashi. She is a small, gold-coloured mutt, with a very sweet face. She makes me think fondly of Penny. (Hi Penny!) I offered her some leftover rice today, but she wasn’t interested. It seems she just wants affection and to play.

There are lots of stray dogs wandering around. Most look quite healthy, but there are some with a limp or nasty mangy spots. They are quiet during the day, but they do a fair amount of barking at night. I think I am already able to tune that out.

I spent a half an hour at the Bank of Bhutan this morning, trying to cash a travellers’ cheque. I dealt with four different clerks, and finally, after copies of my passport and identity card were taken, along with my double-signed cheque, all the clerks disappeared for lunch. I was told to come back in one hour. When I complained to the only remaining clerk that now my cheque was gone, but I had no money, he kindly opened his wallet and offered me 1000 ngultrums to help me out until the bank reopened. I declined, because it wasn’t an emergency. Presumably I will return this afternoon and get my money. While I was at that bank, a smiley old guy came to do a transaction. He looked like a farmer, judging by his weathered face and worn clothing. He signed for his transaction with a fingerprint.

I’m held up at home now, because the phone line hook-up is taking much longer than expected. First one young man came on a scooter, but after ascertaining that there is no actual line, he went away and returned with another young guy on the scooter. We’ll see what transpires.

When I visited my school three days ago, I was greeted with the news that our school will be closed for the next two weeks for a very important puja (ceremony). The school is being used to house students who are visiting from other areas. A lama from the district of Bhumthang has come to lead eleven days of chanting. He has provided a special mantra to help the community heal from last year’s earthquake, as well as to prevent further earthquakes. The goal is for the community to collectively repeat the mantra one billion times during the eleven days. They have set up a pavilion on the archery grounds so that people can sit, sheltered from the sun and rain. There is straw on the ground, or some people bring with them a piece of cardboard or foam matting to sit on.

It was interesting to be there for the arrival of the lama. Quite a procession of monks accompanying the lama. Lots of colourful banners and robes, and loud horns and drums.

So I am on holiday, again. It is a great opportunity to get settled. Apart from getting my house organized, I also have time now to study the curriculum guides which I borrowed. I don’t yet know what grades I will be teaching, although I do know that the school would like me to focus on special needs students. We will have a new principal when we start in two weeks, so nothing will be settled until after that.

“I am part of all that I have met;
Yet all experience is an arch wherethro’
Gleams that untravl’d world, whose margin
Fades for ever and for ever when I move.”
-“Ulysses”, Alfred Lord Tennyson

Continued March 3, 2010

I did get hooked up to the internet late yesterday afternoon. It seems to work fine. By then it was too late to return to the bank, but I returned this morning to get my money. The clerk had it sitting on his desk, waiting for me to return.

While I was “downtown”, I bought a few more groceries. The veggies here are delicious, as if they were just picked, which they probably were. I’ve made salads of tomatoes, cucumber, lettuce and cilantro, with an oil and vinegar dressing. I’ve got salt, but still haven’t been able to find pepper. I’ve made stirfries of garlic, onion, cabbage and carrot. I’ve got my rice cooker, so rice has been on the menu for dinner, and then leftover as rice pudding the next morning. I can’t buy meat because no animals are to be killed the first month of the year, which started in mid-February. I also can’t buy eggs because there is avian flu in the south of the country. Today I also brought bread at the one little bakery. Although it is white bread it is actually quite tasty. I bought butter too, so I was able to make a tomato sandwich for lunch. Little by little the food possibilities are increasing.

Yesterday I had a phone call from Mindu, a young Bhutanese guide who is driving an Irish woman named Aileen, across the country and then to Sikkim. Our group met them along the route from Thimpu. Now they are on their way back west, but stopped in Mongar for the night, and suggested a get-together. They popped over for tea (my first guests!), and then we met after dinner at a cozy guesthouse for drinks. We had a very interesting discussion about government policies regarding tourism. In a recent government meeting, a decision was made to raise the daily tourist tariff to $265 per day, starting in 2011.

An interesting aside: Since I had been unsuccessful at the bank yesterday, I was unable to pay for my dinner at the guesthouse. They weren’t concerned at all, and seemed surprised when I turned up today to pay.

Time to turn to the books.

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