I'm so excited that I met the king today! He has been expected in Mongar for the past two weeks, but his plans kept changing. Finally he made it here today. He was even more handsome in person. He has quite the pompadour, like a young Elvis Presley.
Even today, the plan was on and off a few times. He was going to be meeting local people at the Mongar public ground to give them title to land they had lost in a recent re-survey. This is a process called "kidu". Hundreds of rural people have been in town for a few days awaiting his arrival.
When I arrived at school this morning, the principal wasn't sure if we should go down to the public ground or if HM would be coming to visit the school. There were various phone calls, and finally the grade eights, their two teachers, the principal and I walked to the ground. A temporary shelter had been constructed to protect the people from sun and rain. We joined the crowd of an estimated 8000 people under the shelter. We sat crosslegged on tarps for about two hours before HM appeared. Of course, being Bhutanese, everyone was very patient and calm. The convoy arrived, and HM immediately entered the ground, dressed in a neutral-coloured gho, but with the royal gold shawl over his shoulder. The best part of the outfit was his boots. They were traditional Bhutanese boots, leather, up to the knee, with lovely designs in red, yellow and blue. Sort of like cowboy boots, but with a flat heel and round toe. I would love to have taken photos, but only the royal photographers were allowed to.
The king spoke to the crowd for perhaps half an hour, mostly in dzongka, but with a few parts in English. He spoke about the importance of life-long learning. The audience was enraptured. He seemed to be a wonderful speaker, and at times had everyone laughing.
After that he had an audience with various groups, and presented gifts to everyone: the landowners received land titles, monks received new robes and prayer beads, army veterans received blankets and ghos, teachers received golf shirts with the royal emblem embroidered, dancers received kiras.
While we sat, everyone received a beautiful copper and nickel 100 ngultrum coronation coin. It is encased in a folder with this info on the back:
Born on the 21st of February 1980, HM King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck officially assumed the duties of King on the 9th of December 2006 upon the voluntary abdication of his father. From his youth he earned the love of his people through his humility and graciousness and his determined focus on addressing their needs. Referred to fondly by his people as 'Khesar' HM is already known as the 'People's King'.
HM ascends the Throne at a time of profound change in Bhutan. Bhutan, through an unprecedented and historic process, has peacefully transformed into the world's youngest democracy in March 2008.
HM said soon affter becoming King, "Our work lies ahead of us. What we must do has never been done before. This is a special time in our country's history. The success of our democratization efforts will decide whether Bhutan's future will be forever secured. Today the immediate duty of every single Bhutanese is to bring about a successful transition to democracy. A good democracy will ensure that the aspirations of our people will always be fulfilled. This is the task that we must achieve. We must not fail in carrying out this sacred duty as citizens of Bhutan...If we succeed we would have laid the foundation for a sound democracy, for Gross National Happiness, and for peace and prosperity for all Bhutanese now and in the future."
When we went up as a group of teachers, I did not have the opportunity to speak to HM the King. Tsaden, his young public relations representative, had already introduced herself to Helen (a Canadian woman here for a month to work on tourism) and I, and promised she would introduce us. The King joined the group of dancers few lengthy traditional dances. Once again, there was a lot of good-natured laughter from the crowd. After the dancing, the King was leaving, but Tsaden had positioned Helen and I strategically in his path. Just as he was about to reach us, an old woman got up to give him a basket of food. It was so sweet to see the way he spoke to her and accepted her simple gift. She was obviously deeply moved.
Then he turned to us and Tsaden and introduced us. He shook our hands, and chatted for about ten minutes about his hopes and worries concerning Bhutan's future. He seems very intelligent, warm, caring and genuine. I was totally enamoured. He said he will be back in Mongar in a month, so I hope I will have chance to speak with him further. His final words were, "Lots of love."