29 April 2015

What Can Bhutan Learn From Nepal Earthquake?

Earthquake in Nepal on April 25, 2015 measuring 7.9 magnitude almost flattened the populated city of Kathmandu. As I watched the news unfold on TV, the Death toll rose swiftly as bodies were dug out of endless rubbles days after the first tremor.

The earthquake triggered avalanche on the south face of Mt. Everest killing over a dozen climbers and injuring many more. Few hundred mountaineers are believed to be lost.
Remains of Iconic 19th Century Tower, Nepal (From WSJ)

It's reported that over 31 aftershocks and 2 fresh earthquake happened since then some of which we felt here in Bhutan. These hindered the relief efforts and sent waves of panic among the already devastated survivors. Bad weather made the lives of homeless victims and their search for loved ones excruciating.

As the cameras go beyond Kathmandu and below the Everest I fear the death toll will sky rocket. It's already 4600, rising at the rate of over 1000 per day.

As is always said, earthquakes don't kill, just imagine, our cars shake more when travelling on rough roads than any violent earthquake. It's the collapsing structures that bury people alive and take hundreds of lives. We have to assess our homes and move into better homes because we don't know when the next earthquake will strike.

Temples can't protects themselves though thousands of devotees for ages have gone to seek protection from them. In fact, ancient temples are sure burial places because they don't have load bearing columns. Our heritage buildings like Dzongs and Lhakhangs will face the same fate if we don't reinforce with steel columns. Buildings in our new towns may survive because of our stringent construction laws.

When the earth shakes we are just concerned about our house and TV but we have to know that high up in our mountains we have himalayan tsunami of snow and glacier waiting to happen. Avalanches could burst our glacier lakes and when we lest expect our valleys could be flooded. Are we prepared?

Our telecommunication gets clogged even during a regional event like Tshechus, and during the 2011 earthquake we have seen how badly prepared we are in that term. We haven't improved an inch. Power lines will fail us too and roads will be disconnected. In fact, Nepal has shown us all the horror we too could face, all we need to do is prepare beyond duck, cover and hold.

Bhutan's Last Earthquake
What will make the everything worse is the rumours some evil minds cook up. If someone knew when the next earthquake would happen, world would pay him million dollar for his service. It's also the fault of people who help spread the rumour by calling all their relatives and friends to tell them to sleep outside, and interestingly they obediently follow and make an extra effort to call more people. Be informed that no prediction, no matter where you heard from, is true when it comes to earthquake therefore just avoid them.

My post from 2011 Earthquake in Bhutan

23 April 2015

Sorry State of Lhakhang Karpo and Merciful Ap Chundu

Haa doesn’t have a Dzong, Lhakhang Karpo is still on the ground, Prime Minister is from Haa, Foreign Minister is in the court, and wrathful Ap Chundu is still merciful.
Pic Courtesy: BBS.bt

Who cares about a Dzongda using Dzongkhag DCM for private purpose, in fact we always thought higher officials could do that because they have always done that. Lynpo Rinzin Dorji should just stop lying and face the consequences because everybody knows he is lying about the ‘emergency’ and playing with words in the law book to suit him. Though it's for the court of law to decide how serious it is.

I am more disappointed that one of the holiest Lhakhang in the country is torn down with a promise of better future but became a playground of corruption and left in that pathetic state for ages under his leadership. And I am dismayed that he had been busy transporting his ten truckloads of timber in emergency while his efficient leadership could have given the Lhakhang a glorious reconstruction it deserved.

Question also has to be asked about how so much timber could be taken from Haa by one person. Haa has become a timber heaven, legally or illegally. Timbers are transported away during the day and smuggled during the night. Once a thick forest above my village now looks like a park with few trees. Water sources are drying up and people think the time has come, they don’t know it’s because the trees are gone.

We Haaps also enjoy a certain annual income called “Khapsang Paysha” Which translates to ‘Profit Money’. It comes from the IMTART for all the trees they have taken from our Dzongkhag in a year. When I was a child, I remember receiving Nu.512 as Khapsang Paysha, which was huge those days. So there go our trees.

What are trees when people won’t even spare the revered abode of gods and deities. Lhakhang Karpo is more than just an ordinary temple for people of Haa, where we don’t have a Dzong. Haa Tshechu is performed there and now it has been a messed up construction site. It’s emotionally damaging. Lhakhang Karpo is also considered the abode of the mighty Ap Chundu and I don’t know how he allowed all this to happen.

This seemed to have taken its toll on the monks too. It’s rather easier to look for snow leopards on the mountains than to get one monk from Lhakhang Karpo to perform rituals. If by luck or connections you get a few monks in the morning consider yourself the luckiest if they don’t abscond by midday. What type of monks practices such rowdy livelihood?

One thing leads to another and nothing good seems to be happening in and around Lhakhang Karpo. It’s supposed to be a national heritage and not a newspaper headlines every week for all the wrong reasons. Therefore, I pray to Ap Chundu, the mighty protector of the nation to unleash his wrath and settle everything in his way.

22 April 2015

My Battle with Academic Writing

Even I am surprised that despite not blogging for so long I didn't go into depression. But I have been constantly unhappy and experienced mood swings that weren't part of me before. The irony is, writing kept me away from writing. It occurred to me that all writings are not same. Some writings can actually make you feel completely jobless. They call it serious writing, but I found it extremely funny. Perhaps I am never designed to write anything so seriously funny.

I have been writing academic pieces for past many months, knowing fairly well that no one other than my tutors will ever read such craps, but at least they will read word by word. Those pieces are basically thousands of words put together to beat loudly about the bush that can be simply communicated in less than 200 words for better human consumption.

In every paragraph I have to prove that I am completely incapable of thinking on my own, therefore even if I have written something I have to cleverly find someone who has said that and say he said so. At the end if there is any indication that I have tried to think at all, then I have to revise and subdue the last whisper of my voice. I have to operate exactly like a search algorithm that puts together everything related to the keyword written by anybody born before me.

To push you at your wit's end, those thousands of words should be like soldiers marching, with an inch wide margin, font size 12, a running head that's caps and that's not caps, single space here, first line indent there, this title bold and that centred. Because people who are going to read our paper are specially challenged. That's just one formate among many. There seems to be many people and institutions that have all the time and intelligence to work on such nuisance.

In the age of Twitter triggering revolution with just 140 characters if we still think that someone will read our 10,000 words research papers, then there is something wrong in the research that said so. Only few research papers make it to some filthy rich journals and others just become references to future academic writings. Great ideas don't need 10,000 words to make sense, it will remain great even if written on a piece of toilet paper. And great ideas don't need a journal to approve them, it's age of Facebook and Blogs. After all, the greatest inventions were result of human action and creativity not sea of mere words and reproduction of ideas.

All the research writing classes, at best, made me so insecure about my own writings but I am coping to overcome and remember my blog in my conscious moments. I hope I will survive to write stories that matter, and I hope I will never torture my readers beyond 500 words.

I am trying to make sense though, to go with the crowd, and if there is someone who can not only convince me but also make me a good research writer then I will be most happy, because so many theories are not helping as of now for a man who hasn't seen much across the border and much above a general maths degree.

10 April 2015

The Best Public Toilet in the Country

If something is not good enough, go and change it. If you can’t change it, seek help but change it.

It was my turn to design a social service activity yesterday afternoon at the Royal Academy. My team knew I would certainly point at a toilet, because ever since I founded Bhutan Toilet Org I have been after toilets like Romeo.
Dr. Prabrat was after me for days, wanting me to plan the program in detail and on paper, in his very Oxford way but I assured him about how I had everything on my fingertips, after all it was a toilet we were talking about.
The plan was to whitewash the wall, scrub the pots and tiles, educate the caretaker and make the only public toilet in Paro town worth Nu.5 it charges per use.
I requested Dasho Dzongrab, Kinley Gyeltshen for approval and he in turn instructed Municipal authority to assist us. From the municipal we understood that Paro didn’t have a wet sweeper after the one they had, died. The current caretaker is an employee who is assigned toilet duty only on Sundays. The only sewage truck in the valley is broken down.
But I made it clear to the Executive Engineer of the Municipal office that we were going beyond complaining, by becoming a part of the solution, something I learnt from BCMD’s media nomad workshop last year.
The condition of the toilet however shocked my team; my worst description was just the tip of the shit-berg that even I, who made few inspections before, couldn’t believe. The door was locked with countless dents of break in attempts. There was a fresh poop right at the door. No portion of the wall was spared from doma stains. The two sinks and four toilet pots were coated with thick layer of deposits. God knows how some poop went right up on the wall. The only remaining two flush tanks were filled with bottles and sanitary pads. The caretaker used the useless bathrooms for scrap collection. The worst was what lies behind the toilet; all the connections to septic tank were blocked and therefore sewage has been overflowing straight into open drain for years. The drains have eventually disappeared under overgrowth and you can see fresh yellow all over the green.
Any logical person with authority would recommend demolishing of the out-of-hand eyesore standing in between taxi stand and vegetable market, two populated areas. But we were there to rescue it. We whitewashed the wall first and our artist Nima Tshering wrote “A Clean Toilet!” and that was what we went there for.
The Driving Force
The 14 of us dug, swept, brushed, scrubbed, and washed in our effort to make this toilet worth paying Nu.5. After three hours the inside of the toilet started glittering but tones of poop behind the toilet didn’t seem like something we could deal with.
God Knows, how this could happen
The only institution that could help was fire department of the Police. We made a few calls and big red fire truck appeared. Three rounds it took to wash down the whole history of shits in Paro. The three firefighters went out of their ways to help us. We can never thank them enough.
Help from Police Department
The clean toilet that we aspired was ready. But in two days we didn’t want all our effort to be covered in shit. Municipal already said they were running short of manpower to look after the toilet. But the executive engineer readily agreed to allow us to hand it over to some organization that could take better care of it. That’s when my team thought of Chithuen Phenday Association, with whom we share close ties. We called them over to consider our proposal and right there standing near the toilet Paro Municiapl Authority agreed to handover, and Chithuen Phenday agreed to takeover. The orphan toilet finally got adopted and hence it will be open throughout the week and a gate will open to taxi stand too. Anybody misusing the public property will be held responsible and if the culprits are not found then the association will be help responsible.
The toilet will be handed over formally in few days after the plumbing damages are fixed but ownership and accountability are transferred with immediate effect. Paro will hereafter have the best Public toilet in the country. Other Dzongkhags are encouraged to follow the Paro model or innovate better strategies to make their public toilets less terrifying.
Here we Go! 

The Royal Academy would like to thank Dasho Dzongrab, the Police Department in Paro, Paro Municipal Authority and Chithuen Phenday Association for coming together for a cause. Together we did it.
And I personally would like to express my greatest appreciations to my colleagues Nima Tshering, Pema Chhomo, Sonam Ura, Dr. Prabrat, Sangay Wangchuk, Deki Pem, Sonam Palden, Ben, Hemant, Penjor Ghalley, Karma Tenzin, Ram Dahal, and Tshering Nidup for job well done. You guys cleaned the hardest shit!

Following are some memories we cleaned and washed away:

06 April 2015

A World Class Flower Exhibition

I overheard a foreign tourist asking his guide at least three times, "You mean all this is put up in a week?" The guide was as proud as me, "Yes, all in a week."
For the first time in a long time I have seen something done by Bhutanese that's truly world class. We always had that excuse of being Bhutanese that gave us the license to under perform and still be proud. From a crude machine made of wood to some funny software or animation, they always made it to headlines despite being no better than anything the western world made half a century ago, but we still say, "come on, it's Bhutan. A Bhutanese doing so much is amazing." Which is why we are considered third world.
But the Royal Bhutan Flower Exhibition was something that proved to ourselves that we too are living in 2015 along with the rest of the world, and that no form of excuse can justify why we should be lesser country. 
Besides, in my wildest imagination I couldn't have guessed Bhutan had so many passionate florists, let alone the vastness and variety of their collection. And the timing is magical, with almost every flower in full bloom, which remained continuously glorious the entire week.

Thank you your Majesty, your visions are always clear and beautiful. Heartiest congratulations to every beautiful soul involved in creating that heaven on earth. Next year is going to be unimaginable. 

Following are some shots I took to celebrate the grand success of the Exhibition and to remind myself from time to time about how much our people can do.

Are you convinced now?