31 December 2020

A Long Talk Show with Gup Phub Tshering

I was invited on a Facebook Live show with Gup Phub Tshering to talk about my journey so far; and the significant highlights like the name 'Chablob', PaSsu Diary Blog, then the book, founding of Bhutan Toilet Org, About children and social media- Ninzi Show, Google Maps and Local Guide, about BOOKNESE and many other things. 



It went on for almost three hours. Who does a talk show for that long! Have we just done the longest talk show ever? But our viewers were kind to us, they stayed with us and told us to go on and on. Here is it, for the record. And for those of you who have missed it. 

26 December 2020

Drawing my Family Tree During the Lockdown

 One of the few satisfying things I have done during the last lockdown was working on my family tree. It was one project my cousin and I planned to do a few years ago but we neither had the time nor the expertise to get that done. The very thought of putting together the details of so many people on a sheet of paper overwhelmed me. 

It may sound petty but I was wondering how many A4 papers I would have to stitch together until I could get all the names up. I was even considering a wall to stick all the names. But deep down I had a strong feeling that there should be some software to create a family tree. It seemed like a big task and we pushed it aside. 

The Black and White Picture
Babu Dorji Tshering

One day, my Asha sent me a black and white picture and said the man in the picture was my great-grandfather. He suggested that we traced our bloodline as far back as possible. This was the second time someone in my family proposed to draw our family tree. This time the black and white picture was truly inspiring. I began looking for software and landed an online site called Family Echo, which was free, powerful and easy to use.

A small part of My Family Tree created using Family Echo

I began working on what seemed like a massive project, but within a few days, I had run out of people. Family Echo helped me organize everything in one small window and make all the complex mapping as I move from one generation to another. The exercise gave opportunities to call older member in the family and dig deeper into their memories. Some of them we so touched that we were doing it and that we reached out to them. 

My Angay and Late Jojo whose name was Angay


As the family tree grew bigger I had the option to invite people in the list to contribute to expanding the tree. This has connected and reconnected many of my cousins. It has helped solve a few confusions I had and gave me lots of surprised when it comes to discovering how I was related to a lot of people I grew up with without knowing that we were from the same bloodline. 

My Mother

I have traced 167 people across 8 generations of my family, five backwards and two downward after me. Before this exercise I could not even name my grandmothers, now I at least know the name of my great-great-great-grandfather. His name was Dumcho Tandi. And the man in the black and white picture was Babu Dorji Tshering, my great-grandfather. It's quite an irony that there was a camera in his time, and there is not a picture from my childhood. 

25 December 2020

How Dawa Founded Bhutan Stroke Foundation

Dawa Tshering heard of stroke for the first time when his 32 years young wife Rinchen Pelmo collapsed on the ground and was rushed to the hospital in June 2019. He knew she had issues with her blood pressure but he has never known the fatality of it until it struck. It caught him completely off guard. Rinchen was on life support in the ICU. Doctors didn't give him any false hope. They told him on the face to be prepared for the worst. 

Dawa Tshering and Rinchen Pelmo before their lives changed

His ignorance of stroke helped him shield against the harshness of reality. He didn't give up. His wife was in deep sleep for over a week. He has done rituals of every kind. He went to every influential friend he had around to get a referral to India. But he was told that there was no use taking her out. Gradually he began to realize how bad it was. He was told by everyone who knew the disease that she will not wake up. 

He went to a researcher friend seeking any information he could gather on stroke in Bhutan. He was given a handful, mostly articles and social media post by some Dr Tashi Tenzin. He managed to get connected to the doctor. Over the phone, he asked in desperation, "Doctor, tell me more about stroke."

Dr Tashi invited him over after hearing how earnestly he wanted to know more. He said, "You are the first person to have ever asked. Come over, let's have a chat."

Dr. Tashi Tenzin, the Guide
Photo Courtesy: Friends of Bhutan Association, Austria

By the third week, he managed to get his wife to blink her eyes in response when we ask her questions. On the 23rd day, he surprised everyone when he took her home and began the long ordeal of nursing her. Within the next few months, he left his job with Tarayana Foundation and dedicated fulltime on her. He was given the option to take a long leave if he wished but he opted to resign because he needed his provident fund to treat his wife. 

He regrettably recollects that despite free healthcare in Bhutan, he emptied his pocket on his wife's treatment; not on surgeries or medicines but on rituals. He went to every odd place any fool recommended and conducted every damn rimdro that came out. He shared that he could have treated her faster had he not desperately wasted his time and money on strange rituals. He declared that it was physiotherapy that put her back on her feet, which was absolutely free of cost. 

He would strap her to the car seat and drive her around knowing she would be so sick of staring at the ceiling all day long. He would carry her on his back like a child and go to all the places they would have gone if she were fine. He said going out helped both him and his wife. 

In less than a year, he succeeded in getting his wife, whom doctors feared won't wake up, out of her bed and make her walk on her own. She is still struggling to relearn everything, starting with speaking and eating. Knowing her love for farming, Dawa has helped setup her mushroom farm and vegetable garden. This has helped her wake up every morning with excitement and looking forward to the day.

Rinchen Watering Her Plants

Looking back at the experience he lived since his wife fell ill and watching her relearning how to do things, he felt that if he knew as much about the stroke he could have done anything to prevent that in his wife. His success at getting his wife walk on her feet is another experience, and now dealing with her disability and keeping her meaningfully occupied are things that he wanted to share with others. Having faced with so much at the prime age, Dawa says that the true battle was fought on two fronts; one with the illness and other with depression, and he hopes to be able to create much-needed awareness among the stroke patients and their families. 

Rinchen in her Mushroom Shed

Dr Tashi Tenzin with whom he had kept in constant touch shared with him how important it was for him to create a formal forum to share such stories to create awareness. As a doctor, he had said that he would love to do it but his hands are full within the four walls of the hospital. The doctor wanted Dawa to be the one to go beyond the hospital to reach out to the people. Thus, Bhutan Stroke Foundation was established. 

Personally for myself, having run to Bajo hospital carrying my mother inlaw in my arms and watch her dies a few days later in Thimphu hospital, and having watched the doctors pull the plug on my brother-in-law who was declared braindead, I have always felt the need for a stroke care organization. An organization that will create awareness to prevent stroke (before), help build efforts in timely treatment toward recovery (during) and create means for the patients to cope with life after stroke through meaningful engagements (after). 

Meeting Dawa Tshering in Punakha

When I met Dawa Tshering in Punakha, introducing his Foundation during the CSO retreat I felt like my prayers were being answered. As he spoke about his wife I couldn't see him well through my teary eyes, I knew he was destined to do this. Having hit the hardest, he has the motivation and determination to take this forward like no other. He says he wants to strive for stroke-free Bhutan, where no one has to suffer like his wife, like him and like his two children.

Every day, JDWNR Hospital alone is said to receives 2-3 stroke cases. Globally 17 million cases are reported annually, out of which 6 million dies and 5 million are left with a disability. 

29 November 2020

Toilet Management Training

Since announcing this training a few days ago about 50 people have signed up, out of which some 20 of them are civil servants in officer's position, which means they are not cleaners. While it's encouraging to see non-cleaners showing interest in the training, we would like to focus the training only on the real cleaners who are employed as cleaners. It doesn't matter whether you are in the private or public sector as long as you are a cleaner. 

A little boy manning a public toilet in Jaigoan

The training will cover the following;

1. Building a positive social identity as cleaners and rise above the stigma.

It's a mind game. We want to tell stories to let the cleaners understand the purpose of their work and walk out of our training with pride and self-respect. Of the many stories, we will definitely share about the Janitor who helped Nasa put a Man on the Moon.

In 1962, During a visit to NASA, President John F. Kennedy noticed a janitor carrying a broom down the hallway. He walked over to the man and said, "Hi, I'm Jack Kennedy. What are you doing?"

"Well, Mr President," the janitor responded, "I'm helping put a man on the moon."

2. Understanding a Clean Toilet and knowing what it takes to achieve that.

Cleaners are generally illiterate and come from the poorer section of the society where they make do with basic or no facilities at all. Their idea of a clean toilet may not be clean enough. They need to see their goals with clarity in order to work toward that. 
Giving a short course to Memorial Chorten Toilet Manager 


The venue will be in a good hotel where we could do a practical session in their toilets, and where we could show good examples of toilets to the participants. The two days at the hotel they must see how consistently the toilets are kept well by the hotel staff. 

3. Using the right tools and gears for safety and Dignity 

Using the right tools and gears can not only ensure safety but also make the work really easy and stylish. If we are going to change people perspectives on cleaning job we must begin with this; a cleaner in a clean uniform with boots and gloves and holding the good mop will give an impression of a passionate work who knows his job well. It adds dignity to the job. 

4. Basic skilling in plumbing, carpentry, electrical and masonry will be given to skill-up the cleaners to enable them to carry out timely maintenance. If we observe carefully, all big damages start small and gradually. One nail on time can save a toilet from falling apart. But often in the absence of basic skills and accountability, even the most manageable damages are kept aside for the annual maintenance budget. 

5. Use of daily cleaning Checklist to ensure consistency 


By streamlining the job of the cleaners through a daily system of check and balance that will ensure consistency and sustainability. This is effectively used in every organization, including shopping malls in big cities, it's, therefore, high time we introduce it in Bhutan.
-----


Sharing a moment with SJ town toilet manager


If you know someone who needs this training please let them know, and if the person is unable to fill out the form kindly help them. But note that it's only for the cleaners. 



Talking about the overwhelming response we got from general civil servants, some of my friends said it could for the want of a certificate that may be useful while seeking similar jobs in counties like Australia. With no affiliation with any institute in Australia, our certificate, even if we issued one, may not carry any weight at the moment. But, it has opened our eyes to the possibility of a similar arrangement that could help earn revenue for Bhutan Toilet Org from the training course and guarantee employment in the cleaning sector down under. It's a good dream, isn't it?

26 November 2020

May We Check Your Toilet?

There has to be a strong correlation between the people in the management and the condition of the toilet in their offices. It sounds strange but the toilets do reflect the values and attitude of the people who are using it. There may be several other factors but good management will never allow its office toilets to stink, will they? 

During the Ambassador Conference, Dr Lam Dorji facilitated a session with the toilet ambassadors and they agreed to carry out a survey to quietly assess the office toilets and find out which type of management or leadership pay serious attention to the condition of the toilets. The results will be shared with the public through all media platforms.         

To get honest data from the assessment, we must not announce the dates. We should tiptoe into the survey without alerting anyone. But in case if some offices need us to seek approvals and permissions to carry out our survey, then I must do it right here with this post:

 "May we check your toilet?" I hope you won't say no.


Just to give you a heads up, the following questions will be included (but not limited to) in the survey;
  1. Are there separate toilets for women?
  2. Are the toilet walls and floor free of dirt, stains, cobwebs?
  3. Are the toilet pans, urinals and washbasins stainless? 
  4. Is there running water in the toilet?
  5. Is the toilet floor kept clean and dry? 
  6. Does the toile have good lighting?
  7. Is the toilet well ventinlated?
  8. Are the proper doors with latches? 
  9. Are there adequate cleaning tools?
  10. Is there a trained cleaner? 

25 November 2020

The Toilet Ambassadors of Bhutan

Who are these toilet ambassadors?

They are regular civil servants from each Dzongkhag and students from Royal University colleges who came forward to support Bhutan Toilet Org in taking our mission to the ground in their communities. They are volunteers. They are natural leaders who create a network of volunteers around them. They are the bridge between us and their Dzongkhag or College.



How are they chosen?

They came forward voluntarily. We didn't choose them. They chose us. We found most of them by chance. Only in some rare cases I personally asked my friends to help. The position of BTO ambassador is so undefined that it takes a huge supply of goodwill and trust to find or become one. 

However, when an ambassador goes on transfer or leaves for studies, we seek his/her recommendation to find a replacement.

How important are they?

We are a relatively new CSO but within a short span of time, we managed to overcome a lot and made a huge impact. The secret to our success is our ambassadors. They are on the ground. They multiply our efforts and reach. 

How much are they paid?

They are paid in millions worth of smiles and gratitude from people whose lives they touch. It would be an insult to put a price tag on their profound efforts. It's the purest form of volunteerism, one in which, the dirtiest work is done with the cleanest heart. 

What's Ambassador Conference? 

We have never met our ambassadors formally before. We coordinated on Facebook messenger and depended on various mode of communication to keep in touch. For the first time, we organised an Ambassador Conference to bring us all together, face to face and streamline our efforts. It may become an annual event considering the importance of such a platform.



Earlier, in the absence of any written guidelines, some ambassadors have done dozens of activities while others couldn't even define their role. This conference helped us share experiences and draw common grounds. We now have simple and clear terms of reference, action plan and communication strategy. We hope to make it better over the years.


18 October 2020

Top 10 Bhutanese Mobile Apps 2020

This has been something I wanted to do for a long time; to assess Bhutanese Mobile Apps and make a Top 10 list. I wanted to measure the apps based on the tangibles such as the number of downloads, users and reviews. But when I actually began working on it I realized that if I were to base my list entirely on the tangibles then there is no input from my side. I found it important to grade the apps based on the usefulness and user-friendliness. Since it's my list I want to judge the apps based on how useful they were to me. 

Top 10 Bhutanese Apps

After the list was made I found out that only two apps of the 10 are strictly private, rest are all institutional and government service apps. His Majesty the King shared a story about how Instagram, with just 13 employees was bought by Facebook for $ 1 Billion in 2012, which was way more USD than Bhutan had saved since the reign of the Third King. Since hearing that powerful speech I have been showing an extra interest in apps because I feel the only equitable chance we have at doing something big in the world would be a made in Bhutan application. It's worth creating a national think tank and making a big investment. 

For now, all top ten apps combined + Druk Trace app doesn't total up to a million download. 

Following are the top ten made in Bhutan apps on my list;

1. mBOB (100,000+)

mBOB

It is the official mobile banking app of Bank of Bhutan. The app has literally put banking on our palm. Until recently BOB deducted Nu.10 every month from the mBOB users, which was sharply criticized. I didn't mind the small fee because of all the conveniences it offered; Mobile recharge, Mobile payment, Money Transfer, Bill Payments, etc.  Since installing the app some years ago I have never bought a single paper voucher or went physically to pay the electric bill or house rent. 

There are similar apps by other banks, such as MPay, TPay, ePay etc. which may be as useful but since I personally benefited from mBOB alone I chose mBOB. 

DDC Dictionary

2. DDC Dictionary (1000+)

It's a bilingual Dzongkha - English Dictionary app from G2C Bhutan. The app is quite handy in confirming Dzongkha spellings and meanings. It has come to my rescue every time I help my daughter with her Dzongkha works. I think the developer has uploaded an entirely new version instead of updating the original app because it should have more than 1000 downloads it has recorded. 

Druk Zakar

3. Druk Zakar (100,000+)


The Druk Zakar App from Dratshang Lhentsho provides a 12-month day-to-day astrological calendar based on the Bhutanese lunar year. As Bhutanese, we are believers of tag da tendrel (Auspicious signs) before starting a new venture or a long journey or making major decisions in life. Traditionally, we had to go to an astrologer for a consultation but with this app, we could be astrologers ourselves. This may have disappointed the astrologers but for the rest of us, it was a blessing. 
B-Trowa

4. B-Trowa (10,000+)

It's a TV and Radio streaming app from Bhutan Telecom. The only reason this app is on my list is that it streams BBS TV live for free without requiring to register. I feel that this must be the app that's keeping fellow Bhutanese living and working abroad in touch with their homeland. 
Azha Pasa

5. Azha Pasa (10,000+)


It's an eCommerce app with the vision to expand to delivering skills and services but for now they have made their mark by delivering vegetables, LPG and providing garbage pickup services. I have used the app several times to refill LPG cylinders and it's amazing that they charge just Nu.100 for their service. For that cost, we don't even get a cab ride from home to town forget about getting a heavy cylinder delivered home. I have also used the app to get vegetable delivery during the lockdown, which has made me forever grateful to the app. 
Druk Ride

6. Druk Ride (1000+)

Druk Ride is a taxi and bus ticket booking app. It's an app whose time has really come in Bhutan but I am yet to see the real success of the app. Initially, there were three taxi apps but only Druk Ride survived because the market is just too small and awareness on the smart technology is way too less, especially among the cab drivers. I have used the app to book bus tickets to Pling and I was really impressed. I only wished if Haa Bus tickets could be booked on this app. 
POL Depo App

7. POL Depo (10,000+)


This app is from the Department of Trade to facilitate the issue of the coupons for LPG and Kerosene, In pursuit of Improving Public Service Delivery. If you don't have this app you have to visit DoT physically to get the coupons and then head to the Fuel pumps to get LPG or Kerosene. Strangely, you can't just download and use the app right away, like many services in Bhutan, you have to visit DoT physically to get the app registered. 


mRSTA

8. mRSTA (10,000+)

This app built by RSTA gives access to Information related to Driver License and Vehicle Registration of an individual and facilitates services like the renewal of both the documents, which otherwise require us to visit the office physically. The app though poorly branded (both the name and the logo) has really good features. Very soon we may not need printed license or registration documents as long as we carry a phone with this app on.



9. eTeeru (50,000+)

This mobile financial app from Tashi Cell is perhaps the best-marketed app but it has more than a few shortcomings; first, it came into the market too late. There are over five banking apps that are giving the same services eTeeru is offering. Second, it is only for the TCell subscribers which leave the majority of the population out because more Bhutanese use bMobile, including me. If it could be registered using bMobile number I could have at least tried because I have seen so many shops with eTeeru QR code ready to be used but seemingly no users because for now, everyone is happy with mBOB. But if they could maintain the pace of promotion and make necessary changes, I can see it replace all the banking apps, especially on the shopping front. 
Bhutanese Bloggers

10. Bhutanese Bloggers (1000+)

This app features the latest blog posts from the community of Bhutanese bloggers. It was designed to create a platform for every blogger to enjoy equal readership, but since the developer doesn't live in Bhutan anymore, it's really difficult to update the list of bloggers. Without a functioning association, we don't have a dedicated team to look after the app. We may revive it soon. Yes, I am involved in this. 


This is the end of the top 10 list but while talking about the Bhutanese apps, let me draw your attention to the most important app at the moment;
______________________________________

11. Druk Trace (100,000+) 

Druk Trace is designed by G2C for contact tracing during the pandemic. I am sure this is the most downloaded app in Bhutan and I hope you have it on your phone. Having the app on your device is not enough, you must use it wherever you go. I hope someday when all this is over, we can make good use of this app and the data. 

Perhaps we could upgrade this to the national chat platform, Sungjoen App the government envisioned. 

Druk Trace



17 October 2020

Rate for Domestic eCommerce Vendors-2020- A Milestone

I first got in touch with Bhutan Post in December 2019, sharing about my Bhutanese book project called BOOKNESE and how it needed the support of cheaper postal service to become a success that I had envisioned. 

In my proposal, I urged Bhutan Post to consider a subsidised rate for sending books within Bhutan, because I wanted the bookstores in Thimphu to be accessed by every Dzongkhag through BOOKNESE at an affordable rate. I don't see a possibility for some Dzongkhags to ever have bookstores of their own, and therefore it's a smarter option to link them to bookstores in Thimphu, and even Paro. (Read about how BOOKNESE is going to do that.)

October 16, 2020

The current domestic rate of sending a book (or anything), which weighs 500g, is Nu.196 and the next unit on the weight slab is 750g which costs Nu.232. At an average, a book is 300-600g, and it may cost Nu.300, if we add the postage cost, it's going to be a staggering Nu.600+. Who will pay so much for a book? Seriously, books are hard to sell and a heavy postal charge will only make it harder. 

Domestic Rates

As a big national institution that is as old as history, Bhutan Post doesn't need us to promote them. They are bigger than any brand. So what is in it for them? I proposed to appropriately acknowledge Bhutan Post on our platforms, packaging materials and media publications as our partner in promoting Bhutanese literature, reading culture and Bhutanese book market. I found more wisdom in asking them to share the responsibility of creating a better society through the promotion of literature. 

Even though I wasn't good at negotiation, Mr Thinley Wangchuk found merit in it and passionately took it up with management. It went back and forth a couple of times in the course of the last 10 months. He agreed it was timely that they made their services consistent to the changing market trends, especially the emergence of e-commerce in the country. While discussing my proposal, they took a broader stance and made room to accommodate all eCommerce ventures within the framework that is worked out for BOOKNESE.

The MOU was signed between Bhutan Post and BOOKNESE on October 16, 2020, wherein, Bhutan Post offered a new "Rate for Domestic eCommerce Vendors-2020"  which will also be offered to any eCommerce venture that may apply hence. 

When I tested the usual EMS service by sending a package weighing 808g, for which I have only taken Nu.20 as a postal charge from the clients, I was charged Nu. 250. With the new rate, I will only have to pay Nu.100. Unlike the regular rate, where it will climb with increase in weight, the new rate has just two slabs, and the next higher rate we pay is just Nu.150. It's going to make a significant difference in the way we do eCommerce. 


By making it a standard rate for the entire rising eCommerce industry, BOOKNESE was relieved of any conditional burden arising from the partnership. But we shall always remain grateful and adhere to other terms of the Agreement, and ensure that we as a pioneer set a good example. 

09 October 2020

Saving Old Toilets in Schools- An Example from Bhutan

The most satisfying among the projects carried out by Bhutan Toilet Org is the School Toilet Upgradation project. We have been able to train hundreds of school staff to help us transform hundreds of toilet overnight. The combination of smart process and amazing SATO technology made the project one of the most cost-efficient projects.  

We have crossed over a thousand toilets in just over eight Dzongkhags making a saving of at least Nu. 13 million for the government. Of course, these many toilets wouldn't have been upgraded if it wasn't for the project that offered get rid of the old toilets and upgrade them to the next generation toilets using SATO pan. 


Punakha

Within the project, another surprise emerged when we learned that some of the really old toilet structures that were waiting to be dismantled got a second lease of life. While working on some 16 units of pit latrine in a school in Thimphu as part of the pilot project, I noticed an old but strong 10 -unit toilet structure that was closed and left unused. Upon inquiry, the school told me that the toilet was closed for decades and they were only waiting for a budget to demolish it and construct a new one. 
Samtse
Honestly, school toilets are hard to come by. There are a hundred other important things to build in school that toilets are the last things to get attention. That's why you will see that it takes tenures of several principals to finally get a new toilet constructed in a school. And when you hear someone say that they are waiting for a budget to build or renovate a toilet, you know they are being a buffalo waiting for the yak. 
Thimphu
I requested the principal to open the old toilet, which was shut so brutally with hundreds of random nails. Once open, I could see it was a pit latrine with cemented floor and the only problem seems to be the pit which was filled with thousand random things. If we could empty the pit then we could install SATO pan over the pit. The school took the challenge to empty the pit by filling it with water and sucking it out using sewer suction truck. When I visited the next time the pit was emptied and ready to be upgraded. It took was a few hours to install SATO pan on each of the ten units and within the next few days, it was ready to serve its second term. 

Calculating the cost, we found out that we managed to save the old toilet in less than Nu.50,000. If the school had to rebuild a 10-units toilet it could cost at least Nu.1.5 million. Therefore, to be able to save Nu. 1.4 million within a few hours was a significant achievement, but the priceless part of this was reviving and adding 10 more units of toilets for the students to use in a few days. 
Chhukha

The same magic was done to a toilet each in Samtse and Saprang, two blocks each in Chhukha, Zhemgang, Haa, Wangdue and Punakha. To Punakha and Sarpang, Education Secretary, Karma Tshering, then the DG, specifically ask us to go there and save the old toilets that he had instructed the school not to touch until we came to upgrade.  

Since then, we have requested the Education Ministry to disallow school to demolish any old school toilets and it's been circulated thus across the country. 

This story of saving old school toilets inexpensively has been shared on various platforms to encourage similar initiatives across the globe. This could not just save millions in the cost of constructions, but also ensure an instant solution to toilet shortage issues and also the quality of toilets in schools.

Punakha


23 September 2020

Sorry Dasho Nishioka- A Book Review

Dasho Nishioka (1933-1992)


The story of Dasho Nishioka and his life in Bhutan is no short of a fairy tale; I still can't fathom how a sophisticated metropolitan had possibly left behind his comfortable Japanese life and decided to work in Bhutan in 1964? 


The book, Dasho Keiji Nishioka- A Japanese who lived for Bhutan by Tshering Cigay and Dorji Penjordeserves the recognition of being the first to recount the life of a great being who by all means deserved to be remembered. However, it should be forgiven for not being a comprehensive biography, one that is worthy of celebrating an extraordinary life and works of Dasho Nishioka.  

A foreigner who is awarded Bura Marp by His Majesty the King, given a grand state funeral, awarded Druk Thugsey Medal posthumously, built a chorten in his memory and has a flower named after him, if he is not worth several volumes of books then something is missing.

Dasho Nishioka Chorten in Paro

His numerous accolades are not what defines Dasho Nishioka, the true value of the man is in knowing why has he been recognized so grandly. His death from a tooth infection in 1992 at the prime age of 59 could have been avoided if he was anywhere outside Bhutan. He paid the ultimate price for his dedication to this country. When lamenting the loss of a great being, his daughter, Yoko says her father had nothing much to live for, having achieved so much in his short life. His was truly a short and fat life. 

I have heard of a certain Japan Sayab who revolutionized agriculture in Bhutan but it was only in this book that I connected all the dots and began to form a whole picture that I could appreciate. He came to Bhutan in 1964 when life in Bhutan was physically daunting; only Thimphu and Paro were connected by road and it wasn't until the 1980s that we had electricity. But despite the formidable odds the Japanese volunteer chose to stay beyond his two years assignment and gave 28 years of his life to Bhutan, until his death. He spent five years of his life in Bhutan in Zhemgang, the Dzongkhag that took weeks to reach on foot back then and that still is considered a difficult place in 2020. 

Dasho Nishioka's Home in Panbang

A prosperous life awaited him in Japan but he laboured in Bonday Farm to change agriculture in Bhutan. The book gives us an overview of his experiments and initiatives to mechanize farming, improve seeds, enhance yield, create access to market, improve storage, initiate processing, packaging and exporting, build the capacity of the farmers, leverage on the organic brand from Bhutan. What? déjà vu! 

If I hadn't read this book I would be disillusioned into thinking that we have come a long way but half a century later we are still talking about the same issues in agriculture. My conversations with Dr. Lam Dorji on his 'farm to market' project and with Farmer Sangay on Farming 4.0 will never be the same. I want them to read the book and have a soulful conversation with them on how we failed Dasho Nishioka. 

This year the pandemic forced us to wake up to the hard reality that we are still not capable of producing our own food, not even rice. The book tells us that Dasho Nishioka succeeded in enhancing the rice yield three times by improving the seeds. How much have we enhanced it since? It's a shameful revelation of our hypocrisy that we haven't been faithful to the mission that Nishioka started. We left it to him. 

On page 59, a picture of Bonday Farm from the 1980s is juxtaposed with another one taken from the same spot in 2010, almost 30 years apart, and in sharp contrast to the common expectation that the Farm would have flourished into a mega farm, one could see the farm was doing better in the 80s than 30 years later. 

The book relates how even back in the days Dasho Nishioka had to bargain with insincere and lazy Bhutanese to work hard on their own farms by means of reward and punishment. Imagine the frustration of a hardworking Japanese when faced with our suffocating complacency. Had we inherited a little bit of Nishioka essence we won't be having the debate on food security today. We will be exporting premium organic food to the world.

But Sorry Dasho Nishioka, we failed you. Should you come back somehow and see how far we have reached since you left you will be heartbroken.

This book should be read like an initiation prayer by every Bhutanese who joins the agriculture sector so that they recognize and appreciate the history of modern agriculture in Bhutan, and about the foreigner who put his everything in it; to let them question why we are still where we began and to inspire them to work toward a real change with the dedication that would have won the approval of Dasho Nishioka.

The book that was published in 2011 deserves a second edition with more contents on the legend's private life in Bhutan to make it a complete biography. The book needs better design and change in the paper type (non-glossy) to make it reader-friendly while printing the pictures on glossy paper. 

22 September 2020

Tribute to My Late Teacher Karma Wangchuk (1965-2020)

It was in 1997 that I maintained my first journal. My English teacher in Class VII, Sir Karma Wangchuk gave us the assignment to record our day in a small notebook to build our writing skill. The class captain had to collect our journals and take to him for review every evening. We would get it back the next morning with his feedback. Back in the days, we could hardly write an intelligible sentence. We put him off every day. 

One day, by a great stroke of luck I got one sentence correct. I still remember that sentence after all these years, it read "Thinley Gyeltshen left the school on his own accord." My poor English teacher was overjoyed. The remark he left in my little diary had a big impact on me: "Beautiful Sentence. Keep it up!". I kept writing hard to get better remarks from him each day.

It was my teacher Karma Wangchuk who named me PaSsu. He was fond of Haap's accent and found it too funny to call me PaSsu, as a Haap would do, instead of Passang or Passa. I liked it so much and proudly kept it as my pet name.

Knowing him from Junior School to College, he wouldn't be easily impressed but he was openly proud when I handed him a copy of my book PaSsu Diary in 2018. It made a complete circle. It was he in whose class I began journaling and I came to be known as a blogger by the name he gave me, and finally, here he was holding my book. 

Back in March, Among his students who had established a lifelong friendship with him, there were three of us who made it to the funeral despite restrictions due to covid19. We stayed till the end with the members of his family. I stayed till the end because I wanted to his ashes being cast into the river to be washed into the sea and feel the sense of him becoming a part of nature that he loved so much. I thought to myself that he would have loved this part. 



With his death, we lost a living encyclopaedia on the natural world. He would talk about butterflies as if he lived among them. He knew orchids like he had an orchid farm. He could talk endlessly about a bird just by hearing its distant sound. He knew wild animals like a farmer knew his farm animals. He loved wild cats the most and have all the species of it painted. 

His life was simple- the guy seemed to have known the true essence of life already- he spent all his saving during the vacations to explore the wilderness or travel to a historic site. His notes, painting and photographs from the wilderness will very well make up several volumes of books. But he never published anything. I don't think he ever regretted that because he just loved doing it. Publication or exhibition never bothered him. He once told me, "I will always have my side of the story to tell which no one can own. The challenge is even more exciting."


In 1998, I took the only white t-shirt I had to him and requested him to paint something on it for keepsake. He did a black-necked crane on it effortlessly. The shirt didn't last for long but I managed to cut out the crane and preserve it (See pic). He was one of the finest artists I have known and the first to introduce me to art. His favourite subjects were his cousins from the wilderness; there are hundreds of paintings of birds, orchids, mammals, cats, etc. some from as early as 1987 when he was a boy himself. He never exhibited his artworks. In fact, his works were taken by others and published in their books, when he could easily do his own. 

I managed to convince him to do a massive exhibition that will not only showcase his artworks on the natural world but also his photographs on butterflies and his notes. The plan was to hire the RSPN hall and divide it into several sections- Cats of Bhutan; Orchids of Bhutan; Butterflies of Bhutan; Mammals of Bhutan; Birds of Bhutan; and after the exhibition the exhibits will be compiled into several books. But the timing was wrong. He fell ill shortly after that and he could not recover to do it. But I know even if he had recovered fully he may not have been so eager to do it because he was just happy that he had created them. That's all that mattered to him.

The other dimension to the man was his natural love for Shakespear and the literature in general. In 2006 when Shakespear was being removed from the Bhutanese curriculum, Sir Karma was devastated. He didn't say much in protest but when he hosted the Annual Award Ceremony in Paro College, he ran the two hours show using nothing but Shakespeare quotes. He did it so effortlessly like his mother tongue. That night some 400 of us in the hall knew how relevant Shakespear was to this day.

For us, Shakespear means two plays and a few sonnets we struggled with in high school but he was someone he read Shakespeare plays like a love letter he just received and watched the same plays alongside books like we would watch some hot movies. English literature came naturally to him, almost like a household chore and he must have scribbled hundreds of pages of poems and stories, hidden among his countless valuable papers. 

His brother and brother's children agreed to our proposal to form a team among his students and pay him a tribute by doing an exhibition and publishing his works.


Death is but a man becoming a memory, 

You are a powerful memory alive in hundreds of us.

You are alive in me and my beautiful life. 


So Long!

20 September 2020

BOOKNESE- Just for Bhutanese Books


When I was growing up, becoming a writer was the most romantic idea to choose as a dream. I tended to this dream by reading biographies of authors, watching movies and documentaries based on the lives of writers, collected pictures of V.S Naipaul, Salman Rushdie and Sidney Sheldon when kids of my age were collecting posters of Leonardo DiCaprio and Salman Khan. 

One day after I became a man, the beautiful dream turned into a disappointment when I learnt that there was not a single dedicated book publisher in the country and that the Bhutanese book market was too poor to produce any fulltime writer. There were only a few authors who managed to go beyond their first book, which is a sign that they managed to sell their first book enough to save them from bankruptcy and dare to publish again. In short, there was no hope. The idea is only romantic. 

I didn't want to believe that there isn't any hope after a lifetime of waiting to become a writer. I wanted to make things work. That's why Nawang and I sat down and charted out a plan to bring together all the Bhutanese writers under Writers Association of Bhutan (WAB). We thought we could collectively create a society where literature thrived and therefore writing became a well-paid profession. A decade into building WAB with some founding members we came nowhere. 

We failed to convince our writers that we could be a lot stronger if we worked as a community, create services and facilities that every writer could leverage on, build a platform to launch books and reach masses in ways that we individually could not achieve. We are disillusioned individuals who carry a massive ego to form any functioning team; everyone thought they are popular enough to survive and thrive alone.  

Crowdpublishing-What an Idea!

Well, all is not lost. WAB managed to create a platform where aspiring writers honed their skills and gained recognitions. Nawang's 'Crowdpublishing' model helped several new writers publish their books, including my book PaSsu Diary. I used my social network to sell 3000 copies of my book easily. If WAB became an institution much can be done to help every Bhutanese who aspire to become a writer and also those who have already published but couldn't do much as writers, which is a common problem that we fail to recognize. 

But when WAB didn't happen as expected because it involved so many players to make an association, I pushed for a more personal and smaller dream with Nawang and Tharchen, to do almost the same thing as WAB but as a private venture. And that's BOOKNESE. 



What is BOOKNESE?

BOOKNESE is an ecosystem of Bhutanese books, their writers, their readers, and the bookstores where they are sold at. It’s the platform that is making an extra effort to celebrates Bhutanese literature because if we don’t, no one else will. 

BOOKNESE is archiving and exhibiting every book ever written by Bhutanese so that we could come to appreciate that a small country has produced so many works of literature, perhaps the highest per capita in the world. We showcase and promote every book with equal passion and unbiased attention. 

86 Bhutanese Writers Registered on BOOKNESE thus far

BOOKNESE aspires and works towards becoming that national archive where anyone interested in Bhutanese literature will come to seek authentic and reliable information so that no one will have to rely on random third-party foreign online sources, where we are not even treated with due respect. 

BOOKNESE ensures that every book receives its fair share of readers and that the content of the book is discussed objectively, reviewed fairly, and judged for its worth. BOOKNESE has established ways to celebrate good books, critique bad ones, and ensure that no writer is disillusioned by a few good reviews from close friends, or disheartened by a few bad reviews from jealous readers. 

BOOKNESE guarantees every book gets equal access to the market; ​the ​market that is enhanced through ​a network of bookstores​ that is made accessible from any dzongkhag through this online platform. Booknese establishes trust and goodwill with the bookstores and sources books from them and expands their reach beyond their towns to the whole of the nation and even beyond.  

BOOKNESE is a nonprofit venture, not because we aren't interested in profit but because there is no way we will ever make a profit out of books, especially Bhutanese books. It's, therefore, more profitable not to do this business but if we don't do it, who's going to do it?

It's been a difficult two years building the idea into a platform, and putting together 151 books by 86 writers, one by one, suffering the lukewarm response and complacency of so many writers. It took me hundreds of hours, sleepless night, more than three request messages and reminders to each writer before they responded. 

Of course, it's time for me to sit back and watch because the BOOKNESE is now ready to receive entries directly from you. 

Someday you will beg to be on BOOKNESE! That day is not today, so tell your writer friends to register their book for free. It may not remain free for long. Who knows, one day if a book is not on BOOKNESE the book doesn't even exist. 

If you are a good reader, you can become an asset for BOOKNESE by becoming a star reviewer who is loved and feared by every Writer. They will wait to see your review and quote you on the cover of their second editions. Your reviews will be printed in newspapers regularly and it might become a second source of income.