Showing posts with label Nothing Business About it. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Nothing Business About it. Show all posts

14 November 2018

Bjob Ganchu- A Badass Bhutanese Entrepreneur

Thimphu is the showroom of Bhutanese prosperity, influence and glamour as much as it’s the slum of destitution, struggle and misery. The coexistence of the two worlds is made unbearably painful when the prosperous neighbors don’t waver from casting their dark shadow over the shattered dreams on the other side. 

Having become a part of this community and witnessing the urban drama of haves and have-nots, I can see one unmindfully flaunting and other ignorantly desiring, and thus keeping the vicious circle of misery rolling. We can break free from this self-imposed tragedy by simply changing the kind of people we choose to admire and follow. 

I am least impressed by the generous display of possessions or influence. In the whole glittering exhibition of Thimphu, the only person I envy is Bjob Ganchu. To me, he is one person who is living a real dream. His days are spent in his own radio station playing music and doing amazing shows of his own creativity, and by the night he is at his own live music bar listening to bands of his choice and discussing bold new ideas with the best of people in the town. Now who else gets to do this for living! 

Gangchu- The Man! PC: His Facebook Profile
Back in the days, when I was still a teacher in Bajothang and when Thimphu was an occasional getaway for my family, I would switch to Radio Valley 99.9 FM as soon as Simtokha Dzong came in the view. In the evening, I would timidly stroll by to get a glimpse of urban night life at Mojo Park. My idea of Thimphu was whole in these two. Much later I found out that the both were created by one lanky music lover called Ganchu.

Ganchu set out to become an engineer and he became one. He secured his choice of placement at the then Thimphu City Cooperation. However, he soon realized that he was never designed for 9-5. He left his juicy position in civil service to meet his destiny half way across. It was a daring move for a village boy from Gaselo who had the burden of supporting his aging parents.

If I had known him back in 2007 I would have found him so stupid, trying to set up a radio station against so many obvious odds. Radio was a dying thing already, even the well-established BBS Radio was facing the inevitable fate with the coming of television. But who would have thought that the man was on the mission not only to revive radio but also to make it into a thriving trend? In fact, until Radio Valley came by, radio was a rural thing, it was his radio station that made listening to radio an exciting urban trend. He gave national radio a run for their money.

I am sure he isn’t making a lot of money from radio, but he is undoubtedly having so much fun playing music, directing shows of his own choice and helping people promote their businesses through his radio ads. In the age of TV and social media, he is the guy who still managed to influence businesses to invest in radio ads, and delivered results.

In 2011, he ventured into another field of business, live music bar, that was already flooding the dingy corners of Thimphu and drawing criticism. But not surprisingly, after what he did with radio, his music bar was not another drayang in the town. His was Mojo Park, a class apart, where he managed to sanctify the stage and made it into a platform where professional singers and bands aspire to perform. Down on the floor he has created a haven for decent music loving crowd. Mojo Park became an elegant place where stars performed and fans applauded, and it has also become a launch pad for many new singing talents. On top of that, despite being one crowed place, It’s the safest night place to hang out in Thimphu with no case of violence whatsoever. Touchwood. 


Ganchu is a unique specimen of entrepreneur in Thimphu because he neither falls in the category of young businessmen with inheritance, nor of those young entrepreneurs who are groomed and blessed by various government schemes. He emerged on his own from in-between the two and became a success story worth telling to the younger generation.

What set him apart from the rest was his guts to dream big, his sincerity to back it up with good research and then execute it like a pro. You will not hear him complain, you will only hear him talk endlessly about brave new ideas. Of course, you would hear a lot of people do that but Ganchu would have already tried and tested his ideas the next time you meet him. He does not wait for government to support or any miracle to happen. 

Gangchu- Doing what he loves- PC: His Facebook
I have known him to be a perfectionist when it comes to branding, which he is so good at. This brand master would rather have a crappy business with a good branding than otherwise. He personally worked on branding all of his businesses and even helped a lot of his friends get branding right.

His other businesses are Karma Kora T-Shirts, which has already become a collectable item and much sort after souvenir from Bhutan. I remember him travelling all the way to Bangkok to learn the art of screen-printing before he ventured into it. His branding agency, Valley Studio is thriving and raising the bar for the emerging advertising industry. 

Not everything went so smoothly for him, some of the shops he has to close down were Jarim Sarim, online photo printing service, Asha Passa, the first online business platform in Bhutan that was ahead of its time but would come back as mobile app soon, and My Flick, a movie rental store. He is smart enough to let go when things aren’t working but he won’t just let it be without giving it a shot. He has that stubborn attitude to implement his idea no matter what. 

And now he is venturing into travel business and mind you he must have something completely different to offer to this conventional business, I already saw him host the Bucketlist family. He is constantly brewing new ideas, once he asked me if I, as fellow bjob, would be interested in starting a Yak Riding business in Haa. Another time, he asked me if I would join him to create a forest of cherry trees in his or my village. He would often remind me of that prayer flagpole hiring idea I wrote some years ago. Danger of saying yes to Ganchu is that you have to do it right away.

I have seen recent entrepreneurs being awarded prizes, invited as guest speakers in schools and at various events to share their stories but in most of their stories I find on common theme; their struggle, their grievances, their hope of better future if things go well. I feel they need Ganchu to speak at such events, to talk about how to make things work, how to invest smartly, how to brand their business, how to succeed, how to let go when things don’t work and move on with the next, how to stop complaining… he will speak so bluntly that young people who are destined for entrepreneurship will find their direction and those who are not will face the truth and change their direction. They need to hear success story from this badass entrepreneur. He is a mentor you must seek because he, in his own words, “has not talent, his only talent is to see talent in people”.

Gangchu and His Wife. PC: His Facebook Profile 
Sorry, Bjob Ganchu doesn’t have a private home, he doesn’t drive a big car, he is mostly seen in his old clothes and keep his hair long, because he thinks hair is like antenna … not a conventional success story you seek but that’s what I recommend you to seek for a fulfilling and purposeful stay in Thimphu.

27 September 2018

Battles People Fought in Animating Pemi Tshewang Tashi

Still from the movie: Pemi Tshewang Tashi approaching Trongsa
When Tharchen told me that he was going to make an animation movie I didn’t know how to respond. It sounded exciting but very impractical. All he had was a bunch of high school graduates, whom he was mandated to train and give employment. It was a suicidal mission. But who was I to tell him, especially so when he was so determined to the extent that he was talking as if he saw the end.

Tharchen, The Dream Maker
Deep down, I knew he would come to his senses and give up on the idea of building a sand castle in the cold Himalayan air. He was just done building a company, iBEST Institute, that was doing so well, and by all means he deserved to enjoy his success for good few years before he took a shot in the dark, that could topple his company. Just some years ago, which he seemed to have forgotten, he went to start a dairy farm in Dagana, which should have taught him some good lessons.

Despite my subtle disapproval he went on. Art classes for 25 young trainees began in earnest. Some months later, Tharchen was beaming with pride when he invited me to an exhibition of artworks done by his trainees. I was least impressed. I saw no possibility that those hand could be used for producing artworks good enough for an animation movie. But you should have seen the look on the face of the man, he was so sure and ever more convinced.

His business partner, Sonam Rinchen who should be worried and cautioning him about taking such uncalculated risk was rather the cheerleader of this idea. Oh, perhaps this explains how they found each other in the first place.

The furthest I could see them go with the project was producing a namesake animation movie that’s barely watchable and everyone saying, “It’s ok for a made-in-Bhutan animation, after all we don’t have the skills and technology, blah blah…” I remember telling Tharchen that at this age and time, when world is so connected in real time, we cannot just complacently use brand Bhutan as a sad excuse for producing a pathetic result. We must rather understand that the Bhutanese audience has seen the best of animations from across the world and it won’t be easy to impress them anymore.

The training was still going on in one room and in another room, I was seated with the script writer, translator, and other consultants to review the script. I could not believe it was really happening. The story was not only decided but even the script was drafted. It was based on the ballad of Pemi Tshewang Tashi. I was still wondering if Tharchen was serious about his trainees doing it. But he surprised me further by unfolding his project timeline where the date of launch of the movie was set. 

On the floor above where we were, iBEST Studios, where the movie will be made, was being set up at the cost of at least two million Ngultrums. On my way out of the review room, I peeked into the training room and pitifully prayed for the trainees, who have no idea what they had signed up for.

After a year since it began, the training ended and certificates were awarded. With any other training course, that would have been the end. The trainees would proudly leave with the certificate, regardless of what they had learnt. But this, like I said, was an interesting case, where a real project was awaiting them already. It was a test both for the iBEST Institute and the trainees.

While the long preproduction was taking its painful course the newly certified animators tried their hands on several small projects. I didn’t know how long they took or how painful it had been but they were able to produce about a dozen tiny pieces of animations. However, they were nowhere close to what it would take to make an animation movie. Tharchen could still make a U-turn at this point. He didn’t. Sonam Rinchen continued to stand behind him.

The next time we met, Tharchen presented the storyboard. By then he had diligently gone sniffing after everyone in Thimphu who carried the slightest scent of animation-related skill on them and finally it had dawned on him that all he had with him on this mission was his pack of 25 underdogs. There was hardly anyone out there who was ready to commit to such a huge project and the discipline it would require.

At least he managed to pull in portion of commitment from some people who are critical for the project. His used his mastery over the human resource management to delegate responsibilities and streamline the process and let the ball rolling. Six months into the project, seven people backed off. On the home front his marriage was failing. He was the last person to realize that all was not well behind his back. It snapped when he had the least energy to deal with it. It was becoming increasingly painful for me to visit him because each time there was a lot that had happened, much of that being unpleasant. But to his credit, his focus on the project was completely undistracted. He would show me fragments of impressive works and make me watch over and over.

Marching Back to Wangdue Dzong
By the time the project was due to end, I visited him to share his joy but it turned out to be the worst time for celebration. They had put together everything and saw that it was nothing like they had envisioned. It was indeed a sorry excuse of an animation movies that he didn’t even care to show me. For the first time in all times, I saw the man beaten. He declared that it was not happening. He spent so many sleepless nights for a dream, which just crumbled on his feet. It was one damn expensive blunder and unceremonious end to his ambitious project.

I learnt later that he gave a heartbroken farewell-like speech, shutdown his computer and went home to sleep. He surely needed a good rest but not with such burden on his mind.

The orphaned team realized what hit them. They went to wake their leader and promised him that they would complete what they had set out to do. He shut them out hopelessly and went on with his self-imposed isolation.

And perhaps that was exactly what he needed, because it was during this quiet moments with himself, he later shared, that he could assess the whole scheme of things. It was then he realized that it was not just his project and his dream that crumbled; it was his responsibility to his business partner and his team of young people who marched after him with the hope beyond this one project. The whole future ahead of them. It was their dreams too, and he was the captain of the sunken ship.

It was in these moments that he had the shrewdness to look back objectively on those few fragments of animation that were promisingly smooth. Then the whole arena of possibility became apparent to him. He went back to office the next day and began rebuilding the whole structure of hopes and dreams.

He took the direct responsibility of the all three departments that were there, which worked independently but must be in sync with each other. He removed any cloudy layer in-between him and his three teams. They agreed to work till dinner time with dinner provided in the canteen next to their office. The team unity grew gradually and began to feel like one strong beam of energy concentrated on the new-found purpose. The office literally became their home. They were motivated to stay little longer each night and soon they brought their sleeping bags and blankets to office. There found more purpose in staying after the dinner to work few more hours than going home to waste their time on TV. In the morning hours, I have seen them sleeping like logs on and under their office tables or running around with their toothbrushes looking for water.

When office became home.
Tharchen himself hadn’t seen his bed at home for months at end. In fact, he must be the only one among the team who slept with his shoes on, I saw it myself. Sleeping in the office was not the important part, it was the long waking hours that they made best use of which made all the difference.

I thought they were picking up from where they had left and trying to complete the project on the deadline but it turned out that they were starting all over again, and this time it was all so different. I knew it was at a new level when they released the first song from the movie. Before I could truly comprehend the extent at which they have grown in last few months, they released the second song. They were on fire.

I didn’t visit them much during this period because I didn’t want them to waste any minute of their time but I did pay them visits every time Tharchen summoned. He was specific about when I should come or whom should I come with, it’s often my daughter who accompanied me because he wanted our diverse views on parts of their work. During these occasional visits, I have seen some kind of a renaissance at iBEST Studios, strong energy overflowing at every desk, no one looked sleep-deprived or exhausted. They were seeking more dopamine from their work.

On one casual visit, my family got the opportunity to watch the voice artists recording for the characters. Over 50 voice artists are chosen from Bhutanese radio and film industry for 40 different types of voices they needed. I wondered why they needed people from movies when it’s not even about acting on camera but Tharchen told me that he wanted the best. Interestingly, my daughter was asked to try out recording for Lhaden Zam, Pemi Tshewang Tashi’s daughter because the voice they recorded earlier sounded little matured for the little girl character. My girl pulled off quite well and thus became part of the project.

Ninzi at iBEST Studios recording for Lhaden Zam
When the trailer came out I couldn’t believe that the team who started their training from basic art classes had come so magnificently far. In the words of His Majesty the King, “It’s not about if you can or cannot do, it’s about if you will or will not do.” They have done it. 

Now that the movie is in the cinema, it’s out there for everyone to see how much our youths can do, which takes more than just some training opportunity but a tharchenian push. It’s an animation that’s so far, the best ever produced in our country, perhaps the longest and comparable to its cousins across the world. They went for nothing less than excellence.

Warriors at iBEST Studios!
Over Nu. 15 million was invested in this project, which was enough to produce at least five regular movies and Tharchen knows that he will never recover this amount at the Bhutanese box office. He admits that half the investment went in the mistakes they made, the expensive mistakes that eventually pushed them to the level they never thought they could possibly attain. He believes that the best returns from the investment was the empowerment of his youthful team that has now become an asset to our country and to themselves. It’s so intangible, he told me, but that’s what gives him peaceful sleep.

19 March 2014

The Night Hunters

'The Night Hunters' is a collection of short stories written by my friend Dasho Lingi Jamtsho. We are friends because of the book. It connected us. And because he is my friend I can be biased in my judgement of the book, so it's best you get a copy for yourself and read it.

It's selling at Nu.200. Please don't ask how many pages it carries because it's a story book, not a notebook to be priced by the number of pages. Just know that it's about two mobile vouchers and you get to keep a book. Seriously printing books is an expensive affair in Bhutan, besides there are many people who want cuts. There is no regard for the Authors and their creative works.

I have been selling 'The Night Hunters' in my school and some people might think I am into book business because I have been marketing many Bhutanese books in and around my school however there is nothing business about it, I have no intention of peeling off the skin from the writers' chests. I just love literature and I want my students to love it all the same.

The Author during a Visit to my school.
I am happy that "The Night Hunters" is receiving good reviews from within and outside Bhutan. Here in my school every teacher carries a copy each and most of them have finished reading, they came up with varying verbal reviews mostly pointing toward the simplicity of the stories and some talks about predictable suspenses. Their reviews are some ward influenced by the price and the nature of my marketing- for some it seemed like they were owning a book for the first time (joke intended).

I bought my copy even though I could easily get a signed copy from the author himself because there is its own charm in paying for something. I finished it and I am impressed by the fineness of the language as much as I could relate to the stories. The cover design and the print quality can easily put it at par with any international book. This is one book that will not put Bhutan down, though it's Maj. Lingi's first attempt at writing. I wish him all the best with his second book.

31 December 2013

Why is RSTA still doing this?

Tomorrow is the deadline. Tomorrow vehicle owners must have the ownership of their cars transferred to their names. What will happen if it's not done? What is the intention behind pushing it so much now? What is the excuse of not having it done so far? Who are the victims?

There was one very striking article on bBay by Tshering Wangdi about the issue, it has covered everything that I ever wanted to pour out on this matter and because bBay is about buying and selling second hand stuff, I let the article be there only to see it go viral. Within a day it has gathered over 200 comments and shared over 20 times. Therefore I would like to reblog this article:
RSTA comes up with stupid rules once in a while. It required taximeters in all taxis in 2007-2008. The taximeters cost Nu. 8000 and you had to buy it from RSTA-approved supplier. Many taxi drivers were fined huge amounts for not having taximeters. Now, 3-4 years down the line, RSTA totally forgot about taximeters and

nobody uses a taximeter. Who paid the price of a bad policy by a government agency vested with authority and power (which it used with full force on some taxi dr
ivers who didn't comply or who doubted the taximeter idea). In the end, taximeters neither helped the customers, nor the taxi drivers? It was the poor taxi drivers...who had to bear Nu. 8000 each, and our country as a whole which lost more than Nu 40 million to taximeter makers in Taiwan and Thailand.

Now, they want people to change ownership of vehicles. What is the reason - simply police or RSTA can't find owners. Well, when vehicles are registered, RSTA and Police should update details like Id card and mobile phone numbers in their database. Hit and run cases and criminal activities in your car will be charge to the owner? How many hit and run cases are there in Bhutan, or how many criminal activities are carried out without drivers in the car? If crimes are committed when the vehicle is used, you should catch the driver of the vehicle (not the owner). You also have the option of seizing the vehicle.

Now, RSTA is charging 5% for vehicle sale tax - which comes to about Nu. 10-20,000/- for small vehicles and about 50-100,000 for luxury vehicles. Same vehicle, taxed two times or more. Most people don't make money on selling their cars, so why sale tax again and again? What if vehicles are sold 3-4 times, who is going to pay the tax? One of the reasons people don't change ownership is because of the high tax incurred every time ownership is changed. RSTA should have a flat administrative fee of Nu. 1000 for ownership change and standard fee for new bluebook issued by RSTA. Sales tax should be levied only on brand new cars. (In Bhutan, many brand new cars are purchased by high level civil servants with quota and previous MPs, they never paid single Nu. as sale tax. Now, why second hand car should pay sale tax?)

I tell you RSTA will forget this within 1-2 years about ownership change...only loss will be people who pay 5% for ownership transfer.

I drive my uncle's vehicle. I will not change the ownership, because no where in the law says that a nephew is not allowed to drive uncle's vehicle. Sorry RSTA, you will not get my money.

PDP government should stop RSTA from harassing the people. This is my humble request to PDP government...I am sure lots of other people feel the same. RSTA is doing an exercise in futility and innocent people are paying the money.

Now, they want people to change ownership of vehicles. What is the reason - simply police or RSTA can't find owners. Well, when vehicles are registered, RSTA and Police should update details like Id card and mobile phone numbers in their database. Hit and run cases and criminal activities in your car will be charge to the owner? How many hit and run cases are there in Bhutan, or how many criminal activities are carried out without drivers in the car? If crimes are committed when the vehicle is used, you should catch the driver of the vehicle (not the owner). You also have the option of seizing the vehicle. 
Now, RSTA is charging 5% for vehicle sale tax - which comes to about Nu. 10-20,000/- for small vehicles and about 50-100,000 for luxury vehicles. Same vehicle, taxed two times or more. Most people don't make money on selling their cars, so why sale tax again and again? What if vehicles are sold 3-4 times, who is going to pay the tax? One of the reasons people don't change ownership is because of the high tax incurred every time ownership is changed. RSTA should have a flat administrative fee of Nu. 1000 for ownership change and standard fee for new bluebook issued by RSTA. Sales tax should be levied only on brand new cars. (In Bhutan, many brand new cars are purchased by high level civil servants with quota and previous MPs, they never paid single Nu. as sale tax. Now, why second hand car should pay sale tax?) 
I tell you RSTA will forget this within 1-2 years about ownership change...only loss will be people who pay 5% for ownership transfer.
I drive my uncle's vehicle. I will not change the ownership, because no where in the law says that a nephew is not allowed to drive uncle's vehicle. Sorry RSTA, you will not get my money. 
PDP government should stop RSTA from harassing the people. This is my humble request to PDP government...I am sure lots of other people feel the same. RSTA is doing an exercise in futility and innocent people are paying the money.

The same writer has worked on the probable cost of transferring the ownership as follows, which by all Bhutanese standards is too high.
Alto/Santro - Nu 10000-12000Swift/i20/A-star - Nu 20000-25000Tucson/Grand Vitara - Nu 45000-60000SantaFe/HondaCRV/Hilux - Nu 75000-90000Prado (GX) - Nu 95000-110000Prado (TX) - Nu 175000-220000Land Cruiser old model - Nu 220000-275000Land Cruiser V8/Range Rover - Nu. 300000-450000 
An honest Bhutanese's monthly salary is far lesser than what workers in Australia earn in 24 hours and buying a second hand car from that salary is impossible without taking loan from a bank, loan that will haunt us for five longest years. And just when you thing you have a car you are asked to pay 5% just to change the ownership is too much to digest for any Bhutanese. Where will so much money come from?

From BBS
Public comments on that article on bBay clearly show how disappointed people are, it almost seemed like people are protesting against RSTA, but shockingly 900 people have already obeyed the rule leaving the rest on their own. People have openly expressed displeasure against this rule and given the weight and mass of public opinion RSTA ought to withdraw it but looks like they are badly and shamelessly in need of huge money.

People have even pointed finger against the ruling government, whom they thought was responsible for this sudden stiffness in rule but Prime Minister came on TV to say that his government has no hand in it. He rather questioned why it was not done as required. The government of the day may not have their hand in this but as people's government isn't it their duty to at least put their feet in it when so many people are affected in the face of economic bad times?

21 May 2013

Private Tuition in Bhutan- Where Teachers Can't Teach

This is one very interesting story about a licensed private tuition company writing complaint letter to Dzongkhag about some of my colleagues stealing their business. I say it's interesting because a businessman thinks that it's his business to tuition our children and not ours. It's even more interesting because there is a policy which states that teachers cannot take private tuition classes after school hours, and that's the legal point the businessman is catching at. Technically he is on the right side. 
Before I express my surprises let me clarify that none of my teacher colleagues take any tuition classes this year as far as I know and I have no time, space and intention to do it myself, therefore it's with clean conscience that I choose to be surprised.
The biggest surprise is that our own ministry thought teachers should not do private tutoring for money, and the justification was that some teachers would do half hearted job in the classroom so to gather good number of heads for side business. This mistrust is heartbreaking. Should there be any teacher who would resort to such cheap means, can anything stop them?
Another Surprise, licenses have been issued to businessmen to operate tuition classes, now justify the logic, if any, behind trusting some people, who may or may not be trained, to teach our students better than they were taught in the classroom.
If any student has problem with any subject no teacher will ever say no to
them during free hours and holidays, so where do we need tuition at all? And if some parents have enough money to blow off and wants to send their children to tuition anyway, who would be a better person- child's own teachers or some licensed businessmen?
Coming back to our ministry's decision, which may be guided by many wisdom I didn't know of, but I must say I was impressed by health ministry move at providing off hour clinic opportunity for doctors to earn some extra cash. I also envy the way engineers spent their off hours making drawing for private individuals to earn handsome cash. But we teachers are lavishly showered with rules after rules, instead of some smart ways to improve our livelihood. Name one teacher who has a car without loan, or name one teacher who has children in private school without two loans?
I would most respectfully accept the rule that says teachers are not allowed to drive taxi after school, or teachers are not allowed to do business in school involving students but excuse me on the rule that says teachers can't teach. What else can teachers do then?

05 May 2013

National Book unFair in Bajothang Again

I was the happiest when Bajothang School was chosen the venue of National Book Fair last year. I was full of expectations. It was my first close encounter with the event and I was watching it from all corners from the day the first truck dropped the load of books.
When the event unfolded I was the most disappointed. I even wrote an article expressing my disappointment: "Book Fair Should be More Than Business" after observing that the fair was all about selling millions worth of book to school libraries. If it was only about selling books, why do we need a fair at all, every Dzongkhag has their towns where book stores are suffering from lack of business. Book Fair must be the reason why book stores are closing down, and why new book stores are not coming up. Wangdue has no book store at all. If you suggest someone to open one, they will tell how selling books is so hard but the reality is every year schools are given huge budget to buys books- which sadly goes to some twenty book sellers participating in book fair.
Book Fair should be an event to celebrate the love for book, to celebrate wisdom of book and to promote reading culture among children. It should be organized by people who love books and literature, people who have read widely and could inspire buyers.
Book Fair should be the meeting place for book lovers, where people who have read most come to share about their secrets and their recommendations to students attending the fair. Where students with outstanding reading habits could be awarded prizes. (But currently only librarians and teachers attend the fair)
Book Fair should honour Bhutanese Writers and their works. It should create platform for native writers to read their books to children and promote their own dreams and inspire children into writing. Writers attending the fair will positively boost the sale of their books and boost their passion. Book Fair in Bhutan should be responsible for promoting book in Bhutan at least.
Book Fair can be the best event to launch books by Bhutanese writers, did it happen?
Some near by schools could be asked to prepare some performances based on popular stories, recite poems, narrate stories, or present book reviews by students.
If none of these is going to happen then stop Book Fair all together because it's only killing the business of hundreds of Book Stores that are not taking part in the fair for the sake of some twenty smart businessmen.

Truck loads of books have arrived in my school football ground and stalls are erected for the event, let's see how different this National Book Fair is going to be!

14 April 2013

Afternoon with Farmer Sangay

Another big thing this weekend is finally meeting Farmer Sangay in person. We have been friends on social media for a long time. The man and his initiatives need no introduction and I am among the many people who couldn't dare to be different like him but I have all the respect and appreciation for the difference he is making. He calls himself a Farmer, but I see him as a social scientist. For the record, he is the founder of Happy Green Cooperative- "the cooperative model of green ideas and solutions to pursue social innovations."
Showing off our daughters!!
Sangay brought along another amazing young man to make my Sunday more meaningful- the founder of Bhutan Kidney Foundation, Tashi Namgay. Sharing table with two of them and measuring their achievements against their age I saw a beautiful preview of future Bhutan. I on my part hoped and prayed that some day some of my students will turnout to be different like them.
Between the Founders
Among the many innovative plans Sangay has, one of my favorites is his Cafe, which is also going to be the Innovation Lab for his Cooperative, where you and I can walk in with our ideas and give them shape and color over coffee. And you know him- He will make it happen!
Our Families 
We both brought along our families but it was a mistake, we should have left our wives alone with their Sunday because two of us had thousand things to talk about, much of which weren't of interest to our ladies. But it was additional pleasure to meet his actor wife, who stands strong behind him in his passion.

To interact with the two guys, Like their pages on Facebook:

19 March 2013

The Bhutanese Asha Pasa Theory of Economy

Phuntsholing Custom officials were shown on BBS camera obediently performing their duty of dumping hundreds of cases of confiscated beer and energy drink, which could be worth hundreds of thousands. Import of those seized drinks were banned and therefore it was a job well done by the customs.
But what is the logic behind destroying the valuable goods when it could be auctioned outside the border to regain the rupee invested on importing it? Is it illegal to auction seized goods? or are we trying to prove our ethics?
Picture from Kuensel
Bhutanese with Ngultrum currency are greeted with higher prices across the border because rupee issue is still bothering our economy, and on the other hand we seem like a rich country with luxury to dump beer which are imported on rupee. It's not the first time we are seeing such incidences- millions worth of tobacco were burned in last years. Why are we being so Asha Pasa?
I am at least happy that Phuntsholing Customs is going to sell the empty beer bottles and cans to scrap dealers to be exported to India- Is it more ethical to earn Nu.2 per empty bottle than to reimburse Rs.50 per beer bottle? In that case I suggest them to sell the metal caps and cartoon boxes as well. This may go on to invent our own economic theory called Asha Pasa Theory!

14 September 2012

Endoscopy of Health Ministry

My brother had a painlessly bad stomach for years, which won't keep anything beyond an hour. He was gradually losing weight and getting tired of running to toilet after every meal, and we were deprived of our regular toilet visits, since we only have one toilet. His so many hospital visits neither satisfied his disease nor him, not even me. I knew something was seriously wrong.
During his long toilet occupation he would finish a whole newspaper, and by the beginning of 2011 he was reading Business Bhutan passionately because it had 24 pages to last longer than his toilet ordeal. Those days Health Ministry Corruption was just a news for him in the toilet. The following series of stories on the ill health of health ministry by Tenzing Lamzang went on shocking us. But at the end of the day it was just a news and often I saw the newspaper lying wet on the toilet window.
Last month I took my brother to Thimphu with a referral from Wangdue hospital for endoscopy, to have a photographic view of his funny stomach and to clear all our doubts. It was a smooth sail until he was sent for endoscopy appointment, though we waited for hours, But he was given his appointment two months later. I didn't believe, I triple-checked the date. Later I learnt that this has been the process for quite sometime, and everybody has learned to follow it.
My brother wanted to return home right away but I didn't want him to live any longer with the disease we didn't understand yet, and land up hearing 'it's too late now' later. Then a friend on Twitter rescued us by mentioning about the private clinic that has the endoscopy machine, she also share about the price of the service. It was expensive but life is priceless. He went there the next day and got it done. It was discovered that his stomach was invaded by bacterial colonies, which has matured enough and if it was left untreated for some time more it could have caused Cancer! Damn I knew that. I always feared that but didn't want him to worry. However we made it there on time and he has stared his new course of medication, which is showing good results now.
After all this was over I was there at the hospital attending to my mother in-law and I chanced to know why endoscopy service is taking so long. There used to be three machines and two broke down, which is obvious after having read the procurement scams. And when job of three machines are left for a single machine we can't expect things to happen as quickly.
So the whole news on health ministry corruption my brother read on his toilet pot finally boiled down on a common man like him. But we were smart and we made it through on time. He paid the price, in cash and not with his life. What about the so many people who are lined up for as long as three month to have endoscopy done? What about so many who waited and found that they were a little late? Were they late? How many may pay with their lives for the greed of some highly educated frauds? When will the two other machine be fixed? Common men are paying price every day.
Thanks to Tenzing Lamzang and ACC for doing the endoscopy of the Health Ministry and removing the cancerous cells dancing on money its stomach. Hope things will be better with time.

28 July 2012

Maths Teacher at The Fuel Pump

I have various stories of myself at the fuel pump, and in the last many stories I was either the clown who ran on empty tank to the empty pump, or the villain who shouted at the manager who thought he had nothing to do with the empty pump. But this time I didn't switch my role, I remained a teacher- a Maths teacher.
I don't know if you are used to keeping your investigative eyes on the fuel meter while fueling your car, because there are pump boys who are out looking for chances to steal a few drops from your purchase. You have to be extra careful while fueling at the stations where the old model pumps are still serving after their retirement age because you don't see the price and the rate.
I was at a Fuel Station in Paro this morning and I was already displeased at the old machine. I asked to be fueled for Nu.1000 and the boy stopped at 14.4 L. I thought his machine needed a break but no, the boy was done.
I just fueled in Wangdue yesterday and argued over why I was only given 15.2L when I would get 16L normally. I was informed about the latest price hike. It's surprising how a faintest news of hike in India could be taken so seriously and swiftly in a place where the hiked fuel trucks are yet to arrive.
The boy came for the money and I denied him, I inquired him about the rate and he started stammering and changing colors. I knew it wasn't a mistake, he was only trying to rob a little bit from me just as he did from many others, but this time he messed with a maths teacher who not only teaches his kids how to do maths but also live mathematically. I gave him a short division lesson and made him add 800ml more, which was rightfully mine before I gave him the money.
Now, it doesn't really take a maths teacher to figure out such simple robbery, your mobile phone has a calculator in it in case you have to stop at a gas station where they use old machines that do not show the cost. Every drop counts in such times and 800 ml is more than some drops. Be careful.

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25 May 2012

IELTS Questions Our Credibility

International English Language Testing System (IELTS) exam has become a superstar exam in Bhutan with everybody wanting to do it no matter what the cost- because it will be recovered. It's the dream exam that everybody does to reach their dreams. 
Royal Institute of Management(RIM) conducts four tests in a years under the administration of British Council Division in Kolkata and they always had houseful despite the Nu.8000 fee. Some people I heard traveled all the way to Delhi Kolkata to sit for the exam because RIM ran short of seats.
I have a dream to go for masters too, and I know I will do well in this expensive exam if only I wish to. The registration fee is huge going by the Bhutanese salary but I can afford it if I wish to. However, it is not about the exam that I am worried about, and it's not so much about the fee too, I am afraid by sitting for the exam I am questioning the credibility of our education system. After spending seventeen years studying in English language we can't insult our education system by agreeing to sit for English Language Testing, and no friendly country should doubt our English Language proficiency as long as Bhutan government doesn't send illiterate farmers for Masters Degree. 
I am grateful to the host countries for offering scholarship to our people but I would be more grateful if they recognize our education system, and make exceptions like they do with some native English speaking countries because we place no less importance on the English language, if at all it is to test English proficiency. The test not only spoils the goodwill of the scholarships but also has big implications on individual's financial strength and the poor nation's weak economy. 

15 May 2012

Book Fair Should be More Than Business

It was a great joy when National Book Fair happened in my school for the first time, putting my school in the center of over hundred schools from western half of the country. It also gave me satisfaction knowing that we are finally understanding the need to equate events in and out of Thimphu to narrow the gaps between the extremes. Just by know that Thimphu is not the center of earth we could ease lots of social issues.
The organizer and the book stores were bombarded with pleasant surprises- they never seemed to have expected beyond what they had seen in Thimphu for last four years. Many of them literally ran out of stock and spent all seven days in Bajothang smiling. Unlike Thimphu there were hardly any preoccupations that distracted people away from books and therefore people who were sent to buy books were really buying books. For the first time I saw so many school buses parked in my school. As far as sale of books is concerned the event was a grand success, though the buyers were only school libraries with government funds.
However the bigger question is why we are investing millions in books when we know that reading habit is almost extinct in schools? Is being optimist enough? Shouldn’t we invest in building the culture of reading? What is the purpose of Book Fair? Is it to spoil the business of book stores that didn’t participate?
My idea of a Book Fair was an event where the organizer will involve schools in activities that glorify books, where the best readers from different regions will present their reads and suggestions over the seven days, where Bhutanese Writers will be invited to read and autograph their books for buyers, where buyers are inspired to invest in books… But I was wrong. 
The book fair here was an absolute business; everybody was engaged in buying and selling of books with money that didn’t belong to them. And some, I heard, were capable of finding half a million worth of books in a single stall ignoring 24 others. It was already sad to know that Book Fair was just a business, and now some were making it dirty business for the sake of relationship.I believe official who were monitoring the event took note of that. 
My school had the luxury of sending every subject department to look for our own books and our democratic approach led to diverse choice and subjects, and we finally found that we have purchased from 16 stalls.
I personally bought Dear Seday- …letter from the mountains by Ugyen Gyeltshen, one of the most promising writers on Writer Association of Bhutan blog. His story was born on our blog and it grew there day after day, until one day his readers insisted him to turn the story into a book. I am reading it now and will write about it soon. 

20 April 2012

Trade Fair in Bajothang- Irresponsibly Bhutanese

The Trade Fair in Bajothang ended yesterday, which began on 13 April. There were over forty Indian stalls with skilled salespersons, who won't get tired of demonstrating how their product works like 'magic'. But by the last second day these Indians were swearing they will never come in Wangdue again because the business wasn't good. They even started giving heavy discounts, yet the turnout was poor. On the other hand, Bhutanese were all waiting for the last day to come, they heard the story from Thimphu trade fair that Indians give heavy discount on the last day. 
Traffic Jam in my Parking
The final day saw the biggest crowd gathering in Bajothang, which surprised even the Indians. They were desperate for last few days and they knew their chance has come to hit hard. There was a sudden price hike and Bhutanese paid more for their foolishness. By the evening yesterday Bhutanese were more desperate to get the 'last piece' than to bargain, and I am sure it was bumper sale.
By today evening these Indians will leave the country and I don't think they will walk out with Ngultrum. If our country was suffering from rupee crisis then from today we will suffer little more. As if the economy draining in border towns weren't enough, Bhutan Chamber of Commerce and Industry (BCCI) created a big leak in Bajothang to drain our Bhutanese money. It was a strange insult to rupee injury by an organization who should have been more responsible than the rest of us in such times.
Before the trade fair the business in Bajothang town was good enough to sustain itself but now things have changed. The trade fair diverted costumer from every corner to the Bajothang school football ground and therefore leaving the town empty. Business was already shaky in the town and now it will sure break because most of the people have already spent more they have earned in the fair. It was a great betrayal by BCCI who was supposed to work "toward 'Bhutanese' private sector development" landed up developing Indian private businessman. 
And Before the trade fair people were content with what they had at home and all they had to spend on were grocery items but now people have defied the words of our Prime Minister who had said, “We have to remember the lessons we have learned and work towards it; hopefully we will now change our habits of spending unnecessarily.” In fact the trade fair fairly changed our habits of spending; people bought new gas stove when they already have one, they bought big sofa for their small rooms, they bought more carpets than they have rooms, they bought chopping machines when they don't have enough to chop with their knife, they bought plenty of unbreakable buckets as if they are going to fight with buckets, they have bought blankets for next winter, they bought shaver when nobody shaves at home, they were feasting on chicken drumstick at a price which could buy a whole chicken,... would all these happen if BCCI didn't bring these Indians here? What positive changes did it bring to people who have already emptied their bank accounts on things they may not need at all? How would BCCI justify trade fair to our Prime Minister who was urging people to "change the habits of spending unnecessarily"?
Just a few days back The Bhutanese reported that "BCCI study shows that government spending is main cause of rupee crisis" which was contradicting the findings by the government task force. PaSsu Diary on the other hands finds the BCCI and their numerous trade fairs responsible for the leakage of excessive Bhutanese money into Indian pockets and that too unnecessarily.

03 April 2012

Demolishing the Palace of the Tshomem

Tshomem (mermaid) is believed to be the keeper of water bodies. My school is on the bank of the Punatshangchhu, the river that has the legend of having a tshomem. Astrologers have repeatedly mentioned that the construction of the school has displeased the keeper of the river, but for the last fifteen years of existence school has done nothing to come into harmony with the spiritual power. The consistence disaster these few years forced the school to take the threat seriously.
We lost a boy to the river in 2009, the spot where astrologers said the mermaid lived. The same place was flooded the same year, washing away our fishery tank. An old woman committed suicide near the fishery tank. Over four cars accidents occurred on the adjoining road, of which one fell right into the river killing a young man. School faced fire disasters, theft cases, and even bomb pranks.  All this has reminded us to listen to the silence for once.
School, with the help from Dzongkhag Dratshang, picked the spot to construct a Tshomem Phodrang (palace of the mermaid), it's the traditional and spiritual negotiation of peace with the unseen owner of the place. Only the name is 'Palace', otherwise it's just a stone and mud structure, where no metal,cement and chalk can be used.
Site Map of School
However, in the twist of the story- in our quest to please the mermaid we have displeased a rich businessman in Bajothang. We have reached halfway through the construction of the palace, when the man came and claimed the stones we used. The well shaped stones were lying in the extended school campus for years and we knew the owner. But after we finished fencing the whole campus we had wrongly assumed our ownership over the stones. The construction committee had the intention of asking him, knowing that the old man would agree if we told him our story. But the angry rich man came twice and asked, "Do you think these shaped-stones emerged naturally? I have invested Nu.25 in shaping each stone. Nu.25 those days was powerful. I myself stole the stone from Nobding in the darkness of the night and you think you can use it at your will?"
School apologized, begged and asked him to be our patron for the construction of the palace but he remained angry. Then we asked him to put his price on the stone. We are already halfway and if he would give us at a reasonable price we thought we would buy. Teachers could contribute about Nu.10,000 to pay him up. But his price shocked us to demolish the palace right away. He wanted Nu.50 per stone, which means we should be paying him Nu.50,000 for half structure alone.
This school educated four of his children and his grandchildren will come here soon but he didn't want to spare some stones. This is the sort of public help our school is getting. If we had a legal support I have a feeling that the stone might belong to us after all these years, or may be he might have to pay us for keeping the stone in our area for so long.

Disclaimer: The views reflected in here are NOT School's, it's just my personal observation and interpretation of what is happening.

Update 7th April 2012

School helplessly demolished the structure built with those stones and rebuilt it with mud bricks. The construction committee engaged senior students and any helping hand they could get to erect the phodrang within three days, so we could consecrate it today during the school annual rimdro. Now the palace of the tshomem is built and consecrated as if nothing has happened. And we hope this brings peace to the invisible power and to the entire community of Bajothang.
The Palace of the Tshomem- built in three days

23 December 2011

Ngultrum Identity

Ngultrum (Nu) is almost losing its identity even before it had one. Forgive me if you find me ignorant but I can't help wondering why our currency is not acknowledged as it should be. I don't know why we have to pay over Nu.50 for a US$, I am just thankful it is as powerful as Indian Rupee. It's surprising to learn that there are many powerful country whose currency value is lower than ours, which gives us all the reason to be proud of.
However, going by the trend, a kid says, "Mummy, give me ten rupees", and an adult would say, "Do you have change for 500 rupees?" or if it is in Dzongkha, we say "Turu". Nowhere we use the term Ngultrum! On the fuel pumps you will see the rates of fuel reflected in Rs, and every commodity in the shops has price tag written in Rs, that can be forgiven as stuffs are imported. The recent announcement of domestic airfare by civil aviation was in US Dollar, and that was the biggest surprised.
Currency Symbol for Ngultrum for the  time being.
In written scripts we don't yet have a currency symbol, something that can be used to represent Ngultrum universally. The abbreviation Nu. might be mistaken for symbol but it's usable only in English. India realized it and they have come up with symbol for rupees recently. It's beautiful and now they can use the symbol in every language. In Dzongkha, we can't us Nu. therefore it's up to the writers either to write "turu", "ngultrum" or "ruub". Though it's none of my business, I spent many days thinking, designing, discussing, and redesigning a symbol for Ngultrum. I looked at all the currency symbols of the world to gain some insight into it but at the end  I agreed with the fact that it's none of my business after all. But that doesn't mean that Ngultrum can be left without a symbol. We need it now and here! If that can't be done soon, you might chose to use the one that comes to your head when you think of Ngultrum (see the picture).

20 December 2011

Preserving Paro Town

My visit to Paro last week gave me an opportunity to look at the town in a whole new perceptive. I have spent seventeen years of my life in Paro but it never felt that way until I spent these five years away. After having seen the changing faces of many Bhutanese towns the old street in Paro town is something that made me stop and wonder and then wish.
The Beautiful Paro
Paro Tshongdue the forgotten names means the business place, where the Bhutanese and Tibetan businessmen met to barter their goods long before we knew India and Bangkok. This town has history and it has the structural design well preserved to be called the Iconic Town of Bhutan. Interestingly many of these houses are converted into Handicraft showrooms thereby promising to remain so for years. But the desire for bigger and better houses has slowly eaten away at least two houses and many might want to follow soon. 
Government could adopt the street and preserve it creatively, without hurting the sentiments of the landlords and without freezing their desire to move forward. 
The Last Bhutanese Town, Paro

Towns bigger than Thimphu are bound to come with time but if we lose Paro history may never forgive us.

30 August 2011

Selling Books in Wangdue- Nothing business about it!

If selling books were as easy as selling beer I wouldn't have chosen to sell Yeewong Magazine and Student Digest in Wangdue. And I am ready to accept any proposal to sell Bhutanese books here. I am a busy teacher and also forbidden to do business but I am a literature lover more and there is nothing business in what I am doing.
Student Digest on Sale!
Bajo town though merely born yet, has over 50 shops selling alcohol. If you don't find a bar in every next building, you win a lunch from me at Hotel Phuensum- well they sell alcohol too. On the contrary, if you find one shop that sells books in Bajo Town I bet you a copy each of Yeewong and Sutdent Digest. I am already sorry!
The adventure of selling books is something like the journey to Mt Everest- hardly possible. People have lots of excuses when it comes to buying books but I have way around each excuse. It is irritating, humiliating, saddening, and less often exciting. Many talk straight about my commission, that which but goes in travelling around and I don't mind forgoing it as long as I can spread the books in every corner of Wangdue Dzongkhag. I want to do business which gives me more satisfaction than money.

My wife runs a shop that entertains children with Play station games, computer games and internet. We chose to do this business even after known that our costumers are the generation with no money in their hand. While the whole town is madly busy intoxicating adults and drawing huge cash we are patiently enlightening children and exciting them on their crumbled changes. There is nothing business about this either.
Two magazines have already made it to our shelf and we are willing to accept more as long as it goes on to educate a child- anything for youth. If parents don't want their children to swim in rivers, get into fights, do drugs, drink alcohol,... put some cash in their hand and bring them to KPS- buy them books, let them Google, and let them see what it feels like to be Ben 10, after all a Students Digest cost less then a bottle of beer, and if your sacrifice another bottle your child can enjoy hours of gaming and surfing!