28 January 2011

Shadow of the Smoke

I was driving back to Wangdue, and I was alone. I was in a rush to cross Dochula pass before it gets dark. But the forest fire above Changjiji football ground made me stop for a while. I have never seen a forest fire from such close range; with the Wang chhu between me and the fire, I could feel the heat wave. There were hundreds of people from my side of the river bank and there were hundreds on the fire side but only the policemen, and some people in fire fighter's suit were battling the fire. 

Kuensel Image-probably taken from my side of the river.
The smoke from the fire rose high and its shadow fell over me and soon over Thimphu but as if it wasn't our problem we just looked on. For a moment, I wished I wasn't going to Wangdue. The fire soon destroyed a hut on its way across the hill despite the effort of three fire engines. And because fire engines couldn't climb the hill, fire soon escaped their range and ran up the hill. When I was watching, the fire was still climbing the small hill and if hundred men ran up the hill the fire could have been controlled. But one man was in rush to reach Wangdue and others had their own excuses. Men engaged in fighting the fire were greatly out numbered by men watching the fire show. 

The shadow of the smoke soon fell on Changjiji football ground and I was utterly shocked to see 22 strong men running after a ball and not at all bothered by the fire which was burning just above them. It wouldn't have made a difference even if they had stopped their game for a while but it sure showed what substance they were made of. I don't know who won the game or who scored the winning goal but our country lost 250 acres of forest before they finished their match. 

How easy it is, to sit and watch, or just go on playing a football match when it is just the shadow of the smoke that falls upon us!

25 January 2011

Getting Bhutan schools W.I.R.ED by Eisen Teo


MOST teachers in the landlocked Himalayan nation of Bhutan are computer-illiterate. Internet connections there are patchy at best, and only one in 10 students has a personal computer at home.
But a group of Bhutanese educators is determined to pull the country into the Internet age.
Ten teachers and five principals from five schools in Bhutan were in Singapore last month to tour the National Institute of Education and School of Science and Technology campuses, to learn how to use information technology (IT) in the classroom.
The five-day programme, from Feb 1 to 5, capped nine years of collaboration between the Singapore International Foundation (SIF) and Bhutan's Ministry of Education and the Royal University of Bhutan. Previously, SIF had organised about 30 volunteer trips to Bhutan, teaching IT and planning IT curricula at seven educational institutions.
The mountainous kingdom, bordered by India and China, lifted a ban on the Internet and television in 1999.
The latest phase of the collaboration, dubbed Bhutan W.I.R.ED (Weaving Infotech Resources with Education), hopes to take IT to a higher level: training teachers from the five partner schools so they can, in turn, train other teachers and students. SIF's goal for the country is 'sustainable development', said Ms Tam Peck Hoon, manager for international volunteerism.
Mr Passang Tshering, 26, embodies that value. He was one of the students in the pioneer batch who took an IT course planned by SIF volunteers eight years ago. Today, he is one of three teachers out of 28 at Bajothang Higher Secondary School, in central Bhutan, who are adept at IT. The school has 502 students, aged 13 to 20.
The father of one has his own blog, Facebook, YouTube and Twitter accounts. He set up a website for the school last year.
In Singapore last month, he was impressed by the school tours. 'We got a lot of ideas, such as giving out homework on Google Docs, and having class blogs.' He planned to share these ideas with his colleagues and students.
Ms Loh Kwai Yin, the head of department of information and communication technology at the School of Science and Technology, is pleased with the progress made by the Bhutanese.
She volunteered to plan IT curricula in Bhutan from July 2005 to June 2006. Compared with four years ago, many schools there now have Internet access and projectors to experiment with using IT to conduct classes, she said.
Mr Tshering's school is one of them. It has 10 second-hand laptops donated by SIF, wireless Internet access, and a projector. He has bigger dreams for his country. He wants IT to become part of the official school curriculum and hopes all schools can be connected to one another through the Internet. The aim is that a wired Bhutan will help make life easier for its people.
He said: 'People would rush to the capital to apply for jobs or file their taxes. Now they can do it online.'
SIF sent a Singaporean volunteer - teacher Germaine Cheong, 32 - to Bhutan on Feb 24 to work with the five partner schools until the end of the year.
Six workshops helmed by Singaporeans are also planned up to the end of next year to help the Bhutanese educators keep up with technological changes.
This article was first published in The Straits Times.



This apprehension, thankfully, did not last, as Passu started a month-long introduction to information technology (IT) in school that very year as part of his Grade 9 curriculum. From then on, IT was to open vistas for the 26-year-old in both his professional and personal life.
As an IT teacher at Bajothang High School, Passu is among a pioneering batch of educators who have undergone a three-year IT enabling programme started by the Singapore International Foundation (SIF). “I was lucky to be in the first batch to be trained in 2004,” he said. “It was a three-year training course divided into five (six-month long) phases that included basic training and application in education.”
Passu’s visit to Singapore from 1 to 5 February this year was part of the Bhutan W.I.R.ED (“Weaving Infotech Resources in Education”) project, cofunded by the Temasek Foundation and the SIF. This three-year collaboration with Bhutan’s Ministry of Education and the Royal University of Bhutan aims to help develop the capacity of Bhutan’s educational system in employing IT for learning and living in the 21st century.
“We don’t need to rely on textbooks and chalkboards; IT has changed how we teach.”
Passu told Singapore that he felt “fortunate” to start his IT exposure early and to have been able to further his proficiency when he trained to be an IT teacher. It’s the new wave, he said, and an essential way for Bhutan to progress. “We don’t need to rely on textbooks and chalkboards; IT has changed how we teach,” he explained. “With IT, it is more interactive. We can show instead of just tell. We can entertain as we educate, and students are more excited about learning.”
This appetite for learning is not limited to his students. Passu himself is on a dedicated and continued journey to grow his IT expertise. His five-day learning visit to Singapore was very useful, he said, as he learnt about new applications for IT in education, such as SharePoint, Google documents and Googlesites. He has also expanded his horizons in other ways. “It’s my first time flying by airplane, coming to Singapore, seeing tall buildings, and riding on the MRT!” he said with a grin.
His Singapore experience has inspired him, he said. “The Singapore education system, school and country as a whole seem to us like something from the future. On top of education and infocomm and technology training, we were overwhelmed by the transportation system, cleanliness, civic sense of the people, and the food. We even observed how we would walk down many streets and come back indoors and find not a fragment of dust. If Bhutan has to develop, Singapore could be our vision!”

24 January 2011

Talking about PaSsu in Singapore

I don't remember what I was doing on 5th Oct last year but back in Singapore it was Singapore International Foundation Dinner. Of course, I was not supposed to attend that dinner or was I invited but what makes it of interest to me is what Ms Euleen Goh, Chairman of SIF spoke that evening. It was a long speech though but three paragraphs were on a Bhutanese boy who feared computer once and went on to become an ICT teacher- which is me.

It came to my notice when my teacher Ms. Loh Kwai Yin, who is also in the story, posted it on her blog. She posted the whole speech. But I choose to show only those three paragraphs where I am mentioned, lol.

Original speech can be found in 

05 Oct 2010

SIF Appreciation Dinner 2010

Speech by Ms Euleen Goh, Chairman of SIF at Partner for Good - SIF Appreciation Dinner 2010 at the Grand Ballroom, Hotel Intercontinental

Thanks to you - our volunteers – such stories of success and new hope abound all over the region. In Bhutan, a teacher - Mr Passang Tshering - shares how the SIF's IT-in-Education project helped him get over the fear of computers. When he first sat in front of a computer, he was 16. What would normally be an exciting event for any other youngster, proved to be a frightening experience for this boy. Why the anxiety? Well, he believed then that the computer was so intelligent it could read his thoughts!

This same young man is now, at the age of 28, the head of the IT department at Bajothang High School in Bhutan. All because, PaSsu (as he is known to friends), was selected to be trained by IT teachers that the SIF sent from Singapore five years ago. Today, the former techno phobe teaches his students through web applications such as SharePoint, Google documents and wikis. He also has his own blog, and Facebook, Youtube and Twitter accounts.

PaSsu was invited to Singapore this February, as part of a study visit by Bhutanese teachers under the Bhutan wired project, co-sponsored by SIF and the Temasek Foundation. It gave him the opportunity to catch up with his SIF trainer from half a decade ago: Ms Loh Kwai Yin, now head of department of information and communication technology at Singapore's School of Science and Technology. Not that they hadn't been in touch all this while; both had kept in close contact through the internet and continue to share ideas and resources. 

From Singapore Magazine (http://singaporemagazine.sif.org.sg/2010/04/a-season-of-firsts/)

 I appeared in news papers, blogs and even speeches in Singapore. But what they don't know is  I have no good memories from the tour in Singapore, except meeting my teacher Ms. Loh. It was  a torture and I blame nobody except my own unpreparedness for the outside world. I went out as a Bhutanese and came back a sick man.

19 January 2011

Unhappy New Year

After watching the beautiful sunset of 2010 in Samtse I prayed for a happy new year. The chill of death was strong in the air, and I could feel the wave coming closer. I knew life was preparing me for something bad. I lost no body in the Nepal air crash, then the Lampuri bus took away a student of mine. While I watched the sunset I was happy I escaped the season of death before it could come any closer.

But when the whole world was exchanging New Year greetings, going out for dinner, picnicking afar, hugging and loving and seeing all the joy in the world, I was crying. I lost my asha on 2nd January 2011. I can never accept it. When I went down to Samtse, we had a dinner together and I didn’t have a slightest clue that the dinner was going to be our last together.

We knew each other quite late in life, but I knew him best. We met every weekend and dinned together as if to compensate for all the times we lost so far. He reached out to me like no one has ever done. He took me down our family timeline that I long wanted to know. In him I saw myself. He would take me on a long walk and talk on different subjects. He was the best family man I knew- a great husband and father. I was so happy to have known him and be a part of his family. But I didn't know he was in a rush- as if he knew he was going to die- to tell me the story of our family which I never knew. 

I don't know if I can ever overcome the loss but as I look back in time I see reasons to smile; having met him, getting to love him, having the chance to be a part of his proud family and even as he was dying he was connecting me with the part of my family I have never known. I am happy that he lived a king's life. It's our misfortune that we lost him so early in his life. God loved him more. I shall miss him everyday of my life.

28 December 2010

Beautiful Sunset in Samtse

Sunset in Samtse: Forgive my friend's Antique Camera
After the exams were over I sat down with my wife and planned our vacation. We subtracted the day I will be occupied in workshops and also the days that will go in making the journey to and fro the stations. Finally when all the obligations were slashed off, what was left on the calendar wasn’t enough to reignite the excitement we had long stored.

To make the mood worse, 18 Bhutanese perished in plane crash for the first time. As the list of the victims appeared on TV my heart ached, it ached worse when I realized they were families on divine vacation; vacation from which no one returned. How chillingly it made me realize that everyday we are together with our family is a vacation in itself, every journey, every meal, every joke, everyday… it was harsh but a bold reminder that every date on the calendar needs to be counted.

And thus our plan for this winter changed altogether. We packed our bags and started our vacation; I am on paid vacation with my family to Samtse. The journey was boring from Wangdue to Thimphu because I have always driven that road. But now when I look back, it gives me cold feet; a bus accident killed nine people. That driver must have taken that road hundred times more than me and yet he faced the worst nightmare, can I afford to take that road for granted? One girl from my school lost her life, a boy suffered broken spine and a teacher colleague suffered two broken ribs.

Breakfast in Dantak canteen near Babesa was cheap and satisfying. All my life I travelled in buses and had lunches where drivers loved or the owners demanded. But this time I stopped where we got yummy, clean and fresh food. I waved hard on Bhutanese restaurants on the road in revenge and headed straight for Taktikhoti. We Bhutanese need to learn the basics of business.

But the road from Tsimasham to my lunch place tested my patience, driving skill and eye sight. Thimphu Phuntsholing highway has always been under construction- rough reminder of a country in the permanent state of development.

I always loved Phuntsholing, here is where I first met my wife some five years ago. Weather is pleasant at this time of the year. Street are filled with people, I mean the Jaigong streets, where every Bhutanese empty their purse. Of course, Phuntsholing is no different from Jaigong, after all most of the businessmen are Indians. Who would want to pay a bigger price when on the other side of the wall you get it so cheap?

I honked the honk of my life, and perhaps my car must have thought I have gone crazy, on the road to Samtse. It was worth it; here I watch the last sunset of 2010 with my family and I must admit the sunset in Samtse is so beautiful!

16 December 2010

National Tragedy- Nepal Plane Crash

This day will remain in the minds of every Bhutanese and on the face of time like a never-healing wound. To me personally, I got the shock of my life. I was getting ready for my school when I saw the breaking new marque on BBS. Tomorrow we are going to celebrate our National Day and here we are shaken by the loss of so many Bhutanese. I pray to god with whole my heart to bless the bereaved families with boundless strength to overcome the great loss they are suffering.
In Kuensel- Before the crash was confirmed

and In Bhutan Today

Story Unfolding in Kuensel Online and BBS



However I am deeply touched by our King's and PM's Fatherly involvement in dealing with the loss. I hope this divine touch will go on to heal the deep wounds of those loved ones left behind. Thank you.

14 December 2010

Country of many Bans

One question that kept bothering me: why did Bhutan ban tobacco? A smoking man doesn't sleep on the road. A smoking man doesn't assault his wife and children. A smoking man doesn't shout in the crowd and pee in his pants. A drunken man does. Why alcohol is not banned? Is it because we are a Buddhist county? Perhaps! But didn't we agree that our politics will be free of religious influence?

BBS Picture of Burning 2.4 M worth of Tobacco
World would be amazed to know that Bhutan has burnt million worth of tobacco. Some tourist would think Bhutan is so rich but many know that Bhutan survives on countless foreign loans and grants. Then they would wonder why we are acting foolish, Bhutan has banned tobacco but India didn't, it all came from India and we could easily sell it back and generate some funds to put some street lamps along Lungtenzampa Bridge.

Business Bhutan Picture 
National assembly wants to create the record of one ban each year and this time it's drayang. Social disharmony is taken hostage. The problem is not with the drayangs, it is with indecent men. And for such men it need not necessarily be drayang, they do it onto waitress in the hotels, doma sellers in bus stations, office colleagues and assistances, vegetable sellers, passengers sitting on the side and any girls walking along. Should we then go on banning Hotels, Offices, Vegetable Markets, Taxis and Buses? Or the better alternative is to ban women from coming out in public.

And the funniest part is Labour Minister's Promise of employing the girls. What about the boys? What about the fate of the businessmen who had invested everything on this business. Perhaps he should have given a minister's thought before making his first parliament promise, now he has hundreds of questions to answer on various forums and blogs as to what are his promises for the thousands of jobless youth.

13 December 2010

Dear Students- V

Exams are over and papers are in your hand. Some of you have scored high enough to fulfill your purpose of coming to school, doing us proud and bringing joy into to the lives of your parents who want nothing but your prosperity. While there are many of you whose performances insult the teachers, sadden your parents and yet amuse yourselves. If you care you would regret, and if you regret you are on the right path. You should know Rome was not built in a day.

I wish success to all who deserve it. However, your results do not summarize who you really are. At the end of the day you are what you do- what you do when you have everything, what you do when you have nothing to lose, and what you do when no one is watching; your character and your attitude are your wings on the flight of your life.

You don’t prove your courage by not respecting the school rules no matter what time of the year it may be. True courage is in resisting those temptations to cross the lines. We have come to the end of year and you have strived through while some among us had to give up on their ways and go the wrong way dragging our reputation along. Your journey to the end of the year wasn’t by mere chance, you have made choices each day to bring you here and you have to make choices here which will take you forward. But when your choices go wrong we intervene and if you agree perhaps you will see your dreams sooner but if you feel we are failing to bridge the generation gap then I am sorry to inform you that you may have to go to a place where you best fit. We had the worst of years and we have learnt our lessons.

It was an embarrassing year for us having to see the extremes of indiscipline that degraded our school’s reputation, reputation that took years to build. It may take us years again, but together we must rebuild our school into a place where best of students desire to study, a place where people look up in respect and you feel proud to call it yours.

This year is over now and when you come back next year make sure you come with feeling of belongingness to this place. This is your school and you are the owner of this school. Nobody stays here forever, not the teachers, not the principal, not you and not even the caretaker  but that should not stop anyone of us to ignore the fact that glory of Bajo is glory of us all.

Happy Vacation!

09 December 2010

My Dream of Lungtenzampa Bridge

A bridge is a symbol of art, landmark of the city, an icon of development of a country. But what is Lungtenzampa Bridge? In the heart of Bhutan's capital city, where it should have been a beautiful bridge that could live up to the legend of the bridge of destiny lies a dumb-looking engineering blunder. 

It is not pleasing to look at, shapelessly huge and rough, giving an outline of a sleeping elephant seal. It is not friendly for pedestrians to cross and worse is when the summer rain dams up in its enormous depression right in the centre of the bridge. If Phajo Drogom Zhipo and Khandro Sonam Palden had this bridge between them then, they would have gone back rather.

Lungtenzampa- photo by Ugyen

18 Century Wangdue Bridge
Bhutan had built beautiful bridges way before London had the Tower Bridge (1894) or San Francisco had their Golden Gate (1937). We had built them without a piece of iron or a spade of cement.  Without even a drawing. We have history. But history only. Today France has Millau Bridge, South Korea has Banpo Bridge, Singapore has Henderson Waves, China has Hangzhou Bay Bridge, Brazil has Oliveira Bridge, Germany has Magdeburg Water Bridge… all masterpieces of their country's architects and all landmarks of their countries. But what do we have? Lungtenzampa Bridge? If Zhabdrung came back he would die of shame.

I dream to see a Bhutanese masterpiece stretch over the Wang chu one day, that is so beautiful that we are proud to step out of our car and walk over it in the evening, that is so unique that when the world sees it on TV or internet they know that it is in Bhutan, that is so intelligently built that there is way out for the rainwater and way across for people, that is so iconic that it changes the face of Thimphu.