21 September 2012

Our Outdated Towns

BBC was showing a video of a street in London shot over hundred years ago and they were amazed at the architectural farsighted of their ancestors, that even after hundred years they didn't have to change a slightest bit to accommodate modern metropolitan city.
London in 1902
Here in our country, where modern towns are only a few decades old, every now and then we have to demolish structures to widen streets and bring in better infrastructures, only to discover that it needs to be changed again. In last few years Thimphu saw many breakings and makings, yet streets are flooded with rain water every monsoon season, and often we get to smell the overflowing sewage. Thimphu needs to be changed every day and I don't think I will see a finished city ever in my life. Our designers didn't even see what would happen in 10 years time. 
Phuntsholing comes to a standstill every morning and there is nothing anybody can do to solve this problem. The problem is not with the population, not even the number of vehicles because these are expected with the change in time. This change in time had to be seen by our designers and planners.
Lets forgive them now because those days they walked straight out of their villages and saw lesser world to make any significant difference- or so I assume.
Now we have planners and designers who went to the best universities in the world and some of whom have multiple qualifications, they have seen the world and they have better resources in their hand. Therefore what we could least expect is to see our planners and designers build a town as good as the ones westerners did in early 1900.
And what came up in Khuruthang and Bajothang shattered all our hopes. Let alone standing and serving for centuries these two town failed in their own times. Even before completion they have become outdated in their structural designs and efficiency against the growing traffic. Each building accommodates over six families excluding the business operators on the ground floor and visibly there is parking space for only three cars. The parking space takes up half the width of the road.
Bajothang town from a Distance because that's the only way it looks good
Even before we had the buildings we had blacktopped roads, we had even pavements, we had drains, and sewage line. Now we have buildings, rough roads, risky pavements, hidden drains and blocked sewage. Everything that was built before was lost and it seems to take forever to get them back. Some constructions are frozen in time, and the construction material for a three storied house disables 300 meters of public land around it yet they are calm. I saw a construction of 40 storied building in Bangkok that didn't even throw a piece of scrap on the road that runs a few meters along it. Then I knew we Bhutanese are a big show off. Government structures here are like huts- be it Municipal office or the telecom office, perhaps to save cost, but what we don't realize is that we will have to rebuild them in next five years. The cost saving will cost heavily then. Children park and civic hall are like stories from dreams- the big space could be turned into parking lot instead of letting a jungle grow in the town. It's worse in Khuruthang though it is much older than Bajothang.
Bajothang and Khuruthang are repeating the mistakes made by Thimphu and Phuntsholing and the upcoming town could easily copy the trend but what would make the difference is to think differently and plan smartly, after all it is not everyday that we design towns. Hundred years from now when our children look at the pictures from our time they should not feel like they have reached a different world. We should leave behind what will last long than us.

18 September 2012

Comment that Touched my Heart

For a blogger like me happiness is defined by a few simple things like completing a blog post, receiving good numbers of readers, and most of all seeing some sane comments. But the following comment by Mr. KK Giri touched the bottom of my heart, not because I am as good as he thinks I am but because he has a sincere heart to let me know that I am worth talking about for hours;
"...I seldom write any comment on blog, though i follow some. But here would like to share an incident. I was travelling from Gelephu to Thimphu together with a newly acquainted gentleman. While gossiping on various topics both of us happened to be your blog follower. We talked about how interesting your articles are, how talented and gifted writer you are on our judgement if at all we are qualified to judge you, and blah blah..
We even discussed about your comment on Wangdue Dzong mishap when the ruin of the Dzong was on our sight from the highway. We laughed on that famous hand shake at South America shaking the Great wall of Wangdue Dzong. The Tibetans across the globe must have smiled too.
Our discussion on Passu's diary must have started from somewhere Kamichu and continued till we reached opposite to BHSS from where one of us commented "that is where our Passu lives.... But just before that both of us unanimously agreed that something is not right about the way the Bajo town has shaped up. At least looking from the highway on the other side of the river it looks so " i dunno what to say..." Since you were the main topic of our discussion we fantasize a situation that one fine day Passu would pay a beautiful tribute to the architect/planer of Bajo, a modern 21st century township of Bhutan. Both of us laughed on our fantasy."- 9/14/2012 

Thank you Giri, I will try to be even more interesting to talk about. I have written a few pieces on Bajothang town so far but for you will write one more that will tell you how this town was planned for just a few years, because it's already outdated.

17 September 2012

Who Will Pay for the Damage?

Road blocks and Landslides have a long history in our country and as of now there is no sign of learning from the mistakes. We don't have to worry about waterways and railways like other countries but as is our Bhutanese nature we even forget to worry about what we have to worry about.We have tried doing big things like the big worlds but we have lost our grip over small things. We have more airports that brought in more shame- ours must be the only airports with potholes. We have built bigger roads and started having bigger landslides- thank god the rainy season is very short otherwise there won't be a road left on the hills.
Picture Source: Kuensel
Some one lost his land cruiser to the landslide near Dochula but he is happy it spared him, so is my friend who lost his pickup yesterday along with five other vehicles when a tree fell on to them. I was a victim myself, I was greeted with rolling stones at Nobding last year and in last few years we heard of many mishaps caused my roadblocks and landslides. But in none of this cases people are held responsible, except the drivers. I was seeing my friend who was a victim of Dochula mishap yesterday and asked him who will repair his vehicle. He looked at me in surprise, as if I stole the question from his mouth. Yes, who will pay for the damage?
Whose name is written on this tree?

It's time we differentiate between the natural and man-made landslides. Natural landslides are the ones where slides occur without the intervention of human activities, and those that are causing problems these days are for us to judge. Road widening projects are vital for the growing economy of the country but what they leave behind is a ticking time bomb. They save cost by focusing on the road and forgetting the hills they have damaged, even an ordinary observer like me can see how many rocks are waiting to fall, and how many trees are ready come on to the newly widened Thimphu-Wangdue highway. Disaster management should be intervene, do hazard hunting and let the road builder rectify the potential disasters before roads are taken over. Accountability should come to Bhutan now.
Time Bomb ticking its last seconds!

In the wake of time, when we dare say that if a child commits crime parents bear the punishment, we can rightfully take road contractors to court in such mishaps. In air crash investigation we see how a screw making company goes jail because it was a faulty screw that caused the crash. But here we are talking about something far bigger than a screw, for everybody to see and still we let it go. If we let somebody pay once, perhaps it may never repeat again. So who will pay for the Damage?
Waiting to shift down!

Hazard Hunting pictures are taken by Tashi Dorji. Used here with his kind permission.

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.

12 September 2012

Simple Rules Bhutanese Break Every Day

More than often we see people smoking in a room where there is 'No Smoking' written in bold, a car parked right on the 'No Parking' space, people talking aloud in the area where it's clearly written 'Silence Please', pile of rubbish around the sign that reads 'Do Not Litter' and worst of all there is no 'Do Not Spit' place without thick bloody read doma spit. Can't we read these simple words? Forgive the people who can can't read, but what about the literate folks who are often the ones breaking these simple rules.
Bulls don't get it! We do.
During my week long stay in JDWNRH I have been an observer to many conflict between sick attendants and G4S guards, sick attendants and nurses, and visitors and G4S. In all these fights I saw how our people find themselves at right after breaking numerous hospital norms. First they come when it's not visiting hour, and when G4S guards stop them they pick up fights. Inside 'one patient one attendant' rule is broken, and when nurses remind them they find the nurse bitchy. When the patient is in agony people crowd over it and won't let nurses do their job, nurse grow furious and shout at them to leave some space for air, and then these people counter. After visiting hour is over, no visitor leaves, not until the G4S boys come around thrice to chase them off. It's not a happy ending either. There is a big dinning room in the hospital and people eat and throw their waste in the space where clothes are meant to be dried.Wash basins are filled with food waste, when there is a separate dustbin to dispose leftover food.
I didn't see a space for problem if at all we could follow the simple rules written all over in Dzongkha and English both. Have I been perfect? No, I arrived late but I greeted the guards with apology and if they asked me to wait I would wait. My visitors left late too and they were shouted at by G4S but I have gone close to them and explained and apologized. But I have spent the rest of time entertaining the sick, clean the toilet, and at one time I have self appointed myself to investigate on a person who was smoking in the ward toilet. I failed to find him but nurses have flashed the message that if he is caught both the smoker and his patient will be kicked out of the hospital.
These people working at hospital at strange hours taking care of our people have their own family sleeping without them at home, and they get their hands in our shit and blood, which our own people won't do. Some of our folks won't even visit us at the hospital because they believe in 'Dhrip'(bad energy that comes with birthing and dying), and I say nurse and doctors would have died of that then. Hospitals are our gateway to the world and exit from the world and these people are the ones who help us at these critical hours.
I wish to send my deepest gratitude to the people working in Thimphu hospital and hospitals across the country for doing the dirty job for us and still tolerating our unending demands. I also pay respect to their frustrations,(after all there is a human inside those angels as well) which many great nurses have brought under their control. I also hope that those unreasonable, biased and arrogant people also change themselves so that one day everybody looks at hospital as a place of worship.

08 September 2012

Happy Retirement Lopen

Lopen Namgay Phuntsho from Punakha was a teacher since 1973. It was an emotional moment when I saw about his retirement on the Facebook. He is finally done with his job. In last 40 years he made differences in lives of thousands. Those thousands include me. This great teacher and I crossed our paths in Drukgyel and I spent four best years of my life under his care.
During my days in Drukgyel I feared my share of fear and loved this man as much. It didn't take long before I understood his true content. He was the personification of truth and Justice and maintained these two greatest principles throughout, that no soul ever dared challenge this stainless man. He made us believe in truthfulness, and we trusted him for justice.
Teaching and Disciplining Since 1973
When I took my first step in Drukgyel the first advice I was given by my seniors was to tell the truth if I was caught doing mischief. His long experience has given him the super ability to detect lies, and thus becoming the first known biological Lie-Detector. He would throw a few question and if the culprit is lying he would turn very red (perhaps this is where he got his nick name- Asha Maap, which mean uncle Red) and remove his HMT watch and the show goes on until the truth comes out.
The best part of the man is that he honours truth. He would stop when the truth comes out, and it was up to us to decide when to tell it. That taught us life's best lesson. I was caught drunk with two of my friends and even before he asked I told him I drank beer. He said, "Even beer can make you drunk, but it's better than whiskey." He took us home and offered tea and he never mentioned about the beer. That's it. I never dared another bottle of beer until the last few days in Drukgyel.
About justice, this man was the leveler. In his hostel it's ok to be a villager's son to enjoy equal privileges. My three years of torture in Gaupay and three years even before that in Dawakha had made me believe that we were lesser human and that we only deserved lesser than those from richer families. But in Drukgyel Lopen Namgay Phuntsho called us all by our names and he took us for who we are and not for who our parents were. Every punishment is justifiable against our mischief and nobody cries foul, we just cry. He did not have a list of favorites, nor did he have a blacklist. Life in Drukgyel was fun and scary but not insecure, thanks to this man.
I faintly remember an incident where he was firing a boy and the boy was begging for mercy, and from his house came his old mother with a stick and our deadly warden ran like a little boy. That boy was rescued. I loved that incident, not because the boy was spared but because it showed how he still remained his mama's boy.
After nine year, that was last year, I met him in Lobesa. At first I nearly ran away then I remembered I was a married man with a daughter now and that I have also become a teacher, but that one instant when I saw him it transported be back to Drukgyel. To my grandest surprise he shook my hand and said, "Passa Tsheri, you are teacher in Bajothang no? Kinley Dorji has finally become an army officer..." He not only remembered my name and found my address, he went on telling about all my friends whom even I didn't know where they were. He was a human encyclopedia. I was spellbound. So, next time you meet him be prepared for surprises!
I thank him for being there in my life and playing very important role in my transition from a boy to a man. He also has a great role in the type of teacher I have become though I can never be half as good as him. Only thing about him that I didn't consider in shaping my life was his English, that was better left for himself.

04 September 2012

One Bad Road Leads to Another

I can't believe I loved the whole idea of Ped Day once. Over the time, when it was implemented and inconveniences were caused across the society I realised I was just being too romantic with the idea, ignoring so many difficulties that it could cause to the already inefficient society.
So much is said against Ped Day and every Tuesday the anger and frustrations are growing but there is no sign yet from the government to do away with this idea of disabling the society. It has become clear that the government is desperate but submission is out of question. I feel very sorry for the government whose good intentions are all falling apart, and pulling the legs of bigger priorities.
There is an old Bhutansese saying, you have to drink the ara you prepared,no matter how it taste. And Ped Day is one such ara, the government could neither drink nor throw. The notification to allow feeding mothers to work from home was one desperate measure to ease the tension but it landed up hurting more women than it has pleased. The solution turned into problem. This is how one bad policy leads to another, and it could go on spoiling their image if they try harder because the ultimate solution lies in forgetting the Ped Day and making reasonable use of all the resources that are wasted every Tuesday.