23 June 2021

Why are Bhutanese Toilets so dirty?

For a country as beautiful as Bhutan, the condition of our toilet is an ugly scar on the face. It begs the question, why are Bhutanese Toilets so dirty? The answer is, we let it be; we tolerate it. We grew up with dirty toilets everywhere, that we built natural tolerance for dirty toilets. So, when we see a dirty toilet, we find it NORMAL. We hardly complain. 


My name is Chablop PaSsu. I am the founder of Bhutan Toilet Organization, and let me tell you that it’s NOT Normal for toilets to be dirty. I beg you to complain when you see a dirty toilet. 


Remember, when we saw a picture of a guy climbing on a chorten, there was a massive outrage in our society (or at least on social media) because it was not normal to climb on a chorten. I wish if people could respond like that when they see a toilet that is left insanely dirty, because even that’s not normal. 


We shape our concept of the toilet based on the kind of toilet we accept as normal.


Concept of Toilet 


Let me redefine the concept of a toilet for you. It is the happiness room that we failed to acknowledge. People go in that room with many forms of discomfort and always come out happy; For example, you badly need to urinate or have an upset tummy. You run looking for a toilet in much pain and fear of humiliation in case you can’t hold it anymore. At that moment, the sight of a toilet brings you a sense of relief. Once you get inside, you experience the ultimate happiness. You are so grateful to the toilet that you are willing to do anything for the toilet. If we could trap on this very emotion and commitment, toilet problems in the country will be solved, but unfortunately, we have a very short memory. 


Every morning, you wake up feeling low; your mouth is stinking, your eyes are sticky, your nose is stuffy, and your hair is messy. You walk into the happiness room, brush your teeth, wash your face, clean your nose, and do your hair, and by the time you come out from there, you are a new person, ready to seize the day. Anyone who goes to the little room comes back a little happier, so isn’t that room magical? Isn’t it the happiness room? 

That is the concept of the toilet that we Bhutanese are unaware of. That’s why it’s not trendy to show off your toilet. We rather invest in a huge sofa, showcase, and TV in the sitting room, while the toilet remains tiny, dingy and stinky with many broken things inside it. Someone once told me that we Bhutanese wear expensive Gho and Keera over torn and faded underwear. We have misplaced our priorities. 


We think a toilet is a dirty little room for us to pee and poop. Even so, of all the rooms in your house, the toilet is the only room that every family member uses at least five times a day. Yet, we invest the least in the toilet. It’s a sad example of a tragedy of the commons.


It's not our fault. It was passed down to us through our genes by our ancestors, who knew little about the toilet. But it will be our fault if we pass down the same stinky legacy to our children despite all the knowledge and exposure. We have come a long way, and much has changed, but we are still stuck with dirty toilets.


Everyone loves a clean toilet, yet collectively, we don't work towards getting it. It’s strange how the whole is less than the sum of its parts.


Attitude & Mindset 


Our attitude toward the toilet is a personal affair as long as we keep it to ourselves, but when we project that in a group or society, it has consequences. It’s worse if you are an important person because it has a significant bearing on your decisions.


Let me share a story of setting up and managing toilets during major national events. You know how important it is to have toilet facilities during big public events. But you don’t know that we get last-minute notice to come and set up toilets, and there is no budget set aside to build toilets. It hurts when the toilet gets the last priority. On the contrary, a five-minute dance program gets two months of preparation, herding and feeding a few dozen heads. Whereas, the toilet that is used by everyone from morning to evening gets the least importance in the whole scheme of things. 


That's just the beginning. The next problem is getting the location for the toilet. Toilets are often given the oddest locations, literally unreachable, perfectly hidden from the view. They would say it’s gross to have a toilet anywhere near. You could see the filthy sight and smell of the toilet right on their face as they explain why we can’t have the toilets in the vicinity. 


I get angry, but I don't blame them. I blame the toilets they have suffered in their schools. They carry such bad memory of toilets that they are worried the toilet we will build will be like the ones in their heads.


If they had a clean toilet in their head, their decision would be different. They would want us to build the toilet next to the gate and the guest tents to be most convenient for everyone.  


I found out that having a profound toilet attitude is critical in leadership. For example, if your school toilet is dirty, it reflects your principal’s ignorance and attitude. If your office toilet is horrible, it has everything to do with your boss’s mentality. He may want his attached toilet to be clean, but you could judge his leadership by the standard of the common office toilet. You do a simple survey and see how it correlates. You will smell it. 


The irony goes much deeper in our society; We are a giving society, yet people will hardly share their toilet. Even a small restaurant toilet will put a “Costumers Only” notice. A rich landlord secretly dumps raw sewer from his property into the stream used for washing and drinking by poorer people downstream. A wealthy household talks proudly about having four toilets inside with no regard for the neighbourhood that has no toilet. 

We forget that the flies from a poor neighbour’s open faeces will not discriminate against the people in the rich household. 


Changing the Concept 


But there is hope. We have seen in short periods we spent around event toilets how people's perceptions change. They visit us at least ten times on the event day (Imagine where would they run to if we didn’t arrange the toilets). The first time they come, they are suspicious. They cover their nose and mouth. When they come out, they look amazed. The next time they come, we see big smiles. And we become friends. The sudden change in their attitude is so satisfying. This is what we work for. This is the sign that we have finally managed to clean the toilet in their head. Next time, we know they will make a decision based on the clean toilet in his head.


The same attitude has influenced the locations of public toilets across the country. How many public toilets are there in Thimphu? There are seven in the core town, but you won't know because most of them are strategically hidden from the public view. It's ironic that the public toilets are hidden from public view, but that's what happens when the engineer or the planner has a horrific toilet in their head. They are only doing a favour to the country by hiding them. AND you know when the toilets are located in the shady corners, all sorts of shady things happen there—fights, drugs, theft, and vandalism. 


You go to any public toilet and see if everything is in order. I bet you will see that most of them are vandalized, and you will be lucky if at least one flush tank works or you find a proper set of Bucket and Jug to use.


For a harmonious and peaceful country, why do our toilets look like we are in a state of war? The answer lies in the same place, the toilet in our heads. If the planners had clean toilets in their heads, we would have public toilets in good locations, and because of the location, we could avoid all sorts of shady activities, from pooping in the washbasin to stealing buckets jugs and TP rolls.


Personal Etiquettes 


A civilized person will always look for a toilet when they get the call of nature, whereas some of us are still ok with going behind the bush. This habit of going behind the bush is not relevant when you are in a town. That's when you realize how backward you are. But somehow, you manage to find a spot behind a building and shamelessly shit there, knowing that no one will know and no one will even remember. 


For that matter, such a person with no regard for toilet etiquettes will do the same even if he finds a toilet. He will use it without appreciating how good it was when he came in and leave with no regard for people who will go after him. The thought process is the same as the person who did it behind the building. No one has seen it; no one will know, and no one will even remember. 


But let me tell you, what comes out of you is a PART of you. Even though no one saw you leaving without flushing, when people, who come after you see it, they will not like it. They will spit on it in disgust; you are going to feel the hate. No one will look at your shit and appreciate the shape and the colour of it; they will be disgusted. And the energy is powerful. When they spit on the part of you with such sincere disgust, you will feel it no matter where you are. That’s negative energy invoked by you. You bring out the worst in people as long as the part of you remain there.


On the other hand, if you have planted a tree somewhere, every time a person sits in its shade to take rest, the person will feel thankful to the tree, and that powerful and sincere energy of gratefulness will follow you wherever you are like a blessing. Same with a flower you planted that pleases people or a water tap you built that's helping people cool themselves and quench their thirst. What goes around definitely comes around. Let it be the good that goes around.  


Next time you are about to leave the toilet unflushed, remember that ugly little part of you will bother many people and that so many curses will follow you. The idea is simple: even a cat knows. A cat digs a hole, poops in it and covers it up. It's nothing attractive to show to the world, so why don't you cover it up with soil if you are in the wild and make an effort to flush it down if you are in a toilet. Don't make your decision based on whether someone is watching or not. “Integrity is doing the right thing even when no one is watching.” 


The job of Toilet Cleaning


Cleaning toilet is not one of the most attractive jobs in the world. On top of that, in many cultures, it is a job done by a class of people who are considered very low, untouchables. Lucky for us, we never had a deep-rooted toilet culture, and therefore the idea of the job belonging to any class of people is unfounded. Any notion of stigma attached to cleaning toilet is a borrowed mentality. Let’s shed that off. 


Who cleans the toilet at home? Is there a category of people who must do that job? No, it's the job that any family member can do; one who loves cleanliness the most or the one who is good at the art of cleaning, or the one with an open mind to do the job. So, it's not about a class but rather an attitude—a progressive choice. 


It’s in primitive and backward societies that such classes are created and discriminated against. In progressive societies like the US and Australia, toilet cleaning is like any other job. Ask hundreds of respected Bhutanese who have taken the job in Australia by choice.


Of course, the toilets down there cannot be compared to what we have here, and the difference in the kind of money they get down there and what we pay our cleaners here are almost impossible to fathom. This gives us a deep insight into why the western perspective on the job is different from ours. This will help us understand the reality of things and put our money in the right place. If we say toilet cleaners are important members of staff, we must back it up with good money to make it believable. 


Until then, the show must go on. We must work toward uplifting the job to the next level through excellence in performing it and perceiving it. There is no humility greater than the act of cleaning a toilet. 


The Liberator 


And in doing so, when you clean an unflushed toilet, which was causing distress to many people, you act to liberate that unfortunate person who has done that. That person may be having a bad day somewhere. Not knowing what the hell he did wrong to deserve it, but you have shown mercy on him by removing the burden and setting him free. You liberate that person. You become a liberator. 


Not just that, the clean and welcoming toilet that you have created will make every visitor happy, like the tree, flower, water tap I shared about, and the intense, positive energy they emit is the merit you accumulate. It will follow you wherever you are. You will receive their blessings. 


Therefore, sometimes I feel the job of cleaning a toilet is a spiritual offering of humility and compassion, the humility of the self and compassion for others. 


The Royal Vision of a First World Country


During the 113th National Day address, His Majesty the King shared his vision of propelling Bhutan to a first world country during our lifetime. In the last few years, His Majesty kept mentioning Big Data, AI, Block-Chain, Machine Learning, cryptocurrency, and Space science. 


Even if there is nothing we could offer in these big subjects, let us make our individual contribution towards one of the most basic foundations of a first world country- a clean toilet. 


Let’s clean the toilets in our heads and around us. 

Let’s stop going behind the bushes. 

Let’s stop tolerating dirty toilet. 

Let’s complain. 

Let’s prepare to become a first-world citizen. 

08 June 2021

Digital Sovereignty of Bhutan

Once upon a time, when the internet was new in Bhutan, and we were trying to create our email account for the first time, we used to select either India or Bangladesh as our country because Bhutan was not on the dropdown list of countries. It was forgivable in the early days.

Over the years, that issue is solved. Finally, Bhutan was added to the list, and it was a moment of pride to choose Bhutan as our country whenever we joined any online platforms. How odd is it that some ignorant tech guys had deprived us of our sovereignty for a long time? Sometimes, I doubt their intentions. How could a big tech company not know that Bhutan is a sovereign country?

Twenty years on, everything has moved on but we still struggle with the same issue of some tech companies refusing to recognize Bhutan or treat us at par with other countries. It's no geographical ignorance anymore. 

For example, 

  • In Playstore you are often told, "This item not available in your country.", which means we can't get that app because we are in Bhutan. If we tweak our location a little bit or use VPN then we get the app. Why can't we get it when we are in Bhutan?
    Playstore notice
  • "You are not eligible for monetization. The YouTube Partner Program is not available in your current location Bhutan." This is really sad because none of our YouTubers can monetize their channel legally. They have to lie about their location to be eligible. It's easy to change the location but why? What have we done to be punished?
YouTube ineligibility notice
  • On Google Maps, some of us are making efforts to add names of important places and monuments in Dzongkha, but somehow they only show the names in English. If it's uniformly applied then there is no issue but on our north places appear in Chinese script and on our south in Hindi script, which raises the question, why not Dzongkha? Worse even, some of our places appear in Chinese text and we can't change them back. 
Chinese and Hindi over Dzongkha

These are a few examples I have encountered but there could be many. They may seem insignificant but if we look carefully, why would they do that if it's so insignificant? 
What can we do to fix it? For an individual, it may be a colossal task but I think it's the job of the Ministry of Information and Communication (MoIC) or a more relevant department under it. 

20 May 2021

Chaychay’s Tree House

When Charmi called me up to cast my daughter Ninzi on a television show, my wife and I agreed without question. Charmi had taken Ninzi on a stage show before, and we have seen how she was a magician in bringing out the best in people and more. Therefore, when she asked, we knew it would be a great learning experience for our little one. Knowing our daughter, we were worried if she could go the length of a 10 episode marathon. But Charmi had no doubts. She was confident, having worked with Ninzi on a show before and seeing her cute videos on Ninzi Show.

While it was Ninzi whom they signed, my wife and I had to be on her duty throughout the shooting. When we began, I had little hope. First, I was worried if my daughter could handle the volume of the script she had to study for each show and to shoot for hours- wouldn't she be a burden on the rest of the team?. Then, I wondered how the show's format, which is shot in the studio, would appeal to the masses in the era of great cinematography and special effects. 

The entire cast and crew with Dasho Kesang Chuki Dorji

The shooting of the first episode alone shot down all my doubts. My daughter was completely in her elements in front of the cameras. My wife looked at me with teary eyes when she said, "It's as if she is not our daughter Ninzi once she is on the set." At home, we struggle to get her to be serious about anything for an extended period, and here she was doing an entire show with such maturity. 

When the show went on air, it was warmly received by the people. Children hummed the tune of 'Chaychay's Tree House' jingle when they saw Ninzi, while the parents were grateful that such a show laden with knowledge and wrapped in fun replaced the foreign cartoon shows for a while. The reviews were great. 

As the youngest member on the set, my daughter was a real Chaychay in the studio as much as she was on the show. She was showered with affection. And soon we didn't even have to drop her or wait for her, she managed with her new family. She enjoyed her time with them no matter how long the day stretched. You will see the chemistry between them on the show. She was playing along with rockstar Aue Kunga Tenzin Dorji and little star Sonam Choney Dorelma, who helped her in getting a better grip on the art of acting and performance.

Episode 1: Funny Weather 

Episode 2: Little Me

Episode 3: Fun with Numbers

Episode 4: Jojo and I

Episode 5: King's Love

Episode 6: Young Archer

Episode 7: Oval Face

Episode 8: To Sir and Madam

Episode 9: World of Colours

Episode 10: Pride of Lions

And behind the camera, besides the show writer and director Charmi Chheda, there were two other ladies, Tashi Dema and Neelam who juggled so well between their professional roles and being a crazy sisterly figure for the girls. Thank you to the ladies for being a memorable part of my daughter's life. And thank you to all the crew members who worked so hard in the background to lay the foundation for the success of this show. 

16 May 2021

Open Letter to New Thimphu Thrompon

Thimphu Thrompon 

Thromde Office

Subject: What Happened to Chubachu Footpath?

Dear Dasho Ugyen Dorji,

Congratulations on your electoral success. Your victory was people's yearning for change. Former Thrompon was a charismatic leader who has won hearts and earned respect from every quarter of this town, yet people chose you. Your victory comes with a lot of responsibilities. People's expectations from you will be overwhelming,  unforgiving and, at times, unreasonable, yet you must strive to remain faithful to your duty.

At least I have a firm belief that you will be seen as an insider, having been a Thromde staff so far, to enjoy the goodwill and cooperation of your former colleagues, unlike former thrompon. Dasho Kinley used to share how the senior staff members often ganged up against his decisions and didn't let him go forth with most of his out-of-the-box ideas. I know this cannot happen against you because you know the masterminds in the system. 

Well, Dasho, a hundred things are begging for your attention in Thimphu today. Everything seems more important than the other, and I wish you the composure and wisdom to see things with clarity and know which one deserves to be on the priority list. 

A footpath that became a drain

I write this today to draw your attention to a small footpath that seems to have fallen in the shadow. It starts from Chubachu traffic, runs along the stream to the bridge above Land Commission (Passing along the Telecom wall). It was a busy footpath used by hundreds of people who don't have or use cars, including students. Among the hundreds of people using that path was my former teacher, Pema Chhogyel, who is visually impaired since childhood. I saw him walking along that path independently using his white cane to get to his office in the Ministry of Education.

Sir Pema Chhogyel and his son on their way home from the office

Unfortunately, one day toward the end of 2019, we saw people and machine urgently digging up the entire stretch of the footpath. People could no longer use it. They had to find alternate routes, which were much longer detours requiring cars. I understand that for the city to develop, we need to tolerate brief inconveniences every now and then, and for bigger development, we have to make bigger sacrifices. 

But what I can't understand is that the urgency with which they had dug the footpath was not followed up with any other urgent activity. It's been two years, and the footpath is still unusable. The initial excitement was only to destroy the fairly good footpath and make it unusable. 

I am a witness to this failure, along with hundreds of officials working with the Land Commission, Health Ministry, Royal Audit Authority, Anti Corruption, RSPN, WWF, UN, Ministry of Education and Bhutan Telecom. 

Alongside Ministry of Health toward NLC

In February last year, I read sir Pema Chogyal making an online plea to Thrompon and urban planners asking them when the path will be made useable. It's his daily route to and fro office, and ever since it was destroyed he had to be dropped to the office by his wife and picked from office by his school-going son. When he wrote that you were in the office as an urban planner but now you are the mayor. Sir Pema must have thought that the ordeal would only last a few months but we are into May 2021 and nothing has been done. 

Dasho, since the unfortunate destruction of the footpath, we saw people struggling to manoeuvre through the dug up path and making do with the pathetic condition of the road until a group of workers came and started some concrete works and put short spikes of metal rods along the side as if to prevent people from using this already scary path. No alternate route was paved, nor the old one was made safe for use.

Footpath along the Telecom Wall (With metal spikes)

Dasho, I can see no justifiable reasons for such a long delay. If there was no budget, there was no need to rush and dig the path in the first place. If there is a budget and the work was given out then shouldn't there be a deadline? 

Dasho, I know that the entire Thimphu is dug up, and some places are dug more than necessary because of our incompetence yet we look forward with the hope that when the dust settles down we are going to have a better city. But when it comes to the footpath that suffered the unfortunate digging, and series of negligence from 2019 to 2021, I urge you to find out what really happened and do whatever it takes to give back the footpath to the hundreds of people who rely on that, including sir Pema Chhogyel. Let him get back the joy of juggling between his home and office independently. 

Thank you

(I don't use the footpath yet I care.)

10 May 2021

Thimphu’s Traffic Turning Dark Red

From as early as 7:45 AM, Thimphu's traffic was in a deep mess. The traffic status on Google maps shows how bad it was (see the map), from yellow showing moderate to red and dark red showing severe jams in most parts of Thimphu. It's pretty unexpected for a small city. 


However, it's a matter of great pride to observe that despite the jam causing frustration, there is hardly any honk or overtaking. In fact, the right lane is left absolutely free from oncoming traffic to pass without hindrance. 


We are all well-meaning people causing this big problem unintentionally. How do we resolve this issue without compromising our lives?

I offer my two chheltrum to address the issue; from immediate fix to long term solutions

1. Immedicate fix

Odd-Even Rule. Allow vehicle with odd digit numbers to ply on odd dates, and even digit nubmer to ply on even dates. Nothing new. We have tried this before. This will not only reduce the traffic to half its mess but also encourage neighbours and communities to talk and start car-pooling.

2. Medium Term Solution: 

Improve public transport or at least add more school buses. Encourage or subsidise commercial school buses. One school bus can take away at least 20 cars from the road. Druk Ride should enter this game.

3. Long Term Solution

Enroll our children in the schools that are within our Zone, so that we don't have to crisscross into other zones and cause jams, or don't event have to use cars. We have seen how dividing the city into zones helps in more than one front.

4. Long Long Term Solution: 

Have a network of good footpaths linking every part of the city. Plant trees along the footpath and make walking to school and office a trendy culture. Once major cause of the current traffic mess is the sudden loss of footpath across the city. So many busy footpaths were dug up seemingly to do a major facelift but even after two years, we are waiting to see when we can use the paths again. If we were to wait this long, why didn't they rush to damage the old paths?

5. Not a Solution: 

DON'T increase taxes on cars following some ill economic advices. It solves nothing. It only makes cars unafforable for the poorer section of the society with no impact whatsoever on the growth in sale and use of cars. 

6. Stupidity 

If you hate traffic jam and don't want to be part of it then start your day before Thimphu wakes up. The road is hauntingly empty till 7:30. But the funny part is you have to wait near the school gates until it opens at 8 AM. This seeminly smart hack turned out to be stupidity. 

16 February 2021

How Two Bhutanese Telecoms are Unfaithful to GNH

There were times we didn't have mobile phones. It came and changed our lives. We are grateful to BMobile for leading that change. 

In the early 2000s, the mobile service was at least five times more expensive than today. Without smartphones, the purpose of phones was limited to talking and sending SMS, yet it was so exciting. Bhutan Telecom enjoyed the monopoly and exploited the people's curiosity. The fascinated people didn't realise that they have been robbed until Tashi Cell came by to help us understand that it could be done at a lesser cost. For that, we remain eternally grateful. 

However, now the two telecoms seem to have ganged up and decided to watch each other's backs. Their products are almost identical. And they have chosen to misplace their values at the same time. Of the several things that don't seem right for a business in Bhutan, the following two top the list of reasons why they are so unfaithful to the core values of GNH. 

1. Paradoxical Data Package Costing

It's good that we now have various small data packages to choose from unlike in the early days where the smallest voucher we could buy was Nu.300. However, the way the packages are priced is shockingly so pro-rich. 

For Nu. 99 you get 1330 MB of data, and for Nu. 699 you get 22,370 MB. Do the maths. If you can pay seven times the price at once, you get 20 times the data. They may argue that it's a typical bulk discount scheme, but for Bhutan, such a paradox is insulting the core value of GNH. 

Bhutan TelecomTashi Cell
Rate (Nu.)Data Volume (MB)MB/Nu.Rate (Nu.)Data Volume (MB)MB/Nu.

Obviously, it's about who can and cannot pay. If you can afford to pay more, you get it cheaper. We want to rain where there is water. If you can't afford it, you have to pay more. The margin is significant enough to raise the question; why can't they share that offer with those who have no means to opt for bigger packages, if so much can be spared? 

It's much like the Duty-Free shop where the prominent people in society with all the means are given handsome discount quota. In contrast, the people who desperately need these discounts are selectively deprived—such a paradox. 

2. Unlimited Plans to Ruin a Generation 

The cheapest data package on offer with our telecoms is the unlimited plans sold at Nu.55 by BT and Nu.57 by TCell. But the catch is it's effective between 1 AM to 7 AM, the prime sleeping hours. If I have no other means, and I get unlimited downloads at night that's right for my pocket, I might as well put aside my sleep. Thus, thousands of people, mostly youths, are sleepless every night, ripping the benefit of this misguided scheme and missing on real things happening during the day. We are creating a generation of strange young people, who haven't met their parents for days because when they are awake, their parents are asleep. And vice versa. 
TCell Sleepless Scheme

BT Sleepless Scheme

When the telecom sales team sat to brainstorm and invent this 'brilliant' product, have they considered for once what would happen if their own children fall prey? When they watch the night traffic soaring, they see the money flowing in but do they put faces and stories to those numbers? It reminds me of the movie, The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas (2008). I don't have to explain this. 

A still from The Boy in Striped Pyjamas

My friends are petitioning against this scheme. Here is the link. I am signing the petition. We need you to sign and put pressure on the telecoms to do some soulsearching. 

There is a book called Proposed GNH of Business by The Centre for Bhutan Studies (CBS). The summary of the book on BOOKNESE reads;

The idea of incorporating GNH values into business was first proposed by Prime Minister (2013-2018) Dasho Tshering Tobgay in 2015. He mentioned that the current business model of overemphasizing profit maximization and increasing shareholder values at the cost of environment and community was unsustainable. He expressed the need to recognize and manage these costs and risk and called for integrating GNH values into the business operation. Essentially, it meant measuring the success of a business by its ability to serve, facilitate, and engage with its stakeholders. -