25 April 2022

The Process of Writing- My Debut Hosting on Bhutan Echoes

I feel honoured to be given this opportunity to host a session on the process of writing, a subject that is close to my heart, a subject that I worked so hard to understand when I co-founded the Writers Association of Bhutan and a subject that's at the heart of what I do with BOOKNESE.

You will see how natural and spontaneous we are during the discussion, not because we rehearsed so much but because the subject was as close to their hearts as mine. My guest Tshering Wangchuk, former CEO of Business Bhutan and BBS, is the author of A Thousand Footprints. My Other guest Utsav Khatiwara is an editor who works as a lecturer at Royal Thimphu College. Within an hour that I spent with the two outstanding personalities, with whom I haven't had so much associations in the past-- especially I met Utsav for the first time on the day of the shoot-- I felt a lot richer in terms of my knowledge on writing and publishing. 

Save all your questions until the end of this show;

21 April 2022

My Floating Bed #DIY Project

You don't need a floating bed to have a good night's sleep, but if you must, please invest in a good mattress instead because that has a considerable effect on the quality of your sleep and, therefore, the quality of your life. I don't have to dig into the science to prove how good sleep influences a good life. 

If it's the mattress that matters, why did I work on a bed? A floating bed, rather? At first, I was into making a headboard for my old bed. I spent a long time reading and writing in my bed, and it was painful not to have a soft and sturdy headboard to lean on. 

I worked on a headboard that I always wanted to have. I had a mental picture of one. The ones I saw in the market were not within the budget I could afford and not quite the kind I wanted. My Headboard came out better than I thought. I went beyond wood and carpentry into foam and cloth. I didn't stop there. 


Why did I even want a headboard in the first place? I wanted to read and write in my bed; that's when I felt the need to have a reading light attached. Now that I have an electrical item attached, I thought, why not add another feature to make life easy; I added a mobile charging station on both ends of the board for my wife and me. No more messy extension cords and chargers on the bedside table at night. 

Initially, it was a standard two-pin plug, but a friend suggested I have a USB charger and remove the need for an external charger. Likewise, I had a reading light that had a small switch that was difficult to locate, especially when I was sleepy and trying to turn off the light; therefore, the same friend suggested I go for a light that would turn on and off by mere touch on any part- and no switch.

Only after I had the magnificent headboard built and attached to my old bed did I realize that I needed a more matching bed. I wasn't so confident about making a bed. But when I saw the floating bed concept, I knew I could do that. I knew I could do better. Thus, I worked on it, and I had the bed done within a few days. I brought it home and coupled it with my headboard. 

Going strictly by the recipe, I even added an LED light underneath the bed to glorify the floating effect. I stole the LED lights from my daughter's room. 

The satisfaction of having done the bed didn't last long because I felt something was missing. The headboard and the bed looked like they were from different planets. 

From my experience of working on a friend's zen bed, I knew I needed to wrap my bed in the same cloth as the headboard. I went back to the fabric store from where I bought the foam and clothes to get an additional cloth. 

There you go! The bed seemed like it had grown out of the headboard. It looked soft and comfy all of a sudden. It came out the way I loved it to be, far better than I thought I was capable of making. It was definitely an accidental success, and I have learned so much from experience. I am willing to share them. 

And finally, I have my floating bed. My daughter has taken away the LED light, but it looks great either way. The concept of having the bed floating is both aesthetic and functional; there are no issues when sweeping the floor around and underneath the bed.  

And yeah, Good Night!

19 March 2022

Wooden Bathtub (Wa)#DIY

Wa (ཝ) is a wooden tub that's generally used for hot-stone baths. It's an outdoor thing, but I have always wanted one that I could keep in my bathroom. I have asked my brother Samtey to make me one in his furniture house in Punakha. It took a while, but he finally delivered it early this year between the two lockdowns. 

I loved it, but his version was not the traditional shape that I wanted. The base area was equal to that of the mouth, which took a lot of water to fill. My 50-litre geyser was useless. So I planned to remodel it to suit my taste. 

My Remodeling Plan

It was a scary experience. I was tearing apart a well-made tub without even knowing if I would be able to put it back into the shape and size I wanted. I was ambitious. I liked the Wa to have some modern features to make it easy to use. 

I cut off almost half of the original tub and achieved my desired shape. It looked great. But because of the angles I have added to the structure, I had to play around with slopes on all the sides, including the bottom part that comes into contact with the base. I added a waste coupling to make draining easy.

When testing with water, there were multiple leaks. It seemed like a failure. Thanks to my indigenous knowledge, I know the leaks are normal. There are two ways to contain them;
1. stuff the gaps with cloth pieces using a sharp object
2. keep the tub filled with water. The leaks will disappear gradually.

I tried a new trick. I applied silicone sealant. More than half the leaks were gone. The tub was still leaking. Then the good old method of keeping it filled with water solved the rest. Now my bathroom smells of a sweet pine tree. 

Inside of the Wa

The Wa in my bathroom

This interesting project gave me the confidence and desire to do more. I have worked on over six small projects. The Wa project is the second biggest and my second favourite. The number one on my list is an unusual bed concept I worked on:- Floating Bed. 

17 March 2022

Four Simple #DIY Projects

During the lockdown, the two things that I avoided were thinking about the lockdown and talking or writing about the lockdown. I didn't want to pretend not to be affected by it. I rather didn't want it to affect me. I set out to work on some carpentry projects to keep myself busy. I didn't know I was good at it. Maybe I wasn't good at it first but as I did more projects I improved. It surprised me and my wife. 

3 Shelves for the kitchen

I found a dozen bottles of oil and sauces behind the gas stove. They are there because of the frequency of use. Placing them any further from there could disrupt the process of preparing food, therefore I built a single layer shelf right behind the gas stove. 

When the oil and sauce bottles found their place, the containers holding tea ingredients and other spices were jealous. They were in a plastic cabinet, which was eating up a lot of space on the kitchen table. So I sacrificed my supposed-to-be bookshelf for them. 

For the pots and pans, I found the easiest way out. I got some angle clamps from the hardware store and built two layers of shelves for them. 

One Shelf for the Bathroom

One shelf led to another. With inspiration from The DIY Life with Anika, I made one for the bathroom as well. 

These are the simple ones I worked on. The next two will be much bigger, more complex and of course, my favourites. 

28 February 2022

A Simple Tip Before Buying a Phone

It's not everyday that we buy phones. We save, we wait, we sacrifice a lot before we could have enough to buy a new phone and say goodbye to the old one that's giving us all sorts of trouble. 

After all the waiting, you don't want to land up with a wrong phone or wrong price, therefore, see if this short video makes sense to you:

I am a Samsung loyal and so is my family. It's a combination of being reliable and affordable at the same time. It's a smart choice. And before I upgrade my phone I always spend a substantial amount of time studying the phone and comparing prices on TashiCell website, where they have transparently published everything including the big discounts. 

By the time I go out to the outlet I know about the phone more than anyone and I don't look around at all, I just grab the phone I have chosen online. 

Ani Passo - A Tribute

Date: 2020-10-25

My ani Passo was a gentle lady who loved my father, her youngest sibling, so dearly. My late father, Phub Dorji, was as young as her children and therefore she took care of him like one of them. My father, being an uncle to her children, made sure that he lived up to the status he had in the family.

Their family was devastated when my father was killed in an accident in 1984. He was their bread earner and as much as he was a dearly loved brother and Asha. I was a baby when this happened. People looked at me and cried. Every time they saw me they felt pity on me. I didn't have a father anymore. Besides my mother, who lost her husband, it was Ani who felt the deepest pain. Seemingly, she saw her brother in me because she loved me dearly. She won't say it aloud but I knew she did.

She was a quiet lady. Her husband was a powerful Nyeep of Gangtay Palace then and she was said to have spent her younger days in the company of Royals at the Palace. But her luck soon ran out, when her husband was terminated from the palace for alleged abuse of power. He was later said to be arrested and imprisoned in Paro Dzong after the assassination of the Prime Minister, Jigme Palden Dorji in 1963. 

Her husband, after his release from the prison, never came back to her. He left for Gasa and married another woman, and perhaps few more later. It was a fair deal to do so back in their times. A man could travel and father so many children in their ways, and not even be responsible for them. My Ani is said to have been so hurt that she refused to talk to him. As a child, I used to remember him visiting Haa and staying in the same house with Ani and her children. I thought he was still her husband. I never saw anything uneasy about him being in the house. 

But later I understood that her reunited with his children only much later in their lives. She and her children were left to fend from themselves all their lives. Acho Dorji related to me the story of how he met his father in Thimphu when he was employed for the first time in Thimphu. He said their father left them when they were still small and only then they met him. He started reappearing in their lives from then on. 

Ani was a nucleus of the family and she attracted people from near and far in her days. Her house in Yatshotenkha would be the venue of the festivities even during the lochay. Nowhere in Yangthang, I remember people having so much fun during lochay. Even though their house was in the woods, far from the village, people walked to be there. After the lochay was over, we used to have dozens of people sleeping over. Ani was such a warm person that everyone would show up. She has raised her children to be equally warm that even they were no less. 

I have paid her visit at least twice a year as long as I can remember. I looked forward to meeting her as much as she did. She won't show much but I knew she loved seeing me. Later, I went to meet her with my wife, and soon I went with my daughter. She has seen me as a baby and now she was seeming my daughter. It became a full circle in her life. In her own family, her granddaughter gave her a great-granddaughter and they have a beautiful life. 

But I feel, like all families, when Sonam Yangchen went for Paro to work with her husband and she Ashi Yangzo was away each day, Ani must have suffered the isolation badly. She must have felt lonely and sad but she could never articulate it because that was the life she knew. I wonder whose idea it was to build the house at Yasotenkha, away from Yangthang. It was a romantic idea in the beginning but with age that was a wrong place. 

Ani started losing her sense of hearing and vision. Or maybe she was alright but she was losing her mind. When I visited her in the last few years, she has only two things to say, that she can't hear me well and that she can't see me well. I think she could see and hear. She just couldn't comprehend. It wasn't much later that one night she forgot her way home. The whole of Yangthang was alerted to look for her in the forest. It was a cold winter night and we couldn't imagine she would survive. She was found the next day from near Talung. She hadn't walked much. When she was brought home, which was filled with people from all over, she didn't even know what was going on. She didn't even know she was lost and found. She was lost. 

She became a child again. She was gradually forgetting everything. She family, her speech, her ability to walk and eat and even go to the toilet. She back a baby in the diaper. She would look at you love a small baby and make sounds like a baby would do. If she was a baby we would find that cute, but when an old woman does that we found it crazy. I don't know if her children have done enough. I am just a nephew. 

I felt a sense of liberation when she passed away. I couldn't imagine her being trapped in that body that won't even move. I realized why death was important. And later, I felt a little sad that such a beautiful soul who didn't even harm a fly had to die that way. But again, I thought she died that way because that's the most blessed way to die; neither she felt the pain nor us. Everyone welcomed death. 

The storyteller in me was seeking a poetic justice in the fact that Ani never spoke to her ex-husband even though he appeared in their lives every year for at least 20 years. And the fact that she died without speaking to him was a satisfying yet empty feeling. Did he hurt her that deep? 

Why did my ani lose her peaceful mind? 

31 January 2022

Egg-nomy- The Fragile Economy of Eggs

In the last decade, the ban on import of eggs gave rise to a booming poultry business and thus we achieved egg self-sufficiency within a short span of time. In fact, the massive growth in local egg production changed our dietary habits and we saw a steep upward curve in consumption of eggs in Bhutan.

Picture Source: Cee Dee Ventures (Facebook)

Just another decade ago, egg was a delicacy. My mother would promise to give me an egg fry if I passed my exam. Families would save two to three pieces of eggs for special occasions. If someone broke an egg by accident, hell would break lose. I don’t think kids these days can relate to this, because now we buy eggs in trays and have it as a quick meal whenever we wish.

But seemingly we had all our eggs in one basket or to put it literally we had all our birds feed from one basket. BOOM! With a fault in one batch of feed, we lose our self-sufficiency status overnight.

With the sudden drop in the production of eggs, the supply chain was badly hit and the cruel market force driven by the greedy middlemen shot the price of egg over the roof. This is a bad market where price rises because of the misfortune of the others. I didn’t study business; in the open market, it may be considered fair enough for the price to increase with the rise in demand and drop in supply but in the business of karma it’s not going to pay.

Now, when the government is importing eggs to fill the gap, a news report says, some farmers are not happy. When the price of the eggs on my table has made me sad, I have no heart to care about the happiness of some farmers. I rather lobby for more import to control the price in the local market. We just cannot do business the conventional way, we must care, we must feel, and ripe what we saw.

29 January 2022

Where the Hills Have More Prayer Flags than Trees

The Buddhist funeral ritual of offering 108 prayer flags has the potential of wiping off acres of forest every year. To get a perspective of the threat it poses, look at the hills stretch overlooking Lanjophakha to Taba, there are more prayer flags than trees. It’s so haunting to look into that direction and realize that it will continue to expand further. It's now buddhism against environment, which is not supposed to be. What have we done? 

The Prayer Flag Hill

 I have raised this issue before and even made a few tangible suggestions to make it sustainable. In one article, I suggested the need for every Bhutanese to plant 108 trees as a citizenry mandate so that we could equate that with the trees we would cut down for the ritual when we die.

 In another article, I floated a social business idea to startup prayer flag hiring company to help bereaved families deal with arduous process of hoisting prayer flag at an affordable cost by reusing old pole or finding alternative such as bamboo, plastic or steel poles. 

To do more on this, I have been part of a micro project where we promoted treated bamboo pole as an alternative flagpole. We couldn’t even make a dent because we realized that there is a huge resistance. 

 The big question we must address is, why 108 poles? It’s fundamentally flawed to count the poles when the ritual is about the prayers printed on the flag that will flutter in the wind. Shouldn’t we be counting the number of lines of prayers we are offering in the wind? 

 To make it worse, there is funny logic that states that bamboo and steel poles that are hollow inside cannot be used for offering prayer flags. Who is deciding this for us? Is it a wrong number? Otherwise, wouldn’t an offering that has done lesser harm be a more profound offering? 

Bamboo Flagpoles in Southern Bhutan

 I am not an extreme conservationist, I rather believe in sustainable harvesting of trees. I believe in felling a matured tree to build shelter and produce furniture. But I am opposed to the idea of felling young trees just to stretch a layer of prayer flags on it. Every tree is a golden goose and felling them for a mere pole is like killing the goose. It’s an unworthy sacrifice of a valuable natural resource. 

 There are more reasonable ways to make the offering; 
  1. reuse old flagpoles that are lying all around uselessly. Make all the existing flagpoles public property that anyone can reuse once that prayers are faded. 
  2. use ropes to stretch prayer flags between two poles or around one big pole. There are some fine examples. Make them popular.
  3. explore recycle plastic poles. I think my friend Karma Yonten can do this. He has shown the possibility with his eco-green poles.
  4. use steel poles. It’s far more economical because you can resell them. 
  5. and I am wondering if it’s possible to cut out flagpoles from a big matured timber using some machine. (Business idea?)

Reusable Ru-dhar pole

 But as long as permits to fell young tree for flagpoles are freely available, why suffer a change? We are too lazy to explore better ways. We are happy with the old world, and there are old minds advising us to resist. People gossip about you not doing enough gewa if you don’t do it the old way. 

 Therefore, there should be a systemic effort to putting an end to this mindless culture of massacring young trees for nothing worthwhile: 
  1. Department of Forestry, Forest Resources Management Division must stop issuing permit for flagpoles. We must put a ban on felling young trees for flagpole or any other purpose. 
  2. Department of Culture and Zhung Dratshang must create awareness on how the offering is about the prayer on the flag that flutter in the wind rather than the pole. Pole can be anything or nothing. Prayers matter.
Let's state the truth that it's so sinful to cut a young tree for hoisting a prayer flag.

27 January 2022

Is Mathang an In-law or Cousin?

I have a strange reputation among my wife’s kins for ‘shamelessly’ calling every one of her female cousins as my mathang. At first, it made them uncomfortable. But now they are beginning to accept it; either they found wisdom in my justification or they found me too crazy to argue with. 

 I was only stating the obvious that everyone from my wife’s side is my in-law therefore all her cousins become my mathang but by some crazy logic, they say my wife’s mathang (some of her cousins and in-laws) become my ana or ausa and that I must maintain ‘ngotsha’ with them. Wait what? Just because all my sisters become her mathang doesn’t mean all her mathang become my sisters. 

What's Ngotsho?

Ngotsha perhaps has no English equivalent word because the concept doesn’t exist in the western world or maybe I am not aware of. To put it simply, I can’t tell a dirty joke in front of someone with whom I am supposed to maintain ‘ngotsha’ relation, like my mother, sister and other female relatives. But why can't I have some fun with my wife’s mathangs? 

 Let’s understand the meaning of Mathang and Khotkin. Mathang means sister in-law, and Khotkin means brother in-law. So far so good. It becomes little complicated when they are also used to refer to the children of your maternal uncle (ashang) and paternal aunty (ani). 

Your ashang and ani’s children are your first cousins as much as the children of your paternal uncles (aku, Apchi) and maternal aunties (Azim, Amchi). But somehow this old tradition has divided the first cousins into two, making one a lesser cousin than the other. With one group, you are respectfully maintaining ngotsha, and with the other, you are quite the opposite, mischievous and flirty. 

With education, cross culture marriages, and restriction from the law, it’s slowly becoming a thing of the past but not long ago, in the eastern part of the country, your mathangs and khotkins were considered the preferred candidates for marriage. Even the parents encouraged it. In fact, your real Ashang and Ani’s children are branded as Serga Mathang and Serga Khotkin, meaning golden cousins or golden opportunity, to put bluntly. 

The fact that you also call your father in-law ashang, and mother in-law Ani is a not-so-subtle indication that that your maternal uncle can be your father in-law or your paternal aunty your mother in-law. 

So, my argument with my mathang is, how can they call their first cousins and immediate blood relatives as mathang and khotkin while questioning my sanity over calling my marital relatives as mathang?

 Isn’t it? I am, therefore, not going to maintain ngotsha with my wife's mathang. In fact, her mathang will be my double mathang.

 When I heard of Dzongkha Development Commission (DDC) borrowing and approving Mathang and Khotkin as dzongkha words and adding them in dzongkha dictionary I immediately wanted to know what the words would mean in Dzongkha; 

I would personally lobby for them to mean just in-laws and not cousins. Let all cousins be cousins and take away the naughty connotation it gives by calling them mathang.

Disclaimer: The culture of marrying Ashang's daughter seemed to have existed even in the western part of the country. We have a living example in my village, but we are not open or proud about it. Not anymore. 

17 January 2022

Radio/Tape Recorder Licence - 1984

My brother Tenze Choda handed me an old yellowed booklet titled "Radio/Tape Recorder Licence" that he found in an old trunk at home. Knowing my interest in old stuff, he has kept it aside for me. 

The booklet grabbed my attention at once. I heard about the need for a licence to own a radio and listen to it back in the days but this is the first time I am seeing one for myself. It was issued in my late father's name on 27th Feb, 1984. 

It was never renewed. Eight pages kept for renewal were left blank. It's because he passed away in the same year. They said I could barely crawl when my father's body was brought to the village. He was killed in a public service truck accident near Katsho bridge. He was in his 20s.

This document is fascinating in so many way; I am looking at it and wondering how my father would have felt when we brought home a radio and the licence to listen to it. Did he place the radio on the window and let the whole village hear it? I can only imagine how much it would have meant to him and my mother.

On seeing the document, my mother remembered wrapping her radio in a piece of cloth and hiding it in a grain box when she saw a few policemen coming to our village. This seems to suggest that my parents had a radio even before they got the licence.

Almost four decades later I am holding the same document in my hand and feeling nostalgic. Just like my father who is long gone, the relevance of the document, which was once a serious matter, is gone too. It's now a piece of history almost forgotten that reflects the life in those days.

Following are some interesting clauses from the document; 

1. No Radio set or a tape recorder shall be maintained and used in Bhutan except on the basis of a valid licence issued by the civil authority 

2. The licence shall be valid for the calendar year of issue only and is renewable every year on the payment of the prescribed fee.

3. a) b) Radio and tape recorder for domestic use: Nu.15/-

c) For each tape recorder or radio set used in shops, restaurants and similar places of trade or business with a view to attract or entertain customers: Nu.30/-

10. The person in possession of a radio or tape recorder without a valid licence issued by the civil authority is punishable with a fine of Nu.10/-

Nu. 15 was a big amount of money back then yet people paid it to acquire the right to listen to a radio. Looking back at it now, it seems so ridiculous and oppressive. But I am sure one day we will look back and feel the same about driving license. 

This small document from 1984 reminds us of how far we have come and how lucky we are now than ever before.