March 10th, 2011
Hey there everyone,
Classes are off and running these days so I find myself to be a bit busier which is nice. But I find times to relax here and there (which mostly means I zone out during meetings in Dzongkha). One of my favorite periods of time is morning assembly. It is run predominantly in Dzongkha through an aging and whispering PA system so I find my mind drifting just a tad. Mostly I like to watch “The War” on the Nature Channel. Now what I mean is the battle between the birds flying around over our heads every morning. Our assembly ground is surrounded by our classroom buildings and each roof has an army of birds perched atop. Now these birds constantly bombard and chirp expletives at each other in attempts to take over the new roof space. The “no man’s land” is above the heads of our beloved children and as anyone knows, in any conflict it’s the children who suffer (There have actually been a few strafing runs ‘deployed’ overhead). My thoughts have strayed to thinking if each camp of birds has its own Tomb of the Unknown Bird Soldier. Do they commemorate any fallen veterans? Do they have ranks? “Orders have just come down from the top feather that General Sparrow requires 50 pigeon regiments to take the east flank of the science building, any volunteers?” So yeah…I get bored sometimes.
I’m officially teaching English to class 7b, 7c, 8b, and 9d. My classes max out at 32 students and they are all pretty hilarious. I think they are really used to a strict style of teaching because I get big laughs out of being goofy (like a ridiculous amount, don’t be surprised if I come back thinking I’m the next Johnny Carson or Bob Hope). Right now I’m using music to teach parts of speech. I find that the Beatles are a good teaching tool. The Beatles wrote hundreds of songs so it’s not hard to find some that are short, use simple English, and aren’t too hard to understand (not to slight the Beatles but it’s easier than using Phish lyrics). Plus, I can then explain how to distinguish between proper nouns and adjective noun agreements with such songs as Rocky Raccoon. I mean, that’s not confusing right...?
I also have some extra responsibilities at school. I am the head teacher for class 8b which means I supervise them when they are doing campus beautification, maintain their report cards, and generally hang out with them like a giant child. I am assistant warden which makes this place sound like a prison which is totally not true at all! (Except we have a barbwire fence surrounding the campus and students need permission to leave…) The warden is in charge of the health and safety of the boys at the school so I help out with his duties; lights out, studying, cleaning up the dorms, etc. Oh and I am sure you will be pleased to know that my school has Scouts which is the Bhutanese equivalent of the Boy/Girl Scouts. I am a troop leader of Sharibu (the 3rd level – mostly 9th and 10th graders) and I have no idea what I’m doing. I joined because I love hiking and camping, and I guess we do those things at some point, but the other troop leaders are the girliest teachers on our campus so I’m interested in what hiking and camping means in Bhutan (or if we go at all). It’s actually really adorable seeing the 60 students decked out in their scouting scarves and walking around tall and proud, apparently scouts in Bhutan is not social suicide.
The food here is amazing…because potatoes are king! Seriously, potatoes are in about every dish and are never out of season. I am literally overflowing with potatoes and joy. While kewa dhatse (potatoes and cheese) is my favorite, the unofficial national dish is emma dhatse and is simply chillies with cheese. This thing is hot. I admit, I do not like spicy food and really have had no affinity for tolerating spicy food, but it took me maybe 5 days to adjust and now my tongue is truly Bhutanese. I can handle the hottest dishes they throw at me and even out eat (spicy-wise, not quantity-wise) the manliest of Bhutanese. While they’re sweating and belly-aching (literally), I’m smiling and asking for more. But seriously, Bhutan has the highest ulcer rate in the world, I wonder why. Pretty much every dish is a dhatse (which means you cook something and add cheese to it – dhatse = cheese): emma dhatse, kewa dhatse, sok dhatse (spinach), lafu dhatse (radish), shamu dhatse (mushroom), dhatse dhatse (okay I made that one up but cheese cheese would be delicious).
Drinks aren’t very complicated either. For tea there is suja and naja. Naja is milk tea that is sweet, delicious, and awesome. Suja is butter tea. In case you wish to experience suja follow these steps: 1) Melt a stick of butter in a cup. 2) Add 3-5 tea leaves so it technically qualifies as tea. 3) Add salt. 4) Drink it. 5) Curl up and die in a corner. Suja is disgustingly foul, who wants to drink savory tea? No one, that’s who. Some of the foreigners love it, and they are crazy because this stuff is nasty. Unfortunately for me, it is the more common tea and considered the traditional drink at pretty much every occasion.
“Carson, please take some tea”
“Is it suja or naja?”
“Suja” “[coughing back vomit] No thank you”
“You must take it, it is tradition!”
I then spend the next ten minutes spluttering and choking down grossness.
For alcohol, it may not be surprising that there are many options. Ara is the locally made wine and it can be served cold or hot. The hot version can be served with butter in it or with butter and a fried egg in it (WHAT?!). No one has been able to tell me why there is a fried egg in their alcohol that you then have to awkwardly chew at the end of your beverage enjoyment. While the ara tastes good, the egg leaves a bit to be desired. Imagine cooking your morning eggs in vodka and then eating them. Depending on how dedicated you are to booze, you may already be familiar with this. I guess I can’t really act surprised, we drink bloody mary’s, but those also taste like crap so really I don’t understand it. Next there is chungke. Chungke is pronounced chunky which is easy to remember because it is fermented rice and is, in fact, chunky. Chungke tastes sweet and is only served during local rituals. I think rituals must happen every other day because chungke always seems to be around the corner. They also have beer here; Druk 11000 (which I call Drunk 11000 – booya), Red Panda (an animal that actually exists and actually is found in Bhutan – look them up, they are adorable), Hit (which is aptly named because you feel like you’ve been punched in the face after drinking one), Fosters (Australia’s crappiest/best beer, there is no distinction), and Tiger Beer (from Thailand, actually not bad). Luckily for drunkards, these beers come only in 24 oz bottles and some genius thought it would be a great idea to make them 8% and charge you $1 for them. Basically, 1 beer = fall on your ass (unfortunately, like Lays potato chips, you can’t have just one – they force you).
Now for other hilarious things I have observed.
Our school has a prayer wheel and, no joke, that thing is like the see-saw of our school. Anytime of the day you will find students constantly turning it and walking around it and I’m starting to think it’s the ‘cool’ place to hang out. Either our students are dedicated to Buddhism or they think they have some really bad karma to work off.
My school has a Samtengang Star competition. This is effectively American Idol. It starts in a few months and I can't wait to see the drama unfold as students vie for the cash prize of…nothing. But really, I am excited to hold up a sign saying “We love you Tshering Dorji Wangchuk!” while jumping up and down and crying hysterically. Look out Samtengang!
Probably 25% of the students have Justin Beiber pictures covering their notebooks, the majority are guys. About 100% of the staff can sing Justin Beiber songs by heart. Somehow Bhutan has an epidemic of Beiber fever, I fear it will kill us all.
Anytime I run into a tourist here, which is actually very rare, I love watching their eyes as I tell them I am living here for at least 1 year. Considering it costs $220 per day to visit, I am technically getting $70,400 for free.
“My dealer lives in Wangue town”. I’ve heard this sentence on multiple occasions from different people. They are referring to how they purchase cigarettes since tobacco was banned this past January. And pot grows all over the countryside…what a strange place.
Well, that's all that's really exciting over here but stay tuned for more updates and insights! Oh and stay in touch, I love emails.
All the best,