In Bhutan, a visit from the King is always a reason for happiness and celebration. Last Thursday, the eleventh of April, our college received the honor of having the visit of His Majesty, the fifth King of Bhutan. Everybody was getting ready in their best kiras and ghos making sure they looked their best. The walkway to the auditorium where the King was going to give his speech was busy with everybody trying to make their way to the same place. Outside of the auditorium was a congregation of people who were easily recognizable: my fellow Wheaton friends. Some people were just waiting and others were struggling with their kabneys and rachus.
A little background on Bhutanese traditional dress: woman wear kiras which are ankle length skirts that are wrapped around the waist (very tightly, in fact if you can breathe then you didn’t do it right) and a jacket called toego sometimes used with an undershirt called wonju. For formal occasions, women wear a rachu over the left shoulder. Men wear a gho, which is also wrapped around them with a belt and goes down to their knees, and use a kabney that runs from over left shoulder to the right hip for formal events.
Some people were congregating outside making sure that their rachus and kabneys were in place. We made our way in and all the way to the first few rows in the auditorium. The stage was set with a big yellow chair (yellow is the color of royalty in Bhutan) and a small table in front of it with fruit. Officials explained us how to bow multiple times before the King showed up. After a while the King came and everybody bowed. The King asked that people sat down.
He started by addressing the college in general. He looked at us and said: “I see that there are some Wheaton students”. Then he welcomed us, told us that we looked very nice in kiras and ghos and said that he would like to meet us. In this moment some of us realized that nobody was looking at the king eye to eye. People were sitting staring down. His Majesty started speaking in English, but switched back and forth to Dzongkha in his whole speech. He talked about how he was happy to see what RTC had done. Then he talked about his life as a student both in the United states (in Wheaton) and then in England. He talked about his insecurities, his strengths and weaknesses as a student.
When he left we all waited and left in organized lines. The RTC students all went back to their classes and the Wheaton students were brought to the cafeteria to wait to meet the King of Bhutan! After a little while, we went down to the open amphitheater above the auditorium where he had addressed us earlier, and His Majesty came over, greeted us and asked us how we liked Bhutan. I think we were all being honest when we said we loved it. We asked His Majesty about his Wheaton experience and he told us that his best memories were of hanging out with his roommate who was also international and also dreaming of living off campus and buying a car. His Majesty told us that when he was in England he liked going to the pubs, (not so much the discos) and then asked us about how we found the party life to be like here in Bhutan. We told him that we liked this one bar called Mojo Park and His Majesty said that he had heard about it. When our conversation was over His Majesty’s personal photographer took a picture of us with him and then he went on to meet with the faculty and spent some more time with them, though a lot less than he spent with us! Professor Owens later told us that His Majesty apologized to the faculty who had been waiting to have their photo taken with him while he spoke to us, but then added that students were always more interesting than faculty!
Before he left us to join the faculty for their photo opportunity, he told us that he wanted to organize a barbecue for the faculty and the Wheaton students, and went on to describe to some hungry students all the different foods he would bring. Three days later we were sitting at a table having a lovely barbecue with the King of Bhutan.