Tango Monastery

Last Saturday, June16th, we went to Tango Monastery after learning about it in our Dzongkha class on Friday. Gyelsey Tenzin Rabgay, the 4th Desi (or temporal ruler), built this monastery in 1688. It serves as a college where scholars study Buddhism for nine years. After studying here they move to Cheri Monastery, located on the side of nearby mountain that we did not visit for the sake of time, to mediate for three years, three months, and three days. After these twelve years of successful combined study and meditation, one is considered a Khenpo, making one a master of Buddhism.

Tango is located up the side of a mountain. Though the walk was steep, it was less rigorous than other walks we have done because the path was completely paved with stone and cement. The landscaping was beautiful. There were lots of trees, flowers, and interesting huts/resting areas along the paths, along with a replica of Swayambhu of Nepal.  We know that the monks work hard to maintain the beauty of this trail as well, because we passed many of them out working on it. We stopped just below the monastery by a large chorten, and watched as workers who were working on restoration of the monastery zipped by overhead, suspended in a basket like the one we rode in Bumthang.

Workers Passing Overhead

When we reached the top, after about 45 minutes of walking, we took off our shoes and were lead to tables on porch that ran along one of buildings that surrounded the main lakhang to have snacks and refreshments. The monks brought us mango juice and tea, which we had along with zow and tea biscuits.

Tea with Wangchuk in Wrathful Form

It was a welcome break after our long walk up. Then we entered the main lakhang. In it were three large statues of the past, present, and future Buddhas. We also saw a rock with the foot imprint of a dakini, the daughter of Ngawang Tenzin, a son of Drukpa Kunley, imprints of the feet of various animals, and a fossilized flower.

Meditation Cave with Passersby

Tango means “horse head” in Dzongkha and the monastery got its name because of a giant rock outcropping located to one side and slightly below that looks like a horse’s head: a distinguishing feature of Hayagriva, the wrathful form of Chenrezig. Shabdrung meditated in a cave located within this outcropping, and saw the wrathful deity Tandin (meaning “horseneck”). We saw this cave during our descent down the mountain from the monastery, but viewed it at a distance so as not to disturb whoever might be in retreat inside.

To walk down the mountain, we took a different and unpaved path. On the way we passed a chorten that marked the spot where the dakini, Sonam Peldon, left her earthly body. Sonam Peldon was the wife of Phajo Drukum Shigpo, who planted his staff nearby (which is now recognized in the form of a towering cedar tree), and prophesied that Tango would be the center from which Drukpa Kagyu Buddhism would spread. This is also when we were able to get our view of the cave where Shabdrung and other important Buddhist figures have meditated. While we were looking at the cave, we got one of our few glimpses of wild mammals in Bhutan.

There were a mother goral and her baby hopping on the rocky side of the famous rock outcropping. It was fun, and very impressive, to watch them hop around on a nearly sheer rock face, and we even got to see the baby try to drink milk from its mother.

After we made it down the mountain, we drove back into Thimphu where we went to a restaurant and ate a very tasty lunch together.
– Annie Bennett

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Zorig Chusum

On June first, we went to visit Zorig Chusom, an institute for teaching the thirteen traditional arts of Bhutan. The programs in this institute range from three to six years, depending on the art studied. Previous to this visit we had a class with Wangchuk, our Dzongkha instructor, on the different arts that are traditional to Bhutan. The thirteen arts are: wood work (Shingzo), stone carving (Dozo), text writing (Parzo), painting (Lhazo), sculpture (Jimzo), casting (Lugzo), wood turning (Shagzo), blacksmithing (Garzo), ornament making (Troe ko), bamboo work (Tsherzo), paper making (Dezo), tailoring/embroidery (Tshemzo), and weaving (Thagzo).

We were dropped off at the Thimphu Zorig Chusum campus, in front of the building that houses its administration and gift shop, faced by a garden with a big sculpture of the four harmonious friends.. We followed Wangchuk, and after a little while we were let into a room that had a u-shaped table with four young guys carving wooden images of the wheel of the Buddhist dharma. On the s the wall was a display of work that they had previously done as well as works that lay ahead in the curriculum. We were told that they not only work the wood but must also manufacture their own tools.

The next room was the classroom for clay sculpting, where six students were working on clay images of crowned figures who sat astride snow lions, which stood about a foot tall. In Bhutan, the technique for preparing clay for sculpting includes adding fibers from the dafne tree to the clay to give it a consistency that allows for making figures that have arms, legs, or other narrow projections coming out of the main body of the piece. Regular clay does not allow this kind of work since it does not have the consistency or strength required, and collapses. The work was impressive; to the eyes of somebody who is not an expert (like us), the figures looked as perfect as the ones one encounters in temples, maybe they were, we wouldn’t know. Some looked closer to being done, with the sculptor working on the last details; some others still lacked heads or limbs. As with the students working on carving wood, these students also made their own tools and prepared their own clay.

Embroidery I, Sara's Classmates

Then we went to the sewing section. The room was full of rows of pedal (not electric) sewing machines, and in front stood two manikins dressed in clothes the that the students had made. The next room was embroidery. This one was especially exciting because Sara is working at Zorig Chusum giving English lessons in exchange for embroidery classes. We got to see the project she was working on as well as the work other students were doing. Embroidery I consisted of small projects like doing flowers and clouds. Embroidery II taught students how to make very big pieces, such as thondrols.

The next place we visited was the most mind-blowing for me: shoes, and more specifically high heel shoes. This was something that none of us were expecting to see there, as this was the painting room. The shoe style was of very tall wedge made out of wood, carved and painted with dragons or clouds or Buddhist icons. Then a sole, straps and other finishing touches were added to create the most awesome shoes I have ever seen in my life.

Ana in her element (and Prof. Owens's hat)

This was the last stop before the show room; naturally I ran over to see if I could buy a pair of the shoes. Unfortunately they didn’t have them for sale; in fact the lady at the show room didn’t seem to know what I was talking about when I mentioned them. Professor Owens thought that maybe they were making them for the fashion show that was going to take place soon, but it proved that the shoes had been specially commissioned by a designer. On the bright side, the show room was full of art that the students had made, including sculptures, tangkhas, embroidery, carvings, and clothing. Some people bought carvings and some others of us bought fun clothes made out of traditional gho fabric. On our way to our final stop we went into a traditional boot store which custom made boots for men and women.

Then we did some shopping at the Association for the Preservation of Indigenous Crafts shops across from the Taj Tashi, and went to lunch to celebrate Catherine’s twenty second birthday at Chula, a very nice Indian restaurant, where we had one of the most delicious meals so far:the perfect way to finish a nice and local weekend field trip. For some of us, however, the trip was not over. So inspired by the tshemzo they had seen, they went on a treasure hunt for scraps of cloth for projects of their own, first at Professor Owens’s gho tailor and then, emboldened by their success, to numerous other tailors in downtown Thimphu. Watch this space for their future creations!
– Ana Brenescoto

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His Majesty’s Barbecue

It all started with one giant grill. His Majesty mentioned to us that he had a “huge grill” and that he would like us to join him to a barbeque. So naturally, we dropped everything, canceled our appointments, and prepared ourselves to dine with the King on Sunday April 14, 2013.

With all of us adorned in national dress including kabney and rachu, we entered what used to be the Executive Center on campus. To our amazement, it had been transformed into a reception hall fit for the richest of newly-weds. There were pine-needles spread across what used to be patches of dead grass in anticipation of the Queen’s arrival. Tables were clothed with white table cloths, gold and white chairs, the tables were each sheltered by an umbrella, and hors d’oeuvres were placed at each of the four corners of the tables. The hors d’oeuvres consisted of almonds, sour cream and onion chips, and cashews (which His Majesty thoroughly enjoyed). The plates and silverware even had the royal crest on them. Among the various tables was a canopy that His Majesty dined under as well as beautifully decorated tents that housed the cooks and the vast amounts of food. With the sun shining through the trees onto the water catching drain that was transformed into a small pond with flowers, it was a sight that can hardly be described with words. However, before we could set ourselves appropriately, we had to be coached on proper etiquette. We were instructed on how to address the king, the proper way to bow, and each chillup’s (foreigner’s) garb was fixed to a tee, seams and all.

When Their Majesties arrived, faculty and Wheaton students were arranged in a line. Upon entry we bowed to His Majesty in a synchronized ascending type manner. Being the gentleman that he is, His Majesty told us to take off our kabney and rachu, which meant that the formal nature of our greeting was acknowledged but was not necessary for the barbeque setting. After Their Majesties’ arrival, it was time to take our seats. It was game time.
Each of the faculty dispersed themselves among the various tables and there were only two tables left. One with His Majesty, Her Majesty, and Tenzin (Dasho’s daughter) and another with Professor Owens, Dasho, and Aum Nim -the Registrar. When His Majesty invited people to his table many Wheaton student scurried over to sit with him. A sense of decorum was kept in our ghos and kiras but all bets were off in getting to that table; the students to sit at the royal table were: Ariel, Catherine, Ben K, Ana, and Sara, while the rest of us sat at the other table surrounded by the prestigious faculty members. Despite the small divide in tables, all the Wheaton students spent time talking to the Queen and the King. At one point, the King actually got up and went to the “non-royal” table to speak to the rest of the students.

Discussions were interesting and varied among tables. A lot of TV shows were mentioned. His Majesty’s stay at Wheaton also came up among discussion. It seemed that His Majesty really enjoyed his time at Wheaton and spent a lot of time exploring Massachusetts. His Majesty also talked about attending Oxford, particularly the contrast between the American education system and the English one. Additionally, we found out that his majesty very knowledgeable in World History, particularly about Italian history. He discussed the Medici Family as someone whom he would like to meet; they were key players in the Art Renaissance and the financiers of artists in Florence. Other topics mentioned included: motorcycles, Google, The Computer Age, actors and musicians who have been to Bhutan, learning how to lose, etc. His Majesty played a practical joke on the Wheaton students. At each table he told the students that Justin Beiber was coming to Bhutan. The Wheaton students were amazed that Beiber had swindled his way into our peaceful little country.

Reactions included: “Oh wow, Really? Ummm, that’s interesting.”

Then His Majesty would reply: “Hahaha. No. He’s not coming, I’m joking.”

It seems even royalty have jokes about Justin Beiber; both Their Majesties have quite the sense of humor. With all the conversation going around it seems like there was no time for lunch; however there most certainly was.

The menu consisted of hamburgers, hotdogs, veggie dogs, pasta with sauce, asparagus, and much more. They were a variety of drinks including: Pim’s cups, sodas, several types of juices, and of course tea and coffee. There also were pickles, mayonnaise, cheese, and mustard, and ketchup as the king had promised. We found out two interesting details as well. His Majesty used to be called the “Burger King” back when he was crown prince in the United States. This title came about because the king played basketball in America and after each game they would stop to get hamburgers. They would pile a stack of hamburgers up to his chin and we would eat them all. If you didn’t already know, the king is a coffee drinker, which is funny because teatime in Bhutan is considered a national past time. The food was great. However the most important part was the CAKE! It was a huge cake with chocolate and vanilla icing, adorned with purple grapes at each of the corners.

In all, it was a great barbecue with much appreciated attention to great food and great conversation. Each faculty member at RTC would come up to the Wheaton students and speak about how unprecedented this event was and how lucky we are. (We may have stirred a little jealousy among the faculty members.) However, we all recognized how honored we were to be in their Majesties’ presence all afternoon, it was an experience that not many Bhutanese citizens get to have. We appreciated him coming and making time to talk the Wheaton students and the staff of RTC. The Royal Barbeque was a much-appreciated taste of home and generous gesture from His Majesty that Bhutan IV will be talking about for a long time to come.
Nick Emard and Tianna Lall

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Wang Sisina Buddhist Nunnery

For a month and a half, I’ve been visiting the nunnery in Wangsisina for my internship and teaching the nuns how to use a computer. Shechen Ugyen Chodzong Nunnery was established as a branch of the Shechen Tennyi Dargyeling Monastery, which was built in 1980 near Boudhanath in Nepal. It’s based in the Nyingma tradition of Buddhism from Tibet. Other branches of this particular monastery are located in Tibet and Bodh Gaya, though the monastery is based on the Shechen monastery from Tibet which was founded in the 17th century. Its mission is to educate nuns. It includes schools for primary and secondary education, two temples, dormitories, and a small retreat/meditation center.

My job is to go several times a week to the nunnery, where I teach small groups of adult nuns how to use the computer. Many of them have never touched a computer before, so it’s an interesting process to get them accustomed to simple functions, like clicking, double-clicking, right-clicking, or clicking and dragging. Once I teach them how to click, it’s difficult to get them to stop clicking – most of them still persist in clicking on menus in the start menu when you’re just supposed to mouse over them. Keyboards are foreign tools (using the shift key presents its own set of complications), and the kind of computer coordination skills that are ingrained in me from childhood must now be patiently taught to women who have never used a computer before.
Once we’ve progressed past simple functions, I teach them how to open and close programs and save documents. Then we practice changing the desktop picture and the screensaver. (They love to make the screensaver say things like “Well come Miss Catherine!”)

I show them how to use MS Paint and save their work (they really enjoy MS Paint), and then I teach them solitaire. For a group of people who have never even played a card game, let alone solitaire, they pick it up quickly and enjoy it so much that it’s difficult to get them to stop playing.

Recently, we’ve progressed to Microsoft Office, which was recently installed on their single computer. I’ve successfully taught several of them how to make powerpoints, and now we’re working on a group project to make a powerpoint featuring the nuns. I’m taking pictures of them individually and in groups while they each get a slide to customize and write things on. Eventually I’ll show them how to put their pictures and artwork on their slides, and leave them with a fun memento (while getting to carry something away myself).
The nuns are shy at first, but incredibly warm and welcoming, and they loosened up after a few weeks. They’re very kind and gracious; they always present me with tea or juice and snacks while I teach, walk me to the taxi when I leave, and insist on carrying my bag and books for me. They’re a pleasure to work with, even if the job gets a little repetitive after a while.

But teaching isn’t all I do – there are many other opportunities to engage in new experiences with the nuns. I’ve visited a few times when they were participating in interesting activities – chanting during a puja, or practicing debate. They’ve offered to let me stay overnight (an offer which I unfortunately haven’t taken up yet), and when they threw a going-away party for their English teacher, I was invited. It’s a totally different experience to watch nuns play truth-or-dare!
– Catherine Perkins

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Duechen-Nga-Zom at Tashichoedzong

For some of us, celebrating Buddha’s Birthday (not to mention his conception, enlightenment, subduing of demons, and departing his earthly body) got off to an earlier start than we might have preferred, so there were forgotten rachus to retrieve, stragglers to pick up, and cuffs to pin to ghos in transit. We managed to overcome these obstacles, and arrived at the center of Bhutan’s government and summer home of Je Khenpo and monk body, Thimphu’s Trashichoedzong, before the massive crowds to come. Ana’s last minute realization that she had left her rachu behind prompted compassionate quick thinking on Tianna’s part, who lent Ana her beautiful kera (belt) that served as a splendid substitute. This allowed us all to enter together after passing through security, which scanned people not only for weapons, but also for dzong-appropriate dress.

Lining up to view the Thongdrol

As we walked along the riverside stone path to the dzong entrance, we saw two guards standing so stiffly at attention that some of us wondered if they were real. The changing of the guards we observed on our way out dispelled all doubts about their humanity. Rose bushes lined the path, and what at first looked like potentially cloudy day became brilliant. As soon as we entered the dzong, we joined a line of people waiting to see the thongdrol (enormous embroidered silk applique religious banner) and relics that were brought out for the occasion. Even the tiniest of Bhutanese (and we) were dressed for the occasion, in stark contrast with the usual collection of slovenly tourists.

We rounded a corner past a censor of burning juniper to find ourselves face to face with a long narrow table brimming with offerings and monks trying to manage them, rising behind which was the thongdrol, which people touched with their foreheads as they passed in order to accomplish reg drol (liberation through touching) in addition to the liberation that comes with sight from which the thongdrol gets its name. After receiving reg drol, we spent some time absorbing the sight of the thongdrol, which depicted the Lord Buddha with his two principle disciples, Maudgalyāyana and Sariputra, sixteen other disciples (arhats), the protective deities of the four directions, and others. We then joined the line to view the tshem jelkha (tooth relic) of Jamgon Ngawang Gyeltshen, a seventeenth century Drukpa Kagyu master, and a stone with a naturally inscribed mantra. After receiving this thong drol (as touching these things was out of the question) we proceeded toward the main lakhang, on our way receiving a norbu from a monk who saw to it that everyone in line received one little granule. The lakhang hall was enormous, presided over by a suitably enormous Buddha.

After paying our respects and posing for a final photo opportunity, we found taxis and Wangchuk’s car to take us to the Ambient Café, where we consumed a desperately needed breakfast. Some would return that afternoon for a contemporary art tour of Thimphu, others would stay in Ngabiphu to recover.

This was the first time I have been able to celebrate this occasion with Himalayan Buddhists in over thirty years. In Nepal in the early eighties, I celebrated every year with Newars and Tibetans. It meant the world to me to celebrate it here, which is why I commandeered the writing of this entry.
Bruce Owens (aka Ratna Man Shakya)

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Pangrizampa and Dechenphu

On May 11th, Wangchuck, our Dzongkha teacher, led our group into Thimphu, where we hailed two more taxis in addition to Wangchuck’s car. In this way we headed northward up the valley, past the Thimphu Dzong and the royal palace in a direction that we had never been before! The valley north of Thimphu is lush and full of beautiful old pine trees. We crossed the Wang Chu, the river that flows through Thimphu, about two miles above the city and entered a compound called Pangrizampa, which operates as a monastic school for astrology.

In the 16th century Shabdrung, the unifier of Bhutan, had a dream that he flew as a black raven to the place where Pangri zampa is located and alighted upon a cypress tree. He interpreted this as a sign that he should go to Bhutan and spread Buddhism. Pangrizampa was the first place he visited when he got to Thimphu.

When we reached Pangrizampa, the most obvious feature of the monastery was the cypress tree that Shabdrung had envisioned. It was obvious that the tree had been growing for the past four centuries, because it was absolutely massive! We would estimate that the base of the tree was at least twenty feet in diameter.

Moving past the tree on the walkway into Pangrizampa we noticed that a fire had been lit using juniper branches in a censor, outside of the walls of the monastery. This symbolized that royalty was also visiting the monastery. We, however, saw no further sign of the royal family (apart from their cars). It was raining at this point, and Wangchuk lead us on a direct path through the entry gate into a big courtyard and up to the tower that served as the lhakhang for the monastery.

After climbing up the equivalent of two flights, we arrived at the temple room that served the monastery. The temple room was large and beautiful with an antechamber opposite the entrance that housed ornately carved deities. There was a statue of a mermaid, and Wangchuk explained that Pangrizampa was the name of the mermaid consort of the protective deity of Thimphu, who accompanied the deity to greet Shabdrung when he entered Bhutan. We noticed large antlers that were long and thick in a way that was unlike any that we had seen before. Wangchuk identified the antlers as belonging to some sort of reindeer. Also in the temple was a pair of carved red and blue masks that represented protective deities. We were greeted by a monk who was wielding dice. Wangchuck and Carrie tried their luck with the dice and both rolled eight, which was said to be lucky!

We left the temple room and returned back to the courtyard. Wangchuck explained that the adjacent building served as a place for the monks to learn and practice astrology. We looked around and noticed that at least a few of the monks were not in class, and were busying themselves with daily chores in the long housing that encircled the courtyard. At this point Ben realized that the rest of the group had already left in the direction of our taxi caravan, and that he and Carrie were left in the courtyard fantasizing about enrolling in the school.

Next we visited Dechenphu, the shrine for the protective deity of Thimphu. In the thirteenth century, a demon named Jagpa Melan terrorized the area around Thimphu, riding a red horse and killing people to drink their blood. A monk named Jamyang Kuenga Singye, who had been the head of the Druk Ralung Monastery in Tibet since the tender age of thirteen, came to Bhutan and subjugated Jagpa Melan. This is a running theme in Bhutanese folklore and history – evil demons can be subjugated by powerful religious leaders to turn them into forces of good. In this case, Jagpa Melan became the wrathful protective deity of Thimphu, and it was to him we were going to make offerings.

Our first stop when we arrived was at a little store at the base of the hill to buy ara and ghee (for the deity, not for ourselves), and on our way up to the temple we saw a spectacular tree: not a cypress tree like the one in front of Pangrizampa, so tall that it brushes the sky, but a tree draped with thousands of colorful knotted cords, protective necklaces, and kadas (ceremonial scarves). We’ve often received these knotted strings at temples before; they’re blessed by the monks during certain rituals, and the custom is to wear them tied around your neck for at least three days to receive the full blessing. After that, you can remove the string but you can’t throw it in the garbage or put it in a dirty place; you must dispose of it cleanly, either by burning or by leaving in nature somewhere, like in a tree. This particular tree, auspiciously located outside one of the most important temples in the Thimphu area, had apparently been chosen by the locals as a blessed string disposal site, and it’s amazing that its branches didn’t buckle from the weight of so many strands.

Outside the temple was a water spigot from a water-powered prayer wheel in the shape of a penis. Wangchuk demonstrated how we should take the water in our hand like holy water, drinking a mouthful and anointing our head with the rest. The name “Thimphu” literally means “sinking cave” (“thim” – sinking, “phu” – cave) because Jamyang Kuenga Singye subdued Jagpa Melan by forcing (sinking) him into a large rock, unable to escape unless he was called upon for help. A shrine was built around the rock, and it was this shrine which stood outside the entrance to the temple.

After he was subdued, Jagpa Melan began to help others and to make submissions to spiritual leaders such as Guru Rinpoche (who conferred the honored religious status of “Genyen” on him and chose him to be a protector of Bhutan) and Shabdrung (whom he greeted when Shabdrung first arrived in Bhutan and accompanied to Pangrizampa).
We entered the temple to be greeted by the effigy of a red horse (symbolizing the red horse of Jagpa Melan) and several steep flights of stairs. When we say steep, we mean that the steps were so tall it felt more like climbing a ladder than a staircase, and there was a very real danger of being kicked in the head by someone’s heel if you went too quickly. It was so dark that we could barely see the person in front of us, let alone the individual steps, but we resolutely tucked the liquor bottles under our arms, hiked up our kiras and ghos, and illuminated the path in front of us with our cell phone flashlights. The temple was at the very top of the building, and it housed an enormous arsenal of modern weapons. At one point, Dechenphu was actually the military armory of Thimphu. It no longer serves that purpose, but it still houses weapons as a symbolic display.

One by one, we stepped up to the head monk of the temple to offer our bottles of alcohol and ghee. Having already learned how to present kadas when we visited the trulkul — but certainly not experts in the flourishing technique with our limited time to practice — we handed the scarves to one of the monks, symbolizing the fact that we were offering the kada to the protective deity. We received holy water, and wandered around the cramped space admiring the statues, the butter lamps, the decorative fabrics, and the monks who were engaged in a ritual. Overall, it was similar to the inside of the temples we’d visited so far – with the exception of the seriously dangerous arsenal on the walls. We’ve seen Buddhist temples with modern weapons before, but this was more AK-47’s than we’d ever seen in one place.
– Catherine Perkins and Ben Kragen

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Visit to a Reincarnate Being

On May 5th, 2013, our group ventured out to the familiar Dzongkhag of Paro; we had a long anticipated audience with a trulku. A trulku is essentially an individual who has been distinguished as a reincarnation of a holy individual. Luckily for us our Dzonghka instructor, Wangchuk Rinzin, knew pretty well of a trulku for us to visit: his thirteen year old son. Born in 1999, the Trulku seemed like any ordinary child. But when he was the age of three, he began to experience fainting spells from time to time. He could also recall memories of his past life as Terton Drukdra Dorji, a well-renowned Lama who resided in Thimphu. These were all indicators that the young man now known as Orgyen Droduel Thinley Kuenchap could potentially be a trulku. So Wangchuk took his son to the current Je Khenpo, or head of the monastic body, who conducted the “tests” that determined whether Wangchuk’s son was an authentic trulku or not. Well, we all know that he passed his test with flying colors! The Jhe Khenpo then gave him his current name.

So we boarded our familiar “Bhutan Expeditions” bus along with Professor Owens, Tsewang (our tour guide), and Leki (our bus driver), and made our way to Paro. Once we got to the town, Wangchuk met up with us at the bus to join us to visit his son. One of the main reasons we stopped was to purchase fruit at the Sunday Market. This fruit would later be used as an offering to the Trulku.

We continued on our road trip up the winding road to Paro Sanga Choekhor Shedra which is the monastic school at which Orgyen resides and studies. While we were ascending up to the school, we stopped for a little picnic that consisted of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches (made by our great PB&J team!), cheese, crackers and apples. Wangchuk whipped out a bottle of an unidentified pink liquid and jokingly told us that it was flavored water but we all knew what it was: ara. A few of us reluctantly took some while others just settled for water.

After our little stop, we drove for a few more minutes and, finally, we got to the school. The first thing we noticed was the view; we could see all of Paro. In the distance, we could see the Paro Dzong and, behind the forests, we could sneak a glance of the Tiger’s Nest: a reminder of our first hike here in Bhutan.

Before we entered the school, Tsewang and Professor Owens gave us a little tutorial on how to greet the Tulku. Professor Owens gave each of us a kada, a white silk scarf into which the eight auspicious signs had been woven. Tsewang proceeded to teach us how to fold and arrange the kadas so that once we met the Tulku and prostrated to him, we could properly unfurl the kada and present it to him. (This was done by tossing the folded fabric from one hand to the other.) To explain: the act of prostrating is a gesture used in Buddhist practice to pay mind to the mind, body, and spirit. The act of prostrating in the presence of the Trulku was to purify ourselves and offer homage to the blessed being. We were told that after prostrating and presenting the kada that he would then put the kada around our neck and touch the tops of our heads, thereby presenting the kada as an offering to him, which he would then bless and offer back to us.

Once we situated ourselves with the folding of our kadas, we took our shoes off and entered his quarters. We each took a turn presenting the Trulku with our kada and sat down. To our surprise, he seemed pretty relaxed, and there was a younger boy also wearing robes sitting to his left. We were brought tea and cookies by his teachers. For the remaining duration of our audience with the Trulku, we were allowed to ask him questions. The general consensus from the group was that Orgyen had the mannerism of an older man but his presence was of a child. We found out that the younger boy sitting near him was his best friend at school in Sherubtse, and a potential trukul. They would exchange glances and smiles every so often with one another. One Wheaton student asked him how was he identified and he told us that he was taken for his test and correctly identified his previous life’s drilbu, a bell used in vajrayana ritual. He then held up the drilbu that was sitting on the table in front of us and told us that this was the bell he identified as his own in a previous life. A few other questions arose: What is you favorite subject in school? What do you like to do when you’re not studying? What are your ambitions after you are finish with school? Can you tell us a memory of your past life? The Trulku’s favorite subject is debate; he expressed interest in debating with his instructor. He loves reading and his favorite movie is “The Karate Kid”. When asked what he planned to do in the future, he said that he plans to meditate. Tsewang suggested, on Rinpoche’s behalf, that the answer to this question was obvious: all trukuls aspire to work for the benefit of all sentient beings. All in all, we were in awe with his presence and agreed collectively that this will probably be one of the most memorable experiences that we will take away from our time in Bhutan. In departing the school, the Tulku presented us with sacred cords and granules. We bowed our heads in respect and said our goodbyes.

Upon leaving we took our classic group picture and were informed that we were allowed to remove our kada, which was a very nice gesture. On the short walk back to the bus we were glad to have met such a prominent figure in Bhutanese culture. We were pressed with some questions like: was he a direct or blessed trulku?—a subject that we would soon be debating on in class. In all, it was an informative and insightful trip, which provided inside information on the mysterious subject of trulkus. As we drove down the mountainside back into Paro we were greeted by a groups of small boys walking up to the school. The bus stopped and Wangchuck spoke to one of the little boys. After which he informed us that he was his “adopted son”: another testament to how wide Bhutanese hearts are. With that we were off into Paro, where some of us stopped to check out the chorten-like Dumtse Lhakhang, which the famous religious figure and iron bridge builder, Thangtong Gyalpo, built in the early sixteenth century. It was so dark inside that we were only able to view its famous paintings by the light of our cell phone flashlights, ascending from hell to heaven as we climbed the narrow stairs that wound around its inner sanctum. Others chose to shop. We then returned to Thimphu and pizza with Wangchuk and Leki.
– Tianna Lall and Nick Emard

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His Majesty’s Visit to R.T.C.

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.

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Jigme Losel Primary School

Jigme Losel Primary School is located in downtown Thimpu, a short walk from the main bus station. Its primary mission is to provide education for over 800 students from Thimpu, as well from different neighboring dzongkhags in Bhutan. The school is government funded, getting most of its funding from the education sector of the Royal Bhutan Government. Jigme Losel is most well known for its integration of GNH into the school’s course of study. Community service and meditation sessions are important parts of the curriculum, and the school is committed to the general well-being and happiness of its student body. Under the leadership of Choki Dukpa, headmaster since 2005, the school has done its best to care for the health of its students, something they believed to be totally necessary if a good education is to be assured. According to an article in the Bhutan Observer, when Dukpa discovered that a number of her students would go hungry during the day because their families could not afford to give them lunch, she rallied the entire school community to remedy the problem. Since this initiative and the implementation of a school lunch to those who need it, the student’s academic performance has improved.

In addition, Jigme Losel takes environmental awareness very seriously. Students are educated on environmental sustainability and it is a central component to the students’ learning. Every time I visit the school I am still a bit surprised at how green it is. Garden beds are the first things you see when you walk in, and potted plants are outside every classroom. Students are responsible for the care of all these plants. Choki Dukpa wants all her students to be constantly reminded of nature. This viewpoint is one that Bhutan’s education minister, Thakur Singh Powdyel, would like to make the norm throughout the country. He and Choki Dukpa both agree that education is about values: teaching people to be human. Environmental awareness is a huge part of this process.

We are still rather new to Jigme Losel, and as such are still getting to know the place. We visit twice a week, on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 1-4. We are each given three periods of classes to teach. Working with our strengths, we are asked to come up with “lesson plans” for each class. It was a daunting prospect at first: suddenly being totally responsible for three classes of about thirty kids each. However, once you get past the intimidation factor it is actually very exciting to be able to personally interact with and teach the children. In my classes, I try to incorporate as much English Language and writing activities as possible while trying to make it a fun and enjoyable environment for my students. In the past, I have had my students write letters to me as well as create their own mini-play and perform it for the entire class. My fellow intern Alec is doing his best to get to know his students.He once asked them to draw a picture of where they would like to go and write why they would like to go there. He was pleasantly surprised when they insisted that he collect their work at the end of class. Looking at those drawings of far off places and reading what the students had to say about them was a joyful experience. Being a biology major, Choki Dukpa has asked him to focus on science in future lessons. He finds this an exciting prospect and has a lot of ideas swirling around in his head about what to do with his classes next. Head teacher Choki Dukpa oversees our involvement with the students, but is always open to our ideas. Starting next week, we are hoping to begin some observations of the classroom as well as co-teach with the headmaster.

I find the entire experience to be deeply rewarding. I am working to eventually become an educator and this is the first time in all my experiences of teaching that I have been able to plan whatever type of lesson I want to with a class of fifty students. It imposes no restrictions on the mind, which allows room for many opportune lesson plans and activities to come. Although this is the most rewarding aspect of the internship, I find it to be the most challenging. I am so used to a structured curriculum so it was a bit of an adjustment (and still is).
My first piece of advice to others would be something that I believe pertains to all aspects of life in Bhutan: try not to have many assumptions; you never really know what’s going to happen when you wake up in the morning. Bring this attitude with you to Jigme Losel. Come in with an open mind and an open heart. Keep in mind that those children look up to you, and that by undertaking this placement you accept a certain responsibility. This may be disconcerting at first, but don’t forget that you are not only there to educate children but to learn as well. Don’t stress over the little things, just be ready to take anything on and more importantly: have fun; be a kid again.
Tianna Lall and Alec Jeanotte

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Bhutan Centre for Media and Democracy

For the duration of our study abroad experience in Bhutan we are very fortunate to have been placed at the Bhutan Centre for Media and Democracy (BCMD) as interns for the practicum component of our course load. The mission of BCMD is to nurture a culture of democracy by strengthening media, expanding public discourse, and providing essential training and education for key persons who will have a direct impact on Bhutan’s democratic transition and the creation of democratic institutions. Those who do work at BCMD accomplish and live this mission through the following objectives: creating a responsible citizenry that will actively engage in the practices of democracy, strengthening the professionalism of the media and help educate both media professionals and their audiences as to the role of the media in building a democratic society, creating public spaces for civic discourse, creating multimedia resources for/on media and democracy and promoting their distribution, and strengthening the institutions of civil society, most of which are newly created.
BCMD has developed media clubs at many secondary and post secondary schools and worked on expanding media literacy through trainings and workshops. They put out annual reports, brochures, books, monthly newsletters, and other publications. They put on forums, documentary film screenings, and conduct surveys and studies.
During our first week interning at BCMD, The Media Lab was opened. One of the organization’s core aims is to engage young people in using digital media as a way to actively participate in the world around them. Bhutanese youth have an abundance of creative and compassionate energy, and the goal of the Media Lab is to harness that so that they can realize their potentials as active and responsible citizens in Bhutan’s democracy. Essential to enabling young people to do this is giving them consistent access to technology. After conducting a series of needs assessments and focus groups, BCMD found that the majority of youth in Thimphu lack access to basic technology—primarily still cameras, video cameras, computers, creative software (Photoshop, Moviemaker, etc.), and printers. Without these tools, young people cannot follow up and sustain their creative interests. The Media Lab does this by giving them access to this technology and conducting a series of workshops, group discussions, and open mic nights (including poetry slams).
BCMD is an NGO and gets funding from a variety of places. These include The Canada Fund, Civil Society Organization Authority (CSOA), Danish Institurte for Parties and Democracy, International Centre for Journalists, Liaison Office of Denmark, Open Society Institute, and the United Nations Democracy Fund (UNDEF).
BCMD was founded in 2008 by Siok Sian Pek-Dorji. As a print and broadcast journalist, and then as an independent writer and consultant, Siok Sian Pek-Dorji has worked closely with NGOs, government, the UN system, development agencies, and corporate and private organizations. She has been involved in projects in the media and projects related to culture, women and children, youth and other social issues. In a career spanning 20 years, she has produced documentary films, and news/feature articles, conducted media trainings, carried out social and media research, prepared country reports, project reviews, and educational campaigns. BCMD has a board of advisors including professors from Stony Brook University, Stanford University, other Media NGOs from Thailand and Singapore.
We think that the most rewarding part of working at the Bhutan Centre for Media and Democracy is knowing that the work we do will directly affect the projects that are going on in ways that will last. Because the centre is relatively new the things that we are working on are sometimes a first attempt to solving a problem or coming up with a new idea. For example, BCMD doesn’t have a set program for a community mapping project and we are doing the research to come up with one under the supervision of our advisor. We are working on surveys and computer settings that will be used very soon. It is gratifying to know that we are being of significant help where our skills are being put at use. The kind of work we do at BCMD is of a very academic nature, where what we know is valued and used, but at the same time we need to do research to be able to fully do our jobs the best way possible.
Another rewarding factor of working at the Media Lab in BCMD is the interactions with the youth. The media lab is open on the weekends with activities and access to the technology. Being able to hear what the young Bhutanese students have to say about current events in general and the media has been fascinating. The environment in which everybody interacts is a learning experience for anybody in the room.
The responsibilities are big in this placement, as is the feeling of accomplishment. If a student wants to have an internship at BCMD they must know that this is a place where they expect you to be a fast learner who is willing to do some research to fulfill certain tasks. Because it is a new organization they also need people with willingness to think and speak up, sharing creative ideas, and ways to go about executing them.
Ben Gagnon and Ana Brenes-Coto

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