Friday, June 10, 2016

Gist of my speech to Rinchen High School Students on Wednesday, 4th May 2016

Good afternoon, my dear young friends.
It gives me great pleasure to be here with you to speak a few words at the invitation of your respected Principal who was my classmate, and is my friend. Your school’s Wednesday guest lecture program is a noble initiative as you get to listen to different perspectives shared by people with various backgrounds and experiences. I want to try and make my points as relevant to you as possible so that the time you spend listening to me is not wasted. I will make only three points today. Consider them as reminders or suggestions.
Point No. 1. All of you here are studying in Classes 11 and 12. Do you know what it means to be in Classes 11 and 12? You may not be fully aware, but Classes 11 and 12 are the most critical times of your student life. How you do in Class 12 makes the biggest difference in the life of a young person. This is because, in our context, marks obtained in class 12 final examinations basically decide to a very large extent, what you become in your future life. All the Govt. scholarships are given based on the ranking in your class 12 marks. The lower ranked you are, the less chance you have to qualify for a Govt. scholarship to study in a college. Even if you think your parents can afford it, you may not get admission in a good college without good marks. I know that the Exams and marks do not measure all the talents and qualities that you have as a human being. But what to do? Since we have no other objective way to assess your capabilities, the education system relies on the examination marks. So, we better give it due importance at least at this stage in your life. Just the other day, I got a call from a relative’s daughter requesting me to find a job for her as she had not qualified for any scholarship after Class 12. I asked her to come and see me. She came with a bunch of certificates and marksheets. Shuffling through them, I became very sad. She had done extremely well in Class X scoring high marks in all the subjects like 90% in mathematics. But here she was standing helpless in front of me because she had done so poorly when it mattered the most - Class 12 Exams. Therefore, the key takeaway from my point No. 1 is to cut down on all your other activities and focus on studies at least when you are in Class 11 and Class 12. Wake up early. How many of you wake up before 5 am and study? How many before 6 am? How many before 7 am? Those who wake up late, make it a point to wake up before 6 am from tomorrow and study. Just this one year for those who are in Class 12. This is what I did too and benefited – so I am not preaching what I have not practised. This will pay off well in the future. I feel my reminder is timely since you still have about 6 or 7 months before the final examinations at the end of the year. It is better to start before it is too late. Point No. 2. Each human being is gifted with different sets of skills and talents. Someone may be good at art while some may be good at mathematics. Some may be good at music and dance while some may be good at language and literature. Nobody is better than anybody. Accordingly, each person has different passion and interests in life. So, it is important for you to recognize your strengths and passion, and focus on it early on. You must have heard about the young designer who designed the Bhutanese traditional dress that Princess Kate, Duchess of Cambridge wore during her recent visit to Bhutan. She has passion in designing and she seems to be doing very well. Likewise, I have heard of a skilled Thangka painter who has hard time meeting the demands from Buddhists in Taiwan and Hongkong. Therefore, finding your talent and building on it is very important while studying to do well in the exam at the same time. Point No. 3 The last point, but not the least, is about the importance of being independent. What I have observed, from my own experience itself, is that we, Bhutanese youths, are over-dependent on our parents, teachers or relatives. It is important for us to try to be independent from early on as that prepares you to understand and face life well. How many of you do your own cooking and washing? How many of you help at home in cleaning and other chores? How many of you try to do your homework in time and without too much assistance from parents or friends? One example I always give is my own experience in the first year of my college in Australia. I got scholarship to study engineering in Australia in 1996 after class 12. In my first year there, I found that I had the strongest tendency to immediately look for help from teachers or instructors whenever we faced some difficulty in solving problems in the lab. Australian students tried and found solutions by themselves. Since you don’t always have parents and teachers with you in real life to help you with every problem you face, it is important to try to be like those Australian students – try and find the solutions yourself. In short, try to be more independent from now.

Conclusion

At the start, I told you that I would make 3 points and I have made them. Let me recap in short:
Point one: How you do in Class 12 Exams have the biggest impact on your future direction of your life. So, study seriously, at least in Classes 11 and 12.
Point two: Try to identify your talents and passion, and build on them. That may be the key to your success in future life.
Point three: Try to be independent from young as that prepares you to face the real life as an adult in the future.
I hope you will remember them and try to apply them. This should make some positive difference in your life. With this I will end my talk for today. Thank you and Tashidelek.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Seven Things that Make Bhutan Truly Unique and Special


Bhutan, the birthplace of the principle of Gross National Happiness, is often perceived as one of the happiest places on earth. However, like any other country, Bhutan has its share of problems and challenges. So, Bhutan may not really be the happiest place on earth.

Yet, Bhutan is definitely a country like no other. It has no traffic lights or McDonalds, but make no mistake - Bhutan has fully embraced modernity with almost all modern amenities that make life convenient available in its most major cities and towns. But that is not one of the seven things in my list that make Bhutan unique and special.



The seven things that make Bhutan really unique and especial in my opinion are as follows.

1. The last surviving independent Buddhist Kingdom in the Himalayas

The Himalayas at one point of time had quite a few independent Buddhist Kingdoms from Tibet in the north, Ladakh in the West, and Mustang in the middle to Sikkim and Bhutan in the east. These kingdoms shared the same kind of religion and had cultural similarities, although each also had its distinct traditions and customs. Today, Bhutan is the only independent Buddhist Kingdom in the Himalayas, and is therefore the last bastion of this unique Himalayan Buddhist culture.
Thanks to the importance given by our leaders to the preservation of our culture and traditions, we still have most of them intact today. The fact that Bhutan was never colonized also ensured that the continuity of our cultural heritage was never broken or disturbed from the past till today. So, Bhutanese have great pride in their culture and identity.

2. Deeply spiritual but in an unintrusive way

Bhutan is a deeply spiritual country with temples, monasteries, chortens and prayer flags everywhere. You see people circumabulating the Chortens or temples.  Yet, this deeply pervading spirituality has an unintrusive character as the focus of spirituality in Buddhism is on taming one’s own mind rather than believing that this is the only right religion and others should convert to it. So everyone feels welcome and become self-reflective on their own spirituality when they are here. There simply is no need to fear that someone may judge his or her beliefs and try to convert him or her.
As one of the most respected reincarnate Lamas from Bhutan, Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse Rinpoche says, there may be many places in the world that are more beautiful than Bhutan, but what makes Bhutan really special is this pervading but unintrusive spirituality that you can feel here.

3. Land of one of the most flexible and tolerant people

I do not want to sound like blowing one’s own trumpet, but many visitors to Bhutan are impressed by the open and friendly nature of the Bhutanese people. Bhutanese are generally very flexible and tolerant people. After living overseas, I have been surprised to observe Bhutanese’s nonchalant attitude towards some issues on which others would fervently debate and pass judgment. For instance, Bhutanese do not make much fuss over issues of sexuality, divorce or relationships with the opposite sex before marriage. Recently, there were cases of gay and lesbian people coming on national television and talking about their sexual orientation. Nobody seemed to be bothered much about it or pass a moral judgment. I think it is this kind of moral flexibility and tolerance that make Bhutanese generally a happy and accommodating lot.
This attitude may have to do with our Buddhist conditioning. While theistic religions enforces external moral rules supposedly passed down by God, the Buddhist view is that there are no moral absolutes.
"There are no moral absolutes in Buddhism and it is recognized that ethical decision-making involves a complex nexus of causes and conditions. …..When making moral choices, individuals are advised to examine their motivation--whether aversion, attachment, ignorance, wisdom, or compassion--and to weigh the consequences of their actions in light of the Buddha's teachings”, says Karma Lekshe Tsomo, a Buddhist nun and professor of Buddhist philosophy at the University of San Diego.

4. A land of rich natural bio-diversity and pristine environment

The Bhutanese have always had a deep respect for its natural environment and have lived in harmony with nature for centuries. This is reflected in our architecture, way of life and our policies. Today, Bhutan boasts of a rich biodiversity and pristine environment with some of the last remaining unclimbed mountain peaks in the world. Even when the planned modern economic development started in the early sixties, our Kings have been wise and far-sighted enough not to trade our pristine natural environment for short term economic gains. Hence, today, we have more than 70 percent of our land under forest cover and 26 percent under protected areas. As our Prime Minister has claimed in his now famous Ted Talk, we are not only carbon neutral, but the only carbon negative country in the world. On top of this, our constitution requires that a minimum of 60 percent of Bhutan's total land should be maintained as forest for all times.

5. A place where people hesitate even to kill mosquitoes and cockroaches

Bhutan may be the only country where most people would hesitate or refrain from killing even mosquitoes and cockroaches. Normally, Bhutanese people would normally take pains to catch the cockroaches and houseflies and safely throw away outside rather than crush them and kill them.
This is because of Buddhists’ aversion towards killing or taking life. All lives are valued in Bhutanese belief, even that of an insect like mosquito or cockroach. Says Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche,  "..even today in the modern day Bhutan, I am sure, before one of the modern Bhutanese and he maybe not even a, you know, sort of a proper Buddhist practicing Buddhist but before he kills a cockroach in his fridge, he thinks twice, right? .. And that is such a unique thing that we in Bhutan have and this is something we have to really cultivate".

6. Blessed with benevolent monarchs

With the first King of Bhutan enthroned unanimously by the people of Bhutan in 1907, Bhutan was a late entrant among countries that adopted monarchy. However, Bhutan definitely gained a lot from the monarchical system as it was blessed with benevolent monarchs who worked tirelessly for the welfare of their people. Bhutanese monarchs have provided exemplary leadership and have transformed the country into a modern progressive nation in a matter of just about 100 years. Their praises are sung not just by Bhutanese, but by the world at large because their accomplishments are big though our country is small. The present King of Bhutan, His Majesty the Fifth Druk Gyalpo, is popularly known as the People’s King because of his deep love and concern for the welfare of his people. The people of Bhutan have been blessed to have such great leaders.

7. Free healthcare and education

In Bhutan, the Government provides free healthcare and education. The healthcare is totally free within the country. Even for referrals outside, the Government bears the cost of travel as well as treatment if the treatment is not available within the country. This is as good as saying that all Bhutanese have comprehensive health insurance by default. Education is free for all students up to Class X. Beyond class X too, education is free in Government high schools and colleges if the students are able to score more than the required cut-off marks in their Class X or Class XII examinations.

To conclude, I feel that we, the Bhutanese, should deeply value the abovementioned seven things and not lose them in order for us to remain a unique, special and happy country in this turbulent world.


Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Significance of Japanese Tea Ceremony

Significance of Japanese Tea Ceremony: Peace Through a Cup of Tea

Most JICA trainees and other visitors to Japan would have had the opportunity to participate in a Tea Ceremony. To take part in a Tea Ceremony is considered a privilege and Japanese hosts often go out of their way to organize a tea ceremony for their guests. But the foreigners, with little understanding of the actual significance of Tea Ceremony, often end up complaining about the ordeal of sitting on the floor in traditional Japanese style and following endless etiquette.



Understood in the right perspective, participating in a Tea Ceremony can be a very enriching experience. Tea Ceremony is known as Sado which literally means ‘the Way of the Tea’. It can be a lifelong pursuit for those aspiring to master the art, but in
very simple terms, the main aim of Tea Ceremony is to, for a moment, forget all disturbing thoughts, and cherish the encounter between hosts and guests in a relaxed, calm, peaceful and tranquil atmosphere over a cup of tea.

The ceremony itself consists of a traditional ritual in which powdered green tea called matcha is ceremonially prepared by a skilled practitioner and served to a small group of guests in a tranquil setting. The Great Tea Master of the sixteenth century, Sen Rikyu, identified the spirit of Tea Ceremony with four basic principles of harmony, respect, purity and tranquility.

The austere setting of the tea room, the prescribed method of handling utensils and preparing the tea, the tea master’s manners and the guests’ etiquette are all set to enhance these four basic principles, as Okakura Tenshin mentions in “the Book of Tea”:
“Not a color to disturb the tone of the room, not a sound to mar the rhythm of things, not a gesture to obtrude on the harmony, not a word to break the unity of the surroundings, all movements to be performed simply and naturally – such were the aims of the tea ceremony.”

Tea is a very special beverage that has gained universal appeal. Tea originated in China long time ago and was introduced into Japan by Buddhist monks in the ninth century. It was not until the seventeenth century that tea drinking spread in Europe. There are many kinds of tea, but they all come from mainly two varieties of the same tea plant, Camellia sinensis and Camellia assamica.

Coming back to the Tea Ceremony, one of its key objectives is to value human encounters. Each encounter is unique and must be cherished. In the words of Tea Master Soshitsu Sen XV, “Encounters are extremely vital for human beings. Particularly, encounters through a bowl of tea enable us to communicate heart-to-heart with people who are new to us, in the same way that we can with old acquaintances, by means of our showing each other empathy and consideration.”

However, for the more serious practitioners, Tea Ceremony is also a way to discipline oneself and acquire fresh perspectives on life such as nurturing the ability to face hardships with composure.

Last year at the local Toast Master’s club, I listened to a Japanese man, who in his speech talked about how his late aunt, a Tea Ceremony enthusiast, requested her attendants to conduct Tea Ceremony by her bedside in the hospital, and how it helped her to face her agonizing sickness with serenity until her last breath.

Tea Master Soshitsu Sen XV has made spreading the message of peace through Tea Ceremony his life’s mission. He says, “I have toured the world for more than fifty years with the goal ‘Peace through sharing a bowl of tea.’ This peace can be spread by offering a bowl of tea to another.”

Now that we have understood a little bit about the significance of the Tea Ceremony, we may be able to enjoy it better if we have a chance to participate in it in future. But meanwhile, even when we drink tea at home, would it not be nice to enjoy it in the spirit of harmony, respect, purity and tranquility? Tea Ceremony is a message of love and peace. Let us understand this message and spread it further.


Written by Tshering Cigay Dorji in 2007, when he was studying in Tokushima University, Japan, for his Masters degree in Engineering.

This article first appeared in the JICA Alumni Association of Bhutan’s Annual Magazine in 2007.

Friday, July 01, 2011

Will Elected Political Dynasties Emerge in Bhutan?

Will Elected Political Dynasties Emerge in Bhutan?
By Tshering Cigay Dorji (Ph.D)
Published in Drukpa, November 2010 Issue on Politics

Elected political dynasties are common in democracies around the world: the Kennedys and the Bushes of the USA, the Aquinos of the Phillipines, the Nehru-Gandhis of India, the Bhuttos of Pakistan, the Bandaranaikes of Sri Lanka, and the Koiralas of Nepal. Are such political dynasties a boon or a curse? What factors lead to the formation of political dynasties? Will elected political dynasties appear in democratic Bhutan too? tshering cigay dorji (Ph.D) explores these questions


Some argue that certain families are gifted with aptitude and talent for public offi ce and that their hold on power is not due to their relatives occupying positions of authority. But the popular feeling as portrayed by the media is that political dynasties are self-perpetuating and somewhat undemocratic.


A study on political dynasties in the US published by Ernesto Dal Bo and others in the Review of Economic Studies in 2009 concluded that political power in the United States is “selfperpetuating, and that the presence of political dynasties does not merely refl ect differences in ability across families.” They found that legislators who enjoy longer tenures are signifi – cantly more likely to have relatives entering Congress later. They also found that the Senate has a greater share of dynastic politicians than the House (13.5% versus 7.7%) and this difference persists (see Figure 1).





In Japan too, political dynasties are a common feature of the political landscape. As a student there from 2005 to 2010, I learnt that fi ve of the six prime ministers that held offi ce were from powerful political families.

Junichiro Koizumi, the 56th PM, was a third-generation politician. His father, Junya Koizumi, was director general of the Japan Defense Agency and a member of the Diet (Japanese Parliament). His grandfather, Koizumi Matajiro, was Minister of Posts and Telecommunications. The 57th PM, Shinzo Abe’s grandfather, Kan Abe, and father, Shintaro Abe, were both politicians. Abe’s mother, Yoko Kishi, is the daughter of Nobusuke Kishi, PM of Japan from 1957 to 1960. The 58th PM Yasuo Fukuda’s father, Takeo Fukuda, was PM from 1976 to 1978. The 59th PM, Taro Aso’s mother was former PM Shigeru Yoshida’s daughter, and his current wife is the third daughter of another former PM, Zenko Suzuki. During Aso’s premiership, it was also said that four of 18 Cabinet posts had gone to politicians with fathers or grandfathers who were PMs, and ten cabinet ministers were the children of former Liberal Democratic Party parliamentarians.

The 60th PM, Yukio Hatoyama’s paternal great-grandfather, Kazuo Hatoyama, was speaker of the House of Representatives of the Diet of Japan from 1896 to 1897 and his paternal grandfather, Ichiro Hatoyama, served as PM in addition to being a founder and the first President of the Liberal Democratic Party in 1956. His father, Iichiro Hatoyama, served as Foreign Minister.

As the above examples from the US and Japan show, political dynasties exist even in industrialized nations. However, there is some difference between the political dynasties that exist in countries where the rule of law and open competition are well established, and those countries where the rule of law is weaker. A column by Isagani Cruz in the Philippine daily, Inquirer, mentions that “certain families so controlled their constituents – by guns or gold or, in some cases, merit – as to be able to retain political power, to the exclusion of other candidates. By transferring elective positions among themselves, from one relative to another, often regardless of qualifications, they are able to prevent other citizens, including the more qualified ones, from enjoying equal access to opportunities for public service.”

Realizing this to be happening, the Republic of the Philippines has kept a provision for legislation to prohibit political dynasties in their constitution. Section 26 of Article II says, “The State shall guarantee equal access to opportunities for public service, and prohibit political dynasties as may be defined by law.” However, there have been no efforts made by Congress to legislate on this constitutional provision so far. The provision has remained a toothless tiger.

Last June, Senator Benigno Aquino III was elected to become the 15th President of Phillipines. Aquino is a fourth-generation politician. His great-grandfather, Servillano “Mianong” Aquino, served as a delegate to the Malolos Congress. His grandfather, Benigno Aquino Sr., held several legislative positions from 1919-44. And his parents were former President Corazon Aquino and former Senator Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino Jr. He replaced the 14th President, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, who is herself a daughter of the 9th President, Diosdado Macapagal.


Our nook of the woods has seen its fair share of political dynasties. Nepal’s late PM G.P. Koirala’s two other brothers were PMs too. In Sri Lanka, President Chandrika Kumaratunga was the daughter of two former PMs. Bangladeshi PM Sheikh Hasina is daughter of President Mujibur Rahman, and former PM Khaleda Zia, is widow of President Ziaur Rahman. India’s Nehru family now spans four generations. Late Pakistani PM Benazir Bhutto was the daughter of PM Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. After her assassination, her 22-year old son, Bilawal Zardari Bhutto was appointed chairman of the Pakistan People’s Party.

What factors lead to the emergence of political dynasties? It may be difficult to unravel the complex interplay of various causes and conditions, but three major factors given in an IPS article titled Political Dynasties Know No Boundaries seem to be convincing:

“First, access to the political system in most countries is costly in terms of money and only those who can afford the time, money, resources and have the requisite connections find an entry into what is often an exclusive if not closed club.

“Then there are those who are respected for rendering services to their country during crucial periods, such as an independence struggle — hence, their legitimacy is unquestioned and widely accepted.

“Finally, there are those whose leadership is etched in the popular imagination, and for people to identify with such a charismatic leader comes almost automatically.”

In this light, does it seem likely that elected political dynasties will crop up in Bhutan too? Will they arise also at the level of local governments, as in major municipalities in the Philippines where the lucrative position of mayor is held by political dynasties?

Bhutanese attach a lot of importance to ancestry when aspiring for high positions in public offi ce, though many people from humble backgrounds have risen to high positions in the civil service in the past. This is refl ected in sayings such as Pha zang gi bu, ghi zang gi shub (Son of a noble father, sheath of a fi ne sword) and Zhenm thog khar kayn, chhu yang jye gi jay (Put a commoner in high position and he will even measure water with a jye, a container for measuring grain). So it was not rare for political candidates to evoke their noble ancestry, real or imagined, during the 2008 elections. Going by this bent in the Bhutanese psyche, coupled with the cost of politicking, it seems likely that we too will have elected political dynasties in the future at the central and the local levels.

However, political dynasties are not inherently nocuous. Their hold on power may be justifi ed as long as it is gained through fair and open competition, and without using undue advantage of connections, as unlikely as that possibility seems.

The good news for us here in Bhutan is that political dynasties will not be able to misuse their power as much as their counterparts in other countries, thanks to the unique system of government enshrined in our constitution. Our beloved King provides the required check and balance, and looks after the welfare of the weak and the underprivileged. And no dynasty, however infl uential, can override the authority of the Druk Gyalpo.

How anonymous are you online?

They Don’t Know Me, Or Do They?
By Tshering Cigay Dorji (Ph.D)
Published in Drukpa, December 2010 Issue on Media


Today, many Bhutanese make various anonymous comments in online forums ranging from kuenselonline.com to bhutantimes. com. One of the things that may be on minds of many of these online posters is if their real identity be found out.

Tracking the real identity of an anonymous poster may not be straightforward but it is nonetheless possible. First of all, your computer is identified by a unique IP address. That IP address may not be visible to the forum readers, but it is recorded in the log file of the website you visit. This can be viewed by the administrators of the website.


So, the first possibility for tracking the anonymous poster is that the government or the aggrieved party could ask the website administrator to release the details of the IP address of the poster either directly or through a court order. Once the web administrator releases the IP address, the search can be narrowed down to a particular locality or organization. Once that is done, it would not be too difficult to pinpoint the person.

Now, if it so happens that the website administrators refuse to divulge the IP addresses, another way to find out the poster’s whereabouts is to lure him to click on a particular link by sending him a private message. There are sites on the internet that provide such services. One such site is http:// shivampatel.net/trace/.

The anonymous posters have one more weapon in their arsenal, proxy servers – a server that retrieves web pages for you, providing only its own identity to the sites it visits. That means if you connect to bhutantimes. com using a proxy server and make a post, the bhutantimes.com website would record the IP address of the proxy server and not your real IP address. Hence, even the administrators of bhutantimes.com would not be able to identify your real IP address. But, the proxy server would still record the details of your IP address. So, if the proxy server releases your IP address, you could again be tracked.

Another point of concern for anonymous posters is the ISP logs, the records maintained about your online activity by your local Internet Service Provider. Some ISPs record the details of different websites visited by an internet user. Even the anonymous proxy servers cannot circumvent this. One way suggested to overcome this is to use a DNS server other than the one given by your ISP, provided that the ISP allows it.

The trackers have another analytical tool in their hand these days. Many people make public comments and posts under their real identity in their personal blogs and Facebook pages. But they post anonymously on online forums like bhutantimes.com. Using sophisticated data mining tools, or even by simple analysis, it would not be very difficult to connect the anonymous posts to a real person. In recent years, there are also software tools for ‘authorship profiling’ which can identify an anonymous author by automatically analyzing the diction and syntax of anonymous posts and comparing with the sample texts written by suspected people.

In short, there is no such thing as ‘anonymity’ on the web. It just depends on what extent the trackers are willing to go in order to track you. If they are not so serious about pursuing you, you could escape anonymously. But if they are willing to go to any extent in uncovering your identity, there are enough footprints you have left online and tools in their hands to track you. All I can suggest for you to make it a little more difficult to be tracked is to use the anonymous proxy servers (use carefully as some free proxy servers may not be authentic), change your DNS servers if possible, change usernames often, and not write similar posts under your real name in personal blogs and Facebook pages.


The writer has a doctorate in computer engineering from Tokushima University, Japan

Every Rose Has Its Thorn

Every Rose Has Its Thorn
By Tshering Cigay Dorji
Published in Drukpa, December 2010 Issue on Media

Beware the hype of social networking, says Tshering Cigay Dorji, for behind the glitz lies a plethora of unsavory ill-effects and insidious design

Most of the internet-literate Bhutanese have now embraced Facebook, Twitter, blogs or online forums to interact with other people. These internetbased applications of social interaction constitute what is broadly termed as the ‘social media’.

In his e-book titled What is Social Media?, Antony Mayfield describes the following as basic forms of social media: (1) Social networks like Facebook and MySpace, (2) Blogs, (3) Wikis, (4) Podcasts, (5) Forums, (6) Content Communities like Flickr and Youtube, and (7) Microblogging like Twitter.

Why have the social media caught on the imagination of the people at such lightening speed? According to Mayfield, “A good way to think about social media is that all of this is actually just about being human beings. Sharing ideas, cooperating and collaborating to create art, thinking and commerce, vigorous debate and discourse, finding people who might be good friends, allies and lovers – it’s what our species has built several civilizations on. That’s why it is spreading so quickly, not because it’s great shiny, whizzy new technology, but because it lets us be ourselves – only more so.”

Notwithstanding all the hype, the convenience, the empowerment of the voiceless, and the attraction surrounding the social media, there are also some unsavory aspects that need to be understood before plunging ourselves headlong into the social media ocean.

Zero Privacy

Most of us have divulged too much private information about ourselves through the social media sites. Many of us even fail to update and manage the privacy settings provided by the sites leaving our private information searchable and viewable by anyone. For example, when I was studying abroad, an African colleague once bragged about his sexual adventures showing an email on his mobile phone which read, “Hi, I am drinking at a bar in your neighborhood tonight. Can I come and spend the night with you?” I couldn’t help notice the familiar family name of the sender. So, I entered the name into the ‘google’ search engine, which led me to her Facebook page and her identity as none other than the young daughter of an acquaintance.

However, making the privacy settings tight on your profile can only encapsulate your private data at the superficial level from public search engines and other users not connected to you. Not only are our private data completely accessible to the administrators of the social media sites, but we also leave enough digital footprints online for someone who is tech-savvy or hell-bent on tracking us to track us.

Nicholas Carr in his bestseller The Big Switch says, “Most of us assume that we are anonymous when we go about our business online. We treat the internet not only as a shopping mall and a library but as a personal diary and even a confessional. Through the sites we visit and searches we make, we disclose details not only about our job, hobbies, families, politics and health but also about our secrets, fantasies, obsessions, peccadilloes and even, in the most extreme cases, our crimes. But our sense of anonymity is largely an illusion. Detailed information about everything we do online is routinely gathered, stored in corporate or governmental databases, and connected to our real identities, either explicitly through our user names, our credit card numbers, and the IP addresses automatically assigned to our computers or implicitly through our searching and surfing histories.”

In July 2006, AOL had released a report containing keywords entered into its search engines by 657,000 subscribers over a three-month period. The data had been “anonymized” by replacing the names with numbers and removing other identifying information. Three New York Times journalists took a close look at a set of keywords entered by one subscriber known only as “4417749”, and tracked down the real person behind it who happened to be Thelma Arnold, a 62-year old widow living in Lilburn, Georgia.

“As online databases proliferate and analytical technologies advance, it becomes ever easier to use the ‘World Wide Computer’ to ‘mine’ personal information,” says Carr. The loss of privacy is the price we pay for the convenience of social media.

Technology of Control

Internet in general and the social media in particular has been hyped as technology of emancipation. It gives us a lot of freedom to express ourselves and find information on almost any topic imaginable. However, computer systems in general are not technologies of liberation but technologies of control. As the industrial revolution progressed, the ability to process ever-increasing information could not keep up with the ability to process matter and energy. This made it difficult for companies to manage and control their operations effectively. The computer was born out of this necessity.

It is true that the internet or social media put enormous power into the hands of an individual, but it puts even more power into the hands of companies, organizations, institutions and governments. All our online activities like tweeting, searching, commenting, blogging, chatting, clicking and browsing are recorded for analysis in some big databases around the world. Software programs can analyze these records and make out what motivates us, what we believe in, what we like, what we don’t like, what we would buy, how we would react to a certain stimuli, etc. In short, the people behind these software programs could know more about us than we know about ourselves. This could give them immense power to control us.

Governments have realized that the social media tools would not pose as much threat as initially feared. “While the Net offers people a new medium for discovering information and voicing opinions, it also provides bureaucrats with a powerful new tool for monitoring speech, identifying dissidents and disseminating propaganda. In a country like China, anyone who assumes that he can act anonymously on the Web opens himself to dangers far beyond embarrassment,” writes Carr.

Integrator or Divider?

An article titled Global Village or Cyber-Balkans? by Eric Brynjolfsson and Marshall Van Alstyne seriously questioned the naïve assumption that social media tools have integrating effects. Since there are “limits to how much information we can process and how many people we can communicate with,” we naturally tend to filter out information we don’t agree with and form online communities with like-minded people. Thus online communities could end up being less diverse and more polarized than communities in the real world. A study of the political blogosphere by Matthew Hindman found that the “vast majority of readers tend to stay within the bounds of either the liberal or the conservative sphere.”

Studies have shown that discussions among liked-minded people produce “ideological amplification.” That means people’s views become more extreme and more entrenched as they discuss issues with other people who hold the same or similar views. It is feared that the formation of online communities by like-minded individuals would “in the worst cases, plant the roots of extremism and even fanaticism and terrorism.”

Relationship Maker or Breaker?

According to The Telegraph, research by a British divorce center called Divorce-Online claims about 20 percent of all divorce documents include some type of reference to Facebook. But the statistic may not be confined to Britain alone. According to USA Today, “66 percent of the lawyers surveyed cited Facebook indiscretions as the source of online evidence, MySpace followed with 15 percent, followed by Twitter at five percent.”

Social networking sites like Facebook have made it very easy for reuniting with old friends and making new ones. This has also tempted individuals to flirt and cheat on their partners. It is especially true for people who have some problems in their marriage. “The popularity of the Friends Reunited website several years ago was also blamed for a surge in divorces as bored husbands and wives used it to contact old flames and first loves,” according to The Telegraph.

Time Waster

Engaging in social media activities could take up a lot of time and it could even make you addicted. Therefore, it is important to ask ourselves what it is that we want to achieve by participating in such sites. The time we spend on social media sites could be spent on more productive activities.

According to a study by The Oxygen Media Insights Group, “57 percent of the women polled said they communicate with people more online than they do face to face, and 39 percent called themselves Facebook addicts. Moreover 34% of those between 18 and 34 said that checking Facebook is the first thing they do in the morning – even before brushing their teeth or using the bathroom.”

However, social media sites could be useful if you are a politician with an agenda to reach out to the people, a researcher connecting with other researchers, a marketing officer or a salesman, or an individual with the need to keep in touch with friends and family separated by distance. The bottom line is that “to use social media effectively, just be sure that you aren’t putting more effort in than the result you’re getting” as the bestselling author of Getting Things Done, Ready for Anything, David Allen says.

Signing Out

It is important to realize the unsavory aspects of social media behind all the hype generated in recent years. No doubt, social media as tools could be useful in many ways in our lives. They empower the voiceless, and bring immediacy and transparency to journalism. But, at the same time, they take away our privacy, make some of us addicted, break marriages, and put immense power into the hands of corporate and government institutions.

The Smaller the Purse, the Harder they Fall

The Smaller the Purse, the Harder they Fall
By Tshering Cigay Dorji
Published in Drukpa, February 2011 Issue on Education.

Education is the key to solving social ills like poverty, inequality and injustice. Education is also the key to achieving many of our cherished goals as a society and as a nation. We do a great disservice to our nation when we deprive so many youths of equal access to this invaluable key in the higher grades. So says Tshering Cigay Dorji

Every year, only around 30% of Class XII and 40% of class X students qualify for government schools and colleges. The rest have to try to find a job or continue education in private schools or colleges in Bhutan or abroad. This year, the Class X and XII results declared recently shows that around 5,600 Class XII students and an equal number of Class X students fall in this unlucky category – quite a big number for our population. Those who come from better-off families can afford private education but students from economically disadvantaged families find themselves at a dead end.


This trend has been continuing for quite some time (See Table 1 and Table 2). But have we ever given a thought to how it will impact us in the long run? Although no study has been done on the backgrounds of class X and XII graduates who have been roaming the streets without a decent job, it is not difficult to deduce that they are mostly from poor families. A poor kid who gets an aggregate mark of 65% but doesn’t qualify for a government college might end up loafing about, while a rich kid who gets just 50% can study law or journalism in India.



The tuition fee for educating a child in Class XI in a private school is upwards of Nu 30,000 a year, excluding the cost of books, clothing and stationery. And the cost of educating a child in a college in India may be Nu 100,000 or more a year including fooding and lodging. The only private college within the country, Royal Thimphu College, charges Nu 97,000 a year for day-scholars, and up to Nu 140,400 for boarders. Most of our people, especially those who live in the villages, cannot afford to pay so much.

Finding a job is not easy either. Recently, Bhutan Telecom advertised 15 help desk operator posts that required a minimum qualification of Class X Pass plus call-centre training. Many applicants had to be turned down because they had no call-centre training but there were still 121 applicants who met the criteria for the 15 not-so-lucrative posts. This is the reality of the job market for Class X and XII graduates today.



With no job to make a living, nor money to study in a private school or college, many youths waste their golden years doing nothing productive. I have a neighbor, a single parent, who works as a cleaner with a daughter who has not been able to find a job since she passed Class X last year despite having attended a six-month computer course. There are many cases like this today.

No study has been done on the relationship between the academic performance of students and their economic background in Bhutan, but studies conducted in other countries suggest that students from economically better-off families generally perform better academically. From this and from the fact that around 70% of our people live in the villages where poverty is more prevalent, many of the 11,200 or so Class X and XII students who did not qualify for government schools and colleges this year must be from poor families. Higher education might have given them a chance to break out of the cycle of poverty, but now their hopes for a better life might remain just a hope.

Not so long ago, almost every Bhutanese student’s parent was a farmer and there was little difference between the rich and the poor. Also, every student who managed to reach Class X or XII either qualified for college, or got a job easily. Most of the senior officials in the civil service or corporations come from that generation. But today, the situation has changed completely.

With the rapid development of the country, some civil servants and enterprising people have become richer while the poor and some traditionally rich people have become poorer. Now, with the advantages enjoyed by the children from economically well-off families, coupled with the opportunities for higher education becoming slimmer by the year for poor children, the gap between the rich and poor may continue to widen from one generation after the other if no action is taken.

A survey commissioned by Japan’s Education, Science and Technology Ministry in 2009 revealed that the more parents earn, the higher their children’s academic test scores. A Japan Times editorial thus noted, “The disparity in academic performance between students of low- or highincome families… reveals a terrible rift in Japanese society, one that will likely increase if the social income gap continues to widen.”

However, the survey also found that activities like reading books, talking about the news or going to museums boosted student performance regardless of socioeconomic level.

Figures disclosed by the Higher Education Funding Council for England in January 2010 showed that 19% of young people from the most deprived neighborhoods went onto a degree course straight from school compared with 57% from more affluent areas. Further, a study published by the British Educational Research Association suggests that schools are finding it hard to break the stubborn link between a poor background and low academic achievement.

One of the good things about Bhutan has been that we don’t come across pitiful beggars or street children as in other developing countries. This gives us the courage to talk to others about Gross National Happiness with such authority. But such days may be numbered if we do not change the way we handle higher education in the country.

In his message on the National Education Day, Lyonchen Jigmi Y Thinley cautioned, “We can take legitimate pride in our achievements hitherto but the warrant of changing times places added demands on the system, requiring it to be more sensitive to the needs of a knowledge-based society that we desire to be. With the advent of democracy, the need for education is further aggravated as it is only through knowledge that citizens are able to participate meaningfully in the political process and make a difference to their life.”

According to Section 16 in Article IX of our Constitution, “The State shall provide free education to all children of school going age up to tenth standard and ensure that technical and professional education is made generally available and that higher education is equally accessible to all on the basis of merit.”

One of the strategies in Tertiary Education Policy of the Kingdom of Bhutan 2010 is to “provide open access to tertiary education based on merit, so that all Bhutanese students shall have access to tertiary education appropriate to their abilities, interests, and performance, regardless of their economic circumstances”. One of the measures listed is to “institute loans and scholarship schemes to expand the scope of participation in tertiary education”.

Hence, as far as policy is concerned, there doesn’t seem to be anything lacking. Yet today, many students do not have access to tertiary education despite doing well enough academically, because of their economic circumstances. There are a number of remedial steps we can undertake.

Firstly, educational loans at zero or low interest rates could be made available to deserving students as is prevalent in some countries. Presently, educational loans are commercial in nature with at least 9% interest, and are also not easily available without collateral.

Secondly, the present system of free education for Class XI and above could be changed so that students could be charged a progressive fee structure based on the income of their parents or guardian. That means, a poor student studying in a Class XI in a government school could be charged a nominal fee, while a rich student in the same class could be charged a higher fee. Such a progressive fee structure also exists in other countries. The government can use the money collected thus to build more schools.

Thirdly, the government could increase the intake of students into government schools and colleges. The present intake capacity of around 40% for Class XI, and 30% for college leaves many poor students out on the street. Moreover, the private high schools in Bhutan don’t have the capacity to absorb all aspiring students who haven’t qualified for government schooling.

Fourthly, scholarships based on kidu could be instituted. A limited number of scholarships like this are already being offered by Tarayana Foundation, the Prime Minister’s Office, Youth Development Fund and the Gyalpoi Zimpon’s Office. The number could be increased in view of the fact that there are many deserving candidates for this kind of scholarship.

These recommendations could be used to improve the current practice of admitting only a limited number of students in government higher secondary schools colleges although the Tertiary Education Policy of the Kingdom of Bhutan 2010 promises to give equal access to higher education “regardless of their economic circumstances”.

This not only threatens to widen the gap between the rich and the poor, but also deprives many of our youths of the opportunities to realize their full potential as a person and as a citizen of Bhutan. The current practice needs to be reviewed as soon as possible if we are to achieve our goal of becoming a knowledge-based GNH society, and preserve our long-cherished attributes of peace, stability and sovereignty in the the times to come.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Robert F. Kennedy on what GNP means

Below is a quote from Robert F. (Bobby) Kennedy on what the Gross National Product means and more importantly what it does not mean, from a speech given in 1968.

"Too much and too long, we seem to have surrendered community excellence and community values in the mere accumulation of material things. Our gross national product ... if we should judge America by that - counts air pollution and cigarette advertising, and ambulances to clear our highways of carnage. It counts special locks for our doors and the jails for those who break them. It counts the destruction of our redwoods and the loss of our natural wonder in chaotic sprawl. It counts napalm and the cost of a nuclear warhead, and armored cars for police who fight riots in our streets. It counts Whitman's rifle and Speck's knife, and the television programs which glorify violence in order to sell toys to our children.


"Yet the gross national product does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education, or the joy of their play. It does not include the beauty of our poetry or the strength of our marriages; the intelligence of our public debate or the integrity of our public officials. It measures neither our wit nor our courage; neither our wisdom nor our learning; neither our compassion nor our devotion to our country; it measures everything, in short, except that which makes life worthwhile. And it tells us everything about America except why we are proud that we are Americans."

- Robert F. Kennedy Address, University of Kansas, Lawrence, Kansas, March 18, 1968

You can listen to the speech in his own voice on youtube at this link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=77IdKFqXbUY

How sad that such a great leader was assassinated so soon, in fact soon after that speech was delivered! Here is a short biography taken from Wikipedia.

"Robert Francis "Bobby" Kennedy (November 20, 1925 – June 6, 1968), also referred to by his initials RFK, was an American politician, a Democratic Senator from New York, and a noted civil rights activist. An icon of modern American liberalism, he was a younger brother of President John F. Kennedy and acted as one of his advisers during his presidency. From 1961 to 1964, he was the U.S. Attorney General.
Following his brother John's assassination on November 22, 1963, Kennedy continued to serve as Attorney General under President Lyndon B. Johnson for nine months. In September 1964, Kennedy resigned to seek the U.S. Senate seat from New York, which he won in November. Within a few years, he publicly split with Johnson over the Vietnam War.

In March 1968, Kennedy began a campaign for the presidency and was a front-running candidate of the Democratic Party. In the California presidential primary on June 4, Kennedy defeated Eugene McCarthy, a fellow U.S. Senator from Minnesota. Following a brief victory speech delivered just past midnight on June 5 at The Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles, Kennedy was assassinated by Sirhan Sirhan. Mortally wounded and unconscious, he survived for nearly 26 hours, dying early in the morning of June 6."

Sunday, June 06, 2010

Let's not lose sight of the big picture

PERSPECTIVE 5 June, 2010 - Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche’s article “Many questions, few answers” has generated much debate, both online and offline, just as he intended it to. I would like to offer my honest views on some of the issues he raised and some other related issues.

People’s opinions and perspectives differ. HH the Dalai Lama writes in his book “The Universe in a Single Atom” that “Any experience of consciousness – from the most mundane to the most elevated - has certain coherence and, at the same time, a high degree of privacy, which means it always exists from a particular point of view”.

Rinpoche’s view comes from a broad perspective of time and space, and a genuine concern to see Bhutan do well. Therefore some people’s reaction, questioning his qualification to comment on a mundane issue, is unfortunate. While we may not necessarily agree with him, we should be grateful to him for sharing his wisdom. Somebody has said, “In order to keep a true perspective of one’s importance, everyone should have a dog that will worship him and a cat that will ignore him.” So too would Bhutan need not just people, who lick up to us and say, “everything is wonderful”, but also people that drive us into a reality check now and then.

CULTURE

Considering our population, size, geopolitical situation and the current global scenario, our culture and identity are of utmost importance to us. No Bhutanese would deny this fact. Historically, we have been fortunate to have never been under the yoke of a foreign power. This has ensured the continuity of our state institutions, culture and traditions in line with those established by Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel in the 17th century to this day. This continuity has always worked to our advantage, but will it continue to do so, if we are not willing to change some aspects of our culture, in tune with our newly adopted political system and the rapidly globalising, highly interconnected world of the 21st century?

This is a question that begs serious and honest contemplation with an objective mind rather than an emotional one. There is no doubt that most aspects of our culture are still relevant and very much kicking, but this should not deter us from looking objectively and modifying those aspects, which may no longer be relevant, and might do more harm than good in the long run to our efforts at cultural preservation itself.

On the other hand, my perspective differs from that of my friend Dorji Tshering, whose recent article implied that we better give up the phallic symbols that adorn the walls of Bhutanese houses, if at all we need to change any aspect of our culture. The phallic symbols have a sacred, but not pornographic, meaning for the people who use it. As long as they are used out of free will and not enforcement, there is neither the need to feel ashamed, nor the need to hasten their passing. In fact, I also showed postcards of phallic symbols from Bhutan to Japanese friends and their reaction was one of understanding and openness.

INTERNAL VALUES VS. EXTERNAL APPEARANCES

In our efforts in cultural preservation, Driglam Namzha, GNH, etc., I think the external appearances and actions are highly emphasized, while internal values are given little thought or attention.

Most of us, who are now engaging in these debates, grew up in an environment completely different from the one in which our younger generation in cities and towns are growing up. So, we have imbibed that strong sense of independence and pride, and belief in the age old values that define our relationship with others and the world around us. However, our new generation grows up watching foreign made Hindi and English TV programs seven days a week. And even in school, what they learn has little content on Bhutanese values. Whether they will share the same internal values that define our culture and GNH is a big question.

Attempts should be made to explain the significance and reasons behind the way we do certain things in our culture to our increasingly curious new generation, who have access to global information at the click of a mouse or touch of a remote control button, lest they lose this vital connection.

This reminds me of the driglam namzha lessons we used to receive as students in the early ‘90s and the graduate orientation program in 2000. The driglam namzha lopen was well-versed in all the facts and figures of how long the lagey should be folded, how low to bow to a minister and dzongdag, how elegantly the khadar should be unfolded while offering it etc., but he never explained to us that driglam namzha was a set of rules (not necessarily so rigid as he made them out to be) of social etiquette that one should observe in any setting, be it at home, office or even while in foreign countries. So the essence of driglam namzha was lost in all the nitty-gritty details of how many times to prostrate, how low to bow, how to push dressi quietly into one’s mouth with the right thumb, etc.

LANGUAGE

I include language as one important aspect of our internal cultural values that require urgent attention and support. Today, because of information and entertainment overload we experience, almost all of which comes in foreign languages via the Internet and cable TV, our languages are seriously threatened.

Dzongsar Khyentse rinpoche has observed our largely ineffectual efforts with Dzongkha’s progress, and suggested that we stop wasting time and resources on Dzongkha. However, Dzongkha is enshrined in our constitution as our national language, and I don’t think we should give up on it so easily. Moreover, Dzongkha is a language that is closely related to Chhoekay - the bearer of “our precious wisdom heritage, culture, and Buddha dharma”. Learning Dzongkha can lead to the understanding of Chhoekay and vice versa.

One of the main problems with Dzongkha’s progress is that we have been offering it only flowery lip service, while not taking the interest to learn or use it ourselves. In this connection, as a practical measure and our commitment to our national language, I would like to request all newspapers in Bhutan to start Dzongkha news websites like the one BBS has. Secondly, I would like to request all ministries and government organisations to open Dzongkha websites. Isn’t it hypocritical on our part to extol so many virtues and not make even the national newspapers and ministries start websites in Dzongkha?

A New York Times article in April read, “As far as the records show, no one has spoken Shinnecock or Unkechaug, languages of Long Island’s Indian tribes, for nearly 200 years. Now Stony Brook university and two of the Indian nations are initiating a joint project to revive these extinct tongues, using old documents like a vocabulary list that Thomas Jefferson wrote during a visit in 1791.”

Let us not put our own descendents in the same situation 200 years from now.

THE FUTURE

Ever since I got a chance to study abroad in 1996 after high school and see the world, I worried if Bhutan would one day join the ranks of developing countries teeming with poor street children, dirty drains and glaring inequalities. But over the years, I have come to believe that Bhutan will take a different path. GDP-wise, we are still one of the least developed countries, but if we look at the general living standard of the people, we are different from other least developed countries.

Thanks to the wise and dynamic leadership of our successive Kings, we enjoy unprecedented peace and stability today. However, the forces of change that will be sweeping over us in the coming years will be so strong that it may create great regional imbalances and big gaps between the rich and the poor. Indications are that the west will develop much faster in the next 10 years, compared to the rest of the country, mainly spurred by private investments over which government has little control. Improved transportation networks will be crucial to maintain some degree of balanced development and fight rural-urban migration. I wonder if it would be too big a challenge to try to halve the road distance from west to east to one day in the near future as one of the measures.

Yet, there is hope for us as we stand as one people united behind our King, His Majesty Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck. Even as we debate issues from different perspectives, we should never lose sight of the bigger picture of what concerns us most as a small nation of very small population between two giants. Each and every one of us has a role to play to make each Bhutanese feel included and cared for; to enable each Bhutanese achieve his/her fullest potential; and to make Bhutan truly a land of Gross National Happiness.

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This article was published in Kuensel on Saturday, 5th June 2010.
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Monday, May 31, 2010

Lone bangchu represents Bhutan at Exhibition in Japan

There is an exhibition titled “Himalayas: People’s life and Nature” taking place at a museum in Tokushima, Japan. It started on 29th April and will go on till 6th June, 2010.


I visited the exhibition on 8th May and I was happy to see a bangchu(Bhutanese bamboo-made lunch box) on display. But I was surprised to see the label informing the visitors that it was from Nepal.

I thought it was a mistake because I had not seen Nepalese using bangchu or even selling it in souvenir shops when I visited Kathmandu in 2007. So I came home and called a Japanese lady who has known both Nepal and Bhutan for a long time. She said, “I have seen some Tibetans in Nepal using bangchu when I visited in the 1960s, but I heard it came from Bhutan via barter trades in Kalimpong and Darjeeling.”

“Bangchu is a unique Bhutanese handicraft which you should take better care of. I have heard that some of the unique Bhutanese textile designs have already been patented by other countries.” She added.


I then carried out an online research on the various bamboo products from Nepal, India, China, Thailand, Indonesia, Vietnam etc. to find out if any other country makes bangchu. It is amazing that the simple bamboo has given rise to so many products of different shapes, sizes and uses in different countries. However, I did not see any product from other countries that closely resembled our bangchu.

“We should really be grateful to the people of Kheng and Thrimshing-Kangpara (two places in Bhutan where bangchu is produced) for this unique invention” I thought. A little more research revealed that bangchu is made from a bamboo locally known in Khengkha as yula, and in Sharchop as ringshu. Its scientific name is Neomicrocalamus andropogonifolius. According to a bamboo specialist, "Scrambling species such as Neomicrocalamus andropogonifolius provide strong, flexible weaving material of the highest quality, widely used in cottage handicraft industries." Studies mention that it is found mainly in central and eastern Bhutan, and in Nepal (known locally as langma) and Nagaland (known locally as kevva). But Nepalese and Nagas do not make bangchu although they use it for making other products.


Armed with this information, I called the person in charge of the exhibition the very next day. After introducing myself, I said, “I am really sorry to trouble you, but I think the bamboo-made lunch-box on display is from Bhutan and not from Nepal. I am not really concerned about it as a Bhutanese, but I think it is important not to misinform the visitors.”

He wholeheartedly thanked me for the information. He promised that he would correct the information and also said that he would write to the National Museum of Ethnology in Osaka from where the items had been borrowed.

A friend from Okinawa visited me this week and I went to the exhibition again with him. This time, I saw another label put near the bangchu explaining that it is a “product of Bhutan” with a handwritten subtext that says “Bhutan is also a country in the Himalayas”. It is the only mention of Bhutan in the whole exhibition.
While Bhutan has become more popular in Japan thanks to GNH and TV programs on Bhutan that are aired now and then, I still sometimes meet Japanese who have never heard of Bhutan.

Our handicrafts are not only a means of livelihood for our rural people, but a representation of our history and culture. They assert our identity while attracting the interest and curiosity of foreigners. They are our precious legacies which should be nurtured, protected, promoted and passed on to our future generations. Mechanisms to protect them through national or international patents should be explored, while taking all the measures to improve their quality.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Basis of Bhutanese Values

What are the values that guide a Bhutanese man/woman?

The answer probably lies in:
(1)following the principle of mutual sincerity and loyalty in relationships (tha dam tshig) whether it is between the ruler and subjects, husband and wife, parents and children, or between friends,
(2)following the principle of cause and effect (las rju 'bras) - the belief in the relation between cause and effect of actions.
(3)having loving kindness and compassion (byams pa dang sning rje) for all sentient beings
(4)following the sixteen pure rules for worldly conduct (mi chos gtsang ma bcu drug)
(5)restraining oneself from the three poisons (dug gsum), and
(6)restraining from the ten misdeeds (mi dge ba bcu).

I do not mean that the Bhutanese live up to these values/ideals to the letter in their daily lives, but it can be said that these values/ideals form the foundation of Bhutanese social values.

The sixteen pure rules for worldly conduct (mi chos gtsang ma bcu drug) are said to have been propagated by the Tibetan King Songtsan Gampo in the seventh century. These sixteen rules form the basis of conduct for Buddhists who lead worldly life. They are as follows:

1. Respect for the triple gem – Buddha, Dharma and Sanga (lha dkon mchog gsum la mos gus bskyed pa).
2. Seeking and following the dharma (dam pa'i chos btsal zhing bsgrub pa).
3. Repay one’s gratitude to parents (pha ma la drin lan 'jal ba).
4. Respect for the good qualities of other people (yon tan can la zhe mthong yod pa)
5. Respect for the elders and people in higher positions (rigs mtho ba dang rgan par bkur sti che ba),
6. To be able to benefit the one’s hometown and neighbours (yul mi khyim mtses la phan 'dogs pa),
7. To be honest and modest (bka' drang zhing sems chung ba),
8. To keep good relationship with one’s relatives (nye du mdza' bshes la gzhung ring ba),
9. To follow and keep company with good people (ya rabs kyi rjes snyeg cing phyi thag ring ba),
10. To know one’s moderation with food and wealth (zas nor la tshod 'dzin pa),
11. To seek and show gratitude to people who have helped you in the past (sngar drin can gyi mi rtsad gcod pa),
12. To repay debts in time and not to cheat on weights and measures (bu lon dus su 'jal zhing bre srang la gyo med pa),
13. Not to be jealous of others’ good fortunes (kun la phrag dog chung ba),
14. Not indulge in harmful gossips and have self-control (ngan pa'i gros la mi nyan zhing rang tshugs 'dzin pa),
15. To be polite and speak less (ngag 'jam zhing smra ba nyung ba),
16. To have endurance and to be broad-minded (theg pa che zhing blo khog yangs pa ste bcu drug)


In addition "the 'three poisons' (dug gsum) and the ten misdeeds (mi dge ba bcu), also contain practical injunctions for the daily lives of the religion's adherents, promising karmic consequences for observance and breach."

The three poisons are:
(1) desire,
(2) anger, and
(3) ignorance.

The ten misdeeds consist of three physical misdeeds, four verbal misdeeds and three mental misdeeds. The physical misdeeds are:
(1) killing,
(2) taking what is not given, and
(3) engaging in sexual misconduct.
The verbal misdeeds are:
(4) lying,
(5) uttering divisive talk,
(6) harsh words, and
(7) gossiping.
The mental misdeeds are:
(8) harboring covetousness,
(9) ill-will, and
(10) wrong views.

Reference:
1. Rangjung Yeshe Tibetan-English Dictionary of Buddhist Culture, http://www.nitartha.org//dictionary_documentation.html

2. Fernanda Pirie, Secular morality, village law, and Buddhism in Tibetan societies, Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, March 2006. http://www.highbeam.com/doc/1G1-145574673.html

Monday, May 17, 2010

2 kinds of Happiness

"The mind is its own place, and in itself, can make heaven of Hell, and a hell of Heaven." - John Miltom



According to Sogyal Rinpoche, "there are two kinds of happiness: one based on material comfort and pleasures; the other on inner contentment and peace."

Rinpoche further adds, "Material happiness is often very expensive and doesn’t satisfy us. Whereas, if it’s based on deeper inner peace and contentment, then even when you face difficulties, you can overcome them.

"Buddha said all fear and anxiety come from an untamed mind. If you were to ask what is the essence of the teachings of Buddha, it is to tame, to transform, to conquer this mind of ours, because it is the root of everything, it is the creator of happiness, of suffering, of samsara, of nirvana.

"So, if you know how to use the mind well, it can be the most wonderful thing. Or it can be your worst enemy as, I think, John Milton said, “The mind is its own place and, in itself, can make heaven of hell, and a hell of heaven.” The most important thing is to work with the mind, as great masters have said, it’s foolish to go looking for happiness outside, because you’ll have no control. When you transform your mind, your perception and experience transform, even appearances transform. Because happiness is not something that exists objectively, it’s subject to one’s experience. No matter what the circumstance are, you’ll be able to cope."

Thursday, May 06, 2010

Unbeaten by the rain

"If in the east there’s a sick child
He goes there and nurses him
If in the west there is a tired mother
He goes there and carries bundles of rice for her
If in the south there’s someone dying
He goes there to tell him not to be afraid,
If in the north there’s a quarrel or a lawsuit
He goes there to tell them it’s not worth it.
When there's drought, he sheds tears of sympathy
When the summer's cold, he feels the farmers’ pain
Everyone calls him a fool
He is not praised
He is not blamed either
Such a person,
I want to be."



The above is an excerpt from a famous Japanese poem "Ame ni mo makezu" which I prefer to translate as "Unbeaten by the rain". It was written by Miyazawa Kenji.


Almost every Japanese knows this poem because it is taught in school. It is said that students have to memorize this poem. It is a beautiful poem about altruism and self-sacrifice.

The first few lines of the poem read thus in Japanese:

ame ni mo makezu
kaze ni mo makezu
yuki ni mo natsu no atsusa ni mo makenu
jōbu na karada wo mochi
yoku wa naku
kesshite ikarazu
itsu mo shizuka ni waratte iru
..........


Which may be translated as:


Unbeaten by the rain
Unbeaten by the wind
Unbeaten by the snow or summer's heat
with a strong body
unfettered by desires
never losing temper
Always smiling quietly
........



I liked it the first time I read it. It is not difficult for Bhutanese to understand what the poet wants to convey because it has direct resonance with the Buddhist way of thinking.

There are many translations of the poem.

Here is a translation by Hiroaki Sato and Burton Watson from the book "From the Country of Eight Islands":


Neither yielding to rain

nor yielding to wind

yielding neither to

snow nor to summer heat

with a stout body

like that

without greed

never getting angry

always smiling quiet-

ly

eating one and a half pieces of brown rice

and bean paste and a bit of

vegetables a day

in everything

not taking oneself

into account

looking listening understanding well

and not forgetting

living in the shadow of pine trees in a field

in a small

hut thatched with miscanthus

if in the east there’s a

sick child

going and nursing

him

if in the west there is a tired mother

going and for her

carrying

bundles of rice

if in the south

there’s someone

dying

going

and saying

you don’t have to be

afraid

if in the north

there’s a quarrel

or a lawsuit

saying it’s not worth it

stop it

in a drought

shedding tears

in a cold summer

pacing back and forth lost

called

a good-for-nothing

by everyone

neither praised

nor thought a pain

someone

like that

is what I want

to be




About the Poet:

"Miyazawa Kenji has transcended the generations to become one of Japan's most read and best loved authors. Born over a hundred years ago in 1896 in Iwate Prefecture, he was only 37 at the time of his death. Kenji's literary works received scant attention during his lifetime and only two books were published before his passing: a collection of children's tales entitled "The Restaurant of Many Orders" and the first section of his most famous work of poetry, "Spring and Ashura." The remainder of the great number of children's stories and poems that he left behind was edited and published only posthumously, after which the richness and depth of his art finally gained wide recognition." - from http://www.kenji-world.net

Smile



We were talking of smiles yesterday. Here is a quotation which you may like.

“There are hundreds of languages in the world, but a smile speaks them all.”

I don't know who said it. But it reminds me of my late father who once told me how amazing it is that there are so many peoples with different cultures and languages in this world, but all of them can communicate with a smile.

The smile holds almost the same meaning for the iPod-wielding mini-skirt wearing girls of Tokyo as well as the bow-wielding half-naked tribesmen of the tropical jungles of Papua New Guinea. Isn't it amazing?

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The former glory of Drukgyal Dzong



That was then, this is now:




This week, I was lucky enough to lay my hands on a photocopy of an article on Bhutan that appeared in the National Geographic Magazine in April 1914. The title of the article is "CASTLES IN THE AIR: Experiences and Journeys in Unknown Bhutan" and was written by John Claude White, Political Officer of British India stationed in Gangtok, Sikkim. (Note: you can click on any image to enlarge it.)

Besides other interesting information on the conditions of Bhutan then, the article presents impressive pictures and descriptions of Drukgyal Dzong which now remains in ruins. According to this article, "The Dug-gye armory is said to be the best in the country, and is contained in a fine room, with a large bow window facing south and looking down the valley – in the Tongsa Penlop’s opinion the best balcony in Bhutan”. 'Tongsa Penlop' here refers to the First Druk Gyalpo. He was the Trongsa Penlop and not yet crowned when John Claude visited Bhutan in 1905 and 1906.

For the sake of all people who have seen the ruins of Drukgyal Dzong and wonder how it once looked like, I am sharing some pictures, courtesy of John Claude White.

The following is an excerpt of what the author says about the Dzong (click on it to enlarge and read):









In a paper written by His Excellency Lyonpo Thakur S. Powdyel when he was the director of Centre for Educational Resarch and Development, titled "Druk Gyal Dzong : The Two Faces", he laments the fact that “the most significant symbol of our victory should languish in a tragic state of ruin”.


A Symbol of victory: (Some excerpts from Lyonpo Thakur's paper)


As if Zhabdrung’s departure from Ralung was not enough, the Tsang Desi vowed to destroy the former and gain total control of the Southern Land. The first attack was launched in 1617 - just a year after Zhabdrung's arrival in Bhutan, the second in 1634, and the third one coming in 1639, in all of which the Tibetan invaders were thoroughly routed.
Finally, a peace treaty was signed in 1639 and Zhabdrung was recognized as the Supreme Authority of the Land of Four Approaches in 1640.
In the meanwhile, events took a different turn in Tibet when the Gelugpas supported by the Mongols toppled Tsang Desi and nullified the earlier settlement with Zhabdrung, making irresponsible and impossible demands on the latter. The result was the resumption of war in 1644 by the combined Tibetan-Mongol army against Bhutan.
The war eventuated in a crushing and disgraceful defeat of the invaders and the signing of a new settlement in 1646 with the Tibetans agreeing never to attack Bhutan again. The terms of the settlement were, however, never respected and the allied Tibetan-Mongol army launched another attack in 1649, with increased reinforcements and power.
The second Tibetan-Mongol invasion, as the event is called, had the attacking troops marching as far as Thimphu, Punakha, and Paro, holding these places under siege for close to four months.


The attack on Paro was led by Depa Norbu. The might of the Bhutanese forces, however, soon proved invincible and the invading army was routed clean during a night attack and made to flee for life towards Phari. The pursuing Bhutanese army followed them and meted out the most humiliating defeat the Tibetans had ever suffered. All the weapons were seized and the enemies taken hostage.
The Bhutanese troops under the command of La-ngon would have killed the enemies if it were not for the good offices of one Lama Kuenga Sonam who negotiated peace between the Bhutanese and the Tibetans. The prisoners of war were set free to return to Tibet - but not before surrendering all their arms and ammunitions to the victorious Bhutanese army.

The terms of surrender were signed at Phondoe where the Bhutanese constructed the famous monument - to commemorate the victory of the Bhutanese over the Tibetans, as well as to prevent possible future attacks - the Druk Gyal Dzong.




According to his paper, “One of the special functions held at Druk Gyal Dzong was the three-day annual prayer. The prayers would start on the 27th day of the 10th month of the Bhutanese calendar and conclude on the 29th. It was the last day of the prayers in 1951 that saw the face of the Victory Dzong change for ever.
The wind blew hard that night and toppled one of the butter-lamps in the utse. The fire soon spread, fanned by the breath of the night wind. To make matters worse, it is believed that a bat's wings caught fire too. As the bat flew madly about in panic, it lit fire wherever the wings touched. Soon, the dzong was an inferno of blaze”





Lyonpo Thakur further laments “It was bad enough to let the famous symbol of our victory be reduced to smoke and charcoal, in the first place. What is worse is that we have apparently grown comfortable looking at the spectacle of ruin. We escort the tourists to the top of our broken citadel, regale the sense of "strangeness and beauty" as Buckley (2003) refers to, pose for pictures with the face of ruin as our backdrop. That is about all."

------------------------------
Links to sources:

For a shortened version of Lyonpo Thakur's paper that appeared in Kuensel, please visit this link: http://www.kuenselonline.com/modules.php?name=News&file=article&sid=3154

The copy I got of JC White's paper was hardly legible though the pictures looked okay. So I did a search on the Internet and I was able to locate a copy on the net too. You can find it here: http://www.scribd.com/doc/19697099/Castles-in-the-Air
Text is good, but no pictures were visible on this link.

Thursday, April 08, 2010

A poem's power


Not many people read poems these days. But sometimes the power of a poem could be so profound that it can motivate you to achieve your dreams even in the face of most challenging of circumstances.

Few days ago, I was watching NHK Television before Japanese Astronaut Naoko Yamazaki blasted off towards the International Space Station onboard the shuttle Discovery on April 5th, to became the second Japanese woman to go into space after Chiaki Mukai. Yamazaki, a mother of a daughter talked of the various challenges she faced preparing for this day for the past 11 long years.

What kept her going most of the time was the motivation she derived from the following lines of a Poem by Japanese Poet Takamura Kotaro, she said.

「僕の前に道はない、僕の後ろに道はできる」 
[Boku no mae ni michi wa nai, Boku no ushiro ni michi wa dekiru.]

There is no road before me, But I can leave a trail behind me.

The poem was introduced to her by a teacher in her school, and since then it had a strong impact on her, she said.

Walking the talk is important, but sometimes an inspiring talk could be half the walk.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Number of Graduates in Bhutan

Title: Less graduates, fewer jobs
Published by: Kuensel

7 August, 2010 - Less than two percent of the Bhutanese population went to college and received a university degree in the past two decades.
There were about 8,200 Bhutanese with university degrees between 1987 and 2009, Kuensel records show that. The figure excludes a small percentage of Bhutanese graduates who did not register for the graduates orientation programme.

Year Grads
2009 : 1,330
2008 : 1,222
2007 : 1,034
2006 : 777
2005 : 664
2004 : 495
2003 : 401
2002 : 383
2001 : 272

With the tertiary education policy recently endorsed by the government, education officials say it will serve as a guide to make Bhutan a knowledge based society and cater to the increased demand of the people to pursue higher education.

From 62 in 1987 the number of graduates chasing every job on offer rose to 1,330 in 2009. Just ten years ago, only about 205 graduates entered the job market.
But even for the small percentage of graduates, considering the country’s total population, Bhutanese employers are struggling to creating avenues to accommodate people completing tertiary education.

In January this year, Druk Green Power Corporation saw more than 44 graduates apply for the post of an assistant finance officer, Bhutan foundation saw 60 applicants while Kuensel received almost 200 applicants against a vacancy for a marketing officer.

Education minister, Lyonpo Thakur S Powdyel, said it is widely accepted that higher the education level of citizens in the country, the greater the benefits to the society. “It is important for Bhutan to continue expanding opportunities for its young people to enter tertiary education,” he said.

The minister said tertiary education, provided by the government and as well as funded privately, is available to over 21 percent of students completing class 12 annually. Which means that of the 6,500 students having completed class 12 this year, about 1,330 are continuing higher studies.
There are about 3,671 students pursuing tertiary education outside Bhutan, especially in India while colleges under the Royal University of Bhutan have about 5,243 students.

The new tertiary education policy, on the other hand, proposes the government increase the age-cohort participation rate, which means the number of 19-year olds entering tertiary education, to 33 percent by the year 2017. Education officials said by 2017, there will be approximately 14,000 students of which tertiary education should be available to about 4,600. This would be done through various funding and management mechanisms, giving tertiary institutions autonomy and assuring their quality and by incentivising foreign direct investments in tertiary education, education officials said.

Many reason that the streamlining of tertiary policies and increasing tertiary capacity to produce more Bhutanese graduates from within and outside Bhutan would pose increasing challenges to the job market.

A labour ministry official said although the quality and skills of the graduates have been debatable in recent years, the increasing numbers alone will not create a knowledge based society if these people are not supported through employment opportunities to gain hands-on experience, skills and knowledge. “At this stage, we lack a proper study of the job market,” he said. “We have, for several years, been saying that there is actually no dearth of jobs but the unemployment problem is a consequence of mis-match between the skills and available jobs.”

For instance, about 126 IT and computer science graduates competed for eight government slots through civil service entrance exams in 2009 while there were 22 government vacancies for 13 civil engineers.

An education management consultant from the United Kingdom who wrote series of articles in the media on tertiary education in Bhutan, Dr Austin Reid, had said that “unless the rapid growth in tertiary enrolments, a response to social demand, is matched by a corresponding growth and changes in the labour market to produce more jobs and increasing proportion of highly skilled ones, the consequences will lead to a mismatch between supply and demand.” He said the ramifications of that eventuality will be felt throughout sectors of society.

Lyonpo Thakur S Powdyel said the development of the recent education policy has been a joint effort of all relevant sectors and such coordinated approach was deemed absolutely necessary. “We should be mindful of the specific requirements of the different sectors of the economy and the possible mis match between qualifications so that graduates match the specific requirements of the job market,” he said. “The tertiary education policy will make possible specific programmes to support the country’s more immediate economy but also programmes that will support the holistic development of individuals and the society.”

By Phuntsho Choden

Link to source: http://www.kuenselonline.com/modules.php?name=News&file=article&sid=16340&mode=&order=0&thold=0