Saturday, September 5, 2015

Develop Football. Keep the Nation United

The humiliating defeat of our national football team in Qatar might have dampened the spirit of many football enthusiasts in the country. A 15-goal loss was unexpected because we thought that we had reached a different level with our qualification to this round.

However, there was silver lining from that gloomy night - in fact a golden one. Going through the online comments from Bhutanese from all walks of life and from the small diaspora spread across the globe, it was simply overwhelming to find so much solidarity and support for our team. Every Bhutanese on Earth was united behind the dragon boys. And very few actually expressed their disappointments.

The political elections of 2008 and 2013 have divided this country along strong party lines. That’s the price of democracy, one would guess. Now, this division is in addition to professional egos, personal likes and dislikes and familial relations and animosity that have been around. So anything to bring or keep the nation together should be encouraged, supported and promoted to the fullest.
The national solidarity we see around our football team came by as an accident and not by any kind of design. That makes it even more special while at the same time calling for some positive reinforcements. The fact of the matter is we cannot expect it to bloom into something really significant unless we invest in it. Just as it appeared from nowhere, it might also disappear in a similar fashion. Hence we should celebrate this coming together as a nation through football, nurture it and let it grow so that it take us all to new heights. I have always said that we don't lack resources; we lack resourcefulness. That is holding us back from becoming a great country.

The dragon boys are young and so they have a long career ahead of them. Unlike an average Bhutanese these boys have strong determination, commitment and sense of purpose. Every match that they have lost since winning over Sri Lanka they have gone down fighting till the last. If we invest in them not only our football standards will reach the next level, we would have found another way to keep this country bonded.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Ordinary People Inspiring Stories - Chencho Gyaltshen

The first time I met Chencho Gyeltshen was in Lungtenzampa School. Having scored Bhutan’s winning goal against Sri Lanka, Chencho became an overnight sensation and was invited in a panel discussion with HE Khamtrul Rimpoche that afternoon. 

Chencho scores against Sri Lanka making him a star
Having watched him in the field, I was pleasantly surprised to find a boy who was humble, soft-spoken and very reserved. On the stage, he felt totally out of place in the presence of the young Buddhist master and other panelists. “I really don’t know what to say. I haven’t achieved anything to be here with such illustrious speakers,” he started off. His voice dried up on him several times even before he completed a full sentence. Seeing him in trouble, Namgay Zam, the moderator, gently came to his rescue and hinted, “You can tell the students how you made it to the first eleven.” Chencho felt better. Khamtrul Rimpoche also gave him a more reassuring smile. Chencho resumed. “Yes. Let me tell you how I got to the main line-up of the national squad,” he said. “We were playing in Dhaka against Bangladesh and towards the end of the match the coach signaled to me to warm up. I did and after a couple of minutes I was asked to enter the field. I checked the time. We had 15 minutes to go. I said to myself, ‘Well, all the years of handwork now boils down to just 15 minutes. Prove yourself, man!’ and I went in and gave the best of myself. When the game ended the coach came up to me and patted my shoulders. I knew then I made it”. The children in the hall applauded. Chencho gained more confidence. “In life, opportunities come in small doses. You have to grab them and give your best”. He went on to narrate how he still faced difficulties in convincing his parents and relatives about being a professional footballer. He is often told by everyone that football won’t bring food to his plate. “But I believe in myself and I work hard. I still work very hard. I always go for practice 30-40 minutes before the coach arrives. He sees me working harder than others.”

I caught up with Chencho after the symposium where some tea were arranged for the speakers and the guests. Namgay Zam introduced me to him. Chencho bowed down to me almost in reverence as we shook our hands. “You know, Chencho, I have a suggestion, if I may,” I told him. “Yes, sir,” he replied. “You should forget your college plans for now. And instead focus on football. Keep playing for the national team”. “Yes, sir,” he replied as his face brightened. I suspect that he finally found someone who was speaking his mind. “When you are out from pro football at around, let’s say, where you're 29-30, you can go back to college. There could be some sorts of scholarships for former players. You can graduate at the age of 33 and then you can then start a new career. And assuming that you will eventually be retiring at 60, you will still have 27 years of whatever career you will be choosing after football.” “Las la,” Chencho replied. I continued, “And come back to me, if you need help to go back to college. But keep playing for now”. 

I hope he does because he will go very far. By that I mean really really far. College can wait for now.

(Many professional players in Italy go back to college after their football career. One of them was Paolo Rossi who led Italy to World Cup victory in 1982).  

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Lunch. No lunch. We are writers

“Sorry, sir, we are waiting for the projector,” NawangPhuntsho, one of the founders of the Community of Bhutanese Bloggers, apologises for the delay. It is already 10.30 and we were supposed to start at 10. More than 30 bloggers had gathered at Hotel Namseling for the first “unofficial” gathering of the Community of Bhutanese Bloggers. Unofficial, because in Bhutan all large meetings, conferences are sponsored and/or organized by the government. This is a private initiative. But the turnout is impressive. People from different walks of life and stature have come together – drawn by something they share in common – blogging.

The delay is far from being bothersome. I use the long waiting time to catch up with Sangay Khandu, a parliamentarian and an ardent blogger, and Gyaltshen K Dorji, a journalist who writes on technology for Bhutan’s national newspaper, Kuensel. I meet other people that I have met only in the cyber space. Among them is Rekha Mongar. "Nice to meet you after reading all your blogs," I tell her. Others are also as excited to meet me in person. “Sir, I have been reading your blog since my schooldays,” they come extending their hands. I feel flattered. 

Finally, after an hour, the LCD projector arrives. We all clap our hands and dub it as the chief guest. Nobody seems to mind the delay. “Punctuality is not in our culture. And since cultural preservation is what we do, we should maintain this too,” I remark. We all have a laugh. The First Conference of the Community of Bhutanese Bloggers sets off. Riku Dhan Subba is the first speaker.

Riku says that of late he has been blogging about the importance of staying connected to his village. “Maintaining my roots gives me an immense pride plus an identity and connection to the community that I belong,” he says in his presentation. “I visit my village at least 5 times in a year”. Riku’s talk is simple, humble and humorous. But what catches everyone’s breath is a story of a radio. “My father was the first guy to own a radio in the village. People gathered every evening around the radio to listen to it. Among people who came was also someone who would become my mother. I was told, that’s how they met,” he says timidly. The hall burst into laughter and applause. Riku continues, “And this is a picture of a tree in my village – a very special tree. Why this is special to me?” he asks. How are we supposed to know? “I was born under this tree,” he adds. “My mother didn’t stop working even when she was pregnant. She went into labour and I was born – under this tree”. Another round of applause and laughter. Riku’s stories were simply awesome.

Sangay Khandu, an MP from Gasa and prolific blogger, goes next. “My talk will be boring compared to Rikku’s,” he starts off. “But since I am an MP, I will share my knowledge of being one for seven years now.” Sangay enlightens on how bills are passed, issues raised and how legislations are enacted. ‘Always something new to learn everyday. Today I learnt about what House of Review really means,’ I updated my facebook page. It is true. I thought House of Review was something else.

Ugyen Lhendup, a small and unassuming guy, takes the stage next. He is an economist and talks about how pro-poor policies and public investments between 2007 and 2012 have brought down the poverty rate in the country. He had done an independent research and analysis and blogged about it. Among the series of slides with figures and charts something catches the eyes of everyone. 1953 is marked as the start of the Five Year Plan in Bhutan. The conventional wisdom and all textbooks say 1961. “Isn’t it 1961?” someone enquires. Ugyen goes dead sure on this. “I read the proceedings of the first National Assembly of Bhutan and there it is clearly mentioned that we are now starting off the planned development process. The year is 1953”. “He may be right,” I add, “Our Third King instituted the National Assembly in 1953. I also read somewhere that the planned development process was originally the idea of the Second King. So it is possible that the idea was carried forward by the Third and that he could have made it official in 1953 when the first National Assembly was convened ”. Another new thing learnt. Another to be verified. I love discovering.

The last to take the microphone is Tshering Dolkar, a professor at Royal Thimphu College. She takes us on a long journey of hers as a writer. From writing poems and essays for Kuensel as a student to writing textbooks for schools when she worked in Education Ministry. "Then I discovered blogging and found I could publish my writings. Then later on the facebook where I shared my writings and passions with great writers," she adds. “I have never authored anything and so in that sense I am not a writer but here are some poems I wrote through the years,” she proposes timidly. She reads couple of them and we are all blown away. “Why is that they were never published,” I thought. I didn’t ask her though.

Open discussions followed on subjects ranging from personal freedom to inspirations and motivations as to why we write what we write. The chairperson, Nawang Phuntsho, had to stop the deliberations because the conference had overshot the time – by only 3 hours. Lunchtime was long gone. There was no lunch ordered either. No budget. But the founders wanted to have this conference anyway. To start small. To start somewhere. So no issues whatsoever. We leave the place smiling - having heard great stories and made new friendships; and inspired even much more to pursue what we all share in common – writing.

Lunch or no lunch.

(The next conference is in Paro in October and I am already looking forward to it)

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Rejections and disappointments

Disappointments are a part of life. Just as bravery is not the absence of fear but your ability to suppress it, success is not the absence of disappointments. It is your ability to bounce back again each time you fail - or fall.

I had my share of rejections and disappointments. I will list down only some ten percent of my lows in life here. The other ninety percent? There were not even worth the space in my memory.
Be like a Bobo doll, everytime it is hit and
it falls, it bounces back smiling

At 5, I was denied admission to Tashigang Dzong to become a novice monk. Otherwise by now I would have become Dorji Lopon instead of remaining as Dorji Wangchuk. :)

At 7, I was rejected by Don Bosco School (Kharbandi). I entered a year later after Her Royal Highness Princess Dechen Wangmo Wangchuck granted me a kasho. Sometime God appears as a princess. (I named my second daughter after her, incase I forget her kindness. I am absent-minded).

At 16, when I was about to appear for my ICSE, my paternal uncle who was to send me to a medical school was killed in an accident. My dream to become a doctor came to a dead end. Instead of Shillong, I suddenly found myself sent to a plywood factory in Phuntsholing by the Directorate of Manpower to work as an operator helper. I cried every night I got home after work.

At 18, the love of my life went with another man. Poor soul (she!)

At 20, I got rejected by Druk Air. I wanted to be a pilot or an aviation engineer. To add to the injury, someone got in my place.

At 26, while I was away and still doing my university studies my mother passed away after a long illness. My world crashed in front of me. I was not only devastated, I was close to depression and lost a year recovering and nearly missed my graduation quota.

In my professional career I was killed many times (for details, read my memoir when it comes out). I was passed over for promotion several times. I was sidelined. Everything doable within human limits was done to me. But I kept smiling and everytime I reinvented myself. From being the chief engineer, I chose to become a simple television producer. That's why I said at the Mountain Echoes 2015 that life is not linear; sometimes you have to take a lateral route. Sometimes you need walk backwards to launch forward. 

I even had to resign from an organization (BBS) that I had built with few others. There wasn't even a simple tea party for my departure after serving there for 20 years. There wasn't for other pioneers either. Can you imagine, how disappointing can that be? But again, I bounced back becoming a journalist and made a name for myself as a columnist for Bhutan Times - nation's first private newspaper.

Then finally when I thought that I was done with all my bad Karmas; when I was at the peak of my career, fate knocked on my door and said, "wait we are not done with you". In a a minor scuffle in front of my house someone nearly killed my wife - accidently. I spent a month in the hospital and almost six months thereafter nursing her back to health. The months following the accident were some of the most difficult periods in my life. I felt defeated, destroyed and dejected - all at the same time. For the first time I found hell. But as Churchill once put it, if you are going through hell, keep going. What else could I do? I kept going. On the flipside that whole incident made me strong. Nothing scares me now. In fact I cherish every person I meet or work with, every opportunity that comes around and every day that I wake up. Being to hell and back, I tell you, is a great way to appreciate simple things in life - things like just being alive.   

So if people think that I had a smooth, seamless and illustrous career, it was absolutely not the case. It is just that I don’t talk about it or brag about it; and I don’t even think about it at all. More importantly, I keep bouncing back like the bobo doll. I keep reinventing myself. I have not only done that, I have even thrived in every new profession that I ventured into - from engineering to filmmaking to journalism to teaching.

If there is something that I have learnt about life, it is that it goes on. 

So keep falling. Keep bouncing back with a smile. 

As for me, to put it alla Decartes, I think. Therefore, I am (a bobo doll).

Saturday, July 25, 2015

So again, what's in a name?

My village, Pam in Trashigang, was, according to one version of the story, founded by my paternal great grandfather, Tashi Tshering, who built a house that still stands today. The house was referred to as Tsogoen Phai (loosely translated as the Main House-Family). The house is now inherited by my distant uncles and cousins. Over time, the name received further alteration and is now locally called Tsoram Phai.

In front of Tsogoen Phai in Pam (before the village disappears)
Tashi Tshering came from Kurtoe Sukbee after he was appointed as Trashigang Nyerchen and when he eventually retired he built a house and called the place Pam, which in Kurtoep means temporary village. In time, people from Rangshikhar also used the area above Pam (now called Tabteng) as pasture for their cattle. In time some also settled there. So everyone in Pam today trace their origins to the Tsogoen Phai or to Rangshikhar. I am related to both as my paternal grandfather, Memay Jigme, came from Tabteng while paternal grandmother, Abi Sonam, was the youngest daughter of nyerchen Tashi Tshering.

While my family and I have not inherited the ancestral house, we have retained the family’s traditional responsibility of conducting an annual ceremony in the main temple of Trashigang Dzong. The community of Pam on the other hand, since time immemorial, makes annual offerings to the local deity of Trashigang Dzong before every plantation season.

This is the story of my village. The story will, however, soon become history with the recent decision by the government to absorb Pam into Trashigang Thromde (township). The move will not only change the physical landscape of the village. It will erase the history, alter the traditions, kill the culture and create endless familial disharmony.

As a final nail in the coffin, two new names have been given to the village, Pam-Maed and Pam-Toed, which are historically incorrect and linguistically insane. For, Pam, as I have mentioned above is neither a Dzongkha word nor a Sharchop phrase but is derived from Kurtoep.

So again, What's in a name? Well, you don’t just change a name of a place. You eventually throw away your history. You lose your past and ultimately you will lose your character - as an individual, as a community and as a nation.

It seems, though, these things really don’t matter much to people nowadays, except to some rural nostalgic like me.

(Pam-Maed is actually called Pam Lham Phra. Lham Phra means "below the footpath" because the traditional mule track between Upper and Lower Trashigang used to cut right through the village)

Thursday, September 11, 2014

More than thousand words

If a picture can speak a thousand words, then video should do more. Here's me walking from one class to another in Sherubtse College - on any given day.

Ever since I landed here exactly one year back, there has never been a day that I regretted leaving a high-profile life in Thimphu for a modest job of a temporary teacher in the remotest corner of Bhutan.


Friday, August 1, 2014

Happiness is a place in your heart

There is something from my childhood that I remember of my late paternal grandfather. He was a classic Sharchokpa village man. Every evening we had to go and look for him and find him in different places. He would have walked away during the day to look for some Ara (Bhutanese sake) and to look for someone to chat with. Wherever we found him, he would be there, on the floor, with people around him, happily chatting away, little tipsy but extremely content and happy.

I think I have inherited some of his genes although he was not my biological grandfather. I have perfected the art of being content wherever I am - whether it is in Thimphu, Kanglung or San Francisco.

I am in Delhi now and relishing the few days I have in this city - wading through book stores, visiting some cultural events at the Habitat Centre/IIIC and having coffee meets in Khan Market with my friends from the Indian media and universities.

In other words, wherever I am, chances are you would find me happily chatting away and, of course, very content - minus the Ara, obviously.

The secret, I guess, is that true happiness is a place in your heart, which obviously travels with you and you will find peace, love and happiness wherever you go.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Silicon Valley

Silicon Valley is actually not a valley as such but a small area in South San Francisco Bay created by Stanford University around its campus. The Valley registered an annual GDP of $200 billion in 2013, which would be the combined GDPs of the poorest 45 countries in the World.

What is interesting, and also inspiring, is that this bustling area of ideas, innovations and iPhones was a vision of one simple man - Frederick Terman who was the dean of engineering at Stanford in the 1950s. All the super dot com companies, except for Microsoft (Seattle), IBM (New Jersey) and Compaq (Texas), are here.  

The Southern Bay of San Francisco is the location of Silicon Valley 

Driving down the Silicon Valley from Oakland, California

Crossing the Bay to Palo Alto from Fremont. (Try spotting San Francisco in the picture)

No caption required for whose office is this

The nouveau riche, who are mostly in their youth, are on spending spree buying fancy cars and properties 
in the Bay Area. Prices in San Francisco have shot up beyond the reach for ordinary people

A majestic road and palm trees welcome you as you enter Stanford

The Oval lawn in front of the East entrance of Stanford. This is how they receive you

Stanford University - The iconic Hoover Tower and other buildings displaying Spanish architecture 

Pedestrian crossings are respected unlike in Asia where zebra-crossing is waste of paint

They also conduct classes under the tree. So I am not alone doing that 

David (to my immediate left) left a prestigious teaching position in Stanford to start a 
self-financed NGO to help children with learning difficulties. 

Driving back to San Francisco on Freeway No. 1, rated as the most beautiful freeway in the US

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Meeting my inspiration

Berkeley, CA -
There are people whom you meet just once, but who leave a huge impression in you. One such people is Reno Taini.

One of the highlights of my trip to the US is meeting up with him again. I met Reno some 12 years back in Bhutan. He was conducting a workshop for teachers in Punakha.

I was blown away by his zeal and energy that I invited him to come on my TV show "Q&A with Dorji Wangchuk". He talked about his works with troubled youth in the Bay area for which he has dedicated his entire life. He invented his famous wilderness program. He also alerted us that the violence among the urban youth in Bhutan (which we are seeing today) was coming and that we should be prepared for it. Unfortunately no one took notice of his words back then. If only…. 

Reno is responsible for my becoming a teacher now. He inspired me to dedicate some time for others - especially the youth; to make the abled ones fire towards their dreams and to work for those who have lost them.

He is an amazing guy. Although he has a PhD and got many offers, he decided to teach in a low-profile public school in Daly City near San Francisco and take care of the "difficult" kids in his town. Reno Taini was honoured by the State of California in 1982 as the State Teacher of the Year. And several times thereafter. He self-financed and created the much-acclaimed Wilderness School which is captured in a fascinating documentary - Reno's Kids (1987). His program inspired me to include it as a sub-plot in my feature film, Nazhoen Chharo (2008). He was also honoured by his alma mater, San Franciso State University to represent them. He helped hundreds of troubled youth to only get back their lives; some even won congressional medals for their services to the community. He was even called upon by the US State Department and the Department of Defence to help the Vietnam and Iraq war veterans. He appeared in countless radio and TV shows and of course in newspapers. He still continues to do so.  

He has again been called by the US federal government to do something about the mental issues that the American youth are facing.

Reno honoured by the State of California on many occasions
He has long retired from the school but not from his convictions and his works. He still talks, and only, about how much there is to do and how many people he could help. He almost goes into tears when I share the few things I did, which is no where near what he did. Still, as a good mentor, he gives me high-five for every small story of success, perseverance and dreams that I have restored for others.

All these years that I have known him, Reno kept inspiring me and encouraging me in whatever I did.

Grazie, Reno, for being an inspiration.

Reno invited me and my friends over for dinner at his farm and had a terrific surprise - a ride on the 
Dodge jeep used during World War II by General George Patton. Reno bought this thing and worked 
on it for 30 years to bring it back to life. What an honour to be riding on the same jeep! When I 
was a kid I saw the film 'Patton' with George Scott and ever since I remained deeply impressed
 by the Gen. Patton.