Jun 25, 2015

Community of Bhutanese Bloggers Conceived

And finally it happened. I must say that it was by far the most attended Bloggers Meet. In the past we had bloggers agree to attend and cancel at the very last minute. But on June 24, 2015 – almost 100% of bloggers, who confirmed came. I would like to thank everyone for keeping his/her words, especially those who had to come all the way from Wangdue or Paro. Thank you!



35 Bhutanese bloggers met in Thimphu. We were honored to have the presence of senior bloggers like Aue Yeshi Dorji and Dasho Sangay Khandu. The meeting assumed more significance because of their presence. Equally, we were happy to have many young bloggers in whom we see so much enthusiasm and potential.



On top of many things that transpired during the Meet, one of the most significant outcomes was the unanimous decision reached to form a formal group of bloggers, a platform aimed at encouraging and inspiring more bloggers around the country. The members decided that we will call it Community of Bhutanese Bloggers (CBB) and will have a working committee to coordinate regular meetups and other activities. For now we formed a committee to draft Constitution and agreed we will collect membership fees to sustain the group.



If things go right, we have many plans lined up. Once we adopt the Constitution (the deadline is July 11, 2015) we will formally appoint or elect people in the core committee consisting of a Secretary General, Treasurer, etc. In the longer run, we are also thinking of instituting Bloggers Award functions wherein we award dedicated bloggers and inspire others. As part of the regular activities, we would also like to host regular talks and panel discussions.



Once again, I would like to thank all bloggers, who came out in big numbers and contributed towards the conception of CBB. I hope it grows into a useful platform that nurtures and encourages the spirit of blogging in Bhutan.



Jun 24, 2015

More counselors to provide meanings to more lives

When we were young boys back in the village our parents would worry that we might fall off trees. This was because climbing trees was one of our favorite activities. To add colors to my mother’s fear, one day I slipped off a tree and fell unconscious. Halfway home I could remember a kind villager carrying me on his back. That scared my mother.

And times are changing. We live in an age confronted by numerous issues that are part and parcel of modernization or globalization. We have children daring to take their own lives. Suicide is parents’ biggest nightmare. Young people need guidance more than ever. That’s why we need to train and have as many trained professionals in our schools.

It is good to know that the Education Ministry is trying to train many teacher counselors. While some teachers bear the dual responsibility of teaching and counselling, some teachers are full time counselors. And especially for bigger schools we need dedicated teachers. Today, student life can really get frustrating.

As a high school student I was about to break down. I saw my future crumpling down before me. I was sinking lower and lower on the self-esteem scale. And at this point I went to my class teacher. I needed something more than her ready advice. That was when I was led to a school counselor, a teacher who was trained for this job. I felt comfortable before him and vented all my problems. As a trained professional my counselor listened to me with rapt attention as if his life depended on it. That had made all the difference. I would like to thank my counselor - wherever he is today - I still think of him and reflect on his advice.

And that’s why I see the need for even more counselors today, who can guide our young misguided youth. I also see the need to promote freelance counselors.

Jun 22, 2015

A Reading Society

Beginning of a new era? 
His Majesty the King of Bhutan has officially declared 2015 as the National Reading Year in the country. It is exciting and an appropriate year to mark Reading Year dedicated to His Majesty the Fourth Druk Gyalpo's 60th Birth Anniversary. And the event has inspired many schools in the country to approach reading from various angles and with numerous innovative activities.

School is a place where we breed reading habit in our children. Some say home is where it begins, but I think school is where it all starts. And therefore, I see teachers playing critical role in cultivating this crucial habit in our children. Importance of reading can never be understated.

Until recently, in Bhutan reading is equated with difficult chores. Some even brand it punishment having to read a book. As a result, not many of us in Bhutan grow up loving to read. At schools students read books under so much pressure instead of seeing it as enjoyable activity. And most teachers do not read themselves. The National Reading Year is expected to change all that forever as students and teachers are inspired to read. If reading becomes a fashion now, we would become a reading society one day when everyone spends time reading books.

Coming from a farming background, I was rather good at reading the signs in the clouds in the sky or the falling tree-leaves or singing cuckoos. I did not develop the habit so easily. It came with so much effort. And even today I still struggle to finish some books that I have started to read. I assume most Bhutanese fall in the same trap. That's not generalization by the way.

Reading Year is timely and comes at a time when social media is sucking our time and energy. People would rather spend time chatting with their friends on Facebook than reading a book. Thus, the National Reading Year would pay us a big dividend.

And good thing is, it is only the beginning of many good things and building blocks to a reading society. I see all schools in the country continuing their wonderful efforts in promoting reading in their schools. They have done great things to encourage their children to read and we hope that they continue with the same level of effort and enthusiasm year after year. We also need support for such activities to flow in from all directions like it is happening now.

Reading is a habit. But more than anything it is an essential skill. And the kind of books an individual reads certainly defines him/her. It is heartening to know that today more and more Bhutanese are becoming avid readers. It is clear from many fora and the sort of discussions that ensue in those groups. 

Jun 19, 2015

The Prize and Price of a Town

The idea of having a town in the first place is to have steady development and progress in that locality. It is also understood that having a municipal authority is to ensure that we have adequate and required facilities and infrastructures in place for those who live and work there. But on the other hand, there is a heavy price that we pay to host a town. 
View of Babesa - Paddy fields playing host to concrete buildings 
If there is a thromde, the residents can expect better services in terms of clean drinking water supply, well maintained roads, improved medical centers staffed with adequate doctors and better telecommunications facilities to name a few. And then there is something called town planning. Planned towns are better run.
A Thromde Road: If this can happen in Thimphu, what about other towns?
Our experiences in the past have us believe that we lose so much to towns. We lose our fertile land. We lose our paddy fields. We lose our thick forest. Losing our fertile land to the developmental work is one thing and then there our goal of food self-sufficiency. Given that our fertile fields are turning into buildings and highways, our need to import food items will only grow. 
Leaking Water pipes: And we claim shortage of water supply?
In this part of the town - this is the capital city by the way - residents face water shortage on a continual basis. Some residents have to carry water from faraway places. And interestingly in some places water is left to flow in the drains. It seems water is sufficient for all in the capital only if we manage it properly. Some residents only get water during certain time of the day and it is inconvenient. Waste management is a serious issue. Public toilets are far and few and poorly managed, if at all.  
This is public toilet that belongs a temple in the heart of the town
Road is another issue here - there are only potholes and pool of water collected everywhere. And when we have many such District and satellite towns more and more farmers would leave their villages in the hope of more comfortable lives. 

Jun 18, 2015

New generation of Bhutanese Entrepreneurs

And until we stop importing so much goods and services from India, we won’t be able to solve Indian Rupee shortage that we face today. Given the small population that we have compared to one of the most populated countries on the planet, it is both a blessing and a curse; blessing because we do not need to import as much, but if our population is big, we would end up importing much more than what we currently do. However, it is curse in that being a small country, we are unable to produce as much as we should to counter huge demand both at home and India.
Do we need to import these stuff?

If we are able to produce at good speed and quality, we have a ready and a big market in India. But this is not so. One thing that impedes this is lack of our capacity to inspire more people to build more industries. And because there are not many production houses, what we produce here is far more expensive than those produced in India. That's why our business houses do not have advantage and the inspiration of producing goods here. In the process, they end up importing more and more of goods that are made in India and cater to Bhutanese markets. That's how the need for Indian rupee heightens.
We can't help without crude oil
So, we need to promote entrepreneurship at all levels. People who dare to start new businesses must be rewarded with government support in building physical infrastructure and tax exemption. The products that they come up with must be given preference in the market. The government of the day, as they are doing already, must continue to support such initiatives and create enough awareness on the need to go local. The government also must explain to our people that it is important to buy our own products. And I am sure at some point we will achieve self-sufficiency - one product at a time.
We need to promote people who dare like this
Other factor that drains our Indian rupee reserve is our heavy dependence on Indian workforce in the construction industry. Bhutan failed to attract its people in what it calls blue-collared jobs. I think we are unsuccessful until now because we are making such jobs menial and low. That is all to do with marketing and branding of such ideas. In the first place, we must not have called it blue-collared jobs. That makes all the difference. 

Youth Innovation 
If their children land up in the so-called blue-collared jobs, parents feel that their children's education until now has been wasted. And these parents have always dreamed that their children would one day go on to become some important officers in the government offices. 
Now in the museum?
One thing that we all should be proud is the new generation of Bhutanese who have entered construction industry. These youth have braved the odd and have gone onto become the builders of our future. They do not fear reputation. At some day in future, we would be able to employ our own people in major projects including hydro-power projects, which until now have used only Indian labor. And we also have young educated Bhutanese opting to become entrepreneurs. 

Likewise in the museum 
Good times are ahead for this country! 

May 26, 2015

The Bank in Your Pocket

     May 15, 2015 marked another milestone in the Bhutanese banking sector. The country's oldest and the biggest bank, Bank of Bhutan launched its Mobile and Agency banking. The Finance Minister, Lyonpo Namgay Dorji presided as the Chief Guest. The launch was attended by the other dignitaries, government officials, media personnel and the partners.   
Picture: Bank of Bhutan (The Chief Guest using app)
     While Bank of Bhutan already had basic Mobile banking, which provided sms alerts (on amount more than 5,000 BTN) on deposits and withdrawals, or do a balance inquiry or view last transactions, the current facility with many modern and additional features. This one comes with a cool app - M-BoB. With the coming of 3G network and better connectivity, more and more people bought smartphone. But that is not all - other customers, who still use basic phones can also avail the services using Unstructured Supplementary Service Data (USSD) - *262#. And where there is no Internet connection, USSD comes in handy even for the smartphone users. 

     According to Bank of Bhutan officials, "the Mobile banking technology shall not only make it easy for the customers to bank anytime and anywhere,"  but it will also promote "cashless transactions" geared towards a cashless society. It will also go a long way in conserving the environment. I hope once all people go Mobile with their banking needs, having to take care of a lot of used recharge vouchers that are scattered everywhere would be a thing of the past. It is said that at least 10% of a country's GDP goes into the cost of printing currency notes and cashless transaction will help reduce the cost of printing notes. 
     Customers now can pay all their bills online (especially if you hate standing in lines), including shopping, hotels, tickets among others. And now we can bank from the comfort of our homes, offices or while on stroll out in the country side. This avoids a lot of hassles where time is equated with money.  

     That is not all - customers also can deposit and withdraw cash, and pay bills with the agents (appointed by the bank in various locations) where there are no bank branches or ATMs. This is expected to promote financial inclusion of the rural farmers, who now remain unbaked.  
Picture: Bank of Bhutan
     And with this cool facility you can send money on mobile numbers and the other person can withdraw using the ATMs or agent.  BoB Charo service is aimed at people, who do not have accounts with Bank of Bhutan, but can use the Mobile and Agency banking services.  

     But the best is yet to come. In the coming weeks and months, the bank plans to introduce language options: English or Dzongkha. Currently, it uses English. It also plans to have a card-less cash withdrawal from ATMs by generating temporary pins on your mobile phones. And most interesting of all, customers will enjoy Near Field Communication (NFC) payment facilities, which will be useful to our taxi drivers. This is exciting time for Bank of Bhutan customers. 


     From the trials and transactions I have done so far, I am quite happy and satisfied. And once I explore this facility fully, I would be able to make better and more critical comments in the coming days and weeks. But for now, I am all praises for the team behind the Mobile banking. I would like to congratulate Bank of Bhutan for going beyond their mandates in bringing out the best for their customers.

Apr 30, 2015

Thimphu Municipal Water Outsourcing

In 2015, Thimphu Thromde decided to outsource city's waste collection to Greener Way, a private firm based in Thimphu. And I must admit that it was one of the best decisions that a Bhutanese authority has ever made. Waste management is serious issue everywhere and Bhutan is no exception. Until Greener Way took over the charge of waste collection in Thimphu, garbage trucks would come by only once a week. Greener Way has doubled the frequency of collection. And now residents segregate dry and organic wastes.  Greener Way also allows office-goers convenient and agreed time for the collection of waste. Mr. Karma Yonten and his team at Greener Way deserve all our praises. 

Now we come to another issue - water. This winter, residents along Babesa-Thimphu Expressway had faced acute shortage of water. In fact there was no water in the tanks and residents had to carry water from far off places. And we expected the situation to improve. But it continued for weeks. We were not provided the reasons as to why we weren't getting. House owners had difficult time talking to and calming their tenants. 

And that was when I realized how urgently we need to look for other alternatives of solving this issue. Once again - in my opinion outsourcing to is right thing to do. In times of problems, people have no one and nowhere to complain, especially when the concerned people are those responsible for it. But we can always demand better services from private firms. Those who are unable to deliver the desired services can be fired; can we do that with the authority? 

Moreover, I think Municipality has much bigger things to do. 

Once water is outsourced, people can expect  and demand an undisturbed clean water supply. At the same time, residents will be willing to pay for water. This way, people will also use it responsibly and more judiciously. 

Another thing that we must do is clean up our water tanks. I think it is long overdue. I can't imagine how much dust, sand, and mud must have gathered in those water reservoirs and tanks. How many times do we clean them? 

Thimphu Thromde should once again lead other municipalities in the country in this. 

Mar 9, 2015

Taming the Monsters


Finally my wife is demonstrating some keenness and motivation to learn to drive. She has realized its importance and understood that learning to drive is not only useful, but it is must in today's city life. 

And that's why she has expressed her interest to join driving schools in Thimphu. This makes my work much easier because I came to the conclusion from others' conclusions that letting your spouses get trained at driving schools is the best option. Some people cautioned me that if one wants to fight his wife then he needs to try teaching her how to drive. And I don't want that to happen. 

Driving is so much like love-making that it comes so easy to the experienced, but very difficult to teach someone. In that sense driving institutes do better job. I do not want to screw my good relationship, which has been nurtured over a long time just over a driving lesson.

But the humor aside, yes I am enrolling her in a driving school. And the hunt has started. And look what one of my searches had given me. This is the monster with which some of the trainees had to deal with. I wonder how many drivers this monster would have produced!

Driving is both pleasurable and risky task. It takes you to different places, including the death. It is a sacred experience and one has to learn it with great devotion and determination. 


I think the authorities need to monitor the quality of cars used at the driving schools and people who train the aspiring drivers. 

Can anyone with a driving license and some old used Maruti 800 open driving schools? People should look beyond money. This is not a business in the strict sense of the term. Making money comes in the process, but that should be the byproduct of the services that they offer. 

People who open driving institute should invest in better facilities and provide their customers satisfactory services. I have heard from friends how the car that they were learning to drive in would suddenly break down in the middle of the road and they would end up pushing it all the way to the workshop and classes would be cancelled until that car is back on the road. She has quit her lessons. 

But my wife still needs to learn how to drive. 



Feb 9, 2015

Why is kerosene dearer than our security?

People line up for their share of coupons
This weekend my family had to pay a hefty price for my complacency. They braved two cold winter mornings and evenings without a warm heater. It was difficult for the electric heaters to maintain the same warmth that the Korean kerosene heaters provide. But without crude oil, our heater stood in the middle of the living room, idle. We could not buy it from the Bhutan Oil Distributors (BOD) as we had no coupon. I forgot to collect it from the Trade Office and no amount of search paid any dividend.  

Almost there
This is interesting. In Bhutan we cannot buy kerosene like other commodities. Petrol and other fuels are much easier to purchase. I have seen people at the fuel stations buying petrol or diesel and taking them in their jerry cans. When it comes to kerosene, the authorities go strict and monitor everything. At least they seem to do so. Kerosene is the domain of the poor people like us. The richer lots have no use for this third-grade crude oil. And that's why we have people going wild. But do we even care how much people use other fuels? Who limits the quantity of fuel a car can burn? 

Each person is limited to 50 liters of kerosene a month, during the cold months. He/she gets only 10 during the warmer months. 

Now, let's delve into this issue a little further. To avail kerosene coupons, one has to go to the Trade Office and wait in line. Waiting is become the norm of the day now and no one seems to mind it anymore. Earlier, the Trade officials gave us 5 coupons of 10 liters each (for 50 liters). But now (I do not understand why - maybe for economic reasons) they give only one 50-liter coupon. This is good, but mostly bad. Good, because now one has to take care of only one document. But here is the crux of the matter - when we go to buy our 'quota' of kerosene, we need to part with the 50-liter coupon, irrespective of quantity we like to purchase. For example, if I buy only 30 liters (for storage and related reasons), I am forced to forego my remaining 20 liters. And here I see some a major problem, which is beyond the scope of this piece.    

We live in a digital era and most of the things happen online. And I feel kerosene coupon/quota is something that can be handled easily online. When the government can afford to issue Security Clearance (NOC) online, what is a kerosene coupon? Is kerosene more important than the issuance of NOC? This year, RRCO has extended their trust to the taxpayers by allowing the people to file taxes online. 

Allow a citizen to avail his coupon online - he may not need 50 liters at once. And accordingly allow him to customize the quantity he requires. We can always put a cap at 50 liters. That way we can avoid giving out 50-liter coupon when we actually collect only 25 liters. 

We have no objections with the way the distribution is done right now. Just provide us online, hassle-free and efficient service. 

Jan 31, 2015

Thank You - I can understand Dzongkha

This is my first blog post of 2015. Happy New Year and welcome back to another year filled with excitements and exhilaration.

I voiced this concern on the social media, but I would like to do it here again. Our policy is to promote our national language and everyone talks about it on the television and on radios.

But until now, in my opinion, it has been more of a lip service. I am not sure if that is a correct term, but I am using it anyway. You see, those people who are responsible and are paid to say that on the national TV say so only because they are mandated to say so. But once they are at home, they turn into a chilip and talk to their children in English. We can’t blame them. They are just doing the right thing by making their children’s future brighter by perfecting their English proficiency, because in real Bhutan, English proficiency, especially speaking is prized over anything.

At selection interviews, if a candidate speaks fluent English then the panel is almost moved to tears and thinks it has discovered some mysterious islands in the Himalayas. And then we stress (again lip service mostly) importance of our national language. I don’t doubt its importance. But sometimes I certainly doubt if people really mean what they say in the public. Of course I am not discounting what some pioneers are doing to promote Dzongkha. I salute such individuals. Dasho Sherab Gyeltshen, the former Secretary of DDC, is one such people, who deserve our praises.

I have been thinking about this for a long time now. Mobile operators in Bhutan use English followed by Dzongkha in their automatic responses. I think they provide services to the Bhutanese and not foreigners. For example, when someone does not respond to your call or is out of service, the first automatic response we get is recorded in English. And the saddest story is this - people who understand English hardly wait for the Dzongkha version of the message. They cut if off; any sane person would do that. But people who do not understand a word of English, especially in rural villages have to wait until they get it.

I am not sure if this would cost anything at all – to reverse their automatic responses – to the telecom companies. But it would certainly mean a lot to the promotion of our national language. Otherwise, how can we promote it? 

Recently, someone wrote on the social media that our laws are first drafted in English and then translated into Dzongkha. These laws are then interpreted in Dzongkha, mostly referring English versions but they maintain “Dzongkha text shall be the authoritative text, if there exists any difference in meaning between the Dzongkha and the English text.”

But I wonder if we have enough words or equivalent terms to match what is been encrypted in English. But that is for another day!  




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