May 19, 2014

Drumnyen (སྒྲ་སྙན) Drill

Drumnyen is a seven-stringed traditional Bhutanese musical instrument. And although it is used less frequently today Drumnyens were very popular when we were young. We would watch with rapt attention filled with envy as our older friends strummed the instrument and sang along. Those days still linger in my memory. 

Recently, I was gifted a small Drumnyen by an acquaintance and I started learning to play the instrument. But as I was trying to fine tune the strings, one of the strings gave way to my strong stupidity. And without the shortest string on my Drumnyen, it was unable to produce some critical notes. The search for string took more time than getting the Drumnyen to my house. 

I literally scanned the whole Thimphu City to look out for a string replacement. From one shop to another, I hopped with my wife following me patiently without complaining. I am thankful for her admiral patience. After sometime I was running out of my supposedly calculated patience. But I kept on getting directions to a shop that might sell the strings only to be redirected to another and another and another. 

Ap Dawpel's Dramnyen: bhutanmusic.blogspot.com
The strings that are used by Drumnyen are the same strings that are used as the fishing-lines. And at every shop I had to ask if they have fishing-line. Everywhere people thought I was bound for some kind of fishing excursion. At a grocery store (that's where I was directed from another shop), a lady shopkeeper thought I was trying to make fun of her and casually responded, without even looking at me, "རོག་ན་ཆོས་འབད་ས་ལུ་་་་ཉ་གཟུང་ནི་གི་བློ་སླབ་དེ།," (roughly something like "where we practice Buddha Dharma, you are talking of fishing). Only when I said I needed the string for my Drumnyen, she looked up at me and politely said she does not deal with the strings. Then I thought I need to change my tactics and instead decided to ask for guitar strings only to realize that I needed fishing-lines and not the actual guitar strings. 

It was an embarrassing shopping moment in Thimphu! 

And I found the string when I was about to give up - at an unexpected shop! But now I know where to get them without all these hassles and embarrassment!

P.S: I have no serious issues to post today and I am posting this one for the sheer laughter's sake. 


May 13, 2014

Do I need a native English Accent?

From: http://funny-pics-fun.com/
I had the privilege of leading a group of foreigners to the office of a tourist company. I am not a tourist guide and neither do I run a company. And the people I escorted were not tourists either. My guests wanted to learn about ecotourism and how it works. 

We were supposed to meet the ‘high level’ contact; instead a ‘former’ tourist guide, who now runs the office, greeted us. He was extremely polite – before we could sit down, had ordered tea, juice or water for us.

I introduced my guests to the man and briefed him the purpose of the visit. After apologizing on his boss’ behalf, the man started talking. I was surprised by the things he was saying and the passion with which he was trying to convince us. That is good. But the moment he opened his mouth, I felt like being shown in front of a large crowd, naked. Certainly, he didn’t feel that. 

He sounded like an American or was he trying to sound like one? And at some point of the conversation his accent became artificial.  In his thick artificial accent, the man told my guests how his tourism company makes efforts in curbing the waste issues on the trekking routes by advising the visitors not to dump garbage carelessly. We listened to him talk about the whole tourism policy in Bhutan and how that is helping the nation sustain its environment.

At a separate incidence at Paro Tshechu this year, I accidentally ran into an old schoolmate. But that is just to say that I saw him leading a group of tourists. Back then he was known to be a very shy and reserved person. He proved me otherwise – here’s a confident young man leading a pack of foreigners, who are eager and curious to know about almost everything including a small piece of mural painting on the wall. And lo, he too had mastered the artificial accent.

I am wondering – in order to communicate and communicate well with the foreigners, do we really need to have a native accent?

Don’t the foreigners understand the way we speak English?

Or do we really need to cultivate artificial accent?


Apr 29, 2014

An alternative solution to Babesa Sewage

From: The Journalist 27.04.2014
Recently, I shifted my family a little closer to Thimphu city from where I used to stay. The new place is an excellent location and in a good neighborhood. It now plays host to the corporate office of a bank, many automobile showrooms and some schools. But Babesa has an issue - it is an old issue at that. As I write this a gust of wind is blowing through my windows carrying with with the famous Babesa scent!  

When I passed by that area, years ago, I must admit that the odor was beyond toleration point. Today it has become friendlier - we only get some occasional doses when the wind blows or hot sun shines. We were informed that the Thromde officials are treating with some chemicals. But one should understand - nothing can stop the smell. Years ago, when these tanks were dug out, we were also told, that the officials assured the residents that these tanks would be fully covered and promised no foul odor. And years later residents are still complaining and whining.  

Back then, the area did not fall on the highway. It was paddy fields and farms. There was no plan of the highway - so called Expressway - and its coming turned agriculture activities in that area into a thing of the past. And today the highway goes through that place, uncountable buildings have come up. 

It is encouraging to know that the officials are concerned, too. They should be. And we all are. We need ideas to solve this problem. I was thinking about it for a long time now and even blogged it in jest. Can't we turn our waste into wealth? And I see a company in the UK that turns "human waste" into cooking gas. Instead of putting the money provided by ADB into building another set of sewage tanks (like the ones we have Babesa stretch), can't we think of installing such device that would turn human waste into wealth? I am sure it will cost us fortunes, but I think it would be worth exploring it. 

Apr 16, 2014

Teaching man how to fish

An old Chinese proverb goes:  
Give man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach man how to fish and you feed him for a lifetime. 
Teaching kids ABC - this way?
With the coming of modernization our everyday and simple lives have suddenly become confusing and often complex. From operating mobile phones to taking pictures to driving cars to listening to music, our lives are no more same. Ever. And that is when we need to run to the experts. More so with the brewing complexities. And time is precious they say. We have to do everything in less time. That calls faster learning. Or else we will be left out of the mad race. Isn't it?  

Recently, I realized this while visiting one of the mobile service providers because I was asked to come there with my gadgets. The man at the counter looked at me and asked what was wrong with my phone. Faithfully, I explained the problem like I would do to a physician. He took the phone from me and did something, which I had no idea of. And in no time the guy handed the phone back to me. I couldn't believe what transpired before us. I checked if it was working. It was working! A little embarrassed I walked out. Not sure if some customers thought what an idiot I was!  

The man at the counter fed me a fish that day and certainly didn't teach me how to fish. Of course being a vegetarian, I feel uncomfortable using this fishing analogy, but I can't help it. If he taught me how to do it, I would not have bothered him again. But I had to visit him again, a few months later with the same issue. And I am not sure how many trips I would have to make there. 

I don't know how it works, but I personally feel that people behind the counters should make efforts to teach their customers and pass on their knowledge. After all we are talking about their services, which they only understand the best. And moreover I don't find how sharing such knowledge with their customers would ever reduce their income. I certainly do not see how it would affect their livelihood either. I only see them finding more time for more important work. I'll completely understand if it is something to do with their trade secrets! 

Maybe it is time that our service providers engage their customers instead of continuing to feed them fish. 

On a separate note - my friend and I visited a service counter in town (very) recently. Again because we were asked to visit it. But no one in the room could fix our issue - because the only person (the ONLY person) was on leave. That was quite something!    


Jan 11, 2014

Igniting Confidence in Young Girls

Tshering reading at the Center
Tshering Yangzom is a 16-year-old tenth grade student at Ura Middle Secondary School. Second eldest of seven siblings, Tshering was born in Shingkhar Village, which is located about seven kilometers from Ura. Tshering’s father works as one of the cooks at Ura Middle Secondary School and her mother is a housewife.

Initially, Tshering was an introvert and shy student. “I did not interact with my friends much before because I was so shy,” says Tshering. “But I kept on visiting library (Ura READ Center) every time I had free time and read books, and learnt to use computers.”

Tshering Yangzom also took part in the trainings and workshops at the Ura READ Center. She participated in leadership training, art therapy and good governance. “I learnt a lot from these trainings,” says Tshering. “I feel more confident now and understand a lot about the importance of decision-making, leadership and confidence building.”

Tshering now wants to help other girls in the community by forming a girls group at the Center and work closely with the volunteers to conduct activities for youth during winter holidays. The group also plans to educate young children in the community about democracy and leadership.


Starting March 2013, READ Bhutan launched its women’s leadership program: Women Represent: Boosting Women’s Participation in the Public Sphere, which was awarded Global prize by Beyond Access in Civic Participation category. The project aims to educate and inform women and girls on the need to become active participants in roles ranging from politics to everyday social life. As part of the project, we have conducted a series of empowerment activities including leadership trainings, media advocacy, seminars and consultative works to boost women’s confidence to participate in the public affairs.  

Jan 9, 2014

Aum Selden's New Year Gift

36-year-old Aum Selden is a mother of four and lives with her family at Changjiji Housing Complex in Thimphu. Her husband is a driver in the government department and the family sends three of their children to school. Originally from Trashigang Dzongkhag, in eastern Bhutan, Aum Selden could not go to school; instead the young girl ended up helping her parents on the farm.

Aum Selden in one of the health classes
“It was difficult getting around without the help of friends who could read the signs or help me fill up the forms,” says Aum Selden. “I could not even use my mobile phone. Being illiterate is like being a blind person. We always had to depend on others to show us the way and help us around.”

In April 2013, a group of community women came to the Model Center, Changjiji expressing their interest to learn Basic English and accordingly in response to the women’s interest, the two center coordinators started Basic English classes to a group of 20 community women. Aum Selden did not want to miss the opportunity the second time.

The classes were conducted for two hours four times a week. “Women took keen interest in the classes and this was driven by their need and urgency to possess Basic English skills,” says Dorji Wangchuk, one of the coordinators. “It was great experience teaching them.”

For Selden, attending English classes at the Center was great opportunity. On top of learning English she also had the opportunity to attend weekly women’s health training along with other community women. She brings her two-year-old daughter with her to the literacy and health classes.

Today, Aum Selden can not only operate her mobile phone, but also send text messages to her literate friends. She can also communicate in English and independently fill up forms while visiting the banks. “I feel proud of myself,” Aum Selden smiles. With confidence, she also took part in a quiz competition organized by Ministry of Health during the International Breastfeeding Week.

Congratulations Aum Selden! This is a story of a woman who braved the odds and succeeded in being inspiration and role model for other community women. This is a story of READ Bhutan and its drive to provide people with access to information and life-long learning!

Oct 1, 2013

How much does it take to ignite your luck?

Courtesy: Bhutan Telecom
Bhutan Telecom is conducting its lucky draw again. This time it’s to commemorate 50 years of Bhutan Telecom since its inception. The prizes range from iPhone 5 to iPad 4, Samsung Galaxy S4 and cash. There will be a total of 33 prizes in total. This sounds interesting! We all should give a try. The voting lines will remain open starting today (October 1) till December 15, 2013.

Anyone, who owns a mobile phone, can participate. Each time you vote, B-Mobile will deduct Nu.5 from your balance. It makes sense too – Nu. 5! But the terms and conditions continue;
  •  Each lucky draw number is entitled to one (1) prize only; no number(s) shall win more than one prize
Okay that makes sense! But it goes further: 
  • Customers sending more number of SMSs will have higher chances of winning
 Now that is where I find it confusing. That’s where most of the lucky draws, reality shows included, become messy. We understand it is business and marketing strategy, but a person might end up voting worth more than iPhone 5. That confuses me. What is the point of voting if one can buy it in the first place? I think only one vote should be allowed per number. That way every number – for BT says one number will get only one prize – that's fair chance of winning. If one number can win more than one prize, then it makes sense to vote many times - countless times.

According to National Statistical Bureau (NSB), a total of 479,517 Bhutanese subscribed to cellular phones by the end of 2011. And B-Mobile alone has a staggering figure of 3, 83,089 subscribers. Now assuming that 70% of its customers take part in the lucky draw, Bhutan Telecom would earn a substantial revenue (Nu. 1,436,584?). And this is only from one vote per customer.

This is why I find “Customers sending more number of SMS will have higher chances of winning” clause confusing. Bhutan’s economy is certainly not in its best shape we were told. And I find this a little off beat. 

But I will certainly send as an sms BT 50 to 1963 and stand a chance to be lucky! 

Sep 19, 2013

These Mandatory "Vestigial" Documents

Back in our high school biology classes we were taught that “vestigial organs” – or as Charles Darwin called them “rudimentary organs” are nothing but those organs that have lost their functions in the  due course of evolution. According to Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, “The concept of vestigially applies to genetically determined structures or attributes that have apparently lost most or all of their ancestral function in a given species…. emergence of vestigially occurs by normal evolutionary processes, typically by loss of function of a feature that is no longer subject to positive selection pressures when it loses its value in a changing environment.”

It seems that these “structures” did have some functions in the past. But the word here is “loss of function” or loss of their “values” due to “changing environment”. I like this definition. This only means that those things that have no value or create values are basically “useless” and that they must be done away with. Of course this disposal theory does not work all the time. There are instances where old is valued more than the new. And as “environment” changes many things that carried significant value and meaning are no more. I call them “vestigial” acts. It is shown that we waste a lot of energy in having to fulfill these “meaningless” acts. Bhutan has come a long way today. And owing to Bhutan’s “changing environment” many things, good and bad, are upon us. Even in terms of service delivery, we have leapfrogged.
Typical vacancy announcement in Bhutan

Thanks to government’s G2C (Government to Citizens) initiatives, today security clearances, which are mandatory to have all the time, can be obtained literally within 24 hours or less. Back then it was a great hassle and often took weeks to process. No need to mention time wasted in the process. Today that hassle is no more. One can easily apply for security clearance and conveniently online. And one can easily check the status of the clearance online. However, even when we have a system that can faithfully verify the status of security clearance online by punching one’s identity card numbers, most organizations still demand from the candidates applying for the jobs to have printed copies of security clearance, which is approved online. I find this totally “unnecessary” and hence “vestigial” act. People who demand will have hundred and one justifications, I know.

The mandatory-useless document 
The second vestigial document in Bhutan I find is that of Medical Fitness Certificate. What do we achieve by this? Nothing. Of course it makes sense if someone is in for some military training. After all doctors in the hospital are too burdened and at the end just to fulfill the requirement they issue the documents without even checking our pulses or heartbeats. Medical Certificates are issued merely for the sake of issuing them. Again, I know, people demanding such documents, will cite hundred and one reasons.

The third one is that of having to produce photocopies of our citizenship identity cards. I find this meaningless again because we have the numbers provided and everything is decoded in that set of numbers. Photocopying is a sheer waste of resources and unnecessary hassle to the applicants. I wonder how much those seeking jobs would have spent on Xerox.

And finally times have changed. This is shown by companies mandating people applying for the posts such as security guards, sweepers, gardeners and drivers to submit their résumé or CVs along with their applications. I see them all the time and it sounds utterly funny to me. How does the résumé of a security guard or for that matter sweeper or gardener look like?


There are many such acts, but are beyond the scope of this piece.