Nov 23, 2016

Can we build energy-efficient houses?

Before we know it, it is winter again! Almost! 

And like all winters this winter will be unforgivingly cold. Of course, some people think winter cold is far less severe than the extreme summer heat the likes of which you experience in Phuentsholing or Gelephu. The reason they give is that while you can dress in cool and warm clothes in winter to beat the cold, the summer heat has almost no solution. Being naked does not help. Fair argument, I must say, but some people who can afford air conditioners in their homes might argue that the answer to the summer heat is in installing the equipment. 

But I think the answers to both the extreme summer heat and unbearable winter cold rest with the energy efficiency of the buildings we live in. 

Rooms in some of our apartments are unusually tall that in order to change a fused electric bulb requires you to literally climb onto two or three tall tables stacked onto each other. It takes three to four solid men or women to hold these tables in place; otherwise, the one who is changing the bulbs will stumble down. I don't understand why would anyone build such a high storeyed building. But more than anything, in winters it requires so much more heat to warm up our rooms.Then there are cracks and holes (new buildings included) of various sizes and shapes. Beneath the doors and in between the windows. These gaps allow free flow of air simply defeating the purpose of using heaters.  

But come on, winter days are not as cold as we claim as the sun matures and rises higher in the sky. That is, if we go outside there is so much warmth. Yet it is as if our offices and houses are laid with thick sheets of ice; therefore, the need to turn on our heaters full on. That costs us money. The sad story is we fail to tap sun's free and generous heat. If we take the advantage of the warmth outside do we need to fear the cold? 

Why do house owners rush and gather tenants before their buildings are completed? Can they take some time and ensure there are no cracks in their buildings? Is it possible to build energy efficient apartments in Thimphu? This is where residents are able to adjust room temperatures on their own. This would mean bigger investments on the house owners but the tenants would be willing to pay propertionate rent. After all, it means an end to all the hassles like buying heaters, applying for kerosene coupons at the trade offices and collecting oil from the depots. 

Only if our apartments are carefully built and built well. Only if these buildings are energy efficient and equipped with the abilties to tap sun's heat especially in cold winter months! 

NB: 
1. First two pictures are from http://www.ihavethewanders.com 
2. The third one is from http://www.building.co.uk/ 

Oct 31, 2016

That in Other Words

Rural-urban migration is a good indicator of many things gone wrong. People just do not leave their ancestral homes without solid reasons. 

In Bhutan there is an old proverb, which goes rang yue zampai woglu inru ga (རང་གཡུས་ཟམ་པའི་འོག་ལུ་ཨིན་རུང་དགའ།) – one would love his/her village even if it is located under a bridge. And that says a lot. People just don’t abandon their homes without concrete reasons! 

And some of us blame these people as if most we are born and bred here altogether. I think when people make that big move of abandoning their ancestral homes and leave for cities, they will have thought a lot about it. People just don’t leave their homes! 

My grandmother, after spending many years in the city, with her sons, and daughters and grandchildren, two years ago, decided to go home in the village. That is where her heart really is although half her children and almost all her grandchildren are in the city! 

That goes to show how most of us are here in this so-called towns with no choice.


A field free of wild animals would mean the farmers would be able to harvest all that they have grown and reap the benefit of their hard work. On top of being able to feed their families, they would also be able to earn additional income from the sale of their surpluses. But this is not so. As if wild animals have a stake in the farmers' crops, they come in time and eat and plunder everything grown in the fields. Where is the hard work? What is the use of feeding wild animals?  

So, you see, people leave their villages for reasons! 

Today, in some pockets of rural Bhutan, farmers are provided with electric fencing. I find that as one of the most effective solutions to solve the problems of crop predation by wild animals in our rural villages. Electric fencing powered by solar will help a great deal in fighting this menace. And just like the farmers, animals would thrive in their rightful places. 

That's one of the many solutions to curb the menace called Rural-Urban migration. 

Note: Pictures by my former classmate Tshering Tobgay, Teacher at Shingkhar Primary School, Zhemgang

Oct 26, 2016

We need Potholes Org

This is in continuation of my previous post where I mention that with the onset of winter the potholes on some sections of our roads "are finally giving us true pictures of how deep they are as the water in them dry up." 

Like the dust in the air, potholes are undesirable; they are nightmares for the drivers, fatal for the cars and spell danger for the pedestrians. I say dangerous because there are chances that drivers might lose control of their engines while trying to avoid these potholes and such incidences would lead to loss of human lives. 

We all know that the Department of Road (DOR) is doing an excellent job in building our roads. And the magnitude of the work they are executing everywhere, even as I type these lines, is truly impressive. Thank you, DOR for that. 

And potholes, I believe, are like wounds on a human body. If we take care of wounds from the beginning and treat them with care, they heal in time. Such wounds, when healed, leave no visible scars on our skins. Same is true with potholes. 

More potholes mean more resources are required to fix them. Because most of the time we tend to fix the potholes only when the holes are large enough to accomodate an elephant. Do we need to wait until such time to fix them? Can we save nine stitches with just one? 

That's why we need a new Department or an NGO that has the sole mandate to fix the potholes. We may call Potholes-fixing Department or simply Potholes Org. I think that will solve half our road problems. 

This will also allow DOR officials to focus on building quality roads and not lose time in fixing the potholes. A team from Potholes Org. maybe tasked to assess the road conditions and identify potholes. And then the other team will follow the asseeement team at the identified sites to fix them with the adequate tools and resources. That way, in the shortest possible time, we will have our potholes fixed as soon as they start to form on our roads. We will save millions by fixing them before they form big pits that eat our small resources. Potholes Org. will require a team of highly committed people. 

But whether we start Potholes Org or not, the point is, all of us need to do our bits; let's not wait for the officials to fix small potholes that are beginning to form in front of our apartments or parking lots. Organizations can only do so much! 

Oct 25, 2016

What's "Blowin' in the Wind"?

It's been a long and unforgivingly wet summer! Now, our wet roads are drying up. Our swollen rivers are subsiding. Our muddy footpaths are solidifying. Potholes are finally giving us true pictures of how deep they are as the water in them dry up. 

And our biggest fear now is the rising level of air pollution. 

Winter scares me for it brings more than cold weather; it scatters plenty of dust and pollution in the air. Why do we have so much dust in Thimphu? I think dust is in the air mostly because of so many construction sites. They dump the unrequired mud everywhere. Sands, gravels, and cement are left in the open air. While we may not be able to stop people building houses, don't you think we need stricter (assuming we have one at the moment) rules on this? 

Because we cannot see it with our eyes, we believe we live in a place devoid of pollution. At Babesa, for instance, due to numerous construction projects, our clean verandahs are laden with dust in the evenings. 

Another negative impact of construction is on our roads. The roads leading to our places are severely damaged along the construction sites and some constructions prolong for many years. I don't know whose responsibility it is to mend the damaged roads. Building owners or the Thromde? But from these damaged roads, as windy winter matures, a thick cloud of dust will blow in the Thimphu wind. 

You wash your car in the morning and half an hour later, it is loaded with dust. And that makes me think washing our cars is useless. The level of dust that our cars gather speaks volumes of the level of pollution.   

My friends, who have visited Singapore in the past, tell me how their shoes remain dust-free and clean, even after walking for hours through the streets. I have never been to that country, but can Thimphu become like Singapore in that aspect? 

I understand it will take time and effort to change things, but it has to start somewhere. Yes, Thimphu can become one of the cleanest cities in the world. We can do that. And that journey has to start now. An African proverb says, "The best time to plant a tree is twenty years ago. The second best time is now." 

Planting trees and green grasses in every empty and available space in the city (both on public and private land) is one option to fight the dust. 

Let's all put in our share of efforts in making Thimphu, a pollution-free city. 

Sep 30, 2016

Second LG Elections 2016

A resounding success. Everyone agrees. Congratulations to the Election Commission of Bhutan (ECB) and all the hard working people behind the Second Local Government Election. Being able to select local leaders in 205 gewogs and some 1200 plus chiwogs is no small feat and yet ECB had done it with great efficiency. Kudos once again!

And another interesting feature of this year LG elections is that we managed to rope in more women candidates. By the same token, we also have more women Gups, Mangmis and tshogpas everywhere.  All this goes to show that we are slowly gaining more confidence in women leadership. Now it is for us to sustain that development in Parliamentary elections as well. We need more women everywhere. 

It is also equally encouraging to learn that this time, we had fewer issues reported. There were not many complaints from the polling booths and we have not heard of violations of rules by the candidates, which also demonstrates people's increased understanding of policies and other nuances related to elections. Thanks to ECB's nationwide awareness programs. 

A small suggestion (maybe) for future elections. 

Voters Photo Identity Card (VPIC) is another name for Citizenship Identity (CID) card. The only difference I was told is that all VPIC holders will have CID cards, but not all CID holders will have VPICs. This means, those who are ineligible to vote are not eligible for VPICs. For instance, monastic community is ineligible for voting. I think for future elections, ECB should not invest on printing VPICs and instead, voters should be able to vote with their CID cards. The electoral roll (which is a big register of eligible voters) will be sufficient to determine if a particular person can or cannot vote for a particular election. That way we can solve the issue of people carrying or not carrying or forgetting to collect or losing their VPICs at the time of elections. 

And finally, instead of having civil servants on election duties, can we trust the same responsibility on our young people and unemployed graduates? 

Note: Pictures are from ECB FB Page

Aug 29, 2016

Driving with a 'Horn'

A certain senior Bhutanese government official, we were told, was on a state visit to a neighboring country. It was also his first visit to India. And back in those days traveling that far was really far from one’s home and our way of life. The official could only read Dzongkha and not English or Hindi. He could not read those fancy messages that big trucks carried on them as they were driving from the airport to the hotel.

Unable to decode anything, the official asked his driver, “What is written on that?” pointing to a truck in front of them. 

“It says phir milinge in Hindi and it means See you again,” his driver explained. And then as they continued their journey they spotted another truck carrying, this time, an assortment of different alphabets. 

“So what does that say?” the official asked, curious again. 
“It says ‘Blow Horn’ in English,” the driver told him but had no time to explain what it meant.

Once the meeting was over, the Prime Minister and his ministers were biding their important guest goodbye by shaking hands and saying, phir milingephir milinge.

But they could hardly understand why their guest kept on repeating, “Blow horn, blow horn… blow horn.”
~~~
Some of us drive with our ‘horns’.

By nature, Bhutanese are kindhearted people. But again, we form a group of most impatient people on earth. We complain having to wait at the hospitals, banks, ATM queues, bus stations, roadblocks, traffic jams, wang ceremony or receiving an important official. The culture of waiting is yet to be developed and ingrained in our genes.  

Traffic regulations say drivers are to avoid honking near the Dzongs, schools, institutions and hospitals premises. And now maybe we should designate a few more places where honking should be avoided - in the deep forests for it pushes away wild animals from their settings. Honking disturbs the sick in the hospitals and students in the process of learning.

Is there any other alternative to blowing horns? And maybe we might need to demand the authorities some form of policies on this and find some kind of alternatives to this nuisance. If we could afford to ban so many things in the country, we can for sure afford to do away with honking in the towns and cities.

Let’s do away with our ‘horns’ irrespective of the time of day for everyone deserves to sleep in peace, drive home happy or smile in the office all day long. And every pedestrian deserves to walk home without being honked at.

P.S - A section from an Opinion piece published in Business Bhutan

Jul 28, 2016

CBB Magazine in the offing

We had this idea since the conception of Community of Bhutanese Bloggers (CBB) a year ago. But we failed to breathe life into it so far. I am really happy that we got an opportunity to talk about Annual CBB Magazine (finally) during the recent Bhutanese Bloggers Meet. 

A Committee is working on this. We are currently in the process of selecting the articles from the members' blogs. We are also encouraging the fellow Bloggers to help us identify what they feel is their best blog entries. 

The birth of Gyalsey is one of the most important themes of our first CBB magazine and the equally important is the celebration of the fifth Royal Weeding Anniversary of His Majesty the King and Her Majesty the Gyaltsun. 

We will also be exploring "Blogging" in Bhutan in this maiden issue. 

Unlike other magazines, we have the content ready on our blogs; we just need to do a careful selection of our blog entries. We also have bloggers, who can design magazines and have an excellent collection of photographs. But most important of all, our fellow bloggers have a great connection with other people. That's why we feel it will help us garner some support from the business establishments. 

As requested, we would like to once again request fellow CBB members and other bloggers to kindly help us identify blog posts that fit the above-mentioned themes. You can share links to CBB Group or simply email us. We seek your wholehearted support in this. 

Thank you!

Thriving Middlemen

Just like any other Bhutanese, I too feel helpless at this time of national crisis. Bhutan is battling with the forces of nature. And in the last few days, it is been hectic. I join the Bhutanese people in thanking our His Majesty for personally leading and monitoring the rescue work and demonstrating exemplary leadership. 

We are also thankful and appreciative of Prime Minister's role in all these. 

We were told that the trucks carrying fuel are on their way to the capital today. It is a great relief and highly reassuring to all Bhutanese to know this. I pray and hope that this is the end of our ordeals. Thimphu finally saw some sunshine today (Thursday, July 28) . 

This year's Monsoon brings us more than natural disasters. It was a window through which we saw many dark possibilities and drive home some lessons. We have seen our people line up to refuel their cars in the middle of the night, blocking traffic. We have also heard of taxi drivers charging exorbitant fares to the hapless Bhutanese students on their way to India. 

But more interestingly, on July 21 Bhutan Agriculture and Food Regulatory Authority announced a temporary ban on the import of chilies from India. While I agree that we have to take up this as an opportunity to grow and grow more on our own, it is depressing to note that some people are taking the advantage of the ban on chilies to unreasonably hike the prices of local produce. We were told that in some places it has risen from Nu. 40 a kilo to 150. That's pure robbery. We should stop this. Recently, Royal Bhutan Police penalized some taxi drivers, who charged their passengers illogically high fares. Likewise, the concerned authorities should monitor food prices. Imagine what happened if fuel price is not monitored?   

I think that farmers in the villages, who worked hard on their farms, would never know about the ban on the import of chilies. And for the same reasons they would not charge extra. But it is the middlemen involved who take the stock of the market situation to make big money. In all these, it is the middlemen, who benefit and not the actual farmers. 

Therefore, there is an urgent need to protect our farmers from these so-called middlemen, who thrive on the hard work of our humble farmers. 

Jun 22, 2016

Narrowing the Danger Zone

Our fellow blogger Riku Dhan Subba, who recently traveled to Trongsa, reports, "The road condition is very very bad. Muddy and slippery, all vehicles skid along." And he adds "Often, there are falling boulders and soil from right above the road. Since road widening project is going on, most cliffs are freshly cut and very fragile." 

This made me go through my old files to find something I had written about Monsoon and our road widening, way back in August 2011. Nothing much has changed even now.  

There were about two-dozen vehicles, big and small, ahead of us, all waiting for any likely help. The officials and laborers had gone home after yet another tiring day at work. I am sure the team did not even enter through the threshold of their houses when this happened. Once again and on the same location! Now they were totally exhausted. And with that, our hope of crossing the site on the same day was gradually dying. As the clouds were darkening our worries of being stranded on the highway that night, stuck us dear. Heavy boulders kept shooting down the cliff. It was one dangerous site on the highway.

“We never had such problem on this stretch before,” one of the senior drivers was saying, not to anyone in particular. “Although it was quite narrow, the road here was quite stable and we never had landslide here. It is only after the road widening works have started that the condition of this road has become like this.”

Others could not help agreeing with the man. 

But after a while, someone had informed the traffic police and RSTA officials about the major landslide, which had totally blocked the road. And to our surprise, officials responded immediately and reached the scene. We were delighted knowing that some form of help was coming our way. But in the back of our head, we still doubted whether the block could be negotiated on time or else we would end up spending a sleepless night on the road. I am sure our prayers were heard in the heaven. 

And similarly, there were so many other vehicles wishing for the same at the other end of the block. 

Having a bus full of people was an added advantage. Understanding our plight, the road officials wasted no time before they took the matter into their hands. It was a gradual process though for as soon as machines had successfully cleared the debris, fresh boulders and stones fell off. It was a hectic process. When the officials had cleared the obstacles successfully we were greatly relieved. But bigger and riskier challenge remained before us; now to cross the block site as rocks continually kept shooting from above. Anything could happen. 

One car after another, officials directed the traffic. Vehicles before us passed without any event, but to our horror, the officials gestured us to stop when our turn came. Their eyes were looking at the rocks above the road. We could literally see nothing since there was a sharp bend before we reach the actual site. We were terrified. We knew something was wrong. If we didn’t go it was a problem for us and if we continued there was a great risk. And when the officials gestured us to proceed, we were even more terrified. We thought they were taking chances on us.

But thank Buddha, nothing happened to us and we could safely cross the danger prone area. What a relief it was! But our hearts continued beating at great speed pace even after we have driven15 kilometers away from the site. It was truly an evening worth remembering.

Today Monsoon is in full swing and we hear of frequent landslides everywhere, which is even more aggravating than being held up for days in the border towns owing to strikes in our neighboring Indian states. And although most of our national highways are broader and safer now, we have at some places on the highways where road-widening process is underway. With the process of development, there is an urgent need to widen our national highways. Driving on the broad and comfortable road network allows us to travel faster and affords safety too. Commuters take less time to reach their destinations.

In the beginning, our roads were narrow. It was good enough with fewer people owning cars. But now we have more vehicles plying on the same old roads. And now there is an urgent need for double-lane highways. Our country has realized all these and initiated the massive road widening initiatives. It is always encouraging to see people working hard on the road. We are thankful to DANTAK, which has carried out a commendable job in the past five decades. We extend similar appreciation to our own PWD.  

But our personal experience tells us the national highway-widening process should be made seasonal. We think it is more appropriate if such work is undertaken during dry seasons only when the soil condition is stable and there is no or less rain.  When topsoil is removed and the remaining exposed layers are loosened, it becomes easier for the rainwater to seep in. Frequent blasting that happens weakens the landscape features. And the recent landslide that we encountered at one of the most stable sections of the highway goes on to justify people’s assumption. 
 
While we understand the importance of road widening process and greatly appreciate the initiatives, work, especially on loose soil should be saved for drier seasons. If it is at all possible, we should avoid the widening work during the rainy season, during which our efforts should be directed at clearing the blocks. This way we would cause our natural environment a minimal damage and avoid frequent landslides. This way we provide increased road safety to our commuters. 

Note: Pictures are taken by Riku. Thank you for allowing me to use them. 

Jun 13, 2016

Behind the Purple Building?

The following is an opinion piece I contributed to Business Bhutan (June 11, 2016). I reproduce it here for the others, who have not gone through it. 

Last week I had a difficult time finding my cousin’s house in town. She had recently shifted to a new location and as tradition has it, my family wanted to make a courtesy call. I was informed of the location, but getting there was a herculean task. And the absence of strange-colored buildings or offices in close proximity made it even more difficult to locate my cousin’s new residence. Darkness descended gradually to our disadvantage.

I have never called anyone the way I had to call my cousin that evening. After a series of calls and driving here and there, we finally reached the place by a stroke of luck.  Of course, if my cousin had not come out on the road, after her failed attempt at providing me the direction (and likewise me failing to translate her direction), my family would have returned home that evening.

And I realized I was not alone. Everyone in Thimphu understands how difficult it is to find the location of a place or a house and giving directions, without referring some important landmarks such as school, monastery, office, workshop, carwash, etc.

But as the number of houses increases by the day, it will only become that much more complicated to find our ways around. It is a difficult exercise to locate someone’s house. While it may mean safety from robberies, well, it also means a series of calls on the way to get to the place where our friends and relatives reside.

Good thing is our official addresses already make use of street names. And since 2010 Thimphu Thromde in partnership with Bhutan Post had managed to number all the buildings and the apartments in Thimphu. But it has not been of much help since many people do not use the street names (except on paper). I bet most people will not know where the following streets are: Lhado Lam, Zeri Lam, Thori Lam, Dashing Lam, Doebum Lam, Rabten Lam, to cite a few examples.

Interestingly, almost everyone knows Norzin Lam. Is it because many shops are lined up along that street? Is it because most people loiter and roam around here? Is it because of the noisy and busy traffic? I think it is because people use the name (Norzin Lam) frequently that we remember it. And this also means that if we use all other street names meaningfully (not just on the official papers) one day we would be able to tell exactly on which street we reside. That way it would become much easier for us to direct visitors to our offices or homes with less hassles.

It takes two persons to get the directions right – the giver and taker. Bhutanese by and large are poor direction provider and taker. Somehow we fail miserably, especially so if you have just shifted to a new location. And because of that we normally provide general location and vague direction for our residences. For example, this is a typical conversation:
Where do you live, Dorji?
I live in Motithang, Karma.
Now, if Dorji is uninterested in knowing the exact location, he would be satisfied with Karma’s answer. But if he isn’t satisfied:
Where in Motithang?
Opposite to the School, right above BOD and behind the Purple Building.
That is a complete address in Bhutan, especially if you are in Thimphu. The visitor has to figure out and of course, the host will only have to wait on the road and direct the visitor to the right house. Normally, if a tourist asks for direction, Bhutanese would rather drop that visitor to that place than provide directions.  

Bhutan has always lived in the villages. An urban issue, as this, is a recent phenomenon. In the village, everyone knows everyone’s house and the need to provide direction is almost nonexistent. If you ask for Aum Gaki’s house, you will be shown the right house, by pointing down at the building even from the hilltop. Aum Gaki’s house is the one right next to the chorten. And if even if you are a complete stranger you will know exactly where to start and where the path will lead to. This is not so in urban Bhutan. In Thimphu and other populated towns, things get more complicated.

Our addresses need to evolve. Thimphu is far more difficult to handle than a small village. And here, there is no question or is almost impossible for a postman to deliver your letters at your doorstep.

I think we can make it happen if we work for it and are serious about reaching everyone everywhere in town. Thimphu Thromde and Bhutan Post’s initiative is commendable. We must now implement it and build on it so that everyone living in Thimphu has a proper address.

First, we need to relook at all our street names and educate people accordingly through appropriate channels. That way the city dwellers will know for sure which road goes where. That way, we can gradually make all streets popular like the famous Norzin Lam. Once we know the exact road or the street, we will then be able to locate the buildings, which are already numbered. And all the flats within a particular building are provided unique numbers. We must encourage our landlords to come up with the right addresses for their buildings and make it possible for all their tenants to have ready residential addresses.

That will ease city dwellers’ lives so much. Business houses can easily locate their clients and people can provide an exact location to the police or the hospital during emergencies. More than anything, it can make visiting friends and family members easier knowing exactly where they reside.