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Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Altars in my school

As a student I cannot remember any classroom that had an altar. It wasn't just there but it would have been good if we had it. A place where one could say a short pray or find refuge when in need.

But today, most classrooms in my school has an altar. The students offer water (choeb) and burn incense sticks in the morning and also butter lamps on auspicious days. In each class there is a student who initiates the offerings. And amazingly in all the cases it is always the boys who do this. But it could be also because the boys spend a lot of time in the classroom than the girls.

When you walk into a classroom in the morning you smell the incense burning and personally I feel that experience very prolific to the energy that accompanies me there. 

Some more photos 

The altars are made by the students themselves. They are made out of cardboards and painted elaborately. The kuthangs were also stitched by students. Of course they didn't do it in the school because the school doesn't have the necessary facilities or the tools. But something like this can be made abrasive if we can give them the support they need.  

Students offer nendar (money) before they sit for their exams. The money is later used to buy incense sticks or oil for the lamps. 

But I was also wondering, what about the christians or the hindus who are the minorities. Do they have an ambivalent attitude to these happenings? Or have they understood that "All religions are doors to the same House" - Steve Jobs.  

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Argumentative Essay

I met many challenges, many I never anticipated as a teacher. But at the top of the list, without any doubt will be teaching how to write an argumentative essay. I had no idea but I had to teach it, it was totally frustrating and scary at that time. The English curriculum was new and so was I. But that was not the problem, the problem was no getting any help because most teachers were new to the curriculum and the orientation program missed the teachers at PHSS. The most scary situation for a new teacher is letting your guard down, in this case, mine was having no idea about the essay and hoping my students would not ask me about it everyday.

The teacher's guide (BHSEC English) didn't help because it doesn't have even the slightest diminutive tip/hint on the essay. The essays given for study in the textbook were confusing. And I cursed the damn essay/s and the people who wanted teachers to teach this essay. I later found out the curriculum specialist themselves (national) were not very sure about the different essays that were expected to be taught. None of the essays in the text books (11 &12) fit into the argumentative essay format or the pattern. It was very frustrating at times when I could not find any help. The school didn't have internet and most teachers had their own vague ideas about the argumentative essay anatomy.

So, I drove 10 km every evening to my father's office for about two weeks to browse for samples and online help. After spending substantial time and scanning through numerous sites and samples I finally discovered the one that we teach our students today. I don't know if it is the best sample but we are making it do with our students.

But I also found out that writing an argumentative essay has many good learning aspects and the essays that I wrote as a students can never be compared to what my students write. It is different from other writings. It helps one to be more critical and it stimulates one to consider aspects from different angles that rig and ascertain the validity of the argument. It helps one think at the higher levels of analysis, evaluation and creating a stand in an argument. A writing that is rhetoric and firm makes a good argumentative essay. I see it to be far more matured than the other essays. It may not let a writer play with words and give it the spontaneity of the creative mind but it certainly helps one gather one's functional language vocabulary and practice using it.

The link below will take you the sample essay.

Monday, November 4, 2013


The Bhutanese have a superstition that certain women have negative spirits ( a cultural gender discrimination). These bad spirits are called soendae. The soendae live within a person and thrive when they are able to make other people sick. The person who is the host has little knowledge of the negative spirit living within her. When a soendae has visited a person, that person becomes sick or sometimes even die if the remedies are not carried out in time. When one washes his or her body with a herb called tsoe (rubus), scratches appear on the part of the body that has been exposed to the soendae.
In certain parts of Bhutan, it is also believed that the soendaes maneuver in the form of small flames, hopping and wiggling from place to place. And if one is brave enough to whack it with a stick, the host becomes sick the next day. Bruises appear from the beating received.
It is also believed that soendaes have groups and they sit for meetings before they proceed with their hunt. If the hunt is unsuccessful, then the weakest soendae will have to sacrifice her child or her husband.

The dark clouds hovered in the distant horizon. Lightning flashed, crackling the bleak sky and the thunderous roar followed. Flames sparked, wiggled playfully and consumed themselves into forms out of the dark misty air. They gathered at a dark stone slab where they convene their usual meeting. It was hunting season.

Murmurs rose and fell and they dispersed.

Through the window a vague hazy scene of a family having dinner is seen. The view hovers from one window to the other zooming in and out on the people in the house; all the while the people are unaware of the visitor.
While the family is busy the one-year-old baby is crawling and is playing. The visitor tries to break in but at the door the guardian deity flairs so it hovers to a window. Seeing that the window is open, slips into the house and moves towards the baby. It observes the baby from a distance and sudden fear engulfs it. It sees the baby fearlessly munching everything in its path. It chews a comb, a doll, a steel mug, and goes on and on. Salivating and mauling with groans and cries it moves fearlessly. The soendae hovers back and in its ghostly paleness it almost disappears as fear strikes its very being. With a swirl of twist and zooms, it vanishes.

It is also believed that demons/ghost/witches/evil/soendae fear babies (1-2 years) because the baby knows no fear. It puts everything in its mouth; a basic survival instinct.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Cold and Teaching

Now that winter has come, I like the cold weather while teaching. The cold weather is my ally in the classroom. The cold keeps my students awake and active and it in turn keeps me energized. I tell my students that we draw our enthusiasm for the lesson from each other. Though teachers and students volley the lesson's mood and progress, the teacher has the maximum strike. If they look dead it sucks the energy out of me but if I am dead then there is no other ignition to light up the fire in the classroom. If I see my students cold and shivering but very alive, it gets me going.That is why the cold is good in the classroom because it eases my effort. It a oxymoronic idea to have the students feel cold and fire at the same time.

So, the Cold creeps into my classroom and I welcome it. It sits on a chair and is with us. Some of the boys wrap their kabneys around their bare knees as the Cold comes and caresses them. The caressing is kind in a strange way. It doesn't have the warmth that a kind touch should have but its kindness is realized when one clearly understands the happenings in the classroom.

The Cold is an effervescent co-teacher in my classroom. It helps me get my job done.
School Girls, Art by Botho [my sister]

Thursday, October 17, 2013

A teacher named 'Gift'

Students can go to amazing imaginative limits to create nicknames for teachers. They are sometimes arbitrary but sometimes quite logical. The word soera means gift in Dzongkha. Twelve years ago, I first heard the nickname Soera. I was a student then. It was a nickname for Lopen Gembo Tshering. Over the years his nickname has changed to shakam (dried meat) because of his lean physical stature. I am not sure whether the students today still know him as Lopen Soera but when I was a student many only knew him as Lopen Soera and not his real name.

Like anyone with a nickname story, Lopen Soera also had his. Every time his students misbehaved in his class, he would smile and tell them to come and receive their soera. His old face would conjure a tired smile as he flexed the bamboo stick.

His other soeras were also unique and became quite popular with the other teachers. During study hours if he caught you polishing your shoes or combing your hair and not studying, you had to repeat whatever you were doing during the interval and the lunch break, at the assembly courtyard, later in the day or the next day. Hoards of students would laugh and pass by the boys who did everything but study during the study hour.

Frog jumps were another of his favorite soeras. He would make you jump like frogs around the school building. The number of the rounds depended on the severity of the offence. At the time of the jumping it would always be smiles and laughter but the effects of the soera only took its toll after few hours or a day when you had to use the squat toilet or climb the 165 steps to the hostel.

As a student I was once absent from my evening study. The next day Lopen Soera called me during the interval and told me to make five rounds of frog jumps the school building. I explained and muscled all my convincing power to plead and beg because my girlfriend was watching me from the second floor. He must have been in a good mood or I must have been really convincing because he let me go with a warning.

But this writing is not about Lopen Soera’s famous soeras, it is about his selfless dedication and unwavering love for the children and the teaching profession.

In 1980, three years before I was born, Lopen Soera joined a remote school in Tsenkhar, in Tashiyangtshe. He came to Punakha HSS in 1994 and resigned this year (15th May, 2013). During his thirty-three years of teaching career, he has touched many lives through his humility and exemplary work ethic. All respected him, not because he was the senior most teacher but because he was thoughtful in all the various aspects of his job responsibilities. His classroom stretched beyond the four walls and he educated his students and colleagues alike in values that are humane and integral to us as human beings and also as members of our society and as citizens of our great nation. He served the school, the government and the country with the utmost dedication down to the last day as if it was the first day when he joined the noble profession thirty-three years ago.    

All in the school cherish Lopen Soera’s legacies. He is credited with many initiatives and they give us joy in the same humble ways he did when he was with us. The Gembo Meto is one prominent symbol of Lopen Soera’s love. The school relentlessly tried to grow a purple flower vine over a trellis. For two years the flower refused to extend its tentacles and creep up the iron-gate until Lopen Soera poured his love and time and it blossomed with radiance and pride.

The rock garden behind the school is a proud display of creative enthusiasm by the students that became possible because of Lopen Soera. He gave them the necessary reason and the scaffold to turn the waste area into a place of beauty.

Lopen Soera loved working with students and the students in turn looked up to him like the grandfather he reminded them of at home or, for a few, the grandfather they never knew. Whether he was the TOD (Teacher on Duty) or not he would come early every morning and do the SUPW (Socially Useful Productive Work) with his students. I like to think that he found purpose and meaning in letting students learn from his actions more than his words. He would show them rather than tell them. The school nature park developed further with his energy. Today the park is a place away from the noise and busy school happenings, though it is right below the national highway. Students study in the serene ambience of the many canopies that are in the park. I hope Lopen Soera receives the merit for every peaceful feeling or happiness that the students, teachers and tourist feel when they are at the park.

Within the class, Lopen Soera’s wisdom and knowledge made his subject, Dzongkha, a joy for his students. He had the most vital quality that every teacher should have: patience. I believe he has mastered this virtue almost to its perfection. In his classes he shared stories from life and with his patience he would make learning easy and fun. Within thirty-three years he had taught classes from preprimary to class twelve. His students who sat for the board exams always produced 100% pass results and he would smile humbly while mentioning his students’ success.   

Though Lopen Soera is no longer in the school, his presence is still strong because we feel him in the flowers he planted, we see him in the driftwood he artistically selected and placed in the park, and we hear him in the prayer flags that flutter in the cool afternoon breeze. He is still with us for now, though time will fade memories of him, his spirit will endure in the legacies that he has left behind.  

Saturday, October 5, 2013

The Tapori Legacy

My annual school concert kickstarted yesterday and the hi-light of the show, for me, was the tapori dance. It was absolutely entertaining and the crowd loved it. 

This morning I wondered about it and looked it up on Wiki. And this is what I found; 

Tapori literally translates into vagabond or rowdy in Hindi. Street thugs in Mumbai were perhaps the most notable taporis. Their unique style of speaking Hindi was called tapori language. They also had a unique style of dressing, which they called as tapori style. Tapori culture though resented by many is widely imitated by many as humorous or comical. It has found acceptance inBollywood films including "Rangeela", "Gol Mal", and "Chasme Buddoor".[1] They are the equivalent of gangstas in Hollywood films.

The tapori dance is very fast and it has a Tollywood (South Indian) flair to it. 

The taporis spice up the annual concert at my school and it looks as though they are going to stay for a long time. Two years ago a boy named Palden came to study in class eleven. He was a joy on the stage and he would dance as if he was the most handsome boy in the hall. Every muscle in his body exhibited passion as they swayed and flexed with the tempo of the music. In a dance your face has to equally do the job your other body parts are doing and Pelden knew that very well. The gleeful mischievous facial expressions on his face were...(as somebody put) mind-blowing. The hall would come alive with his rowdy group and it was hard not to tap your feet. 

Before he left, Palden passed on the tapori torch to another boy called Nono Jimmy, who is presently in class eleven. From what I gathered, it sounded bit exaggerated and dramatic too but I was very much moved by what I heard. I felt it like a tragic powerful scene from a movie, where the father before dying tells his son to carry on his legacy. He had said that the faith of tapori lies in Nono's hands. He had clenched his fist and told Nono that he should keep tapori alive and kicking for all times to come at Punakha HSS. 

Nono and his new recruits performed last night and it was again...MIND-BLOWING. 

Picture courtesy: 
A video would have been good but my internet sped doesn't allow it.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

World Tourism Day

Until the last month I didn't even know there was a "World Tourism Day". But tourism day had been there for a long time. It was first observed in 1997. I came to know about it because my students had to debate on the topic, "Water Sustainability and Tourism" to celebrate World Tourism Day on the 27th of september. I was ignorant and now am glad that by participating in the celebration I have become more aware of tourism and its various aspects.

It is overwhelming to know that tourism is a 3.5 trillion dollar business world wide. It generates 10% of the total employment world wide and though it has social, economic and environmental impacts many tourism agencies and their governments have in many ways worked towards making tourism sustainable. Coming to tourism and water, there were some significant facts that moved me. An average hotel room in a high tourist destination like the Mediterranean and costal areas use 500 liters of water per day while a village in a developing country uses somewhat the same amount in a month. A single hotel in Dubai in the UAE, uses 10 million liters of water in a year and Dubai receives only 100 ml of rain annually. Most of the coral reefs around the world are dying in popular tourist hot spots. The river Jordan is shrinking on its way to the Dead sea as the water is used before it reaches the sea and the same is happening to the Dead sea, which is biblically significant to certain religion and its people. Swimming pools, golf courses, showers, spas and many hospitality services in the tourism business drains our water. The water table in many countries are receding and water stress is a daily struggle.

There is no argument that climate change tops the list of the factors that affect our water. But tourism has substantial impact if we do not educate the tour operators and the common people. It is their "bread and butter".

But our country is an exemplary model for governments and tourism agencies across the world, or at at least, we should be because of the policies that are in place. Tourism in Bhutan is controlled and it has helped. In many aspects, our late economic development, has worked in our favor and even in tourism we have the edge over other countries with regard to the policies and laws we enact. We have a "high value low impact" approach to tourism and it has so far kept our country exclusive to the outside world. But tourism generates a huge chunk of the incoming dollar, that we are in dire need of. Last year over 100,000 tourist came into the country and the government is going to double the number by the end of the 11th five year plan.

As we prepare to bring in more tourist, I hope our leaders will consider tourism's sustainability to our environment, culture, social values and everything that is dear to us as bhutanese people.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Our Children, Our Investment

Above me, I have a UNICEF year planner (calendar) and on it I read, "Our Children, Our Investment". Below this line, "A nation's future will mirror the quality of her youth- a nation cannot fool herself into thinking of a brighter future when she has not invested wisely in her children"- His Majesty Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck, King of Bhutan.

I stop to think about it and write few lines that wing my way because I am a father, a teacher and a citizen of my country and the World. These words ring so very true that I find my purpose renewed in life.

On the calendar I see pictures.

I see a young girl drenched in sweat but smiling like the flowers smile at sunshine. Her eyes squint as her face cajoles a beautiful smile that is full of hope.

I also see kids playing football, galloping with energy and in innocence, warming up for the future they are to give us. With pure energy, they exhibit undaunted spirit for our future.

Three children stand with smiles that are radiant and full of life. Their faces are full and show beautiful white teeth. In their stand I see their strength and in their shyness I see humility.

In another picture a group of children are eager and are crowded over a boy with his notebook. May be he is showing his friends how many 'goods' he got from his madam. I see the leader in him, strong and proud.

In the last photo, a father is washing cloths while the mother and the baby sit and watch. They are all smiling and the baby, who is younger than a year old, has a wide smile. Its mouth is widely opened and makes one feel the encouragement it is making its father feel.

They will smile into the future and will shine bright, but only if we nurture them.  

Very few joys in life can equal the joy that children give us.


Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Without Internet and Television

I have no internet at home. When we first moved to our house I desperately tried to get internet and television connections. I bought a satellite TV receiver but the location of my house and the signal didn't comply. I and two of my friends from school carried the signal receiver and made rounds of my house and surrounding, searching for the TV signal but the signal was illusive and shy. My friend, the TV expert, concluded that the signal was blocked by a hill above my house. For the internet connection I requested a friend of mind, a Bmobile employee, and even wrote an application to the manager but my location and area was not on the Bmobile investment list.

So, the post I post on my blog are squeezed through little windows of time I find in my teaching schedule. Though I enjoy being able to post, I must say it takes away my time. The time that is meant for notebook correction and continuous assessment marking. Without the internet and television, me and my family, are ignorant of the happenings elsewhere. At home we don't know the outside world. We are in our own little world. To watch a big EPL match I need to drive or ride four kilometers from home. We listen to an old portable Phillips radio, from my college days, and it keeps us sufficiently updated at home. 

However, a home without internet and television has made it warmer. My wife reads to my son or tells him stories, rather than being on Facebook. We sit and chat over dinner. My son tells me about what he learnt at his daycare and which boy bullied him. I listen to my wife's happenings of the day and share mine. We do gardening and water the fruit trees. Without internet and television we are disconnected with the world but have renewed and found new connections at home.