Saturday, December 27, 2014

Nine Years In Paro Airport

I have completed my nine years in airport and soon I will be leaving for another place. After nine long years of attachment I feel like I am leaving my home. I met my wife in Paro, married her here and even raised my kids here. So Paro will always hold a special place in my heart. 

One year ago, I wanted to move out. That time it was purely in the interest of my career advancement. It was also in the interest of other friends who wanted to come here for the same. Somehow it never came through. This year I am really moving out and I am feeling lot more nostalgic. I am going to take loads of memories along. 

To begin with, I never thought I would someday work for Customs department. Had it not been for my wife, (who was then undergoing her teacher training in Paro College of Education) I would have landed elsewhere. So thanks to my wife, I chose to work in Paro and was able to officially join RRCO, Paro in January 2006. It was a humble beginning then. We rented an apartment below Rimpong Dzong. The apartment had a large living room, 2 bed room, 1 kitchen, 1 store and worst of all 1 toilet. With few personal effects, virtually the whole apartment was empty. But we had to accept it. My wife had lot to complain when I got home late because there were either many strangers peeping through our partially curtained windows. The most scarring part is that our apartment echoed like an empty cave. So we had a small altar set up on a table we picked from a construction site. That was basically to seek religious solace and apparently to draw off those peeping ghosts.

Now in nine years, things have changed. People say I have progressed a lot. I say yes, provided if the progress was to be measured in terms of having kids! In nine years, to the envy of some infertile people, I have become father of three beautiful daughters and a handsome son! That’s a biological progress! Some say so and I accept it with much joy. 

In nine years, I had the opportunity of working with many superiors and colleagues. Through each individual, I was able to draw special lessons. Working with late Regional Director, Dasho Zamtsho Tshering was scary but nevertheless been that much enriching. Director Choizang had his charisma as a boss. I thought he never liked me but in the end it was proven wrong. During my last personal audience with him, I have come to know about the sense of brotherhood he had towards me and in fact to all the staffs of DRC. I owe them million thanks. Dasho Yonten Namgyel is another guru whom I have a greatest regard. And I have my special regards and thanks go to my current boss, Mr. Bimal Kumar Pradhan. Working with him has been anything but like a running water. 

In nine years time, Paro airport has become lot busier. From a mere four flights a day; it has now increased to thirteen flights a day on an average. We have witnessed the entry of Bhutan airlines that nearly sent the veteran Drukair into an operational limbo. It’s all competition between the two airlines now. Whether air travel has become cheaper or not is another question. But as a Customs official, working in airport has become that much taxing. 

In nine years, many of the facilities in airport have undergone facelift. Airport has a longer runway, bigger hanger, better safety equipments and more qualified people working. In days to come, Paro airport will even have a separate terminal building for the arrival section with duty free shops that would issue electronic receipts! But here is one thing that has bothered my imagination for a good number of years. I am told that huge chunk of budget was allocated to Paro airport in preparation for the 16th SAARC summit, Centenary celebrations and the Royal Wedding. But inside terminal building there are little or no traces of that big money.

In nine years Customs office has managed to procure one x-ray machine. Four years into operation, it broke down completely despite intensive care and maintenance. Elsewhere, machines procured by BAFRA has also succumbed to the similar fate. I was mad with the kind of indifference shown by the supplier. Government doesn’t have a budget and they are reluctant to repair the machines. Distressing part of the affair is to see our performance get compromised on daily basis.

In nine years, I had good number of arguments with importers. The cause is very simple. I enforced laws for the safety of the nation and people simply found it too intrusive. I wanted to collect tax for a greater cause and they simply wanted to avoid or evade either through influence or manipulation. Today I stand amazed that there is a lesson to be learned even from those arguments. Paying is always painful irrespective of who you are. 

In nine years, I became over all in-charge of Customs for the record three times. I don’t know whether it was merited by my ability or by a vacuum created by someone’s departure. But in all the tenures, I think I gave my best. I am happy to be associated with all the shortcomings. But at the same time I am also proud to have led a team that was responsible for the seizure of gold, silver and currency worth millions of Nu. We were told about the rich reward recommended from the throne. We couldn’t be more proud than this. The royal appreciation was a reward rich enough for me and my team. With regard to the gold seizure, I never thought it would be that difficult for the court to convict a smuggler. While we remained silence, many people wanted the credit. Perhaps I could write pages after the high court passes the final judgment. 

In nine years, I had the opportunity of traveling to various countries. I met different people. I feel blessed to have met them all. Although many officials have the tendency of travelling only when the DSA accorded is more, I took the opportunity as and when given. Coming February I am again nominated to travel to New Delhi as a team leader. I am happy to know about the DSA of INR 850 per day. So far I have travelled to Japan, Korea, Malaysia and to India. Each travel has been an exciting and elevating. In near future I wish to travel once to China to see the Great Wall of China.

In nine years, I sat for few interviews. In one of the interview, I felt disheartened to know about the thing of preselected candidates. In another interview I did not even make through the first round. The last was when I attended for a GoI scholarship interview. I came out with flying colors! I topped the interview! I went to India and did Masters in Economics. I scored more than 82%. I came back to airport and forgot everything. Along with it I lost my 6 months seniority. However, I had equally memorable days. I was given a stipend of INR 7000 a month. With this I lived like a king in Gujarat. 

In nine years, I have become a blogger. Some people mistook me for an ardent social activist. I blogged about the controversial tobacco law and I got reprimanded. I came to realize that blogging can be an expensive passion to be pursued when it gets at political sentiments. 

In nine years, I have realized that working for Customs is being like a master tactician. Even if you are not you are forced to become one. In airport every day is a new day and new days brought in newer challenges. Newer challenges called for newer tactics. Despite having given the best in me I always felt that I was falling short somewhere. In discharge of my duty as Customs official; it was often my common senses that made the difference. Laws, rules and manuals I felt were there as a general framework. 

In nine years, I learnt that without so called “PR” (Personal Relation) you cannot get anything done. This is something unbecoming of Bhutan in the 21st century. Especially for a Customs official like me, maintaining “PR” meant attracting so many watchful eyes. I get the feeling that somehow people’s efficiency at this age is gauged through the “PR” yardstick. And in a place like airport “PR” is something you require in abundance. Otherwise you risk becoming low performer. 

In nine years, I was able to own one alto car. Believe it or not, as per ACC’s declarable asset definition that is the only qualified asset at my disposal. Our Government chose to name “bolero” as the “utility car” but to me and my family, our alto is our utility car. In nine years I could finally own an iphone. I still owe half the money though. 

I can go on and on. But to be brief, past nine years has been anything but a blessing.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Chath Dorji of Shingkhar

If not thousand, I am certainly several hundred years old. I have lived all my life here in Shingkhar which is some 4000 meters above the sea level. To be more precise I live in an idyllic sanctuary of bliss. People also call it Dechenling. Bhutan has eight such sanctuaries. They were all named by the visiting Tibetan saint Longchenpa in 13th century. 
Apa Chath Dorji of Shingkhar
I am Chath Dorji of Shingkhar. I am the master clown of the village. I am not sure where I descended from, but to my convenience, I consider myself nothing less than a heavenly being from Tenchok lhayuel. My role in my native place is a seasonal one. I have a major role to play in the tenth month in Bhutanese calendar when the drum of five day Shingkhar Rabney starts beating. That time I come with a group of other clowns. People think they are my friends, but they are my sons. We join locals every year. Together we all make offerings to our local deities.

When I reach Shingkhar with my boys, there is a tradition of Lama asking us to describe our journey. This is nothing new. They ask us every year. As a matter of fact, we have been telling them the same thing over and over for centuries. Here is how it goes:

Yesterday night we all slept on the tip of mount phallus,

Only to be woken up in a vaginal cave this morning.

We have come here with all the blessings of canny phallus,

So that each one of us multiply,

Live long, healthy and prosperous

This wouldn’t quench the thirst of humor hungry folks. So we would continue with all sorts of paradoxical idioms. I tell people that the Colorful hair on my head symbolizes my multi talents. Folks, especially the infertile ones, believe in my blessings. Sometime when my blessings are able to impregnate a sterile woman, I boost myself of being the brother of Lama Drukpa Kinley. As such, ladies of Shingkhar naturally like me but I tell people about my other abilities. Like wooing girls! Some ladies would melt hearing my following words:

Look at my creamy aged face.

It’s full of wrinkles.

Look at my phallus,

It’s full of wrinkles too

But Do I Still not look active, fertile and vibrant?

Apa Chath Dorji and Sons arriving for Rabney

In order to bring more laughter, we would often go beyond describing our journey. We let even our body talk! My boys play pranks and would swing their phallus; I mean the wooden phallus right below the nose of our blushing lama. By then folks would have laughed their stomach out. While others would have shed tears of mirth, some even would have peed in their panties! In course of five days, we would have conversed with our locals on every subject between the earth and the sky. I tell those naughty sons and daughters of the locality about the importance of keeping one’s parents happy. Parents are precious. Once lost can never be found. To my words, some emotional parents would sob. To restore our happy hour, I would resume my talk. To bring back their smiles, I like talking about how dark faced Ashangla is encroaching to steal a night with my wife. I am not a master comedian but I am in my own simple way, the unifying force in my village. I am neither witty nor an intelligent man, but I am sometimes an agent of change in my locality. This has been my role over many generations.

Apa Chath Dorji and Ashangla

Besides, our pranks and jokes, people have their own way of engaging in funfairs. Besides traditional mask dances and the dances of our deities, there are distinctive funfairs which are exclusive to Shingkhar community. They are Changkor, bum fight and pop corn fight.

Let me begin with Changkor. Rough translation of Changkor in English would mean "drink session". Such practices are common in many parts of Bhutan. But what is interesting about Changkor in Shingkhar is that people form group and move from one house to another drinking local brew and singing traditional songs. Mostly in the night! A round starts from one household, usually from a Naktsang and end at a house next to Naktsang. Mid way, some would fall flat, drunk and out. Some would still drag on, singing Phala Dro Dro, meaning ‘lets move on’. By the time people are done with the first round, the dawn would break. It was then, some decades before, when village had few households. Things have changed slightly now. Shingkhar have more than thirty households. Population has doubled. Therefore, completing a round in single night is now out of question. So people divide the household in such a way that none is left unvisited in five day Rabney. Today even the young ones, as young as ten form their own group and go singing and dancing. But they do not drink, they ask for the money!

Of the bum fight, folks, both young and old, male and female indulge themselves in a funfair which looks barbaric and total rustic. It is a fanciful discovery made by the people of Shingkhar. In that game, it’s usually males versus females. Except for the biological differences, no one knows why it has to be that way. They hit each with their buttocks without mercy! And throw their opponent flying into the air to the dusty ground. Each time the opponent is toppled, a roar of laughter would arise. As a sign of their surrender, some would choose to sit on the ground. But that is not a done deal. Opponents come and drag them to rise, butting would continue until the rival is completely exhausted and in some cases, half undressed! Some, they choose to climb on the tree tops to avoid the attack. The argument on the fight would ensue even after the Rabney is long over, each party accusing the other of not knowing the ethics of the game in somewhat angry but nevertheless in laughing mood.

Like bum fight, popcorn rubbing is Shingkhar’s own creation. In this game people rub each other’s forehead with popcorn. Although little is known about the correlation between the two; ‘bountiful year’ and ‘rubbing forehead’, people still scream ‘lo lek par sho’ meaning ‘may we have a bountiful year’ after each successful forehead rub. Some tough people often use coarse popcorns and try to leave a scratch mark all over forehead and face of their opponent. Although little painful, they seem to enjoy their own discovered game.

Seeing age old traditions such as these largely intact, Shingkhar displays its connection with its proud past. Despite harsh geographical conditions, Shingkhar has largely remained blessed and blissful. Back in 2013, in an attempt to reinvigorate the preservation of our rich heritage, dedicated sons and daughters of Shingkhar has even built an expensive Thongdrol of our spiritual lord Longchenpa. Today Shingkhar village has lights from hydro power. It is connected globally through telecommunication services. We have better roads, cleaner water, more sophisticated machines and more literate people. We have better cloths to wear and healthier foods to eat. These are blessings of modernization. But if not balanced carefully, these blessings could potentially engulf all our rich culture and heritage. I am fearful. But then modernization per se is not a threat. It largely depends on how we take it. Therefore, it is only through modesty and unity we can fight these ills. 

Of late, the unprecedented proliferation in the political activities has threatened the communal solidarity of Shingkhar. The politics of horse, crane and peach-bloom did no substantial good to the community but have largely created an acrimonious atmosphere of distrust and hatred among the closely knit cousins of Shingkhar. At the moment, this seems to be the biggest battle at hand. Should we lose this battle then our win elsewhere would be an irrelevant one. Rearing hairy yaks and wooly sheep are thing of past in Shingkhar. Climate change or modernization, we don’t know which one to blame yet. 

Lama Nidup Dorji of Shingkhar
But, all is not doomed here. Times are changing and so are things. If changing time has gloomier side, then here is the glee of that same changing time. Thanks to our lama, another monument has been created. Construction of a marvelous lhakhang on the Dori Rinchen hill has been completed. Today the architectural beauty of the lhakhang has awed many people. If lama can do so much, why do we then require all those professional engineers? Some people question? Lhakhang was one used by Longchenpa as a place to meditate, write and relax. Some people believe that certain portions of Longchen Zoed-den were written here. 

 Dori Rinchen Goenpa of Shingkhar

Now with changing time, I am afraid that some people might find my phallic talks lot vulgar and meaningless. I remain fully aware about my pranks becoming obsolete and not so entertaining, but it is my sincere prayer that I find newer jokes and sillier pranks every year and bring lot more laughter to the folks of Shingkhar. I tell my folks that minor differences should not rattle the virtue and the harmony of locality. I hope they take my words. It’s my sincere wish that Rabney and Shingkhar flourish till eternity. Let time change anything but not the happiness and the innocence of humor loving Shingkhar.

Shingkhar Dechenling

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Perhaps This is Life

October 2014 is gone. But I must say that no month in my life has kept me this busy. Running between home, office, hospital and the cremation ground, I never thought my simple life could suddenly become this busy. 

First there was a case in ICU of Thimphu hospital. It was one serene morning when a phone call from Thimphu brought a ominous silence in my family. I heard my mother-in-law fumbling over a phone. Little later I came to know that her uncle, whom I never met, was in a critical state. Almost dead so to say! Since then, it was raining sadness in her face and eyes. But I never thought she would be that afflicted, because during their healthier years they were not even in talking terms. With my wife I rushed to Thimphu, on the very same day only to find a lifeless body on bed supported by machine. Two more days and the uncle was pronounced dead. 

Then there was petty brawl at my sister’s house, which so erupted at the height of her husband’s rage. She said she needed my presence to sort out the things. But I insisted they solve it on their own when the rage is subsided. I told them it’s never a wise decision to seek other people’s involvement in petty family feuds. But she was more adamant than me. Fearing something was not really right, I called off a day from my office. No sooner did I get into my car and started my drive then I got a call from my Director. He told me that he is coming to my office for an official errand. And here is another thing. Hours before, I was told to get ready for my ad-hoc trip to Kolkata. The next day, I had to part to Kolkata, leaving behind so many things unattended. 

After a memorable trip to Kolkata, I got back home to hear other tragic news. Somewhere on facebook, I was told about the demise of our beloved Lama, whom the locality of Ura attached so much love and respect. We called him Meme (grandpa) but he was popularly known as Dasho Shingkhar Lam. Looking at the contributions he made to the nation, his demise, to me merited a national mourning day. It was on 16th October 2014, that Bhutan lost a soul irreplaceable. A nation lost a son who has sacrificed his life for its cause. It’s a tragic. While the handful people from Ura community along with family grieved at the lost of a legend, the rest of the nation moved on, still oblivious of the loss with utter indifference. Ten more days and the body of our precious and beloved grandpa was brought to Kichu for his last rites. It was a small funeral rite for a man who lived a life larger than his being. Much to the gloom of grieving people, the sky remained laden with could. Little past noon, when the venerable Khenpo Karpo finally alight a pyre on fire, the sky opened up and there was sun shine. There was even a rainbow too. In hours time, the flame consumed every bit of “Hero with Thousand eyes”. Only that remained was a handful of ash showing how impermanence is such a ubiquitous truth. That was it. Our Meme is no more and our hearts are heavy. Later one of my friend, with his eyes reddened by the tears of smoke and sadness said that we have finally burned down stacks of Bhutan’s History. 

Back home, one thing has always kept me on my toes for the last nine months -The coming of my son Dawa Gyeltshen, my fourth child. When I say fourth child, I am sure this is going to raise bros and drop chins of some baby phobic people. Some might even think that I am over doing this biological thing, but all I can say is that he was conceived under a mysterious circumstance. His coming was prophesied by his 5 years old sister and as such it was she who also named him. We banked on her prophetic words and therefore never rushed to find out the gender of the fetus. 

Finally in the morning hours of 21st October, I took my wife to the Paro hospital for her last check up. She was instantly admitted. It was a long wait in the ECL room then. Facilities in the hospital were dismal. Toilet was dangerously messy and water was scarce. Pipes were broken and human excreta were overflowing. To sum up, people with all kind of sickness shared one water less toilet. In such a wretched place, the gentle Doctors, soft nurses and kind brothers were a silver lining. 

After a prolonged labor, Dawa Gyeltshen was finally out from the womb, finally making me the proudest father of a son. The time as per my watch was 12:45 am dated 22nd October 2014. He weighed  120gram short of mighty 4 kg and has a big head covered with crimson black hair. At the center of his face was a large nose. After his male genital part, the next thing I saw was this tiny red tongue licking his lips in search of something to suckle on. I then checked his ten little fingers and ten little toes, one by one. I found out that he inherited my ears. I checked everything. Despite nine months pregnancy sickness, my wife was relatively stable and was doing fine. Quick dress up and we were soon out of that stinking labor room. We were discharged the same day. Three of us reached home to an overwhelming welcome by our grandmother, father-in-law, mother–in-law and my anxious three little daughters. They have sanctified the house with incense smoke. Butter lamp in the largest ting was lit. It was Grandmother who received Dawa Gyeltshen with a white scarf. She took him to the alter side and said some prayers. Back in Woochu School, birth of my son has gone viral. It has even cascaded to Thimphu. In two days time, my father-in-law has arranged a grand Lhab sang ceremony. 

My son is now 12 days old and I am happy to note that he is doing well. He needs bathing, once in the morning and other in the evening. He has a super appetite for milk. He pees like a horse and shits like a bull, otherwise he is as calm and as peaceful like an unperturbed sea. At the moment, all is well. 

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Sanctity of Jarung Khashor

Below is the portion of article I wrote for Bhutan airline's in flight magazine 'Kuzuzangpola'
Baudhanath Stupa and I

We all know Katmandu is home for some the most ancient Buddhist monuments. Therefore as a Buddhist, there is something so fulfilling about being able to go to Katmandu. Some Buddhist structures there are listed as UNESCO heritage monuments. Back then, as a village lad, I grew up hearing stories about the magical Baudhanath stupa. They are long and each story often differ from one another. It seems there are Tibetan, Nepalese and Bhutanese mythologies each explaining the legend of the stupa. However there is portion in every story that is common and captivating: the wish fulfilling power of the stupa. Combining several stories together, I got the story as follows:

In Bhutan, the magnificent stupa is popularly known as Jarung-khashor. In course of our story, we will come to know why it was called so. For now, some sources suggest that the construction of a legendry stupa was initiated by an ordinary lady, called Jazima, the poultry woman. She bore four sons from four different husbands; horse trader, pig trader, dog trader and poultry trader.

Jazima, in her past life was a heavenly being. After suffering a downfall in her religious merit, she was reborn as an ordinary lady on earth. However she and her family maintained deeply religious attitude. She saved all her earnings from her hard work and when she knew she had saved enough, she approached the king and asked him for a piece of land. She told the king of her desire to construct a stupa on it.

Confused, dazed and after serious contemplation, the king granted her plea. But on one condition. Jazima could have the land; the size of which should be equivalent to a skin of a bull stretched on the ground. Crafty Jazima then sliced the skin of a bull to a size of a thread. She then extended the thread size string of bull hide on the ground to claim the land. Alarmed, many people complained to king about the size of land the king has granted to an ordinary lady. But king had no option other than to grant her plea. This is how stupa came to be known as Jarung-Khashor meaning ‘word of permission’ or ‘to be allowed’ or ‘given permission to do certain work’.

Few years on, after overcoming many major obstacles, the construction met a tragedy. Jazima died. But before her death, she told her four sons to complete the construction. She told her sons that completing it will not only fulfill her wishes and bring immense benefit to other sentient beings, but also fulfill their own. With this divine advice she died. Her death was marked with so many auspicious symbols. She regained her merit and attained buddhahood.

Her four sons kept their mother’s word and finally completed the construction. The relics of the Buddha of previous age were sealed in the stupa. When viewed from the sky, the shape of stupa is said to resemble Tibetan mandala. It is believed that the sanctification and empowerment ceremony of the stupa was attended by thousands of buddhas, deties and dakinis from the sky and of course by many mundanely people from. Therefore, today the stupa is viewed as great object of worship by devotees around the world.

The four sons of Jazima, then prayed. The son of Horseman wanted to become king and was reborn as King Trisong Dutsen of Tibet. The son of pig trader wanted to be reborn as compassionate Bhodisattva and was reborn as Zhiwa Tso. The son of dog trader wanted to be reborn as great master and was reborn as Guru Rimpoche. The son of poultry man wanted to be reborn as the religious Minister and was reborn as Songtsen Gompo. In brief, four brothers were reborn as the principle propagators of Buddhism. But they completely forgot to pray for the donkey that carried construction materials all through with four of them. So the donkey prayed for himself. He prayed devoutly to be reborn as the minister who could destroy the dharma so propagated by four brothers. But a crow on the tree top knew about the disparaging prayers of the donkey and so prayed to be reborn as preserver of the dharma from the destruction of the donkey’s incarnation. Accordingly, the donkey was reborn as demon Langdarma, who nearly wiped off Buddhism in the Himalayas. Later crow was reborn as Pelgi Dorji who then subdued Langdarma and subsequently revived Buddhism. Due to such legends, people today believe that pilgrimage to Baudhanath stupa of Katmandu, Samye Monastry of Tibet and Baudha stupa in Gaya have the power to even exempt a murderous sinner from miseries of samsara.

The legendry stupa has survived the onslaught of many turbulent times. But things seemed to have changed. Once pilgrimage and religious center has now become a commercial center. Globalization has not even spared religion. Sacred objects are produced in mass for sale. If not paid monks wouldn’t say prayers. Today, the monumental stupa is surrounded not by alters and temples but by shops and restaurants. Time has taken its due toll on the surroundings. Crowded, littered and dusty, the holy place is succumbing to the forces of modernization and over population. Everything appeared cramped. There were monkeys, lamp sellers and film makers. Nearby people were attending a funeral rite. Not far away wedding ceremony was in full swing.

Of Sayings and Doings

Last week, I had the privilege of attending a meeting organized by the Paro Dzongkhag. Amid unhappy local leaders and business community, the Hon'ble Finance Minister along with the officials from the Ministry of Finance talked on the rationale and objectives of the recent tax revision and new budget. In more than three hours,these are the things I understood:

Our nation is reeling under a dangerous budget deficit or more than Nu. 24 billions. For lay men, one billion is equivalent to 1000 millions and every million is equal to 10 lakhs. So calculate how many 10 Lakhs can go in 24 billions. Technically speaking, our national exchequer does not have a money that can be called as ours. We are poor by that much.

 To achieve the national goal of self reliance, first thing we need to do is to live within our own means. Yes. Live within our own means. Each time you have a meal, just see what are things in your plate that are produced in our country. In my case, I see only water that is Bhutanese.

New taxation policies and budget appropriations are nothing but are fiscal measures to induce some sense of frugality among reckless spending Bhutanese. Poor people have no means to be reckless so this is for all the filthy rich people to bear in mind.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Exporting Cordeceps, The Dilemma of Bhutanese Millionars

Picture Coutesy: Lhendup Tharchen
In Bhutan, collection and trade in cordecep was legalized in 2004. The Royal vision behind this initiative was to bring economic blessings to the Bhutanese nomads. To keep this business exclusively for highlanders, the collection of the same is strictly monitored. After fixing the minimum royalty, the seasonal collection permits are issued by the Government to each households. This, I believe this is more to do with sustainability of the good. Thanks to the insatiable demand from the outside world, the good has become the most sought after items for export. Since then, the bizarre fungal plant that has the potential of earning millions for highlanders annually has become a trading commodity.

In ten years time, The business in cordecep boomed. With boom came structural changes. It became an investment avenue for many Bhutanese millionaires!  No doubt about that. But this boom also attracted many third parties. In most cases those third parties are nomads themselves. I call them the "easy pickers". What easy pickers do is an interesting thing to behold. They transport necessity items like salt, rice, oil, liquors and vegetables and then barter them with cordeceps painfully collected by their nomad relatives. There are often instances where an actual collector had to surrender his entire collection in lieu of the price for the amount of necessities he availed.

I am thinking that a ration delivery helicopter could prove a real blessing here. Perhaps PDP government could think more on it. But for now, it is doubtful as to whether the trade worth millions of Nu. is really benefiting the needy nomads? 

All cordecep collected in a given period are then sold off  to the exporters in an auction. Since those exporters deal in millions, I call them Bhutanese millionaires. This is again an affair closely monitored by the Government. Hence the real process of transferring the goods to the international market begins. In Bhutan, some official documents like Certificate of origin, commercial invoice, sanitary certificate and Customs export declaration are mandatory. 

As for Bhutan, the major market for cordecep are China, Taiwan, Hong Hong, and Malaysia. Since the cordecep is not a duty free goods in those countires, the real dilemma of  exporting begins here. Contrary to the normal international trade regime, here is what Bhutanese exporter and International importer do. They make a deal which is as bizarre as the fungal plant itself. 

To evade the the applicable duties in the countries of Exportation, the exporter and importer both travel till Thailand. (one to reach the goods and other to pick up the same) There is another hurdle here. They have to evade Thai Customs duty as well. In the process, Bhutanese millionaires and international importers are making legal business illegal.  In the past, some may have gone lucky. I think they  must have made fortune through  such deception.  

But in recent past, Thai authorities have come stronger with their enforcement capability. There are instances where authorities have intercepted Bhutanese exporters for non declaration of the goods. There are also instances where cordeceps worth millions of Nu. are directed back to Bhutan, causing a lot of inconveniences both for Customs officials and for exporters themselves. Therefore as a concern Bhutanese, I would like to make the following pleas to our millionares who are in cordecep business.

Firstly, such act may distort international trade figures. Please avoid such practices 

Secondly, it tarnishes our National image. Such acts may lead to other Customs administration labeling us as people of High risk

Thirdly, Non declaration in most case is a crime

Fourthly, Cordycep is not contraband or prohibited item in most of the countries. Especially in Thailand, The concern importer should have proper import permits/license from Thai Authorities i.e. Food & Health Control Organization (FHCO) under Ministry of Public Health

Fifthly, It is levied 30% Custom Duty, roughly equivalent to Thai Bath 200,000/ per KG (depending upon quality assessed

Sixthly, Be mindful that if illegally imported, any goods will be confiscated

Seventhly, If the confiscation is challenged in any manner, the case will be forwarded to Thai Airport Police, which may result in detention of both goods and person

Eightly, While goods may be confiscated, the person may be charged for attempted criminal act

Ninthly, If found guilty, person shall be punished with imprisonment plus the fines and penalties that exceeds 130% of the goods seized

For more details visit Thai Custom webpage

Before, I close this post, I am anxious with the following points

I am anxious about the amount these exporters are paying to our Government exchequer as Business Income Tax.

I am anxious about the level of information sharing with relevant agencies on the issue and the overall transparency of the business

I am anxious as to whether the nomadic people are really benefiting from the trade...

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Things To Consider Before Buying A Smartphone

Sage  Harman

One lady from USA, Mrs. Sage Harman, who describes herself as "frugal living enthusiast, wife and mother" wrote an email to me. She wrote to me about her wish write a 'guest post' on my blog. "Things to consider before buying a smart phone", i think is relevant topic, especially if you have means and plans to acquire one. She also runs a a web ( dedicated to providing free information to consumers trying to find viable no-contract phone and internet plans. Please read her article below:

Nothing quite beats the feeling of unboxing a brand new mobile phone. Smartphones have become an essential part of our everyday life that most handsets today offer quite the same functionality as computers, capable of not just making calls but also managing emails and schedules, playing music and games, getting directions, surfing the Web, sharing information with friends, taking videos and photos and more. With different carriers and phone makers offering great deals and new features and apps popping up left and right, picking the right device for you can be rather confusing. Remember, smartphones and coverage plans aren't cheap, so taking the time to do your research and reviewing your options are well worth it.


Google's Android, Apple iPhone's iOS, and Microsoft's Windows Mobile so far are your most popular options. Some people find that the Android system is more customizable and versatile. Others prefer iOS because of Apple's extensive collections of apps. Some say Windows Phone are more user-friendly. Apart from the programs and features and availability of apps on these platforms, you probably won't notice a lot of differences in how they each operate, so make your choice of operating system based on what you value most - flexibility, security, user-friendliness and customization.

Physical Appearance

Some people like it thin and sleek, some like it big and heavy. Phones with larger screens are great for lots of things - web surfing, playing videos and games and watching movies, but they can be a tad uncomfortable to carry. In my opinion, for portability, functionality and ease of use, a screen size of 4-5 inches hits the mark.


Most smartphones come equipped with cameras capable of taking 8MP pictures. Don't think though that more megapixels means better pictures. If you're after a good camera phone, also consider the lens, sensor, resolution, zoom, shutter speed and other capturing features.

Battery Life
Smartphones, with all the amazing things you can do with it, also require greater power supply. You might want to get one that comes with at least 2000 milliamp-hour battery, or better yet, one that has a user-replaceable battery.


These are free or paid programs that you install on your smartphone to perform different functions. Almost all smartphones have the ability to support applications. Popular apps include mobile hotspot, health monitor, scanner, GPS device, TV and video apps, games and more. It's important to consider your phone's compatibility to apps because not all apps run on all devices.

Other Considerations

Storage Capacities

8 to 16GB may sound plenty, but if you're planning on playing full HD movies for example, get one that has higher memory. If you think you would need more storage space, buy one that supports microSD cards.


Will your portable device support Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, or Mobile hotspot?


<a href="">No-contract plans</a> may seem more expensive as you will need to purchase the phone upfront. But these pay as-you-go prepaid plans are simple and straightforward. It means no credit checks and no lock-in period. Plus you can save money in the long run because there are no hidden charges or termination fee should you break the contract early.

With new releases of smartphones screaming, "Pick me! Pick me!", having too many options, though it means more chances of ending up with the right one for you, also makes it almost impossible to make a decision. You sure don't want to spend a lot of money but you don't want to miss out on important features for a small price difference either. If you're in the market for a new mobile phone, head on over to to compare plans and get free information on various popular smartphone plans.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Human Sanity

Its August 2014 and I am happy to discover that my anger with pay and tax revision has finally died down with memorable July. Actually my anger meant nothing. Its my act of venting out frustration. If not on people, at least on my personal blog, I have displayed my displeasure. If people, especially our politicians are offended, then I am helpless. Please help yourself by leaving my blog.  I suppose this is how an enraged child would behave with his problematic promise making mother. I am happy for being able to put my anger on my blog. I am satisfied. No warning letter from my boss this time. So I am more happy. Seems human sanity is reigning this time.

Elsewhere in middle east, human sanity seem to have dwindled to the the lowest possible point. Perpetual Hamas-Israeli conflict has re erupted and thus the bloody fight ensues. Hiding Hamas and shooting Israel are both to be blamed. However at this time, the disproportionate use of force by Israel against the Gaza Strip is really appalling. In the name of protecting their citizens, Israeli forces, I think are committing a genocide and war crimes. Thousands of innocent children, women and men are trapped and are dying a painful death. Israelis say they are targeting Hamas tunnels. If that be the case, why have they shelled on residential apartments and school buildings?

I have never been to Middle East. But from the reports I read and hear, it makes me think that people there are born not to die but to be killed by each other. Lately, Palestine artist named Bushra Shanan, in memory of what is lost and destroyed has created several art pieces. It illustrates grim and desperate reality in Gaza. All the images contain a powerful message. view other images here. But as a father I am deeply saddened to see one art piece (above). It shows how a single cruel explosion is taking away so many lives of beautiful children. Its unthinkable. With this post, I stand here to condemn neither Israel nor Palestine, but killing. Killing for any reason cannot be justified.

Here is a lesson for leaders of Palestine and Israel. There never was a winner in wars. All people suffer equally. Death is miserable reality. Shelling cities will not win you wars. Suitable dialogue and understanding will. May peace prevail in Middle East.

Thanks to Human (in)sanity, global politics has reached a menacing level. Super powers are playing politics with human lives. The manner in which the flight MH017 crashed shocked the entire world. But with passing time, 298 people who perished in eastern Ukraine are becoming nothing but a painful memory like 239 others who disappeared without a trace in flight MH370. USA or Russia, its hard to contemplate who is more evil.

Call it a human sanity or insanity, in India, some Natwar Singh has created quite a stir in Indian politics. As per the information I gathered about him, he is a  former Indian bureaucrat and a close friend of Gandhi family. He changed 4 political parties including the Congress.  But unfortunately he was dropped from the party for his alleged involvement in some high level corruption cases. Natwar Singh tells that Sonia Gandhi was instrumental in taking that decision. He has a son who is now in BJP.

Today, he has reportedly gone angry with Mrs. Sonia Gandhi. Feeling mistreated and humiliated, he has come out with his own "tell all" autobiography, titled "One life not enough". As per the penal discussion on NDTV, The basic motive of the book, it seem is to take revenge on Sonia Gandhi by disclosing the internal affairs of the not only Congress party but also that of Gandhi family. Why would a statesman of his caliber do such a petty thing?  Some call it a biased book while others cal it a work of genius. In between, confused and baffled, some Congress men are now asking where the gentlemen in Natwar Singh has evaporated.

Personally I take two things from this case. 1. In politics, there is no friend.  2. Natwar Singh is an old man now. Old man is twice child. So do not get worked out with his kiddish words (if you are a Congress man)

lastly, human sanity or insanity, scientists have found out that ladies will always find a man with dog more attractive than men with baby. Therefore mothers should make scientists accountable if fathers are not willing to move with their babies.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Post Pay and Tax Revision Thoughts

Yesterday, I received my new pay slip and finally I did my own math. Yes, the raise was minimal. I am sure it’s not even going to cover up the inflationary gap. But all thank goes to my house owner. At the moment, there is no sign of rent revision from his side. Elsewhere, some of my friends have already received a rent revision notice.

In places like Thimphu, Phuentsholing and Paro, the generous house rent allowance accorded by our government will surely not guarantee a decent apartment. Contrary to the findings of Economic affairs Minister, the prices of commodities, both local and imported have REALLY gone up. 

Disappointingly, the very politicians who came to power on populist agenda are turning out to be nothing but biggest cheats (or we failing to understand their broader concern) Their skewed pay revision candy just took one year to create a painful cavity in molars of public servants. Their confused electric car vision, their un-promised self serving pay package and their wanton allowance system did best to disclose the real devil in them. 

Now in the middle of pay revision math,  people are made to go busy doing the taxation math. Green Tax, Car Tax and mobile voucher taxes are surely going to make the voters angry. In brief, these are unwarranted tax on communication. As understood by everyone, we can call it a proletariat tax

The Government’s initiative to inculcate tax-paying culture is highly appreciated. It will instill sense of ownership among the general public over public goods. Through it, people will get to know the real meaning and value of free services. However taxing on communication sector is a serious business. It may require a lot of rethinking. 

Especially in business world, communication has become the single most important tool for the survival. With recent proliferation of mobile telecommunication systems, it has brought in immense benefits for farmers of rural Bhutan too. Similarly, most of the Government offices today use no less communication for public service delivery. Therefore, taxing on it is simply unthinkable. 

Taxation is a very sensitive issue. Unless politicians see a clear cut political gain, many wouldn’t even talk about it. This is according to worldwide phenomenon. Ironically, here our politicians took just one sitting to introduce a range of tax bills. As politicians, they seem to have taken the biggest risk of their life. With the kind public outrage, many may perish with just one term. 

To conclude this post, let us look at the main points once again. 
1. Pay revision was not up to the expectations.
2. Pay revision was discriminatory. 
3. MPs had their self serving pay packages. 
4. Politicians have introduced peasant taxes. 
5. Prices have really gone up. 

But here are the silver linings. 

1. Import duty for most of the medical, surgical and dental equipments are made zero.
2. Import duty for most of the pharmaceutical drugs, vaccines and other drugs are made zero too. Hence we can expect cheaper medical treatment. 
3. Import duty for Spare parts for aircraft is made zero. Hence Travelling by air will be cheaper. So travel by air and not by car. 
4. Did I miss something?
5. Let me Know.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Passing Through the Dark Economic Days?

One year ago, I wrote a post titled "eventful" July 2013. I chose to call it a "memorable month". With new set of politicians in power that promised "service with humility" and "power to the people", I had reason to harbor lots of positive expectations. Their alluring 100 day manifesto, I thought was the promise of the century. The much needed "change" it seemed was in the offing. Especially to an impoverished service man like me, they showed the pay revision candy and I acted like a child. In brief, I was actually dying to see the July 2014.

Now here I am, nearing to end my most awaited July 2014. The flames of much talked about pay revision has subsided. Back then National Council members fought against the pay hike. The reasons are still hard to understand, but it could be either of them; 1. the marginal hike accorded for them or 2. Their real Buddha nature. Love for the Nation? Well. I doubt! And interestingly and paradoxically, back in Korea I was skipping my meals to adjust my budget. What an irony of life!

Anyways, as per maths done by some of my colleagues, I was told that I would be getting an additional sum of Nu. +4000 monthly. Had it not been for the double digit market inflation, I think its a lot of money. Home Minister has started replacing the Finance Minster. It seems Finance Minister have no words left to utter. Recently Trade Minister has shown his deepest possible concern. He was sighted in the town doing a day long market research. His conclusions are astounding "There is no inflation in the market" was his finding. Somewhere, his results must have left academicians scratching their skull in awe.

"There is no inflation in the market". Hence our Politicians thinks taxing people is most suitable option. I am amazed. Green tax for the gas, service tax for telecom facilities, more tax for car import,  more TDS, more PF, more HC and more GIS and on goes the list. I may be wrong but I am little confused with the glorious economic policies we have before us. Indications are so vivid that, child Politicians are fiddling with fiscal policy like a toy.

Saving will continue to be a myth. 
Hand to mouth, we shall all survive. 
Pitiable we were and broke we will be. 
Owning a car, our distant dream,
A fairy tale, it shall remain.
oh! Miserable Economic dark days
Find thy own silver linings friends
Drive not they car to office
Use not they phone for official cause

Monday, July 14, 2014

In Bangkok watching World Cup Final 2014

After five hours in the air, I landed in Bangkok S/bum international airport in the best of my health. The flight from Seoul to Bangkok was another memorable experience. Back in the air, I shared a seat next to a Thai lady.  I am not sure but it seemed she had some stomach problem. She kept on farting all through the journey. I am amazed! I did not complain because I was Ok too, sleeping most part of my journey.  

Despite all the hyped political news in the mainstream media, Bangkok, the capital city of Thailand, I think is still a wonderful place to be. The rain in the evening was so so wonderful. The cooling effect it brought to the city was sensational. Thanks to some of our Bhutanese friends, I was able to put up in a five star hotel. But the night before, I slept in a host-less apartment in Bhutanese Embassy village. 
 TESCO, my best shopping place in Bangkok
In fortune town, I went frantic. I felt the child in me wanting to have everything in the store. With limited budget at my disposal, I realized how I was running out of permutation and combination to buy as many items as possible. I changed the screen guard for my old phone. I am happy that it looks like a brand new phone. I bought a cover for it too. I bought few shirts and a pair of slippers each for my three daughters. I bought a hair gel for myself and a shampoo for my wife. Pencils for my daughters and pen for my wife...oohh! I got the sensation that I was emptying the entire store. I never thought $100 could buy me so many items. 

Now I am waiting for the World cup final to begin. Argentina vs The Germans. What a match we have in hand. Although I never picked teams in the beginning, now I would want to see Argentina win the cup. But at the same time, I feel Germany is too good a team to be defeated. While my heart whispers Argentina, my head thunders Germany. Both teams have world-class players and both teams are equally deserving of the most coveted cup. It's very difficult to predict. It'll be unfair all the more to discredit either of the teams. So lets sit back and enjoy the game. Tomorrow morning we should be able to see one team in tears and other in more tears. In tears of victory and tears of  defeat.

And before I end this post, there is one thing I wanted to say. I am still not able to recover from the shock of Brazil loosing to Germany with 7:1 scoreline. 

Saturday, July 12, 2014

For Now, Good Bye to Seoul

After a meaningful 2 weeks in Seoul, Korea, I am finally going back. My training has been a  great achievement. I had the opportunity of being trained by some of the best analysts in the world. At the end of our training, fours of us, -me and my friends from Bangladesh, Philippines and Sri Lanka, we all learned that report writing is fun but at the same time can be sensitive too. In my opinion, I think it takes a lot of experience.

Although, we thought that DSA of $30 was a lot of money in the beginning, somewhere in the middle we came to realize that it was little less. I had to skip some meals to adjust my budget. But however in the end, with the supreme hospitality of our hosts, Korean Customs and other RILO AP officials, we actually thrived on that $30. All of us had lot to shop in the Meongdong market, all of us bought a lot of beautiful Korean souvenirs. I remain ever grateful to all the RILO AP officials for being so so generous with us. Even in our drunkard state, we all agreed that we are humans beings first and we feel for each other, irrespective of our diverse nationality.
With Deputy Head of RILO AP (tallest in the group) 
I will remember those dinners, both private and official. Our drinking sessions with lot of sensual communications had been a truly a memorable one. I will remember Mr. Nasier of Bangladesh singing "Ari-ari rang- suri-suri-rang" and touching the hearts of our Korean friends. I will also remember the lively atmosphere our RILO AP Head and Deputy head  had created during our official dinners and luncheons. They are truly intelligent and witty people. Probably that explains why Korean Customs administration is one of the best in the world. 

Our cultural excursion was even memorable. I had the good opportunity of visiting some of the UNESCO heritage sites in Seoul. By the way, South Korea have 10 cultural sites and 1 Natural site listed as UNESCO heritage site. The geomancy of Korean architecture is truly spellbinding.  Starting from the roof top to window panes, each part have a holy and auspicious significance of  their own. For example, during the last King of Joseon dynasty, the palace for the Price was built in the east, because Korean people believed that Price is like a rising Sun.
With female Culture Guide
Tour guides in their traditional Chima (for ladies) and Majoga (for men) dress at the sites are even more enthralling. They display a lot of pride and happiness in their cultural heritage. Although its a second language for them, they speak flawless English. They do no fumble like some of our guides in Bhutan. To, me they are a living history book. they are the stars of Korean culture. 
Female Culture Guide
I was told that most of the cultural sites were once destroyed by the invading forces of Japan. However they were rebuilt to their original glory. Unlike in many other countries, they were not left to ruin. One of the guides told the Japanese people in our group to take it as History. She said, otherwise the Koreans love Japanese. You see, they are even diplomatic!  
with a male  Korean Culture Guide
With these beautiful moments, I would like to bid good bye to this beautiful country. But someday, I would love to come back again. Anneongi-gaseyo

Monday, July 7, 2014

Tenda Tsechu In Shingkhar 2014

 I am writing this post from South Korea.

Today (on the birthday of Guru Rimpoche) if I were in Bhutan, I would have been among the people of my village. I would have been with my father and mother, with my siblings and with my relatives. I would have got all sorts of accolades and applause from our elders for consenting to sponsor a day long Tsechu. I would have been in marvelous lhakhang being built by our Lama. 

Drore Rinchen Goenpa then
In the past, the event used to be sponsored by Gomchens from the locality. I have a distant memory of the same Tsechu being once sponsored by my Gomchen brother. He probably must have toured length and breath to find the resources, merely to make the day grand, one, worthy of being called as the birthday of our greatest master. And I think he did. I was little boy then, I remember how all the people from our village, old and young, males and female came to attend the same. Paa- rice was served which was once a was a luxury then.  A lot of Arra was served too. All most all people got drunk both with Arra and by the mirth. Everyone danced and sang.  It was quite a fun day then. Well lot of beautiful memories though..

But but of late, the likes of civil servants from the community has taken turn to sponsor the same. This time around, the affair of Tsechu has become an expensive deal. That's why some were even forced (to be the sponsors). I am being told. And after all the ordeals of preparations, not many people turn up, for the reasons best known for themselves.

In my case, despite all my economic predicaments, my parents genuinely thought I was capable of shouldering the responsibility. They all know I have a small pay cheque but a large family. But they also knew that I have a big heart too.  And without actually knowing from where and how to find the resources, its my big heart that said 'yes'

Drore Rinchen Goenpa Now
Photo Credit:  Lama Ngodup Dorji.
Coincidentally 10th day in Bhutanese calender is my daughters birthday too. So last year on the same day when my mom and dad respectfully received the white scarf from our lama  and upon receiving the message of the same from them. I wrote this lines on my facebook page: 
"Five years ago, after an eventful day with the ward lady, my daughter Sonam was born in Thimphu Hospital. Traditionally she share her birthday with Guru Rimpoche. She is five now and she is growing faster and lot bigger than her age. One year down the line, when she become six, I will be not only hosting my her birthday but also Guru Rimpoche's Birthday in beautiful village of Shingkhar."
So, had it not been for this important training, I would have really wanted to go home and be among our locals. I would have wanted to be the first sponsor to host Guru's birthday in the brand new Lhakhang being constructed by our Lama. Our lama, I believe have not only the biggest heart but also have tenacity and patience ( to have actually undertaken such a project single-handed). Few months ago, I was just telling myself that if Bhutan have 20 such lamas, then reconstructions of much talked about Dzong like Wangdiphodrang should not be a problem. 

Lama Ngodup Rimpoche of Shingkar dechenling

So today, I would like to congratulate our Lama and offer him my sky-big, earth-big Tashi Delek for all the painful efforts he has put in in creating this marvel in our community. May our Lama live long, happy and prosperous for eons. May he continue to live and bless all the sentient beings. 

With this, I would also like to thank few of my friends for their heart felt generous contributions. I am sure good fortunes are on your way. I would like to thank my dearest wife for all the preparations she made for the Tsechu. May your wishes come true dear. Most importantly, I would like to thank all, my mom, dad, sisters, achos, for their part in making the day a success, especially Acho Karma Wangda for all the extra initiatives he had to make to cover up my absence. May Lord Longchenpa bless you all with long life, good luck and happy days ahead.

One of my sister serving Arra

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Chang Deok Gung Palace of Joseon Dynasty

Few months ago, I wrote a short post on Joseon Dynasty of Korea. By the way Korea was ruled by the Kings of Joseon dynesty for good number of years. Today the dynasty is long dead and gone. But there is an air of respect and gratefulness which Korean people still show to the their long lost leaders. Some of the palaces built as early as the 13th century are still preserved as though the royal family were there the day before. 

The palace at the outskirts of Seoul city called Chnagdeokgung is one such palace built by the by the third King of Joseon dynesty in 1405. unfortunately, the palace was destructed by the Japanese invasion in 15th century. However it was recreated to its former glory in 16th century. For some reasons, known only to the King, it became his favorite palace. Later, king also created a secret garden, where royal family used it as a place to relax and rest. 

The tour was worth Korean won 8000 (excluding the transportation and lunch). Thanks to this trip I am now able to use the subway metro system. It was an amazing feeling to be able to travel in Seoul without any problem. I am finally starting to understand what world class public transportation system actually means. 

Its been quite a number of time that our Government has been fiddling with policy of vehicle import system. Sometimes they have put up a blind ban. This time they have now decided to impose an of abnormal import duty. I am starting to think that, if they really care and dare, then first thing they should do is to improve our public transportation system. May be we can take a lot of inspiration from Korea. 

By the way, I took few pictures in the Palace compound, Please enjoy the beauty of palace.

At the main entrance gate of the palace

That's me in crocs and and shorts. Mind you crocs cost Won 69,000 (=USD 69) in Korea 

I with beautiful Korean Girls. They  look more like the statues (I mean the beautiful statues) we have in our Temples

Entrance point of King's secret garden. Once upon a time,
Nobody entered this gate without King's permission

One resting place of King inside the secret garden

The beams and the pillars made me think that King must have well been the reincarnate of Zow Vishu Karma. 

Another resting place for the King and his family 

I am mesmerized by the palace compound, and more by the striking similarity Bhutan shares with Korea 

We, the Tourist

The stone steps now closed for public. may be the stones are getting worn out

Living in Gangnam City

Without much hitch, I have completed my first week here in Korea. Each day has been an exciting one. I am privileged to have the company of my three trainee friends from Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Philippines. While the Lankan girl and Philipino guy are friendly, its the humor of our Bangladeshi friend that keeps us all going. 

According to Mr. Naser, the Asst. Director of Bangladeshi Customs, He feels that laughter is something which a metro city like Seoul is seriously lacking. He feels that without laughter, attending a training on access and excel wouldn't be an easy thing. Perhaps, he is now getting the exchange rate of Korean won to the USD right, because he doesn't talk much about travels and gifts any more! His disgust for Korean food, seems have reached to the highest limit. Kimchi, he said is a miserable food. True to his words, in one of the recent Korean science journal, it rightly said that the amount of salt being used in Korean food is of a big concern for the Koreans themselves. He calls afternoon nap as "marathon sleep".

Well, let me not gossip more about my friend. Rather I would like to take this post to share my own Korean experience. To begin with, Korea is one country that I know, rose from the cruelty of colonial oppression and brutal shocks of the wars. Spurred by the greed of super powers, the cold war effect in peninsula finally ended with the division of the motherland into South and North. While, North (so called the fatherland by its founder Kim Il-Sung) chose to remain secluded and cut off from the world, South has progressed to this level. Few of them tell me that love for the motherland and hard work are the key component that brought them thus far.   

Korea, not doubt is a trendy place now. Especially in Seoul city, fashion, I think is the life blood, that is keeping the city alive. I am guessing, whether this fashionestia is responsible for making the Gangnam area more expensive then the rest. So here are few observations I made in Gangnam city.

People: Outwardly, many Bhutanese people have the notion that Koreans are among the most good looking people in Asia. I think we are right. Both male and female, they are known for their sharp features, fair skin and unique hair dress ups.They are actually phone-liking people.

Many Bhutanese youth, who are oblivious about the recent proliferation of so many plastic surgeries actually wanted to look like Koreans, sing like Koreans, dace like Koreans, eat like Koreans and live like Koreans. Apart from the external looks, Koreans, I think are steadfast people. They are people who mind their own business. Free in their own world, other matters seem to bother them least. To understand Korean, one simply need to open up the conversation. Its the gate way to their beautiful heart.

Food: Kimchi is the first thing that come to my mind. However, there are thousand other Korean dishes that are still prevalent. Although there has been an unprecedented invasion of KFC and MacDonald and other foreign (fast) foods, indigenous Korean foods, it seems have withstood the foray. Almost all kinds of foods are served hot and spicy, but at a equally hot and spicy price tag too. Some served in stone pots and some in bamboo canes.

Unlike the Japanese (who uses bamboo chopsticks) and Chinese (who uses wooden chopsticks), Koreans use Chopsticks made of steel. This according to one Korean official is to poke their enemies.. ha ha. He was kidding. And here is one thing that might prove useful for foreigners traveling to Korea. Koreans' one serving can satisfy 2-3 average hungry person. Besides main dish, rice and kimchi being the popular side dish wre served with numerous other dishes. Even the soup will have a side dish of rice. Now Bhutanese people, how do you like it? Therefore, to minimize cost and reduce wastage, avoid ordering every individual a different meal.

Shopping: Seoul is an international shopping hub. Any doubt about that? However for an average shopper, Gangnam is one area I would not recommend. In fact I would not recommend any of my Bhutanese friends to shop here. They have all the killer price tags. That is why our Bangladeshi friend have humorously chosen a name for Seoul; The "dead city".

I am told that Gangnam area is a shopping place for trendy people, like pop stars, film actors and for politicians. But for an average Bhutanese civil servant like me, I find every place in Seoul, so so dear. And the saddest fact is that, to our own misfortune, our training is being conducted in the heart of these chic city. Everyday, we are paying twice as much for food, water and for beer and soju. With each passing day, our wallets are becoming thinner and thinner.

Cars: One thing that is all glittering about this city is the variety of cars they have. Starting from their home made KIA and Hyundai they have all the cars between the sky and the earth. BMW, Mercedes, Lamborghini, Ferrari, Audi, Ford and volvo are few I can name. But surprisingly, in my one week, I just saw one Toyota car. This to me, shows the intensity of rivalry between the car makers of Korea and Japan has reached.
Girls:  Without writing a line on Korean girls, my Korean experience wouldn't be complete. Yes, they look exotic, sexy, slender and cute. They are girls in the world, who defined the real meaning of "shorts" and style. Shorts at the moment seem to be the most popular outfit among the Korean young girls. Or is it because its summer now? Our Bangladeshi friend call them the "Long legs".

But there is one dark side to this beauty aspect;  -the plastic surgery. I don't know how many people view it. For me, I am just wondering why, especially the beautiful girls require modification when they are richly blessed by mother nature. I feel its just a plain greed to simply look artificially beautiful. (for few years?) it is an act of defying and deceiving nature. If Joan Keats were alive, he would have died murmuring "beauty is impermanence"

By the way, there are some ugly girls here too. I don't know from where they have come. They are huge like elephants! Some have arms bigger than my Thais.  They look like man! I think they could  have easily qualified for a place in WWE!

Language: Not many people speak English here. But when they do, they are far better than us. Otherwise most people talk to foreigners in their own Koreanized English.

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