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.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Suiting and Booting Abroad; My Way

With this trip abroad, much to the envy of my friends, I have been to several countries already. Each travel has been an exciting enterprise. There are some enriching experience which I cannot put in words. They can be only felt. Although I have never benefited monetarily from the travels, there are few intrinsic things which even million dollar wouldn't buy. The bond of friendship I tie with friends abroad and the wisdom and acumen I achieve through these travels are few things that make me feel way richer.

During those travels, I have had the opportunity of representing my country. I feel blessed. Getting trained by resourceful people around the world and  living and dining in some of the finest hotels on the earth are what I call blessings. So each time I travel abroad, the first thing I do is portray myself as Bhutanese to the best, both inwardly and outwardly.  Therefore suiting and booting are not in my dressing agenda. I just go with my olf ghos.  I call it as my way of booting and suiting abroad. 

By the way this time we are four participants. Just four! One person each from Bhutan, Bangladesh, Philippines and Sri Lanka. Four of us are here to learn the techniques and methods of analyzing information into reliable intelligence. You see. I am soon going to become an analyst. We are generously paid a DSA of USD 30 per day. Its a lot of money!

Our Bangladeshi friend, who is on his maiden ex-country training, at first had difficulty breathing when we were handed over Korean won worth 420,000 each. Till yesterday evening, he was under culture shock. Just like I struggled with the light switch in Japan(on my first trip), during our welcome dinner, he struggled with his chopsticks. Today he is down with flu. He still speaks Bangali to me and our Sri Lankan friend thinks I am good at it.

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