Blog of the Week – The Road from West to East

Recently, two of our passionate and wonderful educators, Vicky and Ian, have returned back to Bhutan to see the sights and again reconnect with the country they called home while teaching in Rangjung, Trashigang in 2011 and 2012. We certainly missed their amazing blog which highlighted so many of their experiences teaching and living in Bhutan and we’re glad to share parts of their story again!

Photo Credit: Vicki - Trashigang Dzong
Photo Credit: Vicky and Ian – Trashigang Dzong
The sweet smell of the pine trees was my first real physical impression of being back in Bhutan. As we motored toward Thimphu the waft of pine needles cleared our heads and allowed us to see the surrounding countryside more sharply. It felt GREAT to be back. – Druk Dreaming
Photo Credit: Vicky and Ian. Vicky with her homeroom class of then Class X.
Photo Credit: Vicky and Ian. Vicky with her homeroom class of then Class X.

There is something about the east of Bhutan. As you drive out of Bumthang and cross the river you begin a real adventure. The regiments of old, tall, ramrod straight trees draped with Old Man’s Beard stand guard over the east’s treasures…The roads in the east cling more precariously to the mountainsides than those in the west. After passing through Ura and Sengor you descend towards Mongar. As you travel you see enormous Rhododendron bushes as big as trees and eventually neem and guava alongside citrus and other fruit trees…

Photo Credit: Vicky and Ian.  Returning to Rangjung LSS.
Photo Credit: Vicky and Ian. Returning to Rangjung LSS.
…The sight of the golden roof of the Trashigang Dzong marked our arrival back to where our Bhutan adventure really began over two years ago. I must say it does feel nice to be home. – The road from west to east- the long road home to T/gang
Photo Credit: Vicky and Ian - New Chorten at Rangjung HSS
Photo Credit: Vicky and Ian – New Chorten at Rangjung HSS

Vicky and Ian started their adventures in the Kingdom’s capital of Thimphu (Druk Dreaming and Reflections on Returning). From there, they travelled back to where their Bhutan adventure really began in Trashigang. Read about their journey at The road from west to east – the long road home to T/gang and Returning to Rangjung.

Lama Karma Namgyel in Toronto

From September 25th to October 2nd, the Medicine Buddha Sand Mandala Tour & Empowerment is taking place in Markham with the revered Lama Karma Namgyel. The Medicine Buddha Sand Mandala Tour offers a unique window into the Sacred Arts and Buddhist Practices of Bhutan, including the construction of the sand mandala, fire and water ceremonies, traditional lama dances, and presentations on their cultural and spiritual arts. The event is very open and flexible as one can attend all or parts of the program!

Learn more at the Terma Foundation.

Spotlight on the District Series – Paro Dzongkhag

Paro is the gateway to the country of Bhutan! This picturesque region is one of the widest valleys in the Kingdom and is covered in fertile rice fields with a beautiful river winding down the valley. Home to Bhutan’s only international airport, this district gives BCF teachers their first glimpse of the majestic beauty that is Bhutan.

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Photo Credit: Andrea Chisolm – Paro

Described as one of the most difficult landings in the world – check out some of our posts about the somewhat frightening journey into Paro at Paro Airport – The Challenging Yet Rewarding Flight to Bhutan and Video – Druk Air Soars.

Druk air is a timely, beautiful flight with Everest in the distance and Kachenjunga close by. A quick stop in Bagdogra, Sikkim, India, and over the hills to Paro. Coming into Paro the flight path is up a canyon, plane banking left and right as we fly below the ridgetops on both sides. – BCF teacher Brick Root

There are over 155 temples and monasteries in Paro Dzongkhag, some dating as far back as 14th century. One of the most iconic is the Taktsang Lhakhang, translated to The Tigers Nest. This temple is one of the most holy sites in the Kingdom and clings to a sheer cliff face 900 hundred meters above the Paro Valley. The hike up to the monastery is a good 2-3 hours but is well worth it!

Photo Credit: Raewyn Robbins - Tigers Nest Monastary
Photo Credit: Raewyn Robbins – Tigers Nest Monastary

To learn more about all the different districts in Bhutan check out our Spotlight on the District Series!

Archery in Bhutan

A bow, an arrow, and a target. Aim and release.

Sounds simple enough. Not for the people of Bhutan, who have taken the skills of archery as their national sport and as a celebrated pastime. Credited as not having much of a sports culture, Bhutan gets competitive and fierce with their national archery tournament.

Photo Credit : Kuni Takahashi,The New York Times
Photo Credit : Kuni Takahashi,The New York Times

Traditional robes and high knee-high dark socks make up the uniform, as metal compound bows (imported from the United States) or bamboo bows make up their equipment. Crowds gather early as matches starts early in the morning at 8am and ends into the late afternoon until 4pm. As the day dwindles, the top winners get to go home with prizes such as washing machines, refrigerators or microwaves.

Photo Credit : Archery - Kuni Takahashi, The New York Times
Photo Credit : Archery – Kuni Takahashi, The New York Times

“Once you pull the bow, you forget about everything else and find complete bliss. And if you can hold that mentality for 24 hours and 365 days, that’s enlightenment.” (Gardiner Harris, NYTimes).

Just as any national sport, archery is more than just an activity. It is a vital aspect of  Bhutanese culture and way of life.

Learn more about the national sport of Bhutan at Why Everyone in the World Should Cheer on Bhutan at the London Games and with the video below:

Update from an Alumnus – Reidi Smith

Continuing on with our segment Update from an Alumnus, we are excited to bring you an update from 2012 BCF teacher Aurelia “Reidi” Smith! Reidi spent a year in Bhutan teaching English to students in grades 7 – 9 at Autsho MSS in the district of Lhuentse. While in Bhutan, along with teaching a full schedule, Reidi helped improve the library with a School Development Grant from BCF -> Stories from the Field – Library Improvement.

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Photo Credit: Aurelia Smith – Bhutan
Photo Credit: Aurelia Smith – Class 8 ‘B’ and their English Madame

Currently, Reidi is in Korea teaching at Cheonan Technical High School in the city of Cheonan and we enjoyed reading about her recent experiences with everything from a new home, school, and food at her blog entry Wash and Repeat!

My school is 95% boy. It is the biggest school in the entire province (over 1,500) and the best technical high school in the whole district. I teach 7 classes of “regular” English during the week, with 4 different co-teachers that vary in style and commitment. Additionally, every day, I teach an Internship Class, from 4:50-7:50 p.m., that is preparation for a platform which will, hopefully, prepare those chosen students for an actual real-life chance to go to either the U.S., Canada, New Zealand, or Australia to work as interns after they graduate.

SchoolKorea
Photo Credit Aurelia Smith – In front of my school, Cheonan Technical High. The campus is huge.

I can’t say that I feel necessarily homesick, or the separation anxiety that I did last year. This is not to say that I don’t think of the people who are reading this and yearn to share these visions and moments with you every single day; but I have brought you all here with me. I look at it this way: I won’t compare Bhutan to this; I can’t. Apples to oranges. But I can say that, when going to Bhutan, I was hoping/assuming that I would magically trans-morph into a certain type of person, simply by osmosis. The time I spent at my home in Nebraska in between Bhutan and now, though not felt or seen as that at the time, added to what I felt and experienced in Bhutan and prepared me for this. I am now fully open, ready, and receptive to all this newness, and I can’t say that was the case in my previous experience. Running the risk of sounding redundant, again: I am so open, grateful, and aware of the blessings that are being bestowed on me now. I feel that life is gifting me in such big and small ways. And with this recognition comes the mitigated sensation that I’m cashing in all my chips at once, inadvertently so. So I hope I can do enough to give back. Because I feel vibrant; I feel vital; I feel I am who and where I should be right now. I am thriving.

Read more about Reidi’s experience in Bhutan at her blog Himalayan View.

Canadian Tenor in Opera Bhutan

A musical first! The opera Acis and Galatea by G. F. Handel is the chosen piece for creator and director Aaron Carpene for Opera Bhutan. Performing artists from around the world will meet with Bhutanese performers in this historic premiere of live opera taking place in the Kingdom of Bhutan. This project will combine Handel’s classic music with Bhutanese cultural expressions (voice, ritual dance, instrumentation, design, and symbols). For Aaron, “With Opera Bhutan I wanted to put Handel into a completely new context…one of the exciting elements is the interaction with traditional Bhutanese dance and music within the Handel score.”

Photo Credit: Aaron Carpene
Photo Credit: Aaron Carpene – Rehearsals

Music is very important in Bhutanese society and continues to be a major carrier of culture, spiritual values and tradition from generation to generation. With Bhutan’s ongoing opening to the outside world at a time of rapid globalization, opportunities for the Bhutanese people to hear and experience new musical expressions have increased. However, there have been very limited opportunities for the Bhutanese people to experience live Western classical music (voice or instruments) – and no live experience with the full expression of opera. 

Likewise, most audiences in the West have no experience of the important music, dance, and other unique cultural expressions very much alive in the Eastern Himalayas. Accordingly, this project offers a particularly rare and enriching opportunity for everyone involved – audiences and artists alike – to explore and experience something new yet rooted in and inspired by genuinely important and vital authentic artistic traditions that know very little of each other or of their differing understandings of “art”. – Aaron on the Opera Bhutan Project

Photo Credit: Aaron Carpene - Stefano Vizioli - stage director, Aaron Carpene - conductor, Bhutanese friend
Photo Credit: Aaron Carpene – Stefano Vizioli – stage director, Aaron Carpene – conductor, Bhutanese friend

A Canadian, acclaimed tenor Thomas Macleay, will appear in the lead role of Acis in the extraordinary Opera Bhutan premiere of Handel’s Acis and Galatea. Thomas Macleay studied music and drama at the University of Alberta, McGill University, the Banff Centre, the Canadian Vocal Arts Institute and l’Atelier lyrique de l’Opera de Montreal. He was the title role of Acis for Opera Atelier in 2010.

This timeless masterpiece Acis and Galatea is based on one of the stories from Ovid’s Metamorphoses: Acis and Galatea’s love is wrecked and destroyed by the jealous cyclopean monster, Polyphemus. Galatea’s grief inspires her divine powers to transform the mortal Acis into an ever-flowing stream.

Acis and Galatea from Opera Bhutan takes place October 12th 2013 at The Royal Textile Academy in Thimphu, Bhutan. For questions or interest attending, please email contact@operabhutan.com.

To learn more about Opera Bhutan, check out this great article by The Global Dispatches, Handel in Bhutan, and the Opera Bhutan website!

Thimphu Tshechu

One of the biggest festivals in Bhutan is the Thimphu Tshechu which is celebrated in the Tashichho Dzong located in the capital city of Thimphu. Tshechus are an annual Bhutanese festival held in each district on the 10th day of a month of the lunar calendar corresponding to the birthday of Guru Rimpoche (Guru Padmasambhava). This year the Thimphu Tshechu was held Sept 14 – Sept 16. These festivals are grand events where entire communities come together to witness religious mask dances, receive blessings, and socialize!

Photo Credit: Tourism Council of Bhutan
Photo Credit: Tourism Council of Bhutan

The highlight of Thimphu Tshechu is the showcase of ethnic folk dance in the famous Tashichho Dzong. The court yard of this Dzong is the platform for the performances that is marked by traditionally designed colourful masks. Many of the dances performed at the festival are designed to teach lessons about how one’s behaviour on earth affects the afterlife, while others are believed to influence the actions of the spirits or to purify sacred ground.

Photo Credit: Tourism Council of Bhutan
Photo Credit: Tourism Council of Bhutan

To learn more about the Thimphu Tshechu and to see a calender of events in Bhutan, visit the Tourism Council of Bhutan’s website!

Stories From the Field – Reading Event at Trongsa PS

We are happy to share another inspiring story from the field! This week, BCF teacher Kyle McGee; who is currently teaching at Trongsa Primary School in Trongsa; participated in managing 400+ students for a reading event held at the school in August.

Photo Credit: Kyle McGee - Class 6 girl helping class 4 boy
Photo Credit: Kyle McGee – Class 6 girl helping class 4 boy
Photo Credit: Kyle McGee - A class 6 girl seems to have tamed a few of the crazier class 4 boys and has them reading!
Photo Credit: Kyle McGee – A class 6 girl seems to have tamed a few of the class 4 boys and has them reading!

It seemed like an impossible task. Manage 400+ 8-10 year old students with only 3 people – one quiet teacher, one caretaker, and myself. All of the other teachers were required to go to a parent meeting and we would have to manage by ourselves. 

As I knew about it the day before, I was able to do some planning. We had all the class teachers tell the students to bring their library books. Saturday would be the first day of a Reading Buddy program we had talked about. 

The next day was challenging to say the least. As there was little supervision, most of the students avoided work during their normal cleanup time. We rang the assembly bell late and that caused more confusion. A sound system was arranged so I could talk to all the students and tell them what was going on. 

Photo Credit: Kyle McGee - A small group of class 4 and 6 girls - A few of them can't read without help..
Photo Credit: Kyle McGee – A small group of class 4 and 6 girls

The concept was simple. Upper class students would partner up with lower class students to help them read their books. Arranging the students was much more of a challenge. After our traditional assembly, we lined up all the students by sections. As I was trying to explain what we would do, the power went out and chaos ensued. Luckily the other few staff members stepped in to help. 

We started matching up students and sent them to areas to start to read together. It took awhile to round up a few students who ran off, but we finally got things going. 

…In the end, we decided to implement this program every Wednesday. We now forgo the morning assembly and 1st period just for reading and it has helped a lot. I’m just glad things worked out and the kids really had lots of fun reading! 

Trongsa PS has a blog, which highlights some of their experiences, the history of the school, and professional development. There are a few posts with absolutely stunning photos about the successful reading program at Trongsa PS, which you can read here: Bhutanese Teachers’ Teaching at Trongsa Primary School.

For more Stories From the Field check out our series!

Spotlight on the District Series – Trongsa Dzongkhag

This week for our Spotlight on the District Series we bring you Trongsa Dzongkhag! Currently, we have two BCF teachers placed in this district – Sarah Diamond who is teaching at Tshangkha LSS and Kyle McGee at Trongsa PS.

tcb_031613_trongsa-dzong-4Photo Credit: Tourism Council of Bhutan

Tshangkha LSS is located 25 kms before reaching Trongsa. This boarding school mainly caters to the young school-going children of the surrounding villages. Trongsa PS is located on a slope overlooking the Trongsa Dzong, at a distance of about 1km uphill from the main town and is a day school for pre-primary to grade 6 students.

Tshangkha LSS & Trongsa PS

Tshangkha LSS & Trongsa PS

Trongsa Dzongkhag is located in Central Bhutan and due to it’s strategic position, it was considered crucial to controlling the kingdom in earlier years. Situated on a steep ridge this district offers spectacular views of the underlying valleys. Located in this district is the Trongsa Dzong. This striking dzong sits high above the roaring Mangde Chhu (a river that flows in central Bhutan) and has been described as “the most spectacularly sited dzong in Bhutan with a sheer drop to the south that often disappears into cloud and mist”. Of the many festivals held in various parts of Trongsa, the grandest is the three-day annual Tshechu. Falling in November or December of the international calendar, the festivities carry on for several days with mask dances and blessings from high ranking monks.

Photo Credit: Raewyn Robbins – Festival in Trongsa

Also located in the Trongsa district is the Institute of Language and Cultural Studies. One of the constituent colleges of the Royal University of Bhutan, ILCS’s motto is “To produce modern citizens with traditional knowledge”. The Institute’s vision is to be a centre of excellence in higher learning and research in Dzongkha, Culture, History, Buddhist Studies, and Himalayan Studies, and be a premier institution for cultural preservation and promotion. Learn more at the Institute of Language and Cultural Studies’ website.

 To learn more about all the different districts in Bhutan check out our Spotlight on the District Series

Tour of the Dragon

This past weekend on Saturday September 7th the fourth Tour of the Dragon took place in Bhutan! This 268 kilometre mountain bike race takes participants through central and western Bhutan and is one of the most challenging one-day events in the world. Set amid the high mountains of Bhutan, the race covers elevations ranging from 1,200 to 3,340 meters and crosses four mountain passes before concluding in the capital city of Thimphu. This year, the fastest racer was Sonam from Bhutan who completed the race in 11 hours and 13 minutes. What a feat! A Canadian woman, Sandra Walter, came in 8th place with the impressive time of 13 hours.

The race is aptly named the Tour of the Dragon, not only because it is being held in Bhutan, which is also called the Land of the Thunder Dragon, but also because of its difficulty. As difficult as it is to conquer a dragon, so is it difficult to complete the race! (tourofthedragon.com)

bhutan-mountain-biking

 Photo Credit: Modern Traveler

For more information and the results from this year’s race check out the Tour of the Dragon website. The fifth Tour of the Dragon will take place on September 6th, 2014 so start your cycling!