Bhutan, Meditation, Bread, Learning, Friends, Family, Music, Books, MT

Saturday, January 30, 2010


David said he liked it when he was mentioned in my blog.
David and I did not talk much. I never speak very much. David was too busy concentrating on the chess to talk. The game in the photo took place on the banks of a river in Shiga, Japan. The venue was David's idea. He has good ideas.
The white "bucket" just behind the chess board is David's portable barbecue.
Small, like David, but it works, unlike David. We cooked the squid on it, then ate it. It was a great day.
Jackie took the photo, and cheered Dave up after the losses.
Visit Jackie here.
This recipe reminded me of David and Jackie.
I have not tried it, as the sea is quite a long way from Bhutan. Let me know if you do try it.
Squid With Chilies and Greens

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Where Am I?

As a Buddhist, I try to take responsibility for all that happens in the universe. If something goes wrong in your life, dear reader, you can blame me.
On the other hand, Al is responsible for me being away from the blog. He told me about a series of books by Stieg Larsson, The Millennium Trilogy.

If you click on the picture, you should go to Larsson's site .....even though he is dead.
The local bookshops don't make it easy to find books, as they don't use alphabetical order. But I managed to find the first two books in the series. All of Sunday was spent in the first book. Now I am half way through the second.
So apologies for my absence while I finish. Send your complaints to Al.
I hope to get the third volume as an iTablet version. ;)
But first I need someone to buy the iTablet (iSlate? iCanvas?).

Nothing is Permanent

This "conversation" took place after my post about fish and chips.

1. Fish and Chips
The article was interesting but I didn't see mention of the National Federation of Fish Friers, which was established in 1913 and is in Leeds - only about a mile from where I live.
I can't remember the last time I ate f 'n' c because I buy some things from a fish friers' supplier and am dismayed at some of the additives used. :-(

2. Loaves and Fish (No Chips?)
Interesting Mary. The origins of foods always lead (Leed!) to disputes. Being a Kiwi, I know about the Pavlova debate with our Australian friends. I will update by blog though. Thanks.
We may get into trouble for going off the topic. However, we could argue that we are linking fish to bread with the Biblical account of Jesus feeding the masses with 5 loaves and 2 fish.
Does anyone know what kind of bread they would have been baking there and then? And how about a recipe for a loaf that will feed 1000, if my maths is correct?
Right, I must go and feed 5 with a packet of macaroni, milk, cheese and the remains of my loaf of bread.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Renaissance Man

Alan. There is not much this man cannot do. If you want your house renovated, a nice painting (any colour), or your tooth extracted, then Al is the one. His one flaw is a complete inability to understand triglobular calculus. It takes a trained eye to see this defect in his work, so don't let that stop you investing in one (or more) of his creations.

Al was an art teacher and I was a maths teacher. When I needed some paper, I visited Al. He was generous with his paper, and his time, and everything else. I am a sucker for generous people. We shared similar tastes in how we viewed life. With a good deal of irreverence and a somewhat strange sense of humour. Goonish.
Strangely, teaching is a rather lonely job. You spend most of you day in front of classes. Busy trying for some modicum of control. Some students are good company. Others, not really. Lunchtime is the time you get to see other teachers. I sat with Al for lunch. Nice sandwiches. Excellent conversation. Not about school. Some sanity in the day. Insanity in a sane kind of way.
Al showed me how to calligraph, photograph, stick up gib board, plaster gib board, fix rotting piles, paint, and how to complete a yearly budget. The trick there was to hand in the same request every year. When you realise that nobody ever reads it, you save a lot of time. A down to earth kind of guy. He could make some fancy things out of earth too.
I did help Al once. He was laying some instant lawn on a mound at a kindergarten. This was the perfect time to use my triglobular integration skills. Working with the figures (height, diameter) that Al provided, I came up with the area. Al reported that the answer I gave was perfect. Maths is like that.
Later, I drove past the kindergarten. I never told Al, but the shape was completely different from the one that I integrated.
Al sent me some other figures the other day that he had scribbled with a lump of coal. Some he had drawn for an upcoming exhibition. If you are around Christchurch at the time, please check out..

"On Site"
Gallery O @ The Arts Centre
Feb 16 – 22

Al will show you, free, how to write large numbers in beautiful writing.
In your cheque book.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Under Pressure

This article, Tips from The Guardian on using a pressure cooker, discusses the fear of using a pressure cooker. Here, in Bhutan, pressure cookers are used daily. Because we are at a high altitude, the boiling point of water is lower. To cook potatoes would take forever. Nearly. Meat is often cooked in a pressure cooker too. In fact, the stove is not turned down once the steam has built up. No. The valve lets off steam. Things die down for a few minutes. Then the valve blows again. The number of "whistles" is used to time the cooking. As you walk along streets, you hear all the pressure cookers hissing.

Dad cooked corned beef in the pressure cooker. It happened fairly regularly. It did seem rather dramatic to us kids. When Mum used it, she usually managed to catch the thing before it blew. Not Dad. Every time we had corned beef there was a hiss and a roar. He was probably watching cricket on TV, or sitting reading the paper ... on the toilet ...with the door open. The corned beef was always a treat though. Once it was not corned beef. Dad had found a real deal, probably way across the other side of town. I cannot remember what he bought, but it was rather strange.

Ah, five whistles. The rice must be ready for dinner. And breakfast. And lunch.

Happy Birthday Bro

Thursday, January 21, 2010

A Rye Smile

Rye flour appeared in "Shop 7" late last year. Shop 7 used to be Number 7 on the main road in town. Now the shop has moved into its own building up in Motithang.  Lucky for us that live up there. The old name stuck. They stock things that foreigners like. Rye flour, for example.
Today I made a couple of loaves using the rye flour. The Bertinet book again. The recipe is for "pain de campagne", which sounds French. A home style loaf. The process takes a long time. The night before you mix up a ferment. Over night, it .... ah ...ferments, and when added to the other ingredients it adds wonderful flavours. A cheats sourdough.
After mixing in the ferment and kneading, the dough is left for two and a half hours. Then you form two loaves, and wait another hour and a quarter. And finally, the bread is baked.
Instead of steaming the oven, I heat up my large casserole dish, and bake the bread in that.
The bread can be left for a few days to age. If you can wait...

Wednesday, January 20, 2010


Last week my little brother was giving me a chess lesson.
This week, I am having a cooking lesson from my wee sister.
Look at these wonderful tortellini...

Just wish I could taste them too.

Pizza Lesson

Tuesday was a great adventure....

The story started last year. We have not met Elaine and Terence yet. We must. They are my favourite people, apart from the rest of you. I wrote a book with Terence. Terence wrote all of it. I was more the ideas person. One very small idea. An idea that he never used in the book. Still, he gave me a mention in the foreword, and I think that increased the sales. I bought it!
Elaine. A wonderful, compassionate, erudite woman. Somewhat attached to Terence. We first met in Bhutan many years ago. I liked them instantly. The instant they gave me the pack of fresh coffee. Then I got to know them, and the friendship blossomed.
Last year they made another visit. They stayed at a nice hotel, across the river from Thimphu. After tasting one of my pizzas, they informed the hotel's owner that I made great pizzas. Thus the owner took my number and said I had to come around and rattle up a pizza for him. I was rather worried about this. The pizza I had cooked for E and T was the first one I had ever made.
Luckily, that phone call never came.
Last Saturday, my phone rang. A man. A man wanting me to show him and his chefs how to make pizza. A shock for Mark. "Yes, yes," I said. "How about Tuesday morning? Fine. See you then." The phone went down. You don't put mobile phones down, do you?
In the grasp of shock, I had failed to remember who was speaking to me and where he was. Not looking good. Thimphu is a fairly big city, with lots of hotels.
I did have the phone number though. First I assumed it was something to do with E and T. But I had my doubts. Intuition. Female intuition. I got that from my father.

On Monday, I visited my old school to catch up with Bishnu. Bishnu told me that he had just given my number to Dasho Lhendup, the owner of Hotel 89. Ah! The penny dropped. They use ngultrum here. So, about 74.7 ngultrum dropped.
... May I have a time warp in my blog?
No. Well you can't stop me....
Dasho (an honorific rather like Sir) picked me up in the morning, and I was welcomed to 89 with a lovely cup of coffee. The chefs were all ready for me. With sharp knives. A lovely clean kitchen. They even had an apron for me. No hat though. The oven was smaller than the one I have at home, but it worked fine. I demonstrated how I made my dough, using the method in Richard Bertinet's books. The chef took over, and did a much better job than me. The dough is similar to their Naan dough.

Then I produced some dough that I had made earlier. We split it into four pieces and each made our own toppings. Mine was boring. Simple. Enlightened? Thinley was more adventurous. The Bhutanese ingredient. About five chilies, chopped, seeds and all. I reminded myself to steer clear of that during the tasting. The chefs were brilliant. Onions and garlic stir fried. There was much discussion about the possibilities. They laughed when ham and pineapple was suggested by the white man.
Dasho had disappeared. When he returned he had a bag of home made sausages. I thought he was going to put these on his pizza, but he gave them to me. He had been shown how to make these by an Italian man. The smell was a real treat. Please, Dasho, don't ever show the Italian how I make pizza.
Guess what I had for dinner tonight.
Sausage pizza would be a good guess.
A wrong guess though.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Olive Chilli Cheese Loaf

My latest experiment:

Made in Comic Life

Natural Great Peace

"Rest in natural great peace this exhausted mind,
Beaten helpless by karma and neurotic thoughts
Like the relentless fury of the pounding waves
In the infinite ocean of samsara.
Rest in natural great peace."
– Nyoshul Khen Rinpoche

Monday, January 18, 2010


Thanks for the photos, Tomoyo.
Made in Comic Life

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Chess II

Detailed Analysis of My Loss:

Mat cheated?
I was sick?
I had an off day?
I let him win?
Must play properly next time?
White has a huge advantage?
I taught him all he knows?
It was just a dream?
The path is what counts?
He plays better than me!

So, I made another comic. It is a prize for my little brother.
Note: Mat was in NZ, and I was in Bhutan.
We played by emailing our moves.

Made in Comic Life

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Phajoding Monastery: Meet Karma, a friend in Bhutan.

Towards the end of 1996, I saw an advertisement... 
"Wanted...Maths Teacher in Bhutan."
After finding out where Bhutan was, and what it was like, I applied and in due course found myself teaching at a high school in Thimphu, the capital of Bhutan. After 15 years teaching in a NZ high school, this was a real change. A very pleasant change.

Karma arrived as a trainee teacher. Another karmic link? We have been friends ever since. Karma is a highly intelligent and very creative person. Our times together are most stimulating. For me, anyway.

The other day, Karma asked me why he had not been mentioned in this blog. So I wrote this post about a walk we did together at the end of 2009. A decade ago! We climbed up to Phajoding Monastery.

Here is a quote from "Mild and Mad Day Hikes Around Thimphu", by Piet van der Poel and Rogier Gruys.... 
"Once Phajodhing used to be one of the richest monasteries in the country, but evil eyes fell on it a long time ago and thus it became very poor and dilapidated. Most of the wealth of the monastery has either been stolen or disappeared. In the monastery Guru Padma Sambhava is shown in his terrifying appearance with a sword in his right hand and a bowl made of a skull containing blood in his left hand.
Sakya Tenzin built the monastery in 1748 with 20 meditation huts around it. Its original name was ‘Wogmin Namgyai Khangzang’. The monastery was later provided with a large painted scroll, Buddha’s words in 108 volumes and statues. Later on, Je Khenpo Sherub Sange built another monastery adjoining the previous one and named it ‘Wogmin Nyipa’. The main statue in this monastery is a life-size copper statue of Shakya Muni."
You can read a little more at World Monuments Fund. The monastery is one of their current projects.

On with the comic...

Made in Comic Life

More on Bread

Pizza On Yathra

Last night it was pizza for dinner. The pizza dough is from "Dough", the first Richard Bertinet book. The topping? A dribble of chili-orange oil (see this post), some tomato mix, thin slices of sausage (so it goes further), red onion, mushroom, "pizza cheese" (a bit like plastic), salt and pepper. Not bad.

Yesterday, I learnt how to put a horizontal line!

Nigel Slater writes for The Observer. I enjoy his writing. This article is titled "All You Knead is Love". He relates how it is possible to fit bread baking into your day. And that it is much easier than you thought. The foccacia recipe looks good.
Nigel Slater on baking the foolproof loaf.

Thursday, January 14, 2010


Over on my brother's blog, there is a post about chess. You should read it. He writes very well. This afternoon I challenged him to a game. It is certainly very challenging for me, and entertaining for the reader to see what a mess I am in...

This reminds me of when we would start up a sword-fighting game when we were kids. Mum tried pretty hard to stop us playing with guns, but when Dad had just cut the poplar hedge, there were all these great fencing foils on the ground.
A fight would start in a friendly way. Then things would escalate. One of us would get a fair whack resulting in an even fairer clout in return.
It always ended in tears.
The game is to be continued tomorrow afternoon.
There should be a poll over on the right. Please make a vote. The poll closes at lunchtime (Bhutan Standard Time) tomorrow  (Friday 15 Jan).

Friends in Japan

The four years of my life, before I returned to Bhutan, was spent in Japan. I had quit my job as a maths teacher, but my plan to meet Ugyen in Bhutan had hit a small unsurmountable hurdle. An ad appeared in the paper for a job teaching English in Japan. "No English needed." A perfect way to fill in the year. My good friend David was heading there too. Life is full of coincidences. Or is it karma? Or fate? Or just plain bad luck?
The interview for NOVA was interesting. A young whiz kid gave a brief "tour" of what to expect. Then the interview. Could I explain what "dictation" meant? Could I see how many fingers were being held up? Did I know what my favourite colour was? I only just managed that one.
Soon after, I was on my way to Japan. I had requested Hokkaido, as David was there. They sent me to a small "rural" city called Omihachiman, just North of Kyoto, on the shores of Lake Biwa. Not anywhere near David. We still managed to get together for the odd chess game though. David plays very odd chess.

Photo taken by Jackie Peers (related to David by marriage!).
See more at her design website (Click to see).
One of my first teaching colleagues was a real English teacher. Ted. What a lovely friend he turned out to be. A very down-to-earth attitude to the job, yet very professional. I wish he had taught me English. Through him I met Shoei, who was destined to become my landlord. The three of us had wonderful times together... long walks, delicious meals, or just relaxing over a large bottle of cheap, yet good wine.

One of my regular evening students at Omihachiman was Hideo. Another great friendship developed. Bicycling was a common interest. When Hideo found this out, he generously loaned me one of his spare bikes, which I kept for 4 years. One of the best days in Japan was our ride around Lake Biwa together. His wife, Kumiko, provided a scrumptious meal on our return.

One day, in Osaka with Hideo, we saw an amazing large building. I asked if he knew anything about it. "Yes," he replied, "I designed it."

After a year at Omihachiman, I was promoted. To an even smaller place called Yokaichi. This was a new school, so not as busy. That suited me. Another student entered my life. Tomoyo. She came twice a week. It took a lot longer to get to know her. But she was a mine of information. One of our link-ups was music.  I was so touched when she made a special effort to see me off at the station. That was a very difficult parting. But, every day, since I left Japan, Tomoyo has been in touch. Her English is much better now that I am not teaching her.
Tomoyo arranged the flowers on the right. She is the flower on the left. ;)

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Doing Porridge, for Dad

My Dad was right all along. At least, on one thing. Porridge is what to have for breakfast.
Have you noticed the papers are saying "Porridge is the new power breakfast"?
That writer said the poshest stuff was at The Providers. Ah, a Kiwi chef ... Peter Gordon.

One of the best porridges I had was at what was called The Swiss Chalet, a small boutique restaurant/hotel at Arthurs Pass. This is a small village in the mountains of the South Island. There the porridge was cooked by the Swiss owner and served with cream. Yum.
It looks like the place has changed its name to Arthurs Hotel.

Dad's porridge was a little simpler, and he called it "Pongers." Was he right about the simple too? We were allowed to stir it ... but only if we were good. It was served with brown sugar and milk. Sometimes we would steal the cream off the top of the milk. Good old milk bottles. Cooked rhubarb was a special addition.

Feel like a healthy start to the day? Then check How to Make the Perfect Porridge, from The Guardian. I am sticking to Dad's recipe though.

On a similar track, yesterday Angay was coughing a lot. So Ugyen cooked up a rice-porridge dish for her. This is one of the Bhutanese comfort foods. Here is how she makes it...
Bhutanese Rice Porridge
(Possibly called Tukpa, but Angay and Ugyen were not sure)
1 small cup of rice
Water (enough to cover the rice by about 5 cm)
3 Tb butter
Chilli powder (to taste)
Big handful of grated cheese
Knob of fresh ginger, ground
Salt and pepper

Boil the rice (with water!) in a pressure cooker for 5 whistles. This is how they time things in Bhutan. Take the lid off and check for consistency. Add more water if needed, continuing to cook with the lid off. When it is right (it looks like congee) add the butter, chilli, cheese and ginger. Season to taste.

Here is something similar from Britten's NY Times blog – Jook, a Chinese rice porridge.

Dad loved beetroot too. So I noticed this Chinese beet recipe. You will need the recipe for Chile Orange Oil "China Moon" or Tropp Goop.

Dad never did blend beetroot and porridge together though. The worst porridge I ever saw was made by a tramper in the mountains. He was wanting to save time, so cooked his saveloys in the porridge. Now that looked like bloody, fatty congee. Perhaps that was Peter Gordon, in his early years, attempting fusion cooking for the first time.

Eat your oats, and this is what you might produce...

Thanks, Lad!

Blogging Out–Bhutan Pictures

Sorry folks, I need to get outside. My lovely friend Tomoyo told me. She astutely pointed out (in her gentle way) that I have been rather busy with this "new toy". It is alarmin how it can take over your life. Here I am busy checking how many visitors I get, where they come from, which pages they check, how many "bounce", what they download, and how to get Google to find me. Now I stop and ask myself "Why?". I find no answer!

So, today, we just have a series of photos from the last year or two here in Bhutan, to show you what I have to "put up with". No words. If you want to know more, you can ask in the comments. That way, my comments will increase, and the analytics will look much better.... Doh! There I go again.

P.S. If you steal my photos, please give me credit.
Write to me, and I will give you a full-sized copy.

The End!