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

Sunday, March 28, 2010


Sometimes my wife gets a little angry with me. She is not angry in this photo.
I think you will agree that she is rather beautiful.
We come from very different backgrounds. It is amazing that we ever met, considering how far apart we started. Was it a long series of coincidences? Ugyen's first husband dying. My first marriage ending. Ugyen moving to Thimphu and a job at Motithang. The position in Bhutan teaching mathematics that I applied for and won. Then the long romance by mail and email. I since discovered that it was one of Ugyen's friends who was writing some of her replies. That was a surprise. Ugyen assures me that she meant what her friend said.
Or was it karma? Karma is not easy to fathom. It is something that Westerners hear of. We misinterpret it. It is reassuring to know that the bad things happening to you are due to a cause. And that the suffering is helping in some way.  The pain can even be reduced.
The cause is yourself. At least, your actions. Your actions are not you.
I am not sure if meeting Ugyen was due to good actions or bad actions. Then again, good and bad are just my interpretations. When I will I free myself from such dualistic thoughts?

Saturday, March 13, 2010

The Best Job

The Best and Worst Jobs in the U.S.
Admittedly, this is just in the US, but the top job is mathematician.
That is someone who "applies mathematical theories and formulas to teach or solve problems in a business, educational, or industrial climate."

Hey, that is me. I have the best job in the world.

Then I read more about being a mathematician:
Income: $94,160
Let's convert that to Ngultrum ... Nu 4,280,984.41
Divide by 12, to get my monthly salary ... Nu 356,748.70
My boss is ripping me off!
The only comfort is that this poor history teacher, fresh from the US, gets treated worse:

Thursday, March 11, 2010


One of the great things my parents did for me was give me the opportunity to play music. Playing the recorder and singing were part of the education system. The piano and trumpet lessons were care of Mum and Dad. They were both very keen on music, being members of a local choir. There was also a collection of records. If the radio was playing music, it would have been the classical station. Martin, the elder brother, moved away from the classical side of things, but I stuck to it.
One of the highlights of my orchestral career was playing in the Messiah along with my parents singing in the choir. The glare from Dad's wide grin as he watched me playing must have been a distraction for the audience. A small compensation for the years of forking out money and time.  I hope I am not responsible for his loss of hearing.
During my first days at high school, we were given a musical aptitude test. I got enough right to be selected for instrumental lessons. I had to choose which instrument. I chose the clarinet. There were none left, so I took up the trumpet. Ralph Simpson was a NZ champion cornet player and my first teacher. Soon after I joined trumpet lessons at a Christchurch School of music. That was Saturday mornings gone for many years. As well as group lessons, there were orchestras and wind bands to play in. Later I had private lessons from a wonderful teacher called Vere Smyth. As well as being a very accomplished player, Vere was a yoga teacher and had a doctorate in maths and physics.
The trumpet is not the best instrument to have in your house if you are not playing it. It is only now that I consider the pain the rest of my family had to go through. And the neighbours. One time I was doing some long note practice. Long and loud. During a pause I heard a cry from a house a few blocks away.
"Shut up!'
Good call. It probably made me a little self-conscious for a few days. It is interesting that a rather shy and withdrawn fellow such as me ever took up such an outgoing instrument. When I joined the local symphony orchestra, I was known as the trumpet player that did not drink and make lots of noise.
If I stopped playing the trumpet for a few days, there was a rapid descent in ability. Thus, I developed strong discipline. This transferred across to other areas of my life. Well, some of them.
There was another incident worth telling. I inherited my father's big teeth and Mum's smallish jaw. Not a good match. The teeth buckled and twisted to fit in. Mr Orthodontist came to the rescue, removing a few pre-molars and adding a wire to straighten things out. The day after getting the wire out, I was playing a game where I was blindfolded and Matthew was leading me around the house. I tripped and hit my tooth on something hard, chipping off half of a front tooth.  This was before I started up the trumpet, and did not seem to hinder things. Years later, the tooth was repaired. That was when I had a problem. The extra bit of tooth meant changing the position of the mouthpiece. 
When I headed for Japan, I decided to retire from the trumpet. Living in apartment buildings would not be a good environment for a trumpet. Besides, I had given up my part time job as an orchestral player. That was too much to keep going with the demands of life as a teacher. It was a sacrifice though. One of my room-mates in Japan, Peter, was a trombone player. He brought his trombone and soon got complaints from neighbours.
A year ago, I returned to NZ. Matthew's shed held the remains of my first life. Boxes and boxes of books. Lovely books that I would love to have with me. Rubbish bags full of clothes. The jewels of a large CD collection. My Italian racing bicycle. A suitcase full of Bhutanese weaving; the gifts that had been given to me when I left Bhutan in 2000. And my trumpet.
I pulled the trumpet out, and began playing again. What a terrible sound that was. But my love affair with it was rekindled. Now, when the rest of the house is engaged in conversations that I cannot understand, or watching Bollywood movies that I don't care to watch, I move into my bedroom with my second girlfriend. My trumpet talks to me.
Ugyen pulled out the Bhutanese weaving, and it made the journey back to Bhutan.
Restarting the trumpet as an adult has been quite a different process. I am much more aware of things. As a child, I did not question things. Maybe that was a better way. But I cannot help thinking that if I had had the same questions when I first started, I would have made better progress. Only now am I started to see patterns in the music which were hidden. Being classically trained, led me to reading music. Now I want to escape from that more. Listen, even.
Thanks, Dad. And Mum, if you are reading this somewhere in another life. Were you that fly buzzing loudly as I did my long note practice last evening?

Sunday, March 7, 2010

School Opens

Friday 5th March, 2010. Pelkhil High School had rimdros (pujas) performed by Ven Tang Rinpoche. (A title given to a highly respected Buddhist lama, meaning "precious one".) An offering of prayers to help get the school off to a good start. These ceremonies are integrated into Bhutanese life. Seeing people with doctorates in science from Oxford involved in this kind of thing made me think about my beliefs. Rather than a paradigm shift, it was a conciliation of two different views.
The photo above shows the staff lined up, ready to welcome Rinpoche. Those in Buddhist costume are wearing ceremonial scarves. We are all clutching on to long silk scarves, called khata. These were to offer to Rinpoche. There is a certain way to do this. For a new-comer, a daunting process. First the khata is folded up like a concertina. One end is held firmly between the fingers of the right hand. To present the scarf, you thrust this hand over your extended left arm, then elegantly unfurl the long whiteness as you straighten the right arm. All going well, that is. I had other visions. The scarf flying off into the mud, or even worse, the right hand veering into Rinpoche's face.
"Buddhist master killed by clumsy Kiwi"
After giving the khata to Rinpoche, he promptly returns it to you as a blessing, wrapping it around your neck.

The prayers were conducted before a makeshift altar in one of the classrooms. Again, there is a lot of etiquette involved. I know some of this, but rely on going near the end and following what others do. The Bhutanese people are always quite accepting of my strange interpretations or whisper advice loudly when I am about to offend. While sitting down, I nearly turned my back to Rinpoche. At least I did not attempt to eat the uncooked rice which was meant to be tossed into the air as an offering to the local spirits.
Let me introduce some new faces. Zeb and Jon are the "whiteys". They have just arrived in Bhutan from America and will be teaching at the school for a year (possibly more ... possibly less). I was very impressed when they ordered emma datshi (chillies and cheese) for lunch. Even more impressed when they ate it without any sign of water in their eyes. It was a bit much when they ordered seconds. Jon already speaks more Dzongkha then me, and Zeb looks like he has mastered Dzogchen, the highest form of meditation.
They both have their own blogs, which I am sure you will enjoy. My view of Bhutan seems rather stale and boring in comparison with these fresh young eyes.
Zeb's is here: Flaming Thunderbolt of Wisdom.
And this is Jon's: Happy Ending Offer.
Promise to come back here, though.