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

Sunday, November 27, 2011


A wonderful friend sent me this book recently.
It is about a maths professor with only 8 minutes of short-term memory and his housekeeper. I am guessing that he has the housekeeper for more than 8 minutes.
Thank you so much T.

And The Junction bookshop, down near the main traffic, provided the other book that will keep me company in the upper Paro valley.
I thought about stealing it off the shelves. I mean, what else could you do?

I will be away from the 28th November to the 14th December. Expect to hear from me shortly after my return. If a miracle happens, and I spurt upwards, then expect to hear from me longly.

Saturday, November 26, 2011


See the door?
Not so unusual here in Bhutan. The latch, I mean.
All the doors in our old apartment were like that. Yes, that includes the inside ones too. You could lock them from either side. Well, some of the bolts did not quite line up, so it took a bit of pushing and shoving.
People could also lock you inside your house. That happens sometimes.
Something like that happened to Elaine and Terence when they were in their hotel room in Thimphu. That was a slightly different problem. That door had a handle. It fell off while they were inside. They called up room service. They came up promptly to the room to help, closing the door behind them. Then they had to call out to passers-by below to get someone to come up and let them out.
Our new apartment has Yale locks with handles on all the doors. The kind that you can lock by pushing a button. Just pull the door behind you, and it is locked tight. We had these in the Family Mansion. Not on all the doors though ... just the outside doors, and the toilets. There was a spare key somewhere on the back porch for when we locked ourselves out of the house by mistake. Now, I cannot remember where exactly. I could not remember 30 years ago either, but managed to locate it in the end. The toilet door did not have a key. When it got locked with nobody inside, I had to climb through the window. Dad could remove a couple of the shutters and that gave me enough space to squeeze through. I was a tad smaller then. Good at climbing trees.

Here, all the doors have keys. The keys are in constant use because that wee knob gets pushed accidentally, then the door is closed, locking it. The Bhutanese members of my family are still not used to the door handles.
"Stop slamming the door," Mum always used to call out.
I did not know why. I was not aware of what I was doing.
Now I am. If you pull the doors sharply, you don't have to turn the door nob.
It makes a lot of noise though.

If only they could turn the door knob.But I should not complain. They look after me very well.

Friday, November 25, 2011


What will I have for breakfast at Drukgyel?
Yesterday, I was reading the instructions on the oats packet. "Put 35g in plate then add 200 ml of hot water."
What? No need to stir for 10 minutes? No roasting the flakes gently to bring out the flavour? No need for a pot? This was ideal. But how would it taste?
This morning, I tried it. It passed. Ok, it does not feel like real porridge when you don't get to stir it, or watch the bubbles glumping up. Frogs. It is like frogs croaking. This is what I remember when Dad made porridge in the morning. Dad did not make porridge, porridge made Dad.
This need for speed reminds me of another couple of stories...
One was up in a mountain hut in NZ. I used to do a bit of tramping. Most was with my high school club. Making breakfast in the mountains needs speed, and a minimal set of kitchen equipment. What I saw one climber doing was questionable though. Not at all appetising. The red saveloys looked nice. And so did the porridge. But when they were cooked together, the layer of fat from the red saveloys was layered on top of the porridge. No thank you!
The other story also has a setting in the mountains. It was a school camp. The students had to spend a night out in tents. Their challenge was to build a fire and cook dinner. One of the items was a sausage. The idea was to pierce it with a stick, then roast it over the embers. Stuart saw an easier way. He preferred to save energy. That is a nice way of saying he was dead lazy. He did not bother cooking the sausage. No, he just ate it raw. Now that was fast. He was still alive the next morning.

If you have not sampled the blogs of Jon and Zeb when they were in Bhutan last year, then I highly recommend it. Here are Jon and Zeb writing about their encounters with food in Bhutan:

Jon here and Zeb over here. I really miss those two.

Thursday, November 24, 2011


Leak Proof? What's that on the second battery then?


I won't be going to Kuenga High School after all.
School got a request for me to swap over to Drukgyel High, further up the Paro Valley. We agreed to the swap. I am going with two other teachers from school. Lopen Ugyen is one of them.

By some strange coincidence (most coincidences are strange, aren't they?) I had a photo of Drukyel Dzong a few posts ago. The school is not far from there.
Now I am planning what to take. This is quite exciting and interesting for me, but probably not for you. Too bad though. It is my blog!
I like to travel light. If I can get away with less, then that is what I will take. Ideally, just the clothes I wear and necessary changes. My initial plan was to take my bike. That would give me some freedom, and a chance to visit further away places. Paro town is quite a distance away. However, a bike would mean extra things .... for example, cycling shoes and cycling pants. So, cancel the bike. Will I take a pillow? Probably not. Just a pillow case will be enough as I can stuff that with something soft. Marion is lending me a sleeping bag and Letho promised me one of those thin sleeping mats. One pair of shoes should be plenty. Matthew gave me a pair of shoes that did not fit him. They are still going. Not strong, but going. The stuffing is coming out of the back of the heel. Ugyen wants me to replace them, but a new pair from here would not be up to the old pair from there. Paro is going to be quite cold, so I want to take a warmer pair of trousers for evening wear. Some lovely Japanese students from Yokaichi gave me a nice thick shirt. That is still going very strong and will do nicely for exam duty. Hopefully that will last a week. When I left Japan, I got a very warm down jacket from one of the outlet stores near the airport. There is so much down, and a large hood that does not detach, so it does not pack down as much as I hoped. I have to turn sideways when I go through doors. Did you ever see that man made of tyres? He was the symbol for some brand. Michelin. No, I remember someone called 'Sam, Sam, the Bicycle Man'. Can any of you remember him? There is a small hole which I asked Matthew to find a patch for. He did. He posted it too. But it never made it. The post to Bhutan sometimes goes astray. Nice merino hats and sleeping bag liners have been swiped too. But I digress.
Are you still there?
Yes, the jacket. That will be good. If the nights are too cold for the bag that Marion gives me, I can sleep in the jacket. On the Sunday, I can wash the shirt. Instead of washing t-shirts, I can take enough to last. They don't take up much space. Maybe take an extra shirt too. There is just on thing that cannot go more than one day without cleaning. Something that I cannot do without.
Isn't it time that some cunning scientist came up with socks that could be worn for a week?

Wednesday, November 23, 2011


I got a short message from Karma, in response to yesterday's 'Ugyen' post.
"Please write about me :)" 
He could really mean not to write about him, playing some kind of double entendre. 
But I am not sure, so I will write about him. 
I have not spoken to him much since he returned from studying in America. Now his messages come to me with 'Written on my glorious iPhone' or 'From my new and fancy iPad' attached on the bottom. (A little poetic license on my part there.)
It would be nice to get together with him for a decent chat. Conversations with Karma are always very stimulating. He has lots of good ideas. Creative thoughts. 
And if he is tired of his boring old iPad, he might give it to me.
You can read of an earlier adventure to Phajoding with Karma here.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011


Ugyen said not to write about her. So I won't.


This morning, some time between 4 and 5, I found this article on Leonardo da Vinci's notebook. The article goes on to talk about creativity, and how being able to let the reins loose brings about more ideas. Interesting.

This links in with something I was pondering the other day... diaries. The diary I have at school is more of a to-do list. Not quite as exciting as Leonardo's one. As I cycle to school most days, and that involves a long uphill climb home, I keep the diary at school most days. Trust me, the few grammes saved make a difference. In the past, my diaries have included more personal notes. When reading a book, I would find a quote and jot it down for future reference. If I saw something of interest, that would be recorded. Recipes that I saw on TV were written down throughout the diary. My bookshelf has diaries going back over the years. I cannot throw them out, even though I hardly ever refer to them. Throwing away a diary seems like throwing away your past. That could be a good thing.

My daily emails to Don now record some of my daily activities. You can read more about Don here. There are 1105 of those mails now. So, the computer could be a good place to keep a diary. There are many choices of software. A simple text programme would do fine, but then you do not get the calendar. Day One is a nice looking application for the Mac computer. I thought about getting that. I thought some more, and realised that I like having a book that I can carry with me. Something that you do not have to plug in to recharge. A thing that looks like a diary. Joe and Jenny gave me a beautiful leather bound book that looks just like the image of Leonardo's diary. That was a year ago, and the book has hardly been touched.

Next week, I am going over to Kuenga High, in Paro, to do invigilation duty. That means watching students sit their exams. Three hours of enforced meditation. I will be staying there without internet access for a couple of weeks. There won't be the daily mails to Don. It is going to be a change not having the internet. When I first came to Bhutan, one of the things I liked was not having the comforts of home. No phone to interrupt. No electrical appliances to fail on you, just when you needed them. No washing machine .... well, I did miss that. And no TV. There was time to sit and read again.

And write notes in a diary.

Sunday, November 20, 2011


I walked into town the other day. Thimphu is the capital city of Bhutan. Having lived here for 10 years, about 20% of my present life, I am used to most things I see there. Today, I tried to see things through fresh eyes again. What were some sights that viewers from outside Bhutan would not see in their cities? These are some of the photos:

Saturday, November 19, 2011


There is a magnificent collection of photos from Bhutan on The Atlantic website here.

I am hoping they will tempt some of my family and friends to make a visit.

The photo above is part of the Eyeamempty Exhibition, currently showing on Mark's Mac. It is a shot of Drukyal Dzong in the upper Paro valley, a Dzong built in 1649 which was destroyed by fire in the early 1950's.

Friday, November 18, 2011


If you go to Wolfram Alpha and search for "planes overhead" you get a list of planes in the sky above your location, and a wee map showing them all. Apparently. I tried it, and there was nothing. That, or it did not work.
I wonder if it includes the International Space Station. Those in NZ may be interested in that. They dump their rubbish over NZ. See the article here. Carry an umbrella if the space station is up there. Those outside NZ may be interested because they don't have to worry!

What I like about searching on Wolfram Alpha is that you don't get all those ads. And you get the answer instead of a link to the answer. Well, the answer may not be what you expect...

Thursday, November 17, 2011

More Porridge

I have talked about porridge before. The Guardian has another post on the perfect porridge here. I am not sure if my oats are pinheads or rolled. There is not much choice here. They come in a plastic jar, are packed in India, and originate in Australia (or so they say). One thing I am trying, is to toast the oats first. This does give a nuttier flavour. Earlier in my life, I was exploring dal recipes, and found the same thing there. Spend the first few minutes tossing the lentils in a dry frying pan before you boil the hell out of them in the pressure cooker and the taste improves. While the Guardian suggests that salt is a must, I leave it out. Not because I am worried about my salt intake, but because it was too...umm... what's the word ... salty.  But I was put off brown sugar after reading a New York Times article about the toxicity of sugar. Read it here. My preferred topping is honey. I think my cooking raisins in the porridge phase is over.
What do all my beloved readers have for breakfast?

Tuesday, November 15, 2011


The term 'cousin' is a bit imprecise, here in Bhutan. Well, so are the terms 'brother' and 'sister'. Those two terms can refer to someone from the same village. When you get 'cousin-sister' you know things have become a little twisted. When my students bring their 'sister' to collect their school reports, I have to ask "Real sister?"

Wikipedia is very helpful, with a mathematical definition for us (click on it for a more readable size):

Got that? Maths .... the universal language, eh?
What the heck is 'consanguinity'? Is that some kind of integral?
I am working on a modification which includes the Bhutanese term. I think I will need x and y to be negatives ... or imaginary numbers.

Monday, November 14, 2011


Hey, look at today's date. All those ones at the end.

Oh, last Friday was all ones. I missed it.

11-11-11 slipped by me, even though I had been reminded of it the day before, and vowed to honour it. It happened to coincide with several grand occasions here in Bhutan. First, it is the fourth king's birthday, Constitution Day and most importantly, Children's Day. That meant we had to go to school and celebrate with the students (those that could be bothered turning up). There are some photos in the Pelkhil School photo gallery:
Click on "Children's Day". If you click on "Awaiting HM's Arrival" you will see some of my photos from when we waited 6 hours for the king to arrive in Thimphu with his new queen.

If you want some mathematical celebrations from 11-11-11, have a look here: Highly recommended. You should.

The Quake ... it's old news

There was an earthquake in Bhutan on Sunday 18th September, 2011. The quake is known as the 2011 Sikkim Earthquake. Wikipedia has information on it here.

This is my report, which I sent to my friends in Christchurch this morning. I know. A little late!

Dear Elaine and Terence

Thanks for the nice photos. Stephanie sent me some photos from her trip into town last weekend, and I have seen some videos of the damage. Then all those aftershocks. Shocking. Our shock was a oncer. I was watching TV and then that familiar noise began. A rattling of the doors. The TV kept going, and the power. I thought, oh yeah, another wee quake. I continued watching TV. I'm from Christchurch. Tough as old boots. The shaking kept going. Oh. What to do? The TV did not worry. Ugyen was down in another room. Angay was in the altar room, probably spinning her prayer wheel a lot faster. There are no dinner tables to dive under. The construction of these tall apartment buildings with lots of bricks worried me. At least if I were in Christchurch, buildings would not fall down. Oh, maybe they would. I headed down to the bedroom. It was still rattling. Not furious, but constant. I have a table that this computer is on. But it stopped before I got under. Ugyen and Angay appeared. It annoyed me that I had been more concerned about my own safety than theirs. There was little damage to the place. A pile of magazines in the sitting room had toppled. The books had fallen off the bookshelf in my bedroom. The TV was still going. I changed over to BBS to see the reports. There were none! The live interview was continuing, and they never broke away to report on the quake. Very strange.
People from the apartment were gathering outside. I watched them from the window. It was more interesting than the TV. Power was still on. Water was still on. This was nothing compared with Christchurch. Our apartment is tucked up into a valley, and we cannot see town. I imagined places having toppled. Piles of bricks. Cracks in roads. Hillsides sliding away. I saw no point in going outside. Ugyen told me I had to. Ludup, who had returned from town, came in to the room to ask if I was coming out. I said no. A belligerent no. No, obstinant. Intractable. Well, dogged and brave. Not at all pertinacious. (Thanks Mr Thesaurus). "Is someone going to tell you when to come back inside?" I asked, in a very friendly way. Ugyen said that her friend had told her there might be an aftershock at 10 p.m. Oh, I said, and went to bed. There had still not been any report on the TV. 
The next day, we had to fill up our big red bucket with water. The owner said the water tank had cracked. That was all we suffered. A day without water in the tap. Oh, and I had to straighten the pile of magazines. Nobody helped me! And the books. I got a little tired doing that. There were no landslides to negotiate on the bike ride to school. No piles of bricks that used to be apartments. Things looked about the same as pre-quake. There were lots of cracks in the school buildings, but the owner assured us they were not structural. School as normal. But we did have an earthquake drill. The sign for that is a long ringing of the bell. We all run outside with a book held over our heads. Some of us have to stay back and pretend to be injured. I wonder if we have to do this in a real quake.

The blog has been dormant for some time now. I may just post this wee message. 

Wednesday, November 2, 2011


Are any readers still out there?
I am not dead. Not yet.