Wednesday, December 13, 2017
Everywhere you look, traditional paintings decorate the posts and window frames. Symbols and flowers brighten the buildings, railings, and walls throughout the town. The government encourages the preservation of old structures: most houses were built with rammed earth, though newer construction uses cement. Building remains in the old style of square walls and an open storage area under the gently sloped roofs.
I finally get a SIM card for the phone, and connection becomes easier. I get to call Waldemar back home. He sends pictures of guests at our place. They look warm.
True to her word, Dr. Debbie from Yale (Boston) meets at dinner with Tandin (a national working on his doctorate in the Philippines), her faculty mate, and me. We eat Thai food and enjoy lively conversation until 8 or 9pm.
It’s noisy tonight. The dogs are barking but people are on the streets under my window, roaming, drinking, and laughing. Apparently Wednesday and Saturday nights are the city’s party nights when friends meet up for dinner and hang out. I’m too tired to put in my earplugs but I know I’ll regret it in the morning. I give up on sleep about 4:30am.
The Kingdom of Bhutan has never been colonized. King IV was 16 when his father died and he became king. Bhutan remained isolated from the outside world until King IV allowed access to the internet in 1999.
"We never heard about WWII or other world events until then, just staying in our own country and history," explains my guide. When he was 58 (2008), the king abdicated in favor of his 29-year-old son (King V, who currently rules). Apparently, he lives a quiet secluded life in retirement.
It is not uncommon to petition the current king by stopping the car when he's on his way to events. With only 750,000 people in the country and 100,000 in the capital city Thimphu, the Kingdom of Bhutan feels intimate and interpersonal.
I ask about vacations, celebrations, foods, culture … well, about everything that comes to mind. I’m curious about the people who love living in these beautiful mountains, how the men don’t freeze with their knee socks and bare legs, and how families make a living and get an education.
“We go south in the winter months, where it is very pleasant.” The guide tells me that they love the south's temperature: 12-16C/50-60F is ideal. (Brrrr.)
“The children can play outside and the monsoon rains of July and August are absent.” He asks if I like the crisp cold. I like it only if I am totally bundled up and on my way somewhere warm.
|That red patch on the ground is paprika (red peppers),|
drying in the sun and wind. Red peppers are in almost every dish.
In the evening, there's a special treat in store. Nengboi and I go for a traditional steam bath and sauna. It is so hot we sweat and sweat for over an hour. My skin feels newborn when we are done and I sleep like a (good) baby, too.
Today is a red light day: I find the heater switch and the red light goes on to heat my room. Though I’ve been turning the radiator dial to 25o, the room always feels cold at night (15C/50-55F). In the morning, I throw open the drapes so the sun streams in, warming the air. I’ve brought a hot water bottle, which I fill it with almost-boiling water and tuck into the bedding every night. When I slip into bed, the sheets and crisp white blanket are warm.
There’s a tub in my bathroom. What a pleasure: I take long soaks on 4 evenings, thawing my bones. What a contrast. When I'm home in Indonesia, our portable tub fills with green water (when we have water.) So this Bhutanese mineral water is utterly refreshing.
|Construction and remodeling are everywhere.|
"You can drink from the rivers," they tell me. "But we filter our water because the mineral content is too high for our health."
Today we’re celebrating the end of the week. A group of us hang out for lunch. Some around the table have been in a conference. They know each other well. There’s conversation and laughter. I enjoy the art and musical instruments hanging on the wall. In the evening, I read and edit until 2am. I’ll sleep in tomorrow morning.
I have hung a “Do Not Disturb” sign on my door. I get a call at 7:00: Debbie is flying back to the USA and wants to leave a book for me at the reception desk. We’ll talk about it after I read it. It might be one for our Bandung book club, too. It’s called Being Wrong. (We think we’re right most of the time, in spite of evidence to the contrary.)
A new friend drops off some reading at 8am. I get out of bed in my PJs, say a quick hi at the door, and stagger back to sleep. (Why did I read so late?!)
|The hotel cleaning cart|
At 9, the maid rings the bell. Where on earth is the “Do Not Disturb” sign? It's nowhere in sight when I get to the door. I give up. It’s time to get dressed and explore the city.
|No exploration is complete without a street dog|
Ethne Tours takes me up a mountain to Royal Thimphu College. The king (in his late 30s) and his queen (in her early 30s) are a beloved pair. They support education, encourage the well-being of their nation, and their picture hangs everywhere.
It’s a beautiful campus for 1000 students. With only 750,000 people in the country, each Bhutanese college is personal … and small. We have tea at the empty cafeteria – students are on break. Then we check out a property down the road for a few hours.
|Prime view for a new statue|
On another mountain across town sits an enormous golden Buddha statue A huge flat area of the mountaintop has been razed and leveled. The figure was commissioned by wealthy Singaporean Chinese. (How astonishing that Christianity, which first entered the country in the 700s, is considered an import, while this 5-year-old statue has become a national monument.) The golden image is visible from most places in Thimphu.
Last month, about 100,000 monks and others gathered for sit-ins. The pavement is striped with rows of clean (carpeted rows for sitting) and dark (foot-traffic between), marking their places.
I take a few pictures: the sheer height and bulk is astonishing. Under the unmoving figure is a large temple filled with golden statues, floral-painted pillars, scenic walls – wealth galore. The artwork celebrates the stories of Buddhism.
Devotees can buy little gold statues and have them put on ledges beside thousands of identical little gods. A monk is burning incense at a central altar covered in gold, with figures in various poses surrounded by golden pillars. There is no idea of a loving, living, or speaking God here: just a hopeful appeal to an impersonal universal force. On this mountain, the religion is symbolized by a statue that does not speak, move, or interact with humanity.
Buddhism is made appealing to the West as a religion of simplicity – the renunciation of passion, ego, and material wealth. We might be the victims of false advertising, though: the money poured into these silent relics, appeasing these mute effigies, is astronomical. Contributions are expected at all the holy sites to earn merit toward one’s next incarnation.
|Flags with prayer words wave in the breeze|
Standing in the shadow of the figure, I realize something awe-inspiring. Only the Christian God says, "Enough! I Am. Holy. Absolutely good. Completely just. Too great. So your efforts could never take away your sins or come close to my perfection."
Our good works cannot earn his favor or appease his wrath. But in Jesus, God declares, "I myself will reconcile us. My perfection will be applied to you and then you can draw near to me.”
Therefore, a Christian's good deeds are a response of gratitude. What a completely different way of looking at life and 'being good.' God who is Enough is also “God-with-us, on our behalf.” Our "thank you!" to God for his love and his kindness is sharing his generosity with others. My heart swells with gratitude and joy.
On the way back into town, we stop for supper at a Korean restaurant. I like Bhutanese food, but this is also delicious. The tenderloin strips and side dishes are tasty.
|Modernism and tradition mix on the streets|
*There is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries. Daniel 2:28
*He is mindful of his covenant forever, of the word that he commanded, for a thousand generations. Psalm 105:8
*And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered. And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn. Luke 2:6-7 KJV
*Jesus said, “The kingdom of God is not coming with things that can be observed; nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There it is!’ For, in fact, the kingdom of God is among you.” Luke 17:20-12
*Paul wrote: Whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, so that by steadfastness and by the encouragement of the scriptures we might have hope. Romans 15:4
Moravian Prayer: O Key of David and Scepter of the House of Israel, who opens and no one shuts, who shuts and no one opens: Come and bring forth from prison the captives who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death.
O Adonai and leader of the house of Israel, who appeared to Moses in the burning bush and gave him the law on Sinai: Come, and with your outstretched hand, redeem us. Amen.