We were all impressed by how well-spoken the Bhutanese people and guides were. They spoke fluent English so we could understand each other quite well. Over those few days in Bhutan, our group managed to have dinner with the Prime Minister, Tsering Tobgay, a brilliant young man with a great sense of humor. He is young because he is same age as me.
The same evening, we were also introduced to Finance Minister of Bhutan, Namgay Dorji. During his conversation with Moon and I, he recalled how many years, months, days, and hours he had been serving in that important position. How fitting for his job!
The next evening, I saw from afar that Moon was chatting with an energetic man. I walked over and joined the conversation. We had a great chat and I was secretly impressed by how knowledgeable this gentleman was. He turned out to be the Attorney General of Bhutan, Phuntsho Wangdi. His wife, Madam Lhamo Dhukpa, joined our table later on. Madam Lhamo is a singer, composer and actress in Bhutan and her music can be found on online.
The conversation turned to how kind the Bhutan kings have been to the people. Mr Wangdi recounted about the occasion when and his wife were hiking on a hill to a monastery in the late afternoon. It started to get cold and dark. In the fading light, an athletic man rode a bicycle toward them and advised them it was cold and getting dark, and that they should be careful of the rough road ahead and/or wild animals. The man was the 4th King of Bhutan (the present King’s father)! The couple went on with their hike and not too long later in the dark, a car drove by. Two Royal guards were sent by His Majesty to look for them and the men passed them some flash lights to ensure that they reached home safely!
The Bhutanese people are mainly Buddhists and they believe in Karma – what goes around, comes around. They don’t kill but they are not strictly vegan. They eat meat as it is available, e.g. meat being served to them. I wonder what is their body fat ratio and how well they may run in a 10km…
We saw dogs, cats, cows, horses, and donkeys living harmoniously among people. Never did we see anyone shouting at or mistreating the animals. My friends had animals just walking by and resting next to them without any signs of fear. They treated each other as equals!
We had a gorgeous dinner at a local farm house on another evening. We had pumpkin soup, a few dishes of delicious simple food, butter tea, milk tea and their version of moonshine made of whatever crops that they had. They served us popcorn too – now we know that not only Americans know how to enjoy a good bowl of popcorn. Interestingly, I sat next to the stove (it was cold night and I needed the warmth) and right in front of me there were a few beautiful cats. They could not care less to ask for food from me or anyone. They were contented. Happy cats they were…
We rose up early on Day 4 and hiked up to about 3500m in altitude to Phajoding, to visit the monastery at the top of the hill. It was a hard work out. My half marathon training was a blessing as that gave me the physical fitness to hike. However, not running in the Singapore Marathon the Sunday before the trip saved my leg muscles in preparation for the uphill climbs. At 3500m, the air was thin but the view was majestic. Over the far left was the Himalayas, behind me was the monastery. I have been to quite a few places on this planet but never have I felt so ‘touched’ by the view. Never!! As parents, we love to share good stuff with our kids. However, my new revelation from this trip was that only my two daughters can bring themselves there. Not me, not my wife. It is their job…
Upon touching down in Singapore, 10 days of not reading any newspaper did not bother me a bit. Moon and I were having the time of our life in a very fantastic place with an outstanding group of new and old friends. I am a tough cookie to get sold but this time I think I was.
At the last Shangri-La, life is not the same as what I, a conservative Chinese city boy am familiar with. The mode of life in Bhutan is richer than money and numbers can measure. In contrast, in Hong Kong some people recently said, “there is such a society that is ‘so poor’ that it is ‘only left with money’…”
My religious belief has no such thing as reincarnation in the formula. Going through life is interesting enough already. I am not allergic to that idea. However, I am not sure if I want to go through life over and over again in various forms. Interestingly, a Buddhist friend, Felicia said to me: “Maybe, you were from Bhutan in your past life and it was your Karma that brought you back home”. Wow, that is a good reason to visit the place again. Do I need to convince my wife that way in order to make another trip there? Hmmm… no la.
I would like to temporarily close this series (just temporarily, stay tuned…) of Bhutan blogs by quoting my friend, James Wong from the Seattle, USA:
“Lessons I learned from Bhutan: It’s so peaceful, even the cows lie down next to humans. I was pleasantly surprised to find out most of the Bhutanese spoke English. This is a country that didn’t have much in terms of modern economic progress but they don’t look at what they don’t have. Instead they celebrate who they are and what they have. Their leaders and government didn’t just care about money but also about the holistic well-being of the people and the nation.
The Bhutanese have hope. They look forward to a bright future. They aren’t in a rush to become someone else, someone richer. They celebrate who they were, who they are and are in no hurry to become what they may be. I thoroughly enjoyed my visit and if I ever want to be in the midst of peace and happiness, Bhutan will come to mind.”