Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Seriously though: if the U.S. does not beat Algeria, EVERYONE is getting cut

"Sir, can I go to toilet?"

"No. If you leave the room, you will not be allowed to finish the test."

"Sir, please, it is an emergency."

"An emergency? As in, you feel that you are in serious medical danger?"

"Yes sir. Very serious."

"Do you feel like there is a greater than 50% chance you will die if you do not go to the bathroom before the test ends in 15 minutes?"


"Yes sir."

"Okay, you can go."

"Wait, let me finish this question."

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Send them out

I tried to explain clowns to someone today. They understand class clowns, and clownish behavior, but I was thinking of a circus clown. Like, big red nose, seltzer-spouting flower pin, oversized shoes. How do you explain a clown?

Friday, June 18, 2010

If the U.S. does not beat Slovenia, I am going to cut somebody

I will not get into the details here, but basically, today somebody pulled the biggest Dick Move I have ever experienced in my life. I am defining Dick Move as a move that, by its dickish nature, identifies you as a huge, huge dick. That is all I care to say on the subject right now, except that this particular Move directly affects me and Zeb, and it would be catastrophic if it was not for Principal Karma, who is a saint.

I've been thinking a lot about what differentiates people on the most basic levels. I mean, we have some pretty good Bhutanese friends, good enough to really understand what motivates them. These friends are healthy, educated men in their mid-20s, so what motivates them is primarily sex and beginning a fruitful, prosperous career in order to attract a classier brand of woman to have sex with. There are some definite if subtle differences between us and the Bhutanese, though, however well we get along. I've started to conclude that what really makes the difference is not beliefs, background, or ideology. What makes the difference is priorities.

I've discovered something about myself in this first year of Real Life: I have a lot of pride in myself as a competent and professional person. Even if by nature I am basically a lazy slob, when I have a job to do, some evolutionary-cultural-familial switch clicks, and suddenly I am all about getting that shit done, and well.

This strikes at what I have observed to be one of the most fundamental dichotomies in Bhutanese-American priorities. Maybe I should do this as a list, because lists are easier for my tween reader base to digest.



This is such a basic truth of life I don't need to go over it. I consider myself to be really good at stuff, as do many Americans. I have overwhelming pride about stuff, and being good at it, better, even, than other people are. This pride motivates a solid majority of my behavior, especially in my professional capacities.

As the Bhutanese seem to have tacitly discovered, this priority makes you an asshole. It just does. Bhutanese people are not assholes. The worst ones we've met are driven by the faults of stupidity or ignorance, but I am pretty sure we have yet to meet a bona fide asshole. As a compromise, they are not generally that good at stuff, which does not bother them at all. At times, it absolutely infuriates me. But that is because I am an asshole.



This is something else that has been written about ad nauseam by better writers (and thus bigger assholes) than myself, but I am forever thinking about my nutrient intake here, or how walking alongside unregulated Indian trucks is affecting my lungs, or about trying to have a meal that is neither fried nor covered in cheese. Our friend Ugyen made us a salad last week composing of--in its entirely--a tomato and salt. In about equal parts.

Needless to say, the Bhutanese are stick-thin and vibrantly healthy (except for Wangchuck) despite, and probably because, they are not constantly in a fit of nervous anxiety about their Body Mass Index. Instead, they stuff. Outside. They sleep well. They relax. They probably do not have a Dzongkha word for "Health maintenance organization." It's just life, you know? You don't think about it all the time.



It's a cheapshot, but it's not an insult.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

The Cup

It is a beautiful thing to be outside of the U.S. during the World Cup. Here are my experiences:

Zeb and I go to our friend Ugyen’s house to celebrate the opening of the Cup. We are also celebrating our first night of real-life work that truly felt like college: the night before, we had written our final exams, strictly following the government-mandated syllabus, meaning I had to write 40 pages worth of English exam. All the classics were there: absurdly involved late night snacking, caffeine pills, 3 A.M. showers, and the like.
Ugyen’s inhumanly hospitable brother Tenzin greets us, takes the bottle of brandy we offer Ugyen, and pours us heaping-full glasses of hard A. Needless to say, we belligerently root against Mexico, while the Bhutanese root for them, because they are the better team. They insist we stay for the evening game at 12:30 AM. Zeb passes out on the floor of the 8-by-10 room that both Ugyen and his brother sleep in. I stay awake, alone, for the entire France-Uruguay game. Ugyen and Tenzin are sharing a bed, adorably. I sleep on Ugyen’s bed while Zeb sleeps on the floor. We wake up at 7 AM and walk 45 minutes back to our apartment along a Himalayan mountain ridge in the glaring, revelatory morning sunlight. We have forgotten to lock our apartment. The Bhutanese criminals have not stolen anything, perhaps because they are busy faithfully tending to their elderly relatives, or praying deferentially to Lord Buddha, or not existing.

On Saturday night, Zeb and I make our way into bustling downtown Thimphu. Zeb has a Skype appointment, so I watch the World Cup as it is meant to be watched: with intense passion, alongside one’s curbside compatriots, on a sidewalk on TVs being displayed in a store window. Eventually the store closes, leaving its patrons out in the literal cold, so we make our way to one of the fancy expat-catering bars in town, where I see my first black person in three months. It was a wonderful experience. I thought I was going to go a full year without seeing anyone with a skin shade darker than Bengali. Of course, this guy was Jamaican-Canadian-British and not particularly dark, but it was a surprisingly visceral relief to interact with him. I felt more human, somehow, being reminded of the heterogeneity I was brought up to value so deeply.
The bar closed at midnight, as they all do, before the all-important U.S. game. We called Ugyen, hoping he would let us rudely crash his apartment in the middle of the night to watch the game. The conversation went like this:
“Hey, buddy! How are you?”
“Jon. I am in Paro.”
“Oh, shit. Nevermind. Have a good weeke—“
“Please come to my place to watch the game. I have left the door open. Please come.”
We arrived at 12:40 and the door was literally open. Not the lock. The door was wide open. In the middle of the night.
We watched the U.S.’s glorious draw next to a sleeping Tenzin. We thought we were the biggest assholes in the world. Five minutes after we arrived, two Bhutanese guys knocked on the door.
“Yes, is Ugyen here?”
“You are watching World Cup, yes?”
“Umm…[sounds of World Cup game in background]…kinda…”
And they came in.
And they both sat on Tenzin’s bed.
And they turned up the volume—which we had on silent, the TV being two feet away from our sleeping angel of a teenager—to very loud.
And they took the blankets from sleeping Tenzin and both passed out on his small bed, forcing him onto the ground.
It’s a cultural thing.

This made two days in a row we had rudely violated Ugyen’s domicile. All Sunday, we avoided talking to him, embarrassed. We saw him at school on Monday. He was quite nonplussed with me, as I expected.
“You had a good weekend?”
“Hey, Ugyen. Look, I’m really sorry about passing out on your bed, and coming over at 1 AM and waking your brother up, and I swear I’ll make it up to you, and—“
“Where were you yesterday? World Cup game was on, yes?”
“Wha—Um, well, yeah, it was.”
“Why you did not watch at my place?”
Guilt. It’s a cultural thing.

Needless to say, tonight we went to Ugyen’s place to watch the highly anticipated
match. Ugyen was not picking up his phone. We decided to go over uninvited. We arrived, and Tenzin was sleeping soundly at 8 P.M. Being the perfect student and brother is a tiring occupation. Again, it goes without saying that there was a random Bhutanese guy there watching the game in the bedroom by himself while Tenzin tossed and turned.
Ugyen’s third roommate Bini—keep in mind, this is probably a 250-square-foot apartment—came home during the game to find us camped out alone in his living space. He asked petulantly why we were not drinking beer. He insisted we stay 2 ½ hours to watch Brazil-North Korea. He insisted we stay the night on his bed. His arrival woke Tenzin up. Tenzin’s response to seeing two white men unexpectedly sitting next to his bed watching his television loudly was this:
“[sleep groan.]”


“I will make you dinner.”

It’s a nice culture they’ve got here.

Friday, June 4, 2010

A Bhutanese Grammar Lesson

As an English teacher, I have paid careful attention to the patterns of spoken and written language during my stay here. I humbly present a short lesson on the uses of some common words and phrases particular to Bhutanese culture.

Is it?


1. A nonsensical, meaningless, grammatically characterless response to anything, given in order to alert the speaker to the fact that you have heard what he has said. Synonymous with “mm-hmm,” “yep,” “[grunting noise]”.

“I am a human male currently relaying information to you via the medium of language.”
“Is it?”

2. An expression of caring meant to display the fact that you have the same level of concern for every situation in life no matter its importance or unimportance.

“Yesterday I ate ema-datse, as I have done every day for my entire life.”
“Is it?”

“I am suffering through an existential malaise so profound as to call into question the very purpose of my life. I think I may end it all tonight.”
“Oh, is it?”



1. Synonymous with “just,” but in the wrong syntactical position, and used a random number of times per sentence.

“Yesterday only I went to the market only and bought a shelf only.”

“This year only the curriculum will cover all of Buddhist thought only and every other facet of the enlightened mind only.”

2. A random two-syllable interjection with no set meaning or pattern of usage, except that it always follows nouns, adjectives, or adverbs, and never precedes them.

“To me only, the situation in China only will be exacerbated only by a rising fear only of global economic interdependence only. Only.”

“[any combination of words in English and/or Dzongkha] only.”



1. “A.” The article “a” is considered inauspicious, and is not used here. This produces occasional confusion for outsiders with the faulty assumption that “one” indicates specifically a singular object when there is the possibility that it may be plural.

This is an actual example, that someone actually said, actually:

“I am going into town to find one wife.”

This example is shockingly common. People frequently talk about how they are looking for one wife, or one house, or one job. Either there is some misunderstanding about the use of articles, or this society is much more interesting than it seems.


1. Exactly the same as its English definition, but may only be used when describing beatings.


“That one has no respect. He should be beaten nicely.”

“It was performed nicely, the beating was.”

“I said to him, I will do nicely to you, and by my use of that particular adverb, he knew I was talking about a beating.”