22 Aug (Tues): Trip to Trashigang

James and I went to meet with the principal of the primary school today, to talk about a combination of how I might help them with action research and how Zoë might help with some assistant teaching. For the first five minutes of our conversation, the principal kept looking at James, even though I was ostensibly the person with relevant expertise. The principal left the room to ask for some juice to be brought for us, and I told J he had to be quiet. He too had noticed the problem and said he was keeping his eyes on me in an attempt to provide a model.

The principal, Sangay Dorji, was eager to get started on action research. I said this was out of my field, but I could look into things, and in the meantime I could share some recent research into learning-based teaching practices. We agreed that I would come to lead a “workshop” on Saturday morning (I gulped and then agreed).

After that, we gathered up Jeremy and Zoë to go meet Ugyen at the administrative wing to drive down to Trashigang to establish a bank account. This was supposed to be a family treat, but much of the day was a little hot and frustrating. First we had to wait for almost an hour for Ugyen. He was painting something, so he had to stop painting and change—then he had to get driving orders for going to Trashigang (that meant a signature from HR)—then another set of documents, perhaps authorization for buying petrol. Here are some of the sights at the entrance to the college:

Dogs own the road and the basketball court

Paintings by the entrance to the administrative wing
On the third floor of the computer science building, facing the basketball court
Images of the “guardian kings”

Royal imprimatur: Sherubtse started as a “Higher Secondary School” before becoming the first university in the country

It was hot, so we were a little bored and antsy waiting for him. As we waited, various people came by (Tshoki, the Dean of Academic Affairs, others). “Why are you going to Trashigang?” they asked. “It’s not very nice there. Crowded, hot.” By about the third rendition, we began to predict what they would say. “No one from Kanglung likes Trashigang very much.” “No,” they would laugh. “It’s better here.”

Once we got on the road, we ran into a landslide and had to wait for about 45 minutes for the road to clear. But the dragonflies were gorgeous!

Again, we marveled at the hard work and tough living conditions for those who work on these roads.

Outside of town, we stop for traffic police to check Ugyen’s travel documents. It’s hard for us to grasp the point of Bhutan’s tight control of travel. Ugyen can’t explain it to us: it’s just the way things are here.

Then, at the bank, we discovered we needed many things we didn’t have. First, a letter from Sherubtse (or Yonphula) requesting that we be allowed to open a bank account. Then, passport photos and a copy of the passport photo page (both of which we did have, back in Kanglung). Jigme’s dad Thinley had asked on our behalf in Thimphu, where the answer was that we needed a work permit and passport—that was all. We spent some time arguing with the tellers at the bank about the letter, and then Ugyen got on the phone and got the Yonphula dean, Tshering Thinley, to fax a letter down on our behalf. Then Ugyen took me off to get a copy of the passport and photos. Finally, we were able to open the bank account—but getting money into that account from the USA was another impossibility. (Weeks later, we’re still working on both a cash card from Bank of Bhutan, and confirmation that money has arrived from the US.) At 1 p.m., we are the last people in the bank as they try to close the doors for lunch. We too go looking for lunch, but Ugyen says none of the restaurants will have any food for vegetarians. We find a kitchen store where we can buy some forks and a tiffin tin for storing leftovers. We find the bakery described in Lonely Planet Bhutan and we share a chocolate covered donut, which was less sublime than our hopes for it had been. We find a handful of postcards in a tourist shop. But Jeremy and Zoë are hot, tired, self-conscious and somewhat unhappy. We go to look for kiras for Zoë to extend her wardrobe for teaching, but the selection seems limited. James buys a backpack. Ugyen hears word of a restaurant that might offer vegetarian food, so we traipse down a stairway where plastic bottles go to die.

No joy: only rice on offer, and the setting is not salubrious. But then we spy well-wrapped mini-ice cream bars. We have two each! The day is salvaged!

Before leaving town, we go up to the hospital, to see whether they can do the blood tests J needs periodically. They can. The hospital enjoys quite wonderful views.

The local law court, above the hospital

The parking lot for the Trashigang post office is a sea of mud at the moment, but the stamps are beautiful, as promised. Still, we are all glad to go home, especially since the road is clear.