Friday, February 26, 2016

New addition to my book review website!

If you hadn't known before, I also have a book review website that you can visit right here. However, I've now also expanded it further than book reviews, and added a considerable amount of short stories (and hopefully soon poetry as well) that's accumulated in my "Writing" folder over the years (everything that's there, I've written myself). As an aspiring author, any feedback and constructive criticism is very much appreciated. Visit the page with stories here, and enjoy!

Friday, February 19, 2016

School essay: Father Mackey and His Immense Contribution to Bhutan

A school project (in my school in Taiwan) came up: write about the achievements and impact of an explorer. Amidst the quantities of Christopher Columbus, Marco Polo and James Cook essays, an opportunity rose up for me - to write about Father Mackey (1915-1995), the Jesuit priest who traveled to Bhutan and was one of the greatest factors of the education system in Bhutan.

Expecting it to be the usual mind-wearing work that extends up to a day before the deadline, I began - but soon I had passed the word limit and my searches became more and more desperate, for Father Mackey isn't really all over the internet. Two weeks later, and here are the results. Enjoy, and feel free to comment if you know anything else about this amazing person!

An explorer is defined as a person who explores a new or unfamiliar area; and indeed, until the late 20th century, the mysterious Kingdom of Bhutan was unfamiliar to most. Its previous state of absolute monarchy and the desire to preserve its unique culture led to the result that it was in total isolation until the 1970s, when the third king finally began to open up the secluded kingdom in an attempt to modernize it. These developments included taking steps towards a more democratic government as well as physically connecting Bhutan to the outside world by building an advanced network of roads. However, those were not the only aspects that needed improvement.

"Education is practically non-existent,” recorded a British Military Intelligence Report in Bhutan, in 1906. “Even amongst the ruling classes it is exceptional for one to find a man who can read and write.” (Tashi, 2012). The king of Bhutan realized that improving the extremely backward education system was an essential part of modernizing the country. The only secular education to be found in Bhutan at that time was in primary schools, and there were only 20 of them in the whole country; meaning the only stable and widespread education system was in the monastic schools that had existed for centuries. Seeing this as a major problem, the king undertook a plan to employ a foreign educator in aiding him to establish a modern system of secular education. Hearing of a Jesuit priest and educator called Father Mackey, he invited him to take this role. The timing was perfect.

At the same time this initiative was forming, Father William Mackey was being expelled from Darjeeling, India where he had lived for the past 17 years, teaching children as well as helping to develop the education. After being “spotted during demonstrations on the streets for the recognition of the Nepali language” (Malone, 2008), local Indian authorities exiled him to Bihar in East India until his permit to Bhutan would be issued. After the approval of his visa, Father Mackey would continue to Bhutan and develop three main aspects of the education system: the language, gender equality in the education as well as the system itself. He also made sure that this system would carry on after his death, therefore building it on solid ground.

Father Mackey impacted Bhutan to a massive extent - he is known for “almost single-handedly laying the foundations for the development of modern education in Bhutan” (Solverson, 1995). However, this far-sighted goal began as a small project. His first attempt at a school began in an abandoned cowshed in Eastern Bhutan with 7 boys. Its popularity shot up immediately - the next year, 70 students enrolled. He then helped establish the Trashigang Elementary School with more than 200 students. In his first 2 decades in Bhutan, he established the three first high schools and was a dominant figure in establishing Sherubtse College, the first college in Bhutan. This breakthrough was important as Bhutanese with a college education could now qualify for demanding jobs outside of the country as well as help modernize the developing kingdom. A college education (and a current teacher training college) also enabled the Bhutanese to be more independent of their education system - nowadays, all educator jobs are taken by the locals aside from a few foreign volunteers.

As enrolment in schools slowly grew, Father Mackey concentrated on the other half of the youth; the female population. Female enrolment in Bhutanese schools currently approximates 50%, an incredible figure, especially for a developing country - even in these days. His promotion of gender-equal education shows his close connection to the citizens of Bhutan, and the current figures also emphasize how his legacy has continued, even after his death.

Setting up English as the instructing language was a big step towards modernization. Father Mackey was a main figure in this decision, along with the king. Father Mackey also personally taught English in schools around the nation. This shows the extent of his effect on the previously solely Dzongkha (local language) speaking nation - not only did he develop the education system, but also improved the business and trade system, as English is currently the main language in business exchanges as well as being a useful asset in general.

A major issue that slowed down and nearly prevented the advance of the education system is the reluctance of Bhutanese parents to send their children to school. Being a mainly agriculture-based nation, children were expected to work in fields and farms or participate in other physical labor/chores. Education, especially secondary and higher education, was seen as a waste of time. Father Mackey emphasized the importance of education, persevering until education was a norm in the Bhutanese society. To do this, he set up a free public education system that exists until today, with public schools providing education in primary, secondary, higher and even college standards. Father Mackey understood that without the support of the actual society, developing further was impossible.

As Bhutan’s hectic pace of development gradually slowed down, the role of teachers was taken up fully by the Bhutanese and foreign educators, including the Jesuit priests, were asked to leave the country. By 1989, William Mackey was the only Jesuit priest left in Bhutan.

“In Canada, I would have been a small cog in a big machine. Here, I can see a radical change between a family which has gone to school and one which has not," Father Mackey said (Solverson, 1995), and indeed - the Jesuit’s huge extent on Bhutan did not mirror his impact in Canada, not even in his hometown. However, he has greatly influenced relations between Bhutan and Canada, and his legacy has left behind a strong link between the two countries. His contribution has driven Canada to continue its support for Bhutan’s development, especially as the kingdom transitioned between absolute monarchy to a more modern parliamentary democracy and constitutional monarchy. The Bhutan Canada Foundation is still functioning and contributing today - a reminder that Father Mackey’s legacy will not be forgotten.

  1. - The college from which Father Mackey graduated
  2. Solverson, H.M. (1995) The Jesuit and the Dragon, Robert Davies Publishing
  3. - the Bhutan Canada Foundation official website
  4. Malone, David. “Our Man in Bhutan” Literary Review of Canada March 2008:
  5. Zhao, Yong, Jing Lei, Guofang Li, Ming Fang He, Kaori Okano, Nagwa Megahed, David Gamage, and Hema Ramanathan. Handbook of Asian Culture: A Cultural Perspective. Routledge, 2010
  6. - Bhutan’s Ministry of Education official website
  7. Tashi, T. “How It All Began.” Kuensel Nov 2012
  8. Earnest, Jaya and David Treagust. Education Reform in Societies in Transition. Sense Publishers, 2006

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

The land of stinky tofu vs the land of ema datsi

Hello everyone, and so sorry for not writing for such a LONG, LONG time! But there's a reason why there were no new posts lately - our family has now left Bhutan, and we're now settled in another small country called Taiwan. Taiwan is an island located in East Asia. I think that there are tons of similarities between Bhutan and Taiwan starting with their super-friendly people, their love for music and the size of the country, both of them measuring slightly less than 40,000km².

Of course, there are also lots of differences so this post is all about comparing Bhutan and Taiwan.

First off, the people, as mentioned before. Just like Bhutan, the Taiwanese are willing to help you out in any situation - one of the friendliest places I've been to. This made our first trip to Taiwan so fun and so much easier.

The food, however, is a big difference. With all due respect to the Bhutanese, their food has developed into a rather monastic (and spicy!) diet, that many Westerners don't especially appreciate. Taiwan is the place to go for yummy street food and amazing night markets. It is also the place where bubble tea was invented - tea with little balls of jelly-like tapioca inside, as well as stinky tofu (obvious from its name) that has, er, an acquired taste. Beef noodles are also a speciality, and although I have never tasted them (I'm vegetarian), I'm guessing if people say it's good, it's good.

In both Bhutan and Taiwan, there's a huge love of music and many concerts and shows take place all over the country. The aboriginals in Taiwan have a very special kind of music that reminded me of traditional Bhutanese songs. The likeliest explanation I can come up with is that the instruments used could be very similar. In Taiwan, there is also something called Chinese Opera (it's not what you're expecting, don't get fooled by the name) that also reveals some Chinese traditional music.

And lastly, I think that both Taiwan and Bhutan are very interesting places to travel to and explore - why don't you visit Taiwan on your next holiday?

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Lord Buddha

You must have heard of Lord Buddha - but did you know anything about his life before?
Buddha was a great personality. He attained enlightenment and travelled to many places spreading his teachings and wisdom. He led a remarkable life which is to be told soon.
Buddha was born in a royal Hindu family as prince Siddhartha. A common legend tells that on the night when Siddhartha was conceived, his mother, the queen, dreamt of a pure white elephant with six tusks that entered her side. Ten months later, Siddhartha Gautama was born. He was son and heir of King Suddhodana who ruled over the Shakya clan. Queen Mahamaya, his birth mother, died a week after Siddhartha's birth and her sister Pajpati brought him up.

Legend has it that one day, the prince insisted to leave the palace to see his subjects. He visited the city four times, and saw an old man, a sick man, a dead body and a monk. These are now known as the Four Sights. Siddhartha was shocked when his charioteer, Channa, explained that everyone experiences old age, disease, and death. At that moment, Siddhartha vowed to discover a way to end suffering.

King Suddhodana arranged a marriage between Siddhartha and a cousin of the same age named Yasodhara. They married, and several years later gave birth to a son.  At that time Siddhartha was planning to leave the palace to search for enlightenment and his son bound him to the palace, so he named him Rahula, meaning bond.

Aged 39, Siddhartha finally made his decision. He escaped the palace at night on his horse Kanthaka, accompanied by Channa. It is said that the horse's hooves were muffled by the gods to prevent the palace guards from knowing about Siddhartha's departure.

Siddhartha then cut his hair (in those days, only royalty had long hair) and exchanged his jewelery and silk clothes with a woodman.

He began his ascetic life by begging in the streets of Magadha. King Bimbisara, ruler of Magadha, recognized Siddhartha and sent men to learn of his quest. The king was very impressed and offered Siddhartha his throne, but Siddhartha refused and departed with a promise to visit Magadha after achieving enlightenment.

Gautama continued on his journey and met five ascetics who thought that enlightenment could be achieved by living very strictly with no luxuries like rich food, proper clothes, etc. This reached to the extremes that Gautama ate only the berries that fell into his lap while meditating, didn't sleep, and became emaciated and more dead than living.

After six years, Gautama understood that enlightenment could not be attained through this way. He went to the river to bathe but nearly drowned. He accepted milk and rice pudding from a village girl called Sujata who thought he was a forest spirit. Gautama regained his health and continued on his journey.

Gautama travelled to Bodh-Gaya where he sat under a pipal tree (now known as the Bodhi tree, you can guess why). He vowed never to rise until he had attained enlightenment and found the truth. Gautama meditated for 49 days and finally attained enlightenment. From that day on, he was known as Buddha, meaning the 'awakened one'.

After attaining enlightment, Lord Buddha travelled to many places preaching his teachings and wisdom. Many disciples joined him on his journey. He had an enemy called Devadatta (who was actually his cousin), who is said to have tried to assassinate Buddha three times.

Gautama Buddha died (not sure why, some stories say from a bad diarrhoea, some say simply from old age, and others say he was accepted by the gods) about 483 BC, but his teachings have still inspired thousands of people around the world to become better human beings.

Quotes of the Buddha

  • Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intention of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned.
  • Three things cannot be hidden long: the sun, the moon, and the truth.
  • Do not dwell on the past; do not dream of the future; concentrate the mind on the present moment.
  • A jug fills drop by drop
  • Even death is not feared by one who has lived wisely.

Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal

You must be puzzling over this long puzzling name, so I'll give you a hand. Zhabdrung isn't a name! It's a title for great lamas (high monks). So, Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal came to Bhutan in 1616 A.D. He built many dzongs: the Trongsa Dzong, the Paro Rinpung Dzong, the Punakha Dzong, Simtokha Dzong and more. Zhabdrung is said to be the third most revered person in Bhutan, after Guru Rinpoche and Lord Buddha.
He had many followers and all Bhutanese people respect him greatly.
He was a wonderful leader of the Bhutanese, and he ought have been king.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Do It Yourself

This may be surprising; there are no supermarkets - the way you know them in the west - in Bhutan. In the developed world, fresh pasteurized milk and eggs and drinkable water from the tap are taken for granted. But here, in this small developing country, the milk has to be boiled to make it safe, and soft-boiled eggs can be deadly. Also, to purify the water, you need to boil it, then wait for it to cool, and finally transfer the water to a water filter.

So basically, we don't have a lot of processed food. My dad makes home-made yogurt (the packaged one produced locally is not to our taste) and my mother makes bread - and pizza - at home. In the past few years, more and more bakeries have opened in Thimphu and the bread and pastry situation has improved. There are not many bakeries, because the usual carbohydrate in the meal is rice, so bread is not commonly used.
A family in the US with all the food they eat in a week

A family in Bhutan with all the food that they eat in a week

Thursday, June 13, 2013


So, now it's our midterms, and I have to study hard! The exams at Druk School go in four sets: the first term, mid-term, second term and annual. The first and second term exams are weekly exams that don't have a vacation after them and the exam day continues as a normal school day. The midterm and annual examinations are usually daily but may have a holiday in between two exams, and after the exam there are no studies but we go home straight away. There is a vacation after the midterm and another one after the annual string of exams.
Now, mid-term is usually referred to in the middle of a term or semester, but in this case, it means mid-year. The annual exams are the final exams.
Our midterm exams began Saturday, June 8th. I'm in 6th grade, and our first exam was English. Second, Dzongkha. I find Dzongkha very difficult but I had pored over my books and the exam was easier than the first term paper. Our third exam was Social Studies. Then, Science. Finally, Maths.
Then....? V-a-c-a-t-i-o-n VACATION!!! We get a  break of about a month which I will spend in Israel, enjoying life on the beach (there aren't seas or oceans in Bhutan).
Check the blog out soon for an exciting post differentiating between Bhutan and Israel!