Saturday, March 5, 2011

Auspicious Days in Yangtse Town: How I Met The Prime Minister

As much as I love the quiet of small town living, and I love it with all of my heart, there is something undeniably energizing and human about squeezing through colourful crowds. For the past few days it has been busy enough in my small town to do just that because two remarkable events, one spiritual and one secular, happened at once...

As I mentioned in an earlier entry, it is believed that a dakini princess was buried of her own accord under Chorten Cora to meditate forever for the benefit of all sentient beings. She screamed for fifteen days before expiring into eternity. Dakpa pilgrims from her home region in India come here for fifteen days every year to circumambulate the stupa and remember her sacrifice. The fifteenth day, yesterday, is called Namgang Cora, and it is the day that the Bhutanese themselves celebrate. Many travelers from throughout the East come to make rounds and to receive a blessing from a senior lama. A huge cloth painted with the image of Guru Rinpoche is displayed for the occasion. You can see the back of it in this picture:

And the back of it is all we got to see. We dilly dallied on our way down and arrived just in time to miss the once-in-a-year opportunity. We watched the monks take it down:

As the crowds circled the Chorten, the most devote spun every prayer wheel:

So that was the spiritual event, and it drew a crowd quite on its own. This shot of the town in evening shows the hive of tiny tent shops set up for the occasion:

The secular event was the arrival of Prime Minister Jigme Y. Thinley and a large delegation of other ministers to complete the dzongkhog's exhaustive mid-term review. I was teaching when his convoy came to town. A support staff member burst in my classroom, which is a bit set apart from the rest of campus, and urged me to hurry up the hill and catch a car. He explained that the entire staff had, at the last moment, been invited to attend the PM's arrival speech. I quickly borrowed a rachu (the red sash that is added to a woman's national dress for important events) from one of the students.

A whisk away and a few moments later, I watched the Prime Minister rise to a podium. He was speaking in Dzongkha and all I understood was that his jokes made people belly laugh. After general remarks, he picked people out of the crowd for short individual conversations. His first words in English were directed at me. "Now you're not Bhutanese, are you? Where are you from?"

I stood, "Canada, sir".

"Oh indeed. One of Miss Nancy's teachers! What part of Canada?"

"Nova Scotia."

"What part of Nova Scotia?"


"Did we meet when I was there for the third International GNH conference?"

"I'm afraid not."

Our conversation went on for a few more sentences but all I remember is how at home he made me feel. He is a true gentleman. Here's his picture, but just from the Internet; I did not have my camera at the reception:

Out of kindness to me and the two Japanese in the audience, the Prime Minister scattered English portions throughout his main speech. He said beautiful things. He reminded us that "the richest man in the world is he who, whatever his economic situation, feels content. The poorest man is the person who, though he might be a billionaire, is filled with desire and cannot appreciate what he has." I have a hard time imagining a Canadian politician including that thought as a foreword to financial facts. Like I've written before, values have value here.

I saw black-necked cranes for the second time since I've been in Bhutan when exactly three of them flew over head during a passionate part of the Prime Minister's speech. This is interesting because exactly three black-necked cranes is the symbol of his party. In my life these days, coincidences with symbolic significance are just too common for comfort. But I digress; I'll save that for the memoir.

Miss Nancy, Executive Director of the BCF, arrived in Yangtse with the Prime Minister's convoy. She stayed two nights in our home and we were very happy to have her. Here she is with my wonderful Principal:

With Nancy in town and so many other reasons to celebrate, William and I decided we were making cheese momos! We took what we learned preparing tea momos with Dawa Dema and combined it with our copious experience eating cheese momos in restaurants. We came up with a recipe, assembled the ingredients, and then just went for it:


The results, even if they weren't quite momos, were delicious! We were so pleased that we invited Dawa Dema and Jimmie over to try them. The accompanying aperatif was a great bottle of wine given to us by Mr. Mark. My tongue was a bunny ballerina.

It was quite a couple of days in Trashiyangtse! I am so honoured to be in this place and meeting these people. I am so lucky. 


  1. I can't wait for the memoir.

    So happy to hear that your cooking adventure went well.

  2. Wow!
    There sure seems to be a lot of remarkable things going on in Trashiyangtse! I do not think the Prime Minister here would even speak with someone in his audience; it is really neat that he engaged with you in such a personal way.

    Those cheese momos look great to me! I look forward to eating some one day!

  3. Another great adventure ---and you convey the stories so well! They're almost believable.

    No really, we do believe it--but it is quite amazing as the last comment noted--" a lot of remarkable things going on in Trashiyangtse."

    I guess there always has been things going on there, but now we have someone to tell us about them. Thank you so much for sharing.

    Mom & Dad M

  4. so many great adventures for you both, thank you for sharing them all, can wait to read the memoire
    Love Mom B

  5. This all looks so exciting! Meeting the Prime Minister must have been so exciting for you.
    I look forward to those Momos when you get back to Nova Scotia, I never reilised that Will could cook!!! lol. miss you
    -Love Brianna B