Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Bhutan over Lunch (and merienda)


Since last Monday, I have been conducting a training program for a group of Bhutanese at one of the buildings in Makati. It's not really the first time that I have shared the same room with Bhutanese people, but it is the first time that I have spent three days (so far, tomorrow will be day 4) with them exclusively as the whole training group is composed mainly of Bhutanese.

I have always been interested in the countries at the Himalayas, particularly Tibet and Bhutan. I don't know why, but Nepal and the rest do not intrigue me. India, of course, will always mystify me. I think I can live in India. So what do I know about Bhutan so far?

The King (Jigme Wangchuk) has four wives - and the four are sisters (as in siblings). He married the eldest daughter and then proceeded to marry the rest of the package as well. All in all he has 12 children among the four queens. Bhutanese people love their king so much they think he is the world's most handsome man (I kid you not! I actually challenged the ladies in the group to compare their King with Brad Pitt in the looks department and they all unanimously said their King was better looking). Of course, this is not an indication that this is the truth, just that it is their version of the truth.

Men in Bhutan can marry as many wives as they want, provided he can afford to have those many wives, and provided further (and this is where it becomes really interesting), that the previous wives agree. The number of men who have more than one wife is actually very small they say. Hmmmmm...one more proof that when you give people the freedom to do something previously forbidden, they lose interest in it. Technically, the same also applies to women. They can have as many husbands as they want. The same provisions apply. I did not get to ask what happens at night in the privacy of the bedroom because at that point, the ladies began to blush.

The Bhutanese people eat chili like we do rice. They put it in everything. And they munch on it while eating as well. Yesterday morning, we had -pancakes for morning snacks and I was floored down to see many of them reach out for the chili paste and begin smothering their pancakes with it. Maple syrup and chili sauce....Aarrgghhh....

Bhutan only has summer and winter. During winter, their work hours are shortened (9-4 only). During summer, it is 9-5. It snows in some parts of Bhutan during January and February and their average temperature in the northern part is 1 degree. To compare - Baguio at its coldest ever, registered 5 degrees.

Naturally because they live in the Himalayas, they do not have beaches and oceans. Many of them saw the sea up close for the very first time last weekend when they went to the Manila Bay. They will go to Batangas this Saturday and they have been asking all kinds of questions about how waves are formed and how strong the pressure of a wave is, etc. And by the way, the only fish they have in Bhutan is trout. All others, they have to import.

But they grow apples, oranges, peaches, pears, apricots. They import the best peaches and pears to Japan and everywhere else. They say peaches in Bhutan are commonplace, practically everyone has a peach tree - probably like santol in the Philippines.

In Bhutan, marijuana grows freely - as in it is everywhere, but they do not have a drug problem. So getting stoned is really a cultural thing. Many of them have not even tried smoking marijuana although some of them have confessed to getting stoned while burning dried leaves and twigs in the trash. There's an interesting idea: you want to get stoned? Clean the backyard, rake the dry leaves and burn to your heart's content. However, cigarettes are banned in Bhutan.

They only have one five-star hotel (called Boutique) and it is opening in August of this year.

They do not have family names. The lama of the town simply assigns names to kids. And yet they say they know everybody. Internet is very accessible because the king fell in love with the whole concept in the mid-nineties and the whole country is wired. Their are no prostitutes, no lesbians, no gays (that's what they say).

What a country!

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