Thursday, July 30, 2009

Look at this! This is the type of vicious creature that attacked me.

Short post, but these pictures take FOREVER to upload. More later!



Sunday, July 26, 2009

Facing deportation... again!

Hi everybody!

You know how they say that every day, you get a little bit more like your parents? Well, just yesterday, I was shining example of the truth of that statement.

For those of you who don't remember (or maybe haven't heard) a few years ago (I am so old, oh my gosh) my mom and I went on an awesome trip around the world for the sake of food. On that trip, we meant to go to Brazil, to eat at a place called Marius (which, for the record, is insanely delicious). My mom, being the renegade, devil-may-care kind of lady that she is, didn't realize that we needed a visa to get into Brazil. When we arrived at the immigration desk, sans visa, the officer was a bit put out; our passports were taken away from us and we were detained in Brazil, with the authorities threatening to send us right back home. Luckily, thanks to the fast talking of a United worker, we were just shipped off to our next destination. No harm, no foul, right?

So yesterday, I went with the family of a doctor friend of mine to the Royal Botanical Garden, and we had to pass an immigration check-point. No worries-- I had my visa, which extends until September 3rd, my passport, and a letter from the Secretary of the Ministry of Health. Once we reached the check-point, my doctor friend (his name is Ratna) parked the car, got out, and went over to a little building on the side of the road with all the above-mentioned paraphernalia. After about five minutes, he walks back over to the car with a concerned look on his face, and says I have to go talk to the guy. (Wait, what?) So I walk over, and the guy looks at me and, waving my passport in my face, tells me that my visa expired a week ago. (Wait, what?!) He then goes on to inform me that I have to go to the immigration office on Monday, but that there's no telling what they'll do-- they might fine me, or detain me, or even deport me. (Whoa whoa whoa, WHAT?) I'm desperately trying to explain to him that I thought it was all taken care of by the Health Ministry, and that I'm a little confused, since the paper I have says I'm legal until September 3rd, and unless something has gone very wrong somewhere, I'm pretty sure it's still only July. Mr. Immigration Official then starts telling me that when he wants medicine, he'll go to a doctor, but for immigration things, I should go to the immigration people. Right.

This goes on for awhile, until Mr. Immigration Official's buddy, who is also in the little building, takes a moment to look at my actual visa, and points out to Mr. Immigration Official that it does in fact say I'm allowed to stay until September 3rd. It turns out that Mr. Immigration Official was looking at the stamp in my passport, which, in his defense, did expire a week ago. Apparently, however, this little stamp is really, really important (why? I have no idea... but it's not like US immigration policy makes any sense either, so I'm not really willing to start pointing fingers) so I still have to go to the immigration office on Monday and plead my case. This will consist largely of me explaining that while the woman at the airport told me to renew the little stamp guy, the folks at the Ministry told me it was all good, and since I'm lazy, I believed the Ministry people. My bad.

Once this all becomes clear to Mr. Immigration Official, he starts laughing at me! Seriously, he's chuckling his head off, and repeating all the stuff about my getting fined and whatnot, and then goes on to let me know it was good that I had the paper visa with me, or else he would have had to detain me there. Then he wants to know why I didn't listen to the lady at immigration, to which I really have no good answer (I'll admit that was stupid) and when I say as much, he starts laughing more! At this point though, I have to admit it is kind of funny--I mean, it's like something out of an episode of "I Love Lucy" (I'm Lucy, while Mr. Immigration Official is clearly Ricky)-- and so we all started laughing at my dumbness, including Ratna. Which, now that I'm writing about it, makes me feel dumber, if that's possible, but whatever. I mean, at least I'm not in jail... yet. I still have to go to the office tomorrow. Ah... Mom, I hope I did you proud.

Well, after our hearty laugh at me, Mr. Immigration Official (who wasn't so bad, actually) let us all go on ahead to our picnic in the Royal Botanical Garden. It was so fun; one of Ratna's friends and his family came along, so it was like a big family get-together, plus, you know... me. Ratna is from Southern Bhutan, so he and his family speak Nepali to each other. His mother is this older Nepali lady, with a nose-piercing and some seriously intricate earrings. She is ADORABLE, and speaks no English, so our conversations, if you could call them that, are entirely in gestures. Ratna's wife is also from the South; she's a teacher, speaks great English, and is completely bodacious, so we totally jived. Since the two of them got married when Ratna was 20 and she was 19, they are now in their 40's with kids around my age. Their daughter, who is in class 12 (the equivalent of a senior in high school) was there, so we hung out and played some badminton, and they have one more son who is away at school. All in all, it was a really fun day, even taking into account my brush with the law.

Whew... that is a long, emotionally trying post. I'll let you all know how it goes with the immigration folks tomorrow; fingers crossed for another good laugh at my expense! It's better than the alternatives.

As always, loving and missing each and every one of you! Keep it real wherever you are, and if you get some time, drop me a note!



Sunday, July 19, 2009

Further Adventures

See, I AM getting better at this blogging thingy.

I'm currently sitting in a cafe in Thimpu, which is at this point my favorite for two important reasons: 1) I can find it and 2) it has free wireless! It's about a million degrees outside (this might be an exaggeration, but it certainly doesn't feel like one) so I'm cowering inside, trying to psych myself up for the trek back to my apartment. Ooh-- but fun update for those who know about my total lack of directionality: I'm developing the ability to know where I am! Thimpu is ideal for this because there are two directions, up and down. So I can generally figure out that wherever I'm trying to go is down and to the left, or up and to the right, or whatever. It's all very exciting, and I'm thinking my next step is learning to tell my right from my left... but that's a high aspiration.

Okay, so storytime:

The other night, I was walking over to a friend's apartment for dinner. It was about 7:30, so it was pretty dark (it gets dark early here... maybe it has something to do with the mountains, or the altitude, or something) but I wasn't too worried, since Thimpu is pretty safe. I mean, Hyde Park has way more muggers and stuff. But one thing that Hyde Park does not have many of, and that Thimpu has a lot of, and that I completely forgot about, are stray dogs. LOTS of stray dogs. In the daytime, these dogs lounge around in the shade, looking completely benign and adorable. They'll come up to you, tails wagging, eyes begging for food.

But at night, the dogs wake up.

So I'm walking along, minding my own business. To get to the main road from my place, I walk up a street that curves a bit. I could hear some snuffling and other doggie noises, but since all my previous experiences with the dogs had been so relaxed, I didn't really think anything of it-- until I rounded the curve, and all the dogs that had been nosing around in the garbage dump for food suddenly looked up and RAN at me, all at once, barking like crazy. They come hurtling out of the darkness at me, and I swear I can see their fangs glistening, and my horribly mangled arm is clearly pictured in my mind... and then they run right past me, towards a gated driveway where there's one dog, presumably a pet, yapping away at this pack of gigantic wolves. After my initial moment of frozen terror, once I realized the dogs really didn't care about me at all, since I was neither canine nor edible, I just kept walking. But I was still really freaked out.

In the morning, when I left for the hospital, there were only six small-ish dogs sleeping in the sun. One was a puppy. I still can't figure out where the renegade band of three hundred enormous slathering fiends went, but I'm sure they're around somewhere.

I'll keep this brief, since I've been here for a while and all I've ordered is a strawberry smoothie, and the guy behind the counter is giving me the "are you going to buy something?" look. But again, missing all of you! Loves and suchlike.



Thursday, July 16, 2009

Late Update

Well, I've been terrible about keeping this blog updated... although I guess the guilt associated with that is based on the assumption that people actually read this, which may or may not be true. Either way, my bad, potential readers!

Okay, so, onto the good stuff.

I've been going to the Thimpu hospital for the past couple of weeks, which has been interesting, inspiring, and sad all at once. The hospital is very crowded, and people have to wait for quite a while to see a doctor. The way it works is there is a front admissions area where people get a ticket with a number. Then they stand in line to see a general practioner, who will treat their ailment if they can. If not, the doctor sends them along to a specialist, where the patient waits in line again. It's a decent system, and usually everyone does get to a see a doctor (the doctors I've observed will stay a little late if necessary) but it's hard to watch all these people milling about, sometimes in pain, waiting to see someone for about five minutes.

On the good side, the doctors that I've seen are all really compassionate and professional. Sometimes towards the end of the day, on patient 79 or whatever (doctors see anywhere from 80 to 100 patients in a day) they can get a little cranky, but generally they're really nice. I think the conditions and the pay sort of weed out the type of doctors who just want to get in, get out, and get paid, which is certainly a plus. On top of that, since they do see so many different illnesses, the doctors here are hard to stump. Finally, everything is free-- almost all medicines, all the tests, the doctor visits, inpatient care, delivery... yeah, everything, and that is great.

So yeah, it's been fun and challenging, even though I'm just sitting and watching, and talking to everyone as much as possible. However, my non-medical student status has gotten me into a couple of fun situations. It's pretty rare for someone to just come and do research, so people just assume that I am in fact in medical school. On my first day with the general practitioner, the administrative official who explained to the doctor who I was told him that I was a medical student. I was totally unaware of this, since the whole conversation as conducted in Dzongkha (the national language) so I sat down with my notebook in hand, ready to lurk in the corner and observe. The doctor, however, had other ideas, and waved me over to his desk where he was examining patients. He then indicates to the guy who is poking his head in through the examination room door (people are really anxious to make sure they get to see the doctor, so they tend to open the door and peek in) that he can come in and sit down. The patient does so, and then the doctor and the nurse give his paperwork to me and look at me with these expectant smiles. I, of course, am completely baffled, so I just sort of smile blankly back. This went on for about five hundred years (or that's what it felt like) and then the doctor says, "Go ahead-- you can see him now. I'll check when you're done to make sure you were right,"and the light dawns. So then I had to explain that I was just a student in college, not medical school, and so perhaps me examining patients was a poor choice- -to which the doctor agreed. He did teach me how to take someone's blood pressure though, so all in all, it wasn't too awkward. Then, in true Bhutanese style (he was a native doctor) he invited me back to his house to eat lunch with his family, which was really great.

Well, speaking of the hospital, I should probably go there now and hang around. More pictures are forthcoming, I promise! And again, I miss all your lovely faces.



Sunday, July 5, 2009


I've been in Bhutan for about two days now, and I have to say-- I definitely dig it.

First off, let me just explain the title of this post. The people of Bhutan are absurdly beautiful, in my opinion. They have these delicate features and sort of dusky skin, and it seems like every single one of them is slim and graceful. I have so many girl-crushes, it's out of control. Even with all that, it seems like every time I'm introduced to anyone, beautiful or not, I end up jabbering on about Jake-- which come to think of it, is something I do all the time anyway. But still, aesthetically speaking-- wow.

Yesterday my parents and I just wandered around the town. Thimpu would be pretty unremarkable, were it not for the fact that it's nestled in a valley surrounded by these huge hill/mountains that are covered in evergreens. It's 360 degrees of beautiful, and when you take the people into account, look out! The buildings all have the trappings of traditional Bhutanese style (by law, actually) and there are people and stray dogs all over the place.

The people here, aside from being stunning, are also super super hospitable. Our guide, whose name is Sonam, and our driver, whose name is Ugyen, look physically uncomfortable if we try to do anything for ourselves--order something, buy something, carry something, anything. I actually started making a game of trying to beat them to my backpack before they could snatch it up and refuse to give it back. At first I thought this was just part of the hotel's schtick, and they were required to act that way, but then this morning we went to a house consecration.

After a Bhutanese person builds a house, it has to be consecrated. This is after the foundation has been blessed, and yet another blessing must be made on the house before the roof has been put on (it seems like there's a lot of consecrating going on in Bhutan). Anyway, we drive up to this house, a three-story structure made of wood, with beautifully painted window frames and covered with colorful flags. There was a tent out front with people singing and dancing, and chairs for people to watch the show. Inside the house was just as colorful, with prayer flags and all kinds of adornments. As soon as we stepped onto the property, the nephew of the man who had built the house rushed up and thanked us for coming, and accepted our gift of a six-pack (which is part of the tradition, apparently). He then insisted on seeing us into the tent where the dancers were performing and brought us food and something to drink. My mom almost refused it (you know my mom-- she's picky :) ) but Sonam gave us one of those meaningful eyebrow lifts that people give you before you're about to make a huge faux pas, and we all accepted. Sonam explained that it's considered pretty rude to refuse the offer.

The rest of the people there were just as nice and accommodating, and seemed to enjoy practicing their English on us while pressing even more drinks into our hands. That would have been okay, except for the fact that they were mostly alcoholic drinks (which explains the beer thing, actually), and I really didn't want to be the drunk American at the house consecration, you know? So I had to start refusing, which Sonam said was okay since I had already accepted a good amount.

The house consecration was amazing-- there really is no other word. There's a room in every Bhutanese house (I think it's in every house) that is dedicated to a shrine for Buddha. In this room were about eight monks, chanting in Sanskrit and playing instruments. There were two monks playing two huge horns; they would blow in unison for about thirty seconds, take a breath, and then keep going. I was honestly surprised they didn't pass out. These two guys were accompanied by a man with cymbals and three other men playing instruments that looked like flutes. There were a few monks in there not playing instruments (they were just helping with the chanting, I guess) and one of them who looked about my age busted out a cell phone from his robe and started texting. My mom saw him and pointed him out to me, but when he saw us looking he got all sheepish and put it away.

Amidst all this chanting and horn blowing and whatnot, two men in masks at the center of the room were dancing around with bundles of grass, the ends of which were on fire. Every so often, they would throw dust (apparently gathered from rotting pine trees) onto the flames, causing the fire to burst up in the same way as when you spray a lighter flame with hairspray. The men in masks then went from room to room, blowing the flames around in the wooden house. My dad and I were nervous; my mom LOVED it. The masked men would also blow the flames at people, people like ME-- but they were good enough at it that nothing (including myself) caught on fire. The flames are supposed to purify and cleanse the house of all the evil spirits, and if they get blown at you, then you're purified and cleansed as well. So I think they were trying to be nice, since it's considered a good thing to have the flames of a blazing sheaf of grass purposefully directed towards your flammable person. But it was so much fun, and like I said, the people were incredibly hospitable.

Okay wow, this turned into a total novella-- but frankly, there's not that much to do at night in Thimpu. I'll try and get some pictures up, especially of my SWEET pad, which has three bedrooms and two porches and is basically super-swank.

I miss all of you, and am very touched if you've read through all this blather up to this point. Keep it real stateside, and I'll try not to catch on fire over here.



Wednesday, July 1, 2009

The Pursuit Begins

Hey everyone!

So tomorrow ( in approximately 9 hours) my plane for Bhutan will take off... and with any luck, I'll be on it! I am SO SO SO excited and, truth be told, a little bit scared. What with the language barrier, the uncertainty, and the whole monsoon season thing, the nerves are a bit a-jangle.

But hey, then I remind myself that this is a SWEET opportunity, and that the whole point is to hang out in an amazing, original place, to broaden my horizons and to gather a teensy bit of primary material for my BA. Really, how simple and awesome is that? Pretty simple and awesome, I'd say.

So, partly in an effort to be hilarious and partly in an effort to remind myself what the heck this whole adventure is for, I have named my nascent travel blog "The Pursuit of (Gross National) Happyness."


Oh whatever, you all love it just as much as I do.

Anyways, this was just a taste of the linguistic brilliance that awaits, so check back in whenever the mood strikes you. I'll have access to email, although it will be somewhat sketchy, so holla at me when/if you can, because I would love to hear from all of you about your lovely selves! So do it.