Government has a Campaign

Posted on December 14, 2009

The Bhutanese rulers have long been paternalistic. A king ruled until 2 years ago, he and his predecessors, unusual in a hereditary monarchy endeavored to do what was best for their subjects. (In nearby Nepal, former kings used to have their thrones set up cliff side while they watched people forced to jump to their deaths as amusement). Four years go the king announced he would abdicate in favor of his eldest son and a constitutional monarchy would be established. Welcome to the worlds youngest democracy.

The paternalistic streak is still strong, and there is a sense from the citizenry and royal family that Bhutan is wisely run. The new 28 year old king calls himself a servant of the people and is famous for going to all parts of Bhutan and meeting the people. My Bhutanese friends have met him, as have other visitors. I am especially jealous of the tourists who have met him (not very Buddhist of me, something to work on).

As befits a country with a strong self improvement objective, there are the countless government campaigns: protect the environment, sanitation, full employment, register to vote, proper food handling, literacy, recycling, good dental hygiene, kindness to ones neighbors, anti littering (this one really not working in Thimphu), anti drug, HIV education, family planning, pro condom (with pictures in the paper how to use), and now very much in the news the anti violence against women, and anti corruption campaign. Reading the papers here, it seems the country is gong down the tubes fast, as most every story is one of woe: the government fails to deliver what it promised on time, drug and alcohol use is rampant, children no longer respect elders, crime is growing, and officials are on the take. I'm smitten with this place, though willing to view the sordid underside, but I honestly get the feeling there isn't one. The government is like those strict parents for whom a B is not good enough, the kids have to get straight A's, so anything less is cause for alarm.

The solution: the government is considering a campaign to get people to paint more penises. Only in Bhutan.

It's world anti corruption week, and it's being assiduously observed here. TV and papers are full of articles, and interviews. The BBS (Bhutanese Broadcasting Service), the country's only station is full of these earnest yet articulate programs that advise the citizenry how they can better their lives. As such, it's a bore to everyone and they watch soap operas from India or other imported fare. Though BBS is good insight into how Bhutan ticks, so I'm watching it (I mean, when Desperate Housewives and the Simpson's are not on). Ministers, businesspeople, schoolkids, persons on the street get interviewed about their thoughts on corruption. The watchdog of the anti corruption campaign is a wonderful woman, who Dorji says no one wants to run afoul of, and I see her daily. There is also a corny yet catchy anti corruption song, which gets a lot of play. With 6 20somethings singing, and good videography. The lyrics are in Dzongha, but it's subtitled in English, so I can see it's cutely sweet. I hear it so often, I can now hum it.

Transparency International just released its list of the worlds cleanest and dirtiest countries for 2009. It's in all the papers and TV here. There is much anguish in Bhutan that they have fallen to the 47th least corrupt country (out of 168 nations). Just a few years ago they were 32nd. The Anti Corruption woman on TV grieves over this, Bhutan has the potential to be the world's cleanest she states, we have good laws, loopholes need be eliminated. Good leaders need to continue to lead by example. The bad apples can be rooted out and prosecuted. It's touching, the lack of cynicism here, and the belief in their own goodness. One story, after lamenting Bhutan's fall, does go one to say, in a note of national pride that at least Bhutan is still one of the cleanest in Asia. Looking at the rankings, I see Bhutan is cleaner than Greece or Italy. USA, BTW, is number 19.

Most everyone here speaks English, as it's the official language. The national language is Dzongha, the mother toungue of people in the south is Nepali, and Sharchop for those in the east. Most people speak 3 languages, and do so daily. Considering that English was only introduced in 1960, and that the first teachers were from India, I'm surprised the accent, when speaking English is not that of Indians speaking English.It's distinctive and easy on the ear, with a few local variables. My favorite is the word for acquaintance, a hi-bye friend. The word for hot water heater is borrowed form India, is geyser. And pronounced as in India, GEEZER. Each time we arrive at a hotel Dorji says something along the lines of "I'll have the girl turn on the geysers." Makes it seem we are running sex tours for elderly men.

No visitor to Bhutan can fail to notice the outside walls on houses are painted with tigers, deer, mythical snow lions and garudas, many geometric forms and um, erect phalluses. These 6 foot cylinders commemorate the beloved Drukpa Kinley, AKA the Divine Madman, a saint and teacher who traveled the county 4 centuries using humor and outrageous behavior to help explain Buddhism, make is more appealing and accessible. A lover of wine, women, and music. Today we'd call him a player. His favorite organ is now visible all over Bhutan. The images are not meant to be lewd or lascivious, but objects of mirth, yes fertility signs, but more than that, good luck. They adorn buildings and houses, are carved from wood and hung from the rafters and carved from really big hunks of wood and attached over front doors. A story in local magazine explains how house paintings are commissioned by graduates of the School of the 13 Traditional Arts, a school that dates back 4 centuries, this the reason every aesthetic aspect of life in Bhutan is so cohesive and well done, it's all taught, and these graduates have been the craftsmen and artisans for centuries. Story goes on to explain how while all images are pretty much standardized, the students are encouraged to use their imagination when painting penises, which explains the ribbons and jewels and eyes and faces and stripes and colors that adorn them. They first paint these in school, and the teacher grades them. Many appear to have been painted by Salvador Dali, so surreal are they. The story laments that in the towns people are becoming prudish and not longer painting these images of Bhutanese traditional heritage.

The solution: the government is considering a campaign to get people to paint more penises. Only in Bhutan.