Wednesday, May 31, 2006


Today, I was another time teaching. Things go well and I have a lot of fun teaching the FIT class. Some of the students haven't interacted with computers before; but all of those students have gotten started with the mouse and keyboard and are able to format text. Those moments feel really good.
It'll be a really short post - my eyes don't like me anymore and tell me to go to bed. So let me just post two pictures of my class. In total, there are 37 students in the class - but as you can see, not all of them showed up. But I have at least a picture of the guys that showed up...

Normally, I wear a Gho for class. But because this class was in the evening at 6pm, I was not sure whether the students would show up in western clothes or in traditional Bhutanese cloths. So I decided to come in western clothes - because it would have been silly me being the only person showing up in traditional Bhutanese clothes...

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Cheese, Jam Session, and Traditional Dances

There was a ton of stuff going on during the last few days but only now I have time to write it down. Saturday night, a Jam Session took place at the NIE Samtse. A Jam Session in the Bhutanese context is more or less a European disco. Boy, it was a ton of fun. I'm not a party guy - but last Saturday, I realized that I have missed it a lot. It was fun to shake and dance with all the trainees. All the guys that you mostly met in Gho and Kira now freaked out in western clothes. People were a bit more relaxed and it was easier to get in contact with them. You had even some of the games going on that we know from the European or American context.
But even considering this a bit more relaxed atmosphere, I was still called 'Sir' and 'Mr. Sam'. It's a bit weird because all those kids are about the same age as I am. Telling people to forget the 'Sir' doesn't really help - it's a sign of respect. Well, sometimes I'd prefer to talk to them in a relaxed atmosphere instead of just getting called 'Sir'. But it's probably something that takes just a lot of time.
And yeah, I'm still this special guy. So when I arrived at the place where the Jam Session took place, everybody had a - hidden - glance on what I was exactly doing. So Sam dancing (and everybody that knows me well knows that this is not really a strong side of me...) - and all the trainees watching. We'll, that's what you run into while staying abroad.
But don't get me wrong; I enjoyed it a lot, we had a ton of fun, and it felt really good. The music was - well - special. The older generations might be able to recall Rednex; Cotton Eye Joe is a huge hit here in Bhutan. And then, there was all the Hindi music. And for sure a ton of American stuff (even American country music...).

On Sunday night, Joy and David Laird returned back from their trip. They have visited several places in Bhutan - and they have even been to Bumthang. Bumthang is the Switzerland of Bhutan (that's what everybody is telling me) - and there is even a Swiss guy producing cheese down there. So among Swiss guys in Bhutan it is an open secret that one has to get Swiss cheese from Bumthang. David got me some Swiss cheese - and not just a little bit. I got a complete cheese - 5.2 kg!! Wow, I just had to laugh really hard - 5.2 kg! Well, we'll see how long it'll take to eat that cheese. Guess that I won't finish it on my own - today, a first lecturer got a portion of cheese ;-).

On Monday, the NIE Samtse celebrated its foundation day. In the morning, there was an official ceremony. All the students, all the lecturers, and even some external guys attended. Prayer in the beginning and speeches following. After the ceremony, everybody moved to the sports ground and the final of the
khuru game took place. Khuru is some sort of a dart game - similar to archery.
I was considered to be one of the guests and had to sit in the front row. I was even shaking hands with the chief guest (he was some sort of a high politician). After the khuru game was over (I went working in between - most of the lecturers did the same...), a lot of the lecturers and trainees were dancing a traditional Bhutanese dances. Well, as soon as I came even close to the dancing group, one of the trainees integrated me into the circle. There is not a lot you can do about that - so I was dancing for the first time a traditional Bhutanese dance - and that in front of the complete institute...

Then, lunch was served. Naturally, no spoons or forks were available; Bhutanese guys are just used to eat with their hands. Have you ever eaten rice with your hands?? It's like eating rice with chop sticks - if you are not used to it, you starve. Again, I was this weird guy not being able to eat with his hands ;-). After a few minutes one of the trainees step up to me and offered a spoon ;-).

You see, life in Bhutan is exciting and I learn a lot. Sometimes, it is as well not entirely easy to adapt to different customs - but that's what I'd call a learning experience. Guys, expect somebody different to come back home. In the beginning, I freaked out because of all the ants in the rice. Now, I don't even care...

Let's just add two more pics:

Trainees in the computer lab - one time not in Gho and Kira ;-).

That's how the electrical situation sometimes looks like - voltage dropping down to 150 Volts. Once, I even observed 50 Volts...

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Busy week and VSAT

Was a rather busy week. Chris (guy working for Helvetas) stayed in Samtse and we got some work done during the last few days. I have not done half of the things that I should have done - but that's probably just how it is. The VSAT dish was put on top of the roof of the men's hostel this week and it will get connected to the network next week. So starting next week, I have a down-link of 1MB - pretty exciting stuff ;-)!
Yesterday, a lecturer from Paro stayed in Samtse and we had discussion almost all day long. In the evening we went to the Director's place and continued the discussion. Started working at 6:45am and got back to my apartment at 11:30pm - pretty long day and I was rather tired.
Tonight, there is another cultural program. Students are performing dances - from traditional Bhutanese to Hindi to Nepali to modern American ones. I like those shows a lot because I get exposed to a completely new culture. And after today's show, there will be a Jam session. Guess that kids around here are getting excited and hope that we'll have fun. 15 Rupees entrance fee ;-).
Guys have a great weekend and enjoy life!

Monday, May 22, 2006


Yesterday afternoon, I hired together with a bunch of students a cab and we went to a town maybe 10km from Samtse. Next to the town, there is one of the most famous suspension bridges in Bhutan. It was a good experience to go out to the village because there is yet a completely different aspect of Bhutan to be seen out there. We had a good time, took some pictures, and just had fun.

Singay, Cheku, and Karma. All of them are third year trainee at the NIE Samtse.

Again the same three guys, this time in front of the suspension bridge.

Cheku, myself, and Singay.

Cheku and Singay in the cab.

On the way back to Samtse.

That's one way of mobility - as seen on the way back to Samtse.

Cow ;-).

Saturday, May 20, 2006


Guys, this post is pictures only. I have to leave the lab soon but wanted to share a few impressions from Bhutan. Have a great weekend and enjoy life!

From the top of my house - most of the countryside that you see here is Bhutan.

That's how a Gho looks like after the washing procedure. You probably start to understand why it is difficult to put on that thing ;-). And by the way: I'm still wearing it every day (except Sunday)!

To the left side, we have India. The mountains are probably still Bhutan.

Well, still no roof on top of my house. That's what it currently looks like!

Friday, May 19, 2006

Master Thesis and a few Changes

This week, I got a mail from my adviser at ETH with a suggested topic for my master thesis. The title of the suggested topic is Anisotropic Smallest enclosing Balls. The concept of anisotropic-something is that you have points in a d-dimensional space with a separate distance function for every point. That means that there is no absolute notion of distance but that distance depends on your point of view. The concept of anisotropic Voronoi diagrams has already been introduced. In the suggested Master thesis, I'd try to investigate properties of the smallest ball that contains all points. The notion of smallest ball is defined so that the distance between the center of the ball and the point farthest away from the center is minimized.
For this setting, there are a couple of interesting questions that one can ask. Can this ball be computed in linear time? If generally the ball cannot be computed in linear time, for which distance functions will it be possible to compute the ball in linear time?
All in all, I think that this could be a challenging and interesting master thesis. It seems to be work from an area that I can relate to and it seems as well to pass the reality check (I will be able to explain to my family and friends what I'm doing...). If you have any comments - feel free to help out with your opinion ;-)!

Change of subject! My folks back home are shifting gears. After having stayed in Taegerig for the last 18 years, my family decided to move to a different place. My father has found a job in a village in the state of Zurich and my family will be moving this October. It has been around for quite a bit of time now and I think that it was a good decision. As far as I know, there are still a few open questions (e.g. where to live) but I think that they will be resolved during the next few months.

For me, that's the perfect opportunity to move out. I plan to stay in the area of Baden / Wettingen for at least the next year or two. My brother Benjamin has to finish school in Baden and he therefore has to stay in the state of Aargau - so we decided that we would be looking for an apartment. Youngest and oldest brother move in together ;-). It makes sense to do it that way especially considering my planned stay in Bhutan next year. If you know of any apartment in the area of Baden / Wettingen that will be available starting somewhen between August and October, please let me know!

Not a lot about Bhutan in this post. Let me just mention that life is treating me well and that I'm rather busy.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Meeting Face-to-Face and Dzongkha

It is always amazing to realize how useful real face-to-face communication is. During the last few weeks, I have been locked here in Samtse and stayed in contact with the folks at Helvetas using email. It was not always easy to communicate because there were tough issues at stake and I had sometimes a tough sale using email only. Els and Chris (both working for Helvetas) have been coming down here yesterday and we had good discussions. Problematic issues got clarified and we revised our strategy for the future. I will probably detail on that a little bit later; right now, we first have to finalize our decisions and communicate them.

Next week, we probably install the satellite dish here in Samtse and try to set up InfoTopes. InfoTopes are old computer that are reanimated to be used as surfing stations. We'll probably be confronted with a few non-technical problems but that will be a great learning experience. All in all, the non-technical problems tend to be more challenging and in the end help you to learn a lot about a new culture.

Today, I finally started learning Dzongkha. Dzongkha is the national language of Bhutan and I just feel really stupid to stay in a country without speaking its official language. It'll probably be a hard job because there are not a lot of similarities with the languages that I already speak. At least the pronunciation seems not to be too hard - it's like German with some Italian influence ;-). So let me conclude with my first two sentence in Dzongkha: 'De ga ci mo?' translates to 'What is that?' and 'Nga ki ming Sam, in' translates to 'My name is Sam'.

Guys, enjoy life!

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Teaching Half Class...

... when you are supposed to teach the complete class is a fun thing. Today, only half of the students showed up for my class. Not quite sure why - but I guess that's what I have to accept. I used my cardboard version of word (picture will follow), explained how to select text and gave an introduction into different formats (bold, italic, underline, font size, font). Again, my cardboard keyboard was in use to visually show which keys have to be pressed. Mouse was simulated by the blackboard-cleaning-towel, the Word document with chalk - and marking text was done using the long side of the chalk.

It might sound like difficult circumstances to teach an introduction into word processing; but in fact I think that it is actually a good thing to do it that way. One of the students mentioned today after class that he profits a lot more by having this type of theory session than by actually doing things in the lab. Sure, students will have to try all that stuff out and a cardboard version of word might be a bit abstract for a student that has hardly touched a computer so far. But all in all I think that I was able to bring the important messages across.

After class, I went for lunch to the canteen. Well, there I met the other part of the class. They had some sort of birthday celebration. No reason to get angry - they invited me and I even had to sing a song ("I schaenke dir mis Haerz...").

That's how life is treating me in Bhutan. Wish you a lot of fun back home! And Martin, you must be really happy with Stephanie moving to Denmark soon!

Friday, May 12, 2006


Right now, it is heavily raining but according to my Bhutanese friends, Monsoon hasn't started yet. I have a good umbrella so walking around in rain is not too bad; although if it is really heavily raining, then at least your feet are getting wet. But there is something else that worries me a little bit: my apartment doesn't yet have a roof. During the few short rainy moments that we had in the past, my ceiling and the walls have been getting wet quite a bit. Extrapolating from the rain we had so far to a possible monsoon, I get pretty scared. My assumption is that if we don't get a roof during the next maybe 10 days, I'll probably have to look for a different place to stay.
We mentioned the problem more than three times (that's when Bhutanese start to take action) but nothing has happened so far. So keep your fingers crossed - or send me some tin!

Yes and Yes; Second Part!

For all of you who have never stayed in an Asian country, my last post might have been a little bit strange. Let me just illustrate it with one more example:

This week, I was again teaching a session in the lab. First thing that you'd like to do is to make sure that everybody is able to log in. Because two or even three students have to share a computer, you cannot detect whether everybody is able to log in by just looking at the screens. So in the European context I would ask 'who has problems logging in?' and would probably get a fairly accurate answer. Asking this question here in Bhutan is rather silly. Ok, you might think that some of the students are just shy and asking them face-to-face might help. It helped a little bit (reformulating the question over and over again) and I discovered maybe four students that have forgotten their password. Checking with every student face-to-face took a bit of time; but I'm pretty sure that at least two of the students forgot their password but they didn't tell me. I tried to formulate the question in every possible way - but somehow it didn't help.

It is really good that I'm teaching that class. I learn so many things that you learn only by doing; if you don't have to interact on this level, then you just simply don't discover how it works. The experiences that I'm making in that class help me a lot to understand in a better way what is going on in the other parts that I'm working on. As I mentioned in the last post, it is a great learning experience and I'm really happy that I have the possibility to get in contact with all the folks here in Samtse!!

Monday, May 08, 2006

Yes and Yes

Adrian, you wanted to get a clarification on what exactly happened. It was just a combination of a few things that made me wonder what is going on. It is inappropriate to write the details here; sorry for mentioning it in the first place. After a weekend of having it in my mind, I think that it has to do with one thing that I'm still struggling: the difference between yes and yes.
One of the two words means actually no and the other one means really yes. It is difficult to realize when it is yes and when it is no. It is important to ask the questions in the right way - so that you cannot answer either with yes or with no - after all, a yes/no question will always be answered with yes. But asking the questions in the right way is a damn hard thing to do after having grown up in the European context.
In conversations, I still come up with the yes/no questions. After having asked the question, I realize that I was again asking the wrong way 'round and end up asking the negation of the previously asked question. After having asked both ways, I try to estimate which yes was stronger.
Sometimes, it is difficult to cope with that fact but I don't see it as a problem but rather as a learning experience. It takes time to get adjusted - but you learn a lot!

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Teaching and Fighting with Active Directories

Yesterday, we have been fighting almost all day long with a thing called SnapServer and with Windows Active Directories. Was ugly but we solved a few problems; although a few are still remaining. Either there are a few incompatible concepts involved in the two system or we have some really strange issues. We'll see how it works out.
This morning, I was again teaching my FIT class. Was a good class; explained the mouse and the keyboard. Think that I found a few good analogies and was jumping around enough to keep them awake in a warm class room. Besides the two input devices, we covered the three elements of an electronic document (content, structure, and layout) and talked about the problems of spellcheckers...
Because we have only one practical session in the lab per week, we tried to fix another one. We have found a time when the class was willing to meet (Saturday @ 2pm). Then a few strange things happened that I didn't really understand. And finally we had NO class @ 2pm. Sometimes it is really hard to make sense out of the things that are happening around you. You see, I still try to get a better understanding of what is going on around me...

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Teaching Class

Today, I had my first IT class in the computer lab. Make sure that everybody is able to log in. Teach what a double-click is. Then everybody creates a folder with her or his name. Have you ever created a ten folders at the same time in a Windows Network Folder?? Hey, you start to run into concurrency issues...
Then, opening Word. Save a document. Close Word. Open Word again and open the document that you created before. Close Word again. Log off. And your 60 minutes class is over. That are the realities.
Besides the above mentioned things, we were fighting with non-existing or badly working computer mice. You say all that stuff is easy. In theory yes, in practice not.

Bhutanese Movie

Yesterday night, there was a screening of a Bhutanese movie in the auditorium on campus. All the students showed up, even some of the teachers. It was a love story that played in the northern part of Bhutan. A friendly student was sitting next to me and he translated the most important scences for me. Without this translation it would have been a bit difficult because I'm still not speaking any Dzongkha. A shame, yes...
Yesterday, I was tutoring the IT Club meeting and told them some stuff about information retrieval. I have probably done better jobs before - but well, that's life. Today, I will be teaching the first practical session of my FIT class. Creating folders, opening word documents, mark text - that kind of stuff...
Meanwhile, it is getting warm (29C). A day without rain and you definitely need all the fans that you can possibly get.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Another weekend...

I'm getting used to the life in Bhutan. On Saturday, I was supposed to teach a class. Except for me, nobody showed up and therefore the class didn't take place. I met one of the students on campus and he told me that there was a misunderstanding. One of the queens was on campus - that might as well have been the reason; guess we'll continue this week...
Saturday and Sunday, I was washing cloths, cleaning up my place, cooking, and reading. Sunday morning, I went to the market - myself - using the idea that 'it'll work out'. This time it didn't work out that fast and I was walking around without really buying anything - more to find a face that I know. I'm not speaking any Hindi and therefore buying stuff myself is probably a bad idea considering the fact that prices are rather dynamic... After a bit of walking I met an Assistant Principle at the NIE and he helped out to get my veggis.
On Sunday, a Khuru tournament took place on the NIE campus. Khuru is a bit like dart but it is played on a field and the targets are maybe 20 meters away. Folks around here get amazing shots - and the folks watching the game are standing really close to the target; extremely dangerous. Was fun observing this new game (although from a save distance); I enjoyed it a lot. And finally Sunday night, another cultural performance took place. A lot of new things to explore and to learn about.