Saturday, September 29, 2007

Network Connectivity - I agree with Om Malik

Om Malik wrote a post about the One Laptop Per Child project and mentioned that he is fairly critical about the project. Having stayed in a developing nation for almost a year, I tend to agree with him. I remember my excitement when I first learned about the OLPC. I was then an intern in a major US company and that company itself was involved in the OLPC project. From an engineering perspective, the OLPC project is the way to go. Instead of donating money, provide a device that is affordable. Bootstrap developing nations to help themselves. It's an excellent idea.

Staying in a developing nation, I realized that it is not only a money issue but as well a development issue. How do you make sure that people interact with the device responsible? How do you make sure that it doesn't end up with the wrong person? How do you provide support? How do you get replacement?

From my current perspective, the OLPC project is only the first step. An important step but many important steps have to follow. One of those steps is mentioned in Om's post: internet connectivity.

Before I came to Bhutan, I took good internet connectivity for granted - at least during the last seven years. Coming to Bhutan, I soon realized that not everybody has good internet connectivity. At the institute that I'm staying, we have a 1 Mbps down / 256 kbps up connection. We pay more than US $1000 per month to our satellite provider. Compare this to Switzerland where you can get three times the speed for a tenth of the money. 100 computers are using this connection and it easily follows that we wait now and then. Making things worse, the 1 Mbps / 256 kbps are not guaranteed but we rather have to share this bandwidth with 20 other customers in the worst case. Effectively accessing the internet is almost impossible. Loading GMail - forget it!!

The situation has improved a little bit after I tweaked our proxy server. Configuring squid, caching windows updates (1.5 GB in a week), blocking all porn / dating / .. sites. But still, it is a pain to access the internet.

The developing world needs innovative solutions for this problem. Putting cables into the ground may prove to be too expensive; at least for mountainous countries such as Bhutan. Maybe Stratellite?

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs

Maslow is dead right about the hierarchy of needs. If your basic needs are not covered, you do not think about intellectually challenging ideas. It is difficult to truly understand this if your basic needs have always been fulfilled. It is important to keep this fact in mind while interacting with people that have uncovered basic needs.

Coming home today, we discovered a few hundred ants in our room. Guess, I didn't think about the latest Google product but rather about how to get those ants out of our room in the most efficient way. We are done now and I hope that we got most of the ants out. Uff, it took a good three hours to accomplish that...

Happy trails!

Saturday, August 25, 2007

My Business

Guys, I started recently a business down here in Samtse; have a look at the picture :-)!

Have a great weekend!

Friday, August 10, 2007

More fungus!

Guys, just wanted to share this pic of my watch. Looks scary - doesn't it?

From Rain Season i...

During the last couple of days, the weather has been pretty sunny but at the same time really warm. Time to dry all the things!

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Rain Season (2)

Some of you were asking for proofs of the impact of the rain season. Let me give you two. This morning - after a short trip to India - we went to the place where the bridge was washed away to take a few pictures. It's quite amazing to see how powerful water can be - not only the bridge was washed away but so was the entire street. Right now, there is no water and cars can pass through the river bed. But as soon as it will start to rain, this will not be possible and there will be no connection to the other side of the river.

The second proof is a car with fungus. Never seen a car with fungus?? Well, it exists. It might look like dirt but it is not!

Guys, have a awesome Sunday!

Friday, August 03, 2007

JavaScript on TV!

A couple of weeks ago, I was conducting a week long workshop in JavaScript for lecturers from both the Colleges of Education. Eight lecturers were participating and we had a good time although the subject was not trivial for the participants. Using compact sample applications, I tried to give the participants a feeling for how to design applications. We were drawing rainbows, changed the color of a title according to the rainbow, designed a clock ('why should I program my own clock - I could just go down to checkpost and buy one for 80 rupees ...'), displayed pictures in a slide show, and built our own calculator.

All in all, we had a good time fighting with JavaScript. But unfortunately, on the first morning of our workshop, a team from BBS (Bhutan Broadcasting Service) - the national television - showed up. They asked a bunch of questions and were shooting a bit. A few days later, BBS reported on a JavaScript workshop held at the Samtse College of Education. Fortunately, I missed that report as I wasn't keen on seeing myself. A few days later, random people that I have never met before asked me 'Hey, are you the guy that was conducting that workshop?'. For villagers, this must have been a really strange report. A chillip (foreigner) in Gho teaching something really strange on a computer :-).

Guys, have fun and enjoy life!

Tuesday, July 31, 2007


It's rain season down here in Samtse and we got enough water during the last couple of days. Our roof starts to leak, we have to dry all our clothes inside, and Sunday shopping is dominated by umbrellas. A couple of days ago, a bridge and part of a road were taken by the river. It's going to take a bit of time to restore that bridge and the road.

Monday, June 25, 2007


Some of you might have asked yourself whether I'm dead or cut off from all communication channels. Not quite true although I have to admit to have been silent for a bit of time. Life has been treating me well and more news will follow during the next couple of weeks. This week, I'm organizing a programming workshop for the lecturers of the two Colleges of Education and as a consequence, I'm busy preparing :-).

Monday, May 28, 2007

Visiting Schools

Last Friday, I had finally the chance to go out to Bhutanese schools and get a first-hand impression. As Samtse is a restricted area and my movement is restricted to the town of Samtse, we had to get an official permit to get out to the schools that are maybe 40 km and 10 km from Samtse. Getting this permit was a non-trivial process and Karma - the lecturer that organize the visits - was struggling hard to get those permits. In the end it worked out, I got the official paper, and we were ready to go.

The first school we went to is one of the largest schools in the country and has 1600 students. 50 teachers help kids from grade 1 to 10 to move forward and develop. We were received in a friendly atmosphere and were allowed to give a talk to the teachers and the principal. It turned out that in the beginning of May 07, the teachers received a total of six computers. Most of the teachers are not IT literate but a recent graduate from the Paro College of Education with specialization in IT has joined the school in the beginning of this year. During our meeting with the teachers, we presented a few ways of how ICT could be used in the school setting and gave them as well a short introduction of what could be available on the net. This was a bit of a futuristic presentation as the school has two computers with an Internet connection; one in the principals office and one for the students.

Right before lunch, we had a session with the grade 10 students. Out of maybe 80 students, about 5 got basic experiences with computers. None of them has ever written an email and probably not too many of them have ever used Google. As a motivation, I put up my email address and asked them to write me an email in case they are able to get an email account and time. We gave a similar talk to the students as to the lecturers - this time a bit more focused on how they could use the computers on their own.

I'm not quite sure how well the teachers and the students could connect to whatever we were doing - it must have been quite futuristic. I knew that people wouldn't have gotten a lot of exposure to ICT before but still, I couldn't really put myself into place and understand this thoroughly as in Switzerland, it is probably hard to find a young person that has never touched a computer. All in all, it was a good experience but I'm not quite sure how well we have done.

Luckily, we were not attacked by wild elephants as this schools is about 100 meter from really thick forest (rain forest?). There are stories of elephants coming to the tiny village and the local people are quite scared of them. There was military around during our entire visit and the villagers have put an electric fence around the forest.

In the afternoon, we went to the second school. This school had about 300-400 students in grade 1 to 6 and seven teachers. The school got three computers and no Internet connection. We gave a similar presentation to the teachers as in the first school. It was fascinating for me to see the enthusiasm of those teachers. One of them was running to the library to get a book with a CDROM that he wanted to try but that he couldn't get to work so far. So we helped him to get that CD running.

It turned out that one of the computers was rather noisy - the fan was running at full speed all the time. I opened the computer and it turned out that one of the cables disturbed the flow of the air. It doesn't come as a surprise that the fan is running at maximum speed as we had 27 degrees Celcius in the room - and actually, this is quite cold for this place as a couple of weeks ago, the temperature reached 39 degrees Celcius.

Further, there was a problem with the printer. The printer was connected to one computer and the other two computers could print using a switch that connected all three computers. The teachers tried to print from one computer and didn't realize that the switch and the computer that is connected to the printer have to be turned on. All in all, there was nothing wrong with the setup but there was a lack in education. I tried to educate them what exactly they have to do to be able to print and hope that this problem is now solved.

In the end, I was standing in front of about 200 Bhutanese kids - some of them looking into the classroom through windows. We gave them some ideas but it was probably pretty advanced. But all in all, it was a fun experience.

I haven't taken any pictures in the schools but on our way to the schools - they will follow later on. I took my GPS with me but unfortunately forgot it in my Gho during part of the way and it didn't record our location. But you can follow at least part of our trip and you can as well see the thick forest with the wild elephants next to a place called Kumai.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007


A few week ago, the power pack of one of the computers in the men's hostel broke down. We were not quite sure what happened as there were no power cuts or heavy lightnings. Today, somebody took the pain to open the power pack. It turns out that there was a lizard in the power pack - completely burned. You see, we have rather strange culprits - rats and lizards :-).

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Satellite Router

A couple of weeks ago, we got finally an AC for the server room. Before, all the electronic equipment was in the normal surrounding - sometimes really hot, sometimes really humid. Not exactly the way it is supposed to be. The AC was ordered more than a year ago and has arrived only now. Things tend to take longer around here and this is sometimes difficult to accept - but it is the reality.

Installing the AC was not a trivial task as there needed to be a hole in the wall. No appliances that will do the work for you but rather your hands will do the job. After the installation of the AC, the entire server room was covered in dust and we had to clean up quite a bit before we could start the infrastructure again.

While cleaning up, we realized that our satellite router still didn't have a nice spot. It was lying on one of the servers. As we have rats around and they tend to do their things in the worst possible places, this setup was definitely not perfect. We have a server rack - but unfortunately nothing to mount additional devices into that rack. You might say - just buy whatever you need. Not that easy in this context as the market for server racks in this place might not be huge - so going to the Sunday market won't help. Instead, we have come up with a creative solution of our own; have a look at the pics and smile!

Thursday, May 17, 2007


I'm doing ok although I'm a little bit busy right now. Instead of writing a long story, I post a poem by an Indian poet. We had a poetry day this Wednesday and that's when I came in contact with this poem.

by Nirendranath Chakrabarthi, translated from Bengali by Sujit Mukherjee and Meenakshi Mukherjee
Amalkanti is a friend of mine,
we were together at school.
He often came late to class
and never new his lessons.
When asked to conjugate a verb,
he looked out of the window
in such puzzlement
that we all felt sorry for him.

Some of us wanted to be teachers,
some doctors, some lawyers.
Almalkanti didn’t want to be any of these.
He wanted to be sunlight-
the timid sunlight of late afternoon,
and the crows call again,
the sunlight that clings like a smile
to the leaves of the jam and the jaamrul.

Some of us have become teachers,
some doctors, some lawyers.
Amalkanti couldn’t become sunlight.
He works in a poorly lit room
for a printer.

He drops in now and then to see me,
chats about this and that
over a cup of tea, then gets up to go.
I see him off at the door.

The one among us who’s a teacher
could easily have become a doctor.
If the one who’d wanted to be a doctor
had become a lawyer,
it wouldn’t have made much difference to him.

All of us got more or less what we wanted,
all except Amalkanti -
who used to think so much about sunlight
that he wanted to become sunlight.

Sunday, May 13, 2007


Today was an absolutely gorgeous day. Blue sky, almost no clouds, good view, and not even too warm. After having gone to the market early in the morning, I decided to give the mountain next to Samtse a try. It's a good chance to have a glance at the local environment and to get a bit of exercise.

Together with Karma, a friend of mine, we left the Samtse College of Education at around 10am to climb this mountain. From Samtse it doesn't look like this is a huge mountain and our destination seems to be quite close but it took us a bit of time to get up that mountain and my GPS confirmed my feeling - it is a climb of about 600 meters.

On the way up, we met many locals that either went down to the Samtse market or returned from the market. Karma insisted on carrying my backpack and I wasn't allowed to carry it during the whole trip. I felt a bit stupid but Bhutanese people are very serious about that and independent of how hard you try, they will carry things for you.

As Karma had to be back by 3pm, we were staying only for a few minutes at our destination and then returned. Running down the hill, we enjoyed the scenery that was now in front of us.

It was a really fun day although my legs are a bit tired now. This comes to no surprise as I haven't been eating a lot during the last couple of days due to my stomach disorder :-). And while talking about eating: running up and down the mountain, I imagined how much fun it would be to be able to go to a ColdStone. Or to the ice cream shop in Mountain View. Or any ice cream shop for that matter. Well, it's going to take another couple of months until I get my next ice cream...

Pics and gps log (kml, Google Maps) from today's trip are available.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Stomach Disorder

During the last ten days, my stomach decided to become independent and started producing problems. It is more or less normal to have stomach problems at least now and then during your stay in Bhutan although this time, it seems to be a bit long and it doesn't really stop. I could run down to the hospital and try to figure out what exactly I have. But instead, I'm making use of a thing called email-consultation. I'm writing emails back home to my doctor and she is kind enough to advice me. Sure, if it is more serious, email-consultation doesn't really work and we both know that. But for things such as stomach disorder, it is extremely nice to have somebody back home that you trust and that advices you when to take the antibiotics, when to wait for a couple of days, and when to stop the malaria medication. And when to go to the hospital.
If you ever go to a subtropical or tropical place, I can highly recommend Have a great time and enjoy a properly working stomach!

Thursday, May 10, 2007


Yesterday afternoon, it started raining heavily and as a consequence, the air cooled down. Today, it's unfortunately hot again and all my fans are running at full speed.

Rain does not only cool down the air but helps as well to clear it. The air towards India is really foggy or smoggy and you can see only a few kilometers even though the land is completely flat. I have never seen a real sunset down here as the sun always disappears in the smog. For a Swiss person, this is a bit special as we are used to get a good sunset at least now and then.

Still no running water in my apartment. It seems like there is a problem with the water pipe as most people around us get water. We try to locate a plumber although this is not a trivial task. Well, meanwhile I'm quite experienced taking cold showers with the help of buckets :-).

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Boiling Water

As I have written before, lecturers from the Samtse College of Education have been involved with the mock election. Some of them had to walk for hours or days to reach the remote villages they were assigned to. One of the lecturers that went to a remote village told me the following story:

We were walking for a long time, had to cross the river many times, and in the end it even started raining. By the time we reached the village, we were completely wet and shivering. The local people in the village had arranged a fire and we were gathering around that fire. We were served tea to help us warm up a little bit. The Ghos were put next to the fire to make sure that they would dry fast.

On the fire, there was a pot with water. The local elder responsible for the community asked one of the village folks whether the water in the pot was already boiled. By health awareness campaigns, they must have learned that water should be boiled before drinking. The man touched the pot and told his elder that it was hot and therefore the water was boiled.

Upon discovering this, we realized that the tea that we were drinking consisted of water that was boiled this way. We told the elder how to properly recognize when water has boiled. He apologized several times and told us that he didn't know how to detect when water is properly boiled. The next morning, we were getting properly boiled water and again many apologies.

Let me add two comments to this story.

First, the story gives you a feeling for how remote certain places still are. Some knowledge is out and available although sometimes not the entire knowledge. Please understand me right; I have the deepest respect for people out in the villages. They have not an easy life and try to adopt knowledge from the outside as fast as only possible. But as the communities are remote and access to communication technology and the power grid is not available, there is a long way to go on getting knowledge out to those communities. Keeping in mind that those people are used to live in a kingdom, it might give you an idea that it won't be easy to establish a democracy - a system in which you can actually choose your representation.

My second comment is a more personal one. Right now, it is pretty hot down here in Samtse. Normally, I don't have problems dealing with heat but it must be more than 37 degrees Celsius right now - and that's not too bad. Due to the heat and the missing rain, I'm not getting any reliable water supply in my room. Water comes and goes. The water tap in the toilet gives me access to water now and then. All the other taps - they are mounted higher up - are not getting any water. With a bit of knowledge about the local water system, I know how much water is remaining in the water tank; an outlook that is not exactly fun...
To those circumstances, add a stomach that decided to get its own life. I haven't eaten a lot during the last couple of days and don't really feel like doing so. Not quite sure what caused the problems; it might have been bad food or - and this brings me back to boiling water - unboiled water. Sure, I'm boiling my water but it might be that my water boiler is damaged and gives me a wrong status about the water. For the time being, I started boiling my water the old way with gas and will see whether this will solve the problem.

My - or better my stomach's - conclusion for today: even if technology is doing simple things such as boiling water for you, it might make sense to distrust it now and then :-).

Friday, May 04, 2007


Samtse is a border town and the institute is only about 800 meters from India. That means that it is an easy walk to go down to New Chamargi (not quite sure how to spell that) - or Checkpost as it is called by the Bhutanese. Checkpost is a small trading town next to the border between India and Bhutan. Because it is really close to the Bhutanese border, I don't have to make a proper entry to India and can therefore go to Checkpost whenever I like. Well, this is not entirely true as I should not go on my own. In case questions are asked, it might make sense to have a Bhutanese friend with you that can help to communicate.

I bought my Gho from Checkpost a couple of weeks ago but haven't paid so far. As a guy that has grown up in Switzerland, I felt really bad about that. I tried to pay several times but the shop owner was never in. Together with Tashi Wangchuk, I went down to Checkpost today and luckily, the owner was in. I paid my Gho and felt relieved. Tashi had as well to pay a few debts. After he was done, we went to a nice food shop. I have been to this food shop last year and the owner could instantly tell me what I have eaten last year. This might give you an impression of how difficult it is to hide down here - it's just impossible...

In the food shop, we had a long talk about what we should be getting. I'm never quite sure what I should get and I normally ask people what I should get. The problem is that often they don't feel like telling me because I'm higher up in the hierarchical system and it would be strange for them to tell me what I have to get.

In the end, we got Lassi and Piri. Lassi is boiled milk that is cooled down and that has a consistency somewhere between a yogurth and milk. Piri is fried bread with white beans and hot pickles. I enjoyed both of them although I had problems finishing my meal because my stomach was telling me that it was more than satisfied. I haven't eaten a lot during the last couple of days and lost some weight - it's probably the hot weather.

Tashi insisted that he wanted to pay and I felt bad about it. But it is hard to argue with somebody in a shop; you are never quite sure when the point approaches where you embarrass folks. Next, Tashi got his haircut. A tiny shop close to the street served the purpose. While he got his hair cut, I was waiting outside and looking around. People came up to me and started talking. It's always fun to talk to people and not difficult with the Bhutanese folks as their English is just really good. A young mother came up to me and told me that she was from the eastern part of Bhutan and has stayed down here for the last seven years. A couple of teens next to me very waiting for a friend that got his haircut and used the opportunity for a short flirt.

It was amazing for me to realize how comfortable I felt in this environment even though it is so different from whatever I'm used to. Chickens were running around, cows resting in the middle of the street, street vendors, cloth shops with one fat guy sitting on a carpet and guarding the money while there are about four other guys around that actually do the work, and taxis that need to be pushed by a couple of men before they can take off. It's hard to describe this setting and I don't feel like taking my camera down there because this will put me back into the position of the tourist - and I was fighting really hard to get rid of that position.

In the end, Tashi bought a fresh water melon, I insisted on paying, and we were walking up again. End of the day :-)! Enjoy life!

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Teacher's Day

Bhutan celebrated today Teacher's Day and the birthday of the third King. As a consequence, we got a day off. In the morning, there was a celebration with a few speeches. The student that was organizing this celebration asked me on Tuesday whether I'd like to say something. I said 'Well, we'll see' - meaning that I probably won't be saying anything. This morning, he came up to me and told me that I was on the list of speakers... I had to improvise a little bit and delivered a short speech. It worked out ok :-).

In the evening, there was another celebration going on. Students performed dances, teacher's were honored, and lecturers were singing. A few of the students threatened me to ask me to sing a song. As a precautionary measure, I practiced one song - Ewigi Liebi by a Swiss group call Mash. At least if they'd asked me to perform a song, I wouldn't look like a complete fool up there on stage. After about 90 minutes of the show, the power went off. 500 people in an auditorium without light and fans. Tashi Wangchuck (the same guy as I have written about before - he is organizing all the events - not sure when he is sleeping!) was a little bit lost on stage and tried to keep the people entertained. I decided to jump in, went up to stage, and started singing that song. Hey - it was fun; it probably helped that it was pretty dark :-). After I was done with my song, other lecturers jumped in and we managed to get through the blackout with entertainment.

At the end of the show, the lecturers were asked to come up to the stage and to perform a traditional Bhutanese dance. Well, I had as well to go up to the stage and made a complete fool out of myself. The steps are not that difficult but as you might know, I'm not a gifted dancer. I tried to do my best although it was hard. Just keep on smiling and the students will smile back to you!

Staying in a place such as Samtse and closely interacting with the local people requires you to sometimes make a fool out of yourself. All the things that they have learned as small kids, you are learning in public. But in the end it is the only way to learn. It took me a long, long time to wear a Gho properly but by now, I feel pretty comfortable in that piece of cloth. It is not always easy to make a fool out of yourself and to learn in public. Sometimes, you get tired and would prefer to be a normal person. But being a normal person would mean not to learn about their culture and that would be a shame. All in all, it is a good lesson that will help me in the time to come.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

No Rain Season yet

A couple of posts ago I announced that the rain season has already started. Well, I was pretty wrong about that one. Rain stopped more than a week ago and it has been very hot and humid today. No rain around that could help to cool down - I guess we'll have to keep the fans running. Or I might as well find an excuse to work in the server room as we have installed an AC in there last Friday!
In general, it is almost impossible to predict weather down here. Neither in the long nor in the short run. I gave up looking outside to figure out whether there will be rain or not. I simply take my umbrella with me all the time. It looks silly but at least I'm able to deal with rapidely changing circumstances. If I'm not taking an umbrella with me and it's raining, one of the students will run - and get completely wet - and fetch an umbrella for me. I don't really want them to do this - so I just take my umbrella with me all the time :-).

Gewang Cultural Show

Last Saturday, the Gewang cultural show took place. Kids were again performing amazing dances from different cultures and most of the music was produced by them. As all the shows, I loved as well this one. It's a good way to learn more about a culture by seeing the kids up on the stage getting in touch with their heritage.

Before the show started, I bought Momos from a group of students. There were meat momos, vegetable momos, and cheese momos. Basically, it's a thing made out of dough that is steamed and that contains either meat, vegetable, or cheese. The momos were then put into a piece of paper - probably the last math exam - and I went happily back into the auditorium. Inside the auditorium, I tried to offer the momos to folks around me. But nobody wanted to accept momos from me even though I insistently asked every person at least three times as you are supposed to be doing in Bhutan. Well, in the end I was eating all the momos myself. They were excellent, no question about that, but sharing would as well be nice.

Impression of the show can be found here.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Playing Khuru

Guys, this post is in the form of an audio file about Khuru; the transcript can be found below. gListen to the file and learn about Bhutan. Pictures accompanying this post are here.

A warm welcome to y’all out there. This is Sam – aka Sam Dorji - from Samtse, Bhutan.

During the next couple of weeks, I’d like to present you a couple of audio samples from Bhutan. Living in a different culture, you are not only discovering new food, new customs, and new environments, but as well very special sounds. After having returned back home to Switzerland last August, I discovered how hard it was to tell my friends back home about the environment that I was encountering in Bhutan. Part of the reason for why it was hard to explain them was that I couldn’t give them access to any sound samples. There are certain things that you have to listen to in order to get a good feeling for a place.

The first audio sample gives you an impression of a traditional Bhutanese game. The name of the game is Khuru and it is played by men all over Bhutan. A Khuru is a dart that is made out of wood and a nail. Every Khuru player builds his own two Khurus. As you can build your own Khurus without a lot of effort, both rich and poor folks can play Khuru. This is not true for archery which is as well very popular in Bhutan. Bows that are used for archery might cost a fortune. But let us go back to Khuru.

Khuru is played in teams of about 10 people and two or three teams share a track. In every round, every player throws his two Khurus and tries to hit a target that is about 20 meters from the players. The target is a small wooden plate and all the players that have already thrown both of their Khurus gather around this target. Considering that the Khurus have nails in the front, this looks a bit dangerous and incidences happen now and then. Let me tell you, you don’t really want to get hit by a Khuru – your foot might be badly damaged and if you are not lucky and it is not your foot but your stomach – then you’ll probably be lucky to spend a couple of months in the hospital at the best. The players gather as close as only possible around the target and try to convince the Khuru to find its way into the target. They do so by shouting, dancing, pointing, and running. It’s quite an amazing view. But the real fun starts only when one player hits the target. That’s the time when all members of the team start to perform a dance and sing loudly. It’s quite a song that they perform – so let us listen to such a song:

Did you like the song? Can you imagine how they dance? You probably start to understand why it is hard to get a good feeling for Bhutan without having listened to such songs.

Let us continue where we left. The team that gets most hits during a round wins a point. Sorry, I cannot quite recall how many points you get, but I think it depends on the number of times that you have hit the target and how many times the opposing teams have hit the target. If none of teams hits the target itself, the Khurus close to the target are counted. The team that acquires first 25 points has won the game. It might be that the number of points that you have to get in order to win a game might be different from tournament to tournament; I’m not quite sure.

The Khuru tournament that I have observed today started in the morning at 8:45am and most of the games were still going on at 3pm. Being in the sun all day long – considering that it is about 30 degrees Celsius in Samtse – and throwing the Khurus to a target 20 meters away makes Khuru quite a tiring sport. Folks out here love playing Khuru but often they have a sour arm the day after.

Guys, hope that I could give you an impression about life in Bhutan. Cu next time and enjoy life. All the best from Samtse, Bhutan. This is Sam Dorji.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Satellite Dish Maintenance

Today, Karma Sherub from DrukCom (= dragon communication) came down to Samtse and was doing maintenance work on the satellite dish that allows us to get a reasonably fast Internet connection. During the last couple of days, the connection has become a little bit slow - only 20kBps instead of 100kBps. If you consider that we have around 50 computers on the network, it is easy to see that this is not great speed - well, during the day it is not possible to check email with that speed...

Together with Karma, we went up to the roof and reconnected all cables and cleared any dust that might have settled. Speed was still not better and Karma started to call various places around the globe - but speed didn't really improve. The Samtse College of Education will upgrade to 2Mbps soon and Karma promised to investigate further at the time we increase the bandwidth.

Karma reconnecting the satellite receiver.

Ugyen and Karma.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Uncle, Uncle...

Uncle, uncle, what is your name? How old are you? What is your father's name? My name is Karma. I'm in fourth grade. My father's name is Sonam. This is my friend, he is in second grade. His name is Tashi. Where are you from? He is taller than me. Are you married? What is your daughter's name?

Kids often approach me, want to sit next to me, and ask me tons of questions. Even though they are really young, it is amazing how well they are speaking English. English might be their second or even third language (after Dzongkha, Sharchop, Nepali) but still they are able to grasp the language at a very early age. Sure, they are not yet fluent but they will be getting there pretty soon. Medium of instruction in all schools is English and the use of Dzongkha is limited to a short period every day. Even in kindergarten, kids are trying to use English sentences.

Sure, it is not that way all over Bhutan. Samtse is a forward-looking place in Bhutan. Folks in this area are pretty well educated and as a consequence, they help their kids from an early age on to get excited about school. Additionally, most of the kids that I interact with are the kids of lecturers. If you go out to remote places, the situation might look different. Some teachers might have problems with the English language and kids might not be well-supported by their parents in learning a new language. As a consequence, it might take a bit more time for them to get the feeling for the language. But still, they will grasp the basics and be able to communicate reasonably well in English. That's at least my experience from having interacted with the students at the Samtse College of Education.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Dungkhar Cultural Show

Tonight, the Dungkhar Collaborative Group presented their cultural show. During the last two evenings, I went to the rehersal and it was amazing to see how fast the students have been learning. One item was put into place only last Sunday afternoon and they did quite well today. The Swiss dance was working out nicely and I had to smile. Instead of telling you more about the show, I invite you to have a look at a couple of impressions.

After the show, we had happy-snappy sessions and later, I joined the students in the canteen. Eating rice with your fingers - not entirely easy if you haven't learned it as a kid - but I'm getting there ...

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Mock Elections in Bhutan

Last Saturday, mock elections took place in Bhutan. The fourth King of Druk Yul (as Bhutan is called by the Bhutanese), Jigme Singye Wangchuck, decided a while back that Bhutan should make the transformation from kingdom to democracy. The NY Times has a piece on the mock elections that is a worth read. From the article:

“Why have politicians?” people wanted to know, expressing doubts about the results of democracy in neighboring countries. Isn’t the king always supposed to know what is best for his people and guide them accordingly?

Interacting with Bhutanese people on a daily basis, I observe that people really feel that way - above statement is not just a cliche. Further, from the same article more of the same:

This is one reason, he said, that even would-be politicians like himself find it hard to sell their message to the citizenry. “We are not starting a party because we have an ideology,” he said. “We’re not starting a party because we have a vision for a better Bhutan. We are starting a party because the king has ordered us.”

It sounds like a bad joke - the King is offering the people the installation of a democracy and the vast majority of the people strongly oppose. Not quite sure whether there is a country that was in a similar situation.

Having the democracy in Nepal in mind, many people in Bhutan are scared to make this step. It could turn out the same way in Bhutan. Talking to people, I always try to encourage them and tell them that following a democratic process is probably a good thing. I try to argue that they have been extremely furtunate with their kings and that somewhen in the distance future, there might be a different King. If such a King should really come to power, the Bhutanese people might be glad to have a democracy in place.

All in all, I like the article in the NY Times though there is one aspect that is left out. The writer of the article has obviously gone to Thimphu to observe the elections. Parts of his story seem to indicate that this whole mock election thing is a bit of a joke. Why should you have mock elections and select among parties that are indicated by colors? The author had better gone out into the country and observed the elections out there; I think it is a whole different story out there.

Picture taken from an ad in the newspaper Bhutan Observer.

Most of the lecturers from the Samtse College of Education - and many of the teachers throughout the country - have been out during the last 10 days in order to help out with the mock elections. As there is a huge number of remote villages in Bhutan, some of the lecturers had to walk for four days to reach the village where they had to conduct the mock election. No car but monkey trails instead. Leeches all over, crossing rivers without bridges. Conducting the elections in villages with villagers that still need a fair bit of education. After the election, running up the next mountain to catch a signal to transmit the result to the regional center. And after the election process, running again down the mountains to start teaching again as soon as possible. More than one lecturer at the Samtse College of Education has a sour leg. If you look at the mock elections from this perspective, performing them is a very important step on the road to democracy.

And by the way, it should not come as a surprise that Druk Yellow won the primary round of the elections; yellow is the color of the king...

Traditional Swiss Dance

The students at the Samtse College of Education are divided into eight collaborative groups and each group has to put a cultural show into place. The program consists of various dances and performances. Most of the students are absolutely amazing dancers - this isn't actually a surprise as the kids learn to dance early in their school lives. The students perform traditional Bhutanese, Hindi, Tibetan, Nepali, and English dances. Well this Wednesday, some of the students will as well perform a traditional Swiss dance. I'm not quite sure whether it is really a traditional Swiss dance though I hope that it is at least similar. So let me explain why this group is performing a Swiss dance.
The students decided to have a special item that included dances from all over the world. They talked to me and asked me about music from different places; I was able to give them access to music from the US and to traditional Swiss music. After we recorded the two songs that they selected onto an audio cassette, they wanted to get advice on how to dance a traditional Swiss dance. Well, that's a legitimate request though all of you Swiss guys out there will know that I have never ever been dancing a traditional Swiss dance.
So how do you teach somebody how to dance in traditional Swiss style even though you cannot really do it yourself? You try to recollect all your odd memories from those days when you have been watching 'Samstigjass' with your grandfather. In that TV show, there was now and then a traditional item - so let's get those few steps that you can vaguely remember. Put those memories into a Bhutanese classroom with a bunch of really gifted students. Hop around stupidly and hope that your Bhutanese friends will understand what you mean to be doing. That's about what I did and to be honest, the result is not too bad - I'm almost a little bit proud. I'm looking forward to tomorrow night and observe the students perform the traditional Swiss dance :-).

On a side note: During the last couple of days, I closely interacted with the group that is performing this Wednesday. It is amazing to see that the organization of such a show works pretty similar to the organization back home where we have a 'Turnshow' every two years. In both settings, there are a few folks that run around and are responsible for about everything. In our case back home in Taegerig, those persons have been Toebe, Adrian, and Tiisli. Here, it's mostly Tashi Wangchuk that has been doing a great job. Even though our two cultures are very different, the organization of those shows seem to work very similarly.

Summer in Samtse - it's Rain Season

Samtse has a subtropical climate. It can get rather hot but cools down as soon as the rain season starts. During my last visit to Samtse, the rain season didn't start until the end of May. We have now end of April and the rain season seems to have already started. Staying in Samtse during rain season means to have sometimes fog in the morning, short and rather strong rain periods throughout the day and sometimes really heavy storms with immensely wild thunders at night.
You probably think that you know what heavy rain is. Let me tell you, you don't know. If it is really raining down here, even a huge umbrella won't protect you from the water - the rain will at least going to wet your shoes. During the night, the rain will drum on my tin roof and wake me up - unless I haven't already woken up by the thunders. Well, my apartment this year has at least a tin roof and ensures that the walls won't get easily moldy; I actually enjoy being woken up considering that I could as well have no tin over my head.
Due to the heavy storms, now and then a tree gets killed and we are confronted with major power cuts. Last week, more than one power cut occurred and power supply was rather unstable. A few hours of power supply, a few hours without. Not exactly fun if your laptop battery is more than three years old and runs rather unstable in this humid climate. Last Thursday night, there was a problem in Phuentsholing and we didn't have any power at all for the entire Friday and power came back only on Friday night.
You might be able to imagine that running ICT infrastructure in this climate is not exactly easy. We do our best and try to cope with the external circumstances.
Additionally, our satellite-based internet connection has been cut for the last couple of days and has come back only this morning. It is not entirely clear what caused the outage but it might have been the rough conditions. We'll have to investigate and solve the problem.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Mobile Phones in Bhtuan

During my last visit to Samtse in 2006, there was no mobile phone antenna in Samtse and as a consequence, almost nobody had a mobile phone. Then last summer, mobile phone service in Samtse was established by Druknet, the national telecom provider. Since then, many people around Samtse got a mobile phone. Between 'half' and 'almost all' of the students have a mobile phone; I might be soon the only person that doesn't have a mobile phone down here :-). Some people got pretty fancy phones that have a built-in camera and fairly large screens and others have basic models.

Bhutan is a country where it can take up to 4 days to get from Samdrup Jongkhar dzongkhag (district) to Samtse dzongkhag - unless you are lucky and get a military convoy that accompanies you through Assam (there is a rebel group in Assam and it is not safe to travel outside of a convoy). Often, people have to walk for days to get to the closest road that is accessible by vehicles. Packages and letters sent within Bhutan might take up to three weeks to be delivered. Rural communities often don't have access to electricity - but might have access to land lines or might be able to connect to a mobile phone tower down in the valley. Internet access is improving but unless you are lucky, speed will be very limited (see

To all those ingredients add the fact that due to work-related reasons, many families are distributed across Bhutan. Compared with both Switzerland and the US, families tend to be very important in Butan. You are supposed to deeply respect your parents and when they get old, you will be responsible to look after them. There are no retirement homes in Bhutan and I know that there are Bhutanese that think that retirement homes are heartless institutions.

Considering the above circumstances, it comes to no surprise that mobile phones are extremely popular. It's a relatively cheap way to stay in touch with other people - one minute of talking cost about 3 Nugltrum last summer (1). I was told that even poor village folks spend a fair amount of their money on their mobile phone bill. After all, it's an efficient way to keep in touch with your family and to learn about new developments.

Having all the infrastructure in place, one might be able to use it not only for talking but maybe for different purposes. It's for sure worth a thought...

(1) I cannot get the current rates as Druknet is down due to maintenance. This means that entire Bhutan doesn't have international internet access for the complete weekend - except if you are using a satellite dish.

Credit for the image goes to Matt Dork.

Dzongkha Podcast

A few weeks before coming to Bhutan, I discovered a podcast helping people to learn how to speak Dzongkha, the national language of Bhutan. I listened to the podcasts and liked them a lot; you might remember that my knowledge of Dzongkha is rather limited.

I thought that the idea of having a podcast that enables you to learn a new language is a pretty neat one. I got in touch with the person that is creating the podcast and it turned out that he is staying in Thimphu. As I had two days in Thimphu at the beginning of my time in Bhutan, I arranged a meeting with him. We met one evening, went to a coffee shop, and had a chat. V. Shankar - the creator of the podcast - turned out to be an enthusiastic person that tries to help people to learn Dzongkha. He creates the podcast in his free time and sees this as a community service. He is as well a magician (he showed one of his tricks during our conversation - quite amazing) and told me that all he needs when he performs is the smiles of the kids. It's the same with the podcast - it's about getting the appreciation of the community.

(I'm totally under dressed but this is due to my missing luggage.)

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Heavy Storms

During the last couple of days, we had a couple of heavy storms. Trees were hit by lightnings and some of the power lines were damaged. Power seems to be back to normal now but we had additionally a problem with the internet connection and we got our connectivity back only a couple of hours ago.

Jam session Saturday night was fun but unfortunately, we had to stop early as power was cut off at 11pm :-).

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Arrived in Samtse

On the 5th of April, Robyn Smyth and I were traveling down to Samtse and arrived well. Yesterday and today, we tried to settle in and get used to different weather conditions.

It feels good to be back to Samtse and to meet many well-known faces. It has been a warm welcome and I will be able to settle in fast. Tonight, there will be a jam session (a Bhutanese disco) and I'm very much looking forward to that.

The picture below shows my living room and what it takes to get a wifi connection :-).

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Wearing a Kira

Today, I got some shopping done. In the morning, I went to a grocery shop and bought 7 kg of pasta as I cannot get pasta down in Samtse . I'm really excited about that. Later on in the day, I went to the shop of an uncle of a friend of mine. Last year, I bought a Kira (the traditional dress for women in Bhutan) for my mother from this shop and I wanted to give the owners a picture of my mother and me wearing Kira andGho . It was a funny moment as it turned out that I mixed things up a bit and didn't put my mother's Kira on correctly. You can find the picture below; I mixed up the yellow and the green top - they should be the other way around. We were laughing a lot and it was a good moment.

Tomorrow, Robyn Smyth (from the University of New England in Australia) and I will be traveling down to Samtse. Although it's only 200 km down to Samtse, the trip takes around 8 hours and we will be leaving early in the morning.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Dial Up in Bhutan

Found an amazing article in the Kuensel, the national newspaper of Bhutan. It's a fun ready - especially the observations of the users and the explanation from Druknet on why the service is slow. It's like being a cook that produces uneatable food claiming that he got nothing to do with the quality of the food ...

Arrived in Paro - without luggage

I have happily survived the landing in Paro yesterday though my luggage arrived only today because of technical difficulties. Due to miscommunication on my side, my luggage is currently stuck in Paro and I'm in Thimphu. Due to road construction, it's about a three hours drive from Paro to Thimphu and therefore we are not able to pick up the luggage in Paro. Marianne Frei from will be coming to Thimphu tomorrow afternoon and I hope that my luggage will travel with her.

Consequence? I'm stuck in Thimphu with only my hand luggage. Due to weight constraints (my big bag was above the weight limit), my hand luggage contains only technology, books, and pictures. No clothes at all. So all I have is the things that I'm wearing. Not really nice but if you are going to a place like Bhutan, that's one of the things that you have to cope with.

I have to mention that folks here in Bhutan are really friendly. People at Helvetas help me to get my luggage and made many phone calls. And I got even a pyjama :-).

Guys, I'll be traveling down to Samtse on the 5th of April and will come back to you as soon as I have arrived in Samtse.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Landing at Paro Airport

Bhutan is a charming country in the Himalayas. All houses are painted extensively, folks are peaceloving and put their priority not on money but rather on happyness. Women wear kiras and men put on ghos - a nice change from what we are used to in the west. Sure, those dresses are not extremely easy to put on but even I got used to it after a few weeks of practicing.

The only airport of Bhutan is located in the Paro valley. As Bhutan is a country in the Himalayas, the Paro valley is a real valley with high mountains around it. Searching for Paro, Bhutan in Google Earth and activating the Terrain layer will give you a good idea about the landscape that a pilot is confronted with. If you want to get in impression of what it means to be landing at Paro, have a look at the video.

Watching this video, you might understand why I'm very much looking forward to get my feet on Bhutanese ground. Before my last trip, I did know that the landing procedure in Bhutan is special though I was not prepared for such a landing. This year, I know pretty well how it will feel and that doesn't really help :-). I come back to you as soon as I have survived the landing in Paro.

Saturday, March 31, 2007


I spent my first day in Bangkok with touristy activities. First, I went to the Grand Palace. Was fun but it is really a touristy spot. Later on, I walked down to the river and was immediately approached by a guy that wanted to sell me a boat trip - for 1000 Baht. Well, I took the official ship and paid 26 Baht. Cruising up and down the river, I got a better feeling for Bangkok and in the end even arrived at the Central Station. I spent the rest of the day riding SkyTrain, hanging out at the Siam Plaza, listening to Jazz, and getting back to the hotel. For a few impressions, have a look at

Friday, March 30, 2007

Arrived in Bangkok

Was a long day but I arrived well in Bangkok. It's 35 degrees Celsius and pretty humid; a change from Switzerland. I'll be staying in Bangkok for a couple of days and will leave for Bhutan early Monday morning.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Knapsack Problem Solved

The knapsack problem is solved and I'm ready to leave Switzerland. Tonight, I'll be heading to Bangkok, will stay there for a couple of days, and the continue my trip to Bhutan. I'll come back to you as soon as I have settled in Samtse. Have a great time!

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Leaving Home Mood

Whoever has stayed abroad for an extended period of time might have experienced the leaving home mood. You feel a little bit sad because you will have to leave your social environment and let your friends go their way without you. You know that upon returning home, you will feel disconnected because both your friends and you will have made different experiences. So during the last few days at home, you would like to meet as many friends as possible. But at the same time you feel anxious about the next couple of months and you might have developed the tendency of wanting to stay at home as much as possible and just do nothing.

Before I went to the US, I had a pretty bad leaving home mood. I was scared because I knew that communication wouldn't be easy in the beginning. Facing my own courage to stay abroad for that long surprised and scared me. I wasn't sure how well I would be able to fit in. To get started in the US was indeed not easy though as you all know, I had an absolutely great time in the US and I'm extremely happy that I have made the step.

Going to the California wasn't difficult at all because I stayed home in Switzerland only for a couple of weeks and have mentally never left the US. Additionally, I forced myself to stay busy because I exactly knew that otherwise, I would again encounter the same mood.

Going to Bhutan last spring was surprisingly not too difficult. I stayed home only for a couple of months after an extended period of time abroad and probably never settled in. Sure, I didn't know a lot about Bhutan but somehow I knew that I would manage whatever would be coming up. As an additional factor, I was pretty busy with my semester thesis until very short before I left and there wasn't a lot of time left to think about the upcoming adventure.

Right now, I'm in a pretty heavy leaving home mood. The pressure that has built up during the last couple of months has been removed and it feels like I have settled in with my brother in our new apartment. And at exactly this point, it is time to leave.
Sure, I'm looking forward to go to Bhutan. I'm excited about the challenges that we are facing and I'm sure that we will make good progress. But until I'm sitting in the airplane and cannot go back, I go through all possible states. Guys, I'm looking forward to get onto that airplane!

Monday, March 12, 2007

Life during the last six months and going back to Bhutan

Life has been busy during the last six months since I have returned home. I was working on my master thesis, was moving to a new apartment together with my brother, helped my parents to move to a new house, helped organize the gym show in my village, and had two eye surgeries. As a consequence of all those activities, I wasn't bored for a single moment.

My next big project is going back to Bhutan. I'll be heading to Bhutan on the 29th of March and will stay for five months. Most of the time in Bhutan, I'll be staying in Samtse and working with the same people as one year ago. I'm looking forward to get back to Samtse. Currently, I'm in the middle of my preparations. Organizing the first few days in Bhutan, making a rough overview for the individual tasks, and organizing presents.

But before I get really started on the Bhutan-related tasks, I attend a workshop at ETHZ. The subject of the workshop is how to build your own company. I'm not planning on building my own company soon but I think that it is good to have at least a bit of background knowledge in that area. As I missed those classes during my formal education, I try to catch up now :-).