Monday, September 5, 2011

Day 36, still going strong...

This is Aaron writing again; it feels both like much more and much less than a month we have been here, and I am speaking for more than just myself when I say we have been much busier than we anticipated prior to arriving.  Between our studies, internships, independent lives at RTC, group responsibilities (ranging from numerous dinner invitations to practicing a traditional Bhutanese dance for a show for the Royal Thimphu College student body), many days we are quite literally occupied from waking up until going to bed.

Last weekend the group went on a trek, which I hope someone else can comment on; I stayed back because I was sick, and spent the weekend reading, watching movies, and recovering.  I enjoyed my time by myself about as much as you can enjoy being sick alone for a weekend (which I do not mean sarcastically--I actually very much enjoyed the alone time--but I was still sick).

It has also been an adventure to have what I call a very "21st century experience" in Bhutan, made so not just by the timing of our experience here in relation to Bhutan's history and development but also because technology is making all corners of the world much more connected.  I often laugh to myself when I think of if Lewis and Clark, or Christopher Columbus, or insert-your-own had access to digital cameras, skype, Facebook, cell phones and text messages.  As I learned when I tried to resist it a few years ago in South Africa (the first time I was living independent internationally), it just is not possible to have an experience  anywhere in today's world without friends and family from all other parts of the world being able to maintain contact with you.  I'm not yet fully sure what this means for the future of the world, but I have no doubt it will continue to bring profound changes in the way people interact with and understand one another.

I think the same thing every time I see a reminder of how truly interconnected the world is here--I have two favorites tied for first place from our time in Bhutan so far.  The first was when we were in a welcoming ceremony of Royal Thimphu College, where the college director (who holds the rank of Dasho in Bhutanese society, which denotes royalty) was giving his opening speech.  All the students--including the eleven of us from Wheaton--were wearing the national dress, kira for women and gho for men.  The Dasho's speech focused on Bhutanese tradition, modernity, and now democracy and preparing for embracing it all through acquiring a college education.  At no less than three points, students' cell phones went off--once with a ring tone of "What's My Name" by Rihanna (an international pop hit), and another ring tone playing Enrique Iglasias.

The other was when we had the good fortune to attend an international conference on "Gross National Happiness and Economic Development", co-chaired by Jeffrey Sachs and the Prime Minister of Bhutan.  As Jeffrey Sachs summarized the outcomes of the conference , a high-ranking Buddhist Lama sitting on the inner panel of VIP's, (who had just a few hours earlier spoken of the importance of spiritual edification alongside economic development) started scrolling through his messages on his BlackBerry.  I don't know for sure, but I like to imagine he was also checking his Facebook, all while Jeffrey Sachs exalted the leadership of Bhutan's Kings in bringing happiness to global political attention.

The 21st century really is--and every day only more so--a radically different world from what has come before it, and it is amazing how much of this is brought about by things like cell phones and Facebook.  It's the little things that remind me of this in Bhutan, a country which has a unique relationship to the changes taking place in all corners of today's world.

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