It is hard to believe that now we only have about one month left in Bhutan…by now I have gotten to know my Bhutanese friends in RTC better as well as ten other Wheaton students. It gets really cold here in the morning and in the evening, but during the day, it feels so nice being under the sun and walking around in this beautiful campus. Compared to my life in Tokyo and at Wheaton, everything here seems so mellow and pleasant that sometimes I find myself not worried about the amount of time I spend for talking with Bhutanese students here, whereas at Wheaton taking a balance between socializing and studying always bothers me.
During the past three months in Bhutan, it has been nice seeing myself absorbing new cultures and perspectives that I have never had before; however, at the same time, it has been somewhat frustrating and disappointing for me to realize how stubborn I am, and how I cling to my own values at times. One thing that I am probably still struggling with is ‘the notion of time’ here.
One day, one of my friends said, “I will call you after some time.” Then I immediately said, “When?” He became silent for a second, and said, “Later.” In my mind, I was shouting, “But like, WHEN exactly?” but I hold those words in my mouth. On the same day, another friend told me she was coming back to the library soon, so I asked her how later it will be. She said, “About five minutes,” but when she came back, it was more than one hour later. At that moment, I felt nothing but confused, rather than getting upset.
As far as I am concerned, not only the RTC students, but also Bhutanese people generally seem to have a very relaxed attitude towards time. A city bus sometimes leaves very early, and sometimes never comes. In a restaurant, if a waiter says the food is coming soon, it can mean thirty minutes later. I guess by now I came to enjoy how Bhutanese people have a different notion of time than mine. When something or someone is not on time, now I just think, “Oh, it happened again,” and look up the sky.
In my country, Japan, being prompt on time is considered very important, and I cannot count how many times my parents or Japanese teachers at home scolded at me for being late for something (even for three minutes). What they always say is “It is a courtesy, manner of this society,” and I have never really questioned how picky I am on time.
To be honest, I had this problem with my Bhutanese friends at Wheaton as well; when I asked them why they cannot be on time, the answer I got was, “Because we have BST (Bhutanese Stretchable Time).” My Bhutanese friend here (who is sitting right next to me right now) explained to me she heard the word BST for the first time when she was in the grade 9, and almost everyone knows this term. Surprisingly, she does not mind waiting for a person for about one hour. (Probably my time limit for waiting someone is about ten minutes.)
I constantly come across this kind of moment in which I feel, “Oh my god, their culture might be great in their contexts, but my country (or myself) can never have this.” However, I have been noticed that if I can adjust to a foreign culture depends on nothing but my sincerity for others and understanding of myself. Once I asked my childhood Japanese friend if she is fine with waiting for a person for unknown length of time. She made a give-me-a-break face expression, and told me, “Nana, if you like that person, and if you are willing to see that person, why do you have to care how long you are waiting? I don't mind waiting if I can eventually see him/her, because I need that person, right?” Now here in Bhutan, what she told me is making a lot of sense.
“Later.” “After some time.” Whenever I hear these words, I think of how I come to know that person, and what kind of conversation we have had so far. In this way, I can remind myself how much I need that person, so I do not get upset later on. I feel embarrassed that I need this mental process to overcome my cultural motto of ‘Everyone should be on time.’ However, after all, I am not 100% Japanese in that sense anymore because I must confess I myself can be late for things sometimes here.
I do not want to call my attitude change as merely getting lazy, but adjusting to the Bhutanese culture very well.