Friday, August 9, 2013

Ten things I love about our life in Bhutan... and what I miss about Australia

We have passed the half-way mark in our year in Bhutan and have about four and a half months left to enjoy.

I wanted to write down and share the things that are really special and unique in our simple life here. There may not be a time in our life again like this, so it’s important to smell the roses!

1.       Time – even though I work full-time (five and a half days a week) I still seem to have more time than I had at home. I wake up and have a couple of hours to enjoy the day, even make pancakes before getting ready for school. There is no time wasted commuting to work, watching television, and lately little time wasted cruising the internet as it hasn’t been working reliably. I have time to spend with the kids even though I am a working mum, I have time to enjoy cooking, reading, an occasional walk. Life never feels rushed; we live at a leisurely pace.

A love letter from Remy - 'I love you from Remy'

2.      Convenience – When I opened the fridge at 6am the other morning ready to make a cake to take to a picnic, there were no eggs. No problem! Bob went for a walk and found a dozen eggs at one of the local shops a minute’s walk over the road. Shops are operated at the front of people’s homes, so as long as someone’s awake they are open. At any time we can run out to buy milk, cheese or more chillies!

3.       Walking to school – it takes me only five leisurely minutes (or ten with Xavier) to walk to school. On the way I pass villagers who always smile and offer a Kuzuzangpo! or Hello Madam! Even toddlers wave and say hello and know our names. Day by day the scenery changes subtly with the seasons – from bare and brown in winter to lush and green right now. Planting and harvesting and the daily chores all take place as I walk past.

Village houses we pass on way to school.

Most days there are horses and cows grazing along the side of the road on the way to school.

Walking to school with Xavier.


4.       No temptations – at home we are bombarded by advertising in all its forms: junk mail, television, window shopping, emails etc. It’s not hard to be convinced that you really need that new whats-a-ma-callit and rush out to buy. Here the only advertising we see is on Indian cable television – and ironically most of the products are not available here – so that is that. The western clothes that are available in Chamkar or even Thimphu are not to my taste – mainly cheap synthetic imports from China with strange English all over them, so again I’m not moved.

5.       Meeting for lunch – every school day Xavier and I meet Bob and Remy for lunch. Sometimes Bob packs a picnic and meets us at school and the boys have a play with the school kids. Many days we come home and Bob has something warm and tasty ready and a cup of tea. Other days we go to one of the two unnamed or signed huts across from the school that sell snacks – cheese momos or aloo chop (deep fried potato balls) or puri and sabji (fried flat bread and vegetable curry), washed down with a cup of tea and a chat with whoever is also there for lunch.

Bob and Remy riding to school to meet us (Bob made a wooden child seat for Remy as none were available here!)

6.     Living in pristine nature - we breathe fresh, clean mountain air, and our eyes are greeted with such beautiful scenery every day. A raging river passes near our house, travelling from the high Tibetan plateau on its journey to India and beyond. The glory of the Himalayas is right on our doorstep and there are many places to walk in every direction from our home. We've been gorging lately on a few varieties of wild berries, and I think it is wonderful for the boys to have this opportunity which is not part of city life.

A favourite place to play is down by the river.

Remy enjoys a simple game of throwing big rocks in the river!

Walking to the monastery up above our home.


7.       Meeting new and interesting people - this year has opened up our lives to so many new friends. We know just about every person in Chumey village and are always greeted with respect and friendliness wherever we go. The friendships we've struck up with our fellow BCF teachers and other foreigners in the country, as often happens when one is an expatriate, are close and ones we'll treasure for the rest of our lives.

Tshewang (helping cut grass at school) is the boy's favourite friend.

Every day kids from all different classes bring me special presents. Karma painted a beautiful rainbow.

Karma and Rozi organised a picnic for us at our nearby monastery.

Rozi looking very beautiful!

Rozi Naa so colourful and pretty.

Karma is one of Xavier's special 'girlfriends'.

Sharing a picnic in the enchanted forest.

What's the time Mr Wolf?

I love these kids, and their laughter and antics make me smile everyday.
All our BCF buddies - not sure who took this photo on the day?

8.        Good Health - in planning this trip my primary concern was for the children's health living in a 'developing country'. Touch wood, the boys haven't even had a single cough or cold or year. Maybe its the mountain air, the simple unprocessed food we eat, the lack of urban air-conditioned environments, the low population density and regularly having a long good night's sleep, but we and everyone else here seems to be in robust good health. I pray for this to continue for the next few months!

In excellent health, on one of our shopping trips to Chamkar they had to just strike a pose!

I took this photo of Xavier yesterday, he has grown so much.
Feeling tip-top!

9.        Life-long learning  - Here everyday brings something new. New food, new language to learn, new challenges at school, new opportunities, new people. We are living outside our comfort zone and for all of us it is an opportunity to learn and grow.

Buddhist philosophies are a great source of inspiration.

10. Living with seasons - coming from a tropical climate that doesn't change much in the course of a year, it is fascinating to watch the day by change in temperature and corresponding change in scenery and even smells of the village and the accompanying festivals and rituals that are part of traditional life. I can imagine the feeling of security and peace this brings for people who have lived here all their lives.

Beautiful hibiscus (?) in bloom at school.

Students recently planted 800 hazelnut saplings.

Summer abundance at the markets.

Local gardens are a riot of colour in summer.

My favourite flowers, sunflowers, are everywhere!

Strings of 'chugo' dried cheese, drying in the sun.
This post wouldn’t be complete without listing a few of the things that I miss from home and know I will appreciate all the more after our year here.

1.       Friends and Family – there’s nothing to replace the relationships we have with our friends and family at home. We are lucky to have a large extended family which finds lots of opportunities to get together for a picnic or a barbecue on the weekend. And I miss my girl friends who I used to hang out with through the week with the kids – talking, drinking coffee and more talking. I miss the friendships and camaraderie of my teaching colleagues in Australia too – finding ways to learn from each other and improve our teaching and share what’s working (or not working).

2.       English – I miss being in a place where English is the main language spoken on all occasions. We are lucky here that at least at school everyone can converse in English, but when it comes down to it, at every function we attend either at school or socially, Dzongkha or Bumthap is the language spoken and we miss out on understanding, and also interacting. I love going to social gatherings with the ladies, but feel sad to be the wallflower watching as everyone else catches up and I must depend on someone translating for me to be part of the conversation.

3.       Reliable running water and electricity – something we don’t give a second thought in Australia. There is always water, hot and cold, day and night, and there is always power. Here when I wake up I feel a little surge of joy when I realise that we have both water and power – a great start to a day. Bob has carried buckets of water up three flights of stairs more often than he cares to count just so we can wash the dishes and flush the toilet. We have learned to live with it, but I won’t miss the inconvenience.

4.       Warmth – I am a summer girl, I love the feel of sun and sweat on my skin, love to wear shorts and singlets and summer dresses with sandals. Even here in Bumthang, in summer the temperature seems to hover around 22- 24 degrees. It’s pleasant and comfortable but not hot. I can’t wait to swim in the sea, swim in our pool and feel the contrast of the crisp refreshing coolness on a hot day.

5.       Food – I have really discovered some new favourite foods here, and have perhaps developed a life-long addiction to chilli, but when it comes down to it, I miss the food of home. Breakfast is the hardest meal of the day for me here – no fresh wholemeal/sourdough/rye bread, no thick greek yoghurt, no homemade granola (I tried to make it but it’s not the same). Our Burleigh Farmer’s Markets are abundant every weekend with every type of fruit and vegetable you can think of. Supermarkets sell all sorts of products that make cooking a breeze, and I also love browsing the Asian supermarkets for interesting ingredients to bring back memories of holidays in Asia. So much choice and variety!


I think we are thoroughly blessed in our life to be able to take the opportunity for one year to step out of all that is familiar and comfortable to experience a completely different way of life. As you can see, there are many things that make life here so special and have allowed us to really spend quality time together as a family. Nearly every  night I have a dream of being home doing something mundane and wishing I was back in Bhutan, so I know that Bhutan is leaving a deep impression on my psyche.

How lucky we are though, to call Australia home – there is no doubt we are the ‘lucky’ country and we’ve all had a chance to have a wake-up call and realise how good we have it there. It will be interesting to see how we make subtle changes to life in Australia to bring a little of the magic of Bhutan with us.


  1. What amazing photos! And a brilliant experience that each of you will never forget :))

    1. Thank you for your lovely comment! It is an amazing experience and opportunity in our life.

  2. Great post! You'll have to do one of these when you come home - what you miss about Bhutan! I wonder how many of these new things/ways of doing things will come home with you. What a priveledge to be able to live life in a different way (even for just a short time).
    I love Remy's bike seat (and that lovely smile of his that goes with it) and how delightful to see a little 'belly' on Xavi!! (more for me to cuddle when you get home!) xx

    1. Thanks Al. It will be interesting to see how we have changed as we settle back into life at home. How did you find it? What enduring things remain with you from Italy?
      I inspected Xavier tonight and couldn't find any signs of a belly (still as skin and bones as ever), must have been trick photography!!! Look forward to big catchups soon xxx