It’s been 31 days since I landed back in New York after a glorious 11 day sabbatical in Asia. Not that anyone’s counting (except that I am). Without leaving home, work seems to filter into the every day, with days of the week having less relevance, and days in self-isolation more. On day 11 at home I began this post after having the realization that “Bhutan will likely be my last trip for the foreseeable future.” Now 20 days on and that just seems silly. Of course it is.
Which makes me so grateful that I did go, and that the timing of outbreak was such that I was able to run freely, traverse borders without issue, and make it home with a renewed sense of appreciation for the life I have here in New York. For I hate winter. I start to dread it in September with the official end of summer, dread it all fall long as the wind picks up and knocks the all the leaves down, and when winter finally arrives, I’m already well over it. I loathe its stupid short days, miserable cold mornings and windy afternoons, and the lack of vitamin D, of which I supplement, but it’s just not the same. So by end of February I’ve pretty much had it, especially after training for this marathon outside all winter long. A week+ in Bhutan managed to knock my whiney, self-pitying, victimized, woe is me, dramatic New York attitude down a notch, because hey, at least I have heat!
Bhutan certainly ticked the not-in-New-York box (someone needed a vacation). And after almost 2 full days of travel (NYC->Abu Dhabi->Bangkok->Kolkata->Paro), it wasn’t just getting there, but there was actually a physical and mental shift from the air (altitude?) that immediately felt restorative. It sounds cheesy I know, but I spoke with Mike who organized this trip for me, and he agreed, and knew exactly what I meant. This place is special.
The average annual income for Bhutan is about $2,000 usd. The people here are poor. They have homes, but most live with their extended families, and their families, and at least a couple of dogs. These homes are at altitudes upwards of 2,000 meters, high in the Himalayas, and they don’t have heat. None of them. People dress for the weather, they have loads of blankets, and quite frankly, they eat, drink, and crawl into bed not too long after sun goes down, because Bhutan be cold.
The Bhutanese work long and hard days as farmers, day laborers, for the government, in tourism, etc., for the very little that they have. Yet, there is a general feeling of abundance. I wasn’t there long enough to really infiltrate collective attitudes of status, but superficially, at least to me, people seemed incredible grateful and contented. Moreover, the Bhutanese are incredibly proud. Proud of their country, their heritage, their religion, their land, their mountains, their clothing (which is often state mandated), their King and Queen. Let’s pause here for a moment. His and her Majesty, The Dragon King and Queen, are universally loved and respected. When I asked my tour guide Wangchuk what happens when people disapprove of the King and Queen, he couldn’t understand my question or the implications I was making because these kind of thoughts simply don’t exist here. And if they do, he wasn’t going anywhere near that with me, a “wealthy” tourist. Further proof of this sweeping admiration is the fact that a portrait of the royal family hangs not only in every restaurant or business, but in every single home as well. That’s just remarkable, isn’t it!? Just the week before there was a 3 day festival to celebrate the King’s 40th birthday. As an American (and a reasonably well traveled one at that – I think Bhutan is my 37th country traveled), this is unfathomable to me. The only parallel I can draw is the of North Korea, but that’s different too [insert sound of guillotine swooshing].
It is really quite sweet, to be so unified in respect and love (truly) of authority. What a noble idea, and what a stark contrast to the shitshow that prevails back home.