This post will be filled with random facts about Bhutan that I hope will be enjoyable to read. There have been so many funny, sweet, moving, and odd experiences over the last month, and I’d love to share some of them with you. So bear with me – this post will bounce around a lot.
First of all, the Bhutanese royal family (which has ruled the country since 1907) has the last name Wangchuck. The interesting thing about this name is that most Bhutanese don’t have a familial last name. Bhutanese can have pretty much any combination of names, and from one to three names. So you can be named Pema Choden, Kunzang Pema, Sonam Sengye Kencho, or even just Rinchen. But you probably won’t have the same last name as your parents. And getting back to Wangchuck, some people who are not in the royal family also have that name, but if you’re not royal it has to be spelled Wangchuk, without a c.
Second random fact: there are two pizza shops in Chamkhar! One is called Himalayan Pizza, and one is called Bumthang Pizza, and us students are pretty divided about which is better. Bumthang Pizza has a nice upstairs room with couches where we like to hang out, but the pizza sauce is really sweet and not as good as the sauce at Himalayan. However…. Himalayan pizza is square, but the sauce seems more fresh, with chunks of tomato, and it’s not as sweet. So, we haven’t decided yet which is better.
Apparently a lot of the small handicrafts and gifts sold here, like jewelry, prayer flags, prayer wheels, painted rocks, and notebooks, are made in Nepal because it’s cheaper to make them there and ship them here. But there is a Bhutanese paper that is manufactured in Thimphu that is made out of Daphne, which is a plant that you can find in Bumthang!
Bhutan is basically a welfare state, so as long as you can get to a hospital, all the treatment is free. We learned this when we went to the Wangdicholing Hospital to learn about rabies.
There is actually a gym in Bumthang, which we all think is very weird given that many people here do farm, everybody lives at 10,000 feet, and there are lots of tall mountains that you can hike. The gym is called Bumthang Fitness Club, and we’ve been curious about it the entire time we’ve been at UWICE. Last week, finally, a few of us decided to check it out with one of our Bhutanese staff, Rinchen. And it’s actually a gym with weights, machines, and a ridiculous amount of protein powder. You can get individual or couple rates, and the man who owns it has a lot of members (although the numbers fluctuate, with more people joining during the summer). He is also going to open up a building with hot stone baths soon, which is a Bhutan specialty.
But – a bunch of the students have created our own gym, called the SFS gym, which takes place on our basketball court most afternoons between the end of class and dinner. We have stones that we use as weights, and we get pretty creative with the exercises we do, given that we have no materials and it’s a concrete floor. But it’s still a good workout!
There are not many other international students in Bhutan, but we’ve actually met quite a few. All of them live and study in Thimphu, at Royal Thimphu College (RTC), which is the first private college in the country. Some of them have enrolled directly at RTC, and others are studying there through a program with Wheaton College (which was also founded by Mary Lyon!). We met some of the direct enrollment students on Sunday, when we went to the opening of a Gross National Happiness Center in Bumthang, and we met the Wheaton College students in Chamkhar (at our favorite coffee shop – Café Perk) while they were traveling around the country during their fall break. They were desperate to find some cake (#randomcravingsinSouthAsia) but settled for brownies instead. (We still haven’t been able to find real cake.)
That’s all for now – hope you enjoy and have a better sense of Bhutan!