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A Bhutanese in Australia.

Updated: Dec 13, 2022

I wrote an article on teacher attrition almost four years ago titled 'A teachers attraction attraction', on 6th Dec 2018. and today four years now I have become a part of the unarrested slide.

When I handed over my resignation notice, it was a watershed moment for me, be it either for the good or for the worst. I was on a new track out of the normal course and for the first time in my life, I felt the need to change the bearings in the wheels of my life. I had to take some real risks for the sake of my family. At some point of time in my life, the question of financial sustainability has made me insecure. My son was growing up, I had loans everywhere and I have seen that even in the next decade, this life of mine will rotate around the pay I receive every month. One generation ago, giving a modern education to a child was decent enough and I had that. One generation in the future, my son won't like just having an education that almost all will have. I need to have something that he can build upon and pass on to his children. For the job I was doing, I had unquestionable passion but passion alone was not keeping the fire burning in my hearth. The truth is, I had to put food on the table for my family at the end of the day and that does not come easily from the passion I was following.

Courtesy: Jimmi Thinley

Thus it was the start of my Australian journey to realize some dreams for the future of my son. I had jumped into the abyss of uncharted territory but that was a challenge I needed to face. At Paro international airport, before boarding the aircraft the words I left for my relatives back home were nothing different than the one-liner dialogues of a few Bollywood flicks of the '90s where the protagonist would say “ maa muje Dubai jaa kar bahout kamao gaa” literally saying that he would go to Dubai and earn a hell lot. So it was a déjà vu when I told my kith and kins that I will do the same for their sake. I was very materialistic but I was being very practical. I am sure that there are Bhutanese who are of the same view yet it is the pride that gets soaked wet when one opens up the talk of money. In Bhutan, talking about leaving the profession based on the income we get can be considered taboo because it can be misunderstood as being unpatriotic. So exiting the system is smeared and coated with reasons like there’s too much to do, the bosses are not good and the working place is toxic. All these reasons are sugarcoating and this is also just not to cheapen the ego that one carries being a professional. Deep within, it is always the financial security that one looks to shift to Australia. The first thing people always asked me was how much I am paid per hour. The question of work environment, leader, and colleagues comes only after the emolument question is satiated. The ultimate truth is that money wields power and since money has power, people forage for pastures that are green. I hid nothing when I openly wrote my article three years ago that my pay hardly carries me through the month and I hide no pride in writing that same today. Going by the trend, even Australia seems to have become a preferred choice for our Lamas and a handful of entertainers to do their activities. It is not that easy to get access to high spiritual Lamas in Bhutan but when you are here, the possibility of landing a Lama in your own house is a guaranteed thing as long as you have the time. We don't see many of our entertainers going beyond Thimphu, Paro and to some extent Phuntsholing to entertain the Bhutanese but these entertainers would not mind travelling thousands of miles just for the sake of the non-residential Bhutanese.

When I started my Australian journey, it was out of my comfort zone and the moment I disembarked from the Qantas aircraft at Sydney airport, I had to seek the refuge of my known people. I was trying to get back again into the comfort zone I was in. If not for my spouse's relatives, I would not have started working three days after landing in Australia. Ever since then, I have been working and earning. That is how relatives and people known to you make things easy in the beginning and that is just the beginning only. You are only thereafter, left out of your comfort zone again. The Bhutanese in Australia have built up the mettle (Ngar) to succeed in life.

In Bhutan, I always dedicated a lot of time to my service. In doing that, sometimes I would lose the track of time and felt that days would roll out within hours and weeks within days. It was like time would fly by but then I realized it was a lie because; here it is like time is on steroids. It gets into supersonic mode and leaves behind a sonic boom that you just don’t realize what has really happened. Sometimes even to the extent of forgetting how many hours you have actually worked. It is normal for the 9 am - 5 pm job but it doesn't stop there as many would continue to carry on for another shift that can range anywhere between 2 hours to 8 hours. So that's where one loses the track of time. It sails so fast and it can be a cardinal sin for one to ask for time from loved ones because everyone has everything to give and not time. So basically life rotates around work shifts and that is usually for the dependents. If you have ever heard of people falling sick or getting injured, I won't disagree and it is not to do with the nature of the job. In fact, the jobs are not complicated and work safety is a top priority. It is that one does the simplest things on a consistent basis and over time, the effect is felt on the body.

As for the students, it would be a juggle between assignments and work. For the good, the student assignments have become a kind of extra source of income for people back in Bhutan. At my workplace, I laugh at my colleague just because he had a proxy who would do his assignments while he utilizes that time to earn dollars. I believe that is making hay while the sun shines and I find no problem in that. Anyone in his shoes would have done the same and many Bhutanese does that. That's an open secret one should not be shy of after all; it is “maa muje Dubai jaa kar bahout kamao gaa”. It reminds me of Rancho (played by Amir Khan) in 3 idiots who did the Engineering course for his father's employer's son. There's the better group of those who are with PR visas, for them it seems like they are having their own place in the sun. Things are much easy for these people as they get the same benefits as Australian citizens except for the fact that they do not get voting rights. They are the beacon for the students in the long run as the ultimate objective becomes getting a PR visa and don't go by the wonderful pictures of the FB or IG posts that many Bhutanese do. Social media is just a veil that covers the hard life behind it. After all, nobody likes to display poverty in a place of plenty. Australia is a forge and the forge either melt you or hardens you. Dollars don't rain for free and if one is not willing to toil hard, it is in no way a cakewalk. Golfer Gary Player wasn't wrong when he said "The harder I work, the luckier I get" because when you put in your hard work, the more luck is the more dollars that accumulate in your commonwealth bank account of yours. It's just a simple equation the more you work, the more you are paid. That is the motivation for getting paid hourly than having a fixed amount over a month and maybe that drive to work extra is near to nil in Bhutan because of that. Life goes on from a humble beginning, the working title may vary but the essence, in general, would be that one needs to do cleaning jobs only. That's how life normally begins and for an ordinary person, it is not something that one would really like to do but I tell you Australia is harsh and one got to develop thick skin out of necessity. That's why as one progresses, people try to move out for jobs that are much better than cleaning. I felt that maybe that is something to do with the ego because cleaning jobs are something which is not much to the taste of middle-income Bhutanese and some stigma that the mindset still carries on. This can be a wrong view too as I have also seen Bhutanese that has stuck to one job all the time. Maybe ego is also good to have as it drives and digs out deep into the potential of the Bhutanese.

All in all, generally the Bhutanese are resilient and they live up to the expectation of The Druk Gyalpo because there are people, who own property and real estate. These people started their journey from a scratch and ended up being proud owner of a house, fleet of cars etc even shames the natives who languish on the streets as homeless. I have come to the conclusion that the spotlight gets brighter on the winner while the shadow gets darker on the loser. So if you are not able to do something and remain as how you are just now, you are going to be the latter I mentioned above. There is an old Bhutanese saying "kei na namkhai bja yang khor, dhuna chengi bu yang pang" and this exactly fits this practical life of ours. Everyone remembers you for your success while even your offspring deserts you in distress. Come to Australia, you may become the former.

Now with this Australian rush taking place quicker than ever, what is actually good for Bhutan? Whenever we think of the importance of the non-residential Bhutanese, the first thing that comes to mind is the remittances that these section of people contribute to the Bhutanese foreign reserve but are we really thinking beyond that because there is much to give and bigger roles that a Bhutanese living abroad can play in the nation-building process. The government of the day and past should in fact be grateful for the Dollars non-residential Bhutanese are contributing. I know that the rush is a concern but I also know that the educated and the higher echelons of our society won't make a fuss about this. This is because most of the Bhutanese in Australia are either from the middle class or the higher strata. I don't think Lyoenchhen Dr Lotay and his aide Dr Tandin would discourage the Bhutanese from taking this rush when they know that their MBA certificate from the University of Canberra has in some way contributed a lot to the Bhutanese society. When I drafted my spouse's statement of purpose (SOP), I have taken the motivation that the Australian education system has produced an alumnus who is in charge of the Bhutanese government today and my spouse is just following in his footsteps. I don't think it will be fair enough if the Bhutanese elites complain about this when they want and have their own sons and daughters educated abroad.

I quit my job and left the country at a point in time when the nation is undergoing a massive transformation. My service to the nation is needed the most yet I exited but that in any way does not make me any less patriotic. Instead, it has fueled in me the desire to build my nation to the level where I am residing now because I have seen how light years Australia is ahead of us. Lop Tshering Wangdi taught me the morals of "Zing gi Baep and Jamtshoi Baep" when I was in the fifth standard. It was just a story then. Today I feel I have been a frog that was in the pond ever since that story has been told to me. Bhutanese feels so contended at home that there is no desire for anything and maybe that makes us unique in our own way but for a nation that is taking giant steps into the future, Bhutanese must shed some skins and visit the frogs that live near the ocean. That's only when we realize, being contended with what we have is actually not going to take our nation forward.

There are some qualms over the ideas that are imported into Bhutan by the few leaders that take tours abroad because the majority of subsequent implementers are what I call "Zing gi Baep". Actually, the ideas are good and it must have worked perfectly for the country of origin but to understand things, one has to live by the experience and that experience cannot come by staying cocooned inside Bhutan. Today the Bhutanese living in the third world are exposed to ideas that they can use once they get back to Bhutan. Remittances are a direct contribution to the Bhutanese economy, but softer and more reliable assets in the form of skills, ideas and knowledge can go a far way in nation-building. One perfect example that can get ingrained into the Bhutanese DNA is work ethic. It is simple and straightforward. Call your superior by his/her name, no need for the addition of prefixes and this makes one feel important and equal. I won't call a Bhutanese Dasho a Dasho in Australia because no matter what, I stand on par with him/her. The barrier of superiority is created by the prefixes we attach to the name and that is where sometimes an inferiority complex can develop. I work as one of the cleaners in a 5-star hotel and I address the CEO as, "Hi ......(name avoided)" and he replies "Hey mate". It feels wonderful.

There is a feeling in me that because of the social barrier we have created, maybe we are not doing a hard talk over some of the issues that have really drained the national purse. How many of us have even thought of questioning the P1 project which has been a saddle that you and I have been carrying since 2008 and in times ahead, maybe our children will have to carry it if the government comes and goes and does nothing. As of now, all of us know that none of the democratically elected governments has accepted accountability. I believe it is the misfortune of the Bhutanese citizen to have the water resource in abundance. I guess if there is one thing that moves very slowly, it is the wheels of bureaucracy. There are certain thing that has to be shifted in the fast lane such as the right to information act and the civil liabilities bill which can make people accountable and things transparent. Only then, can you and I as bona fide citizen has every right to know about what actually went wrong in the history of a P1 project. Zhabdrung would have drooped in embarrassment if he had been alive and looked at the P1 project from the central towers of Wangdue Dzong which he built in two years and that too with a hand full of resources and the countable number of artisans. I express this as a citizen who is hurt by the snail progress of a much-hyped project which was expected to bring an economic boom for the nation and in the process and at a personal level, an increase in my salary too which sadly did not happen ultimately. If I am put on trial by the government for these brutal views, I tell you our bureaucracy is using a bullet to kill cockroaches. Australia might not have been mapped in my mind, had the turbines of P1 started to mint, what we call as the White Gold.

What is not good for Bhutan is of course not the current crop of people who migrate but I worry more about the children and young Bhutanese who are in Australia. We are rooted in our roots but our children are exposed from early ages to foreign culture and experiences make me nervy. I appreciate the initiative of education pro to give Dzongkha education for the non-residential Bhutanese children in Perth and wish that the tutors are trained, Bhutanese teachers. This is the flip side of the coin but only time can tell what is really good and bad.

Dear friends in Australia let us all reflect on what we can do for Karma Dechen as a citizen of the Palden Druk. I know that Australia has offered so much and given meaning to your life but how much life is good, we just can't be here because there is no substitute for Drukyuel. we have to know that even in the feudal ages of Bhutan, Pemai Tshewang Tashi the war general of Wangzop Angdruk Nyim has given a clear picture of how beautiful his motherland is in his ballad;

"Pay shar gi nimi yuekha lu, aum Kazhi zami dangra lu, yue jong toe ser gi poti dra yue jong mey noe gi zhom da dra" In such a blissful place of Druk Yuel, we have to return and give back what the nation has done for us. Let us be true to that because many of us have beautifully stated that in the statement of purpose before lodging the visa.

P.S: I support the Australian Rush

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