Posts

Sauna distancing

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Today, the news was out: public saunas in Helsinki will be gradually re-opening after being closed for more than two months. During the recent pandemic, I have envied people for owning two things in Finland: private cars and saunas. (Yes: this is how small, privileged first-world problems I personally have to endure at the moment...) Cars can be rented or bought; but it is more challenging to organise a sauna of one's own when living in a city. When Covid-19 restrictions in March started, most blocks of flats closed their communal saunas for inhabitants; and so did all the  amazing public saunas in Helsinki , too. Then the southern Finnish region of Uusimaa was blocked for three weeks, and in general, travelling anywhere outside one's own city was not recommended, which left summer/rental cottages with saunas also outside our options. It has to be noted that in Finland though, I am in a minority with my sauna troubles. According to a huge sauna survey with over 24,000 re

Music of Bhutan

This post tries to briefly explain the little known various styles of Bhutanese music which you can hear blasting from the local radio stations every day. Religious music is in a category of its own, with sacred dances and monastery music - here I will only focus on folk and popular music. B-pop Starting with the newest form: B-pop , a style "invented" by a local music studio in Thimphu called M-Studio . They have produced several hits during their few years of existence, most famously Tharingsa of which I have heard at least four different versions (not to mention all the karaoke interpretations), and Yonphula which is probably their second-biggest hit. The video below, filmed on a beautiful river-side with a prayer flag covered bridge in the background, is an acoustic version of singer-songwriter Pema Deki's "Due Atara". The faster, disco-type original song was chosen for the first ever flashmob organized in Bhutan: Pema Deki performed her song live wh

Food (= chillies) in Bhutan

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"In Bhutan, chilli is not a spice. It is a vegetable." These were some of the wise words I was told during the flash introduction to culture, security and practical issues in Bhutan by the UN security officer during my first week. Since then, I have been asked the question "how are you coping with the food here?" in a worried tone, as not everyone is as fond of chillies in every single dish as the Bhutanese are. Selection of Bhutanese dishes at the Folk Heritage Museum restaurant. Chilli sauce ( ezay ) in the front, ema datshi (chillies and cheese) third bowl from the front. Luckily, I was a chilli lover even before coming here, so the experience has not been as extreme as it could be. An average Bhutanese household can use one large sack of chillies (2 kg or so) in one week. It is hard to think of a proper Bhutanese meal without them - and yet chillies are a recent import, perhaps only 100-200 years old. Nowadays Bhutanese staple food usually consists of r

Festival sideshows

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Christmas, the most commercial religious holiday of all is approaching. One might think that the materialistic, carnevalistic celebration of religious holidays would not have reached Bhutan yet – wrong. The two tsechu s, religious festivals I have testified in Thimphu, the capital and in Bumthang, Central Bhutan have had a vast selection of attractions outside the official programme of sacred dances ( cham ): gambling, drinking, dancing girls...you know, the usual things you would associate with a Buddhist festival!    But first: what is a tsechu ? Bhutanese tsechu s are important social and religious gatherings which last 2-5 days and take place in the courtyards of dzongs (administrative and religious centres of the district) or lhakhangs (temples or monasteries) .  The main programme consists of sacred dances which have different significances, commemorating the events in the life of Guru Padmasambhava who brought Buddhism to Bhutan in the 8 th century and is revered

Bhutan and Finland, part 1: Alcohol

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Bhutanese people often ask how do I like Bhutan, adding that "it must be very different from your country".  Actually, in many ways, it isn't.  Just to name a few common things between Finland and Bhutan:  Forest coverage in Finland: 78 %, in Bhutan: 72 % People are modest and don't like bragging about themselves Showing emotions is not common, and talking about them is even less common And finally, alcohol consumption is high (highest in South Asia), and the people who drink, drink a lot Drinkers both in Bhutan and Finland tend to consume mostly beer and strong liquors. I have had the chance to taste a few different kinds of local alcohol brew called ara , among the most memorable being heated ara with pieces of egg in it: dinner and drink together, very convenient! Local Red Panda weissbier. Only local beer brands are allowed to be sold in most restaurants to boost domestic brewery industry.   The attitude towards drunk-driving is still

Shooting arrows

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"The Bhutanese love archery. They also love drinking. They tend to combine their two passions, and this is worrying." Before coming to Bhutan, I read a pile of books trying to grasp this country, most of them written by Westerners. Out of these travel/autobiography accounts Eric Weiner's " The Geography of Bliss - One Grump's Search for the Happiest Places in the World", described by the author as "a philosophical humorous travel memoir" was one of my favourites. His quote above is not that far from reality, as even deadly archery accidents (not necessarily only due to alcohol) have taken place in Bhutan. One of the main news stories last week was a young man who was hit by an arrow , piercing his shoulder 11 cm deep from behind. Apparently his village was 8 days (!) of walking distance from the nearest hospital. Bhutan has no ambulance helicopters (yet, that is one of the new leading party's promises), so the main news of the foll

Arrival

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After more than 24 hours of traveling, three different planes, 4 hours of waiting at the transfer lounge of New Delhi airport and one stop-over in Kathmandu, I finally arrived at the Paro airport in Bhutan four days ago. View from the plane landing Paro airport One of the three planes of the Drukair flight company King and Queen wish welcome to Bhutan All the five kings of the Kingdom of Bhutan are watching people queueing for their visa First working days have largely consisted of filling out at least a dozen of different forms: for bank account (both in USD and local currency ngultrum ), ATM card, SMS service for the bank account, work permit, medical clearance for the work permit, post-paid telephone number...you name it. Different handling fees and official stamps (costing 15 cents each) have been indispensable in this process. I would have never survived the paperwork without the infinite help from my colleagues at the UNDP. Very warm welcome