Saturday, February 19, 2011

Unique to Bhutan - The Personal Names

So, let's continue the list of things unique to Bhutan with the local names:

When I arrived in Bhutan Dorji Tashi came to greet me at the airport. Then I went to the weekend market and met with someone from the Bhutanese television who introduced himself as Tashi Dorji. I started getting confused. Then, one day I met with a man with the name Sonam and the other day with a woman with the name Sonam. Then I met several other people and they were likely to have two of these names in various orders: Dorji, Sonam, Tashi, Karma, Phuntsho,  Pema, Tshering, Sangay, Thinley, Ugyen, Jamtsho, Dawa, Wangchuk, or Tenzin. Some, like Loden entrepreneurs Pem and Namgay, only had one name. 

Then I had a look at the Thimphu telephone directory that gives a glimpse of the high number of people who share names and I saw that they are differentiated by the residential, office or business address. For instance, Dorji Tshering, near Jitchu Drake Brakery and Dorji Tshering, Dept. of Culture. To appreciate the efforts of completing such a phone book, you also have to know that most streets have no names and houses are not numbered. 

Then I learned a bit more about names:

The current king’s name is Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck and he is from the Wangchuck royal family. However, except for royal lineages, Bhutanese names do not include a family name. Instead one or two traditional auspicious names are chosen at birth by the local lama or by the parents or grandparents of the child. Names generally give no indication if the person is male or female, except some case like Wangmo which is a female name. 

When a child is born, one or two names are given by a lama or a well-known monastery. According to traditional belief, a new born baby is named within three days after birth before evil spirits crawling around take the liberty of doing so. The pool of Buddhist Bhutanese names may be limited, less than a 100 as a rough estimate, but are steeped in meaning with religious roots like Hindu and Christian names. Bhutanese names are actually spoken phrases with some good meaning, they are optimistic and in some ways can be interpreted as good wishes for life.

Bhutanese also tend to have a name in their keykar or a birth chart given by the local astrologer when the chart is being drawn after the birth. The keykar normally contains details of the childs previous life as another person or an animal, the general characteristics the child will have in the present life, difficult periods, likes and dislikes and details of marriage and children. The keykar name is not used at all except at the time of death of the person when it is pronounced for spiritual reasons.
To add to the confusion in a foreigner's mind, a name like Phuntsho, for example, can be spelled as Phuntshog, Phuntshok, Phintsho, Pintso, Finso, Funtsho, Pintsho, or Phuntsok. Not to mention small differences, largely due to the English translation, between a name written on a business card and the same person's email address, e.g. Sonam Jigme - sonamjigmi@...  The influences from the outside are also having an impact on the Bhutanese name system and more and more people now adopt a common family title.

In Hungary, my nickname is Zoli and I prefer using this short name in Bhutan making it easier for people to remember. It is often pronounced as ‘dzolly’ and a monk told me that it means something like ‘in good shape’. I think I should be happy with this meaning. 

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

My shoes get a facelift at Shoe Vival

My pair of shoes got dirty and I decided to take it to Shoe Vival in center Thimphu, opposite the Clock Tower Square. First time when I saw their poster in the street I was a bit skeptical whether they could deliver what they promised. Now, I understand why it is called Bhutan's First Footwear Laundry and Refurbishing Service and not simply a shoe shine service. My shoes look much better than before and I only paid $4 for the service that includes free pick-up and delivery.

Shoe Vival is a clean little place where footwear in bad state of repair re­ceives not only stitch and glue but also washing and sterilization.  In that compartment sits a tallish young man and some several pairs of shoes, mostly ragged and worn-out. Mr. Dawa Dakpa, a college dropout, works with his two colleagues at Shoe Vival. On one side of the wall hangs the ornately framed certificate that testifies their professionalism. Last November, Dawa’s innovative shoe laundry service was among 11 other business start ups selected by the Loden Foundation for support. 

Dawa studied India, but did not graduate. "I got into serious drink­ing habit, which is why I could not complete my graduation," he says in a muted tone that suggests regret. However, after re­turning home, he found many jobless youth loiter­ing in the town. It dawned on him then that he should do something on his own.

Sandeep Gajakas of The Shoe Laundry, Mumbai (India), who trained Dawa in the art of shoe-cleaning, believes that this business model works due to its simplicity. "Everybody wears shoes; they get dirty and need re­pairs. Somebody has got to do it nicely." he says.

When Dawa contacted Sandeep with the proposal, he wasn't sure if there was going to be a market at all. If he had any doubts earlier, all of them van­ished after he came to Bhu­tan and saw the lifestyle of the youth here.

"I honestly did not ex­pect the kind of night life that I saw there. The youth are fashion conscious and willing to spend on prod­ucts and services," he says. 

Last time when I met with Dawa he was proud to tell me about a sports event where he had the opportunity to promote his new business through large banners and about his first commercial he just finished shooting with one of the most popular local comedians. Listening to him, I secretly looked at his shoes which looked shiny, happy and tip-top and I wondered what sort of marketing advice I could give to this young businessman at our next coaching session which he didn't know yet?

This post is based on personal experience and an article in the Bhutan Observer.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Buddhist Economics. What is it and why now?

I aim to make this blog a platform for different ideas and views. One way of doing this is to invite different people to share their thoughts and hopefully generate healthy discussions about subjects of mutual interest.

My first guest is Laszlo Zsolnai from Hungary with whom I have already spent several pleasant evenings in Brussels tasting some Belgian beer and discussing alternative approaches to our current economic system. Laszlo Zsolnai is Professor and Director of Business Ethics Center, Corvinus University of Budapest and Co-founder of the Buddhist Economics Research Platform. I was asking him about Buddhist Economics wishing to follow the interview with a more detailed discussion about Gross National Happiness in theory and practise.

When did you get introduced to Buddhist Economics?
I studied economics in the late 1970s. I was not ready to accept the basic dogma of modern Western economics that self-interest behaviour serves the common good. I always felt that something is wrong with the “greed is good” position. Reading E.F. Schumacher’s essay on Buddhist economics was liberating for me. It demonstrated that an alternative economic worldview is possible where the main function of economic activities is not to maximize material growth but to create sustainable livelihood for people and communities.      

What does Buddhist Economics mean?
Buddhist economics can be seen as a radical alternative to the Western economic mindset. Western economics represents a maximizing framework. It wants to maximize profit, desires, market, instrumental use, and self-interest and tends to build a world where “bigger is better” and “more is more”. Buddhist economics represents a minimizing framework where suffering, desires, violence, instrumental use, and self-interest have to be minimized. This is why “small is beautiful” and “less is more” nicely express the essence of the Buddhist approach to economic questions.

Is it a Western concept or was it originated in Buddhist countries?
I think Buddhist economics is a universal concept. It might be relevant for Buddhist and non-Buddhist countries as well. By reducing desires it can serve as a vehicle for reducing the society’s material metabolism and consequently its ecological footprint. I agree with the Thai Buddhist monk and philosopher, P.A. Payutto that one should not be a Buddhist or an economist to be interested in Buddhist economics. Buddhist ethical principles and their applications in economic life offer a way of being and acting, which can help people to live a more ecological and happier life while contributing to the reduction of human and non-human suffering in the world.  

Is there any country in the world that, at least partly, follows the concept of Buddhist Economics?
Bhutan can be mentioned as an example where Buddhist economics is influencing economic policy. Another example is the Sarvodaya movement in Sri Lanka where thousands of people and hundreds of villages cooperate to develop a “Right livelihood”. In Thailand the Santi Asoke movement are experimenting with self-reliant economic models. Japan’s extremely successful eco-efficiency technologies are influenced by the Buddhist ethics of “not wasting”.      

What has to change in Europe to follow Buddhist Economics principles?
The self-centered way of life, the “greed culture” of Europe and North-America should be changed. The economic crisis of 2008-2010 produced financial losses of billions of USD in the form of poisoned debts, the decline of stock prices and the value depreciation of properties. The prospect of future economic growth supposed to be the guarantor of the indebtedness of households, companies and economies. Today we experience a considerable downscaling of our economies.
The global warming survival guide created by the American weekly magazine, Time,  suggest the following: "There is an older path to reducing our impact on the planet that will feel familiar to Evangelical Christians and Buddhists alike. Live simply. Meditate. Consume less. Think more. Get to know your neighbors. Borrow when you need to and lend when asked. E.F. Schumacher praised that philosophy this way in Small Is Beautiful: Amazingly small means leading to extraordinarily satisfying results." 

What is the link between Buddhist Economics and Gross National Happiness?
The Gross National Happiness (GNH) is a policy framework to realize the main principles of Buddhist economics. GNH can be regarded as the next stage in the evolution of indicators for sustainable development, going beyond merely measuring values that can be expressed in money.
Bhutan’s leaders define GNH in terms of four pillars: economic development, good governance, cultural preservation and nature conservation. The benefit of this model is that it includes both GDP - the ‘lowest’ level bottom line - while complementing it with ‘higher level’ components. Political decisions are made on the basis of trade-offs. For example, when faced with the choice between providing employment versus the preservation of environment, most governments would choose the former. The GNH model shows that this trade-offs should be made in the context of a hierarchy of values. Otherwise policymakers will sacrifice higher level values for lower level ones. 

How do you feel about the UK and French governments considering measuring well-being and happiness of their citizens?
Trying to measure well-being and happiness - instead of simply measuring economic growth - is a good step forward. The Stiglitz & Sen & Fitoussi Report presents an advanced view on sustainability and social well-being. We should not be interested in the well-being or happiness of people only but also in the sustainability of their living. Well-being at the expense of nature and future generations cannot be accepted. At present most of the Western countries exceed their right “earth share” by 250-600 %.  

Is it something you would suggest to the Hungarian government?
 Perhaps the most urgent task for the Hungarian government (and also for other Western governments) is to reduce the extremely high level of indebtedness of the country. The high level of debts presents enormous pressure on people and communities and would force government to follow irresponsible economic growth paths. Another important task is not to engage in nature-destroying technologies such as GMO (genetically modified organism) production and nuclear energy generation.      

What are the available resources about Buddhist Economics?
We developed the Buddhist Economics Research Platform which collects the most important contributions in Buddhist Economics. I am editing a new book on Buddhist economics for Springer which will be published in 2011. 

(February 2011)


Nem gondolkodás, mert az gyakran fájó tépelődés, kegyetlen és kemény,
csak kép vagy látomás, amely magától formálódik, és úgy lebeg elém:

szobor, szép nő, táj, jóbarát, kőszirtek, virág, való vagy képzelt jelenet,
tűzfény tünt kandallókból, tenger-mindegy, olykor változgat, olykor megremeg:

én mozdulatlanul lesem, szemlélem, nem töprengek semmin se, de egészen beleolvadok,
szívom, teletöltöm magam vele, de csak néző vagyok, csendes, mohó néző -
és ez a legnagyobb öröm abból, hogy itt éltem a földön.

Faludy György, 1994

Egy szerzetes fotója, aki az elmúlt három évet negyedmagával meditációval töltötte egy hegy tetején.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Unique to Bhutan - gho, kira, suja, and doma

Without any particular order or priority, I just start listing a few interesting Bhutanese 'specialities' that I have discovered since I got here. Doing this, I also rely on other sites and not all the photos are mine.

The traditional dress
First thing you would notice in the streets of Bhutan is the colorful national dress: gho for men and kira for women. Although many people, especially teenagers, wear jeans, sports shoes, T-shirt, jacket and baseball hats, still you can see equal numbers dressed traditionally. The national dress was introduced during the 17th century to give the Bhutanese a unique identity and it became the required dress in public in the 1980s. I heared that about 10 years ago a local person could get arrested for wearing a pair of trousers in the street instead of the traditonal clothes. Not anymore. Today, the regulations are more relaxed, but still, in an effort to preserve and promote its cultural heritage, all Bhutanese are required to wear the national dress in government offices, schools, monasteries and on formal occasions.  

Nowadays it is fairly common to see people mixing traditional with modern clothes, especially covering the dress with a fake The North Face jacket on a colder day.


If you want to bring a useful gift to a Bhutanese man, get him a pair of pyjamas. No, not the one you would wear during the night! Here, they are called pyjamas, but they are, in fact, long polypropylene thermal underwears that come very handy during wintertime to keep one's legs warm. I wonder about the market for 'pyjamas' in Scotland...

Two friends 'on the gho'
Older man and his gho

Girls without the traditional kira
This is not my photo, but a good illustration of local dresses.

Suja, the salted butter tea
Drinking tea with butter is common in Tibet and Bhutan. This 'energy drink' is called suja in Bhutan and made by churning or stirring salted black tea and yak - or most of the time cow - butter. It is strange to drink it for the first time as your mind expects a tea or coffee and your mouth gets a soup. As a guest, you are always served a cup of suja and you quickly learn to appreciate it. I had my best suja at the home of my colleague, Dorji Tashi,  made by his sister with a little bit of ginger in it. Delicious !

Doma, the betel nut
Doma drives me nuts. Doma spots are everywhere, blood-looking stains on people's mouth are common. It is forbidden to chew doma in the cinema, but it is, I feel, chewed everywhere else. Areca nut is commonly referred to as "betel nut" as it is often chewed wrapped in betel leaves with lime. The effect of chewing betel and the nut is relatively mild and could be compared to drinking a cup of coffee. When I tried a bit of areca nut without the 'garnish' I felt dizzy and uncomfortable. Yesterday in the countryside, I asked a man to take me back to Thimphu and he apologized for the smell of his doma. He said he didn't feel any special effect and he used doma as a chewing gum.
Areca nut

In the region, there was also a custom to chew areca nut and betel leaf among lovers because of its breath-freshening and relaxant properties. Hence there was a sexual symbolism attached to the chewing of the nut and the leaf. The areca nut represented the male and the betel leaf the female principle. 

Selling doma in Thimphu
Regularly chewing doma causes the lips and tongue to be stained red, an ancient equivalent of modern lipstick. Some find a woman's lips coloured by red doma sexy, but I have to say I don't. 

Some of the liquid in the mouth is usually disposed of by spitting, producing bright red spots all over Thimphu. When I first saw them I thought it was blood...

By the way, doma doesn't just color your mouth, but also likely increases the chances of mouth cancer. Hence, new generations are no longer dedicated fans of doma.
This is not my photo but you can see the doma effect.