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Thursday, November 8, 2012

My Parent's Visit to Bhutan

As Dawa and I rushed up the steps to my parent’s hotel room, I could hear my dad on the balcony say, “Cindy, they’re here!”  When I reached the top of the steps, my mom came running out of the room and threw her arms around me with tears of joy streaming down her face.  Her tears were contagious and even dad got a little teary eyed too.  The three of us hugged for a few minutes.  It had been nine months since I had seen them and although we skpe about three times a week, it was nice to hug them without a computer screen in the way. 

Buddha Point
After we said our hellos, they immediately fell in love with Dawa (Sonam’s niece who lives with me).  My mom said that she is the sweetest young lady and she giggled when Dawa said things like, “I want to take a picture with Mom.”  Likewise, Dawa loved them too.  The four of us explored the capital where Dawa tried her first hamburger.

After roaming around the noisy capital for a day, we embarked on the 12-hour drive to my home in Chumey, Bumthang.  The drive was beautiful and we saw lots of wildlife: yaks, monkeys, exotic birds, etc.  During their week at my home, we made a routine of drinking tea out in the sun while listening to the river and watching the cows graze by.  They also enjoyed going on long walks to the Yathra Factory to watch the ladies weave items from yak hair.  My parent’s said that our long walks along Chumey’s countryside were something they would never forget, especially since it made my dad a little nostalgic for his village in the azure islands.   
Jakar Tsetchu

While in Bumthang, I took them to the Jakar Tshetchu and they admired a colorful mask dance.  After the tshetchu, we went to the burning lake and then we had dinner with some of my friends from BCF (Bhutan Canada Foundation).  The hours flew by as we laughed and laughed.  My mom and dad are extremely friendly, so they loved striking up conversations with everyone.  They said that every single person they met whether he or she was a tourist or Bhutanese person was extremely friendly and happy.
Tea Party
When the tshetchu holidays ended, I took my parent’s with me to school.  We invited two Switzerland tourists who we befriended in Thimphu to attend my fifth grade class for a tea party.  So all of us enjoyed the most elaborate tea party while my parent’s read an animal book they brought for the school library, which had the most captivating hologram pictures.  My class had been eagerly awaiting their arrival for months and they surprised us by reading the sweetest welcome letters.  Also my parent’s couldn’t believe how the students were so independent and respectful.

Boarding the bus
The next day, my parents, my fifth graders and I boarded the school bus to the gorgeous Tharpaling monastery for a special class picnic.  The school bus climbed a curvy, bumpy, narrow, dirt road high up in the mountains.  Since it was most of my students first time to Tharpaling, everyone was excited despite many little heads that were vomiting out of the window due to motion sickness.  
On the bus

Once we reached Tharpaling, it brought a whole new learning experience for my parent’s.  My students taught my parent’s about  the six realms people may be reborn into.  They also taught them how to mediate; in the monastery, we sat under detailed paintings of mandalas where we did our favorite mediation exercise picturing white light.  
The girls

Later, my parent’s were a little shocked to discover that the students were picking up random, discarded bottles off the ground and from underneath the monastery to fill the bottles up with water that was pouring out of a rock and then drinking the water.  I explained to my parent’s that it was considered holy water, which was very significant to their culture; my students believed it could cure illnesses or keep them healthy, so they wanted to use the plastic bottles to take back the holy water to their families.  My mom was also confused at why I allowed them to take lit incense on the bus as she thought it was dangerous, but she understood when I told her that my students believed it would clear out illnesses on the bus and make our journey home safe.  Overall, my parent’s experienced a culture that was very unique and different from our own. 

After a week in Chumey, Norbu, my monk friend, took us to one of my favorite places, Gangtey.  Of course my parent’s also adored Norbu as he often dropped in and out of the house saying, “Hey dad, where’s mom?”  Norbu is impossible not to like partly because he is hilarious.  My mom said that he had a cute, spunky personality and it was obvious my dad liked him too as Norbu taught him about Buddhism and they talked for hours.  So by the time the four of us traveled to Gangtey, it was like my parent’s had a new friend.  On the long drive, Norbu and I showed them how we liked to travel:  singing, joking, laughing, enjoying, etc.  In fact, we had so much fun that later my mom told me that was one of the most special moments she had in Bhutan.

Making a cake
Before we reached Gangey, we stopped at a vegetable market and I also showed them how Sonam taught me the Bhutanese costume of taking lots of vegetables and fruits when you are going to visit someone.  So I gathered loads of goods for Norbu’s family, Sonam’s family and chome (sweets) for little Jimmy.  As soon as we reached Gangtey, Norbu took us to his mom’s house for an amazing lunch.  Then we went to Sonam’s family’s house where my parent’s met little Jimmy and some of Sonam’s relatives.  It was fun exchanging gifts and we visited for hours.  My parent’s thought that they were the nicest people! 

That night, our hotel was a traditional farmhouse where we met lots of happy foreigners from all over the world.  We also were incredibly lucky because the day before we got there, six black-necked cranes flew in for the winter and we got to observe them in their natural habitat. 

Before we left Gangtey, Sonam’s mother cooked us an enormous lunch and Jimmy and I backed a strawberry cake together.  Indeed, Sonam’s family has been like my extended family and my parent’s thanked them for taking such great care of me.  Then Sonam’s uncle and her cousin drove us back to our hotel in Paro where my parent’s landed, as it was almost time for them to return to America. 

Tiger's Nest
But the day before they left, Sonam’s uncle, her cousin, my dad and I all hiked up to Tiger’s Nest (mom didn’t go because she has weak knees).   I was so happy to be able to experience it with my father.  It was a great way to end their two-week visit. 

When I said goodbye to them, my mom cried and my dad looked really sad.  I appeared strong until my dad said, “Please come home soon…don’t stay gone too long” and then tears also ran down my cheeks because I didn’t know when I would come home again; I’m on a journey that doesn’t seem to be taking me back to California anytime soon.

At the Burning Lake
My parent’s reached their home in America safely and they are missing the beauty of Bhutan.  It is one thing to see Bhutan in pictures or read about it, however, it is a whole other thing to experience it in person; to look like an ant against the sides of majestic mountains, to feel the vibrations of Buddhist chants run through your body, to taste the air of incense in monasteries…Thus, I’m so happy that they were able to experience what I will be talking about for years to come.