Sunday, October 16, 2011

Seven New Friends

Hi, everyone. Betsy here.

No, these are not the children the monk at Chimi Lakkhang blessed me with. Perish the thought. But they are cute though. Here's the story.

Lee wouldn't let me caddy, but I did walk 12 holes with her and Dasho, cringing every time she landed in the rough and cheering enthusiastically when she made par (once on the front nine ... I'm told she made par once on the back nine as well, but I can't vouch for that). The scenery was amazing, a light breeze kept us cool, and it was wonderful to spend time chatting with Dasho while Lee pondered her game (and yes, it took some pondering). But eventually I was ready to head back to the clubhouse and put my feet up. I had brought along our guidebook and my iPad and figured I'd get a diet Coke and spend a little time reading.

A lovely clubhouse attendant brought me a can of soda and offered me a clean glass (not always a given in Bhutan), and I took a seat on a bench overlooking the first hole. I opened my iPad to the novel I'm reading (A Spot of Bother, by Mark Haddon -- excellent) and quickly became engrossed. But minutes later I realized I had attracted a crowd. Several small boys and one girl, all caddy-hopefuls, had gathered to watch me interact with my iPad. Feeling friendly I closed my novel and brought up the home screen. They jockeyed for position and excitedly said, "Computer, computer." Well, what to do now?

I decided I'd show them the photos I'd taken in Bhutan -- several dozen in Paro, Thimphu, and Punakha. As soon as I opened the first one they began shouting out words in English: Cow! Dog! Cat! Sky! Mountain! Tiger's Nest! Punakha Dzong! Royal Wedding!! (Like all Bhutanese children, they were obsessed with the royal wedding.) I began asking them questions to probe their command of English: What does the cat say? They laughed (I didn't think it was a funny question ...) and one boy boldly said, "Meow." A few pictures later I asked what the dog says (remember, dogs are ubiquitous in Bhutan), and they burst into a cacophony of howling. Yep -- that's what we'd been hearing at 3AM. Skipping through the photos I came to this:

Uh-oh. Paroxysms of giggles. They were practically on the ground laughing. They covered their mouths and cut their eyes at me. Now c'mon, boys. There are penises painted on most of the homes in Bhutan; they see this every day. Why is it so funny that the American tourist took a photo? But yeah -- it was definitely a moment of cross-cultural awkwardness. I quickly flipped to the next shot. Eventually they identified all the sites we'd visited, they'd demonstrated vocabulary skills that would have made their teachers proud, and then they asked if I had any pictures from America.

I showed them photos I took this summer along the Pacific Coast Highway in California (they really liked the big bridge) and also some from St. John in the Caribbean. For some reason they thought the picture of Lee in her bright red bathing suit wearing flippers and goggles for snorkeling was almost as funny as the penis. I guess they don't snorkel much in Bhutan ...

I realized that I had attracted some adult viewers along the way; several workers were leaning against the railing behind us enjoying the photos and even chiming in with some questions and comments. The conversation picked up steam. One boy told me that another, whose arms and legs I had noticed were smeared with purple paint, had the chicken pox. Gulp! The oldest boy, whose English was the best, mentioned that he wants to go to school in America, perhaps hoping that with my connections I could work some Wheaton or Champlain magic on the spot. Another pointed out a patch of gray in his otherwise jet-black hair and said "since born." Yet another one told me he has a twin, whom I thought I understood was the small boy caddying for Dasho. But when Dasho and Lee came back, the boy looked nothing like the other one (and, in fact, was certainly several years younger), and so I guess I missed something in the translation.

I showed them the one picture of Sebastian I have on my iPad and they had lots of questions about him. "How tall he is!" one said. Yes, by Bhutanese standards, Sebastian would be, like the king, quite tall. They seemed to like me even more once they knew I had a son. I wished I had more pictures of Sebastian to show them.

Finally there were no pictures left to see and I made a move to close the iPad. One particularly sharp little fellow, though (the one in the hat in the photo above), spotted the games icon. "Games, games!" they clamored. A universal truth: kids like computer games. So I opened Cut-the-Rope, but that quickly dissolved into quite a bit of grabbing and swiping, and I feared for my iPad's life. Plus the screen was getting grimy pretty fast; these boys' hands hadn't seen any soap for, oh, quite a while. So I told them my iPad needed a rest and closed up shop. Two of the older boys then picked up my guidebook and thumbed through it, but the younger kids scampered off to the third hole to chase some dogs that had appeared.

Before they left, though, I got one more shot of the larger group using my iPad. They loved that! Another universal: kids love having their picture taken, and they think new technology is really cool too.

And, it turns out, they love an impromptu English/cultural studies lesson on the golf course. What fun pupils they were, and as with the best "teaching," I learned a lot too. This group of kids will stay with me for a long time!

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