Bhutan: Achievements and Challenges

Spirituality and materialism

Tradition and modernity

Monarchy and Democracy

Bhutan is undergoing a state of transition. A small country indeed but not little and certainly not a Little Dragon since there are much that her giant neighbors can learn from this timeless Kingdom.

DSC01680 Kudos to the Bhutanese for their successful PR campaign since many regard Bhutan as a happy country and her citizens as a happy bunch. Happiness is important and highlighted. But, I did not set foot into the country in a state of oblivion. Bhutan is not 100% an oasis or an eternal Shangri-la and certainly no Utopia. However, it does set a super great example for the rest of the world in many aspects such as the concept of social well-being and personal happiness, the importance of maintaining one’s own culture and tradition and above all (what I love the most) – environmental protection. Being small in landmass with a relatively small population is an advantage. So here are some rants before I end my Bhutan Travel entries. I don’t even know why I care so much about Bhutan and why I worry about the Kingdom when the citizens and young people are so chilled. My parents have asked me to always walk in someone else’s shoes and listen to different opinions so I shall continue this. These are just my own views though and I love nothing more than to discuss Bhutan with the Bhutanese.

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Economy and employment: Long-term wise, Bhutan needs more money. Economic activities can slow down any second and there is over-reliance on only a few industries. There has been a shortfall of the Indian Rupee meaning that Bhutan, has in the past, ran out of Indian rupees, which led to a major credit crunch. Moreover, there is also external debt which has soared to nearly 90% of Bhutan’s GDP. Speaking about India, Bhutan’s huge dependence on her giant neighbor for investment, aid and imports is a double-edge sword.  It is great when another county can ‘take care’ of you but since I’m the sort of person who leans more towards self-reliance, the idea of such a close relationship is a tad frightening.  If a country leans towards China then I would fear for that country as well. You can be self-sufficient and not be led by others without being rude. As much as I wish to have a “denial mindset” when it comes to challenges facing countries, focus is placed on the reality. And there is that saying: Reality is not that picturesque. Bhutan’s youth unemployment is around 7.3% and there is a mismatch in the demand and supply of jobs. The transition from young graduates to the new workforce is not a smooth and easy one. If the economy is to generate more employment opportunities, jobs and salary must meet expectations and adequate positions must be put in place. This is what drives a country and with such a high unemployment rate + a brain drain, I hope that the Kingdom can do something to ensure a vibrant future and work force.DSC00717Urbanization and waste management: Although at first look, Thimphu does not look like New York City, the allegory is similar. Both are capital cities and are popular places to move to. According to Bhutan’s National Statistics Bureau, Thimphu is growing at a rate of 1.3% every year. People (especially young ones) will leave the villages and move into cities. Urbanisation is happening in every country and Bhutan is no exception. Thimphu is growing into a bigger city and as population goes up, so too will consumerism, a fight for resources, pollution and the task of finding proper waste disposal strategies. According to Thimphu City Corporation records (tcc.gov.bt), the capital produced about 18,000 tonnes of waste in 2009. The waste-management system is already struggling to cope, seen in many dumping sites meeting their capacity. No environmental degradation please and I hope that every part of Bhutan can be well developed…not with ugly modern urbanization though. China is facing huge urbanization crisis. Everyone  wants to move into the big cities ( first-tier/second-tier). No one especially the youngsters want to stay in the towns and villages ( the true China!). I hope Bhutan will not face this kind of problem…at least you don’t have 1.3 billion people! Phew!

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Climate Change: I’ve noticed fewer glaciers compared to photos from 100 years ago as I flew into Bhutan from Dhaka. (For those flying into Bhutan from Kathmandu/Delhi, sit on your right so you have great views of Himalaya/ Mt. Everest) Shortly after my departure, a friend mentioned that this year’s winter was colder than usual. The truth is, climate change is happening and happening fast. When glaciers melt, Bhutan’s existing flash flood problem will only intensify. Compared to the past, Bhutan is seeing increasing incidences of outburst floods and changes to agriculture patterns. Although some would say that flash floods are not uncommon and not solely due to climate change, statistics have shown that frequency has been rising significantly in the past three decades. A UN report in 2008 mentioned that glaciers at Himalaya would melt within 25 years (won’t be surprised if it happens earlier). Further studies in 2009 indicated the rate of glacial melt in Bhutan is three times the world average. While the rest of the world is willing to sacrifice the environment for the sake of economic development and toss aside GNH for GDP or only talk about reducing carbon emission, Bhutan’s lush green peaks and pristine environment showed the urgency of climate change and the awareness of environmental protection.  Perhaps wetlands will make way for stadiums, residential areas and sewage plants but, since it is a relatively small country and already 72% covered by nature, large-scale destruction and irreversible complications such as soil, water and air pollution does not look all that likely… (as long as Bhutan’s policies remain unchanged).
DSC00599 Tourism: Every year, international and regional tourists bring in revenue of more than $227m. Tourism creates jobs and brings about development in areas such as the service sector and infrastructure. Apart from regional tourists, all must pay a daily tariff around 200-250 usd per day for their stay in Bhutan (65 usd goes to the government). The ongoing debate here is whether or not the daily tariff should be lifted. Is mass tourism even suitable for Bhutan and will increasing revenue mean an end to the country’s overall state? Hotels might be filled up and more businesses will open but is an open door policy and cheaper travel the right decision? While most tourists stay around the Western part of the country, the eastern part remains undiscovered. So should tourism be developed in that area and along with it- infrastructure? It is this sense of reclusiveness that makes Bhutan an interesting destination. Will it stay that way? Personally, I hope to see a daily tariff placed on ALL tourists ( the cost can vary just in case the regional tourists complain PFT NOT FAIR THAT INDIAN TOURISTS CAN COME AND SEE THIS BEAUTIFUL COUNTRY WITH NO DAILY TARIFF)/ All tourists must be accompanied by a tour guide/ the 200- 250 usd per day tariff can stay that way ( please don’t increase this:P) / a limit still needs to be placed on the number of visitors per year. PLEASE CONTROL TOURIST NUMBERS!

Bhutan’s achievements and the challenges that she face offers a great lesson for all other nations especially her two giant neighbours.  Size does not represent how capable a country is. It is rather the mindset of the citizens and the decisions made by those in power. Aspects of Bhutan falls into my ideal country tick-list and some of their challenges adds more understanding that I have for this world. DSC01676People call Bhutan a happy nation, Shangri-La and hidden oasis. We must look beyond this and see Bhutan for who she is: a nation in this modern world, like the rest, undergoing enormous change and offering an example for all to follow.  May such changes be positive. Bhutan- never a SMALL or LITTLE dragon but a thunder dragon – come and give me a hug and why are your citizens so damn attractive? Stop me from falling in love with your men haha

Fingers-crossed!

# Domestic abuse, abortion, suicides will not be discussed since I was more interested in economy, employment and global warming. If one visits Bhutan and believes that everything and anything about her is perfect, utopian-like and great then that is too overly romanticized and well…naïve. Countries are not manufactured products but organic. No country is perfect.

More rants:

AIIB : not surprised that US told the western countries and Japan to snub China. Not surprised that Japan said no along with the US and I found it comical that many Western countries jumped at the opportunity to become a founding member. And….I’m not surprised that I didn’t see  Thunder Dragon on the list. Sigh- How is it possible that Bhutan, having much similarities to China and with continuous relations with Tibet not be on the list? I know the reason and understand insecurity but surely we can find another way.

China should support Bhutan to have more presence in UN and continue to invite them to participate in big international events such as AIIB and more. China can work with Bhutan environmentally since hey!, Bhutan excels at this.

China-  remember that Bhutan supported us for the UN seat as well as our One China Policy so even though we have no diplomatic relationships, we cannot ignore this neighbor. We need to continue to seize international opportunities to say hi to their representatives. How tough can this be? And, who cares what other countries think since we have been seen as this threat for a long time. Whatever, China’s threat is China herself. Let us all be respectful and allow no one to threaten your national interest.

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