Saturday, September 26, 2009

Bhutan Earthquake Situation

We are headed to Bhutan on October 1st with repurcussion of the earthquake on Sept 21st still coming in.

News articles are coming out about the deaths and damage are now being compiled.

The New York Post has an article about some of the damage done to Buddhist monasteries there and that some monks have been forced to leave.
Kuensel Online a Bhutanese media outlet has a story as well. They have listed the casualties, talked with survivors and summed up some of the damage to Buddhist related structures and the like:
Many monuments, monasteries, chortens, houses and schools in eastern Bhutan have been damaged. There were heavy cracks on Trashigang dzong and Lhuentse Singye dzong, according to dzongkhag officials. Dzongkhag officials in Pemagatsel also reported that there was a major damage to Yongla Goenpa. The sertho of Trongsa dzong had also tilted, while parts of the Tshemey lhakhang in Yangneer, Trashigang, collapsed, injuring four people, including two monks. Roadblocks in many parts of Mongar and Trashigang were also reported.
Here is a link to over 500 news stories for those following the situation. It should be noted that aftershocks are occurring as well and increasing the damage and the likelihood of more casualties.

We have been told by our outfitters in Bhutan to expect some aftershocks during our journey. Though these will probably pass unnoticed.
Locally the Buddhist population of Tibetan refugees has been enjoying a festival of Tibetan music, dance and other arts for the past few days to coincide with the ending of the Muslim season of Ramadan and the start of the Hindu season of Dussera/Divali (festival of lights). It is usually decided that if some of the major religious denominations are going to take a holiday then all might as well enjoy it in their own way as well.

There are collections being taken up by the Tibetans at this time, at the temple from visitors and the school from the audience to send whatever assistance is possible through the monastic system and the Tibetan government in exile to Bhutan to help with their efforts at ameliorating some of the destruction. I am told initiatives are currently being organized elsewhere here in India as well among the Buddhist populations.

Once we return we will have a better idea of how we can provide help to areas in need.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Kingdom of Bhutan

We are headed to Asia in a few days to begin our trek through the magical kingdom of Bhutan.

I have had many folks asking me recently about Bhutan...where is it? what's it like?

Follow along our trek through our Bhutan Daily Dispatch page.

So, here ya go...

The Kingdom of Bhutan (pronounced /buːˈtɑːn/) is a landlocked nation in South Asia, located at the eastern end of the Himalaya Mountains and is bordered to the south, east and west by the Republic of India and to the north by People's Republic of China. Bhutan is separated from the nearby state of Nepal to the west by the Indian state of Sikkim, and from Bangladesh to the south by West Bengal. The Bhutanese call their country Druk Yul (Dzongkha: འབྲུག་ཡུལ་) which means "Land of the Thunder Dragon".[5]
Bhutan used to be one of the most isolated nations in the world, but developments including direct international flights, the Internet, mobile phone networks, and cable television have increasingly modernized the urban areas of the country. Bhutan has balanced modernization with its ancient culture and traditions under the guiding philosophy of Gross National Happiness (GNH). Rampant destruction of the environment has been avoided. The government takes great measures to preserve the nation's traditional culture, identity and the environment. In 2006, Business Week magazine rated Bhutan the happiest country in Asia and the eighth-happiest in the world, citing a global survey conducted by the University of Leicester in 2006 called the "World Map of Happiness".[6]
Bhutan's landscape ranges from subtropical plains in the south to the Himalayan heights in the north, with some peaks exceeding 7,000 metres (23,000 ft). The state religion is Vajrayana Buddhism, and the population of 691,141 is predominantly Buddhist, with Hinduism being the second-largest religion. The capital and largest city is Thimphu. After centuries of direct monarchic rule, Bhutan held its first democratic elections in March 2008. Among other international associations, Bhutan is a member of the United Nations and the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC).

Over the past decade, Bhutan's political system has developed from an absolute monarchy into a constitutional monarchy. In 1999, the fourth king of Bhutan created a body called the Lhengye Zhungtshog (Council of Ministers). The 'Druk Gyalpo' (King of Druk Yul) is head of state. Executive power is exercised by the Lhengye Zhungtshog, the council of ministers. Legislative power was vested in both the government and the former Grand National Assembly. On the 17th of December 2005, the 4th King, Jigme Singye Wangchuck, announced to a stunned nation that the first general elections would be held in 2008, and that he would abdicate the throne in favor of his eldest son, the crown prince.[21] King Jigme Khesar Namgyal Wangchuck took the throne on December 14, 2006 upon his father's abdication. Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck was adorned with Bhutan's Raven Crown at an ornate coronation ceremony in Thimphu on Thursday, November 6, 2008, becoming the world's youngest reigning monarch and head of the newest democracy.[22]
The new democratic system comprises an upper and lower house, the latter based on political party affiliations. Elections for the upper house (National Council) were held on December 31, 2007, while elections for the lower house, the 47-seat National Assembly, were held on March 24, 2008. Two political parties, the People's Democratic Party (PDP) headed by Sangay Ngedup, and the Druk Phuensum Tshogpa (DPT) headed by Jigmi Thinley, competed in the National Assembly election. The Druk Phuensum Tshogpa won the elections taking 45 out of 47 seats in the parliament.[23]

Friday, September 11, 2009

Tragic Loss

My wife Merry Beth is from a small farming town in Arkansas. Everybody knows everybody and everyone knows her cousins, the Parten family. Both of the young boys Tyler and Daniel were exceptional in every regard growing up there. Tyler, the older got into West Point and Daniel was two years behind, following in his big brother's footsteps. Tyler graduated from West Point in 2007 and began his tour of service earlier this year in Afghanistan as a Battalion Commander Armory Division.
Tyler's emails home were often outlining the immense boredom he and his crew were experiencing...almost hungry for a bit of combat that they had trained so hard for.
On 9/9/09 Tyler's Division came under fire and they were required to engage. The details from there are murky and have yet to be outlined. What is clear is that Tyler was shot and sustained a fatal injury.
He was a remarkable young man that will be missed. A true talent and gift to us all.
The world was in front of him. He gave it up as he was trained to do...for his country and for his faith.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Positive Pessimism

Mountain climbing is a perverse endeavor. It takes a different kind of person to decide they would rather drag themselves through days or weeks of pain on the side of some cold rock than stay at home in a warm bed with their loved ones. Depending on your point of view, we either have a unique idea of a good time or a massive personality defect. Either way, a side effect of the lifestyle is the development of a sick sense of humor. Part of it has to do with the climbing machismo, but part of it is a normal human response to the pain and misery we put ourselves through. Positive pessimism is a great example. It’s an idea we came up with accidentally, but it
has served us well over the years.

The idea began on our trip to Denali. Being stuck at high camp was a miserable time. We were parked on the only spot with any real cover, a relatively flat patch of hard rock and ice beneath a stone outcropping. We sat around for days eating cold food out of tin cans, waiting for the weather to break. Sleep was nearly impossible, with the whipping winds and tough ground
doing their best to keep us awake. When we were able to catch some rest, we’d often wake up to find that the ice beneath us had melted into a small glacial pool, or that the smell of unwashed
bodies in the tent had become unbearable. We’d all had it.

By the third afternoon, I wondered if we would start to crack. In order to break the tedium, we decided to press on. We’d been hoping to make some headway despite the storm, but didn’t
seem to be making any progress upward. Chris was leading us up a dark, miserable glacier, when he turned and uttered, “It’s cold out here, but at least it’s windy.” A slow smile curled up from the corner of his mouth. In spite of our shared tension, each of us chuckled for a moment.
“We’ve been climbing all day, but at least we’re lost,” Erik added. This brought a new round of laughs.
“Last night, I found a hole in my sleeping bag, but at least I've got frostbite,” was my contribution.

Sam had left us minutes before to relieve himself off the trail. But now, from twenty yards away, we could hear him shout, “It’s twenty below, but at least I’m partially naked!”
For the next few days, whenever the team seemed to be down, someone would invent a new positive pessimism. For us, it became a way to laugh at ourselves and the downside of a
unpleasant reality. Things aren’t always great; they won’t always be how you want them to be. The best thing to do is laugh.

I think learning not to take ourselves so seriously has been a secret of our success, and other people seem to agree. Ever since I first mentioned it in a speech years ago, the response has
been overwhelming. Nearly every day I get a note from someone who is taking the idea of positive pessimism and making it work for them: ‘I get micromanaged, but at least my boss is an idiot.’ Or ‘The company is downsizing, but at least my assistant is still worthless.’ I think it’s great. The next time you find yourself in a tough spot, try to find the fun in it.

And remember, life may be hard, but at least you’ll die in the end.