Sunday, May 31, 2009

From Macau with the concept of "special economic zone"

The southern province of Guangdong used to be the backwaters of China since time unknown. However, beginning 1979, the Chinese government introduced some serious economic reforms that included allocation of “special economic zone (SEZ)” status to couple of cities and regions – Shenzhen was the first city to be declared one.

The net result – these region have recorded some of the fastest economic growth in China - and in the world. Shenzhen is today the fourth richest city in China and a shining example of the SEZ concept. As a value-addition, millions of people got diverted here. Otherwise they would be heading for Beijing or Shanghai.

One of the recurrent debates in our country is the rural-urban migration, or more precisely rural-Thimphu migration - balanced development being a natural by-product of the discussion. We keep complaining that everything is happening in Thimphu. But on the other hand, how do we reverse the trend - even if we really want to?

One strategy would be to introduce the concept of “special economic zones” here in Bhutan too. To start with, we could have SEZ declared for dead-end towns like Dagana, Pema Gatshel, Tashi Yangtsi and Lhuntshi followed by other areas that do not attract any investments. People wishing to set up business in these areas could be granted tax holidays, income tax exemptions, power subsidies, credit facilities etc.

One of the prime considerations should be the creation of employment, which is beginning to be a major problem in our country. Driving the local economy and employment thereby releasing some pressure from Thimphu, in every sense, is something what we could possibly achieve with this concept. Not to even mention the balanced development and equity that will follow suit.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Aren't we (Bhutanese) special?

My kids and I have watched the animation movie - Kungfu Panda over and over again.  Between my daughters and I, no one really knows who enjoy the film more.  We just love the movie.  

For me it is because of just one line from the film.  In fact the key message of the film. 

It's when Po, our hero (the giant panda), comes back to his father after failing to reveal the secret dragon scroll.  When his father, unwittingly, tells Po that there were no secrets to his “secret ingredient soup.”  One only has to believe that “it is special” to be special.

For many years now, I felt we Bhutanese are special.  We are different (not with any superiority complex attitude) but just the fact that we are a small, independent and beautiful country.  This really makes me feel very special.  And of course one very eminent lama, whom I met as a student many years back in Italy, told me that Bhutanese are a special breed of people.  

The question is, do we all feel we are special?  And do instill this feeling in our children?

Just thinking.....

Monday, May 18, 2009

Bhutan's Net Generation

After a long time, last Sunday I happened to witness an inter-school quiz competition at the Thimphu YDF Hall.  The contest was organised by the Ministry of Information to mark the World Telecom & Information Society Day 2009.

The children were magnificent.  They knew things I didn't even hear about.  Except that much of the information they knew came from TV and the Internet.  Good? Bad? I don't know.  Depends on how you look at it! 

What was definitely not okay was our children lacking knowledge on our own culture, people, history and places.  For example, no one could get the picture of the last day of Paro Tshechu, while they instantly recognised the komodo dragon.  Likewise they could easily identify the official anthem of Arsenal FC, hit the tune of a certain singer called Lady Gaga and even spread out the career of the first American Idol.  

Of course, I was also pleasantly surprised that they got most of the questions on ICT and computers right.  Which makes me conclude that our children watch a lot of TV and are IT-savvy. 

Then if that's the case, why don't we capitalise on these attributes?  Use the TV to educate or re-educate our children and guide them and channel their viewing time to something meaningful.  Highlight youth issues, dignity of labour, values, self-esteem and other soft skills that will prepare them to face the future and take the country firmly into their hands.  

Why don't we work seriously on creating an "information society" or the "knowledge-based industry" on the strength of our children's flair for new technologies?  If the performance at the quiz competition is any indication, then what I am proposing is definitely not a wishful thinking.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

On The Other Side of Paro Valley

I don't remember how many times I have been to Paro.  But I just realised that my visits, until now, were always confined to the left bank.  I mean along the Kyichu Lhakhang - Drugyel Dzong side.  So it was a very pleasant experience to be "on the other side of the Paro Valley" over the weekend.  Courtesy of a wild picnic outing by the Bhutan Times people.

Unlike the left bank, much of the other side of the Paro Valley is still pristine and beautiful with traditional mud houses and structures.  Thanks to the un-tarred road that runs parallel to the river and to the highway of the left bank, much of the original charm and romance of Paro are therefore retained.

The left bank, on the other hand, has become clusters of ugly high-rise and cemented jungle that have, sort of, destroyed the beauty and sacredness of Paro.  They come with all sorts of names - schools, hospitals, hotels, resorts, general shop cum bar, etc.  The other side has instead small stone and wooden structures adorned with beautiful gardens that greet you as you drive along the 5-km graveled stretch.  At the end of this road, where the BT people had camped for their annual picnic, is a place I would recommend for anyone looking for a spot to pitch a tent for a weekend outing.

There is also a feeder road that takes off from Tshendona village for Sangachokor - 7Km reads the milestone.  In fact it is a nice 7-km drive up to the peak taking you to Sangachokor monastery from where, apart from the sacred temples, you have the most amazing and breath-taking view of the Paro Valley.  Don't miss this experience and do it while you are still strong, alive and kicking.  You don't need a 4WD to get there.  The road is not tarred but good.  I was in a Maruti.

It is also a good spot to survey (and possibly ponder over) the two sides of the Paro Valley - and over the so-called urbanisation of our country. 

(Below is a photograph of the alpine town in Italy.  As a student I often went there because it attracted me.  Will our towns have the same appeal in future?  Maybe our town planners should take a cue from these places.)

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Looking Beyond the Awards

So we have successfully organised the first annual media awards. 

Awards and recognitions such as these will hopefully provide the much-needed professionalism and dignity in the Bhutanese media.  Never mind the minor controversy this time.  In any contest anywhere that’s there.  In Bhutan, I have learnt, it is always there!  Because somehow we Bhutanese never learn to lose.  I guess it is the direct result of lack of sports and other competitive activities in our schools.  The Media Award was relatively less controversial. 

I hate controversies.  For fear of being dragged into one, I withdrew my film “Nazhoen Chharo” from the last film festival.  I was not scared of losing.  I was scared of engaging in petty quarrels and bad mouth.  So, to the disappointments of many of my fellow filmmakers I enjoyed the evening as a guest.  I was even asked to give away a prize (to the best newcomer female!).  That was lot more fun!

The wisdom behind awards in artistic fields, such as films and journalism, is of course a much-debated subject everywhere.  One theory, which I partially subscribe to, is that you can’t judge one film from the other.  Both are masterpieces in their own rights. And so are literary and journalistic works.  The subjects are different, the contexts are different and the intentions and intensities are different.  In short, there are too many subjective variables to enable objective judgements.  

However what I truly believe is that events such as the Bhutanese films and the media awards are more "a collective recognition of the profession rather than just the individuals".  In a society that looks down on every other profession other than government jobs, the fact that we have begun to recognise these industries is a step forward.  The institution of the Annual Media Award was therefore the biggest winner!  

There is no doubt that awards and recognitions can boost your motivations and drive - especially among young journalists.  So, while I celebrated the Bhutanese journalism and our film industry at the YDF Hall, together with all others, I also applauded and personally congratulated all the winners.  I had five entries to this first media awards and managed to secure one nomination,  which was not announced - for technical glitches, I was explained much later.  I believe them because many a times I have been on the receiving end as the organiser of such events.  Technical problems are routine in events of such magnitude. One only has to learn not to make the same mistake twice and never to make such mistakes intentionally.  

I have attended many films festivals and media awards around the globe.  Many a times I was a participant, at times I was a judge and few other times I was also the winner.  But the biggest win was just to be out there, representing my country, rubbing shoulders with the best in the profession and to befriend other contestants with whom you exchanged ideas, skills and techniques.  

One of my favourite memories was the one in Seoul where, after the award ceremony and the party, we were all cramped in the room of the grand prix winner.  We bullied him into giving us an insight into how, why and what went behind making such a masterpiece.  The workshop started at midnight and ended at five in the morning.  After learning a lot from the winner, we all went back to our rooms, packed our bags and shot straight for the airport.  Life moves on!

That’s what we should all be doing here.  Learning to lose and learning from the winners and above all, learning from each other.  

Only then we progress as professionals.