Friday, July 29, 2016

Getting to Bangkok and Beyond

If you want to stand out in life, you need to be proactive.
Blogging is the easiest was for you to get noticed. It is free.
Few days back I saw a facebook post by my brother, Karma Wangchuk (he works as a DEO) of teachers risking their lives to come for a workshop in Zhemgang "while others in Thimphu are fed up of going to Bangkok"

Ever since I have been thinking as to how one could make it to Bangkok and beyond for courses and conferences. For, such opportunities are important. You make new friends, get to visit places, enhance your knowledge and open the mind to new possibilities and ideas.
So let me share my own experience.
I have never been on a government-sponsored foreign trip in my entire career spanning 20 years in BBS. Not that I didn’t have the chance. I was head of projects and HRD and many of my colleagues even did their masters from project funds.
However, I travelled a lot. And still do. As an engineer I was invited to many places around the globe to share my experience on how I introduced the FM radio technology in Bhutan (through a technical innovation that I had made to overcome the mountains). And later, when we launched the first TV station in Bhutan, how we effectively used a cheaper DV technology, which was until then shunned by most broadcasters. After being a chief engineer I also followed my dream to be a filmmaker and got transferred within BBS to be a "simple" producer from 2002. Everyone thought I was crazy. I persisted and in less than two years I won the Japan Prize for educational programs. Then more invitations and more awards rolled in - including as vice-Chair of an international working group. I was voted to the position at the General Assembly in Almaty (Kazakhstan) after sticking my neck out and fighting for more say for small broadcasters and members. 

There is no greater religion than sharing knowledge. I wish our 
education was more about real learning and less about books
After my term as the Director of Royal Office for Media, I went to Sherubtse College where I taught for 3 semesters. Again, who cares about status? Instead, that short stint opened me to the beautiful world of teaching and academia - and gave me a third career. Above all, it restored my faith in our youth after that terrible tragedy. 
Now, my ideas and works on middle-path journalism, cross-cultural communications and human expressions have foreign universities and conferences inviting me as Visiting Scholar, some asking me to deliver guest lectures and write papers and others even to help develop curriculums and courses.  

So if I can do all these, why can’t you? I am not even a trained teacher or filmmaker. I learnt all these on my own. 
What I am saying is that that you need to be proactive, innovate, work smart (not hard) and never stop learning. Doing the same thing day-in-day-out will get you nowhere. And most importantly (and this is the vital thing), share your stories and experiences. In 100 years of modern education in Bhutan there has not been a single memoir by a school teacher. Why is that? Who said your story will not sell? My anecdotes on how I ended up in Athang Rukha that I shared in TEDx Thimphu was picked up in the Netherlands. When I retold the story there the 2000+ audience gave me a standing ovation. Some were in tears.

After sharing my Athang Rukha story at TEDx 
ThimphuI was invited to the Netherands
Video is here
Browse the Net for opportunities. Expand your network. But learn to appreciate others if you want to be appreciated. Why is it so difficult for the Bhutanese people to acknowledge other Bhutanese people who do well - and learn from them?  

Foreign trips, however, should not be your goal. It should be a bonus. The greater reward should be sense of self-fulfilment through service to others and to humanity. Charity, as a cliche goes, begins at home. I dedicate a lot of my time to give pro-bono talks in colleges, institutes and schools in the country. Today I went to Dechenchholing School to talk to a class on the power of imagination and creativity. Next week I am looking forward to another session in Paro. Middle path journalism was first presented in a meet with my fellow bloggers and later at the big CBS International Conference on GNH 2015 in Paro. The idea grew from there.

However, a word of caution. Do not do anything, and just anything, with expectations or with ulterior motives. You do it out of passion, as life's greater purpose - and with conviction and consistency. Be genuine - like Tashi Namgay of Kidney Foundation and Tsewang Tenzin of Chithuen Phenday - or be passionate like our Thrash Guy, Karma Yonten of Greener Ways. People will start believing in you and will invite you. Follow these trendsetters. 
My blogpost on contentment as the core principle of
GNH took me to the other side of the planet - Florida, US
Share your opinions like Passang PaSsu Tshering, post pictures, make documentaries like lopen Karchung Dorji or share simply what you have discovered, your achievements and ideas like Dumcho Wangdi. You never know where you will reach. Just put them out. A story is a story. A picture is a picture. A paper is a paper. The audience will be the judge. At the very least, you will be noticed in the Ivory Towers of Thimphu. There will be negative comments though. Pressure for you to stop if you get popular or controversial. You will be laughed at. You only need to be persistent and to believe in yourself. 

In the 90s, people derided my proposal to bring TV to Bhutan. I was even threatened. When I became a producer, some of my own colleagues back-stabbed me from all angles. Now middle-path journalism theory is being ridiculed. So what do you do? Give up? Well, that's exactly what your opponents and cynics want you to do. So you shift your gear, work harder, go faster, refine your ideas better.  
I am not saying that Bangkok is guaranteed if you do all or any of the above. I am suggesting that you may be able make it there and beyond - on your own. It is in your hands. 

Don't wait for others and don't let people play with your life, opportunities and your destiny. We all have one to fulfil. Don't get to your death bed one day and regret things you haven't done what you wanted.

After being a "dasho" for few years, I withdrew to Sherubtse for 3 semesters as an adjunct faculty - to share my experience
No senior government officials had ever done that before me. Sadly none after me either, till date. 
My proposal to intergrate aspects of middle-path philosophy in the modern mass media caught the attention of 
universities in the Asian region. Now it is part of Mindful Communications project in Chulalongkorn University.

Talking about power of imagination to children of Dechenchholing School 

Friday, July 22, 2016

As we are, so are they

I don't claim to be an expert on American politics but I can say for sure that some things are universal. In other words, as we are, so are they.
Even from afar I can say that moderate Americans, today, are in a denial state. They don’t want Donald Trump to become the president. So they think he will not win. My bet is that he will. But I hope I am wrong.

The reasoning is very simple.
First, he represents the anger of the American people against their leaders – for failing them for so long. For taking them for a ride till now or for not fulfilling the campaign promises they make every four years. And because the voters have written them off, them meaning established politicians, Donald has, beyond anyone’s expectations, dismantled his 17 republican opponents - one by one. The more they tried to down him by pointing out flaws at his unconventional way of doing politics, the more his unconventional politics gained momentum.
Second, he really understood how the American media worked. I mean he really did. And that is – they thrived on controversy, conflicts and character assassinations. So every time he fell behind in polls, our Don would just pull off one of his antiques – against Mexicans, Chinese, gays, lesbians or the disabled. The American media would right away swing theirs cameras towards him. And immediately the ratings went up and Donald meanwhile got the limelight. It was a win-win situation. It is estimated that the American media provided some US $ 4 billion worth of free airtime.
Third, Trump’s supporters are angry people. And angry people are noisy people. And when a small group of really angry people makes noise, the majority falls silent - and in some case even agrees with the angry minority. This is not my invention but evidenced results of social and psychological experiments carried out in the 1950s and 1960s in the US. In fact those experiments were the first to coin the term - silent majority. 
So unless something drastic happens from here and November, Donald will smoothly sail his way in to the White House. If he doesn't he has already made his mark and has revealed some of the greatest underlying truth and realities.
Now to contextualize to our situation here in Bhutan, what does it mean for us? To answer that let me reverse the title of this blog post and say, as they are, so are we. We can learn from the mistakes of others (sorry for the cliche'). I mean from the failures of democratically-elected governments in other parts of the world.

As a nation that has just entered the game of democracy, we can actually build a better one. A more successful democracy. By the way, there is no one single form of democracy. We can shape it the way want – if we want. We can have more governance instead of too much government - and where the government is more responsive to the feelings of the people. Politics need not be equated to lies, money and power but to service, humility and truth. 

And finally, ordinary people should not be made to feel insignificant. Unfortunately we are beginning to see that happening here.

#US elections #Democracy #Elections #Franchise #Bhutan

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Why is it happening?

I usually don't comment on matters not relating to my own country. I also feel it is not right to bring someone in as bad examples. But this time I couldn't help it. My apologies.

Well, Donald Trump will win the US presidential race. I have been telling this to my American friends since he first came in. And across the Atlantic, the Brexit vote has paved the way for the likes of Boris Johnson to become UK's top diplomat. Closer to us, Philippines has a new president in Rodrigo Duterte who will wage a war against China. So scared to even fly over the South China sea these days. 

Well, to get to the point, first of all, the beauty of all these is that these leaders were all elected democratically. Mind you, Adolf Hilter and Benito Mussolini also made it up through free and fair elections. So what we need to do is to reflect on this democracy thing. 

We also need to observe carefully the events unfolding around the world these days. And ask why? And may be, as we always claim in Bhutan, we learn from the mistakes of others?

It is clear that the Americans or the Filipinos are not stupid people. These developments are nothing but results of unresponsive governments or too much government and less governance, failure of political systems, widening gaps between rich and poor, creating a country for only the privileged and the powerful, etc.

As we get into this wild party, maybe our new political class and the bureaucracy can take a tip or two from what is happening out there. 

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

When we were young

My Q&A team - Rinchen, P Rai, Nim, Kinzang, Tshering Tobgay, Tshering 
Norbu, Late Sherub and Sonam Loday. Most of them are still my best friends. 
Nim, Sonam Loday and Late Sherub were also in the production of "School 
Among Glaciers" - by far the biggest documentary BBS ever produced.
Between 2003 and 2005 I used to anchor a TV show on BBS TV - "Q&A with Dorji Wangchuk". I am most probably the first TV anchor in Bhutan. Definitely the first to have a show with the name of anchor tied to it. Anchors are different from newsreaders in that they conduct the show. It is a tough job. You have to look at the guests, listen, analyse, remember the questions, don't forget the facts, make follow-up questions, react accordingly, smile when you have to, keep the time, make the show interesting.

My generation in BBS perhaps started the era of discussion of issues on TV - as a public forum. This may sound banal these days but within the context of Bhutan of those years it was a very significant development. Government ministers and secretaries were untouchables (not Harijan. I mean they were unreachable). We, especially my producer Tshering Choden, had to cajole lot of officials, massage their egos and gulp down our own - and we had to also plead with many to come to the studios. For, to be questioned by a young TV host was too unbecoming and demeaning for them. But slowly things started brightening up. People started coming. And above all, the audience accepted a young brat question authorities, which was until then a social tabu.  

And in this way, I feel, perhaps my team and I, unknowingly, contributed to the culture of public discourse that was essential as Bhutan entered the era of parliamentary democracy in #2008. My two cents to nation building, I guess.

Back to my team, we were all young (I was the oldest, 36), we took pride in what we were doing and we were on top of the world. We worked hard and we partied too. Sometimes we hit every bar in town - in one single night. We monopolised the dance floors. We were welcome everywhere. The small town, which Thimphu was back then, loved us. 

We had our time, we were cocky but only when Uli and Tom (not in the pix) were not around or grilling us. These two guys were frightening figures and would be close to punching us for every mistake we made. After every show we presented ourselves in front of them like a kindergarten in front of a class teacher. We would be so scared. But I owe a lot to these two German super guys for teaching me the art and craft of TV journalism and documentary making that would ultimately become my profession - away from the engineering degree I pursued in Italy.

Life is too short to be stuck in one place. Keep moving. Have fun. Make more friends. Follow your heart. Nothing is permanent. Start and end everything your way.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Hits on my blog

My blog gets as many hits and page views that I can possibly imagine.

I am only wondering what the Russians and the Ukrainians find in my writings. But, again, that's not for me to judge - or assume things.

As I often tell my students, as communication practitioners you will never be able to fantomise the impact, reach and the consequences of your works.

So I don't presume to know my audience, either.

When Bloggers Meet

Thimphu, 14 May 2016 - The only group that I meet these days happens to be the Community of Bhutanese Bloggers (CBB) - an informal group started by Passu, Rekha and Ngawang. The group can counts on over 100 registered members and meets at least 4 times a year.

The group has grand ambitions. And lack of funds has not deterred them from organising 3 successful conferences (at shoe string budget) and 5 bloggers meet - at no cost. The second conference in Paro drew as many as 75 participants. Some of them drove from as far as Trongsa and Tsirang and paid for their own expenses. That's a far cry from the government conferences where people have to be paid handsome per diem to just show their faces - and often nothing come out of them.  

Throughout the evening I was entertained and educated by Sonam Tshering - a biochemist-turned-lawyer and by Nima, another lawyer at the newly established Bhutan National Law Institute - and Tharchen, who has gathered over 30 unemployed youth and trained them in filmmaking and animation to create iBest. Of course, the host of the evening, Passu, took the opportunity to present his new NGO, The Bhutan Toilet Organisation. And how else but by giving almost live demonstration of how we Bhutanese should use a toilet. A teacher by profession, Passu gave up a prestigious position at the Royal Academy to "teach" the larger Bhutanese population on how to properly carry out the most basic human activity. His initiative has drawn lots of public attention - not only those who need to relieve themselves but also from mainstream media and public. His volunteers are there at every large gatherings to provide the basic facility.

Then I met our youngest blogger, Tashi Wangmo, 20, who is majoring in psychology at the University of Southern Florida. She has been blogging since her early teens. It was also nice to catch up with our only parliamentarian in the group, Sangay Khandu, who most ably represents Bhutan's remotest district of Gasa in the country's highest legislative body.

As I walked home, past midnight, in the light drizzle (my car is down these days) I couldn't help but smile and feel a great sense of hope for my country.

While 'hydropower" is flaunted as the "only" resource by our leaders, I believe that a greater human resource is actually getting flushed down in the same beautiful and bountiful country of ours.

I hope that our energetic prime minister, Dasho Tshering Tobgay, comes to the next bloggers meet to feel what I am feeling. 

Coincidentally he is Bhutan's first blogger.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Mindful Way to ASEAN Journalism

An opinion piece that appeared in The Strait Times Singapore in December 2015, on the mindful communications and on my proposal for middle-path journalism in Bhutan. 
by Kalinga Seneviratne
While a new ASEAN community dawns, a "mindful communication" fad is sweeping across America which has its origins in a philosophy that shaped the Asean civilisations centuries ago.
With media scholars from ASEAN region in Bangkok
Americans are now professing to be the new gurus of awareness training that the Buddha taught as Vippassana Meditation over 2,500 years ago. The University of Massachusetts has recently set up a Centre for Mindfulness. It offers a five-day residential intensive programme of "Mindfulness Tools" for a fee of US$625 (S$879). There is no acknowledgement of the Buddhist or Asian origins of its mindfulness practice.
A group of Asian communication scholars and media practitioners are now trying to reclaim their heritage from such appropriation. They gathered at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok this month to develop a "mindful journalism" curriculum for Asia that will bring in ideas and concepts from Buddhist, Confucius and Hindu philosophical traditions.This project titled "Mindful Communication for Asean Integration" is one that I initiated in association with Chulalongkorn University. It took us over a year to get the support of Unesco's International Programme for the Development of Communication.
In teaching communications, it is also important for young Asians to know the historical contributions Asian civilisations made to humankind. If not, they would live with the delusion that Asia's ancient wisdom is not relevant to shaping their modern lifestyles.
The symposium's two keynote speakers from Thailand put into perspective the current mindful communication trend.
Mr Phuwadol Piyasilo Bhikku, a communication arts graduate from Chulalongkorn University and a former journalist, who is now a Forest Monk in northern Thailand, noted that mindfulness practised in the West is "a bit problematic" because it is used mainly on an individualistic level to de-stress.
He argued that it has to be accompanied with wisdom (panna).
"Without this moral wisdom, the practice will not be enough to drive us in the right direction to understand suffering and help society," he added.
Renowned Thai social activist Sulak Sivaraksa warned that a fixation on mindfulness could lead to something negative, if the training is not accompanied by ethical aspects. "Learning about sila (ethics), greed, hatred and delusion is needed for mindful communication towards sustainable development," he argued.
In teaching communications, it is also important for young Asians to know the historical contributions Asian civilisations made to humankind. If not, they would live with the delusion that Asia's ancient wisdom is not relevant to shaping their modern lifestyles.
European colonial education has taught us that democracy originated in ancient Greece, but we are kept in ignorance of the people's assemblies, known as Samithis and Sabhas, that existed in Vedic societies in India much before that.
And when it comes to mass media, we teach in universities across Asia that it originated with the Gutenberg Bibles printed in movable type in the 15th century in Germany. Again, we ignore the fact that six centuries earlier, the Chinese printed the Buddhist Diamond Sutra on the block type. In fact, it was the Chinese who invented paper and printing, and after the Buddhist cannon Tripitaka was written at Aluvihare in Sri Lanka in the 1st century BC, it was the printed word that spread Buddhism across Asia.
Shouldn't this historical fact be taught as the origin of the mass media?
Retired Malaysian diplomat Ananda Kumaraseri believes that we need to "de-culturalise" the journalist to understand the mind. During a panel discussion, he argued that because today's problems are created by humans, "we need to train journalists to direct their minds towards the roots of the problems (not sensationalising them)".
Asia's ancient philosophies are unique in that these reject the notion of complete adherence to divine intervention. Their teachings are about how to guide one's minds to be aware of the surroundings. This helps develop compassion towards living beings and hones insight into their suffering. Journalism's role should be to help alleviate or eradicate such suffering, not sensationalise it.
Chulalongkorn University's journalism lecturer, Professor Supaporn Phokaew, believes that there is a fundamental flaw in the way journalism is now taught. "We teach students writing and speaking skills, but not listening skills," she noted. "We need to introduce the teaching of deep listening skills; to practise mindful communication, (they) need to listen to people to relate to society."
The challenge facing Chulalongkorn's curriculum developers is to offer this concept of mindful journalism as an ethics- and virtues-based model that is secular in nature. Yet, its spiritual base cannot be ignored, which is the common heritage of Asia.
Ethics and virtues are indeed an important part of the Asian tradition, argues Professor Kwangsoo Park of Wonkwang University in South Korea. Quoting Taoist philosopher Chuangtzu, he argues that the adversary style of journalism could be transformed into a more cooperative and active problem-solving style.
With the West's "fourth estate" model fast disappearing with the commercialisation of the media, Bhutan's Royal Thimpu College dean Dorji Wangchuk offered his country's "contentment" media model as an alternative to help build a caring Asean community.
"Bhutan is building a form of journalism that advocates contentment, community (harmony) and compassion," Mr Dorji explained. "It will promote news as a social good and not as a commercial commodity - and will not thrive on conflicts, controversies and commercialism."
These are but nascent strands of thought, but the hope is that they can be developed into a curriculum that will shape the minds and practices of future journalists from the region.
• The writer was a radio and broadcast journalist in Australia who now teaches regional media systems at Nanyang Technological University.

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Bringing the Middle Path home

A prophet has no honour in his own country (John 4:44)

Finally I am getting some mainstream press coverage in my own country for my works on Middle Path Journalism. ( I would like to thank Yonten Tshedup, a young and motivated journalist, and the editors at Kuensel.

It is better late than never, as a cliché goes. I feel elated because if someone should benefit from my works, however small that benefit may be, my own people come first. But it is not for me to dictate that, sadly.

Presenting middle-path journalism in Paro (Photo - BMF)
The fact of the matter is, the same concept has been not only accepted elsewhere but the prestigious Chulalongkorn University (No. 1 in Thailand) will incorporate some of the ideas in the Mindfulness Communications – a model they developed for the whole ASEAN countries. They will also teach from next semester in their regular university offerings.

Last November, when I first presented my paper on the topic at the International GNH Conference in Paro, five people approached me approached me right after I got off the stage. They were all chillips – no Bhutanese - two from Chulalongkorn University, one from University of Hong Kong and two from Malaysia. They invited me to deliver the same talk in their respective places, ever since. My lecture at Chulalongkorn University got the attention of the Strait Times Singapore ( Subsequently, in Hong Kong the Buddhist Door people found my proposition interesting too.  (

The Selesian fathers in the Catholic school I went to as a child often used to tell us that a prophet is quite often recognised in another country. How true! My hope is that people here will wake up sooner than later. For, our mainstream media is lost. The private media is dead. The social media is dividing this country. At least, in the pre-2008 era, there were the good old BBS and Kuensel that “brought the country together” and “kept the nation informed” respectively – through the development journalism model.

Now all our media is model-less.

As a storyteller, let me end with a story. A true story.

In September of 2009 a devastating earthquake hit Eastern Bhutan. The whole country shook for almost a minute. Houses crumbled, lives were lost and even mountains gave away. I was then serving as the Media Director to His Majesty the King. News of untold destructions and deaths started pouring in every minute. I was on the phone getting information on a continuous basis. But after few days I was getting tired. Not for working 24 hours per day but with the deluge of only bad news. 

So I called up the Kuensel Correspondent in the area and asked if there was nothing good happening there. I was definite that there would be help and humanity going around in such times. There could be some good things happening there like people helping other people who had lost more. Two days later, a news article appeared in Kuensel about a health worker who saved a child from a house that was crumbling and had killed rest of the family. The health worker risked his life. The story of heroism and humanity lifted the whole nation. Coincidently, that’s one story that I remember from that tragic event. 

In the days after the earthquake, His Majesty the King visited the area. I ensured that what we released to the mass media were not again stories of agony and misery but stories of hope, strength and resilience – and stories of restoring laughter and joy and stories of reconstruction and reassurance.

This is an example of middle path journalism in practice.