Bhutan: Shangri-la with a price tag

As someone who doesn’t care too much for Mr Khaw Boon Wan — even tho we share the same religious beliefs — I secretly get a kick out of it when someone takes him to task.

And to show how mean I am, my “bad” attitude towards the minister hasn’t anything to do with his/the Government’s policies. It’s just that I don’t like the way he looks when he’s speaking!

Downright irrational right?

So it was with seething glee that i watched the brickbats falling his way when he stated his conclusions about Bhutan and happiness.

Yet despite my antipathy towards Mr Khaw, I felt the response he got in this instance was both naive and unfair. Perhaps it’s because I think what he said contained home-truths, even tho he might have been less blunt about it.

That’s why I would like to share with regular visitors to this blog an exchange I’ve had on the topic with my erstwhile travel companions and regular co-conspirators in food gourmandizing 🙄

It started when the second best cook in our group sent an email to us regarding a certain Bhutanese reply to Mr Khaw’s comment, which incidentally for those not following this was in response to Opposition MP for Aljunied, Sylvia Lim’s waxing lyrical about the happy Bhutanese.

2nd best cook’s email said inter alia: “Hello – I finally located the piece on the Bhutanese’ reply. …  Let me share – I really like Bhutan. It may be not modern and a bit on the primitive side but the people are very gentle and there is general sense of peace, dignity, contentment and quietness.

Excerpt from the reply from the Bhutanese.

Four days after I landed in Bhutan I woke up and started sharing the stories of your wonderful country- yes it took me four days of sleeping to shake of the hangover of many sleepless nights in your 24X7 country. I read the amazing history of your country and thought to myself, if Bhutan’s to develop, Singapore can be our vision.

But since you questioned the presence of happiness in Bhutan, let me answer by telling you few things that you overlooked when you visited my country. Those people you saw in the fields weren’t unhappy, if you have gone closer you would have heard them singing and enjoying the social lives, perhaps you won’t understand that.

If you have spent a little longer time watching them, you would have seen and a woman with basket on her back and holding arms with several children coming with steaming food- we don’t have McDonald or KFC. Then everybody will sit down to eat their lunch, laughing and joking, feeding babies, for over an hour- you wouldn’t have had so much time to sit and watch I know, times means money in your country. But we have luxury of time. People don’t worry “about the next harvest and whether there would be buyers for their products.” In fact, we don’t do much commercial farming, we do most of them to keep with the tradition. And when the sun sets, doesn’t really matter what time, people leave for their homes where they have a large family waiting. Large family because we don’t chase away our children when they become 18 or children cast away their parents when they age.

We don’t need Health Insurance to survive, no have to go for Education Loan for educating our children. We don’t hang the drug users, we counsel them to hang on to their lives, we don’t have to have a job to survive, and when we fall sick even the furthest cousin comes to attend without having to update Facebook status.

If you reread our history you will find that our wise kings have hidden us from the outside world so that we could remain the way we are today. If we start mining our mountains and lumbering our forests, we can become Singapore in a year but no matter what you do you can never become Bhutan.

It is far too difficult. We shall be the last breath of oxygen on earth.

Bhutan may not be the Last Shangri-la but we are happy.

Kaypoh moi quickly replied to all:  “Friends, read the full piece n others’ comment here

To which He Who Shall Not be Named (the best cook amongst us, a fact that even the 2nd best cook would concede) gave his take:

Frens…Let’s all try to be very clear about one thing. Sylvia Lim brought up Bhutan in the context of her Gross National Happiness Index. She did not (and I hope nobody else either) advocate that Singapore should become a Bhutan in order to achieve happiness (even assuming that Bhutanese are indeed a very happy lot).

The concept of a GNH Index (like all indices) serves one singular and very useful purpose – it serves as an aggregator where we can better quantify and compare performances overtime. In so doing, allows the user to analyze, understand and appreciate how policies and trends have affected our lives (for better or for worse), thereby facilitating refinements and tweaks all with the aim of creating a more balanced life for the average soul.

So, let’s not start to debate whether watching sunsets is more relaxing than watching TV, whether the sound of flowing streams is sweeter than Celine Dion’s, or whether taking a crowded train is still a far better option compared to walking 20 miles to one’s destination – that’s missing the point entirely.

The runner-up cook amongst us answered quickly: “I guess the 2 indices of GNH and GDP are definitely inversely correlated, thus, they will always be at different ends of the same pole. Anyway, to be happy or not is determined and decided by myself, I believe.

As usual, I tried to have the last word, though not always successfully, natch!

Methinks the indices aren’t correlated at all; inversely or otherwise.Happiness and wealth can go 2gether; on the other hand, happiness and wealth needn’t go together. Like runner-up cook says, it depends on the individual and his/her circumstances and mental make-up.Indices on hard stuff are already bad enough. It’s an average but who is the average or the mean for heavens sake!To create an index on happiness which is trying to capture the elusive and ephemereal is just like trying to cannister our nightly dreams!And like He Who Shall Not Be Named, I don’t mind not having Medisave but I do mind not having an A&E hospital within 15 minutes drive!

Finally, to Mr Passu, I would like to say this: Singapore may not be the last Shangri-la but at least we welcome visitors, rich and poor. Alas, where Bhutan is concerned, only the rich can visit, thanks to your government limiting the number of visitors by stipulating a minimum spend of USD200 per head per day! So even Shangri-la has a price tag!


8 thoughts on “Bhutan: Shangri-la with a price tag

  1. GTH: U’ve a point there. Guess the Bhutanese like us realise that $ is the best way to allocate scarce resources; we our roads and they their pristine country. Guess when their 700K population grows to 5 million like ours has done over 50 yrs, the day cld come when even Bhutanese might have to pay USD200 per day, tho by then that USD sum could become a pittance in whichever country 😆

  2. Auntie Lucia writes: George Lamb, your comment has been deleted not because I’ve no guts to run your crass and crazy ramblings. It’s because you won’t get space in mine blog, geddit? Start your own blog if you want to — or get lost!

    As for your being Singaporean, show me your IC and I may believe you… 🙄

  3. Are you sure you got your facts right about Singapore welcoming all visitors, rich or poor ?

    Have you not heard of instances where sometimes our immigration officers will not hesitate to ask visitors to show proof of the amount of monies they have with them before they are allowed in ? I’m sure many Malaysian & Indonesian visitors can vouch for that.

  4. I can’t say that no one’s been turned away Alan from Sg, and not only Malaysians or Indonesians. I only say no bona fide tourists get turned away. As for showing proof of money, I think it’s practised everywhere occasionally, even in the gr8test “democracies” like US and UK. But Bhutan is the only place I know of that stipulates minimum spend be4 a tourist is allowed in. Mayb u know of other countries? If so, then pray share!!

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