BHUTAN YOUTHS IN TRANSITION redefining the PURSUIT OF HAPPINESS

Many people have considered Bhutan to be the most happy nation in the world. Indeed I was privileged enough to spend a considerable amount of time in Bhutan and I totally enjoyed their hospitality and their friendship.

It is not difficult to experience the joy in all the Bhutanese people. Happiness comes naturally for all of them. Many of them choose to pursue the path of happiness and to do good unto others all the time.

I was privileged enough to be invited to photograph the royal wedding of King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck and Queen Jetsun Pema. By the way they looked at one another, you can see so much love in them.

His majesty King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck (L), 31 with Queen Ashi Jetsun Pema (R), 21 greeting the media after the wedding ceremony on October 13, 2011 in Punakha, Bhutan. King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck and Queen of Bhutan Ashi Jetsun Pema Wangchuck wed in Bhutan's historic 17th century Punakha Dzong .
King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck and Queen Jetsun Pema spending time with the youths. Both of them are really role models for the youths and you can tell the youths really look up to them.

A long time ago, Happiness is simply spending time with family and helping others to find joy. But after the introduction of TV and the internet in 1998/1999, the youths are introduced to what the world has to offer. Brands like Nike & Adidas become popular with the youth. Do you think the wants and needs of the youths have changed as they are introduced to more things? Will they abandon traditional attires for a more contemporary attire totally?

WHAT DO THE YOUTH NOWADAYS LIKE TO DO?

Kids playing a game of Zero Point with rubber bands stringed together in Paro town.
Youths wandering around the back alleys of the Central Market in Thimphu
Yes they love to bowl and I must say some of them bowl with more style than more of us.

What exactly happen to the traditional Bhutanese culture that everyone is so used to?

Yes there are still many youths who chose to become monks as their calling. But as Bhutan opens itself to tourism and the internet, the need to use a mobile phone has become a necessity. In fact this photo here would make an interesting poster for Singtel had they been a telco provider in Bhutan. This was photographed in 2011.

A few years later in 2014, it has become so popular among the nation to use WE CHAT as it allows one to communicate quickly without having to type long sentences. The monks are definitely using it all the time.

A senior monk using his smartphone to leave a voice message via WECHAT application
A monk from Tango Monastery watches on as his fellow monk play games on his Samsung smartphone.

It seems that the mobile phones have invaded the entire world. Technology has allowed many people to communicate without being in the same place. But sometimes, technology has also diluted the relationships between people. Instead of chit-chatting with one another in a gathering, many people will be more engrossed in checking their mobile phones.

PLEASE DO NOT BE MISTAKEN THAT I AM PROPOSING THAT BHUTAN HAS BECOME LESS HAPPY BECAUSE OF THE INTRODUCTION OF TECHNOLOGY AND LUXURY GOODS FROM THE OUTSIDE WORLD.

TRULY I RESPECT THE BHUTANESE WAY OF LIFE AND I AM LOOKING FORWARD TO MY NEXT TRIP TO EXPLORE THEIR WAYS OF LIFE.

LIFE IS ALWAYS ABOUT PRIORITIES. IF WE CHOSE TO PURSUE SOMETHING, WE WILL HAVE TO GIVE UP SOMETHING IN RETURN. THERE IS NO RIGHT OR WRONG. SOMETIMES IT IS ABOUT KEEPING A FINE BALANCE.

DO THEY LOOK LIKE BHUTANESE YOUTH TO YOU?

WHICH ONE OF THEM LOOK MORE TRADITIONAL? OR RATHER WHO IS MORE MODERN IN TERMS OF MANNERISM?

LAN GAMING IS DEFINITELY A HOT FAVOURITE AMONG THE YOUTHS - EVEN THE FEMALE GENDER.
AND WHO CAN RESIST THE A GAME OF BILLIARDS. IT MAKES ONE LOOK COOL NATURALLY.

SO HOW HAS THE ADVANCE OF MODERN INFRASTRUCTURE CHANGED THE WAY OF LIFE FOR THE BHUTANESE YOUTH?

For one, the enjoyment of music is not just limited to traditional music. Bhutanese youths love rock & roll, hip hop, trance, jazz, house, techno and many more genres just like you and I.

The ladies love to chill out and listen to the live band perform.
And the guys love a nice good beer anytime.

So have the youths abandon their roots?

Tholo Ugyen works at the Department of Forests & Park Services. He speaks perfect English and has an inquisitive mind. In fact, he is now on a scholarship studying his Masters degree in Australia.

Ugyen is very focused when it comes to the protection of the national parks and the animals.

Even though he enjoys his relax time in a pub with live music and beer, he is still aware of his responsibility to protect the environment and make the world a better place to live in.

Behind Tholo is the Tashichö Dzong where the King meets with his cabinet. Tashichö Dzong has been the seat of Bhutan's government since 1968. It presently houses the throne room and offices of the king, the cabinet secretariat and the ministries of home affairs and finance.

I THINK IT VARIES ON A CASE BY CASE BASIS. FAMILY UPBRINGING AS WELL AS THE STEADFASTNESS IN RELIGIOUS BELIEFS HAS SHAPED THOLO UYGEN TO BE THE PERSON HE IS TOGETHER.

What is the youth thinking about nowadays? Is it more important to be cool and trendy? Or is it more important to be simple and follow the traditional way?

It is always cool to be suave.
Has popular affected the minds of the youths?

OTHER YOUTHS WHO DO NOT KNOW WHAT THEY WANT IN LIFE MIGHT BE STILL PURSING A SENSE OF IDENTITY.

THEY MIGHT BE TORNED BETWEEN TRYING TO LOOK COOL AND RETAINING TRADITION VALUES.

SOME OF THEM ARE IN A FIX NOW.

OTHERS WHO HAVE ADOPTED A DISCIPLINE LIFESTYLE MIGHT NOT HAVE ANY PROBLEMS BALANCING MODERNISATION WITH TRADITIONAL VALUES

WHY IS THAT SO?

THEY HAVE GOOD MENTORS WHO IMPARTS POSITIVE VALUES AS THEY WERE PREPARING TO JOIN THE WORKFORCE. MOST OF THEM ARE ACTIVE WHEN THEY ARE SCHOOLING IN THE UNIVERSITIES AND MANY VOLUNTEER IN NGO AND CHARITABLE ORGANISATIONS.

These are young employees who have just graduated from university. They are part of a big established Bhutan company. All of them are very self motivated and they hope to help in the growth of their country. They are both modern and yet traditional.

We can see that many of the young adults are very serious when it comes to work in this company.

Or are some of them too engrossed with their mobile phone?
Let's not jump to a conclusion. The phone can be a very useful tool for work too as they can answer customers' enquiries immediately.

Sangay Tshering is the Managing Partner at Drukhost whites specialises in Web Hosting, Design & Development of Websites in Bhutan.

He studied Tourism Management & Public Relations at Assumption University. He is really a dear friend and I would call him the social butterfly of Bhutan. Is he unconventional? Has he forgotten his roots?

NO. NO. NEVER ... He sits on several NGO boards that aims to help the Bhutan youths & entrepreneurs to improve the country and its economy. He volunteers a lot of his free time to help the youths find their place in life. He parties hard but he works hard too ...

Sangay in his normal attire when he is working
Sangay attending a entrepreneur workshop
Sangay in Kanazawa as part of the Bhutan's delegation under JCI

WHAT IS THE YOUTH IN TRADITIONAL ATTIRE THINKING ABOUT AS HE WATCHES THE OTHER "MODERN" YOUTHS PLAY A GAME OF CARROM?

The boys are actually playing for money.

DO YOU THINK HE WILL BE INCLINED TO JOIN THEM?

Well, playing Carrom is not a bad thing. It is a really good way to pass time and catch up with friends. As long as the attitude is wrong, there is nothing wrong with traditions co-existing with contemporary activities.

REMEMBER THE LADY WHO WAS PARTYING HARD AT THE PUB?

Her name is Sony Tenzin. She is one of the top designer of lady's wear in Bhutan. She is modern and yet traditional. Her pursuit of Happiness is according to herself. She may be pursuing happiness in a pub while she is young and has just graduated from university. And she chose to pursue her passion in fashion design as her career.

And now she is a happy mother of two and is happily bringing up her 2 princesses the way she feels is the best. To me, she is the role model that many should look up to in life.

WHAT IS ON THE MINDS OF THE YOUTHS NOWADAYS AS THEY LOOK TOWARDS THEIR FUTURE?

WILL THEY PURSUE FUNKINESS AND FASHION?
WHAT ARE ON THEIR MINDS AS THEY LOOK AT ONE ANOTHER?

WHAT WILL BE THEIR ASPIRATIONS?

Will they grow old like their grandparents pursuing simplicity in life?
Or will they choose to live in a world of virtual reality?
Or will they choose to pursue a religious calling?

WHO SHALL I BECOME? WHAT SHOULD I DO? These could some of the most popular thoughts in many of the young adults in Bhutan.

Their parents probably do not have such questions when they are young.

All these questions become really important as Bhutan incorporates tradition and modernity in to its frame of social reality.

What do you think is the connection between the two of them?

HOW MANY OF YOU CANNOT LIVE WITHOUT YOUR MOBILE PHONE?

I AM ONE OF THEM AND I GUESS THE BHUTAN YOUTHS TOO

A group of monks travelling from Punakha Dzong to cross the river probably to buy some food and other daily necessity. At least 2 of them are using the phone on the move.

Another monk helping his friend to take a mobile photo.

Guess where is this monk?

Yes, he is supposed to be on duty at one of the entrances to one of the temples in Paro Dzong.

How shall the youths face tomorrow?

Is a carefree childhood more important?
A girl helping his younger sister up the ladder at the local playground in Paro
Or will the pursuit of religious beliefs help the youths to find their identity?

LIFE IS ALWAYS ABOUT CHOICES. SOMETIMES IT IS NOT THE DESTINATION THAT MATTERS BUT THE JOURNEY ITSELF.

To me, I find it is possible to retain traditions and yet pursue fashionable and trendy stuff. Look at Sangay here. She is dressed in a mix of traditional Bhutan attire and modern contemporary wear.

Will the youths continue to pursue their religious beliefs?

Bhutan’s self-imposed isolation created a pre-modern state till 1960. It did not go through industrialization processes and did not follow the model of unlimited growth.

Bhutan is like a capital city going through major changes in terms of economic development in areas such as industry, agriculture, and tourism as well as hydropower exports to India.

In the social sphere, there have been important political transitions brought about by the change from monarchy to democracy and culturally these transitions have contributed to opening up to the outside world, and introduction of global media and freedom of religion.

THE YOUTH is the group that is impacted most. This generation of youth challenges traditional values and explores ‘Western’ lifestyles and has the possibility to vote and freedom of religion.

Will Industrialisation changes the needs and wants of the YOUTHS?

WHAT WILL HAPPEN TO THIS AMAZING TOWN (THIMPHU) RESIDING WITHIN THE VALLEYS?

A Bhutan boy having fun with a used tire and a stick as he journeys to school in the morning. I wonder if this game will cease to exist in Bhutan.

I guess many of us are used to the NORM and have our perception of what is RIGHT and WRONG. But still the world is ROUND and there are some practices that may not be the norm for us but it is the Belief of the locals.

For example, the phallus symbol is said to bring fertility to those who pray to the temple started by the Divine Madman in Punakha.

The sign of the Phallus Symbol is also believed to be able to help ward off evil spirits.

And perhaps the youths in Bhutan are not as traditional as what they seem to be anymore. Is that wrong or right? The pursuit of being fashionable and hip in a very traditional culture. Is it wrong?

Have all of us who are tourists spoilt the culture?

A little girl walking her prayer bell rounds. Can popular culture co-exist with traditions?

A Bhutanese boy offering his prayers at the Memorial Choten in Thimphu. He stands out significantly against the backdrop of the 2 elderly ladies in traditional Bhutanese wear.

He might be young but his heart is pure and I believe that both tradition and pop culture can CO-EXIST.

To me, the little boy is as fervent as the adult lady in the photo above when it comes to praying.

The needs and wants of the YOUTHS may be changing with the constant stuff that they see on the internet & TV.

BUT I believe that the strong roots and beliefs in their religion will continue to foster the next generation of Bhutanese to pursue Happiness in a more holistic and wholesome way.

2 girls accompanying her father who works as a horse handler who transports tourists to the Tiger Monestary.
Oh well, if the parents' way of entertaining their child is by a toy car, then I guess we cannot prevent the invasion of popular culture.
THE MONKS HELPED TO CARRY THE LUGGAGES OF THE JE KHENPO (HEAD ABBOT) AS HE PREPARES TO MOVE HIS ADMINISTRATIVE OFFICE TO PUNAKHA DZONG DURING SUMMER.

Gross National Happiness as a development paradigm, which balances material, spiritual, cultural and emotional needs, was revealed as a bridge of traditional and modern life as well as the guide to envision a modern sense of self without losing traditional benefits.

Khuru (darts) is a popular outdoor team sport often played during festivals and archery tournaments. When playing khuru, heavy wooden darts pointed with a 10 centimetres (3.9 in) nail are thrown at a paperback-sized target 10 metres (33 ft) to 20 metres (66 ft) away.

T
Gantey is indeed the Swiss Alps of the East. Here, my friend, Cindy is trying to photograph the colourful prayer flag against the backdrop of the Black Mountains. Indeed it is so amazing to play sports in such a majestic scene.

Archery is a national and most popular sport in Bhutan. Traditional Bhutanese archery differs from Olympic standards in technical details such as the placement of the targets and atmosphere.

Bhutanese archery teams number at 13 players; teams take turns shooting two arrows at a time first in one direction, then in the opposite direction. The first to score 25 points wins, however because the scoring system is complicated, winning can take a very long time. For example, a second hit by an opponent can invalidate the other player's score. In addition, the interplay of wider socializing and festivities, with archery as the nominal focus, give Bhutanese archery competitions an excruciatingly slow pace. In the past, the most traditional matches could last for as long as a month, though modern matches tend to span a number of days.

ONE STILL CAN PURSUE WHATEVER HE CHOSES

SOMETIMES THERE IS NO RIGHT OR WRONG. THE LADIES HERE ARE DRESSED IN KIRA, a long, ankle-length dress accompanied by a light outer jacket known as a Tego with an inner layer known as a Wonju.

However they chose to carry modern trendy handbags as they are more practical and fashionable.

There are still many who chose to live a life of simplicity such as this monk at the Tango Monastery.

WHAT THE FUTURE MIGHT BE, THE TAKTSANG PALPHUG MONASTERY (TIGER'S NEST) WILL ALWAYS BE SACRED AND MAJESTIC.

A CHILD'S DREAM IS ONLY AS BIG AS HE DARES TO DREAM.

AND IT IS EVERYONE'S RESPONSIBILITY TO MAINTAIN PEACE AND HAPPINESS IN THIS WORLD

"The future of the nation lies in the hands of our younger generations."

Former King of Bhutan Jigme Singye Wangchuk

I guess at the end of the day. Let's the photos speak for themselves. My story is not complete. Stay tune for future updates.

I hope to be back to Bhutan again soon to document the transition.

If you are keen to collaborate for future stories, do contact me via email tristonyeo@gmail.com or just give me a buzz on my mobile +65 96927409

Created By
Triston Yeo
Appreciate
tristonyeo@gmail.com

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