Thursday, July 20, 2006

Beyond the Sky and the Earth: A Journey into Bhutan

Red Chiles at the Thimphu market

I just finished reading - - Beyond the Sky and the Earth: A Journey into Bhutan by Jamie Zeppa. I stumbled across it at our local library, not really expecting them to have much about Bhutan.

Here is a short review from over at

"As a teacher of English literature, Jamie Zeppa would understand how the story of her journey into Bhutan could be fit into the convenient box of "coming-of-age romance," a romance with a landscape, a people, a religion, and a dark, irresistible student. An innocent, young Catholic woman from a Canadian mining town who had "never been anywhere," Zeppa signed up for a two-year stint teaching in a remote corner of the Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan. Despite the initial shock of material privation and such minor inconveniences as giardia, boils, and leeches, Zeppa felt herself growing into the vast spaces of simplicity that opened up beyond the clutter of modern life. Alongside her burgeoning enchantment, a parallel realization that all was not right in Shangri-La arose, especially after her transfer to a college campus charged with the politics of ethnic division. Still she maintained her center by devouring the library's Buddhist tracts and persevering in an increasingly fruitful meditation practice. When the time came for her to leave, she had undergone a personal transformation and found herself caught between two worlds that were incompatible and mutually incomprehensible. Zeppa's candid, witty account is a spiritual memoir, a travel diary, and, more than anything, a romance that retraces the vicissitudes of ineluctable passion."

I really enjoyed her descriptions of the lansdcapes of Bhutan; the mists, and the way clouds obscure and reveal the mountains and hillsides. She sees aspects of Bhutan with a sweet sensitivity. The book is especially good in her descriptions of life in Eastern Bhutan, the Pemagatshel region down near the southern border with India.

The author was working in Bhutan from 1988 thru to late 1992. Back then World University Service of Canada had Canadians teaching English in Bhutan all throughout the different regions of the country for 2 year stints.
Reading of the different accounts of her co-workers life there in really, really out of the way places in rural Bhutan, reminded me of my Peace Corps experiences, and of my short 21 days in Bhutan. Made me very envious for the experience. Punakha monastery still remains probably the most peaceful place I have ever visited on this earth.

I recommend this book highly for those interested in Bhutan. I notice some of the Amazon customer reviewers gave the author a hard time for falling in love with one of her students. However , the student was in his 'twenties' when their affair began, and love works in mysterious ways. They did end up getting married. They , 'the reviewers', just show off their late 90s political correctness to the max, but it seems inhuman and heartless to me.

The book is well written, and the author is quite honest, though it did run out of steam the last few chapters.

Here is a great quote from the book, though it does not list what Buddhist text she found this in:

And if you hit upon the idea that this or
that country is safe, prosperous, or
fortunate, give it up, my friend. . . for you
ought to know that the world is ablaze with
the fires of some faults or others. There is
certain to be some suffering . . . and a
wholly fortunate country does not exist
anywhere. Whether it be excessive cold or
heat, sickness or danger, something always
afflects people everywhere; no safe refuge
can thus be found in the world.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I thoroughly enjoyed Jamie's book as well. I came across it last term while she was my teacher.