On 2nd November, 2011, I posted an article on this Blog titled “Shangri-la, GNH and Chewing Gum”. Of the 9 comments, I am so impressed by one comment posted by a Singaporean that I want to reproduce it below for the benefit of other fellow Bhutanese. I totally agree with the comments and I have been meaning to post it on the main page so that others may benefit from it.
Disclosure: I'm a Singaporean but I've spent significantly more time in Bhutan than our Development minister.
While I do not necessarily agree that Singapore is the Shangri-la that Bhutan wants to emulate, I am somewhat amused by his very public assertion that Bhutan is not the Shangri-la on earth.
What is a Shangri-la? "Shangri-la" has always been a western invention. It originated in a work of fiction, but has evolved into a term used to describe anything that fits the Western romantic notion of an exotic eastern isolated haven. I always found it very annoying that Bhutan is tagged as the Last Shangri-la. Like you said, Shangri-la is a mythical construct, like Zeus or even Snow White. From some of the responses I've read online, it seems that this silly Shangri-la notion has gone into the heads of some.
I too am often bewildered by this abstract concept of GNH and it's relevance to the common people. K5's premise that GNH is "development with values" is enough of a definition for me. Coming from a former colony that was also invaded by an imperial power, I assure you that I'm not a fan of any monarchy, benevolent or not. However, I see in his words an undertone of pragmatic recognition that the long-term happiness of his people must lie in development, and not as an isolated Shangri-la.
Speaking of development, I understand the sentiment behind why Passu wrote "If we start mining our mountains and lumbering our forests, we can become Singapore in a year...". Passu is as guilty of being presumptuous as much as our minister. Even if Bhutan were to dam every river, mine every mountain, and cut down every tree, it will not be Singapore in even a decade.
Beneath the sparkling veneer, much much work and societal engineering takes place. Not all policies were gold (and many, such as the stop-at-two policy, would come to haunt us later), but almost all were implemented to the letter. That's what Bhutan lacks... execution. Too much said of abstract concepts and grandiose plans, but too little done in concrete matters. Bhutan is more than half-way past its first parliamentary term and the next general elections looms on the horizon. Will the government be held to account for its campaign promises? How will the people vote the second time round, based on the party or the representative?
A footnote. The hoopla about the chewing gum was really a storm in a teapot. I disagree with the spirit of the legislation but in day-to-day terms, banning chewing gum has had little impact. That said, I must confess. When I was living in Bhutan, every time I walked passed a pillar or on a red-stained pavement, I would wish that there was a ban on doma!
November 3, 2011 6:50 PM