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A wild life

Exuberance bubbles over in a Bhutan classroom.

Class 3 students show their joyful, curious enthusiasm.

Carolyn Hamer-Smith

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My class is in chaos. But this is not unusual.

"Miss, Miss, there is a centipede on your desk, Miss!"

The girls are standing on chairs and the boys are running around madly like wild creatures of the night, swinging their books at this poor thing and trying to fling it out the door.

"Class 3, would you please sit down!"

No, they would not actually.

"Is poison, Miss. Will crawl into your ear, Miss."

I don't know how real this threat is, but I don't particularly like the sound of it and quickly decide to let my Class 3 boys do what they do best. They dash around the classroom, shrieking and falling over each other in a mad attempt to throw the enormous centipede out the door while I try to get the girls to sit down again.

I am teaching English in a tiny Buddhist country floating high among the clouds in the Himalayas. The Kingdom of Bhutan is wedged between India and Tibet and often romantically referred to as the last Shangri-La. Bhutan has all the hallmarks of a magical kingdom: dense, virgin forests with pristine mountain rivers; clean, crisp air, and spectacular views of the Himalayan mountain range; a policy of "gross national happiness"; a revered king; and a happy, contented people.

Bhutan is a country steeped in tradition and has managed to successfully preserve much of its ancient culture with people continuing to wear traditional dress, consisting of a kira for women and a gho for men. The people are hospitable and eager to welcome visitors who have made the effort to visit their secluded kingdom. But there is also a stillness to Bhutan, a peace, something bordering on the mystical that is encapsulated by the tiny temples perched high on the mountaintops, by the chants of the red-robed monks that float across the valley, and by the majestic forts built thousands of years ago rising up to the sky.

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