Souvenir shopping can be a hard pill to swallow for 20 students studying Sustainability in a foreign country. Questions of appropriate consumptive practices remind students of the waste management dilemma that is becoming visible in the growing capital city of Bhutan. The ABC, Authentic Bhutanese Craft Bizarre, does not only sell souvenirs reflecting many of the experiences to be had in Bhutan, but also provides our group of students with models for sustainable business.
If you find a never-ending row of Bamboo thatched huts, then you have arrived at the ABC. The smooth bamboo huts house a variety of artisan fabrics, stones, metalworks, and paintings, all displaying vibrant colors and patterns. There are many different gifts to choose from based on your taste and the amount of space in your pack!
Paintings of Buddhist symbols and representations of Bhutanese fables are found everywhere throughout the country. Most households have these paintings to ward of bad spirits and to bring good fortune to their homes.
The paintings are very easy to pack and will not break the bank, ranging from 1,000 to 10,000 Nu (Ngultrum, the local currency). This is equivalent to about $14-$150).
I had the intention to buy Bhutanese art during this academic field experience, so when I located a business with paintings that I could afford, I started asking the vendor about the art pieces.
The “4 friends”, is a famous Bhutanese fable that teaches cooperation, unity, and friendship. the lesson of the 4 Friends is very important to the Bhutanese. I was also interested in where the piece had originated. He explained that all art in his shop was that of students studying at the National Institute Zorig Chusum. This is a government funded art school located on the outskirts of Thimphu City. He explained that he sells the art work of the students so that they can have additional income while in school. I bought 2 pieces that day that were painted by women.
The vendor also showed me some of the pieces he had completed. One of them was of the 21 manifestations of Tara, an important spiritual icon in Buddhism. The amount of detail in this painting can be appreciated behind the artist and me in the picture below.
Giorgio, a fellow traveling student, was also moved by another business that promoted a good cause: Chickens!
These crafts were actually pot holders with a traditional Bhutanese design, woven and sewn into the shape of a small chicken. This craft was made by artisan children with disabilities, and part of the proceeds went back to support their school. Giorgio was moved when learning of this cause and essentially promoted the chickens so much so that they were sold out within 30 minutes of his amazing showman persuasion.
As Sustainability students, feeling as if our souvenir purchases support the local artisans’ small businesses, gives us a sense of satisfaction. With this country’s fast-paced development pressures, and economic dependence on neighboring India, it is important to support the ‘Made in Bhutan’ craftsmanship and value their unique cultural identity in this way.