The following is an opinion piece I contributed to Business Bhutan (June 11, 2016). I reproduce it here for the others, who have not gone through it.
Last week I had a difficult time finding my cousin’s house in town. She had recently shifted to a new location and as tradition has it, my family wanted to make a courtesy call. I was informed of the location, but getting there was a herculean task. And the absence of strange-colored buildings or offices in close proximity made it even more difficult to locate my cousin’s new residence. Darkness descended gradually to our disadvantage.
I have never called anyone the way I had to call my cousin that evening. After a series of calls and driving here and there, we finally reached the place by a stroke of luck. Of course, if my cousin had not come out on the road, after her failed attempt at providing me the direction (and likewise me failing to translate her direction), my family would have returned home that evening.
And I realized I was not alone. Everyone in Thimphu understands how difficult it is to find the location of a place or a house and giving directions, without referring some important landmarks such as school, monastery, office, workshop, carwash, etc.
But as the number of houses increases by the day, it will only become that much more complicated to find our ways around. It is a difficult exercise to locate someone’s house. While it may mean safety from robberies, well, it also means a series of calls on the way to get to the place where our friends and relatives reside.
Good thing is our official addresses already make use of street names. And since 2010 Thimphu Thromde in partnership with Bhutan Post had managed to number all the buildings and the apartments in Thimphu. But it has not been of much help since many people do not use the street names (except on paper). I bet most people will not know where the following streets are: Lhado Lam, Zeri Lam, Thori Lam, Dashing Lam, Doebum Lam, Rabten Lam, to cite a few examples.
Interestingly, almost everyone knows Norzin Lam. Is it because many shops are lined up along that street? Is it because most people loiter and roam around here? Is it because of the noisy and busy traffic? I think it is because people use the name (Norzin Lam) frequently that we remember it. And this also means that if we use all other street names meaningfully (not just on the official papers) one day we would be able to tell exactly on which street we reside. That way it would become much easier for us to direct visitors to our offices or homes with less hassles.
It takes two persons to get the directions right – the giver and taker. Bhutanese by and large are poor direction provider and taker. Somehow we fail miserably, especially so if you have just shifted to a new location. And because of that we normally provide general location and vague direction for our residences. For example, this is a typical conversation:
Where do you live, Dorji?
I live in Motithang, Karma.
Now, if Dorji is uninterested in knowing the exact location, he would be satisfied with Karma’s answer. But if he isn’t satisfied:
Where in Motithang?
Opposite to the School, right above BOD and behind the Purple Building.
That is a complete address in Bhutan, especially if you are in Thimphu. The visitor has to figure out and of course, the host will only have to wait on the road and direct the visitor to the right house. Normally, if a tourist asks for direction, Bhutanese would rather drop that visitor to that place than provide directions.
Bhutan has always lived in the villages. An urban issue, as this, is a recent phenomenon. In the village, everyone knows everyone’s house and the need to provide direction is almost nonexistent. If you ask for Aum Gaki’s house, you will be shown the right house, by pointing down at the building even from the hilltop. Aum Gaki’s house is the one right next to the chorten. And if even if you are a complete stranger you will know exactly where to start and where the path will lead to. This is not so in urban Bhutan. In Thimphu and other populated towns, things get more complicated.
Our addresses need to evolve. Thimphu is far more difficult to handle than a small village. And here, there is no question or is almost impossible for a postman to deliver your letters at your doorstep.
I think we can make it happen if we work for it and are serious about reaching everyone everywhere in town. Thimphu Thromde and Bhutan Post’s initiative is commendable. We must now implement it and build on it so that everyone living in Thimphu has a proper address.
First, we need to relook at all our street names and educate people accordingly through appropriate channels. That way the city dwellers will know for sure which road goes where. That way, we can gradually make all streets popular like the famous Norzin Lam. Once we know the exact road or the street, we will then be able to locate the buildings, which are already numbered. And all the flats within a particular building are provided unique numbers. We must encourage our landlords to come up with the right addresses for their buildings and make it possible for all their tenants to have ready residential addresses.
That will ease city dwellers’ lives so much. Business houses can easily locate their clients and people can provide an exact location to the police or the hospital during emergencies. More than anything, it can make visiting friends and family members easier knowing exactly where they reside.