Gross National Happiness (David Thomas Henry Wright)

Verity La Fiction, Travel Write Translation

(edited by Kathryn Hummel)

The plane takes off, confirming the entire row of seats is yours. All yours.

              Closest you’ll come to owning property. The same way scientists used to be dumbfounded by how bumblebees can fly, you can’t comprehend how people can save enough to buy a home. Even with a wealthy partner, the numbers don’t add up.

                Precariat scum.

                Drink two tiny bottles of red. Get your money’s worth while you can. Hide a third in your backpack with the Australian flag sewn on the side so as not to be mistaken for an American citizen in light of recent election results.

                Make no mistake, we’re all Trump citizens now. Trump, Xi, Putin…

                Beetroot Barnaby Joyce still sits on the bench.

                …the axis of vulgar strongmen. Boys playing at cowboys in the wild, wild west, east, and in-between.

                You’re nomadic. Barely Western. Without centre. A TESOL floozy. Reaping the benefits of the residue of the English (language) empire: three years in rural Japan, two in Shanghai, six months in Qatar. A meagre CV.

                Unacknowledged by all legitimate Australian employers and institutions. Not legal tender.

Get your money’s worth while you can…

英語は死んでいる。

اللغة الإنجليزية هي الموت.

英语正在死亡。

…while English is still worth something.

Your mind a techno dance-mix of broken language.

Fluency eludes.

Decisively pass out. Aim to remain unconscious until arrival in Tullamarine.

                Wake. Too early. Still floating. Beside you, sprawled across three seats, snoring at chainsaw-level decibels, expelling soy-sauce tainted breath, displaying disregard for both the seat-belt sign and personal space: a usurper. He has invaded your territory. His skin is dark and his features Asian. You suspect he is Indonesian, though he could be Indian and while you’re normally good at guessing where Asians are from, he perplexes.

                Me:    I’m normally good at guessing where Asian people are from, but you confuse me!

My sense of humour is not…

Never.

…appreciated.

Resentment twisting sarcastic personality to prejudice.

                Suited to our tribal times. The White Australia Policy back on the menu. According to the Minister for Home Affairs.

Me:      Let’s meet @8:30 @the Bund, next to the bull.

Dawa: OK 🙂 🙂 🙂

You chose to use a Chinese dating app because the regular ones (Tinder, Bumble, OKC, Glimpse, Happn, Bristlr) attract the wrong sort of people.

You are the wrong sort of people.

                You chose the bar overlooking the Bund Bull. You offered to pay for the Tsingtaos and xialongbaos. He did not. Was comfortable, unflustered with you handing over your money. Offered zero resistance.

He is not out of pocket.

Purchasing a full-priced ticket seemed romantic.

No romance anymore. Only vulgar power allegiances.

All caps. Simple English.

Dawa:  I AM FROM BHUTAN!

Me:       I’ve always wanted to go, but the visa is so expensive

Dawa: 🙂 Maybe I help?

Why did you think you could form a relationship based primarily on emojis?

                Despite our tribes, we’re all equally reduced to smiley faces and catch phrases. No original signifiers. Not anymore.

^_^

ت

Dawa is…

Still.

…pretty. Slender eyes, wheat-coloured skin, angular jaw. Plus, his obscure ethnicity gives a level of lib-hip credibility in Fitzroy.

God you’re superficial.

So was he. Your white skin suggested promiscuity to him.

Do you have the capacity to be exotic?

An accurate observation in this instance.

Sex on date one. Lacklustre. Too much effort. All your doing. His receiving.

                **ATTENTION** All tourists (excluding passport holders from India, Bangladesh and The Maldive Islands) require a visa and must book their trip through an official Bhutanese tourism operator. The cost is $250 per day.

You used him. To get in.

To go down?

He refused. He used you.

The Bhutanese didn’t grow up under the Lewinsky scandal. News of Trump barely grabs anyone there.

An exchange: half your Fitzroy apartment bed for visa fee-waiving sponsorship.

Dawa: My dream is to be Bhutan Chef in Australia!

Rustic doesn’t cut it. His authenticity would never sell, be believed.

                No authenticity anymore. Not in hipster Fitzroy. Not in yuppie suburbs. Not in the West. Not these days. Only vulgar, objective metrics of strength.

                His cooking is so-so. Dumplings too doughy. Ema datshi too gritty. Phaksha paa so spicy no one at your dinner party can swallow more than a mouthful. He will never understand the world of local palates or fusion cuisine or healthy-option take-out. We — the dinner party, Fitzroy, Australia, the West, the globalised world as it is — simply have no use for him.

You had one.

                Stop romanticising. It was barely a fortnight. Your phone camera has barely any photos of you together.

Couple photos are an unoriginal signifier.

No interiors anymore. No such thing as soul.

Melodramatic, anachronistic to complain about such a thing.

Should spend more time working on your own career (i.e. your soul).

                What soul? Australia has no use for you either. Soon the price of rental accommodation and double espresso and shots of tequila will force you back to the lands of wealthy parents who don’t speak English.

Don’t self-pity. Don’t self-medicate.

Too late. Face is pale, flabby, saggy.

                 Perhaps other continents hold paradigms of beauty where you fit the bill. There are a few places you’ve yet to explore. Korea is hiring. Get your money’s worth while you can. Before the vulgar strongmen start a war.

The Korean War began in 1950.

Before the vulgar strongmen start resume their war.

                Your light is switched off by an Emirati stewardess. Order a double gin and gesture at the man sleeping across the seats, scrunching your face to indicate his behaviour is unwanted, unacceptable. The stewardess simpers waxy lips, shrugs, leaves: lets it slide. He is a man, whereas you are a woman in sweat pants, a T-shirt dotted with spilt red wine and armpits tinted yellow. Age is starting to show. On wrinkled neck and backs of hands. You are an aging, broke woman. And we’re in the Trump years now. No one is going to offer you respect.

Will have to grab it. Trump-like.

                At least the stewardess accepts your requests for third, fourth, fifth double gins without making a face.

                Slow to arrive, accompanied with several unrequested sachets of peanuts. The stewardess fears you are becoming befuddled. She is right to be afraid.

                Gulp, lift the armrest, lift your buttock. Shuffle, nudge, prod the sleeping man’s head. Eat peanuts and fart. It reeks. You are proud it reeks. Yet the man continues to sleep or pretend to sleep. Eat more, drink more. Hope to, plan to fart more.

Flatus. Defecation. Break meditation.

The sign says: PLEASE ENJOY FOREST BATHING.

                You are cross-legged and shirtless on the Bhutanese forest floor. There could be ticks or leeches here, but you do not care, have decided to remove clothes and rest beside a muddy log, in the sub-alpine forest, in a country few Westerners have entered.

You have a photo on your phone to prove your lib-hip credibility.

You meditate. Think unique thoughts.

No original signifiers. Not anymore.

                Take ice cubes from plastic cup and place them on the usurper’s shoulders, hoping to make him shudder, make him suffer.

                In a letter to French physician Jacques Barbeu-Dubourg, Benjamin Franklin endorsed ‘air baths’:

                …I rise early almost every morning and sit in my chamber, without any clothes whatever, half an hour or an hour, according to the season, either reading or writing…

If crazy, in legitimate company.

Just a sloshed streaker. Stop romanticising.

                Delusions of freedom, liberation. Enslaved by seat-belt signs and seat usurpers and rich parents in foreign countries who want their children to grow up fluent in English.

                No Benjamin Franklins left in the world. No legitimate company. Only boorish strongmen with vulgar, objective metrics of strength.

                Open another sachet of peanuts and watch American sitcoms on the personal entertainment system to help pass the time, to help distract from the snoring usurper, to help distract from…

Shoves from Dawa and…

Never did learn her name.

…Mrs Dawa?

Pretend smiles. No English.

She was not on board.

Perhaps she wants to like you.

Irritation. Embarrassment. Hushed hisses in fluttering Bhutanese.

You know what she thinks.

Focus on the inflight entertainment: Friends, Seinfeld. You do not laugh.

Gulp to avoid humiliation.

                Perhaps these TV shows are outmoded. The world has certainly changed since the 90s. You have certainly changed since the 90s.

Memories already weak.

For the worse.

Or poorly-formed.

Flecks of yolk float in creamy broth rich with dollops of butter.

‘This is Bhutan drink. Please enjoy!’

                Dawa’s home-made ara. Millet hooch. Stings the throat. Warms the soul (absence of career). Fills hollowness (absence of romance). Deletes caution (momentarily).

Dawa: Yes! Please come to Bhutan! 🙂

Dawa: You must meet my wife!

Should’ve ignored him. Said ‘no thanks’. Stayed in Fitzroy.

Can’t afford to.

Rustling. Remain still. Remain anonymous in the Bhutanese forest. There is no shame to be had here.

These are shameless times. All the politicians are doing it.

President Trump in a Russian hotel with mattress-staining prostitutes.

Allegedly.

                Keep eyes closed. Hear liquid. Smell it. That ammoniac smell. Toxic warmth taints mountain air. Open eyes and see a bear-sized goat freely relieving itself. The creature has golden fleece flecked with mud, burs, and bark broken off the surrounding trees. It looks sick and overfed. Beneath its coat, globs of skin sag. There is a swollen welt where a plump tick suckles. The goat produces a guttural bleat that sounds like heaving. Probably a sign of dominance.

                Beneath Dzongkha, a sign attempts translation: THE GOLDEN TAKIN IS VERY AUSPICIOUS AND ENDANGERED ANIMAL. IT USED TO LIVE IN ZOOS BUT KING OF BHUTAN DECREED IMPROPER FOR BUDDHIST NATION TO CAGE. THEREFORE RELEASE TO WILDERNESS. BUT TAKIN DID NOT GO TO FOREST. IT WALKED THROUGH CITIES. THEREFORE THIS AREA NOW CONSERVATION.

The takin leaves deep hoof-prints in the muck.

So did you.

We hike. Sans Mrs Dawa.

You pant.

He doesn’t.

Atop a mountain.

Just a hill. Stop romanticising.

                A café and hostel at the top despite no tourists anywhere. The side of the opening etched with multiple ejaculating penises. It is not graffiti. Dawa does not laugh. ‘This is religion.’

                 A mistake of yours, of the West, of ho-hum sexual liberation, of inadequate public eroticism, resulting in our current state. We’ve made it all a joke. Unsacred.

Dawa never laughed.

You’re smirking. You don’t even smirk at Seinfeld reruns.

                You’re ice. Under piles and piles of blankets. In Dawa’s Paro home with the multi-coloured wood and sloping roof.

                How is it so easy for him to purchase property with wooden floors and beautiful rugs? How is it so easy for him to marry an elegant lady with a cute birthmark shaped like Texas on her arm? How are children an economic possibility for him?

                The 2016 GNH Index is built upon a survey of 7,342 Bhutanese in every Dzongkhag of the nation. Government analysts create a GNH profile of every individual, showing well-being across nine domains. At a glance 93.2% of the population are deeply happy.

GNH: Gross National Happiness.

                Never registered. Guess visitors aren’t entitled. You would bring the percentage down. A bad variable in the state’s equations. They are right to try to keep people like you out.

Rejection is frosty.

Fill out the departure card. Name, address, intention of stay. Occupation: …

TBD

Become a monk. Go stare at rocks. Think (of nothing) for a living.

Tempting, but…

                The monk yells. Points and mutters. You assume it’s because you’re shirtless in his forest. He thinks you’re being disrespectful.

Are.

                There are no signs to tell you how to join, how to do as he does, how to give up civilisation, how to become a full-time meditator. There is no website or subscribe button. No membership fees. They probably don’t even have དཀྱི་ར in your size.

Burn down the temples.

Could’ve. The stove was there. Firewood crepitating.

How quaint. How charming.

Rekindle. Reset. Make a move.

How unquaint. How uncharming. How unladylike.

Can say or do and get away with anything. Trump-like.

                Graze. Grab. Lunge. Without asking. Naked in the cold. Crawl into bed. With Dawa and his wife. Drunk on ara and memories. There is no shame here.

There.

People will have forgotten by tomorrow. You will have forgotten by tomorrow.

Most can’t even locate the country on a map. The American President certainly can’t.

                Reinvent, reset. Trump did it half a dozen times during the 2016 election year. This is how the world’s clockwork ticks. History does not matter anymore.

Wake up. Hazy. Frosty. Alone. Dawa and Mrs Dawa gone.

Won’t see them again. Won’t even receive a 🙂 .

They trusted you with their house, but not their company.

Pack your things and leave.

                You took a cab. To the mountains. To monks. To the forest. To another airport. To another continent.

Now you are floating.

                Relax. Be decisive. Not involuntary. The usurper beside has woken. Mutters. Is wet. You feel a great liberation.

Relief.

Dripping. Ammoniac scent. Toxic warmth.

Yours.

Allegedly.

                The usurper scowls. You sense eyes stare in the dark. Keep yours shut. Meditate. Like scowling monks. There is no shame here.

                You are an endangered takin, a golden goat. In the sub-alpine forest. Asserting dominance.

According to vulgar, objective metrics of strength.

                Pretend to sleep. Live in a cocoon of quiet. Under piles and piles of blankets. There is no shame here.

Covered in mud-flecked fur.

‘Oh my god, what is that?’ squeals someone from another row.

A guttural bleat that sounds like heaving.

Frantic footsteps down the aisle. The row you occupy is again empty.

All yours.

                Lots of coughs. You are shaken by a stewardess who struggles not to look completely revolted. You grin and wait to see if she simpers waxy lips, shrugs, leaves: lets it slide.

 


David Thomas Henry Wright won the 2018 Queensland Literary Awards’ Digital Literature Prize. He was shortlisted for the T.A.G. Hungerford Award, Viva La Novella Award, Overland Short Story Prize, and 2017 Queensland Literary Awards’ Digital Literature Prize. He has been published in SoutherlyWesterlySeizureVerity LaElectronic Book Review, and MATLIT. He has a Masters from The University of Edinburgh and lectured at China’s top university, Tsinghua, where he developed the school’s course in Australian Literature. He is an Electronic Literature Organisation member and presented at the ELO 2017 Conference in Porto, and the 2018 Conference in Montréal. He is currently a PhD candidate at Murdoch University. Find more from David at his website