Leaving to Return

This column was published in Business Bhutan on 9th January 2016.

I celebrated the New Year with a hundred other Bhutanese in New York. There were well-known Bhutanese actors and singers who entertained the gathering, several familiar faces, and many others who I did not know. I had, however, been happy to be among my own.

Life in New York is not easy. It is one of the most expensive states in America. Bhutanese here work hard to make ends meet. Many work a grueling 13 hours daily. All the dollars that come home are made from hours and hours of babysitting, servicing tables, selling posters near Central Park, and other low-skilled jobs that many of us turn up our noses at in Bhutan. The work ethic of a Bhutanese is completely different here. The money earned changes everything, even attitudes.

Most of us think jobs await us in the United States, that we will be employed as soon as we land. This could not be further from the truth. Jobs are hard to come by. There are many others from several other countries also traveling to the US for the same reasons as that of the Bhutanese man/ woman who dreams of green. Even if you have someone to live with when you first arrive here, you cannot rent a place on your own until you have saved enough money or found flat mates to split rent with for a tiny two-bedroom apartment that is not less than Nu. 100,000 per month. It is more difficult for Bhutanese who take huge loans to travel to the U.S.

I have been told many Bhutanese suffer from anxiety and depression at the start. Who wouldn’t? You do not have a place of your own, no job- even if you do have a job, you and the job are so ill-suited to each other that you wonder if you will ever find that silver lining? I heard of a Bhutanese woman being mistreated by her South Asian (non- Bhutanese) employer and denied pay while I was in New York. She is too scared to seek legal help as she is an undocumented immigrant and doesn’t want to compromise herself. Hers is hardly a unique case. There are more stories like this.

One evening, while walking to Jackson Heights (a little Himalayan Asia of Tibetans, Nepalis, Bhutanese, Bangladeshis, and Indians), I crossed an old Tibetan woman standing on her driveway wearing her chupa. She was looking at no one, and nothing in particular. She was alone. I wondered if she felt at home here? Then I thought of other Bhutanese and my own friends who work so hard waiting for the day when they have enough, to return home.

46 thoughts on “Leaving to Return

    • How many people are living a kings life in Bhutan? Unless you are from upper class, most people have loans for their car, rent is too expensive to live independently of your parents, savings at the end of the month is close to nil and so on.

      I’m not disagreeing that maybe living in Bhutan is better than the states, but I wouldn’t agree that the contrast is that big. Bhutanese have no dignity of labour – they would rather live at home and rely on Mom and Dad than do a blue collar job e.g: work construction. I think a lot people working abroad, despite the hardship, have a sense of pride that they are standing on their own feet AND sending money home.

      I think that is very respectable and these people deserve a lot of credit for their sacrifices. Instead people back home bitch about them being janitors and babysitters and go on about how they would never do it. Truth be told, very few Bhutanese would turn down the opportunity to work in New York.

      • I second that…. I live here in New York and the Bhutanese here work hard but have good lives too…and most importantly are able to help their folks back home which they would have been able to do if they lived in Bhutan…. so to most it’s win win situation….

  • Bhutanese here dont realise money doesnt come easily. One need to b extremely lucky to flow money like what we imagine. These write up is more of awareness to those who r still planning to go.

  • I would like to sincerely pray for all those who are having difficult times there to feel safe and secure. And for those here who pry to grab dollars from those people by conning with false land sale etc. sould think twice.

  • I have always dreamt of going there. I dont wanna drag myseldf to hell when heaven is here in Bhutan already. Feeling sad for those who are already suffering. I do not intend to be a modern slave.

  • Yes most of the Bhutanese live the kind of life as u ve mentioned and yes some have abandoned friends and family just so they could help em by being away even though they wish they they didn’t . But i also do know a few , infact more now who are there for the exposure n Liberty which Bhutan seem to lack other than its pristine natural environment . The liberty or the freedom to choose a life style one desires attracts a lotta Bhutanese and not only dollars.

  • But Bhutinese have a place to return, why is it difficult , you are not stateless, persecuted, poverty ridden. Your narrative is too simplistic, this not unique to Bhutinese only, it applies to all.

    • Hi Harold,You’re welcome! Thank you so much for watching my television interview! In my previous comment, I forgot to thank you for visiting my blog. I saw that you liked my “About ba21kournayedtruth&#82re; page and visited your blog to pay it forward. I’m following you back on Twitter, too. It’s nice to be connected to you.

  • Their parents n relatives feeling soo proud when they dnt kno wat their children do down their in America….y shud after money wen we already have our GNH here in Bhutan….Thank for share la.

  • Quite fortunate than the Bhutanese,though yet a Bhutanese.Dream came to be true after the struggles of several years.I live 2 and half hours away from NYC in Springfield Massachusetts,and I can offer to help if any are in need.I am very much sympathetic to my fellow countrymen.

  • Sorry for those having hard time here in U.S. But also when one soul is unhappy, doesn’t mean all the Bhutantanse here were unhappy. Those who suffers will suffer where ever they go. It’s funny as if U.S government is holding them back here. They were free to leave.

  • Namgay, nice piece of truth but better truth is that the worst situation is far better than best opportunities in Bhutan. There a result ripen is much better than anything in Bhutan. Guys in NYC, don’t loose your hope. Opportunities are plenty there.

  • Most north american people only have a car because they took a loan to pay for it. Same with a house. Same with a college and university education. So if you think that you can come here and earn enough money to make a living with a car and a house with less debt than you could in Bhutan – keep dreaming!

  • Its a good piece of advice for those who plan on going there. They should be aware of the realities and what to expect. As for comments on looking down on blue collar and other kind of jobs, I for one would rather appreciate these experiences for the benefits such as making you a better human being and more prepared to face the world, and also the fact that the country stands to gain in the short term as well as in the long run too.

  • Some one who lived there just a few months won’t know the real life of people living away from home. I am some one who is living away fro now 3 years and I am living example saying we are happy and satisfied here. Ofcourse we love our country and serve there too but we don’t have choices. Be grateful when we are leaving, we are leaving opportunities of employment for those staying back. Who said life is Bhutan is not stressful. Half the country people are jobless and stressed and even Those employed are complaining about not being sufficient so how and why on earth do any one think that when one is away from home, it will be easier with everything available and ready to hop on. It’s not, it takes patience and lots of hard work but it’s just in the start. And I believe it will be the same for any one in the beginning even if you are in Bhutan.
    Please give us a break okay you people there. Focus on your life, don’t worry about us. If we are suffering, stressed and depressed we will be back, no one is holding us back. We are free to move but than we choose to live here because we are happy here .

  • It’s funny how some one’s pathetic story can be related to every one living away from home. Those losers will be losere even if stayed back ho

  • I am living in Australia and it have been great life here. I don’t plan to come back because I am not depressed not stressed out but if I happen to return, may be I will be stressed out for many big reasons.

  • I envy those people away from home. What I earn here in a year is earned by my friends in 3 days so who wanna waste time putting so much of effort here. They get to eat all the good foods and enjoy those brands.

  • Well, it may be beautiful piece written for some but not for all. Given the opportunity who don’t want to go aboard and work? Yes of course people faces difficulties and get stressed but it doesn’t mean that they are living that life forever. At first every one gets stressed and worn out when the place is new, faces they see is new, infanct everything new around them. They have to start at scratch, yes, but eventually every one gets settled and they plan to live abroad longer, why? Because they not only earns their ends meet, they can send money back home to their aging parents, school going siblings, disabled cousins and so on. Of course our country is a GNH country but are the people really happy? Are they really sufficient with what they earn and more over what happened to the job market? Most of the young graduates are either sitting ideally at home depending on their parents or roaming in town looking for jobs and finally get involved in drugs and unwanted things. In short, if our government can’t provide jobs, why not go outside and work. Yes, dollars don’t come easy, and I think no body will mind those struggle to provide a decent meal for their family back home.

  • I can buy iPhone with my 5 days work wage. When I was in office there it took me 4 months to pay the loan. Just simple eg guys. I feel proud to work here n invest in Bhutan rather than eating RGOB money. I was also RGOB pig so I know both scenario. Work is hard here but not the life madam Namgay zam. Ur report is bias, we can also write if we want to.
    But I do not understand ur intention writing this piece of shit.

  • This article shows utter disrespect to the Bhutanese community in NYC. It only shows a very cheap view of one single person who somehow has put herself in everyone else’s shoes and has convinced herself that every Bhutanese in NYC working blue collar jobs are struggling, depressed or suffering from anxiety.
    I do agree, there are some people
    in our community struggling but at the same time there are people here from Bhutan who are thriving, why wasn’t that mentioned here? Bhutanese here are proud owners of businesses and have been able to earn enough money and send their kids to some amazing educational institutions. There are some who have travelled the world and there are others who has been able to pay off their housing loans and support their families back in Bhutan. These are reasons to be proud of being able to work hard and achieve your dreams no matter how insignificant it may seem to others, but instead this article here shows nothing but the dark side of living in NYC and how the Bhutanese here are modern day slaves. BTW we all are modern day slaves one way or the other, maybe in different ways but we are.
    This deeply saddens me knowing how we all are being portrayed to our families back in Bhutan or anywhere else.
    I work a blue collar job and I work hard. I have no obligations back home, I don’t send money home because my family is self sufficed, I don’t have kids nor any loan to pay off. I came here to America by choice and I am doing pretty well and I am HAPPY. I have a decent savings account, I am able to buy what I want, I can afford anything from Chanel to LV, bottom line neither am I depressed not struggling. Everyone’s story is not the same as mine but trust me being a Bhutanese living in NYC for over 6 years, I am pretty aware of the Bhutanese community here much better than you, who I would say came in yesterday to this country.
    I am not writing this in anger but giving you the benefit of the doubt. KADRINCHE

  • This article shows utter disrespect to the Bhutanese community living her in America. It is an ignorant point of view of one person who somehow has convinced herself that all the Bhutanese here are either sad, depressed or suffering from anxiety which could be nothing further from the truth.
    I agree that there are some people from our community who are struggling but at the same time there are people who are thriving here in NYC. The good parts weren’t mentioned but Miss Zam chose to dig the deepest and the darkest and make us all being sad, depressed and anxious.
    This article makes me very sad because of the way we are being portrayed to the outside world. It shows us in a light which has nothing but negativity in it and how we are the victims of modern day slavery. BUT the truth is as long as we depend on money for existence, WE ALL ARE MODERN DAY SLAVES even you Miss Namgay Zam.

    I work a blue collar job and I work hard. Unlike most people in my community who i respect for being able to provide for their families in Bhutan, I have no obligations because my family is self sufficed. I have no loans to pay off or send money to anyone. I have a decent savings account and I can practically afford anything, you name it from CHANEL to LV. I came to America by choice and I love my life here. I love that I experience new things everyday, I love what this city/country has to offer. So NO, I am not sad, depressed or anxious and you owe me an apology for taking the liberty to portraying me as one.

  • One of my friend forwarded me this article. I just woke up and the snow storm from last nite bars me from doing any outdoor activities today.
    So here I am sipping my coffee and watching the news channel if any major casualties happened from the snowplocalypse.
    The article is very interesting yet I felt it’s a repetition of the exact things a Bhutanese writer pens down their perspectives on the Bhutanese community living in NYC.
    Yes I do agree with the few factors the writer wrote and I dont disagree, she tried to draw a picture of her observations and writing in itself is a challenge so I would like to congratulate ms Namgay for her write up !
    I lived here now for few years and just like me there are hundreds more. We get depressed and stressed with our job whether it’s a babysitting or working in offices. It’s tough to be happy all the time in this city (or I guess anywhere !!)
    It’s a choice we made to live her and with the choice comes many consequences both negative and positive.
    Yet personally i wouldn’t trade to live anywhere but in this city for the next few years. And my fellow Bhutanese who live here comprehend to it so we are living a New Yorker life until the day we feel we want to go back as one thing for sure we know is Bhutan is not going anywhere πŸ˜‰
    NYC challenges you yet there’s a charm about this city !!
    On a positive note many Bhutanese I know are into meditation, yoga, soul cycle and gym members to maintain a good balance in their life. They take vacation once a year and the ones who are green cardholders travel to places in Europe, Bhutan, the beaches in South America. The friends who over stayed their visa travel outside NYC in USA.
    Few of my friends travelled last Friday to Lake Tahoe to ski and snowboard (so jealous)
    I am not going to talk on the financial front here for the Bhutanese in NYC, let’s just say we have more than enough to get by.
    Have s great Sunday !

  • A long time ago, when I first ventured out of Bhutan in search of a better life, or rather a meaning to my life, I landed upon an Island where no Bhutanese had ever set foot before. I was pretty beat. The stress and anxiety of taking my first flight, my first boat ride, my first time seeing millions of people at one place, the sterile and clean feeling of hotel lobbies that made me feel like a cockroach, and most of all, wondering why everybody was so angry.
    On the Island, I was greeted by the Manager who used a lot hand signs to tell me about the island and my future on it. I pretty much drifted through the entire orientation in restraining myself from telling her that I spoke better English than Sign Language. When she finally discovered that this mute could actually speak English, she complimented on it and wanted to know about my country, Bhutan. As is the tradition in Bhutan, I too complimented on her fluency in English, and she was taken aback. (Please insert your own mental wink Emoji here.)
    Over time, I learned that a lot of my co-workers on the island were from South East Asia, and they were not very fluent in English.
    One of the first things I had to learn on the Island was to unlearn everything that I had ever learned.
    Ok. thought I would share a story with you but I am hungry. And my back hurts. Imagine the rest of the story πŸ™‚ I need me some food and beer, this cold is killing me

  • Namgay, this piece is so raw and insightful to many back home who do not realize this.
    BUT in No way is your column “utter disrespect to the Bhutanese community in NY”
    I don’t feel disrespected nor do I feel misrepresented in this article. To those who feel disrespected, please re read, I did not see Namgay write “ALL Bhutanese” and EVERYONE”.
    I feel more offended that some people commenting with so much negativity. TO madam SONAM, your life style is not the case for everyone here in NY, just like how Namgay’s piece is not talking about every bhutanese here. Cheers to you and your easy lifestyle in America, many of us are not blessed in such way. Namgay la, no need to apologize, some people need to build a designer bridge and get over it. Living in USA, they should be well aware of freedom of speech.

  • Hi Namgay,
    I wouldn’t take it that far, describing the hardships an outsider faces in New York. It makes us, living here look so desperate and pathetic, in your sweet and caring words. Even creates misunderstandings with folks back home. Wrong media can go to extents and all I am asking : do a better research, get accurate facts. It is what it is and what isn’t can’t take place of what is. Right?:) The negative and sad stories have taken the upper hand and everything good is assumed as a fairytale. Great article, if you only want to focus on the losers and sad soles.
    Agreed that the first few months can be challenging. But is it only in NYC? Anywhere you start fresh, these consequences are inevitable. When I first went to boarding school in Bhutan, I was depressed for months. Not to forget, I was among Bhutanese then, 2 hrs away from home. But once I overcame that feeling, I was happy as could be and would look forward to going back to school, every time I came home for winter holidays. I have a lot of Bhutanese friends who came to US for school. Some came through the assistance of various scholarships, some on their own. No one tells me a new story. The same old recital : school is filled with students from all over the world / all my mates are Americans. I feel lonely. I want to go back home. I don’t want to listen to their sad stories and inform the society : if Bhutan provided good education to students, Bhutanese students wouldn’t have come to America and feel the pain of separation from ones land/folks. In fact I focus on the brighter side. I see them bringing great values to our country. They will be the leaders of tomorrow. Likewise, I would have much appreciated if you could put in some more effort and saw if it’s just the pain or is there a good life Bhutanese here live? Comparing a student and a laborer is heaven and earth, but then, comparing a waiter in Bhutan and a waiter in New York also, don’t go along. I can make my ends meet and beyond, in Thimphu, the capital of Bhutan. But I want something bigger than that. I like to think outside the box. I want to see the world. Bigger is better. More the merrier. Now if u say you were only writing about the ones who left because of scarcity in opportunities, then that’s what I am asking you to do. You put people like me and everyone under the same umbrella and somehow assumed it’s the same old sad story, from your research of how long? A month or two or three?
    I heard there are Yetis running in the mountains of Bhutan,
    I heard about UFO invading the White House,
    I heard Obama is getting re elected for the 3rd term,
    I heard world is coming to an end in 2016,
    And I heard aliens monitoring the earth
    These are an ode to your article, because YOU HEARD of the Bhutanese woman being ill treated. Hope you have a totally reliable source.
    Those who came and couldn’t take it, have left the so called city of opportunities, NYC. The ones who are tough enough and see the light at the end of the tunnel are striving and making it big, helping the country’s economy boom. Please correct me if I was driving out of my lane. Wrap up : Hope this gives some insight to the real life of BHUTANESE IN NEW YORK.
    XOXO – Gossip Girl

  • The bottom line is how is this woman a journalist bruh!! 😬😬..scribbling a piece of shit!! She needs a writing lesson from those commenters ..they write like beastsπŸ’ͺ🏻πŸ’ͺπŸ»πŸ‘πŸ»πŸ‘πŸ»πŸ€˜πŸ»πŸ€˜πŸ»!!! some ignorant journalist land up in a developed country and don’t know shit about a single thing!!! Someone should sue her for defamation..

  • The bottom line is how is this woman a journalist bruh!! 😬😬..scribbling a piece of shit!! She needs a writing lesson from those commenters ..they write like the beastsπŸ’ͺ🏻πŸ’ͺπŸ»πŸ‘πŸ»πŸ‘πŸ»πŸ€˜πŸ»πŸ€˜πŸ»!!! some ignorant journalist land up in a developed country and don’t know shit about a single thing!!! Someone should sue her for defamation..

  • And yes! Owning LV’s and Chanel’s are my life long goals πŸ™‚ thank you for pointing that out on Twitter. Like I said, no hatred but πŸ’™. Cheers

  • Oh now she is the one offended?? Taking down on Twitter ..LMFAO..I can’t πŸ˜‚πŸ˜‚.. Sonam NYC you do you boo,buy that Chanel jumbo one..coz I believe no one should feel sorry for working hard , earning a living and buying what ever the beep you want..one should be proud instead !! πŸ’ͺπŸ»πŸ€˜πŸ»πŸ€‘#justsayin

  • As a fellow Bhutanese myself, I have to disagree with you.
    The entry sounds more like a personal diary entry than an article.
    This entry is written entirely from your own lens and experience and not from the voice of other Bhutanese
    As a journalist, it would have been nice if you collected data and opinions from other Bhutanese. We all do not walk in the same shoes nor share the same experiences. I sympathize with those who are unfortunate to have to live in a small shared 2 bedroom or have to work long grueling hours to make ends meet, but what about the Bhutanese who are studying hard, working hard, and dwelling in success? Success is not overnight. It is not given to you. That is why the United States is a land of opportunities. It is unfair to write an article like this based on the few months you were here. And it’s not only Bhutanese immigrants who suffer. Most immigrants do- Chinese, Korean, Russian, Indian, Polish, etc. They work hard at the beginning and reap rewards at the end. That is life everywhere.
    As a journalist, you have done nothing nor said anything of help. You are just making yourself look bad with your petulant whining and negative point of view. Your opinion is pretentious and ignorant.

  • Sure friend its true and nice platform to have such news share by you. keep it up sharing and updates. Thank you to have such share information. best of luck

  • LOL this is hilarious!!!
    I live in NYC and I actually have a so called “WHITE” collar job lol and I have friends with all kinds of jobs…Your article portrays a very negative image of our fellow Drups living in the US…correct me if I am wrong…you are on a Humphrey’s scholarship with a stipend..how much is it Monthly? 2-5K? (expecting 5K is far fetched lol) or do did you get your Ngultrum you saved converted to $ (and another thing PULLING strings?) as a Bhutanese is allowed 3K USD.
    You should never judge anyone…me and my dear friends go out for each other’s birthday(s) and NEVER I pay a heavier bill…we always split it evenly..thats dignity…and for my birthday…we had a $500 dinner I paid NOTHING for!
    YES!!! Before I embarked my journey to the US..I did hear ghastly stories where our Drup friends lived in some dingy apartment..I was happy to visit many friends.. living in LOVELY houses…Yes true they work 10-12 hours..even I DO! I work with Americans, Europeans, Balkans and even Asians colleagues as well…I work close to 12 hours..true not carrying a kid or waiting tables but it is all the same! Even a Lyonpo back home might claim s/he is at work from 9am-9pm!
    What you miss in your report is…YES life is challenging in NY but its fun and it makes you alive, not that I say home is bad…I will move back home if i don’t need money..but grim fact is nothing happens if you don’t have money lol! I presume your STIPEND can’t afford you to visit Vegas..so who are you fooling?
    You may be (for lack of better word) Upper middle class in Bhutan lol can you COPE up in USA? Pls tell me you can buy LV or Channel with your Radiovalley or BBS saving (WITHOUT having to ask your parents lol) call it vain but you can’t! and you should never judge our own people!
    We may have maids back home but its a good practice her to do your dishes, laundry etc….Please do not judge anyone till you live it lol and gathering Humprey’s stipend you can only make it east coast while my BLUE collar job friends have visited almost all states and with their families! Good luck NZ ! sadly you saw a BAD US lol perhaps you were CHEAP lol

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