we had no TV, I used to play with my dog a lot. But now I
prefer to watch television."
son of Bhutan's "cable guy"
Bhutan is a country with no traffic lights and no fast-food
chains. It has more monks than soldiers. It may be the only
country in the world to measure Gross National
Tucked between India and China, the Buddhist kingdom is the
size of Switzerland and has less than a million people. For
centuries it has remained isolated in the Himalayan mountains.
But now it has opened itself to what critics call "an electronic
invasion" -- cable TV.
Dorjisees himself as part of modern Bhutan's promising
future. Others fear he's part of its problem. As the co-owner
of Sigma Cable Service, Rinzy has hooked up this secluded society
to 45 cable television channels, featuring everything from the
BBC to Baywatch, all for about $5 a month: the price
of a bag of red chillies. Across the country, people eagerly
await a visit from "the man in the TV van."
But in the capital city of Thimphu, Rinzy's children sit home
alone, glued to the set, neglecting their homework. And previously
gentle boys from good Buddhist families are now practicing body
slams, imitating their new TV heroes from the World Wrestling
Federation. Entranced by TV, even some Buddhist monks neglect
their religious duties.
are especially concerned about the younger children because
they have had less exposure than our generation to Buddhist
teaching," says Kinley Dorji
the editor of Kuensel, Bhutan's only newspaper. "Television
is so much more exciting."
His Majesty King Singye Wagchuck announced the legalization
of television in June 1999 on the 25th anniversary of his coronation.
"The introduction of television and the Internet is a reflection
of the progress we have achieved," he declared. But the king
also urged restraint, reflecting the concerns of those who don't
want to see Bhutan's traditional culture spoiled by the influence of Western technology and materialism.
Reporters Alexis Bloom and Tshewang Dendup follow Rinzy the
"cable guy" as he brings this new technology to an old society.
His workers scale the walls of Bhutanese houses, climbing over
woodpiles and onto roofs to install cable. Children stand around
the television set transfixed, watching as the first pictures
fizz to life. "I am very satisfied with what I am doing," says
Rinzy. "We always have to move forward."
Bhutan's foreign minister is concerned that TV has pushed the
Bhutanese people toward consumerism, as they develop the desire
for the Western products they see advertised. "That is to some
extent, yes, unfortunate," he concedes, "but inevitable." Yet
he sees a bright side. Ironically, TV news has shown people
in Bhutan how troubled much of the world is, and it has made
them appreciate their country all the more. "I have myself heard
comments from people saying that, 'My God, we didn't know that
we were living in such a peaceful country, there seems to be
violence and crime everywhere in the world.' "
"The Last Place" Credits
Producer/Videographer: Alexis Bloom
Bloom is an independent documentary filmmaker residing in the
Co-Producer/Videographer: Tshewang Dendup
Dendup is a producer at the Bhutan Broadcasting Service in the
capital city Thimphu.