Beyond the Sky and the Earth

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Key:

Structure

Tone

Language


 

How Bhutan is described

  • ‘Mountains all around, climbing up to peaks, rolling into valleys, again and again’.  Here Zeppa describes the beauty of the natural landscape. Repetition in the first paragraphs of ‘mountains’ helps the reader to imagine just how hilly and impressive the landscape is, reinforcing that mountains are ‘all around’.  ‘Again and again’ also uses repetition to emphasize this.  Use of continuous verbs at the start of each clause, ‘climbing’ and ‘rolling’ gives a sense of ongoing, continuous movement, as though the landscape itself is alive.

  • ‘From my simple, pine-paneled room at the Druk Sherig hotel, I watch mountains rise to meet the moon.’   Simplicity of the room is contrasted with the grandeur of the mountains, the alliterative phrase ‘pine-paneled’ drawing attention to the fact that the room is made out of parts of the natural world, showing the close links between the city and nature.  Metaphor ‘I watch mountains rise to meet the moon’ also uses alliteration to give a sense of continuity, and stresses both the beauty and the sheer height of the mountains.

  • ‘Thimphu altitude is about half of that but even here, the winter air is thin and dry and very cold.’  By showing that other parts of the country have such high altitudes, Zeppa impresses upon the reader the inhospitable environment.   Use of tricolon in ‘thin and dry and very cold’ also uses a number of monosyllables to draw attention to how sparse and unforgiving the atmosphere is.

  • ‘I share breakfast of instant coffee, powdered milk, plasticky white bread and flavorless red jam in the hotel with two other Canadians’.  The scene inside the hotel to some degree juxtaposes the richness of life outside the hotel, and perhaps shows how Western visitors are expected to enjoy the shallow continental breakfast, juxtaposing them with the Bhutanese.  ‘Powdered milk’ suggests scarcity of resources, and ‘plasticky’ suggests the artificial and processed nature of the food in the hotel.  ‘Red’ a strong descriptive adjective contrasts with ‘flavorless’, perhaps emphasized by the fact that we do not even know which fruit it is from.

  • ‘The buildings all have the same pitched roof, trefoil windows and heavy beams painted with lotus flowers, jewels and clouds’.  The buildings are seen to be uniform, but the imaginative paintings upon them raise them beyond the boring structures they have, suggesting enlightenment and beauty, as well as transcendence.  

  • ‘They [the shops] seems to be selling the same things: onions, rice, milk powder, dried fish, plastic buckets and metal plates [...]’.  Lack of infrastructure of the nation is emphasized here.  Use of listing shows the reader all the different things being sold in the markets, but these are things which we wouldn’t usually think of as luxuries, or even common groceries.  Food may be difficult to come by in this place, this suggests.

  • ‘The town itself looks very old, with cracked sidewalks and faded paintwork, but Gordon told us that it didn’t exist thirty-odd years ago [...] “Thimphu will look like New York to you when you come back after a year in the east,” he said.’  Contrast between the appearance of the town and its newness is initially seen in the adjectives of ‘cracked’ and ‘faded’, which makes the reader think of the place as having withstood a harsh climate and much use without upkeep.  Nevertheless, our expectations are again surprised when we are told that this city will ‘look like New York’ (notoriously large and modern’ after spending more time in the East.  This implies that there are even fewer large buildings and modern features beyond this city. It also suggests the bustling and cosmopolitan nature of the area.

  • ‘Small but friendly ‘ex-pat’ community’.  This phrase tells us that although there is an ex-pat community here it is ‘small’, reflecting the far-flung location.  ‘Friendly’, however, connects with the general attitude of the people in Bhutan, which has rubbed off on those who have moved there.

  • ‘Our first lessons, in Bhutanese history, are the most interesting.  Historical records show that waves of Tibetan immigrants settled in Bhutan sometime before the tenth century, but the area is thought to have been inhabited long before that’  - The writer’s tone changes towards the end of the passage.  From her own experiences and imaginative observations, she zooms out to show us a history of the country.  The fact that ‘the area is thought to have been inhabited long before that’ suggests the great and ancient history of this place.

  • ‘Earlier names for Bhutan are just as beautiful - the Tibetans knew the country as the Southern Land of Medicinal Herbs and the South Sandalwood Country.’  Though the writer is giving the reader facts, one of the notable features of the passage is the way in which she uses tone when giving facts to imply something more about them.  Here, she doesn’t simply tell the reader that Bhutan had a number of other names, but says they are ‘just as beautiful’, showing her entrancement by the country.  The names given also strongly to taste and scent, showing the sensory and natural personality given the country.

 

People in Bhutan

  • Blue-suited policemen stationed at two intersections along the main street direct the occasional truck or landcruiser using incomprehensible but graceful hand gestures.’ The antiquated method of directing traffic is made more vivid for the reader with the adjectives given, e.g. ‘blue-suited’.  It contrasts heavily with the motions of the policemen, which is ‘incomprehensible’, emphasizing the writer’s non-native background, yet ‘graceful’, showing the ease and beauty of this lifestyle.  Together these descriptions create an air of great beauty and mystery in this landscape.

  • ‘Lornia has golden brown hair, freckles and a no nonsense, home-on-the-farm demeanor that is frequently shattered by her ringing laughter’.  It is not just the Bhutanese who are described, but also the writer’s Canadian companions who are made more vivid and lively by their descriptions.  ‘Golden brown’ has positive connotations, and ‘home-on-the-farm’ suggests a simple and rural upbringing at odds with the ‘ringing laughter’, which tells us that Lornia is joyful and excitable.  Ultimately, this encourages the reader to like the writer’s companions.

  • ‘There are more signs of the outside world than I had expected: teenagers in acid washed jeans, Willie Nelson’s greatest hits after the news in English [....] overall, these signs of cultural infiltration are few, but they are startling against the Bhutanese-ness of everything else.’ Here we are given an assumption of the writer, that there would be few signs of ‘the outside world’ in this isolated place.  Nevertheless, she is proved wrong in the stereotypically American features she finds there which we may now see as antiquated, e.g. ‘acid-washed jeans’ and ‘Willie Nelson’.  Contrast is seen between the ‘Bhutanese’ world and the Western world which is ‘infiltrating’ it.  ‘Infiltration’ itself suggests that western culture is negatively affecting Bhutan, sneaking in insidiously and threatening to take it over.

  • ‘The Bhutanese are a very handsome people, ‘the best built race of men I ever saw,’ wrote emissary George Bogle [...] and I find I agree.  Of medium height and sturdily built, they have beautiful aristocratic faces with dark, almond-shaped eyes, high cheekbones and gentle smiles.’  Writer’s idealisation of the country continues in her description of the people.  Using a quotation by George Bogle, she suggests that she is not the first to feel this way.  ‘Aristocratic’ suggests an intrinsic nobility that goes beyond looks, whilst ‘almond-shaped eyes’ and ‘high cheekbones’ suggests exoticism and great physical beauty.

  • ‘The women wear a kira, a brightly striped, ankle-length dress and the men a gho’.  Italicisation and use of foreign words for clothing shows again how different the people’s clothes are from the writer’s clothes, making the place seem more exotic as she describes it in detail to the reader.

  • ‘I search for the right word to describe the people, for the quality that impresses me most - dignity, unselfconsciousness, good humour, grace - but can find no single word to hold all of my impressions.’  This again emphasizes the writer’s attempt to find one factual description which would sum up her impression of this place, which she enumerates in a list. The fact that she cannot find one word to describe it suggests that it is too complex and too good to be summed up in any one word.  Her impressions are too great to be properly explained in writing.

 

Factual Details

  • ‘I know the technical explanation for the landscape [...] but I cannot imagine it.  It is easier to picture a giant child gathering earth in great armfuls’. Again, the writer is put in the position of trying to use facts to convey Bhutan to the reader, but is unable to do so.  Instead, she uses a metaphor so that we can more easily imagine the enormity of the mountains and they way in which they seem to be haphazardly piled there.  Alliteration of ‘g’ is used to make the phrase stronger and more vivid.

  • ‘Although Thimphu’s official population is 20,000, it seems even smaller.  It doesn’t even have traffic lights.’ Here juxtaposition and doubt are used to highlight how provincial this city seems.  ‘Official’ casts doubt on whether that number of people live there.  ‘It doesn’t even’ expresses the writer’s surprise at the lack of modern facilities in this place, and implies a lack of traffic.

  • ‘Bhutan [...] is thought to be derived from Bhotana, meaning the ‘end of Tibet’ or from the Sanskrit Bhu-uttan, meaning ‘highlands’.’  Again, the ‘height’ of this land is stressed, here in romantic names which are meant to create a magical idea of the landscape to the reader.  

 

Tone and Narrative Voice

  • ‘I am exhausted, but I cannot sleep’ - this tells us that the writer is so excited and enthralled by the landscape that she cannot sleep, even after her long journey.

  • ‘They are both ecstatic about Bhutan so far, and I stay close to them hoping to pick up some of their enthusiasm.’  The writer backs up her own impressions of the landscape with those of her companions, who are ‘ecstatic’ about the country.

  • ‘Bhutan’s preservation of its independence was remarkable.  I am full of admiration for this small country that has managed to look after itself so well.’  Independence seems to be something which the writer values, showing how she values the difference between this culture and her own.  ‘Small country’ expresses the difficulty she sees in one tiny place remaining independent and outside influences, and the whole country is personified as looking ‘after itself’, showing its self-sufficiency.  

 

Structure

  • Moves from physical description of the landscape to how the writer happened to be there and the specific place she was in.  Then moves to her thoughts on the city, describing a number of aspects of it, within the diegesis of her travelling through.  Then moves to the history she learns about the place and her admiration for it.

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