'Bhutan is not Shangri-La on earth': Khaw

In Parliament on Monday, Workers' Party chairman Sylvia Lim called on the Government to learn from Bhutan's gross national happiness index and its approach to growth.

Minister Khaw Boon Wan spoke in Parliament on Wednesday about his experience in Bhutan and how the small nation has studied Singapore as a country that has transited from Third World to First. He also explained why Bhutan is not a paradise on earth.

Minister Khaw Boon Wan on happiness

Bhutan was mentioned several times in this House. I visited Bhutan a few years ago, and met a good cross section of the people, from the Prime Minister, the ministers, the Chief Monk, to civil servants and ordinary folks. Of course, I am not an expert on Bhutan but the westerners' romanticised version of this ancient Kingdom does not fit the reality of what I saw. Bhutan is not the Shangri-la on earth.

The Chief Monk of Bhutan is a learned man, an enlightened monk and passionate about saving lives in the spiritual sense. He knows Singapore well, visiting us regularly to meet up with his devotees and friends. I asked him what brought him to Singapore on his first trip. He explained that Singapore had cropped up during one meditation session. He was, at that time, planning to build a Buddhist University. He was concerned with negative influences that inevitably would come with globalisation, and felt deeply that the only way out was to imbue his people with traditional values, religious practices and cultural norms. To build his University, he needed money. He conceived a plan to build a big Buddha statue, to draw in paying tourists and visitors and hence funds. The Bhutan Government allocated a good piece of land on a hill overlooking the capital, but said that he would have to raise the funds for construction.

As he meditated on the way forward, he apparently saw glimpses of Singapore, a country he had then not known much of. He took his first flight to Singapore and landed at the Changi Airport at midnight. What followed was quite incredible. He left the departure hall and jumped into the first taxi that came along. The driver asked for his destination. He said "a clean cheap hotel". The driver seemed to know where to send him to and he checked in for a 3-day stay as that was the amount of money he had in his pocket.

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