Singaporean director crowdfunds for documentary on uncovering Bhutan's 'secret to happiness'

Singaporean director crowdfunds for documentary on uncovering Bhutan's 'secret to happiness'
Singaporean director Loretta Chen is looking to raise US$25,000 for a film project on Bhutan.
PHOTO: Dr Loretta Chen

SINGAPORE - Much has been said about Bhutan and its Gross National Happiness (GNH) index - a philosophy of measuring prosperity and well-being of its citizens over gross domestic product.

The Himalayan kingdom has been labelled as the 'happiest place on Earth' and that simple tagline has enticed travellers all over the world to visit Bhutan - mostly to seek that same happiness the country and her people are known for.

But what is the secret behind Bhutan's success and are her people truly happy? It seems like Singaporean director Dr Loretta Chen might have the answers to that. 

Chen, who is also an entrepreneur and a professor based in Hawaii, is currently working on a travelogue that seeks to uncover the secrets of Bhutan's GNH and how it balances modernity in the wake of evolving socio-economic change.

Together with conservation and wildlife photographer Brian Doyle as the documentary's director of photography, the two aim to capture the innate DNA, culture and soul of the Bhutanese people in two half-hour episodes.

According to Chen, the documentary is scheduled to be broadcast on an international channel in March 2019. Filming is slated to begin in December. 

Although the documentary is supported by the Tourism Council of Bhutan and the State Trading Corporation of Bhutan, a remaining US$25,000 (S$32,860) is still needed before filming commences.

"The bulk of the money raised came from friends and supporters who knew about my philantrophic work," said Chen, who helped raised funds in 2014 to rebuild a 17th century monastery and monastic school for orphan monks in Paro.

Photo: Shin Min Daily News
Chen (2nd from right) at Euta Goemba, a 17th century monastery in Paro, Bhutan, that she helped raise funds to rebuild.Photo: Dr Loretta Chen

 

Chen with a group of young monks at Euta Goemba.Photo: Dr Loretta Chen

The 41-year-old has also forked out her own savings in order to produce the documentary, which she believes is a way of paying it forward to the country and the Bhutanese people, whom she said has "deeply moved" her.

IN LOVE WITH BHUTAN

Chen's first foray into Bhutan in 2012 came in the form of work. Her resume was circulated and handpicked by the then chairman of government-linked investment arm Druk Holdings and Investments. 

She initially entered the country to conduct a series of training. Before she knew it, one thing led to another and over a period of four years, Chen worked as a consultant and corporate trainer with various government agencies, including Bhutan Telecoms.

Chen said her love for Bhutan has lasted till today.

"I don't think I could ever leave Bhutan, as I have such close ties with the kingdom and her people. My serendipitous encounter with Bhutan is once again testimony to the fact that once you open your heart to love, light and positivity, doors open," said Chen.

Chen told AsiaOne that the film project is her "ode and love song to the kingdom". It is also a form of thank you to the country and what "her people have done for me".

"The documentary is part memoir, part travel documentary and part reality show - but 100 per cent heart," she explained.

I don't think I could ever leave Bhutan, as I have such close ties with the kingdom and her people. My serendipitous encounter with Bhutan is once again testimony to the fact that once you open your heart to love, light and positivity, doors open.

- Dr Loretta Chen, director

The film project was first conceptualised in 2016 for World Happiness Day. However, Chen ripped both her knees surfing in August 2015 and the project was put on hold. The soon-to-be director now plans to film in Bhutan over a two-month period.

SECRETS TO HAPPINESS?

But does Chen truly believe that she has uncovered the secrets to happiness in Bhutan? 

"Yes, I do think the Bhutanese are happy or at least, they are content. In the Buddhist tradition, which believes in the concept of karma, wherever we are in this life is because of our previous life, so there is an acceptance of what this life metes out.

"And it is this sense of contentment that leads to happiness which may be misconstrued in the Western sense," said Chen.

She also attributes the Bhutanese sense of happiness to the number of young graduates who return to Bhutan, even though they have had the opportunity to be educated overseas. 

Chen with Bhutanese girls at Euta Goemba monastery.Photo: Dr Loretta Chen

"Her (Bhutan's) citizens will almost always return home for that is where their hearts are. Now if that is not a metric or marker of contentment, I do not know what else is."

For Chen, returning to the Land of the Thunder Dragon for this TV documentary is perhaps a homecoming of sorts for her as well.

klim@sph.com.sg

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