Photography Corner: Art in the Concrete Jungle

While it may not come as a surprise to most, but many people view Bangkok as a dirty, crowded and grimy city (except perhaps the Siam Center area, with the extravagant malls and decor). But it is usually not recognized for its art. However, within this large and chaotic city, you can find some beautiful, and maybe sometimes misunderstood, art just walking along the streets.

When walking around a lot of neighborhoods in Bangkok you can easily stumble upon art that may represent some factor of Bangkok life and culture. It may also be completely random and confusing. But either way, it is a representation of this city. In many cases there is a stark contrast between the amazing art you see in front of you and the slums it is surrounded by. It is also fascinating to see this kind of art with grand skyscrapers in the background – which really tells you the story of how Bangkok has grown and is still growing.

Street art is quickly becoming an embedded part of Bangkok. As a result, the very first Street Art Festival was held earlier this year. It was such a major event that the Bangkok Arts and Cultural Centre gave over 400 square meters of exhibition space over to street artists, which was the biggest exhibit of its kind.

So while Bangkok may not be well known for its art, when you’re in the city always take a look at your surroundings – you never know what you might stumble upon.

Katie Davos, research intern


Bhutan – Happiness is a Place

It is rare enough to find a book that gives you a glimpse about the real beauty of our lives, but far more common to encounter a place where everything is apparent about being ‘peace-stained’. There is no doubt that Bhutan is one such place on earth, often referred to as the ‘last standing shangri-la’ amidst the great Himalayas.

Bhutan is one of the smallest countries in the world. Sandwiched between two giants, its population has approximately 700,000 people. It has become a place consecrated with rich natural and cultural ecologies, something that has always beguiled the outsiders. Its culture and tradition are so much swayed by the religion of Buddhism, which was first introduced by a great Buddhist saint called Guru Rinpoche in 476 AD.


There is perfect balance between modernity and preservation of culture and tradition. Based upon the Buddhist concept of interdependence between human and nature, the conservation of natural environment and making sure that this process does not turn out to be an ephemeral too takes an important priority. In doing so it has a lot to reciprocate, most importantly it has become an ultimate source of happiness for all.


Bhutan has been rated the happiest country in Asia and the eighth-happiest in the world. It has been often considered the last untouched place on earth. People really do seem happy here, however, many (especially foreigners) do wonder how long will the happiness last as they join the modern world?

The entire process of globalization, as it stretches its shadow across the globe; did have an immense affect upon Bhutan too. Bhutan has embraced this flux, yet, maintained adamant to grasp its culture. Indeed, a new approach has been comprehended, an approach known to the world as ‘Gross National Happiness’, or in Bhutanese vernacular, ‘Gyalyong Ghakey Pelzom’. This philosophy was introduced by the fourth king, Jigme Singye Wangchuck with the purpose of guiding the people towards reaching the proximity of happiness. Ever since its preamble, every law or plans passes through the happiness filter first, making everything a likely way to happiness or at least to ebb the poignant among the people.


Nothing appeases the fact but the interminable inherent and benevolent nature of the people. A trace of beam across their faces regardless of the difference in their socioeconomic status forms a vital part in defining the Bhutanese legacy. The entire society is a collective based, with strong sense of sharing and compassion fervor, propelling people to reach out to the needy ones, making sure of the indispensable flux.

The beauty of the places and the landscapes are what amuses the people most. There is an excerpt “It is impossible to find words to express adequately the wonderful beauty and variety of scenery; I met with, during my journeys”, written by one of the English Visitor while sharing his experience about Bhutan.


Happiness is not the absence of unhappiness, but ability realized through them letting us choose and commit to something that has the potential to create a blissful society. With one step in the past, one in the present, the recipe of yesterday and today propels the people in generating a quaint yet a contemporary based tomorrow.

Happiness really is a place…

For more information about ATMA SEVA’s travel options in Bhutan, please click here.

Jigme Namgyel, research intern

Photography Corner – Chao Mae Tuptim Shrine

The Chao Mae Tuptim Shrine is a small fertility shrine, located in a hidden area behind the Swissotel hotel in central Bangkok. The shrine is named after a tree goddess – a female spirit that is said to bless those that worship her. Within the shrine there are many (numbering over 100 in total) phallic carvings spread throughout, a symbol that is widely known as good luck for fertility. Women across Southeast Asia come to bless and worship at this shrine in the hopes of becoming pregnant.

Finding the Chao Mae Tuptim Shrine can prove to be slightly difficult if you do not know where to look. The easiest way is to go directly to the Swissotel hotel, which is right on Wireless Rd., off of the Ploenchit BTS station. If you ask one of the very friendly security guards where the shrine is they will happily point you in the correct direction, down next to the garages where you might just miss it if you don’t keep your eyes peeled.

The great thing about this location is that it is right next to the Chao Phraya River. Close by there is a pier where you can hop on a river boat taxi to other beautiful destinations throughout Bangkok.

Katie Davos, research intern

About Me – Greetings from Bhutan

My name is Jigme Namgyel and I am 24 years old and I am a research intern with ATMA SEVA. My parents are from Bumthang, one of the most popular tourist destinations in Bhutan. I grew up in Wangduephodrang, a place well known for its windy weather, and for that reason, most people nick named it ‘Windy-phodrang’. I completed highschool from Bajothang Higher Secondary School in Wangduephodrang in 2008 and then got an opportunity to enroll in the country’s oldest College, Sherubtse College. I received a Bachelor Degree in Political science and Sociology in 2012, although back in 2009 I didn’t have a clue which course I would be studying for the next three years. It turned out to be a very interesting course, especially Sociology, which developed in me a passion for writing. I learnt how to express myself better through words, which is the reason why I named my blog ‘Potency of Words’.

Jimmi3706I created this blog to encourage myself to keep writing because I realized that many people give up their passion as soon as they graduate from college, especially when it’s related to writing. My blog is unknown to the rest of the world, a secluded one perhaps, but it means a lot to me. It allows me write what I want, or helps define who I am. Being influenced by one of my friends, I developed this habit of blogging while I was in college. Back then I didn’t know how it works and I spent several days learning the basics.

Jimmi3639Photography is another ardor that I loved the most. I find taking picture of places and people around as something very amusing. It helps me relive and embellish my past; indeed a jovial mood festers in me whenever I go through them. Apart from those, playing guitar and drawing (sketching) are also my favorite pastimes.

Image1940Currently I don’t have a permanent job. It was through an advertisement that I ran across the internship offered by ATMA SEVA. The description they have provided was clear enough and looked like a lot of fun to me, since it required writing (mostly about Bhutan) and obviously photography. I did not apply for this internship for any reasons other than saving the urge in improving my writing zeal further. For a fresh graduate, I don’t consider money the most important priority. Benefits such as short commuting and flexibility mean just as much as salary. I was looking for a position where my contributions count and my efforts will be appreciated and hopefully those could lead to a long time commitment. Therefore, I applied for this internship with all my dedications towards putting my abilities to the fullest.

Jigme Namgyel, research intern

Meet Caroline, our new research intern!

Caroline safariAlthough I’m working from Rochester, NY, I could not be more excited to join ATMA SEVA as a Research Intern!  I’ve only been a part of the team for a few weeks now, but I’m already learning so much about the hill tribes in Northern Thailand and the work that ATMA SEVA does there.  I hope to go to Chiang Mai in the near future to meet everyone in person and see what I’ve been helping with!

A little background about me: I recently graduated from Colgate University in May 2012.  Although I graduated with a degree in Classical Studies and a minor in Political Science, I plan on pursuing a career in international development.  I had somewhat of an epiphany my junior year while I was studying abroad for a semester in Cape Town, South Africa.  It’s one thing to learn about the legacy of apartheid and the economic disparity in South Africa in a classroom; it’s another thing to live there and see the effects everyday.  It was both fascinating and disturbing to study and see the socioeconomic conditions in this beautiful country, and my experiences there completely changed my worldview.  Ultimately, I decided to study African politics when I returned to Colgate and to work towards a career in international development and non-profit work.

township in cape town

One of the many townships outside of Cape Town

playing kitchen

Playing kitchen with one of the children at Mary’s Place

Since graduating, I have been interning/volunteering at a refugee center here in Rochester called Mary’s Place Outreach.  We aid refugees from Burma, Thailand, Nepal, and numerous African countries.  Most of my work there has involved education: tutoring, helping teach ESL classes, and helping kids with homework after school.  I am also in the process of trying to develop a Saturday science discovery program for the kids there.  I have really enjoyed getting to know the refugees and especially spending time with the kids!

I am in the process of trying to decide whether I will apply to law school (for International Human Rights Law) or to a masters program for International Development.  I’m not sure what path I’ll take, but I’m looking forward to getting started.  As of now, though, I’m so happy to have the opportunity to be involved with ATMA SEVA, and I’m excited to see what the next few months will bring as I work with this incredible organization!

Caroline Nathan