I’m currently travelling in Bangladesh, and the steep learning curve of a new place reminds me of my original motivations for starting this blog. I had hoped to clearly articulate my experiences living, working, and travelling outside of my home country, and because of the public forum, push myself to meet higher standards not only in my writing but in the level of background research and information gathering I expected of myself before drawing any kind of conclusions.
Unlike China, where I now have a basic framework for understanding what I see around me and what I hear in the news, Bangladesh has been constant information overload. I can’t understand a word of local language or dialect (except, of course, when they talk about food… channa masala, aloo matar, kebab, naan, and so on). The entire political, economic, and technical/infrastructural context is different.
After the jump, excerpts from an email I sent to friends about the trip.
So of course it turns out that my mom’s friend in Bangladesh is ridiculously hooked up. I just had a 5 hour dinner with this group of friends that basically amounts to the people who run the entire country. Not to mention that they were the leaders of a student activist group that was instrumental in there even being an independent Bangladesh in the first place. I’m getting a crash course in Bangla politics and history in the coolest way possible… hearing stories from people who were actually there, as they joke around with each other about, oh you know, founding a country and stuff. I now know the names of five English newspapers published in Dhaka alone, and heard the debates about the quality and relative freedom and political bent of each from the managing editors of two of the papers. I also threw around a bit of Chinese with the brother of the previous Bangladeshi ambassador to Beijing. I’ll be visiting rural farms on Wednesday and NGO project sites on Thursday before attending a play by a woman who I saw first in the room beside me and twenty minutes later on TV as someone surfed through the channels. I’ve given up keeping track of what I’m doing because it’s all so insane but I’m 拉ing 关系 and business cards almost by accident, people are so curious about China. Even better, half the time I look like a good Muslim girl in a salwar kameez and hijab - aka pajamas and a head scarf.
Tomorrow is the first day I’m going to have the time to escape the glitterati for a bit and take a rickshaw or better yet, walk. The food is amazing so far but I can guarantee that the street food is going to be better.
I can’t tell you how many times I wished you all were here… To sit in on these incredible discussions of pan-asian politics, overhear debates about the nature of media freedom, learn about the public health crisis in the wake of a cyclone/flood in November, see the inner workings of a Muslim majority country that is incredibly liberal, diverse, free, and run by a wholly secular government… or to jump in a motor rickshaw with me to take off across town and just wander around and see something that isn’t an attraction or a nice clean restaurant that meets health standards.
which reminds me: rickshaws are all brightly colored and covered in paintings. most people commission them and some paint their own. they’re all personal and many reveal political and religious beliefs. i’m busy trying to decide what i would paint on my rickshaw, if i was to have one….