“It probably seems like I’ve got a hate on for Bangladesh. I don’t. I enjoyed my stay, but to say I’m not excited to be leaving would be a lie.”

I’m currently chilling in the airport in Dhaka, Bangladesh, where I’ve been all day. It’s official: Bangladesh has the most unreliable airlines ever. My flight from Cox’s Bazar to Dhaka was delayed, then re-delayed countless times until we finally left 8 hours late. No real reason was given because frankly even the staff didn’t seem to know. Currently, my flight from Dhaka to Bangkok was set to leave at 9am. They’re now saying it should leave by 7pm (in fact none of the 6 flights I’ve taken here have been close to leaving on time). Nothing to do but sit and wait and people watch and get watched. In Bangladesh, you are the star; you’re not taking pictures of others so much as fending off photos of yourself. I tell myself I shouldn’t feel annoyed at the endless photos, after all, I take pictures of others while travelling all the time. How is it any different? It’s a good lesson when ‘the tables are turned so to speak.

Why are all these ppl standing around staring? If you guessed there’s a white guy in the middle doing nothing more exciting than picking his nose, you are correct!

I wish I could just sit in a quiet part of the airport. I’ve moved about 5 times now, always to an empty area of seats, but it seems my presence somehow draws people to sit around. Of course this is almost surely related to being a foreigner. After a month here I still can’t get fully comfortable with being an attraction. It’s not that you don’t get used to it, it’s just that it doesn’t fit my personality. I prefer to wander around unnoticed in the background, being more of a voyeur, observing others in their daily life, as opposed to being in the centre of a circle of gawkers. Oh well, comes with the territory. I’m greatly looking forward to Thailand, where foreigners aren’t a novelty, and where the food is varied and delicious. I don’t want to be an ass, but you gotta call it how it is: Bangladesh’s “local food” has been a bit of a disappointment. You think they’d take a tip from their neighbours in India who make some of the most delicious dishes on the planet. But no. In all the little local stalls, all they have are about 4 items at any time of day, nearly always deep fried and usually bland (plain naan, parattas, deep fried bread balls, shingaras which are like a low quality version of samosas and bland dhal lentils or chopzie chick peas). To compensate for this there is ubiquitous use of green chillis. If you can’t add flavour, make it spicy seems to be the motto. The best meal I had in Bangladesh was Indian food and it was fucking amazing. Why they don’t adopt more of this style of cooking baffles me.

Boys intrigued by the foreigner. The leftmost two have a white paste on their faces made from a ground up tree. It acts as sunblock and facial whitener. They lived in a slum area near some now-relatively rare Bhuddist stupas. They might be of Burmese heritage.

“Everywhere you go in Bangladesh is a giant sausagefest.”

I’ve probably already started to offend people with this rant, particularly Bengalis. It probably seems like I’ve got a big hate on for Bangladesh. I don’t. I thoroughly enjoyed my stay, but to say I’m not excited to be leaving would be a lie. Of course, there are many good things about Bangladesh: the people are uber nice but sometimes overly so and to a fault (once you make a true friend here, they’re loyal and giving like none other. The problem is everyonewants to be your friend); it’s super cheap (especially food, labour and textiles) and once they know you people will be nice by giving you the ‘local price’ aka not overcharging you. The sad thing is that not being grossly overcharged has to be considered a bonus, whereas in many countries it’s accepted that all are charged equally (of course, this can apply to many countries, but here it’s taken to a whole new level).

Odds that all five persons in this picture are male?
Finding a female is like playing where’s Waldo…

Equality. This is another sticking point for me. Let’s face it: women are often not treated as equals here. They rarely run shops. You never see them in the local food stands. Everywhere you go it’s a giant sausagefest. They’re kept covered up, or cooped up. Wtf. And yet Bengalese men like to look at women. They like soft core porn, though they’ll never admit it. Yet they repress women, and disrespect them if dressed ‘unmodestly’. There’s a lot of sexual repression and tension here… and for obvious reasons. You can’t have sex until marriage (well legally you can but morally it’s a no-no). Teenage boys don’t really seem to date girls like in other places. In fact, boys don’t seem to even hang out with girls unless they’re still like 7 year olds playing in the street. Men spend most of their waking hours with other men. And surprise surprise, does this lead to males discreetly having relationships with other males? You bet it does, though they will never admit it.

Traffic on the main street of Cox’s Bazar.

Alcohol is rare and hard to find, and yet Bengalese men want to drink, in fact in my experience some are desperate to drink. We had a waiter come up to us in a fancy restaurant and ask if he could drink our wine (that we brought because obviously they don’t serve it anywhere). We had people we considered friends steal a full bottle of gin at a party we invited them to. It’s conservative here, but many people don’t want to be conservative. They’ll say they do, but their actions speak otherwise. Why don’t people here just give-up the charade, stop being hypocritical, and allow themselves to enjoy the things they want to in life? Accept the fact humans are still animals who like to have sex for pleasure, that being attracted to girls is ok, that sometimes men want to love and fuck each other in the bum and that women are capable and strong individuals? You know why? Religion.

Of course I’ve painted broad brush strokes here. There are many, many Bengalis I met who do not fit the above descriptions. But the majority determines the rules, or so they say.

You’d be le tired too if you had to bust your ass biking all day in this heat/humidity.

I’ve never seen a greater disparity between rich and poor than here. You want to see poverty? Come on down! People drinking sewage water, bruising their teeth with it, working their asses off for pennies, combing thru street garbage with the cows and chickens. Bangladesh could greatly improve its lot in life, and on its own even, it seems. But the government is so corrupt and inept. It’s like they don’t really care about their own people. Most foreigners I met work for some sort of NGO or international humanitarian organisation. Ask them about their interactions with the government. Southern Bangladesh is home to hundreds of thousands of Myanmar refugees living in two camps. Many organizations work to improve living conditions for these displaced people. But when they do too good of a job, the Bangladesh government steps in and bans/prevents them from continuing the good work, or kicks them out completely. The gov’t is also unwilling to let these Bhuddist peoples integrate into society, even though they’re historically the same in terms of customs, religion, language and ethnicity as those of southern Bangladesh. How crazy is that, they are the same people!!, but are not allowed to actually be the same anymore. In other words, the Bengali gov’t purposely wants them to have a shitty life, and takes actions towards this. It’s amazing to see such intolerance from a country populated by a people whom many were themselves refugees in the 1970’s during their war for independence. What are some of the factors could contribute to this? I’ll give you a hint. Starts with ‘R’, ends with ‘eligion’. Here’s a cool story I heard ‘through the grapevine’: Government to NGO: “If we find out you have a Jew working for you we are going to shut you down.” Wow.

Dhaka defines the term ‘rat-race’.  An overwhelming maze of traffic, pollution, urbanization and daily struggle.  18 million and counting as peeps continue to flood in from the countryside. Some die in the streets, their bodies picked up unceremoniously by a cart, medieval-style. This place’ll make you desensitized to child labour and poverty.

And of course why would they want to effectively deal with health issues? If they effectively solved problems like AIDS then there would be no more need for aid organizations to be there and the money would stop flowing. It’s much better to halfheartedly try to solve health problems (aka ignore advice and do things ‘your way’) and therefore continue to live off the relatively ‘big money’ that these foreign aid groups bring in. That is corruption, and that is how they roll here. Don’t believe it? Talk to the foreigners working with the aid groups trying to help people here and see what they have to say about their experiences.

But fuck me, it appears I’ve just made one of the longest, most negative posts ever. I apologize. It’s not like me to be like this. But after a month of these blatant things staring me in the face (literally at times) I guess I just had to rant.

“I did nothing to deserve such a radically better life than these people. I was simply born in the right place at the right time.”

At the end of the day, I can sit up here in my high horse and preach, but what do I really know. I’m just a transient wanderer passing through. In one month I can’t really understand any place or its people’s lives that fully. My viewpoint is extremely one-sided at best, but it’s my viewpoint nonetheless. I will say one thing with surety however: that visiting here, more than anywhere, has made me more grateful than words can describe about my lot in life. The word lucky doesn’t even come close. I did NOTHING to deserve such a radically better life than some of these people. I was simply born in the right place at the right time, and because of this was afforded opportunities, as well as exposure to ways of thinking and ideas that most here are not. By far the greatest gift travel has given me is gratitude.

Palpable magic

Bangladesh is beautiful and quite magical in it’s own way. There’s always a big, round, orange to blood-red sun setting each day over the Bay of Bengal, or over the flat, flooded rice fields. It fills the dusty air with a golden-bronze hue. I love it and I love the feeling it gives me. There really is a magical feeling to the place here, it’s palpable. But let’s be honest: there’s a reason it’s not an international tourist destination. I’ve seen a few tropical paradises by now, and as enthusiastic as the locals are for Cox’s Bazar, by no stretch of the imagination does it come even close to the beauty of the beaches of the Mentawais, Lombok or Sumbawa, Australia, or even other South East Asian countries like Malaysia and Vietnam. Compare them for yourself.

A lot of people here are asking me when I’m coming back. I polltely say ‘I don’t know’ when the real answer might be closer to ‘probably never’. It might seem like I hate it here, but that’s not the case at all. It’s just that, after being to 16 different countries, I know there are soo many amazing places that B-desh just doesn’t match up to, and if I’m gonna choose to spend my finite time and money somewhere, I’d rather go someplace more beautiful, cleaner, less crowded and more relaxing. Wouldn’t you?

For a great photojournalistic piece on child labour in Bangladesh/Dhaka circa 2009, see the following:
Child Labour 1
Child Labour 2

Post Script

Oh ya, and that plane I was waiting for? It got cancelled. But only after we waited until 6pm  (i.e. 9 hours after it was originally supposed to depart). Did they think of announcing this cancellation? Nope. It took some passengers to walk up to the desk and ask WTF to find out. So they rescheduled us to the next day’s flight, leaving at the same time, 9am. Then they said it would be instead leaving at 5pm. I triple check my facts with several airline employees who assure me showing up at 2pm is more than ok. Fast-forward to the next day, 12:30 pm: I get a frantic call saying I need to be at the airport ASAP as my flight is now boarding. Apparently they changed the departure time AGAIN, now to 1pm. You gotta be fucking kidding me! I’m at best 30 min away. I bust ass there, and in a rare and unlikely moment of efficiency I’m whisked thru check-in by a waiting employee, only get caught up in super slow customs with the tail end of the passengers from the previous day (our VISA situation complicated by the technical leaving of the country the day before). According to the latest ephemeral departure time the flight leaves only 30 min late… I just laugh.

I dreamt of a leap year.

It’s as if I closed my eyes and had a year-long dream.  The only thing indicating the passage of time is an extra foot of hair on my head.

I just had the craziest dream.

Upon waking, I found myself standing on the street in front of PODs backpackers in KL.

Here I am standing exactly where I was one year ago. It’s as if I closed my eyes and had a really long, crazy dream. And when I awoke, you guys were gone. The only thing indicating the passage of time is a foot of extra hair on my head. Wearing the same shirt, with the same bag on my back, eating at the same restaurant.

What is the point of travel? It sometimes feels like a pretty useless form of escapism. A lazy hazy permanent vacation. Does it serve others than yourself? I like to tell myself it makes the world a better place by increasing one human’s understanding and awareness of the lives and situations of humans of different lands. The way of living you are exposed to in the bubble of your life isn’t the only way of living and being. Humans are diverse and the more you experience the more you become a more complete being, a more rounded consciousness. Hopefully this will spill over into your decision making. Wiser, broader view-pointed decisions. I think it’s made me more compassionate.

When is the right time to go home? It sometimes feels like a pretty selfish form of escapism. There are others back at home that miss you. You have removed yourself from their lives. Distance-covering communications will never replace being there for them. Is it when someone gets sick? Someone dies? Do you stick to your plans and keep on wandering the earth in spite of this? Will you only go home when you miss them too much, and not the other way around?

Whether the dream was real or not, the question is does it matter?

Lately I haven’t been seeing as many ‘sights’. Oh, I’ve been seeing a lot. Just not running around like a recent grad on their first 4-month trip around SEA (aka like a chicken with it’s head cut off). I’ve been seeing the stuff you only see when you stop trying so hard to see things.

I feel tired. I’m tired because I have no home. I’ve been living out of a bag for 425 days now. Humans need a home, and home will never be the road. Those who travel forever are running from something they won’t face, or searching for something they’ll never find, or just plain lazy beyond salvation.

Sometimes these days, I just feel like I want to go home.

Snapshots from the year-long dream that was:

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Alarm bells.

“I’ve always wanted to sail the South Seas, but I can’t afford it. What these people can’t afford is not to go. They are enmeshed in the demands of security. And in the worship of security we fling our lives beneath the wheels of routine and before we know it our lives are gone…

…The years thunder by, the dreams of youth grow dim while they lie caked in dust on the shelves of patience.

Before we sense it, the tomb is sealed.” -Sterling Hayden, Wanderer

Nov 7, 2011

If there’s one thing that I’ve never understood, it’s people who lack motivation. I’m sure you know the type. To be honest, they really bug me, and there’s really few things that bug me these days. I just can’t understand why some people choose to wallow in apathy, or are just plain lazy; seem to lack the spark that we should bring to each day.

Maybe it’s partly due to a narrow vision, a smaller view of the world, an isolation from the bigger picture?… I’m really not sure what. Guess that’s why it’s something I just never understood.

I was lucky that my upbringing exposed me to about as broad a horizon as one could’ve hoped for. Doubly lucky to have a background in high level sport, which weeds out the softies and surrounds one with those who display some of the highest examples of strengths of character. Like many of my former swimming peers, I’m still making the slow transition from a full-time athlete to something else; and I see the same thing in my friends and former teammates. Taking their drive and energies and pouring them into that which comes next: projects, businesses, careers, social and philanthropic endeavours, trips about the globe. They can’t sit still, and neither can I.

These backgrounds combined with increasing travel and exposure to different places and peoples has broadened my views of what is possible to the point where I laugh when I see others unable to see past their current state, bemoaning their current situations. They are the masons of their own walls, built upon the mortar of their self-restricting beliefs.

We are in such a unique point in humanity. Anyone who is reading this now is amongst the luckiest of people that ever lived I reckon. We are now able to transcend time and space like never before. We can instantly travel to far off lands. We can project our voice to almost any location on planet earth. We can learn and educate ourselves with about as much information as our mind can handle. Modern transport, the internet, photos, movies and media of all types, the archiving of history, an abundance of food (in the developed world), the increasing exposure to the frothy soup of ideas that is the inter-webs. It’s all there, things that were never imaginable a few generations ago. What were once luxuries, impossibilities, that might not’ve made it past fantasies and daydreams, we can create in RL (real life) with these tools at our disposal. We have the luck and benefit of the wisdom of great thinkers packaged for us (TV, docs, books, videos…). We can go and watch the wise, the motivating, the mind-expanding at the click of a button. We can travel back in time to watch them, hear them, read their words, see them. We can study history and learn from the past like never before. Of great mistakes, of wars and follies of past societies, from long ago to the very recent. We are so so lucky and it’s something that’s difficult to really gain a perspective on, or appreciation of because we’ve grown up amongst it all.

When I slow down, the learning of history will likely become a growing component of my life. Age and an ever expanding view have only served to increase my appreciation for where we sit at this moment. Maybe it just isn’t possible to fully appreciate these things until we begin to get older and amass a greater range of experiences, sights, lessons and stories in our brain.

“This is your life. You have complete freedom. We live in an era where the world is more accessible than ever. You’re not a slave or a peon or a prisoner. You can do WHATEVER you want. So why aren’t you doing exactly what you love? Money, fear, indecision, lack of knowledge, girlfriend/boyfriend and “I’m content” are not answers to that question.” -Jordan Lejuwaan, Wake the F**k Up!

We all have dreams. What do you want to do with your life? What have you always imagined yourself doing one day? Seeing? Experiencing with others? What do you see when you let your mind wander to that which it wants? You have to ask yourself, for how long are you willing to let your life slip by before doing these things? A year? Till you’re done school? Till you have a job? Till you’ve made the down payment on your house? Till you’ve done the renos? Till you have a certain amount saved? What if your situation changes? Something else comes up? You meet someone? Your priorities change, you loose health, have a kid, or whatever whatever. How long are you willing to wait? How much time will you let slip past? Because each passing day buries your life a little bit more. Each time you lay your weary body down at the end of the day, the likelihood of you achieving and experiencing that which you were meant to decreases. Beware ye of the buried life!  That’s not an alarm bell that wakes you every morning. It’s a death knoll. Seek not to know for whom the bell tolls, as it’s right there on your fucking nightstand and it’s ringing shrill and loud for thee.

I distinctly remember reading an article a long, long time ago. It was about a man who engineered and manned single-man submersibles (like mini submarines), free-dove and explored successfully for sunken treasures in the environs of the Carribean. He had done quite a bit of what one might consider exciting, pioneering and/or dangerous. It seemed to the interviewer that nothing fazed this guy, and finally he felt compelled to ask “Is there anything that scares you?”. The guy pulls out a worn, folded piece of paper. On it were 100 rows with 52 squares per row. The little squares were filled in individually over the years with all manner of pens. The guy explained that each square represented a week, each row one year. “I carry this with me everywhere. Every week I colour one square in… I can see my entire life before me.” He wasn’t scared of dying. He was scared of not living, and used this to remind himself to never loose that fear.

There are fewer limits on us now than ever afore. There is no roof but the open sky, no walls unless you let yourself believe in such things. So don’t. Be stoked. Be energetic. Be motivated. Believe your imagination. If not for you, then we all owe it to those souls, both current and past, to take advantage of all that we have and that they didn’t and don’t. I really respect this guy, what a rad story…