Travel Log

And Now for Something Completely Different…

Hoan Kiem Lake at night

Hoan Kiem Lake at night

Hanoi, Vietnam–

I think I’ve taken the familiarity I had with Bangladesh for granted– being able to speak and read language enough to get my bearings, and blending in with the masses. Now? Now I have a full appreciation for the struggles my other fellow expats encountered in Dhaka. Despite the Roman characters, I am utterly lost reading Vietnamese signs and can hardly pick out a word of what’s being spoken as there is very little English shared between me and the locals. Now I get to be giggled at while butchering the few foreign phrases I know. Honestly, it gets tiring: constantly trying to explain via charades and not being understood, trying to understand others through facial expressions and pointing around.

Roadside barbershop

Roadside barbershop

It could be easier, but I wouldn’t trade my (brief) experience so far. I got to explore more familiar territory and witness the nuances of my heritage culture. And now I get to plunge into new waters to see how well I can navigate when left on my own. Each experience lets me appreciate the other and I can’t help but to constantly compare/contrast the two cities: rickshaws are traded for motor bikes (they will be missed), there are more women out and about, stores are still stacked one on top of another while concreteglass buildings share air with fading older facades reminiscent of Old Dhaka, and there are still people coming out of the woodwork from every crevice. Also, the rains seemed to have left Bangladesh and met me here in Hanoi, because I am talking sheets pouring down.

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15 minutes of leapfrog to get through every intersection

Aside: While I sorely miss riding colorful, body-jarring rickshaws, I must say I am feeling the zippy motorbikes. Zooming through narrow alleyways, I feel like I’m in an action movie as we whiz, zigzag, and swerve through neon signs and under touching balconies. Currently 60/40 in favor of getting my own bike.

Cheers to another 2.5 months of getting lost.

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Travel Log

The B-Sides: Part 2

Another girl at BLC also blogs but doesn’t have enough time to compose long posts, so instead she tries to write a single sentence about something, about her day that stuck out to her; an event, a feeling, a realization, anything. Taking up on that idea, an irregular series of snippets from my day-to-day.

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Sunset on the BRAC HQ rooftop. Skyscrapers and slum dwellings.

8/1
Trying to hold on to the feeling of walking through the rain… the absolute downpour that makes any attempt at maintaining dryness–an umbrella, a rain jacket– laughably futile.
I don’t like the idea of getting wet; I like to watch from my bed inside instead of welcoming the rain with open arms.
I finally had to abandon my umbrella when the gusts of wind proved to have more power over it than I did. As I, begrudgingly, stopped fighting the rain, I came to accept it, and then appreciate it. In between blinking to keep my contacts in, the palm(?) trees leaned subordinate to the wind the sky a flat slate gray rain pelted in steady diagonal sheets. My clothes drenched and I laugh to myself at how I was trying to avoid puddles just minutes ago.
Slipping on a dirt path and landing on my tailbone rerouted me home. But the walk back, I resisted the storm just enough to avoid being blown away; otherwise, I was immersing myself into the surroundings and stopped caring about how my clothes and hair were plastered on to me, soaked in what is likely to be acid rain, that I was wet.

I keep looking to the sky, desperately trying to absorb, to observe; find now that I am soaked, it isn’t so bad.

8/4
The mine gets a little emptier as another person leaves

8/7
Last night.
We peaked.

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Babushkas

Partner in crime

Partner in crime

8/8
Goodbyes are a natural fact of life, but this was one of the harder ones. The cheese factor is extreme, but it’s another example of how ‘the universe’ can concoct connections we wouldn’t have come across in other situations.

8/17
They say “be yourself,” but sometimes I feel that’s a lie.

8/21
The happiness of no hangover and feet aching from dancing all night

8/22
Can check “coming home barefoot” off my list

9/2
Finally, the kind of day I’ve been hoping to have during this internship all along: sat down with the supervisor to go over my assignment, promptly received the necessary documents, and had a pleasant chat with a co-worker; overall, feeling like I’m being taken seriously. Too bad it had to come just as I’m about to leave this place.

9/12

Some chill after a full two days of endless drinking and movement. Spent quality down time with certain people and we wonder, why couldn’t this have happen anytime before in these 3 months? Departure time keeps getting pushed back, but I’m not complaining.

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Somewhere near 5 am from a porch near Srimongal. Site of jaw drops, laughing too loud, and the finale of nearly 36 sleepless hours.

9/13

The last sunrise in Bangladesh, and by far, the best. Revelations, reflections, and beauty beauty beauty, through endless shisha on the porch amongst the forest…I couldn’t ask for a better, more appropriate end to my time here.

Oh My Dhaka…and all your contradictions. I will miss you more than I could have imagined.

Fin

A last note: I keep catching myself with the realization that identifying myself with the native culture has caused me to be less forgiving of said culture and the people, more than I would be in a setting more alien to me. For example, I find it so irritating when locals pepper expats for pictures; but don’t I also take pictures of people and scenes that find different and fascinating? I feel embarrassed if someone says or does something silly or tacky, feel a need to apologize on their behalf because I see it as a blow to my image…when that is unfair to both parties. They are an individual in their own context and conduct, just as I am my own, even if we share a similar heritage; shame or discomfort is a product of context that isn’t always shared.

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