commentary, video


So this one time, I fainted after interviewing a woman who shot down an American fighter pilot in the Vietnam War and woke to find her rubbing mentol into my temples. And as it turns out, there’s a video of it! By our wonderful translator, Chau, who’s giving the play by play in the clip.

Taken this past summer while working on the Woman Warriors project in Hue, Vietnam.  And here’s the portrait of the lovely Vietnamese grandmother who’s fanning me (and who later gave me some wonderful homemade lemonade to help me feel well enough to make her portraits).


double take

Sometimes, things are bafflingly strange here.  And not just in a blatantly bizarre way, but also in an ‘almost alike to things in the U.S. except with subtle, yet hugely important differences’ sort of way.  And it’s really those slight deviations that make things all that much more strange.

For example.

The other night, I was sitting with a couple friends in the cafe that just opened up around the corner from our apartment.  We were studying Bangla and chatting, when we suddenly recognized the song drifting out of the speakers as Katy Perry’s “I Kissed A Girl.”  Except it wasn’t Katy Perry singing.  It could only be what we assumed was a Bengali man.  At first we thought this little gender switch might have been an odd attempt to mask any homosexual themes of the song.  But, it doesn’t appear that gender norms were the main concern here – as they kept all the words as they are in the original.  Including:

“I kissed a girl just to try it
I hope my boyfriend don’t mind it”

“It’s not what good girls do
Not how they should behave”

“Us girls we are so magical
Soft skin, red lips, so kissable
Hard to resist so touchable
Too good to deny it
Ain’t no big deal, it’s innocent”

Yep.  The whole tune, in all its Bangla cover-song, (unwitting?) gender-bending glory.

Granted, the new cafe’s music selection is improving with each week its open.  But I’m just glad we were able to hear that rendition.  Perhaps it’s available online somewhere.

commentary, video

noida bazaar

Baridhara, the neighborhood in which my language program and current apartment is located, is known as the ‘diplomatic enclave’ of Dhaka.  It is, in a number of ways, a gated community, and it receives a great deal of flak for not being the real Dhaka.  Yet it is a fascinating place, not only because of the people it houses and the dynamics it fosters, but also because it embodies an important and prominent part of of life in Dhaka City – the stark contrasts in the economic well-being of its residents.

You can see it in a mere five minutes away from my room.  Head down the stairs, take a right once you’re out on the street, and keep straight (shoja!) until you find yourself face to face with a hulking metal wall, demarcating the end of the road – and of Baridhara. Walk up to its face and you’ll see the hole the size of a small doorway cut out of its lower left hand side.  Step through and you’ll have left behind the (relative) quiet of Baridhara’s (relatively) large roads, and entered into the whirl and bustle of Noida Bazaar.

The contrast is striking.

And so are the questions raised by it – how such walls can serve as so much more than just a literal barrier is fascinating.  Economic inequality smacks you hard in the face in most developing countries, and particularly in urban centers, where the ultra rich live feet down from the ultra poor.  Baridhara in itself is an interesting place to explore, as is Noida Bazaar.  But take a bird’s eye view of the two, and return to the ground level to see how they interact at the end of Park Road, and you’ve got yourself a really compelling exploration.

See the gate for yourself in the video above – a little thing of nightlife in Noida Bazaar that I threw together from a shots taken a couple of Thursday nights ago.

commentary, fun!

swapping thinkers

I was reading this lovely piece written by Claudia Gonson of the Magnetic Fields about the seminal books, authors, performers, and so on who have influenced her throughout her life, and thought – how wonderful would it be to write/swap these with your friends and family and teachers?  To read about the thinkers who helped them think.

And while I haven’t started mine yet, I thought I’d share two poems that have stuck with me, and yet I’ve never shared up here before.  The first is  “Little Sleep’s-Head Sprouting Hair in the Moonlight” by Galway Kinnell, and the second, “Fern Hill” by Dylan Thomas.  I’d be curious to hear what you think of them.


“Little Sleep’s-Head Sprouting Hair in the Moonlight”
by Galway Kinnell


You scream, waking from a nightmare.

When I sleepwalk
into your room, and pick you up,
and hold you up in the moonlight, you cling to me
as if clinging could save us. I think
you think
I will never die, I think I exude
to you the permanence of smoke or stars,
even as
my broken arms heal themselves around you.


I have heard you tell
the sun, don’t go down, I have stood by
as you told the flower, don’t grow old,
don’t die. Little Maud,

I would blow the flame out of your silver cup,
I would suck the rot from your fingernail,
I would brush your sprouting hair of the dying light,
I would scrape the rust off your ivory bones,
I would help death escape through the little ribs of your body,
I would alchemize the ashes of your cradle back into wood,
I would let nothing of you go, ever,

until washerwomen
feel the clothes fall asleep in their hands,
and hens scratch their spell across hatchet blades,
and rats walk away from the cultures of the plague,
and iron twists weapons toward the true north,
and grease refuses to slide in the machinery of progress,
and men feel as free on earth as fleas on the bodies of men,
and lovers no longer whisper to the presence beside them in the
dark, O corpse-to-be …

And yet perhaps this is the reason you cry,
this the nightmare you wake screaming from:
being forever
in the pre-trembling of a house that falls.

Continue reading

commentary, fun!, video


Above is a stupendous video made by some superlative people in sunny California and sent all the way to the mosquito-ridden streets of Bangladesh.  It was no straightforward journey, involving the shipment of a package that went all the way from San Diego to Dhaka and back, its reshipment through a different and more circuitous route, and finally a rickshaw ride from Banani through Gulshan and (finally!) to our Baridhara doorstep.

So, 30,000 miles and much anticipation later, I present to you one of the best videos ever made.

(A mammoth THANK YOU to Miss Rosemarie Wagner and Mr. Ezra Furman.  You should have seen the accompanying card and crown.  Pure genius.)


down, up

After having no internet for a few days, it’s back up (for now!), and that means there’s finally time to share these two videos that have been on line for a while now!

The first, I don’t know quite how to describe other than to say it was one of the most surreal things I’ve ever witnessed, ever.  Captured at Wonderland – Dhaka’s local amusement park – this was the penultimate ride of the day, on a trip taken to celebrate a trio of October 12 birthdays.  In case it isn’t clear in the video, yes, that is Bengali man dancing in a giant mouse mascot costume.  And yes, that is an imam as the only other passenger on the ride.  We’re still searching for the words to describe it.

The second is my flatmate’s new kitten, a very loud and very sleepy little guy.

A new video is exporting as I type, so stay tuned for part three!