The Sapient Ape

Life as an employed MBA grad during an economic recovery. DISCLAIMER: Everything written here is fiction.

No rage against the Raj.

So I just came back from Kolkata today (Calcutta, to the colonially-inclined racists out there). It was my first time in India in like 25 years or something. Which is kinda weird considering I’m brown… but I was always bored by India — more into asian chicks. Ha ha — just kidding — brown chick renaissance goin’ on right here. Besides, I thought, what could be so damn different between Bangladesh and India? Between East Bengal and West? Between Kolkata and Dhaka? Both hot, stinky hellholes epitomizing human suffering, right? Typhoid, dysentery, malaria (do we got malaria?).

Boy was I wrong. Sure they’re both hot. They’re both stinky. Both cities share similar linguistic roots, and many of the men in both places sport thick virility-tickling mustaches. But that’s about where the similarities end.

Whether it’s the Airtel/Aircel ads that bring to mind Indian cricket team captain MS Dhoni telling me to press my internet button, or the fresh and mountainy TATA Himalayan spring water bringing the slight taste of diesel fuel to my mind’s tongue, India (or INDIA!, as it prefers to be known) has seeped into West Bengali culture like arsenic into UNICEF tubewell water in Bangladesh.

Today, Hindi and English are two of the more prevalent languages spoken in Kolkata, a city that used to pride itself on having the “purest” language in all of South Asia (Bengali – as per its similarities to Sanskrit, the now-dead root of most South Asian languages). And no one seems to care about the cultural dilution. Coz everyone’s making bank (except those poor muslims living in those huts on the way to Kolkata airport sorting through filth). Immigrants, whether it be Biharis, Tibetans, or Punjabis, are taking all the shitty jobs that those intellectualized Bengalis think themselves too good for, like street vending, bell-boying and cab driving. Bengalis work 9-5, getting fat on ghee and counting money, as they have for hundreds of years. Except now they do it in multinational banks. And everybody’s happy (cept the muslims of course, but who cares about them).

But only upon walking the streets of this modern, cosmopolitan Kolkata( they have sidewalks and little shops, and people actually walk and talk, unlike in Dhaka), and checking out the cute girls of all races, shapes and sizes (I like the Orissans! Nah jk, I’m equal opportunity fucker) walking on the streets with no male guardian or protective SUV shell, did I get a sense of how great the divide really is between us Bangladeshis and our snooty neighbors who don’t wear deodorant.

On my first day, I got into a discussion with one of my travel companions about how he believed India is actually falling apart from the inside, coz they are all so culturally dissimilar, and how there’s an Maoist uprising in every state now, and how us Bangladeshis are actually lucky coz we’re a cohesive homogenous unit who all think a certain way, and we really don’t treat our minorities as badly. Ummmm… bullshit. My whole life I’ve seen what culturally dissimilar democracies bring to the global table. New York City, London, and Spain, to name a few. Probably the three pinnacles of human civilization in terms of open-mindedness, acceptance of different cultures, and kick-ass art and music. Immigration, emigration — the movement of people to new locations where they are isolated from those who think just like them — fosters social, cultural, and economic development. Sure, it may be a rocky road, but its one that ends in nougaty nutty goodness.

That to me, is the inherent problem that we face as Bangladeshis. There are a shitload of us — 140 million — but most of us worship the same god, speak the same language, eat the same food, and even wipe our asses the same way (although that last part’s changing, hopefully). We drink the same tea, spit on the same corners, squat to piss, like the same bad Chinese food and music that makes us weepy. How can 140 million be wrong? Well even if they aren’t wrong they sure are damn boring.

Shazia's book cover... I tried to snort this line several times to no avail.

Shazia's book cover... I tried to snort it several times.

The above individual also had a few words of wisdom to ad (nah he’s pretty smart and he’s gonna be reading this blog soon, so I gotta ease up on him). “A friend of mine once said Dhaka has all of the bad things about a big city with none of the good.” We have the insane traffic, we have the pollution, we’ve got the crime, and we’ve got the drug problem. But where is the cultural gemification? Where are the centers for cutting edge music and art? The great street food and the open minded people?

They’re in India, right across the border. Tickets start at about $90 bucks round trip on Kingfisher Airlines, and the stewardesses are hot (with their little red miniskirts)!

Now in case anyone thinks I’m hating on my country, no way. Bengalis have a lot of great democratic, open-minded qualities upon which this country was formed (they escape me right now, its been a while). I just don’t want us to forget those on the road to globalization. I’m just another self-loathing liberal who “wants us to be as good as I know we can.”

Lastly, I’d also like to give a shout out to mah gurl Shazia, who just published her first book with Penguin India, and who’s book launch was the reason I flew out to Kolkata. “Like a Diamond in the Sky.” Its about drugs and Bangladesh so you know its good or at least ironically sad. Read it. She’s gots talents, yo.

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Filed under: Politics, traveling, , , , , , , , ,

Convergence, or “Till all are one”

Humans are like flesh Transformers.

Humans are like flesh Transformers.

Adapting to changing conditions… or conversely, adapting our environment to our needs…

It’s really all that separates us from the beasts (or maybe I should say separates YOU guys from the beasts… I’m still a beast with three simple needs that all start with F).

Think about the amount of adaptation that has been required for a human being who has lived over the last 100 years.  Commercial flight, space flight, gene mapping, gene sequencing, computers, the internet, heavy industry, manufacturing, telecommunications — all of these technological advances have become such a part of our day-to-day lives, that without them we would probably be lost.  Civilization might even crumble.  Thats the extent to which these advances have been adapted by and integrated into our modern society, primarily in the West, but now more and more in the rest of the world as well.

And its in the rest of the world that the rate of adaptation is truly amazing… a testament to the fact that biologically, we are one species with a similar ability to adapt to change.  People in Bangladesh, who 20 years ago may not even have talked on a phone in their whole lives, now walk around with a mobile phone clipped to their belt (usually a Nokia).  The mobile phone itself, as a device, has really become ubiquitous to humanity to an extent greater than any other technological device that has been invented in the past century.  One could say that it’s a measure of the great transition of the time in which we live, from the industrial age to the information age.

Even for me, in the US, the cell phone an adaptation that I barely took up ten years ag0, maybe eleven.  Now you can find them in the hands of a farmer in the remotest village in China (or Bangladesh for that matter), and I’m sure not many people are left on Earth who don’t know what the capabilities of the device are.  The rapid global expansion of telecommunications in the last 10 years alone is phenomenal, and a breath of positive foresight by large telecommunications companies that for once benefitted both their relentless need for profit as well as the lives of the citizens of the countries they expanded into.

This global technological convergence is a result of many factors which I’m not going to go into detail about, such as rapid communication, easier transportation, and better education.  But it is a fact that societies which 20 years ago were 100 years behind the west, today are perhaps only 20 years behind (although granted, the issue of poverty remains unsolved for the most part).  And the rate keeps quickening, as countries like China start to research and develop their own technologies, and as countries like Japan outsource their R&D to Bangladesh.  A friend of mine here was telling me about a Japanese company that is outsourcing the development of 3D technology using standard LCD screens to a local partner in Bangladesh.  According to him, the technology is already ready for the market.

So what are we going to see in the future?  A technologically equal society with large pockets of poverty?  The dictionary definition of convergence is the coming together of two or more things.  In an IT or technology setting, the meaning takes on a different connotation — the coming together of two separate technologies into one technology.  Like for example the computer and the phone = iPhone.   Or, in the future, computer and TV = yet unnamed thingy that does both.

I randomly took this video the other day and realized that its a perfect example of technology convergence in Bangladesh.  Exhibit A) Shitty public transportation that runs on environmentally-friendly Compressed Natural Gas.  Exhibit B) Dude pulls out his Nokia as soon as he gets off said shitty public trans-po.

But in a broader societal context, we can take convergence to mean the coming together of two societies at different technological development timeframes into a society where all technology is available to everyone (at a price, of course).  So is that really what we’re heading to?  A society where medical immortality is available to those who can pay for it?  But where half of humanity still doesn’t get enough nourishment to meet their minimum requirements and live in squalor?  I’m not judging — just throwing it out there as a possible scenario for humanity’s future — barring self destruction of the species, of course, which is probably more of an inevitability.

Convergence… it levels the playing field… if you got the cash.

Filed under: technology, , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Young Blood May Prevent Spilt Blood

So my cousins were telling me that this past election that just occurred in Bangladesh (early 2009) was in many ways comparable to Obama’s recent victory.  People were out in the street on election day, cheering and dancing, oblivious to the threat of violence that has become so prevalent in politics, not only in Bangladesh, but pretty much everywhere.  Even in the US, our joy and innocent cheer was subdued by the constant threat to the first black presidential candidate that covered the area (when we were around him) like the view from a secret service sniper net.  I can’t describe the fear I felt as an Obama supporter, constantly praying (to my non-existent God) that nothing would happen to him.  I can’t imagine the sorrow and depression that would permeate our nation and our world if that were to happen.

I’m not going to get on a whole political diatribe.  We all know what politics begets.  It has forever been associated with power, violence, and the suffering of the masses for the benefit of the few.  That may not change in some time, if ever (until women take their true place as the master race, and us men are relegated to sex objects (bring it on!!!)), but perhaps there is hope.  That word, hope, did not mean much to me before — it was a joke, a crutch for weaklings.  But somehow, this transformative election and individual have given hope back to me — a person who in the past was the epitome of  apathy, self-centeredness, and self-destructiveness.

But again — I digress.  This post is really about why politics continues to be run by the same people.  Why the masses around the world are so drawn to cults of personality that they would rather elect a despot they know than a stranger who’s actions might actually benefit their lives.

For example, in Bangladesh.  To those of you who don’t know, I’ll attempt a brief explanation.  Bangladesh used to have three major political parties.  The Awami League (left), the Jatio Party (center), and BNP (right).  Both right and center have gained political power through coups and assassinations, although Awami isn’t much better in terms of political subterfuge.  Today, only left and right remain.  Jatio has been eaten up by Awami, and right (BNP) has formed an alliance with far right (religious fundamentalists).  This recent election was won by left.  But here’s the big joke.  The main political players in Bangladeshi politics for the past 30 years are all still heavily involved on today’s political stage, if they are still alive — otherwise their family members are.  Family dynasties have formed, and power keeps changing hands between them.  Can we really consider this democracy (And please remember that family dynasties are not something very unique to Bangladeshi politics before you attempt to judge us for our backwardness)?  So Bangladeshi politics is starting to mimic more and more the politics of the US, or vice versa.

Except for the rampant — RAMPANT corruption.  Its everywhere here — to the point that it has corrupted the national mindset.  I was in hour 4 of an 8 hour conversation with a friend recently when I realized that us Bengalis have really changed as a people, our self-identity warped and twisted by corruption and greed.  There used to be a time (although it may have been before I was born), when we used to fight for values — for our right to our language and culture.  Now we kill for money and power.  And this is seen as not only unavoidable, but even normal or respectable.

So how do we change it back?  It definitely won’t be by handing power back and forth between the same tired old political parties.  Bangladesh, like the US, needs someone transformative.  Someone young, someone not associated with any of the political dynasties, someone full of idealism, someone incorruptible.  Someone who believes that things can change for the better, and is willing to sacrifice self-interest for that change.  So if you’re out there, transformative political candidate — out there on my friends list on FB — get in touch with me.  I’ll help you run your campaign.

Filed under: Politics, , , , , , , , ,

Lifer’s Block

Since the introduction of CNG tech, air quality in the city has improved noticeably

Since the introduction of CNG tech, air quality in the city has improved noticeably

Lifer’s Block.

As in writer’s block, but relating to your whole life.  That’s what I’ve felt about coming to Dhaka in the past.  A black hole from which escape is very difficult.

I guess that’s why, since high school, I’ve been coming back less and less.  I see Dhaka as what my life could become, should I let it — the dark side of my personality finally taking over for good.

In many ways, I’m being unfair to Bangladesh.  The changes here have rolled through almost overnight (if you count almost 20 years as overnight).  There used to be a time, when I visited my family in the 70s and 80s, when the roads used to be clear of any cars after 8pm, where convenience  stores were few and far between, where even picking up a toothbrush involved planning and a 20 minute drive.  The 70s and 80s didn’t see much economic development, and change was slow.  Enter globalization, in the 90s, and a rapid period of development, both economic and social.  Today, city-wide all-day traffic jams make a half mile trip take half an hour.  Commerce abounds, and restaurants are everywhere.  Crate and Barrel quality imports enter the local market straight from the Chinese manufacturers as private label goods.  Here, at least, one can see the benefits that globalization has had on Asia — at least the middle and upper class of Asia.  Their lives have definitely improved.

I stopped playing this game once I got to high school.

I stopped playing this game once I got to high school.

But for me, Dhaka represents stagnation — my last two years of high school were here, and were filled with long periods of boredom and frustration.  Escaping back to the US was the beginning of my freedom, not only from my parents, but from a society that is often small-minded, judgmental, and ultra-materialistic.  Wealth, and the accumulation thereof, is seen as primary measure of success and power.  I realize this can be said about almost anywhere in the world, but it seems to me that due to the extreme poverty that is prevalent here, the materialism is more pronounced.  And I find myself easily falling into that mindset, or being a victim of its consequences.

But I’m generalizing.  Things aren’t all bad here — people aren’t ALL evil.  My dilemma is, that as an unemployed broke-ass, I could probably get a job here relatively easily, either with an NGO, or with a local multinational — the salary would be pitiable by Western standards, but I could actually live relatively comfortably here.

Ahh Dhaka... the idylic crow by the putrid lake...

Ahh Dhaka... the idylic crow by the putrid lake...

This would also (hopefully) give me an opportunity to work on my own business projects which so far, I’ve been stagnating with.  If I were here, I could find other individuals who could help me launch my ideas and make them a reality.  I could even work on products for the export market.  Even China, which remains one of the countries that I would like to maintain a connection with, is a closer flight from here, and business with China is booming in Bangladesh (as it is everywhere).

So I’m actually considering it as a real possibility, especially after June — once I take my Foreign Service Exam.

Like I’ve mentioned before, I have trouble making decisions.  Every time I come here, I am able to convince myself that I can give up my dreams of world domination and settle down to make babies with some hot young thing.

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Diamond in the Desert

So my posts have been kinda on the dark and gloomy side lately, or maybe more serious than usual.  It reflects my mood at the moment, but that will change soon.

This is just gonna be a short one — I’m in Dubai Airport right now on the way to Dhaka, so I have some time to kill.  I’m drinking a beer at 930 am local time.  I can’t believe how many immigrants live in this city/country.  I would say 25% of the population is East Asian, mostly Chinese and Indonesian.  About 40-50% is South Asian, most of them Bangladeshi.  And then you have the locals, who perhaps make up about 20%, with white people maybe making up 5-10% (although I can’t really tell that from the airport, but its an educated guess from the number of MBAs I know working here, multiplied by the number of hot stewardesses I see).

I stopped at one of the duty free stores and rocked out some Guitar Hero — I turned around after “No sleep till Brooklyn” and found I’d drawn a crowd — I guess I’m a rock star wherever I go — is there any way I can leverage that?!?!

Before I left I was dreading this trip, but my experience in the airport so far just reaffirms that I need to come back to Asia at some point.  It IS the future.  Infrastructure is so super-developed here — it really does make the US look like a third-world country.  I know this isn’t true everywhere, or even in the majority of places, but its true enough at the major hub cities around Asia.

Of course at the same time, society is more close-minded and conservative, but really, in Dubai at least, I don’t feel that its much more conservative than like Arkansas or something!   Diversity breeds openness.  Some people may dress more conservatively, but like I said, when its only 20% of the population you barely notice.  And multiply that by .4 for the number of women actually wearing that long black thing, and its really not a big number.

I think I could really clean up here, in terms of the ladies.  Ha ha!  Is that a joke?  I’m not really sure.  But I hear there’s a dearth of places where you can go out and meet people/women, which could be  a bit of a damper on the picking-up-chicks scenario.

A friend of mine also mentioned that reports of Dubai’s dying economy are greatly exaggerated — its no worse off than anywhere else right now.

That’s all for now, I guess — sitting at an airport bar is only so interesting.  More tomorrow or the day after… when I finally reach my destination — the hot, sweaty, dirty city that is my semi-home…. Dhaka.

Filed under: traveling, , , , ,

I Choo-choo-choose You.

Choices are notoriously difficult for Geminis to deal with, and I’m no exception.

I Choo-Choo-Choose You

I Choo-Choo-Choose You - Let's Bee Friends

We like everything.  Beef and chicken.  Cats and dogs.  Drinking and smoking.  And that’s just when it comes to eating.   This bon-vivant attitude makes it hard for us to make decisions, which is why I rely either on a chance flip of the coin (literally), or on a last-minute whim.

This is not to say I never plan anything, because that would be ridiculous, and I’d never have gotten this far (all the way to unemployed-MBA status).  However, my choices usually consist of two or more equally-desirable outcomes.  Naturally, this sort of decision-making hasn’t exactly made my life proceed according to the straight and narrow path (according to Walt, the road that IS taken), but when I look back on it, and even while I’m experiencing it, I can rarely say I’m not fuckin’ happy as shit.  The past 3 years (maybe excluding the last) especially, have been phenomenal, and even last year, which was shitty economically, and perhaps career-wise, I can say I was part of a life-changing, extremely rewarding experience with my involvement on the Campaign.

So what made these most recent years so great?

  • Traveling to crazy destinations.
  • Meeting new, motivated, open-minded people.
  • Having the freedom to make my own schedule, to a certain extent.
  • Beaches and sun.

I guess those would be my priorities in trying to plan out my future life-path.  However,  at the same time, I can’t help but feel that its time to pay the piper.  One can’t continue to have fun forever, can one?  Someone convince me I can.

Herein lies my current dilemma.  Whether to re-enter the rat-race, as a city mouse, or whether to country mouse it up (sorry — too many animated mouse movies lately).  Should I attempt to re-join society (defined as “Western professional society”), by working for someone else (most likely an increasingly-evilly perceived multinational), padding my resume further, and generally starting to accumulate wealth and pay off debt (at least that’s the plan), or should I follow my natural inclination and take educated risks to further my personal career-goals (such as attempting to start one of the many daydreamed business ideas I’ve come up with).  I am a natural serial entrepreneur.  I just haven’t done it yet, and I feel like I need to start sooner rather than later.  Even failures are a learning experience and I love failing… I mean learning.

So lets put these choices forward more coherently, ‘coz I’ve been thinking about them a lot.

  1. Stay in DC: Try to put together a career in the government, specifically in the State Department, which is really where I belong.  So, the long-term in this plan is traveling and making my own schedule, although the short-term involves staying here.  I like the glamor associated with being a State Department employee, although in real life its probably not very glamorous at all, and involves narrowly escaping life-threatening situations (which actually is pretty glamorous!).
  2. Move back to NYC: New York is really where my heart is.  Every time I street-view the city on Google maps, I get heart pangs.  I feel like all my friends there are leaving me behind.  I miss them (even tho I know most of them are paired up, and things’d never be the same), and the assorted hotties I might meet but not hook up with.  What I would do here is more questionable — temp?  Contract?  The city’s economy isn’t what it once was.  But neither can I allow the city to leave me behind.  I must remain “cool” well into my late-30s and connected to the only place I’ve ever felt at home in.
  3. Set out for Asia: The scariest of the three, but perhaps the most rewarding.  Yesterday on Fareed Zakaria, they were mentioning that Asia’s economy will be the quickest to rebound.  That sounds like a prime opportunity to get in while the getting is not-so-bad.  Besides, as far as entrepreneurship, I’d have the most chance at success leveraging my knowledge of the society there, as well as my connections.  But the downside is that my resume will suffer.  Risk vs. reward.

So here I am, trying to take a significant step that, right now, seems like it will affect my life in a HUGE way FOREVER.

Forever is a scary word for a Gemini — too much committment involved.

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