The Sapient Ape

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

South Asian Snow Day

This cab driver'll think twice before charging that kinda fare again.

There’s thing called a hartal today. Its kinda like a snow day but instead of traffic accidents due to icing, you get burnt cars due to mob rules. But the two are indistinguishable to me coz the outcome is the same. No work, late to work, or dangerous to go to work.  Snow, mobs — they all make the same noise when they beat on your car.

To those of you outside Bangladesh or totally ignorant, a hartal is a general strike called by a political party to protest something. They force everyone NOT to go to work. I know, right? AWESOME!!! Except it screws with the economy. Like think about it — 3 hartals a year and GDP (or at least productivity) is down by 1% for the year.

It makes you think — given the rampant energy crisis (-2% GDP), the infrastructure/transportation problems (-1% GDP), corruption (-2% GDP), and a whole whole host of other problems (-1% GDP), Bangladesh’s GDP growth rate of 6% could have been at least 10% easily.  Of course I’m no economist, so these numbers are just estimates or figures I’ve read, heard from others, or totally made up, but they make sense — I mean it takes half a day to go from one office to another, and electricity is gone for up to 12 hours a day during the peak season.

But back to the hartal.  This latest hartal was called to protest the fact that the opposition leader got kicked out her house in the army cantonment and then the Supreme Court wouldn’t hear the case again after the High Court heard it bla bla bla.  Yea, you heard right.   Its like a bunch of 5 year olds at recess.  “Well he said nya nya nya.”  “I know you are but what am I?”

A few days ago, my friend from the US facebooks me and is like “Dude, are you alright?  I heard about all the shit going down.”  I was basically like “Huh? Whaaaa?”, at which time, he pointed me to this very well-written article about the politics of hate in Bangladesh (but aren’t all Economist articles well written?).  Sadly, that subject has become so passe, that it didn’t even register as a potential tinderbox or cause of international concern, but just as another day in the life.

I'm not the only one who thinks that the two ladies who rule this country are a) a joke and b) scary

Really quick background on the political situation here.  Its kinda like the US.  Got two main parties — the liberal idiots (Awami League) and the conservative nasties (BNP).  The liberal idiots are in power right now, and enjoy quite a  comfortable margin in terms of the popular vote.  The conservatives kinda screwed themselves by allying with the religious nutsoes, as well as getting embroiled in inter-party rivalries which further weakened them.  I think thats the gist of it — I ain’t no expert nor do I wanna be.  Needless to say, the parties are more similar than different.  One just hates India and the other one hates Pakistan.

The current government’s (liberal idiots) greatest achievement during its current term has been to rename the airport.  It used to be named after the now-dead leader of the conservative party, but now the liberals came up with the genius idea of naming after a religious icon so that the other party couldn’t rename it again when they come to power.  The Awami League’s second greatest achievement this time around is to kick the widow of the dude-the-airport-was-named-after out of her house in the army cantonment.  Incidentally the widow is the leader of the BNP right now.  The Awami League is also led by a woman — Bangladesh’ current prime minister — who’s daddy (the founder the nation) was assassinated by the BNP in the 70s (although that may not be the most neutral version, its generally seen as the truth).

So basically its a case of revenge for my daddy vs. my hubby was the greatest.  This is what happens when you let women lead — all their political agendas boil down to the men in their lives.  Especially in conservative cultures, ‘coz they ain’t getting any, to boot.  It must be at least 30 years since either of these ladies have done the horizontal mambo (I’ll probably get arrested for that comment).

Its like my dad — he’s still trying to hold on to political realities from 40 years ago.  To him, these are the issues that matter.  My sister and I keep telling him — WE DON’T CARE.  He writes these articles about the liberation war in 1971 that no one can relate to except his senile friends — then they get drunk and discuss how contemporary their school of thought is.

And most politicians, unfortunately, think like him — coz they OLD!  Bangladesh is still a young country — we don’t have hundreds of years of a democratic agenda vs. a republican one.  Its all about who’s family did what to who’s family 20 years ago.

But to our generation, its issues like electricity, roads, the environment, and education that really matter.  Get things done so we can live more comfortably — so that we can make more money — so that our kids can have a future (my imaginary kids).  Or else we outta here.  I’m already planning a move to Bangkok — I just don’t see a way out of this never-ending political cycle of bullshit.

What we need is a benevolent dictator.  A leader educated in the West, who can get things done without red-tape and corruption.  A leader like… ME?

Until then — SNOW DAY!

Incidentally, I’m at work on a snow day.  Sucks to be me.

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Filed under: Economy, Politics, , , , ,

The Drug Dealer

The drugs I deal...

Just a sec… let me just dust this blog off…. pssshhhh, psssshhhh, psssshhhh.

There… all fresh, just like new.  Special plice… just fol you!

I come back here after three months and find, scarily, that my hits are still at around 70 a day.  Don’t you people have lives?

So I haven’t written in months — being in a secure job, with a secure non-existent girlfriend, and having no monetary security makes one too content to post one’s angst ridden diatribes on the internet.

Oh wait… I just realized I still have plenty of causes for angst.  On we go then!

So I got this job — I deal drugs to foreigners.  At least that’s what I say to my acquaintances.  In reality, I’m the international business manager at a large pharmaceutical in Bangladesh.  I mean in some ways its very ironic (in so many ways, I won’t even get into ’em all).  Pharma — my dad’s industry, and the industry which I rejected job offers from not too long ago in places like Belgium (but who wants to live there anyway — I actually much prefer Bangladesh, still), from companies like J&J.  But here I am.  Mainly coz of my CEO.  I report directly to him, and he’s pretty awesome.  I’ve never felt like I wanted to be a part of a company, and really work for it and take it as far as it (and I) can go before.  In my previous jobs, I felt like a faceless corporate tool, cogging the machine (and sometimes jamming it up).  Motivation was hard to come by.

Now I’m finally in my element — someone took a chance on me and put me in a leadership position, and I’m up to the challenge (at least I think so — I could get fired tomorrow, but that would be a surprise, from what I see of the quality of manager-level human resources here).  I love it — I love the risks associated with decision making, and I’m not scared to make them.  I’ve always been a risk taker, but usually its been in my private life.  Don’t get me wrong — the risks I took, even in my personal life, were measured ones.  But now I can actually shape long-term strategy by suggesting new (and sometimes risky) courses of action.  I can make things happen — with my CEO’s OK of course — after all, this is still Bangladesh, and every company is a one-man show — although I’d like to think that I make it a 1.25 man show.

That’s me — Mr. 0.25.  But what’s not to love about this job — not only do I report directly to the CEO of a $50 million dollar company, handling $1.2 million worth of business (I hope to increase that to over 2 million this year), but I get to travel and have people underestimate me because of my age and my lack of pharma experience.  I love being underestimated.  Watch that it doesn’t smack you in the ass later.  My dad said an interesting thing the other day.

“Misha you’ll do well here because you’re very easy going.”

“But, baba (dad in Bengali), I also don’t take no shit.”

“And that’s why you succeed — most people here either are too easy going or too demanding.  You are both.”

I walk the fine line of being nice, but being an asshole.  The nice asshole, that’s me.  You’ve all heard me say it before, or read it in between the lines of my blog, or been subject to it in the form of my caustic humor, after which I quickly say “Just kidding, ha ha ha, I didn’t really mean that.”   Even tho I did.  My psychologist friend once said that there’s no such thing as a joke. Fuckin’ shrinks.

...and the drugs I don't.

So yeah — I get a free hand (to some extent), to grow the department and my business as I see fit, and I’m not one to sit around — put me in a position where I can succeed, and I’ll take it as far as I can go.  And drag you all with me, whether you like it or not.  I’m gonna tear shit up and make shit happen.  That’s the American way.

In some ways, this recession was the best thing that could have happened to me — instead of being put into a mid-level managerial position where I would slog out another 3 years before I really made a difference to anyone, I was forced to come back to Bangladesh where the quality of the educated workforce was so low, that I look like a star!  Score!  Its strange — I’m really content to be here for some time — these days, in our fast-paced professional world, its often tough to find an opportunity like that.  The only complaint I have is that there aren’t enough women around here. But maybe that’s a good thing.  I’ve always had a soft spot for the ladies.

Filed under: Career, Personal, traveling, , , , , , ,

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.

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

The Road Taken

So I just read an article about how Professor Yunus just met with Hillary Clinton to discuss healthcare.

Huh?  When did Bangladesh ever make the news for non-cyclones, and what’s even more surprising… Bangladesh and “Green” and healthcare?  You would think that those would never be matched up in any article.  So I haven’t read the article yet, just a sec…

Eh, its just some boring shit about Grameen Bank’s new healthcare initiative and how Bangladeshis are going to be flooded out of a country in a hundred years, but who’s planning to live that long, anyway?

I guess about 250 million people will be.  So, either create the right conditions now, or be met by a quarter billion refugees somewhere around 2110.  And there is the crossroad in which Bangladesh, and to a lesser extent, the world, is at.

A "Dalal"

A "Dalal"

Do we start taking the correct measures — environmentally, politically, socially — starting right now, or do we see the eventual destruction of the country (or the world)?   A country that by sheer force of its population combined with said population’s penchant for dalali, is classified as belonging to the “Next Eleven” economies (although we come in on the bottom, granted).  Economies which have the potential to be the next largest in terms of GDP after the BRIC economies in the coming decades.

There is definitely a large economy here.  A potentially huge economy.  An economy which has only been lightly thumped by the global recession.  An economy, which is in many ways, more “free market” than most Western economies, due to the huge amount of business that is done without paperwork or under the table.  Anything goes, as long as it sells.

And that corruption is one of the quickest roads that could lead us to eventual destruction.  But I don’t think it will (it’ll be another road like rising sea-levels).  Today, a new form of corruption has risen:  “Take a cut, a big one… but try to do something good for the country as well.”  [sarcasm]It warms the heart.[/sarcasm]  These days, unlike during the last decade, it seems that initiatives are being taken which have the country’s long-term benefits in mind.

  • Incentivize industries such as agriculture and power, which will continue to be the engines that drive the economy.
  • Attempt to stomp rampant industrial environmental damage.
  • Plan for the growth of the city and country in 20 years.
  • Diversify the economy away from garments to other export-oriented industries (such as ship-building — who would have thought that Bangladesh would ever have built a ship for a European client?).

I find myself quite pleasantly surprised.  Someone up there holding the strings actually knows his policy shit.  Even if only 20% of what they’re planning comes true, its still quite impressive.  The plans all seem like something I would have heard coming out of the Obama administration if they were as cool as they used to be (or if they didn’t have to wade out of a recession in an international shit-storm).  Someone here who’s in charge has the long-term view in mind.  Coz they realize that without that long-term viewpoint we’re gonna be real f##ked real soon.  And we probably will be but at least we’re trying.

But this post isn’t supposed to be a rant on how great Bangladesh is, its supposed to be a rant about how great I am (DUUHHH)!  I managed to move here at the right time for doing what I want to do — starting a socially-responsible business in renewable energy.  I’ve been talkin’ about that ever since business school (just ask Rainer).  Now its up to me to take what’s mine.  The rightful key to the throne of the world.

As to how that’s going (the renewable energy thing, not the world domination thing), lets just say I’m meeting the right people, and happy with my momentum so far.  But I’ve always been a doer rather than a talker (really?), so lets leave it at that for now.

So here’s to Bangladesh… once “international basket case“, today, international manufacturer of baskets (I’m sure we do, in some tin shack, somewhere).

Filed under: Energy, Politics, Uncategorized, , ,

Lack of Energy Fuels Economic Cesspool.

Energy, energy, gas, gas, electricity, electricity, buzz buzz buzz…

It rules my daily life here, or it would, if I weren’t sitting in my sister’s cushy apartment feeding off the diesel generator that goes on every time the power goes out (luckily for me, the only thing I have to give up is Air Conditioning.  Sweet!  Doin’ my part for global warming!).

And it goes out a lot.  Like for hours a day every day like clockwork.  During peak hours.  The truth of the matter is that Bangladesh can’t produce enough electricity to keep up with demand.  It’s like a vicious cycle.  I remember when I was a kid, lets say 25 years ago, the power used to go out just as often — and no generators.  Favorite cartoons would get cut off, never to be seen again.

Oh Liono, how ever did you defeat Mummra that one time?  Did Snarf help?

But in the 1990s, power generation crept up, as more power stations were built, and the outages got a bit more bearable.

Today we’re back at unbearable.

The diesel generator that powers my internet during power outtages. Scoooore!

The diesel generator that powers my internet during power outtages. Scoooore!

Except every apartment building has diesel generators, which whir into action every time the power goes out, and spew diesel fumes into the air, to add to the city’s pollution problem.   But I hear diesel burns clean, so lets hope for the best.  Is it the right kinda diesel to burn clean?  Turns out, it isn’t.  Chalk one up for lung cancer.  Dhaka got out of one air pollution problem in the early 2000s to be on the brink of falling into another.

Not to mention the actual outages… I heard an estimate that power outages cost Bangladesh in 2% annual GDP.  Think about that — that’s just an exhorbitant amount of waste in a country where 45% of the population lives beneath the poverty level.  If energy shortages cost 2% imagine how much is lost to corruption…4%?  5%?  Were it not fucked up, Bangladesh’s economic growth rate would rival China’s.

Not to mention the increased petroleum imports into the country due to the additional need for diesel fuel — a country, that theoretically at least should be able to at least provide its own power generation needs through its ample natural gas reserves.

But even as new power plants are being built, often by incompetent idiots who have no previous experience in the energy sector, to the tune of long delays and wasted cash — EVEN as these plants are being built, we’re going through a natural gas shortage.  In other words, there’s nothing to power the plants.  A natural gas shortage that supposedly is “due to rising demand and the failure of past governments to find new sources, energy officials said on Sunday.”  It can’t be helping that natural gas prices, along with oil prices, have plummeted recently.

My bro-in-lawrs 2000 cc barrel burner.  Yowza!

My bro-in-lawrs 2.0 L bbl burner. Yowza!

Why should the oil companies break their backs looking for the shit now, when they can just wait it out until a higher price increases their profit margin.  Oil companies are probably the ONLY sector of the modern post-Bush global economy that haven’t been affected that much by our current recession.  They have been hedging their bets for a while, makin’ bank.  So they’re content to sit around and wait for the price to go up, and let us here in Dhaka sweat it out or use up the diesel that they’re selling us anyway.

Summer’s around the corner and its getting hotter every day.  The generator just went on.  Time to go for a ride in my 2000 cc AC car and burn some more gas.

Filed under: Energy, , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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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