Panch Bochhor (পাঁচ বছর)

Marking 5 years


I like milestones. They provide a satisfying sense of accomplishment and achievement whilst ensuring the preservation of a little focus and direction.

This post is a celebration of one such milestone. April 9th, 2016 marked exactly 5 years since I first posted on this blog.  It’s a pleasant feeling to know that despite the many twists and turns, the sporadic uprooting, the hellos and the goodbyes, and the often unplanned wanderings, I have still found time to regularly (well, kind of regularly) update and commit part of my energy and heart to this little project.

A project that began with the somewhat vague aim of recording my ramblings has now grown into a means by which to document a multitude of experiences that came along the way.


IMG_7543


What this milestone also represents is that it is now a little over five years since I arrived in Bangladesh. When I think back to that time (March 2011), I really had no idea I would remain so long in this country, but I don’t regret it one bit. I arrived on a short term contract with a cautious ambition to perhaps extend that to a year. Five years on I’m still here aside from a one year sabbatical (of sorts) in Guyana.

Bangladesh has been good to me, and I am very grateful for that. I can’t really believe how quickly the five years have flown by, but in that time I’ve been lucky enough to explore this country a little and also travel to Nepal, India, Cambodia, Myanmar, Vietnam, Sri Lanka, Laos, Bhutan, Thailand, and even back to Rwanda a couple of times.

Most importantly though I have been lucky enough to work in a job that has inspired me to grow and learn. I’ve been surrounded by some fantastic colleagues right from the start, and they have been a source of constant knowledge whilst encouraging me to change and develop my outlook on many, many things.

I have of course also been privileged to teach and work with students who have taught me far more than I have them.

As always with these short posts that mark a milestone, I prefer to let images tell the story, so here are a few which I think sum up just why that tentative first few months turned into five years and provided me with so many amazing adventures under this one sun.


IMG_9647


IMG_5470


IMG_8280


IMG_8466


IMG_9331


IMG_7062


IMG_8232


IMG_8385



IMG_5956


IMG_5950


Sandwip


IMG_9330


IMG_6456


IMG_9364


IMG_1114


Sandwip


One man and the sea


Sunset on the water



All images © John Stanlake

You Set The Scenes

A new project


IMG_7570

So I’d like to take the opportunity to use this somewhat older (hmmm, let’s say more ‘mature’) platform of communication to tell you about a new project I’ve started working on.

I say I, but it is in fact ‘we’ – my good friend Rich and I. We know each other from our days in Prague when we both completed the same TEFL course (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) and have remained good friends ever since.

Rich still lives and works in the Czech Republic in a town called Podebrady, and he came up with the idea of creating a Vlog (video log) in which we both contribute regular videos offering a little glimpse into our individual experiences in the Czech Republic and Bangladesh respectively.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The slight twist is that in doing so, we will set each other various challenges. We will also seek input from our viewers (who will hopefully exist!) and ask for suggestions for challenges they would like to see us complete, hence the name of the vlog – You Set The Scenes. Also, crucially, whoever receives the most thumbs up on youtube for their video wins the challenge.

*The name of the vlog is also a little nod to one of my favourite songs by one of my favourite bands.*

The main aims of this new project are as follows:

  1. For Rich and I to keep in touch!
  2. To hopefully offer viewers a little glimpse into what our lives are like as expats.
  3. To offer a positive look into the culture and environment of both Bangladesh and the Czech Republic.
  4. To motivate Rich and I to explore our locations further and hopefully create a richer personal understanding of our surroundings.
  5. To do things we may not have previously considered, which will no doubt at some points make us appear awkward and uncomfortable…perhaps much to the amusement of our viewers (again, if we have any)!

So that’s it really. I’m sure it will be a challenge at times, but also worthwhile, rewarding and fun. We both love exploring and getting away from the ‘tourist track’ and hope that this new vlog will reflect that.

Check out the trailer…

Our first challenge was to learn and recite a tongue twister in the native language of our countries.  So I learned a tongue twister in Bangla, and Rich learned one in Czech. You can see how we got on below.

Rich’s Czech Tongue Twister

and

John’s Bangla Tongue Twister

Please like our facebook page and subscribe to our youtube channel. We are also on Twitter and you can follow us at @YouSetTheScenes.

We hope you enjoy our future videos, and please comment below with any suggestions you would like us to try!


 

Bhagyaban

A Summer in Devon


As has become an almost mini tradition with this blog, my August post will be dedicated to photos from home. The academic year in Bangladesh came to a successful close in June and a six week vacation was divided between Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), and of course, Torquay, Devon.

In my next blog I’ll share some of those images from Rwanda and DRC (which will include molten lava and bullet-holed signposts), but for now here is a selection from home. This inevitably comprises photos of sunsets, dogs, hills, family, real ale, Plymouth Argyle, and the ocean.

The title of this blog post simply means “lucky” in Bangla, and when I am home in the UK it always makes me stop and reflect upon how lucky I was and am to have grown up in Devon and to be able to go home and visit on an annual basis.

This summer was no different, and there were several moments I reflected on this good fortune. Perhaps these photos will explain better than words can.  Just as I feel often mesmerized by the Bangladesh countryside, Devon provokes a distinctly parallel experience.

There was one evening in particular. I took Jack, our border collie, for an evening walk and the sun was just beginning to set over the fields that spread towards the horizon. The light was perfect and the peace and silence was unlike anything I had experienced for a while.

I’m back in Bangladesh now, and I don’t know quite when I’ll experience that type of silence again, but I do know the countryside here offers just as many peaceful experiences, so “bhagyaban” undoubtedly applies to my time here also.

So, here’s a small selection of photos from my latest summer of reconnection with home.


All photos © John Stanlake

Four Years Through a Lens


Almost four years ago to the day I began my random musings on this blog. In that time it has evolved from a predominantly word-based account of travels and the daily life of living internationally, to (I hope) an increasingly image-focussed reflection upon the diverse, distinct, and unique environments I am lucky enough to find myself in.

Two years ago I marked the second full year of this blog with a selection of images that captured the essence of that period.

https://johnstanlake.com/2013/04/09/two-years-through-a-lens/

Two years on again, I would like to repeat this exercise with ten carefully selected images from the period April 2013 to April 2015, which are collectively some of my favourites from this time and provide a small glimpse into another two years of travel, exploration, and life as an expat.


1. December 28th, 2013 – Angkor Wat, Cambodia

An incredible sunrise at one of the world’s most ancient and mysterious archeological sites. It is moments like this that make the cramped buses, early mornings, and days of unwashed clothes completely worth it.

John Stanlake_01926673013_Angkor Dawn_02_Silhouette


2. December 18th, 2013 – Shwedagon Pagoda, Yangon, Myanmar

Taken as I stood on a bridge with the city of Yangon sprawled around me, this image sticks in my mind as the famous Shwedagon Pagoda seemed to be visible across the whole city.

Shwedagon Pagoda, Yangon, Myanmar


3. July 2013 – Prague, Czech Republic

I’ve never actually written about Prague in this blog, but it’s where my teaching life began in 2009, so it holds a special place in my heart. Visiting again in 2013 reminded me just how wonderful the city is. One of Europe’s finest.

Prague, Czech Republic


4. Georgetown, Guyana

My home for one year until June 2013, Georgetown (and Guyana) has a vibrancy that’s hard to explain in words. You really have to experience it to realise how the diverse cultures fuse together to create an intriguing country.

Homes in New Amsterdam


5.  December 2013 – Bagan, Myanmar

Sunrise over the ancient pagodas in Bagan. It’s hard to put into words quite how beautiful this morning was, so hopefully the photo provides some idea.

IMG_7031


6.  January 1st, 2014 – Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

Spending the first day of 2014 in Ho Chi Minh City was a nice way to kick off a year that involved more travel and exploration. It was my first time in the south of Vietnam and I plan to return one day.

Ho Chi Minh City


7. March 2014 – Sandwip, Bangladesh

The photo may speak for itself, but Sandwip (a small island west of Chittagong) was a total joy to experience when I stayed there for a few days with a colleague’s family. This photo was taken one early evening, and it’s one of my personal favourites from any of my travels.

IMG_9315


8. August 2015 – Dartmoor, Devon, UK

It’s always nice to go home. Sights like this make it all the more worth it…

Dartmoor, Devon


9. July 2014 – Huye, Rwanda

This is less about the actual image and more about the significance of the location. Fours years after leaving Rwanda, July 2014 was the first time I set foot once again in the Land of a Thousand Hills. It was a special feeling to be back there, even if just for a week.

IMG_0598


10. March 2015 – Jessore, Bangladesh

“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I – I took the one less travelled by, And that has made all the difference.”

– Robert Frost

Jessore, Bangladesh


 

Heigh-Ho!


In my previous blog I presented the photographic evidence of copious tea shop visits and interactions with the owners and clientele. During those photo walks I also captured a few images of people at work.

I found that it was quite fascinating to sit and photograph people going about their daily work and trades. I wanted to post this blog simply to present the images that reflect daily life here as I see it through my lens.

This is what I enjoy most about engaging in one of my favourite hobbies here in Chittagong. Through photography I extract so much joy from being able to view and explore this fascinating city and country and to view sights that perhaps seem ordinary or even mundane to one set of eyes, yet to others tell a story.

So, here are the results. Some of the photos were taken some months/years ago, but all are from Bangladesh. Also you may notice that there are few women featured. This was obviously not a conscious decision of mine, but rather reflective of the trades I photographed, and crucially, my location.


The Welders

IMG_1690



IMG_1529


IMG_1815


IMG_1654a


IMG_1647


IMG_1618


IMG_1659


IMG_1702


IMG_1817


The CNG driver

IMG_6267


IMG_8381


The Rickshawalah

IMG_1539



Rickshawalahs


The man who fixes the rickshawalah’s wheels…

IMG_1543


The Boatmen

IMG_5410


IMG_4647


IMG_5467


The Tailors

IMG_1544




The Fishermen

IMG_9364


IMG_5184


Bangladesh faces


IMG_1145


IMG_3065


IMG_3048


…and the man who transports their catch to market

IMG_4975


to the man who sells them at the market…


The Farmer

IMG_9142


The Produce Sellers

IMG_1771



IMG_1752


IMG_1725


The Butcher


The Ice Cream Man

IMG_1550


The Jeweller


The Carpenter

IMG_1548


The Cooks

IMG_6113 copy


IMG_5613


IMG_1781


IMG_1638


Bangladesh faces


The Load Carriers and Goods Transporters

IMG_8724


IMG_8280


IMG_5942 copy


And finally, the metalsmith

IMG_5687


All images © John Stanlake

 

Learning To Learn Again

Some weeks ago I contributed a post to the Asian University for Women’s  Center for Teaching and Scholarships blog. It is a space for teachers and professors to reflect upon their experiences as educators. I thought I’d share this post on my personal blog also, as it seems like an appropriate time. The current school year has recently come to an end and I’m feeling proud of the students I taught this year, as they have now successfully graduated from the one year Access Academy course and will move on to the full undergraduate program in August.


One of the most rewarding aspects of this job is the influence you can have on the education of your students. It sounds obvious of course, but well-planned lessons, engaging subjects, and interactive instruction is the catalyst for an effective learning environment. There may be times when you reflect on a specific class you have taught, or a topic you have covered with your students, and wonder if they gained as much from it as you had hoped. However, overall your support, guidance, and enthusiasm have the ability to direct your students on the path to independent and inquisitive discovery both inside and outside of the classroom.

 

 

Personally though, I have become aware during the past five years of incredibly varied teaching roles that it’s not solely my students who (hopefully) have this opportunity. From preparing lessons, teaching classes, facilitating discussion, and, crucially, from listening to my own students, I too have learned so much, and in many ways it has significantly reignited my individual desire for learning.

Upon completion of my Masters Degree, and prior to embarking on my life as a teacher, I spent 18 months working in an office. The job was fine enough and helped to clear some mounting post-university debts whilst introducing me to the day to day responsibilities of paid employment. However, it led to a noticeable stagnation of my motivation to seek out new knowledge. This may very well have been a consequence of my own personal misguided path, but the nine to five routine left me demotivated in other aspects of my life, and whilst I didn’t recognise it at the time, I needed something to change.

In hindsight I did learn tangible lessons from my first ‘proper’ job. It clarified in my head that having progressed somewhat zombie-like straight from school to university, I now needed to explore beyond that particular bubble. At this point I didn’t really know quite where that would take me, but as I reflect on the places I’ve lived, worked, and visited since that fork in the road, I feel pretty satisfied with the choices I made.

It began with an important and life-changing decision to rectify the dissatisfaction of 18 months behind a computer screen, and it was at this juncture I travelled to Rwanda as a volunteer teacher in a rural secondary school. It was a challenging year, but also highly rewarding. One of the main reasons for this was my assignment to teach Entrepreneurship.

 

 

My initial reaction was to panic and focus entirely on the fact that I considered myself to be the least entrepreneurial person I knew, most probably due to my cautious and frugal nature; two qualities that no career entrepreneur would ever claim to possess. However, once I set about building a syllabus, seeking out resources, discussing ideas with my peers, and thinking logically about how I could best guide my expectant students, it became something of a new and exciting challenge.

Entrepreneurship requires a great deal of “out of the box” thinking – something many of my students were not accustomed to. Therefore, in order to teach the students before me, I had to learn, and I had to learn fast. I recall sleepless nights, confused faces, and undoubtedly one or two lesson plans that in hindsight may not have been the most effective. Yet, by the end of the year this experience had taken me back to the period prior to my office job. I was driven to learn once again.

 

 

At AUW this experience has been no different. Teaching ‘Interpreting Texts’ in the Access Academy has provided me with broad scope to develop a course that covers a range of topics and utilizes a variety of sources and authors. This past year we studied issues relating to identity and gender. We debated the merits of anthropological research and scrutinized the influence of modern media on our lives. We investigated how fear and stigma perpetuates the global HIV crisis, and we spent time reading about the intricacies of a divided Sudan. We read textbooks, journals, academic texts, editorials, blogs, and even found time to analyze the lyrics of Simon & Garfunkel, The Beatles, and The Kinks.

Each week I feel I learn just as much as my students, and of course lesson preparation and in class instruction account for the bulk of this. What should not be underestimated though, and is a factor that has become abundantly clear during my time at AUW thus far is the knowledge I gain from my students.

 

 

We’re from contrasting regions of the world and they have faced significantly different journeys to my own, so whenever we discuss a topic in class or they write a response, I am exposed to new thinking and new perspectives I may have otherwise failed to consider. The wonderful consequence of this is that unlike my previous non-teaching job, which at times left me feeling uninspired and lacking direction, I now have no option but to learn and grow as both a teacher and a person, and to strive to consider the world around me. It is thanks to this job and my inspiring students that I am able to experience these opportunities.

 

 

Rasputin, Karl Marx, Ben Fogle – It’s a bad day for beards….


So I had planned to tackle a serious subject in this blog update, but due to events which transpired in a classroom at AUW this week I’ve decided there are far more pressing issues to be discussed. When I say issues, I do in fact actually mean just one single issue. My beard.

You may have seen it. It’s in photos, and it’s reached a length which now makes it fairly noticeable to all. I’ve been wrestling with this for a while. To shave or not to shave? This is the conundrum that currently keeps John Stanlake awake at night, and it’s a conundrum which reached the classroom this week as a fellow teacher put it to her students in a writing task. Their prompt was ‘Should Mr John keep his beard or not?’

It’s essentially the end of term here, so this is not a usual assignment. Anyway, the students were very forthcoming with their opinions. I’d like to share some (the best) with you….

I’ve separated this into two sections – pro-beard (Fogle lovers) and anti-beard (Fogle haters)….Let’s start with the anti-beard brigade;

Fogle

Sir Ben of Fogleshire

(Please note: These are all direct quotes)


Fogle Haters

‘I think Mr Jhon shouldn’t keep his beard. When he keeps beard, he looks more older than his age. It is also hard for him to wash his face cleanly. Even though he washed his face because of beard some dirt may stay in his beard. Because of beard when he eats anything food may be stick to his beard. As like food, the environment dust also sticks to his beard and may make him unhealthy.’

An obvious beard hater. However, her concern for my health and wellbeing is commendable.

‘As his beard is not black in colour it does not look good to me. Rather it makes him look foolish. His beard is not compatible with his face.’

Honest and to the point – Clearly not a future politician.

‘His beard is yellow, so it is not like so much good than black beard looks’.

Valid point. In fairness though it’s hard to judge me here as you don’t see many blond-haired Bangladeshis.

This next student has several convincing arguments in defence of her anti-beard stance;

  1. ‘You will forget how to shave which might cause you problems later’.  It’s more concerning that she appears to think her teacher will forget how to perform such a simple task as shaving so quickly!
  2. ‘You might get lice on your beard due to AUW’s water.’  This is highly alarming. Is it possible to have lice-ridden facial hair?? If yes, that may clinch the decision to shave.
  3. ‘It makes your face filled with two colour which looks funny. Like, your whole face is white but your beard is part brown.’  I’d argue that it would look even funnier/weirder if I had a skin-coloured beard surely??
  4. ‘It will save you precious time because you don’t have to comb it frequently.’  There is that I guess. However, I’m  fond of my beard comb. It would be useless and redundant without a beard to comb.
  5. ‘It will save water if you don’t have to clean it frequently.’  I’d probably still wash my face though. Beard or no beard.

All points are valid and have been noted.

‘I first met him during history class. He looked good; wearing shirt and jeans (which suits his face without beard). A face with beard looks untidy and it somehow gives a gesture of laziness, since beard is raised by old people.’

Hmmm…In many ways she’s hit the nail on the head. The whole reason for the beard in the first place was due to a lack of motivation to shave over the summer holiday.

‘I think Mr John looks good when he keeps short beard. Neither totally shaved nor long like that a saint does. Since neatly shaved look in men makes him chocolaty, Mr John should try out professional look.’

Has anyone ever seen a Saint with a chocolaty beard?

This was one of my favourite responses. Simply entitled ‘Beard’ this student is fantastically honest….

‘Dear Sir – you looked better at the beginning of the semester. Do you know the reason behind it? Yes, of course, it’s because you hadn’t had bunch of beard then. I don’t mean to say that you look unattractive now, but there is nothing to praise. I agree being a man you would want some beard to look manly or something like that but I don’t understand the reason behind letting them grow more and more. Maybe you are planning to become a ‘Babaji*,’ but I think it’s not a good idea. I don’t even want to imagine you like that…disgusting! I wonder if after the winter break you will come with your long hair as well. OMG*!! You look good the way you used to be with small beard rather than that jungle in your face.’

*Babaji – I believe this is some kind of religious figure who sports long hair and a long beard, but I may be wrong.

* OMG = Oh My God

Another classic, this possibly surpasses the previous verdict. This student begins with some nice comments about me as a teacher, but then follows it directly with;

‘But every good thing has some error attached to it. In Mr John’s case, it’s his beard. I would strongly encourage him to shave it off as soon as possible. I have some valid reasons for it,

  • The beard he has is hiding his face and making it look unpolished.
  • When I see his face I think he carries a burden on his face. I feel very sorry for him when I see him carrying such a burden.
  • Last, but not least, his voice. Because of so much pressure on his face Mr John can’t talk clearly which makes a problem for us – his students. To let out his bold voice without any barricade he should get rid of his beard.

Finally, I really enjoyed taking part in this noble cause. I feel extremely fortunate that my efficiency is considered valuable in this serious global issue.’

Does a beard hinder speech? Is my beard hiding a burden? Should I be polishing my face? All good questions.

‘Your beard is like a forest and is the same as ancient man’

 This student offers some useful advice;

First of all he looks more young without beard whereas having beard shows him much older than he is. It is not only about personal appearance but also affects his students. Students like their teacher to look nice. When he comes to class with shaved beard, most probably everyone would tell him ‘You look nice Sir!’ and the positive sentence would have great affect on the class and make it nice. But when he comes to class without shaving students would not even listen to him! Also in today’s world the one with beard would seem more barbaric.’

 So I’m a boring barbarian that no one listens to. Good to know.

However – It’s not all doom and gloom. Most of the facial hair naysayers end with a remark of positivity, encouragement and most importantly, advice. For example;

‘Sorry Sir, if I did hurt you. I just gave you my opinion. It’s your beard, it’s your life, you are most welcome to experiment with it, but do be careful of your looks as well.’

Noted.

So, now for the less vociferous pro-beard brigade;


Fogle Lovers

‘I personally feel that your beard makes your personality more notable. Your face itself suggests to keep a beard.’

And that’s it. It’s hardly conclusive, but it’s a nugget of hope in an otherwise damning verdict of my facial hair policy.

I’d also just like to share one more quote from a student. We clearly have a future diplomat on our hands;

‘I believe that if Mr John keeps his beard or not is not important. The way people evaluate a person isn’t dependent completely on an appearance. Moreover, he doesn’t change his character if he shaves his beard. If shaving makes him change positively, he should do. But if it does not affect anyone and anything, don’t do it. Let him be himself. Finally, shaving is Mr John’s choice. Don’t ask us!’

Amen sister! These words will resonate with me as I walk off into the sunset whistling ‘Born Free’. Now, you may be thinking that in light of all this staunch beard negativity I’m going to head straight to the barbers. Well, you’d be wrong. I value the opinions of my students of course, however, a few weeks back I received all the positive endorsement needed to convince me to keep the beard for a good while yet. Ironically it was in fact at the barbers as I was having my hair cut at ‘Scissors over Comb’.

One of the barbers, who was cutting the hair of the man in the chair next to me, looked at me. He stared for a while and then rubbed his own beard (which was impressive in terms of both its volume and shape), pointed to mine, and then nodded his head in an obvious sign of approval. I’d doubted the beard up to this point, but this one man’s single nod of the head changed all that! For now, the beard stays.

Me