Summer of Love

Photos from another great summer

Please do not be fooled by the title of this blog post. It is most certainly not a bold declaration of my deepest feelings, frustrated emotions, or innermost secrets. I am however, going to use this post to share a collection of photos, which captured some great moments during a summer spent between India and the UK in June and July of this year.

The summer began with a trip to Kolkata and then a few days spent in Gingia (a small town in Assam). The main purpose of the trip was to see old friends and hopefully catch some photos along the way. Here’s a few of those images.



















The second part of the summer was spent back at home in the UK, and it began with an experience I had been awaiting with great anticipation for a very long time. Back in 2003 I discovered the music of Love (a 60s psychedelic band from LA) and in 2005 I saw them play live for the first time.

Eleven years on they were back in the UK and I went to see them twice on consecutive nights. They were as tight as ever, and the highlight of the second night was meeting original band member and lead guitarist on their 1967 seminal album Forever Changes, Johnny Echols (below).






Here’s a video I recorded at one of the shows.

Your Mind And We Belong Together (Live from Frome Cheese & Grain – 30th June, 2016)

The rest of the images come mainly from some of my favourite places in Devon.











All photos © John Stanlake

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.


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.

















One man and the sea

Sunset on the water

All images © John Stanlake

You Set The Scenes

A new project


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.


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


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!



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










The CNG driver



The Rickshawalah



The man who fixes the rickshawalah’s wheels…


The Boatmen




The Tailors


The Fishermen



Bangladesh faces




…and the man who transports their catch to market


to the man who sells them at the market…

The Farmer


The Produce Sellers




The Butcher

The Ice Cream Man


The Jeweller

The Carpenter


The Cooks

IMG_6113 copy




Bangladesh faces

The Load Carriers and Goods Transporters



IMG_5942 copy

And finally, the metalsmith


All images © John Stanlake


Images of South East Asia

I’ve neglected this blog so far in 2014. A combination of work, misguided priorities, and the fact I’ve been slightly daunted by the task of describing a one month tour of South East Asia through words, which will almost certainly not do it justice.

So, for now I’ve decided that I’ll let images tell the story. I took many, but here are 15 of my favourites and a selection which I hope do the places most justice. I chose five photos from Myanmar, Cambodia and Vietnam.

For a more comprehensive album of photos from the trip please follow this link;


Shwedagon Pagoda, Yangon

Yangon, Myanmar

Floating village community, Inle Lake

Inle Lake, Myanmar

Roadside tea shop, Yangon

Yangon, Myanmar

Sunrise and hot air balloon rides over Bagan

Bagan, Myanmar

Kandawgyi Lake, Yangon

Yangon, Myanmar


A quiet village road, just outside of Siem Reap

Siem Reap, Cambodia

Sunrise over Angkor Wat, Siem Reap

Angkor Wat, Cambodia

One of the many faces of Angkor Wat, Siem Reap

Angkor Wat, Cambodia

Village home, Siem Reap

Siem Reap, Cambodia

Choeung Ek Genocide Memorial Site, Phnom Penh

(This is the main memorial to mark the genocide that took place in Cambodia during the late 1970s. It is also a burial site for thousands of Cambodians who were victims of Pol Pot’s brutal Khymer Rouge regime, executed here at just one of the many sites across the country, which became known as the ‘Killing Fields’.)

Phnom Penh, Cambodia


Ho Chi Minh City

Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

Da Lat hills, in the southern highlands.

Da Lat, Vietnam

Village road outside Thai Nguyen, northern Vietnam

Thai Nguyen, Vietnam

Ho Chi Minh mausoleum, Hanoi

Hanoi, Vietnam

The northern hills of Tam Dao

Tam Dao, Vietnam

It was an incredibly diverse and eye-opening trip. Once again South Asia completely failed to disappoint, and armed with a camera I feel like I saw so much in such a short space of time.

Here is a larger set of photos from the trip;

All photos © John Stanlake

Early Morning Eyes

Armed with a new camera, I have been exploring Chittagong a little more by foot in the past couple of weeks. Last weekend it took me to the fisheries market. Arriving at 4.45am, we waited for the sun to rise and for the energy of a new day to dawn.

By this time however men were already rushing by, scooping the night’s catch out of nets and piling it upon waiting baskets and wagons. The tea shacks were already serving hot, sweet tea to the various workers, and it was difficult to sense quite when night ended and the new day began.

The photos I was able to capture that morning reminded me of a simple, yet profound lyric from one of my favourite songs by one of my favourite bands – ‘Alone Again Or’ by Love. I hope the images speak for themselves.

“I think that people are the greatest fun.”

Bangladesh faces

Bangladesh faces

Bangladesh faces

Bangladesh faces

Bangladesh faces

Bangladesh faces

Bangladesh faces

Bangladesh faces

Bangladesh faces

Bangladesh faces

Bangladesh faces

In my next entry I’ll touch upon an example of just why the people of this country continue to make Chittagong and Bangladesh an easy place to live.

Abar Ashben!

All photographs © John Stanlake

Forever Changes

I was in a record store. I recall browsing without purpose for some time, wandering around considering whether I should add to my rapidly expanding music library. It was 2003, and I was a student at the time. I’ve always derived great pleasure from random music searches, yet it’s been trickier these past few years due to my locations. On this particular day though, I had no idea the purchase I was about to make would have such a lasting and definitive influence on my tastes in music, or perhaps more significantly an enduring effect on the way I aspire to look at life events (not always successfully I must add, especially recently).

As my seemingly fruitless search for new music neared a conclusion, and I contemplated leaving empty handed, one record caught my eye. The strange album cover was compelling. A myriad of colours and faces all intertwined. It was unashamedly psychedelic, and seeing as I had at this point embarked upon a fairly dedicated journey toward 60s music discovery, I decided to at least give this item the acknowledgment I believed it deserved.

Upon inspection the song titles were suitably convincing that for some reason the record had to come home with me. ‘The Good Humor Man He Sees Everything Like This’, ‘Andmoreagain’, ‘Alone Again Or’, ‘Bummer in the Summer’, and ‘You Set The Scene’ to name a few. Everything about this record intrigued me. Even the name of the band, Love, seemed so clichéd yet perfect.

“For the time that I’ve been given’s such a little while, and the things that I must do consist of more than style…”

My reason for providing this fairly mundane anecdote is because I’d like to touch on the theme of change. As the record I bought that day testifies, forever does change, and this has been a fairly weighty feature of my life in the past few years. I’ve experienced some notable transitions, with the most recent being arguably the toughest challenge of all. I left Bangladesh (see previous blog) to pursue a slightly different career path. I’ve been lucky enough to get the opportunity to rejoin the WorldTeach team.

WorldTeach is an education non-profit organisation that links up with governments and organisations in developing countries and sends volunteer teachers to spend a year in their country of choice. I volunteered with WorldTeach in Rwanda in 2010.  I’m now the Field Director in Guyana, which basically means that I oversee the program on the ground here and assist the current Guyana volunteers. It’s rewarding in that even though I’m not in the classroom directly teaching, I am still very much involved with international education.

 “And for everyone who thinks that life is just a game, do you like the part you’re playing?”

So, I’ve changed jobs and I’ve transferred location. From the most densely populated country in the world I now find myself on the northern coast of South America in a country home to just 750,000 people….total. I once again face the guilt of being a Brit in a former colony, but this guilt is slightly negated by the fact I also live in the only English speaking nation on this continent…..which helps….me.

However, the most notable change of all has been the people in my life. The past three years have been a quite remarkable adventure. The places I’ve seen, the photos I’ve taken, the foods I’ve tasted, the journeys I’ve embarked on, the insects I’ve battled with, the inspirational folk I’ve met and stared in awe at, the stories I’ve heard and shared, the generosity and  hospitality that has always been so welcome, the number of instances I’ve mused ‘Ben Fogle would probably do that if he were here now’, the smells that have at times purified my senses, the occasional challenges I’ve struggled through, the suffering I’ve witnessed that’s so often faced with sheer strength in adversity, and finally the quite incredible sunsets I have had the privilege to capture in both my mind and on camera.

“There’ll always be some people here to wonder why, and for every happy hello there will be goodbye….”

However, principally, the past three years have been defined by the people I’ve met and formed close relationships with. And with that comes the toughest part of travelling, because moving on inevitably means leaving behind those who have shared so much with you on that particular stretch of road in the crazy journey.

Saying goodbye becomes the toughest challenge of all, and it doesn’t get any easier with experience. Location in life is often irrelevant. If we’re surrounded by good people it doesn’t matter what exterior conditions we find ourselves in. I have come to realise this at a number of points throughout the past three years. Waist deep in water and suppressing fear in a dark, dark cave in Laos was one. Lost and a little bewildered at a Nuns’ dining table in Rwanda was another. Sandwiched between a huge man and a good friend on a minivan in northern Botswana also springs to mind. In the middle of the night lined up against a coach by South African police on the border with Zimbabwe I recall being particularly grateful for company. Sat on a sweltering bus for sixteen hours straight in Bangladesh, and in gridlocked traffic on the single lane highway between Chittagong and Dhaka was completely bearable because of one person.

These are examples of specific moments, but Prague, Rwanda, Bangladesh, and all travels in between have been distinguished by so many genuinely good people. People who I have learned so much from and who have made the journey that much more enjoyable and meaningful. All people who I have at some point in the recent past had to say goodbye to. However, goodbyes aren’t always forever.

“You Set The Scene”

The name of the record I bought that day back in 2003, long before I embarked on this journey, is ‘Forever Changes’…perhaps fittingly. Written and performed by 1960s LA band ‘Love’, they were led by singer and chief songwriter, Arthur Lee. Lee was an incredible lyricist. A poet many say. The collection of songs concludes with my all time favourite by any artist (‘You Set The Scene’), and I mean that. For me the composition is perfect. Perfect in terms of structure. Perfect in terms of the dreamlike instrumentals that weave into its dramatic crescendo. Perfect for the manner in which it is constructed and delivered, and perfect for its seemingly timeless message.

However, primarily it’s perfect for its lyrics. The song’s powerful and inspirational words have always made me wonder just how far we can push ourselves. Change is inevitable, but right now as I begin a new chapter I’m struggling to know quite how to deal with it, having at times been completely overwhelmed by its total disregard for stability. However ‘You Set The Scene’ has been a constant reminder of the wider picture.

“This is the time and life that I am living,
And I’ll face each day with a smile.
For the time that I’ve been given’s such a little while,
And the things that I must do consist of more than style.
There are places that I am going.”

“Everything I’ve seen needs rearranging,
And for anyone who thinks it’s strange.
Then you should be the first to want to make this change,
And for everyone who thinks that life is just a game –
Do you like the part you’re playing?”

The lyrics of the song in full can be interpreted in many ways. Written in 1967 Los Angeles, it clearly expresses the burning political frustrations of the day, namely Vietnam. “There’s a private in my boat and he wears fears instead of medals on his coat”, “There’s a man who can’t decide if he should fight for what his father thinks is right.”

Dramatic change was beginning to define a generation in the 1960s, and Arthur Lee reflected this perfectly in his songs. I discussed the words with my students at AUW a few months back, and they presented their own understanding of what Lee was conveying. These were both characteristically thoughtful and extremely well considered.

So, as I continue with my journey, I do so with the words of Arthur Lee ringing in my ears. They provide strength, and they crucially pose testing and provocative questions. This is not a usual post for me. However, my blog has never really followed a set structure, and the recent move has once again left me pondering how I can represent my new experiences through words. Right now my experience is defined by change, and I’m therefore grateful to have the opportunity to write about these moments.

To conclude, here are the full lyrics of You Set The Scene, and below is a live recording of it performed by Arthur Lee and his band in 2003. Bear in mind Lee is 58 in this video. He sadly passed away three years later, but for fans of Love his legacy lives on.

Arthur Lee and Love – You Set The Scene (Live on ‘Later with Jools Holland’ 2003)

You Set The Scene – Love (Lyrics: Arthur Lee) 1967

— Part I —

Verse 1:
Where are you walking, I’ve seen you walking
Have you been there before?
Walk down your doorsteps, you’ll take some more steps
What did you take them for?
There’s a private in my boat and he wears
Fears instead of medals on his coat
There’s a chicken in my nest and she won’t
Lay until I’ve given her my best
At her request she asks for nothing
You get nothing in return
If you want she brings you water
If you don’t then you will burn

Verse 2:
You go through changes, it may seem strange
Is this what you’re put here for?
You think you’re happy and you are happy
That’s what you’re happy for
There’s a man who can’t decide if he should
Fight for what his father thinks is right
There are people wearing frowns who’ll screw you up
But they would rather screw you down
At my request I ask for nothing
You get nothing in return
If you’re nice she’ll bring me water
If you’re not then I will burn

— Part II —

Verse 1:
This is the time and life that I am living
And I’ll face each day with a smile
For the time that I’ve been given’s such a little while
And the things that I must do consist of more than style
There are places that I am going

Verse 2:
This is the only thing that I am sure of
And that’s all that lives is gonna die
And there’ll always be some people here to wonder why
And for every happy hello, there will be good-bye
There’ll be time for you to put yourself on

Verse 3:
Everything I’ve seen needs rearranging
And for anyone who thinks it’s strange
Then you should be the first to want to make this change
And for everyone who thinks that life is just a game
Do you like the part you’re playing?

I see your picture
It’s in the same old frame
We meet again
You look so lovely
You with the same old smile
Stay for a while
I need you so, oh, oh, oh, oh
And if you take it easy
I’m still teethin’
I wanna love you, but
Oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh