South east asia

A Quiet Place: An Update

A poignant journey from Torquay to Chittagong


In May 2012 I wrote a blog about a quite unexpected and spookily coincidental discovery in a secluded and quiet corner of Chittagong.

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I’ve always been quite proud of that blog post as it (in my humble opinion) revealed how despite the apparent vastness of this world we live in, you never quite know when something will happen to remind you that it is in fact not quite as big as we think.

Below is the link to that original blog post, but just to recap very briefly, back in 2012 I took a visit to the Second World War cemetery in Chittagong. Now, here is the eerie part; the very first headstone I looked at and took the time to read the biography of, was Flight Sergeant W.C.Smith, a fallen pilot from Torquay, which, and this is crucial to the story, is my hometown and place of birth.


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A Quiet Place

In November 2012 and a couple of months after I wrote about that unique experience, it was published in the Herald Express (a local newspaper) and that was the end of the matter…or so I thought.

A few days ago however, it came to my attention (thanks very much Brian!) that just a little under fours year since the original publication in the newspaper, a letter had emerged on the Herald’s letters page. A letter from one of Sergeant Smith’s relatives and a person who had grown up with him.


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Here is that letter in full:


Memories of Flt Sgt Smith

Regarding your article by Mr Stanlake with reference to Flight Sergeant William Smith RAF (Herald Express November 15, 2012), a cutting from this issue was brought to my attention some time ago.

Having just ‘rediscovered’ it, I would like to give Mr Stanlake more information about his visit to the war graves in Chittagong, Bangladesh.

I am Bill’s cousin and knew him and his brothers well when we were growing up – a visit to Torquay from Gloucestershire was always a great event for me.

During the war (1942 to 1943), Bill was stationed in the Cotswolds for part of his training as  a pilot in Bomber Command and he would sometimes stay with us on short leave.

We always enjoyed his company – he had a great sense of humour.

It was his fear that, as pilot, he would be responsible for the death of his crew, but on that fatal day he was acting as co-pilot with another plane and crew.

We were told the plane failed to take off with a full load of bombs and crashed into an irrigation ditch at the end of the runway.

Mike, his brother, also went into the RAF – as a fighter pilot – but the war ended while he was still in training.

Unfortunately, it was never possible for any of the family to visit Bill’s grave, so it was very consoling to read of the peacefulness of the cemetery and how well the graves are still tended after all these years.

MRS GLADYS HEAVEN

Wotton-under-Edge, Gloucestershire, UK


It was fascinating for me to read this letter as it obviously filled in a number of blanks about William Smith’s story and how exactly he came to his final resting place in Chittagong.

There were mixed feelings of course when reading it, as it provided a personal and warm reflection on Sergeant Smith and his life before the war, but also the details of his tragic death at such a young age.

I am happy and relieved in many ways to discover this story did make its way to Sergeant Smith’s family though and they can hopefully take some comfort in knowing that his grave is still immaculately tended to and offered the peace and respect it so deserves.

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Once again I think the whole experience demonstrates how sometimes it does not matter how far we travel or wander around this world,  there is often a connection to home just around the corner.

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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.


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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.


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Sandwip


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Sandwip


One man and the sea


Sunset on the water



All images © John Stanlake


You Set The Scenes

A new project


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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.

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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!


 


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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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The CNG driver

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The Rickshawalah

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Rickshawalahs


The man who fixes the rickshawalah’s wheels…

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The Boatmen

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The Tailors

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The Fishermen

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…and the man who transports their catch to market

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to the man who sells them at the market…


The Farmer

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The Produce Sellers

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The Butcher


The Ice Cream Man

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The Jeweller


The Carpenter

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The Cooks

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The Load Carriers and Goods Transporters

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And finally, the metalsmith

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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.

 

 


English Football – Observations from Bangladesh


Reflections on the state of English football

With the opening stages of the 2014 football world cup well underway, thoughts once again turn to pride and prestige as many of us across the globe hope to witness our team get their hands on one of sport’s most sought after trophies. The media in England has no doubt been awash with confusing contradictions of expectant hope, yet inevitable resignation to disappointment and failure.

Retired players fill the BBC and ITV studios spouting clichés and stating the obvious (and if you’re poor old Phil Neville, boring the socks off viewers!), whilst certain tabloid newspapers call on football fans to summon that ‘bulldog spirit’ and wave the St George’s cross with pride and vigour. Baddiel and Skinner fill the airwaves, and we find ourselves staying up until the early hours to see how the clash between Iran vs. Nigeria ends.

I write this with a certain pomposity but also hypocrisy, as deep down I love this four week period. There is something magically compelling about the football world cup, and if truth be told, I have found myself googling facts about the Bosnia manager, statistics about Honduras’ previous world cup appearances, and the national anthem of Switzerland.

On Saturday evening I set my alarm for 3.45am so that I could wake to watch England’s opening game with Italy, which kicked off at 4.00am here in Bangladesh. Earlier that day I pinned my flag of St George to the bars on my small balcony, which overlooks the narrow street below, in anticipation for the chance to erase the memories of being sat in a cramped bar in Rwanda and witnessing England capitulate against Germany in 2010.

However, in the days leading up to the start of the tournament one question consumed my thoughts. It wasn’t who I supposed Roy Hodgson would select for the right back position, or which player would belt out the national anthem with the most exuberance. No, I was a little confused by the implications of a rapidly transformed Bangladesh.

Over the course of a few days prior to the opening game, the streets became a festival of colours with flags hanging from windows, painted on walls and pinned to car bonnets, and also commonly attached to rickshaws. As I looked around and began to notice more and more flags, it dawned on me that my red and white cross of England was quite unique.


Chittagong and Dhaka are overwhelmed by the distinctive blue and white of Argentina and the trademark yellow and green of Brazil. German flags also feature prominently, whilst Spain, Italy, Portugal and France have their fair share of fans. Yet, England is strikingly underrepresented. It may sound arrogant and presumptuous, but I have been left a little puzzled by this.

Having witnessed many enthusiastic responses to England’s cricket team from Bangladeshis, I assumed football would be no different. In a country where the English Premier League is so revered, and the replica shirts of England’s domestic teams dominate the markets, I couldn’t help but wonder just why the England national team doesn’t command a similar level of support. After reflecting upon this, and also having sought the views of friends and students, I have concluded that it represents something of a worrying indication of the state of English football.

The reasons offered by my Bangladeshi students and friends when I posed this question made a lot of sense. Football is unquestionably popular here, yet the national team is currently ranked 35th in Asia and 167th in the FIFA world rankings. Therefore realistically it seems unlikely at this point that a first ever World Cup finals appearance for Bangladesh is imminent, and so to engage with the big stage events such as the World Cup, people choose an adopted country to support.

As one of my students put it, “By supporting a team and hoisting their flag, we just want to be part of the greatest show on earth.” It is on these occasions that people get the chance to connect with the sport on a whole new level. So why do Argentina and Brazil dominate people’s affections here?

Well, everyone likes a winner. It’s the reason the sight of a Manchester City shirt has become far more common in the past year or so here in Bangladesh. It also explains why I receive blank looks when I tell people I support Plymouth Argyle. Brazil have lifted the World Cup five times and Argentina are a consistent performer. Germany and Italy also both have a reputation for success when it matters, and the emergence of the Spanish flag is no coincidence given their consecutive triumphs at the 2010 World Cup and 2012 European Championships.

Naturally many people here don’t remember, or are unaware of Geoff Hurst’s hatrick at Wembley in 1966, or our countless penalty heartaches, and thus we (England) have built a reputation of being distinctly average.

The style of football is also important. The samba skills of South America are a major factor. There is passion and art, with crisp, short, sharp passing, mazy runs, cheeky dinks and thunderous shots on goal. This is what people want to see when they tune in to see the stars of the world stage. They don’t want to spend 90 minutes witnessing teams hoofing a football 80 yards, or scoring and then positioning all ten players behind the ball. People want to see pace and skill and this is why Bangladeshis have taken South American teams to their hearts.

The continent is home to two of football’s biggest legends – Messrs Pele and Maradona. Their fame is felt here in Bangladesh too, and as one friend explained in reference to the ‘Hand of God,’

“Some Bangladeshis have a crazy kind of infatuation with him. His cocaine induced antics plus his blatant disregard for the laws of the game and some serious skills too, won millions of hearts.”

Maradona’s legacy clearly lives on, but in addition Argentina and the world (including Bangladesh) now have a new legend to worship – Lionel Messi. Undoubtedly close to cementing himself into football folklore, Messi has given people here even more reason to back the Argentinians.

 

Market in Dhaka

England have fallen behind in the global popularity stakes. We just don’t have a genuine global star anymore; a player that excites fans across the globe and creates anticipation and expectation when the ball is at his feet. Argentina has Messi, Brazil has Neymar, Portugal has Ronaldo, Uruguay has Suarez, Italy has Pirlo, Spain has Iniesta, and the Dutch have Van Persie. We have Rooney. As much as we may want to believe otherwise, Rooney is not a global superstar. David Beckham is the last player to represent the England national team who captured the imagination of fans right across the globe, and even then I’m inclined to say it wasn’t solely due to his performances on the pitch.

“The English Premier League is the best in the world.”

These are the words that echo through the corridors of the FA Headquarters in London as executives pat themselves on the back whilst watching the global sponsorship deals roll in. TV broadcasting contracts have completely changed the face of English football, yet as I walked the streets of Chittagong and Dhaka this past week, it became apparent in my mind at least that this has had little effect on our national team.

The Premier League is, and consistently has been a veritable feast of footballing talent. Drogba, Henry, Bergkamp, Vieira, Van Nistelrooy, Suarez, Zola, Toure, Torres, Silva, Aguero, etc, etc. As spectators we have been thoroughly spoilt. Yet, where are the home grown players stamping their authority on the international scene? The Premier League is undoubtedly a phenomenal importer of global talent, but when it comes to exports we are a long way behind. In my mind this is reflected in our performances at international level, and thus, as a result we lack success, we lack entertainment, and we lack appeal.


Am I denying the English Premier League has revolutionised the game of football for the better in many ways? No. And has it pushed the limits and the levels of performance from players and teams to a new level? In many ways, Yes. However, somehow in England, where many of us follow our domestic and national teams avidly, we have been left behind. We need to find a way to catch up, and we need to catch up fast.

Do I want the England flag to be flown all across Bangladesh during the next cup? No, I don’t, for many reasons, and some of which are more obvious than others. That’s not the point of this blog post. I would just like our FA to recognise and acknowledge that whilst the Premier League is of course a mechanism for so much development, it is also imposing a stranglehold on the development of our young home grown talent that if not loosened will be felt for many years to come.

I’m posting this just hours before England’s crucial group clash with Uruguay, and therefore by the time you read it the national team will either be preparing for the next crucial encounter (against Costa Rica), or we will be lamenting another disappointing exit from a major tournament. I would really love the England team to shine in this world cup and to make me reconsider everything I’ve just written, and I would love to be able to support a team that entertains, inspires, and captures the imagination of football fans right across the world.

However, as Bangladesh has shown me, unless we change our game right from the grassroots and start focussing on more than simply how much money our top teams can make, we will continue to slip down the international ladder.

Enjoy the rest of the tournament!



In the full blossomed paddy fields…


Sandwip

Pronounced ‘Shon-deep’ (or Shun-deef depending on who you talk to) the island of Sandwip sits at an estuary of the Meghna River on the Bay of Bengal. Open precariously to the elements, the residents of the island are no strangers to the carnage and chaos extreme weather can bring. On April 29, 1991 it is estimated that 40,000 people were killed by an unforgiving cyclone that tore through the island leaving thousands dead and even more homeless.

Sandwip

Almost 23 years on from that day, the island was a perfect picture of calm and serenity when I visited last week to spend a couple of days with a colleague who was born and raised on Sandwip, and whose family still reside there. The memories of that fateful day in 1991 still haunt people though, and as my colleague introduced me to one family member the immediate response was to enquire somewhat confusedly as to why I had come, and was I not scared of the threat of a cyclone? The fear still grips residents of this community and as water levels rise, shores slowly creep towards homes, and extreme weather becomes even more unpredictable, it’s easy to understand why.

Sandwip

However, apart from one short, sharp thunder storm my visit was largely undramatic in terms of weather. The rumbles of thunder and the patter of raindrops on the tin roofs only added to the charm of this place. You see Sandwip proved to be an experience of some contrast to my regular, everyday experience of Bangladesh. In Chittagong (my home for the entire two year duration of my life here so far) the noise of trucks, buses, cars, and CNGs penetrates and pollutes the air almost everywhere you go. It’s a city of 6 million people and thus it is hard to find a place to escape that hustle. I appreciate Chittagong for so many reasons, but the noise can take its toll at times.

Sandwip

When I returned from Sandwip I told a friend quite proudly and perhaps even a little smugly that I had seen only one lone car during my time on the island. His response was to point out that I had in fact been rather unfortunate as most visitors don’t see any!

Without wanting to sound patronising or to belittle Sandwip in any way, I would sum up my time there as taking a step back in time. I mean this in the most positive way. At night the stars filled the sky and were as bright as I’d ever seen them. In the day the local market bustled with traders and large numbers of cattle ready to be sold.

Agriculture drives the local economy it seems and manual labour appears to be the catalyst for this. There are countless tea shops, and each and every one seemed to be the centre of discussion and socialising amongst the islanders.

Sandwip

There are few roads on Sandwip. In more developed areas paved paths allow bicycles and rickshaws to pass easily, and if you go ‘off road’ you will find more basic, dusty paths that make it more complex for anything on wheels to pass. Bathing is also a distinctly communal affair for many.

I bathed in the pond close to the house where I was staying. This essentially entailed tying a lunghi around my waist and diving into the pond. It all went fine until I dropped the soap and it sank beneath the murky water, causing much amusement to the onlookers who had gathered to watch me bathe. Sandwip does not receive a vast number of foreign visitors, so my half naked presence in the pond drew a crowd!

Sandwip

Life is visibly tough though for many people here, and it was evident everywhere I visited on the island. Manual labour dominates as I mentioned, and this comes in a variety of forms. For example, as we left the island to return to the urban sprawl of Chittagong, we had to board a speedboat. At the time we and around ten other people wished to travel, the tide was out and thus the channel sat far out in the distance, and before us lay a mass of deep, dense, and unsympathetic wet sand. The solution was to herd us into a nearby wooden boat, and it soon became apparent that 10 men would drag us out to where the speedboat was waiting.

For the next 25 minutes they heaved and used every muscle in their bodies to get us to the water. When the boat became trapped assigned men would leap into action and strategically dig away the offending sand and we’d continue on our way. At some points they would chant in unison to motivate each other and it was apparent that teamwork was paramount. We arrived at the speedboat and 25 minutes later we were back on mainland Bangladesh. Well, not quite. The process was repeated and once again we were dragged across the sand. By the end I felt incredibly lucky to be able to teach.

Sandwip

My time in Sandwip was short, but I caught a glimpse of something I felt it was possible for me to connect with. Of course life on the island is very different to my previous personal life experiences, but there is something about rural Bangladesh which intrigues me. The people were so welcoming and despite my still very limited Bangla skills, I was able to converse and bond with a number of people. My colleague and his family were the perfect hosts and I am already planning on when I can return for a longer visit.

For my full album of photos from Sandwip follow the link below;

Sandwip photo gallery

Sandwip

Finally, the title of this blog post is the English translation of a lyric from the national anthem of Bangladesh, Amar Sonar Bangla, by Rabrindranath Tagore. Today marks Bangladesh’s 43rd year of independence. Here is a wonderful rendition of the song,

Amar Sonar Bangla


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;

http://www.flickr.com/photos/106865437@N03/sets/72157641803829505/


Myanmar

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


Cambodia

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


Vietnam

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;

http://www.flickr.com/photos/106865437@N03/sets/72157641803829505/