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Posts Tagged ‘privilege’

In Washington there are new, shiny apartment buildings going up in neighborhoods that haven’t enjoyed growth for decades. That isn’t to say that they enjoy this particular brand of development; the influx of wealthy young professionals into black, working-class communities is always a bumpy transition. In every glass-walled, terraced condo building that opens, a row of restaurant and shopping chains sprouts up in the street-level storefronts, like invasive mushrooms popping up between the roots of a non-native tree transplanted into a forest.

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Sucked into the swathes of mesmerizing beaches through Southeast Asia, each leaves its own impression. Some beaches are good for swimming, others for snorkeling, surfing or beach-combing. Varying shades of blue merge with white and crimson sand, soft or hard and sometimes dotted with pin-sized holes from small scurrying crabs. Cambodia’s southern hot-spot known as Serendipity Beach is no less beautiful, though displays a new, this time heart-wrenching tropical paradise. (more…)

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The unwanted city

 

Two years after the unification of Malaysia in 1963, the ideologies and social make-up of its two largest cities, Kuala Lumpur and Singapore, clashed. In a rather bizarre twist of post-colonial reshuffling, the capital of Kuala Lumpur firmly suggested Singapore leave the federation. Soon after the decision was ceremoniously showered in Prime Ministerial tears live on Singapore television. Nearly fifty years later, my visual impression places Singapore far ahead of its former administrator and other Southeast Asian Nations. The economic data is no less impressive. Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Brunei return a combined economic product little more than half that of Singapore (Studwell, xi). (more…)

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Some reflections and memories from my continued travels. A busride to Kuala Lumpur, truly luxurious, three seats to a row and a bunch of Punjabi tourists on their way to Malaysia. These wealthy Indians give us a window back into the chaotic, happy-go-lucky ways of privilege on the subcontinent. They tell us we are friends, siblings, in-laws. Laughs. Offering to sharing every food or drink. They proudly announce their religious diversity: Sikhs, Hindus.

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Ye Khin’s poem

Ye Khin* is a gentle and shy man. He is in his early thirties and ethnic Karen. Ryan and I meet him on our journey through Eastern Burma where our paths cross for a few days.  The last time we see Ye Khin, he waits with us for the bus and we end up talking about the internet. Out of the blue he asks us: “How can I say something so the whole world will hear it?”

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Michele’s lips are moving, but frankly, I can’t understand a word she is saying. After filling out reams of paper work at immigration, it took us 45 minutes by taxi from the Yangon airport to the city center, where we are now standing on a sidewalk trying to decide on a hotel. A somewhat tedious task at the best of times, it is near impossible to communicate our preferences today because of  the staggering background noise. Alas, we realize – we are standing right in front of a generator! I scan the street for a safe haven from the noise, but as far as my eyes can see, rumbling generators fill the streets with their sputtering roar.

Generator powered neon bulb gives light to the street vendor cooking 'smoked' chicken.

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“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes.” –Marcel Proust

I have just learned to say, “How are you?” in Bangla, and I practice on a young Muslim woman dressed in black from head to toe. “Balo, balo” she says energetically smiling at me. I sit down next to her on a cement wall along the road. I ask for the name of the very young baby in her arms. “Aki” she says. From other gesturing I gather that the baby is only one month old.

Caleb, Sanjoy and I continue our walk up to the lake, enjoying a pleasant stroll and a beautiful view. On our way back down, I spot the woman still sitting with her baby and hand her a small sprig of marigold flowers that we found along the way. She starts talking to Sanjoy, who translates that she has invited us to lunch at her house. (more…)

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In Chittagong, we decided to do things a little differently and take a bit of a leap of faith. As we are leaving the Buddhist temple in the city, a young man approaches us and introduces himself as Sanjoy, a student who rents a small room in the temple complex as he pursues his studies in English Literature. His home is in the Chittagong Hill Tracts, a Buddhist and tribal area where we want to visit. He says he works as an occasional tour guide for the region.

Although we usually are hesitant to use guides, there is an immediate positive connection with Sanjoy; his sincerity is palpable when he says he felt close to us as we were sitting in the meditation hall. We have lunch and plan with him, he helps us get permits, and a few days later we are on our way to his stunning, hilly home town of Banderban. (more…)

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On our long bus trip to Shillong, Meghalaya, I watched a group of four or five children comfortably squatting around the backside of a goat, curiously studying its butt. The goat had some sort of enormous growth hanging from its belly and it was profusely bleeding from its anus.

What does it mean to watch another’s suffering? What would it mean to look away? “I feel like I don’t have good defenses. I feel really exposed to all these raw impressions.” I wrote in an email to my Mom about this disturbing scene, only one of many, observed for a few moments out of the bus window. (more…)

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The photos in this post were taken on our last day in DC. Caleb and I wanted to spend our last day doing what we loved doing during almost three years of living in DC. We took a long walk of exploration. We steered into Northeast, behind the farmer’s market close to Gallaudet University, and there along the train tracks we committed home invasion: freshly washed clothes lying on a wall in the sun, a bag of groceries, a cooking station. I remember thinking: In what ways could this person’s life possibly be anything like mine? What do we share?

Traveling in India feels like a constant act of home invasion. Vulnerable aspects of peoples’ lives are laid bare. I am witness to intimacies that should be reserved for lovers and families, not strangers like myself. It feels both wrong and sacred. Discretion is an unaffordable luxury for most. Unlike the person whose home we observed by the traintracks in DC, there is not much I can do to protect the privacy of people in many places in India that we visit.
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