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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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