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26 Feb 2012

Sam in Bangladesh

It's all been a bit quiet on the blogging front so here's a little insight into my study tour to Bangladesh last month to make up for it.  Scott has provided a good summary of the study component on his blog, and I won't bore you with the avalanche of hand painted signs that I found, unless that interests you, in which case visit the ghostsigns blog.  Instead I'll just try to capture some of the things that caught my eye when I wasn't trying to photograph painted advertising out of the windows of moving vehicles.

It started like all journeys with a 5.30am minibus from Kratie.  I got lucky and had a seat and a half to myself which I put to good use to make up for the unreasonable waking hour.  My colleague Samedy captured this pose which those who know me will be more than familiar with.

While we were there I was aware of a cold snap back in the UK.  At least people there could prepare and the overall drop in temperature wasn't as extreme.  Here we are one morning when we woke up to sub ten degree temperatures which, after not much below 30 degrees in Cambodia, felt positively Arctic.  Adding to this was a complete lack of suitable clothing, hence the towel on the head.  (And the dog seemed intent on attacking the only protection I had for my feet!)

Even the cows had access to better clothing than we did, many that we saw had these sacking jackets to keep them warm.

Cows were everywhere we went, Bangladesh has a big dairy industry as opposed to Cambodia where lactose intolerance makes it a non starter.  This was a vaccination centre and it was a very lively and noisy with cows and their owners weaving in and out of the thin trees in the wood.

One of the villages we visited was inhabited by an indigenous minority who welcomed us with a traditional dance and some music.


In Cambodia most houses are made of wood.  In Bangladesh they use a lot of mud for construction.  Here you can see one being built and the future layout of the rooms within it.

Some of the houses had these lovely decorative features.  Painted decorations were everywhere and I was amazed at the skills of the people who produce them.

Here you can see the mud fashioned into a simple stove, and one with a big pot of Dahl bubbling away.

If that was life in the rural areas then Dhaka was an altogether different beast.  It is noisy, dirty and chaotic but it felt incredibly alive with never a dull moment.

There aren't a lot of tourist attractions in Dhaka and tourism certainly isn't a big industry in Bangladesh.  However there is plenty to see if you take some time to walk around and look.  For example we found this Disney-esque building which is apparently someone's house.

Another 'sight' was the speed of this donor kebab, one interpretation of fast food no doubt.  It must be said at this point that the food was amazing.  So many spices and a reminder of buffets on Brick Lane back home.  It's also a treat to get mutton/goat which is very rare and/or expensive in Cambodia.

In keeping with my cataloguing of some of Cambodia's best brands, I also snapped some treats in Bangladesh.  Here are four of the best.

The mosquitoes were huge so I was really grateful to have a box of black fighters on my side.

In Cambodia the Lexus is a status symbol, in Bangladesh it's just a cheesy vegetable biscuit.

 Out with those party pooper potato crackers and in with the 'fun' ones.

One can only guess at what the 'boost' might consist of...

At first glance this appeared to be an ominous place to get your dinner in...

 ...but it was just an illusion.

 I grew increasingly tired as the tour went on.  Lots of travelling and concentrating in the many meetings we had every day took its toll and I was apparently falling asleep in this meeting, quite near the end of the tour.  Samedy again captured the moment, I've no recollection of this being taken.  I look like I'm going to kill someone!  That said, I learned a lot and there are many things that I want to apply to the remainder of my time working with VSO and CRDT.


  1. Fascinating opportunity. I expect a 5000 word essay comparing the two cultures next time though!

    1. I'm considering a PhD focussed on the cultural disparities arising from the differences in primary housing construction materials and the specific impact of this on attitudes to foreigners.

  2. Hey Sam - sounds like a great trip, hope there was lots to learn, can sympathise with the heat thing... having braved the British 'summer' am glad to be back in a country where it's at least moderately warm most of the time (tho there's no way 38 here feels like 38 in cambodia... must be the humidity or perhaps just the inescapability.. ) thanks for posting the videos of the percussion and singing, really interesting. By the looks of that last photo, you could have done with some 'boost' in your burger!

    1. Thanks Richard, good luck with the interviews and looking forward to seeing you around this time next year.