Anonymous said: Hi, Would you be kind enough to write about your experience to bangladesh on my blog?

Sure! Shoot me an email with more details: claudia.kl.wong@gmail.com and I will do my best.

mahkq said: Hi, I am a student at UBC. My parents are from Bangladesh and I visit every 2-3 years. Next summer my fiancee and I were hoping to visit Bangladesh and later to darjeeling (In India). She is from Korea and she may face reactions similar to those experienced by yours. I would like to know if you have any recommendations or anything to note, I know you said you had a negative experience, I really love my country and would really like to prevent any negative experiences for her.

Hi there,

First of all, congratulations on your engagement! What a wonderful and exciting time this must be for you.

I cannot believe it has been more than a year since I have left Bangladesh and my heart does ache for a country and city that have recently suffered such tragedies. I need to address something I thought I had made clear, but judging from your question I see there has been some confusion regarding my experience in such a beautiful country.

My negative experience in Bangladesh had everything to do with the Canadian “development project” I was involved with, and nothing to do with the country itself. For Bangladesh, and its people, I have nothing but warm feelings and gratitude. Never ever have I traveled anywhere else in the world where I was welcomed into the homes of people I had just met, who owned far less than me, and offered me literally everything they had to give. I found the Bangladeshi people to be wonderfully inviting.

I found some things disconcerting though, when I was travelling on my own. These included the constant stares of curiosity at my face and skin colour when I was in public - unnoticed in the expatriate areas of Dhaka, but infinitely more noticeable when I traveled to rural areas. (At one small rural clinic, travelling with a wonderful Bangladeshi friend of mine, I was asked to sign autographs and was so embarrassed I felt I couldn’t say no.) It also made me very uncomfortable to sense that people around me were talking about me in a language I could not understand (and therefore did not know what they were saying).

I think that since you are a native Bangladeshi and you will be travelling together with your fiancee, you will not encounter as many of the same issues that I did. I would suggest that you explain the Bangladeshi culture and the customs of its women to your fiancee well in advance, including the clothing and dress customs (especially if your parents live in a rural area). Explain that she may receive unwanted attention due to the colour of her skin. It would probably also help her to learn a few key phrases (hello, how are you, etc) and if you would be kind enough to translate conversations for her at times. There are however, many Korean people in Bangladesh who easily pick up the language - I have heard that it is due to similar sentence structure and grammar. 

I wish you luck with your travels and good things in your future life together! I hope you both have a wonderful time and return often to your beautiful country.

a word, on language

I just had to say something about this. Be forewarned that I approach this with a hyper-critical stance. The original post is from A Well-Traveled Man.

caro asked: I found your Tumblr after clicking through one of your awesome East Africa pics. I’m going to the same part of the world in a week for what sounds like a very similar trip — going with a social enterprise I work with, and headed on a safari at the end. If there’s one thing you wish you knew about that part of the world before you’d gone for the first time, what would it be?

This is such a great question and I’m so glad that you asked! I wish I would’ve thought to ask the same thing before traveling to East Africa myself. The one thing that I wish I would’ve known is how intelligent that East Africans are along with how creatively they approach solving their own social problems. I think that I came with the mindset that I was going to need to find solutions for them but the more I have gone back, the more I have learned that my main goal needs to be empowering them to accomplish the goals that they have already set out to achieve for the sake of their own people. East Africans are beautiful and resilient and I have been greatly enriched by my journeys there. I hope that your trip is amazing and would love to see and hear about it when you are back!

One of the things that bothered me most about living in Bangladesh was the language that Westerners (and others who spoke English, sometimes Bangladeshi people themselves) used to refer to the Bangladeshi people as a whole. I think this is one of the primary problems with “development” work. What is there to develop anyway, and why is this Western notion of development superior to any kind of evolution, industrial or otherwise, that might arise from the “developing country” itself?

In the quote above, an American woman asks an American man what lessons might be learned from his travels. He replies that he has been surprised by the intelligence of East Africans. To me this is blatant racism disguised by a nauseatingly self-righteous perspective on “development work”. It is this kind of language that I loathe and grow increasingly intolerant of since I have returned from Bangladesh.

I don’t disagree with needing to empower people to “accomplish the goals they have already set out for their own people”. I just want anyone working in development to start questioning the language they use to reflect the “work” they think they are doing. Who are you? How are you qualified to “empower” these people? Would you say the same things if these were white people in America you were working to “empower”?

If “development work” is to be successful in any way to achieve equality for all, eliminate poverty, etc, etc, those working towards these goals need to start thinking about the language they are using to frame the work they are doing. 

I was looking through my old photos. There were some bright spots in my trip (mostly unrelated to the work I went there to do). Like this one night when my friend Jimmy whisked me away on the back of a motorcycle to a wedding! Fun for so many reasons: where do you hang on when you’re not supposed to touch the dude? The incredible amount of lights!!! And finally the beautiful ceremony of the entire evening! I was awestruck. And so happy to be there and be a part of it all.

I was looking through my old photos. There were some bright spots in my trip (mostly unrelated to the work I went there to do). Like this one night when my friend Jimmy whisked me away on the back of a motorcycle to a wedding! Fun for so many reasons: where do you hang on when you’re not supposed to touch the dude? The incredible amount of lights!!! And finally the beautiful ceremony of the entire evening! I was awestruck. And so happy to be there and be a part of it all.

One month ago

Tomorrow is September 1st, and it has been one month since I have posted on this blog. I apologize for the lack of posts.

To be honest I am not a big sharer of travel photos. I take most photos for my own enjoyment of them. I don’t really care if you know exactly where I’ve traveled or if you are jealous of the places I’ve seen. I travel to push my own boundaries, not to show off to you.

The other reason I have not posted recently is that I am finding it really hard to talk about my experience in Bangladesh publicly. I had a negative experience, yes. The implications of discussing this publicly are not lost on me; I worry about the effect any public discussion might have on my future career paths or my current trajectory. I worry about the effect that public discussion would have on my personal well-being.

What I will share with you, is that I would never have guessed that the biggest part of my journey abroad would happen after I returned home. Returning home and processing what happened to me mentally and emotionally while I was away has been an exhausting process and it is still not over. Every time I think to myself that I have let the negativity go, that this is it, that I am going to look up from here… a few days later I’m unbelievably angry about everything that we had to go through. I do wonder about what other people experience on their return home from an experience working in “development”.

Has anyone else had a negative volunteer experience in “international development”?

Did they get those sticks of incense at Costco? Incense prepared for Buddha’s birthday, April 2012.
Ngong Ping, Lantau Island, HK.

Did they get those sticks of incense at Costco? Incense prepared for Buddha’s birthday, April 2012.

Ngong Ping, Lantau Island, HK.

Dinner with my Auntie Elaine at a diner in HK. Garlic shrimp, “chow mein”, my favourite veggies (I don’t know the English name), and roast pigeon. Yummmmmm.

I would post the photo of all 3 of us, but I ruined it, so NO CAN DO.

Macau.
There’s something about parks within cities that I find fascinating. Like no matter how much developers push to take over areas like this and invade it with concrete and metal, someone will resist and nature will push back.
"Contained" nature, I guess.

Macau.

There’s something about parks within cities that I find fascinating. Like no matter how much developers push to take over areas like this and invade it with concrete and metal, someone will resist and nature will push back.

"Contained" nature, I guess.

Tags: Macau travel

Having Fun, #5.
Disco superstar in the streets of Macau.

Having Fun, #5.

Disco superstar in the streets of Macau.

Attempting to transition

I believe closure is having the ability to transition, walking after that crippling event or relationship.  Closure then is courage.  Closure is not allowing what happened to have power over you, determine who you are, or how you want to live your life.  That piece of your story contributed to your journey.  It is polish.  Not tarnish.  Closure doesn’t have to mean forgetting about or erasing memories. 

The Angry Therapist

I’ve been keeping incredibly quiet about my volunteer experience in Bangladesh. I’m not yet ready to share that story publicly - at some point, maybe I’ll be ready for it. Suffice to say it was disappointing and a fairly negative one - I would not recommend anyone to volunteer with this particular project. If you would like more details please feel free to contact me and I would be happy to speak with you about the problems I faced.

Until then, enjoy the travel photos…

(Tian Tan Buddha, Ngong Ping, Lantau Island, HK. Photograph: my own.)