Friday, June 24, 2011

Visa Photos

This is an old story, but it's worth sharing.

I had to get four passport photos for visas in just a few days. I needed three for a visa to Bangladesh and one for a visa to India. I remember that there was a photo booth in the Mustafa Travel Centre right by our house, so we went in. It was packed with people. Saturday night at Mustafa's. Crazy. The photo booth was nowhere to be seen. We decided to do our shopping and figure out the photos tomorrow. Then I spotted the random ID photo booth that had moved outside and onto the street. Perf. Put in my money (S$7) and it gives you all of the instructions. It framed my face in the face area, and then it showed my whole head, neck and shoulders in the screen. SHIT! This is for BANGLADESH! They don't do bare shoulders! 20...19...18...please press OK to take the photo...17...16...

MATT - quick! Take off your shirt!

NO! We're in the middle of Little India!

Exactly - no one will notice! Please take off your shirt! Just for one minute - I will just put it on for the photo and give it right back!


Ok - give me the shopping bags. I took our white, cloth re-usable shopping bags and slapped them over my shoulders. Just in time...4...3...2...1...SNAP!

It didn't occur to me that I could go back the next day, with a proper shirt on, and take new photos for a mere USD5.

Then the photos printed. Head and neck only. Not even a speck of shoulder. All that for nothing.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011


This article in the New York Times reminds me about how complicated it is to be a trailing spouse. It's no small compromise to give up your job (or even your career) to move across the world for your partner's professional opportunity. It's hard to find a job in a new city, country and culture. If your field doesn't exist (for example, informal Jewish education), you have to either get extremely creative or find something new. Your identity shifts. Your circle of friends shifts. Now it's really about having couple friends and being seen more as a unit. You are somewhere because of a job or professional opportunity. Your family is somewhere else. Your best friends are all somewhere else, yet you're chasing something professional. That says a lot about what's important to you (I struggle with this a lot), at least at this moment.

Four years on, when someone asks what I'm doing in Singapore, I never say that I work in Diversity and Inclusion at a big bank. I say, "well, I came here for my husband's job. Since I was here I got an MBA and found a job, and now I work in D&I in a big bank." I do not internalise this move as my own. I don't resent Matt for this, but if I hadn't found a job that I like, and if I hadn't found a good support network, and if I hadn't had all of the other great opportunities we have taken advantage of here (traveling, diving, etc), I would be.

It's complicated. The next move is mine!

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

More Bangladesh Impressions

I still haven't really gotten out, though this morning I woke up early to at least have a little walk, since the hartal is over (though they declared to start another one tomorrow...). I wanted to visit the wet market. Most markets I have been to are only open first thing in the morning. Some are already finished by 8am. This one doesn't OPEN until 10am! Luckily there were a few stalls open and there were loads of mangoes to be had. Fear not. When I gave my bags to the hotel staff to hold until I go to the airport tonight, I asked them to please be careful with my bag of mangoes. "Don't worry ma'am. Bangladesh is very amenable to mangoes. If you go to the countryside you will see that everyone has mangoes." Does that mean that they know the importance of treating them well or "don't worry - you can just get more"?

The streets are really busy, lots of honking, very colourful dress. People definitely gave me a second glance, but I felt very comfortable walking around. There are so many different types of transport - MANY rickshaws, tuk-tuk type things with caged in seating areas, cars, busses, open trucks, everything!

The difference between rich and poor is absolutely crazy. There are people who drive fancy cars and others who walk barefoot on the street. I don't think I have been in a place with such a disparity.

I have had *VERY* little local food (apparently they tell the locals that our stomachs can't handle it...), so I have had Italian and Japanese...but the local food I have had is extremely tasty and a bit different than Indian dishes of the same name. My dosa this morning had cashews in it, which I have never seen in Little India at least. I don't know the names of the spices, but the tastes are a bit less sweet than Indian and the spice combination seems quite complicated. I love it.

Disappointment in my super fancy hotel - I got someone else's 5am wake up call, the walls are so thin I could hear everything going on in the rooms next to me, somehow the LAN cable burned my LAN input and my computer is now I feel like this place is a dump...and then I walk out onto the street, and I can't believe the hotel is as nice as it is. Perspective is important.

Though I will be in Singapore for about ten hours, next stop is Bombay...

Sunday, June 12, 2011


A hartal is a strike in Bangladesh. Why would I ever know that? Because I'm here. In Bangladesh, and there's hartal.

I arrived late last night, on a plane that was at about 10% capacity. Was that because of the hartal or because it's usually empty? I have no idea. It took maybe a half hour of CRAZY driving (why do they even put lines on the road?) to get from the airport to the hotel. I saw tonnes of trucks, busses, rickshaws, motorcycles and loads and loads of people on the way here. When I checked in, the guy told me that the streets were "empty" because of hartal. Huh? Really?

Basically all I can do is stay in the hotel and go to office. The hotel guys said that because of voilence, it's not a good idea to be walking around on the streets alone, right now. That is quite sad, since I'm slightly obsessed with the food here, and it's a whole culture I haven't yet gotten to know. People seem so warm and welcoming, yet I can't really go check out their space. It's a bit painful, really.

The hartal is done on Tuesday, though Tuesday is also the busiest day here for my work, since the hartal will be I don't know if I can go out and explore.

A few observations from my very limited vantage point:

  • Coming from Singapore where I believe cars aren't allowed to be on the road after about ten years, the cars are shockingly old. At leaset 20% look like they're from the 80s. Earlier? One's trunk literally looked like it was going to fall off.

  • I didn't see any traffic lights last night, but at each intersection, my driver slowed down, honked and kept driving. Seemed effective.

  • When we walked into the office today, there was a tea-dude with a tray of bottles. They were vodka, rum, etc. bottles, but they looked like they were all filled with water. That was weird enough, but when I saw a guy take multiple swigs from a bottle of rum (really, I believe it was water), it was even weirder. I laughed (in a meeting). This is a Muslim country, and I was definitely in a business environment. Really - there is no way it wasn't water. But it was funny.

  • Looking out my window from the 12th floor, I can't tell if the city is filled with construction or destruction. It's very grey, and there are lots of buildings that aren't being used - and aren't in full form.

  • Dhaka is one of the most densely populated cities in the world. 12 million people. It is also super poor. GDP per capita is 1,500. In the US it's about 47,000. There are 400,000 rickshaws.

In other news, last night was my first night away from Samara. I feel excessively guilty, but really it's okay. I had convinced myself that she wouldn't even notice. Then I was searching online about ceasing breastfeeding (tmi, sorry), and I read that I was abandoning my baby and causing permanent damage. Hopefully that online source is not legitimate. Honestly, it's sort of nice to not think about every detail of her life for a few days. I thought it would be nice to sleep and not have to worry about waking up, but that didn't work (call to prayer being one of the reasons). Really, it's such an opportunity for me to be here (professionally and personally - even with the hartal), and it would be REALLY stressful to have Samara here (the whole sterilizing game would be to a new level), so all in all, it's totally fine.

But...I can't wait to squeeze her and give her hundreds of kisses when I get home (for ten hours...) on Wednesday!!!

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Weekend Edition

The Weekend Edition music (funny link, but does the trick!) makes me really homesick. I hear the music, and I picture my grad school apartment in Ann Arbor. I picture sitting with a cup of coffee and reading the New York Times. Like - real coffe. Like - the REAL paper New York Times. I can smell the (mold?) smells of our New York apartment and see the light coming in the windows of our living room on Sunday morning. It's just a good feeling, and that show always has interesting things to tell me.

Here, I sometimes stream public radio, but that's usually the middle of the night in the US, so mostly it's the BBC on Michigan Radio. Generally, my NPR exposure in Singapore is through podcasts (which I know I have mentioned multiple times). This post talks about my hierarchy of podcasts, but the Slate Culture and Political Gabfests have moved to #2 and #3, pushing the rest down, since 2008.

Generally, there is something about NPR hosts' voices that I am very attached to. I remember when Bob Edwards retired in 2004 I didn't know what my mornings would be like. I thought my life would drastically change. I'm not real big on transition in the NPR world.

Well, I'm a week or so behind on my podcasts (working two days from home...less commuting time...), but today I heard that the 29th May was Liane Hansen's last day hosting Morning Edition. I have to admit that I shed a tear (one only, but still) in the MRT.

I sort of want all of NPR to just stay as it is/was so that it's all nice and neat when we move back. NPR is one of those things that I look forward to enjoying more when we live in America day. Metroparks, grass and outside in general, family, friends that I grew up with and have loved for years and Sourpatch Kids also rank up there.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

MRT Videos

There are great screens here in the MRT so you can (usually) see how long you will have to wait for the next train. I loved that about living in DC and I hated that they didn't have that in NYC. In addition, the screens are used for multiple useful (and hilarious) other reasons.

For example, sometimes the MRT has manners campaigns. These are campaigns where you learn, for example, to step aside to let people off the train (which never happens), or to let old people or pregnant people sit down (which usually does happen). For example we have this "Love Your Ride" throwback to the 50s, which was really big before Sam was born, and it seems to have disappeared while I was gone. We also have the "Happy Journey Starts Like That" version, which was big about two years ago. I can't wait to see the next!

In addition to these campaigns, we also have videos about how to call for assistance if you're sick, or to ride the elevators if you have a lot of packages. There was one about generally being pleasant on the MRT.

My favourite, and the most disturbing, by far, are the terrorist-fear ones. When we first moved here (FOUR YEARS AGO TOMORROW for me!!) we saw the videos where they showed horrible terrorist attacks. They show pictures (like bloody and bodies and yuck) from terrorist attacks in London 2005, Spain 2004, and others in Bali. They literally show shots from afterwards, and then the words "Be Vigilant. Don't Let This Happen To You."

There was also a video where a "shady guy" gets on the train with his bag, and then he gets off and leaves his bag. These two women see it and they call the train operator and tell them about a suspicious object. It seems to me that they're now showing an extended version of the same video (unless somehow I missed the ending for my first few years here?). Now, the guy gets off, and then they show him flip up his mobile phone, push a button, and it literally shows the Singapore MRT go into a tunnel, and then a blast of fire. It's SUPER disturbing. While the videos are quite quiet (you might not even notice that they're playing), every time the train blows up, they also play a horrible sound clip of lots of people screaming. It definitely catches my attention each time.

In other news, we are just really looking forward to our trip to the US in three short weeks. In the meantime, I have loads of work to do to be able to take off for three weeks, and I will be going to Dhaka, Bangladesh next weekend for three days. Then I'll be back in Singapore for ten hours and I'll be heading to Mumbai for three days. All in all, I'll have two red-eyes, 2.5 wasted weekend days (coming back a week before I leave, with a baby, for a three week trip...after a four hour red-eye), my first night (and 2nd, 3rd...6th) night away from my baby, my first work trip for my current job, my first trip to Bangladesh, my first trip to India...It will be a little rough for me. I sort of wouldn't mind if they refused my visa. I mean, it is an amazing opportunity.

Here's a link to current photos and videos of Sam (and friends).