Saturday, April 27, 2013

Basket Case

It's been a couple of weeks. I'm sorry this is a heavy post, there have been some heavy things going on in Dhaka. Just a reminder, for those who might ask, I'm out in the countryside, on a secure campus, with private, armed security guards.

No doubt you've heard about the building collapse in Dhaka (actually, in Savar, which is Northwest of Dhaka). Currently the death toll is above 300, which isn't surprising when you considering it was a nine story building with thousands of workers jammed in there. Since then, garment workers all over the country have been rioting. I can't say that I blame them. Workers at these factories were told that, if they didn't return to work after the building had been condemned, they would lose their jobs. Many have been quick to jump onto the bandwagon of giant corporations being responsible for this, but that misses the point that consumers demand the highest quality at the lowest prices. When we (consumers) are unwilling to pay a reasonable amount of money to ensure that our products are made by companies and workers who are being paid a fair wage and are treated reasonably, then we will continue to create these situations.

Let's talk for a minute about the political situation in Bangladesh because it has taken a decidedly more violent turn, unfortunately. Again, I live out in the middle of nowhere, but when you hear stories every day about another riot, policemen being beaten to within an inch of lives, and buses being torched around the country, you still worry. The deal is, Bangladesh is supposed to be having an election. Usually they set up a caretaker government to oversee the elections, but the Awami League (the party currently in charge) amended the constitution to get rid of that. The opposing Bangladesh National Party (BNP) and their 18-party coalition (which includes the Jamaat party, whose leadership is currently being tried at the "International" Criminal Tribunal, for crimes committed during the 1971 Liberation War) are mad that there is no set day/time for the election, so they've started enforcing hartals. A hartal is a nationwide strike, which is allowed under the Bangladesh constitution. Basically the whole country shuts down. There have been so many strikes recently that investors (particularly garment manufacturers) are being scared away from Bangladesh. According to this news story, the country is losing taka 200 crore* a day for being closed. This increased instability is really nothing new, Bangladesh is well know for being a "basket case", but they have been making a lot of progress. I think it's growing pains, there is so much potential, and people are just now starting to realize it. I've also heard from some people that Bangladesh now is like India 10-15 years ago (depending on where you were at in India), so there's hope.

I really don't want to delve into the Boston bombings, except to say I'm horrified by the news coverage. I'd also like to mention that the wearing of the hijab does not automatically mean a woman has been brainwashed or evil. Living in a Muslim country, the hijab is a symbol of the promises that a believer has made with God. Generally (I'm not going to say always, because there are some cases where it's forced) it's a woman's choice to make these promises and wear the hijab.

And that is the end of my heavy news update for today. Sorry

*A crore is a unit of measurement in South Asia which means 10 million. They also have lakh, which means 100,000. Apparently, a cow to sacrifice for Eid-Ul-Azha is 1 lakh.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Spring Break, or How I learned to stop worrying and have fun

Okay, let's be honest, I wasn't really worried to begin with. I arrived in Bangkok late. I had decided to take Biman Bangladesh Airlines, because it was the least expensive, but also because several of our students parents work for Biman. I like to support the people I know. Biman always runs late. First we were supposed to arrive at 13:50, which left me ample time to catch the last sleeper train at 19:30, then they switched to their summer schedule, which meant arriving at 17:00. Then we actually arrived at 18:00 pm. Which left me catching the 22:50 train to Surat Thani, 2nd class (the difference between second and third class is Air Conditioning). The seats were like bus seats, no armrest in between two people, which means I spent a good portion of the night cuddling with the Thai guy sitting next to me. They did lean back a bit. And I did have my neck pillow, but there was little sleep to be had. The universe was trying to make me hate train travel. It didn't work, for two reasons A) my love of trains knows no bounds and B)the train (two buses, a pickup truck, and a taxi) brought me here:

Okay, it was a little gray, but hot, and the water is nice and warm. I had joked with my students that I was going to sit on the beach and read a book for the whole time, but I hate to sit around.

On Saturday, I got in around 5 pm, and stayed in for the night, exhausted from the long travel day.

Sunday I woke up at a leisurely hour, got breakfast and laid on the beach for a good long while.

Note the ample amounts of fresh fruit and pork products.
I also went back for seconds on bacon.

Don't let the sky fool you, it was dang hot. So hot it fogged up my lens
every time I tried to take a photo.

Then I had the great idea to rent a scooter and go to town (Ao Nang). I'm not really one for driving scooters, what with a brother who broke his arm riding a motorcycle and a father who broke a whole mess of ribs and punctured a lung on a Harley. I decided that my life is too short to live in fear and I did it anyway. The difference between a motorbike in Thailand and in the US is that there are so many more motorbikes on the road here, cars and trucks take much more notice of them. Also, you generally aren't driving really fast, the highest I ever went was about 60 kph (36 mph), but usually around 40 kph (24 mph). I never did get a picture of myself on or near the scooter, considering I'm travelling alone. I should think of making a selfie taking stick like this lady
Ao Nang Beach

Green Papaya salad for lunch, super spicy and delicious.

The main strip in Ao Nang. I walked this a couple of times.
Little shops line the whole thing. This is as busy as it got.
View from the hotel's restaurant. Not bad, eh?

Dinner at the hotel.
The next day I had a massage on the beach. I don't know how I've lived without a Thai massage to this point, but I'm definitely going to rectify that in the long run.

I then scooted into town again and got a pedicure (I get one in every country, this ranks the best so far, but the one in Nepal and Australia were pretty terrible, so it's not really a contest yet). The pedicure also came with a Thai massage.
Orange toes to match the sunset
The next day was time to leave Krabi, which involved an overpriced car ride to an airport, a packed airplane, missing a train in Bangkok, trying to get a taxi driver who wouldn't rip me off, and finally arriving at my hotel. Which was very near everything, including several malls with movie theaters. I went and saw G.I. Joe Retaliation, not because I expected it to be good, but because it has Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson in it. It was awful, in case you were wondering.

The next morning I ventured to Ikea, which involved a ride on the BTS (the elevated metro system), standing in a filthy alley way waiting for a shuttle bus (oh yeah, there was a half naked guy in the alley too!), and then finally getting a fitted sheet and a duvet cover for my bed. Trust me, it was worth.

I rounded out the day by getting fish tacos and seeing another movie, Oblivion, which was much better than the previous movie.

The final morning I slept in, got room service, and said goodbye. I know that I didn't do everything the normal tourist would in Bangkok, but that's what this summer will be for, this trip was for relaxation, and it fit the bill just right.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Review: Beautiful Creatures

I meant to post this last week, then didn't. No good reason.

I had listened to a review of the new Beautiful Creatures movie and decided I wanted to read the book (because I can't legally acquire see the new movie).  Even more fun, when I went to buy it on my Kindle, I could also download the audiobook, via Audible, for only $2.99. This also allowed me to try out the new Whispersync technology being touted by Amazon, where my Kindle and Audible sync up, so when I stop listening, I can start reading in the exact same spot. This didn't work as well as they intended, since my Kindle can't connect to the internet properly. You people everywhere else in the world be thankful for your fast internet connections. Even when they're slow, it's probably better than mine. Anyway, back to this book.
I warn you, I'm going to spoil it if you desire to read it sometime soon.

The original cover, image courtesy of Amazon
via LibraryThing
I began by reading it on my Kindle. Immediately I was drawn in by the imagery of South Carolina, and particularly of the vivid description of life in the southern hamlet of Gatlin. I could feel the air, dripping with the fragrance of Confederate Jasmine, see the small town that hasn't changed much since "the war of Northern Aggression." We meet Ehtan Carter Wate, a son of Gatlin, who is starting his Junior Year at Stonewall Jackson High School. He's been dreaming lately, horrific nightmares that leave him covered in sweat, clawing his way out of the ground, with dirt under his fingernails in the morning. Amma, his grandmother-like housekeeper jumps from the pages, fully formed, with southern Baptist values, a good dose of common sense, and just enough superstition. It has been a difficult year already for Ethan, with his mother dying in a mysterious car accident. Her death left Ethan's father berreft, and he now locks himself in his study, writing "the great American novel." Ethan can't wait to leave Gatlin, to get out of the land-locked town that sucks the very life out of him.

Then, everything changes when Lena Duchannes moves into town. The electricity between Ethan and Lena is
The redesigned cover featuring the cast
of the movie. Image via LibraryThing.
palpable, and Ethan gives up his social standing to be with her. Lena has a dark secret, though, one which could literally tear them apart.  Lena's is a caster (think Witch) and at 16 she is chosen to be either a white caster or a black caster. Seraphine, the darkest know caster and Lena's Uncle, Macon Ravenwood, are fighting to control Lena's powers, for good or evil.

I enjoyed a good portion of this book. I felt fully immersed in Gatlin. It reminds me of every southern-belle, plantation home, good 'ol boy Southern city I've imagined. Ethan is a refreshing change as a lead character. He's realistically portrayed as being stuck, with no one to cling to, with conflicting feelings about life, trying to feel out who he is and where he belongs. Lena is less fully realized, in my opinion. One moment she's in love, the next she's crying, the next she's causing massive downpours.

When it finally reaches the conclusion, it drags on for a good long time. So long, I was bored by reading it, and even more bored by listening to it. Seraphine shows up and becomes what I like to call "Mrs. Exposition." This is the major flaw with the book, that it doesn't dish out enough details before the finale. It felt like a good half of the book was something happening, and it never being explained, or not until the overly-long ending.

Overall, I felt that the world was well-developed, the writing was solid, the magical realm was fascinating, and the romance wasn't overly sappy (meaning it generally didn't make me throw up in my mouth, romance=barfing noises). Where it flounders in the middle and at the finale, but it leaves an excellent cliffhanger for follow-ups. Recommended for students Grade 7 (about 14) and above.

LibraryThing Review:
The sleepy South Carolina hamlet of Gatlin hasn't changed much since the "War of Norther Aggression." Ethan Carter Wate, a 15-year-old basketball player at Stonewall Jackson High School is counting down the days until he can leave, until he meets new girl Lena Duchannes. The electricity between them is literally palpable, but Lena's secret life and strange family could tear them apart, literally.
The world of Beautiful Creatures is well-developed, with hints of humor and southern hospitality similar Charlaine Harris' Sookie Stackhouse novels (which are the basis for the True Blood TV series, although they diverge greatly).  The writing is solid, with fantastic imagery that leaves the smell of Confederate Jasmine practically in the air. The magical realm is fascinating, realistic, and terrifying, and the romance seems genuinely portrayed. Where it flounders in the middle and at the finale, drawn out and boring at times,  but it leaves an excellent cliffhanger for follow-ups. Recommended for students Grade 7 (about 14) and above.