CAPITALISM CONTINUES

It was my last full day and night here.  Just a side note, there is no visa required to go to Hong Kong (like there was for Bangladesh), but Immigration limits your stay to 7 days without penalty.  Tried to wake up to a little Pandora only to get the notification: “Pandora is not available in this country”…. guess I will get up and get moving! Today’s excursion took me across the entire Central Area of the island of Hong Kong. I started with a walk down Hollywood Road, sifting through antiques for the perfect find. There is hardly any flat land here, the streets are sometimes difficult to travel because of their vertical nature. The mid-level escalators boast a completely different part of the city which is not quite as high as Victoria’s Peak. I traveled almost 45 minutes of escalators situated outside and located in the middle of the city. They pass homes, restaurants, and shopping rivaling any other city on the globe.

 

I stopped at IFC mall, which is four floors andlarger than many malls I’ve visited in the United States. Any store you can possibly think of is located here. It is packed with visitors. I even spotted a Garrett’s popcorn which apparently is located not only here, but in Dubai as well! Capitalism is alive and well here. I headed over to the Star Ferry for a night ride across the Harbor to view the skyline. Every night there is a light show called Symphony of Lights! Spectacular!  A group of buildings in the center of the city sparkle and shine with a spectrum of light and color.  These sights will not soon be forgotten.

HONK KONG ISLAND

It’s typhoon season so the weather is characterized by lots of rain and high winds.  Sights, sounds, smells of Hong Kong Island are impeccable! There is no such ting as a bad meal,  and so much to see. I am staying on Hollywood Road located in SOHO (south of Hollywood) so there are lots of things that mimic American culture here. All of the ads are familiar, Gucci, Prada, Rolex, H&M, Gap and of course McDonalds; they didn’t miss a capitalist beat.  From Victoria’s Peak (highest point in Hong Kong located above 428 meters above sea level) you can see just how majestic the skyline truly is.

From Victoria's Peak

From Victoria's Peak

Tucked into the bustling city are antiques, Chineras guarding doors, Buddah, dragons, and other traditional relics remaining from Pre-colonialism. It’s is exciting to see beautiful artifacts made of jade, stone, and other traditional materials. What a rich culture hidden within this city of lights!

TRAVELING TO HONG KONG

Traveling on a Bengali airline to Hong Kong was interesting. I am used to things being repeated back in English on international flights, but that is not the case from one city in Asia to another. Two different native languages were used to give directions on the plane,  but not my own. In Bangladesh, the airport was filled with mostly men gazing at me conspicuously because I am now in my American garb. Even the flight attendants on the plane are still in traditional sari’s. Arriving  to Hong Kong was quite a cultural shock to the system having spent the last three weeks in the jungle, countryside and the developing city of Dhaka.

Flight Attendant in traditional Sari

Flight Attendant in traditional Sari

Women are provocatively dressed here, short skirts, shorts, tank tops, and stylish dresses-Hong Kong is one of the fashion capitals of the world! I am a bit alarmed having spent the last few weeks looking at a culture of women fully covered, some with nothing showing but their eyes. It is amazing what a little time in a different place can do to your psyche. The city is filled with bright lights, tall buildings, somewhat similar to downtown Chicago. It almost feels like home except in a completely different language. The familiarity is somewhat comforting. The train is clean, very well kept (unlike Chicago’s CTA) and equipped with free wifi-something every major city should be doing!  It’s a stormy night, cannot wait to explore the streets tomorrow!

NO CONFLICT DIAMONDS BUT TEA IS OPPRESSIVE

There are rows and rows of tea bushes growing in the city of Srimongal.  

The smell of fresh tea leaves permeates the air as we walk down the path of the tea gardens.

Women come each day to work in the field picking the equivalent of  50 pounds a day for a mere .48 (yes forty eight cents) …less than the price of a box of tea.

These women slave in the heat all day to provide tea for the worlds market. Balancing baskets on their head, they work nonstop unaware of the true value of their work.

Next time you nonchalantly sip your Starbucks, remember their struggle.

THE PATH TO PEACE HOUSE (SHANTI BARI)

In the dark, or the light the journey to Shanti Bari (Peace House) is anything but dull.  Down the path, across the bamboo bridge, past the banana trees, lemons, pineapples, and around the rain soaked leaves, this beautiful farmland is a great place to find yourself.  At night, the sky is littered with stars as far as the eye can see.  There are no street lights or cities to obstruct the view. Modern civilization is far away and you are forced to engage with the universe.  In this bamboo hut, the rain can be heard clearly and it brings a peace of mind that many never take the time to indulge in.

Fruit from the countryside absolutely ruins any chance of me enjoying hybrid shipped fruit in the States ever again. Fresh picked pineapple from Shanti Bari’s farmland does not even resemble or taste similar to what we know as fruit at home.

The children that live in the village near the Peace House come to play with me each day. We exchange minimal dialogue and take pictures together. They love drawing pictures of Shanti Bari. A lot of village children have never had crayons, so this experience is special for them.  They are quite proud of the few English words they know including “hi, how are you” and “I’m fine”.  They know more in English than I know in Bengali, so I am impressed.  I am also impressed by their drawings; straight lines, neatly colored, great attention to detail! Art transcends age, experience, time and culture barriers.

COUNTRYSIDE, RAINFORESTS, & VILLAGES OH MY

The five hour train ride to the countryside of Bangladesh(town of Srimangal) was quite eventful to say the least.  The train is probably about 50 years old, fans, no glass left in the windows, only cardboard or metal. A roach crawls across the floor nearby.  A beggar with one leg slides across the train bottom asking for change. Men balancing fruit on their head travel from car to car selling goods to travelers.  The train stops to let another pass.  As I glance out the window, I see a mother and her three children sit outside their home (a mere tent on the side of the tracks)  and enjoy a meal of pineapple in the rain. As my journey continues, we travel into town and have a meal before heading to Shanti Bari (the Peace House) being constructed on farmland outside a small village.

There are many villages, farmland, and a rain forest in this particular area. Lawachara is the name of the forest I visited.  We pass monkeys, spiders, and some of the most beautiful wildlife I’ve ever seen.  The Bengal Tiger used to be prominent here, but it is now endangered.  On the journey there, I pull off a leech and toss it before it attaches itself to my skin. It is very hot. The spiders are larger than my hand and although frightful are brilliantly colored. Bamboo is quite beautiful. For the first 5 years, it hardly grows then in the sixth year it can grow up to 25 feet.  After an hour walk through the jungle, we arrive at a village within the jungle. In this particular Matriarch Village some of the homes are powered by solar energy.  The women run the business while men go out and perform the labor.  They also dominate the household.  The tradition of this ethnic group is quite different from others in the surrounding area. There is a small school, which serves as a church as well. The walk to high school would be too long, so most children don’t go.  This place truly defines remote.  Basic needs are met, and life is simple.  Beauty can truly be experienced in this place.

HISTORY OF BANGLADESH

I wanted to relay a bit of Bengali history. In 1947, conspiracy by the British resulted in separation from India to make a Muslim state (Bangladesh) and Hindu state (India). The British assumed that India would fall without Bangladesh. From 1947 to 1971 Pakistan ruled over what is now Bangladesh. In 1971 there was a brutal war, which resulted in Bangladesh becoming their own county independent from Pakistan. Religious oppression has been the root of these struggles although they are all of the Diaspora. The fight for freedom was headed by five students in 1952 who sacrificed their lives to speak out against Pakistan’s rule and free this country from oppression. The structure  pictured above is a memorial to all those who fought for freedom. Many lost their lives during this war; there were also Freedom Fighters who were very instrumental in winning the war.

There have been two Nobel Peace Prize winners from Bangladesh. One was the beloved Tagore in 1913. He is a critical part of history of the Diaspora as well as Bengali history because he was the first person of color to ever win this prize.  Tagore was an advocate for peace all over the world; he was a brilliant poet, writer, and prominent example of global heroism. Bangladesh is proud to have him as a part of their history. This country has had it’s share of war, heroism, and oppression just as we experience in the West.  With less than 50 years of freedom under its belt, it continues to build itself up as time passes.  The things I have experienced here have been a prominent example of the resilience people of the Diaspora share all over the world.

BEING AMERICAN & EXPLORING CULTURAL CONTEXTS

Being an American citizen outside of America is always a daunting experience. My other experiences abroad, both in Italy and The Czech Republic, were completely different than in Asia. In Western Europe, there were a considerable amount of Africans, but really no Americans of color. I always receive curious stares. Italy has a lot of Africans as well. In Rome, there was a sentiment of hatred for Americans and it was better to be presumed as African. The fact remained that in all the countries  visited, I was still the minority. In Asia, it has been completely different. One thing remained the same though, educated individuals are bi-lingual; the power of the dollar is recognized even in this developing country.

Bangladesh is exciting for me because everyone here is of the Diaspora. Walking through the streets, I get curious stares, but there is no sign that I am of the same descent as European or The American Oppressor. British colonialism has taken its toll on this country as well.  The art community has welcomed me with open arms, no questions or speculations. The fact that I am a former student from the Art Institute Chicago is respected and not met with sentiments that result from stereotypes that permeate American culture.  I gave a lecture at the Dhaka Art Center yesterday, and when dialoguing about artists of color (Kara Walker) it was difficult to explain “the minority experience” in America and  racism that is contextualized in her work. The discussion afterward was quite compelling. Ultimately, all nations experience oppression in their own form. This country has had its share, just not in the context of “black versus white”. I have truly enjoyed being embraced by this community of color from the other side of the world.