3 Days in Bangladesh. Some thoughts

Day 1

On a flight to Bangladesh to attend a friend’s wedding. Roaming around the airport like a mindless zombie, fighting the temptation to spend any money on frivolous items designed to make you splurge. Going through the bookstores and looking at the titles on display, taking in deep breathes hoping some of the knowledge is transmitted over the air. But of course, nothing really sinks in. The flu and running nose do not really help. Went to the pharmacy to buy some medication for the running nose and cough. The pharmacist is clearly someone from Hong Kong and extremely grumpy. With long retail hours and a dead end job, I do not blame him. The dream of working hard, securing a degree seems like years ago with a mortgage, bills and other miscellaneous items to pay for and no other relevant skills to jump to a different industry that can offer the same pay with the existing skill sets. He offers the liquid cough syrup. I have concerns with the ridiculous air security rules I am unable to board the plane. And personally I hate cough syrups. He sarcastically and aggressively states that he knows the rules very very well. I do not doubt that. And looking at his annoyance, I cannot help but pity him. I told him if it would be possible to offer a tablet form, mostly because it was a personal preference. He hands them over grudgingly. I proceed to pay and head over to my gate.

Security enters me of all my possessions while I walk through the metal detector hoping nothing sets off the alarm and be subjected to a search that would yield nothing. The whole notion of combating terrorists with crude psychological barriers causes nothing but annoyance and desensitization to actual incidents. The boarding time arrives shortly. I go onboard to see the plane full. To my dismay, I do get the middle seat. But just my luck that the seat on my left was empty. I was even offered the exit row.

The flight was a pleasant enough one. Seeing hard workers return home. A whole month of their salary to see home. A concept very foreign to me. Both home and having to pay exorbitant percentage of my earnings to see loved ones. There is a feeling of hope and love in the air despite the smell of sweat and cramped bodies due to faulty air conditioning. The happiness to know they will see their loved ones in a few hours after being apart for so long. The toys for their children. The gifts for their wives. The hard earned money used to change for things to bring a smile to those back home who have not seen a drone or being gouged to purchase any form of technology. It enrages me somewhat that this happens. The disparity between rich and poor is beyond the amount in the bank but also in the barriers set up. The flight attendants were very nice and polite to me, in a plane full of Bangladeshis. However the treatment to the Bangladeshis were curt, rude and threatening. Did we not pay the same price for the tickets? Do stereotypes hold people back and cause people to be disadvantaged? I am starting to believe they do. The flight and tranquility has given me some time to think about the upcoming trip to New York. Drawing on my past experience of having everyone in the team present regardless of language abilities. That is what team is. What about breaking down barriers, to go beyond

The plane is landing and I will need to pack my iPad Pro (2.5 months of their salary). I sit here and think about what would have happened if it had been me born in their country.

Day 2

The folks in Bangladesh are aggressive for business. The driver that brought me back to the hotel yesterday offered a cheaper service and tried to undercut the hotel by 50%. This highlights a few things:

  • The hotel is really not paying him enough if profit margins are more than 50%
  • Bangladeshis are risk takers to get out of their current predicament
  • The state of affairs is really quite bad

It was quite brilliant how he maneuvered into that conversation. After landing the opening moves were to ask about my flight, what is my purpose of visit. Upon learning I was here for tourism, immediately offer driving services that are cheaper than the hotel (since it is most likely out of my own pocket instead of expensed to company). And then along the ride introduce me to various landmarks (mostly hotels) along the way. (So offer service, justify service)

The way most of the locals are treated is really depressing. Returning home to Singapore, the lines for locals are automated and fast. Here it is the exact opposite. Locals wait in long lines while the foreign passport lines are clear and empty. They are not allowed to use those lanes to clear immigration. I had a theory in the past: Rich stay rich not only because they have more capital to invest. But more importantly they have more capital to acquire more time. Value-less jobs are cast aside to others so that they can focus on things that give value and help them grow. Waiting in line is not one of them. And sadly, in any place around the world, having to wait in line plagues most of us. Slightly more advanced countries will create two sided economies that help to drastically cut down time spent on basic things (think Uber). As long as the excess time is spent wisely on self improvement or contributed back to society, it will ultimately allow the society to grow.

Day 3

Advancement in technology allows for a single individual to defeat a whole battalion. Emerging economies will forever remain emerging if folks are not taught to embrace structure and technology. 1 million people is a sizable force. However without proper direction it quickly descends into chaos like those I witnessed on the streets of Bangladesh. Simple things I take for granted daily such as traffic lights, quickly disappear with people refusing to compromise and sacrifice for a greater good. The societal fabric that allows communities to function is gone to be replaced by false democracy where the population starves and lives in chaos. There is no easy fix to this. The only way is to start small and build pockets of the future. The greatest thing holding back the people are the people themselves.

The insatiable need to have democracy seems to have driven people to selfish extremes. Where road users of different shapes, sizes and horsepower try to squeeze forward instead of obeying basic laws that would ultimately lead to everyone going to their destination a lot faster. It is truly a difficult situation to solve and a catch 22 for the residents who reside in Dhaka. Any chance to give way leads to others taking advantage of the situation. Through feedback and hardening of resolve, there is little motivation for anyone to obey common unspoken public courtesies. I am a strong believer that given the right circumstances, people can and will change. Rowdy country folk from Singapore who visit Japan tend to be better behaved and understand basic courtesies of speaking softly in public. Pakistanis heading home are polite all the way till they reach their home soil which leads to them rearing their ugly heads and foregoing the lessons they have learnt while living overseas. The concept and notion of returning to a less civilized place leads one to devolve into a less civilized being.

The people need to be reskilled to move beyond manual labor. Jobs need to be created to help fill those gaps and give a push and pull impetus for the population to move. Organizations need to work together to help that happen as well. At this rate, the old days of colonialism have not vanished but merely rebranded to global trade where people with money are able to exploit those with less.

A strong central planning, free from the influence of bribes and corruption are necessary to help in a central planning initiative that will allow parts of the city to get off the ground and move towards greater heights. To spend hours toiling away in manual labor is little help to the livelihood of the folks who have spent their most precious commodity — time, in replacement of meager amounts of food

I am somewhat saddened by how the kids are being treated and how we when visiting view the world from the safety of a vehicle like out in the African Safari, taking photos, shouting in excitement at the scenes of violence and chaos. If we had our positions changed, would we have known better? Could we help them to pave a better path?

The travels I’ve had and the things I’ve seen, coupled with the wiser people who have crossed paths with me to open my eyes to a world greater than my own I hope would lead me down the path to creating the beginning of a brighter future. I fear that there is still too much to be done in a single lifetime (even with increased longevity).

Perhaps it is time to finally revisit wealth of nations and definitely sit down patiently to look at Marx’s Capital. Understanding economics is the first step to appreciating the motivational economics and determining the steps to change. To move away from exploitation and create a better, fairer world.

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