Tuesday, July 31, 2007


Last year I broke some spokes in my bicycle wheel. Trying to get them replaced, I eventually found a really good group of roadside mistris and took the bicycle to them. They started working, but in the meantime a downpour started. Leaving the bicycle with them, I ran off to the nearest shelter I could find, which happened to be a long, narrow shop in an alley called Nurer Chala.

I stood at the entrance of the shop waiting for the rain to subside, but it went on. I took a look inside. It was a paint shop of sorts. Along the long back wall, two men were preparing a signboard for painting.

I watched the rainy street with an occasional look back at the signboard. They had painted the first letter: C. Then it became a C-o. I went back to watching the street, wishing I had brought my camera. Drenched rickshaw pullers were doing their utmost to keep passengers dry. Wet dogs ran around looking for shelter. In the meantime, the signboard was now saying C-o-n, and half an f was done. A large puddle formed in front of the store. Some kids ran by, throughly enjoying the soaking. The rain picked up. I looked inside: C-o-n-f-i-d. Several elder pedestrians for their feet wet in the puddle. The sky started clearing. Then, slowly, the rain stopped. I waited for a few seconds to make sure it was real, and stepped into the street.

I took one last look at the signboard and stopped on my tracks. I groaned. They had been doing so well...

Some days ago I found the signboard at its destination:

Monday, July 30, 2007


This is Riad.

He was selling umbrellas on Farm Gate's pedestrian overpass. He studies in Class Five.

A customer wearing turqoise asked the price of a matching turqoise umbrella. 110 Taka, said Riad. The customer checked it out, then offered 90. "Sir, I have one price, it is 110 Taka," Riad insisted. The customer walked off. Riad did not capitulate. After a few minutes, customer reappeared and bought the umbrella for 110.

I asked Riad if he knew the customer would return and pay the asking price. Yes, I was sure, he said. But how did he know? "If they are a Hi-Fi customer, they will huff and puff, but then they will go to the other side of the overpass, price the umbrellas there, and find my price was the best. So they come back." So where do the umbrellas come from? "From Saudi, sir". But it says made in China. "Our people get it from Saudi." Oh well.

Riad has been doing this for thirteen months. It's really his Dad's business, and he helps out whenever he has time off from school. Although he seemed to be proud of helping out his Dad, I also sensed some embarrassment at being caught outside school like this.

Riad (under the umbrella) and friends.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Why Read Fiction?

A friend complained to me the other day: at bookstores he no longer felt compelled to buy fiction. The reason? He no longer finds value in reading fiction.

Now I am a voracious reader of both fiction and non-fiction. So naturally this got me thinking. Why *do* I read fiction?

The short answer is because I love stories; have done so forever.

It started a long time ago, at my mother's lap. Like other children I was captivated by narratives of swashbuckling poigambars, beautiful princesses, evil witches and so on.

I had the added benefit of having a great grandmother who was an accomplished storyteller. After dinner the kids gathered around her as she narrated Kissas. Her keen sense of narrative and suspense kept us asking "What happens next" every day. She also added twists and turns, adding "What if?" to my thinking.

Thus for me, reading stories is as much a part of living as is, for example, breathing, loving, drinking lemonade, or enjoying a child's smile.

So much for personal gratification. What about the world we live in - globalized, competitive, capitalistic and connected? Does reading fiction help the individual and/or society to become more competitive?

I really don't have a good answer to that. Years ago, I read somewhere that Italians can design so well because of their passion for the arts. From Michaelangelo to Ferrari, so to speak. Another article had mentioned the lack of global brand names from China as brought about because of the lack of culture in their education (I paraphrase and butcher the reasoning, no doubt, but you get my drift :-) ) So is it possible we haven't seen a Old Spice or a Van Heusen come out of Singapore because Singaporeans read mostly business books?

I don't know, and frankly I don't care. To me, fiction is its own best reward.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Walk Along the Lake

I sometimes walk on the path along Baridhara-Gulshan Lake, like I did two days ago. Although thick clouds threatened rain, a cool breeze helped.

We Bangladeshis take walking seriously. Take, for example, the two ladies I almost ran into when I stepped on the path. Clad in black Burkha, with an extra white scarf providing additional protection for the head, and wearing matching black tennis shoes, they marched furiously, as if shaking off any precursor of aging in their bones.

I scratched my head: don't they get hot inside those layers of black? Doesn't the Burkha get in the way? Evidently not.

There were several adults with children. Three moms were taking their 2-3 year-old boys for a walk. One could barely walk, and as he approached me from the other side, he decided enough walking, why not run now? After two quick steps, losing his balance, he suddenly fell on his bottom. He happily sat there watching the world go by until Mommy picked him up.

A gaggle of relatives - mom, dad, aunts, uncles, cousins - accompanied another 4-year
old boy. He decided he was thirsty, and continuously screamed "pani khabo" until the time I left the park. Who knows, the other walkers might have decided to give him a big gulp of lake water!

Then there were the single men, both Bangladeshi and furriners. A Korean man was running, while rolling a white towel around his clenched fists. He seemed vaguely threatening - ready to punch at anything that got in his way. I quickly stepped aside. A man wearing a navy track suit was walking earnestly. I could smell him coming from several yards because he had doused himself in cologne. A thoughtful fellow in wispy beard, in a beige Kurta, materialized out of nowhere. Although he walked, you could tell he would rather be pursuing the intellect.

The lakeside has some privacy for courting couples. A couple argued tensely standing next to the lake. The man punched numbers his cellphone and asked her to speak on the phone. Looking frail and cross, she hesitantly took the phone from him. Her expression softened and brightened into a smile. Maybe an alibi? I walked on, but on my way back, I noticed they had sat down on the bank and were munching on peanuts.

The lake is significantly cleaner than it was two years ago, thanks to a cleanup project. However, many broken styrofoam pieces floated. I have noticed styrofoam elsewhere, and wonder if that is going to become the next scourge of our environment, much like plastic bags were some years ago?

Friday, July 27, 2007


Here are watery photos of Dhaka. Note: according to my water-expert friend, we are not in a flood yet.

The water does not faze rickshaws.

Land finally.

"I told you they float."

The sun had a weak showing.

Drying anything is a chore.

Trash floats up on empty plot - styrofoam is a big problem.

Water made these guys miserable, too.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Will There be a Flood?

With so much rain the last few days, flood is on my mind. At a dinner last night I talked with a Water Engineer (someone who works at the Water Modelling Institute in Dhaka.) Here are some things he said:

1. It is too early to say if there will be flooding this year. Apparently the rainfall-to-date is about average.

2. A main reason for flooding is the simultaneous cresting of the Padma, Jamuna and Meghna rivers (or sometimes Jamuna and Meghna.) If this happens (mid-August, my friend thought) we will get Flooded.

3. The roads and alleys in Dhaka which go underwater during heavy rain are not "Flooded" per se - the water experts consider them drainage-congestion-induced waterlogging.

4. When Dhaka gets flooded water enters from the rivers through the drainage system.

5. Waterlogged places often get sewage mixed into the water because the sewage system is not isolated but rather designed so that normal rainwater enters and pushes the sewage out. So too much water allows the sewage into the streets. Ugh. Isn't it possible to build a one-way valve?

6. Dhaka once had a wonderful canal system that did not requires drains. Much has been written on this lately. I guess waterlogged streets remind people of the good old days.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Singapore Botanic Garden

A weird thing about verdant Singapore: I saw not one fruit tree during my stay there. A taxi driver told me they don't like to plant them, and one experiment at an outlying housing estate had failed.

One morning in Singapore I visited the Botanic Garden. It is a beautiful place. Entrance is free. Here are some picture.

The garden is welcoming and has many pathways that you can meander in.

One of the elegant trees in the Garden.

A Jelawal tree: at 47 meters one of the tallest in the Garden. Native of SE Asia.

A Kapok tree, one of the few trees native to both Africa and Asia.

Root of the Kapok tree.

A Monkey-Pot tree, native of South America. Related to Brazil nuts. Its fruits are large and woody, and monkeys reach inside them to get the seeds, hence the name.

Two of the zillions of flowers in the Garden.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Starting College in the US

My close friend Q's daughter is leaving home to attend a college in the US. Naturally, Q is quite anxious. He asked me to write up some dos and donts for her, based on my experience. At first I hesitated - times are different now, I thought - but then I realized (hoped? wished?) some things remain the same.


So you are starting college soon. Congratulations! The next four years will be the best years of your life. Certainly my college years were. But if you don't watch out, college can also be a lost opportunity which you will regret later in life.

Here are thoughts to ponder. Follow them if it helps. Some are drawn from advice my parents gave me when I left home, some are from my own college days, and some are from life after college, when I realized things I could have done better or differently.

1. Achieve Your Goals: On a piece of paper write down your goals before you leave home. You must achieve these goals. Make this your most important, non-negotiable mission.

2. Take Care of Your Health: studies will demand a lot of energy; then there are extracurricular activities. Sometimes it will feel that 24 hours in a day are not enough. Be sure to get enough rest and eat well. Maintain a steady weight. It is no fun being sick far away from family and it will mess up your grades. Be extra careful when seasons change. Wash hands often when the flu is going around.

3. Learn, Learn, Learn: Learn your field of study. Also, learn where you can find out the things you need to know. Learn how to organize your thoughts, your work and your life. Learn something that you will never get another chance to learn - eg, Latin or playing the gamelan or downhill skiing. Learn to dream big and learn how to turn those dreams into reality.

4. Think Like a Producer, not a Consumer: the US is consumer paradise, and you will be tempted to buy, buy, buy. But college is also the best place to learn how to be the producer who makes those goods or delivers valuable services to others. For example, instead of buying a fashionable new computer try to learn how one is made - make one if you can. Lead those smart people you are surrounded with - who knows, they might become your partner in that empire you build.

5. Don't Overload: If you have the choice, don't sign up for too many courses (or too many hours of campus work). You can quickly become miserable in college if you are constantly overworked and sleep-deprived.

6. Be Yourself: In the new environment constantly placing demands on you, and being surrounded by young people from many backgrounds, it is sometimes hard to stick to your own values and beliefs. Never forget who you are. Always be proud of yourself, your culture, your values. This does not mean you should not adapt - you should always be absorbing better things - but that you stay solid on your foundation, the one that your parents and our teachers spent years helping you build. Don't do things that will shame your parents, relatives or teachers.

7. Don't Switch Majors: Decide what you want to study and then stick to it. Otherwise the four year college can easily stretch to six or eight years.

8, Don't quit college before graduating.

9. Stay on Top of Coursework: I got through four years of engineering undergraduate at Cornell - a strict and demanding program - without ever staying up all night to study. My secret was to stay on top of my coursework. For example, by attacking a homework three days before it was due, I had a chance to ask the professor for help in case I got stuck. But if I waited until the last minute to attack the homework, that chance was gone.

10. Avoid Vices: Pick sensible friends who will not lead you astray. Learn to deal with temptation: avoid drugs and alcohol; don't overeat. But don't become a monk or a nun either - enjoy your youth. This time comes only once in your life.

11. Teachers: Show respect to teachers, work with them and learn the most from them. Don't be shy about negotiating better grades if you really believe you deserve better, and can prove it.

12. New Situations: You will always face new situations, sometimes in urgent circumstances. Be unwavering in your faith. Don't panic. Think it through before making a decision. Don't take shortcuts.

13. Friendships: After the army, college friendships are the strongest. Build friendships with good people and sustain them.

14. Please come home after you achieve your goals.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Rich and Poor

Rich man's fruits - apples, oranges, other imported stuff...

Poor man's fruits - gaab, bhubi (lotkon), guavas

One thing is for sure: nothing comes close to the flavor of a tree-ripened Bhubi (Lotkon)! Here are some growing in a tree:

Sunday, July 22, 2007

And it Rained

I woke up yesterday morning to rain. When there was a break, I went for a run, but five minutes into it, a drizzle started. Fine, I can handle that, I said. In another minute it was a downpour. Then a torrent. So that was a quick run back home.

Off to work a little later, the usual spots were flooded: in front of Chief Advisor's Office (across from the old airport), Bijoy Shoroni area, and the patch of Mirpur Road between Manik Mia Avenue and Road 27. The funny thing was the middle of the road, where there was less water, was taken up by broken-down cars and CNGs, so moving traffic had to use the edges (the left side) where the water was deeper. So that of course caused more cars to break down.
The water was mostly between 6" and 1ft.

As cars and busses made their way, they made huge waves. It was a lousy day to be a pedestrian in Dhaka. In front of Rangs I saw an office worker dressed in nice clothes get sprayed with street water as a car sped by. On Road 27, a student type crossed the road in a nice pair of shoes - when he finally stepped out the shoes were no longer nice. Several women garment workers in Airport road took off their sandals and gingerly crossed a small river of water flowing from higher to lower ground. It looked like they would be swept away at any moment.

The torrent continued until about 4 pm. Whew. I thought this kind of rain only fell in Sylhet.

Rickshaws had a field day. They can easily go in a foot of water. CNGs, otoh, fared worst. A design fault - they break down easily in a little water.

The poor street vendors were running around trying to sell newspapers, popcorn or whatever else. On the way back, when we were stuck in traffic, one of them came over and offered me a pirated copy of the new Potter book! No beggars in sight - I'd bet they have squirrelled away enough for a rainy day.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Bangla Signs in Singapore

Singapore has many Bangladeshis. I understand once it was 250,000 but the number has decreased because now they are also hiring from Thailand, Indonesia and the Philippines. Most of the Bangladeshis there work in construction, but there are also white collar workers in various banks and other corporations.

During my last visit in 1996, I was excited to find just one restaurant with a Bangla signboard in the Serangoon (Little India) neighborhood. This time I found an entire neighborhood of Bangladeshi stores and businesses. Here are some Bangla signs.

The square behind Mustapha's store where I found many Bangladeshi stores:

Some signs in Bangla:

The humongous Mustapha store (I heard they even arrange flights from Bangalore in which the IT crowd flies in for a shopping holiday, stay at Mustapha's hotel, shop at Mustapha store, and fly back):

Biriyani Ahoy!

Lungi store - I saw many men wandering around in Lungis:

Friday, July 20, 2007

Books This Trip

During the recent US trip, instead of buying from a prepared list, I bought many books impulsively.

Since I buy a lot of books, I prefer budget options, such as booksales. When we lived there, library book sales at Los Altos and other Bay Area towns spoiled me. So, most of the books below from book sales, although I did pick up a few from Amazon, Moe's and Stanford Bookstore.

Here they are:

Old Favorite Books:
In Patagonia by Bruce Chatwin - classic travel writing.
The Art of Fiction by John Gardner - before Francine Prose there was Gardner, an early inspiration
At Play in the Fields of the Lord by Peter Mathiessen - saw the movie, love Mathiessen's works, got him to autograph African Silences (and yes, he spelt my full name correctly) but never read this book.
Two Grantas missing from my collection.

Should Have Read Them When I Had Them Books:
Rabbit is Rich and Rabbit at Rest by Updike - I had a 4-novel Rabbit compilation in the US that disappeared before I got to it.
Anil's Ghost by Michael Ondaatje - ok, ok, not sure about this one - English patient was good but way too long.
Atonement by Ian McEwan - tried it several years ago, was too depressed by the beginning, but will give it another try because I liked Saturday

Knew I Wanted Them Books:
The Places In Between by Rory Stewart - a winter walk across Afghanistan
Various Lonely Planet guides at substantial discount from Amazon

One Night Stand Books:
The Closers by Michael Connelly - Harry Bosch is back, hope the jazz is just as good.
Murder in the White House by Margaret Truman - no idea how good, but it rang a bell, and was only 25c.
The Devil Wears Prada - did 25c cause me to temporarily lose my sense?

Practical Books:
Notes on Mozart: 20 Crucial Works by Conrad Wilson
Notes on Beethoven: 20 Crucial Works by Conrad Wilson

Take a Chance Books:
The Pilot's Wife by Anita Shreve - bought it for the nice cover :-)
The Prodigal Summer by Barbara Kingsolver (really enjoyed Poisonwood Bible.)
Incidents of Travel in the Central America and Yucatan by John Stephens
The Secret Pilgim by John Le Carre (love most of his work)
Book of Ruth by Jane Hamilton (read Map of the World - it was ok)

A Very Special Gift:
Autographed copy of Digital Image Processing, 4th Edition by William K. Pratt, friend and mentor.

Could-Have-Should-Have-Next-Time Books
(and it does not matter how many books I buy, this list would always be there):
Anything by Paul Bowles
Short Stories of Amy Hampel
The Photobook I and II by Martin Parr
Nature of Photographs by Stephen Shore
Any non-fiction by Paul Auster
Autographed copy of the new McEwan novel at Moes.
Older Redmond O'Hanlon travel books.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

A Classical Treat

Last night I got a rare treat: invitation to a private Jalsa of vocal classical music. The performers were Delhi-Benaras gharana teacher Shipra Khan, who comes to Dhaka for a month every year, and two of her students: Shati and Preeti. I came with mixed expectations: this is a new area for me; plus, I normally don't enjoy live performances of unfamiliar music. But my ambivalence rapidly turned to appreciation.

It started with Preeti, the younger student, singing in Raga Imon - first a slow Bilombito, then a faster Teental, and culminating with a fast ta-na-na. She sang beautifully in her sweet and fresh voice.

Shati came next. She sang several "songs". The first one included singing to 35 different tempos. Then came several Thumris. Her singing evoked a range of feelings and emotions. The range and control of her voice reminded me of an accomplished Jazz singer.

Then the teacher herself sang. She sang several Kheyals and Thumris. Again, the vocal range and the power of her vocal chords was amazing.

The sound was loud and melodious, demanding our rapt attention. At times the ladies looked like they were on another universe, belting out their songs. The secret of how they sang with so much feeling and passion I cannot even begin to fathom.

It reminded me of the story of maestro Tansen who, during a drought in Akbar's reign, sang the right raga so well that it started to rain.

Or the one about the first performance of Beethoven's magnificent Third Symphony: a soldier in the audience was so moved that he stood up and saluted because he believed "the Emperor (Napoleon) has come."

There are other apocryphal stories: (J. S.) Bach's music, mathematically perfect, causing resonances in his brain; Mozart being asked by rival Salieri to write the morbid Requiem which effectively kills him; Tansen singing the "hot" Raga Deepika at the emperor's command and burning himself inside.

Indian classical is very different from Western classical, and closer to jazz because there is much room for musician improvisation. On first listening, it sounds less "developed" than Western classical because of the loose structure. Eg, counterpoint, a construction that lends color to Western classical, is absent in Indian classical. On the other hand, Indian classical has microtones which were only recently introduced to Western classical. (Microtones are tones which "fall between the cracks of piano keys".) And - to my untrained ears at least - Indian classical flows smoother than Western classical.

But last night I was blown away not by the difference, but by how similar classical music is, no matter the origin. It evokes a world of feelings, thoughts, emotions, and passions for you, layer by layer, color by color, note by note. The right performance takes you for an unforgettable ride in that world - like it did for me and others last night.

ps, as noted, I am a novice in this area and apologize in advance for any errors.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Imex Revisited

Upon my return home I found my laptop battery was dead. So I called Asif at Imex. He had a replacement battery of the same size. So I went there yesterday evening to pick it up.

Imex has done well since my last post. They have a second "office" on the same floor - really like a showroom - about 6'x15', air-conditioned. There is a grid of slots on one wall holding about 50 laptops - some for repair, others for sale. The older office is now a Karkhana where Asif's techies busily fix computers.

I joined the 3 or 4 customers seated around the table. Asif+workers were time-sharing between them. Asif also answered questions for techies who walked in from his Karkhana with questions or problems.

We tried out the new battery but it too was not holding a charge. Then we realized that something was broken in the power port, because the "Charging" light turned off a minute after being powered up. A new battery was not the solution - something had come loose at the back and needed to be repaired.

Various people walked in as I waited for the diagnosis. One techie was looking for a "Dell"-labelled frame - the black thing that goes around the LCD on your laptop. Asif pulled out various frames until he found the matching one. For another person a fat cable came out of a jam-packed Hush Puppies shoebox. Several customers went away contented, their work completed.

At 8 a guy brought two dinner plates full of chhola-muri. Wordlessly, Asif, his co-workers and the customers started chomping on fistfuls of snack without stopping what they were doing. In the middle of the feast power went out. The IPS instantly came on sans AC. The munching continued.

Two religious-types wearing alkhallas, flowing beards and earnest expressions, marched in looking to buy a used laptop. Asif asked their budget. "20 to 25 thousand Taka." He offered a Dell with Pentium 3 for 26000, and a Toshiba Dynabook for 20. One of them called the boss (the Imam?) and explained the laptop configuration and price. "What about service?" he then asked Asif. "There will be service", Asif said with a mischievous smile, "service is always there." The R-T's started looking puzzled. "Free service always?" Asif sustained his cat-ate-the-canary smile. My patience ran out. "Parts!" I said to the R-Ts, "Parts!" In Bangladesh, service, meaning labor, is usually free or cheap, but parts are the killer.

A guy sitting next to Asif chimed in: "Whoever bought a laptop from here never ever came back unhappy. Get the Dell - parts are all available." (I have noticed this in many shops - a second person sitting next to the Mahajan, looking wise, and dispensing objective-sounding advice to customers.) The R-T's talked amongst themselves and decided to go off and mull it over.

Asif said he can fix the loose connection, but it will take two days. I came home with my laptop. I need to schedule two laptop-free days so it can be repaired. (Incidentally we did get a new laptop during the recent US visit but my better half needed it more than me so she has it :-))

Friday, July 13, 2007

NRB Disillusionments

During my recent trip to Silicon Valley, I repeatedly asked my Non Resident Bangladeshi friends to at least think about working in Bd. So, how badly does Bd need skilled managerial, business and IT skills? Example: there are at least 100,000 Indians who hold high-paid jobs in Bangladesh (BOI has issued 65000 work visas to Indians, and the rest are there temporarily or with other visas). While I do not begrudge them one bit - they bring a lot of value to our businesses (eg, Unilever Bd, headed by a group of Indians, is one of the most profitable branches of Unilever) - surely, this number indicates the need for talent, right?

Guess what I repeatedly heard back from my NRB friends? "Yeah, sure, they will pay Indians or other foreigners well, but as soon as they see another Bangladeshi - no matter how much American experience they have - Bangladeshi organizations will not want to pay high salaries."

Is this really true? Anyone have real experiences? Certainly my short experience with the BD IT sector indicates otherwise - there was no end to the ways in which the IT community made me feel welcome back home - but maybe I am an exception or did not have grand enough expectations?

While in Singapore, I was talking with another friend, originally from Bangladesh, who used to work for a US-based Fortune 100 company. As an executive of this company, he had spent 2.5 years pursuing a grand vision for a manufacturing plant in Bangladesh which, in the end, had come to naught. He fought battles both internal (so-and-so Minister asking for Ghush, being tripped up by powerful businessmen, etc) and external (forces at his multinational which did not want this large work going to Bangladesh.) As I lobbied him yet again to consider a position in Bd, he shook his head, saying the experience had left him with too much bitter taste.

So... what gives? A serious impedance mismatch? Can't this be fixed? Is this our Khaislat?

My Meeting With Mr. B.

During my recent visit to Silicon Valley I had coffee with Mr. B, an old friend with a colorful past that included, among other things, captaincy of a merchant ship, changing his course for computer science, and being one of the first employees of a successful Valley startup. A life characterized by larger-than-life episodes: facing a near-mutiny when he had to change ship's direction right in the middle of Asr prayers, or taking walk-in SATs on a whim while on shore leave in Bangkok and scoring perfect.

Like myself, B is a voracious reader, although perhaps I do not share the depth of his immersion in classical western culture. For example, we were discussing our children's education. "And what foreign languages should my children learn at school, do you think?" he asked me. "Spanish?" I offered from a pragmatic point of view.

"Actually, I was thinking more of Latin", he said. When I looked puzzled, he explained. "Look at Sanskrit. During my seafaring days I saw the overarching influence it had on the South East Asian countries. It molded their thinking and helped them build civilizations." I was still trying to connect the dots. "So learning Latin will help your son to think like that, in an overarching sort of way?" "Yes, much more so than Sanskrit."

B's fondness for Latin may have its roots in his favorite author, Nirad Chaudhuri. B said that one of Chaudhuri's books had large chunks of Latin without any translation. Apparently, when the publisher wanted to add translations, Chaudhuri had simply said "If a reader is not erudite enough to know this much Latin I don't want him as a reader". That settled that one.

And on we rambled about other things - where does Jhumpa Lahiri get her life-ideas from (hint: not from real life), where is Web 2.0 headed (need for editing), the market for a radically different kind of school in Bangladesh (teach more global skills), and the absolutely crucial need for English-medium instruction in Bangladesh. "Even if they want to be writers in Bangla, having learned English will discipline and focus their mind".

As our coffee cups emptied, I realized that an hour with B may excite, puzzle and occasionally infuriate the mind, but it is never boring!

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

In the Land of Shopping Malls

We are in Singapore for a few days for medical reasons. Last time I came here was in 1995, just before the Netscape IPO - a different world. Back then, it was quite the shopper's paradise. Now it is even more so.

Singapore exerts a certain charm on you. It is the charm of opulence and affluence. At Mustapha - is it the only departmental store in the world open 24x7x365? - the aisles are so stuffed with merchandise that the mind boggles. Prices? More expensive than the US, but the Costco sales philosophy taken a step further is succeeding, as evidenced by the hundreds of shoppers whose carts groan with everything from clothes to toiletries to watches to groceries. Heck, they even have a book section!

Speaking of books, can you guess which country is most represented in the travel guide section of Kinokuniya bookstore (billed as the largest bookstore here)? Yup, it is Dubai. One mall loves another!

But the achievements of the Singaporeans is nothing short of amazing. With so little resources at their disposal they have achieved so much!