Monday, February 28, 2005

Put a Face to it.

Just two pictures to show who I've been talking about. Photos taken with Lars' very delicious 14 mm lens (but he's digital so its more like 21mm).

Spacing out to a very very late mid-jan copy of the Economist in the middle of Feb. *sigh*. Rajiv's room is not quite as neat as is should be, considering that he has a lot of help around the house. It's warm, and I'm getting irritated at the cultural dress codes of long sleeves even and getting even more irritated that I've gotten so used to it that even in front of friends I feel uncomfortable flouting the rules.

On the rooftop of Rajiv's apartment block. Its only 5 storeys high, but it's good enough to get a rare spatial view of the area. Lars is supposed to doing his work on child labour, but the allure of the rooftop is much too great. I look spastic (according to various but unanimous feedback) and in my defence, the sun was directly in my eyes. The view is important, because everything is so crammed together, we have often walked past places without realising where we are, until we viewed the same place from the opposite side of the road.

On another note, (pun totally intended) I've managed to secure enough Carpenters songs to drive Guiqing to musical hell and back. It seems that no matter where I go, I always leave my original collection behind, but manage to get my hands on an alternate set. So right now, I've 3 sets of the same songs, in 3 different places. Destiny? Fate? Whatever.

And the whole Norwegian bunch flew off this morning, with a wide range of emotions. One was still popping diarrhoea pills (I'm fine, really *take pill*), Ivan and Lars were basically whining about having to go back, the girls were all prepped with pastel eyeshadow and makeup and extremely ready to leave, Magnus Bjourn and Tomas tried on their lungis for one last time here and I must say, it looked pretty fine on them.

So i'm glad to see some go, feel sorry for those who wish they could stay. But what Ivan and Lars said kinda made the most sense.

"What the hell are we going to do when we go back?"

Indeed, indeed. I wonder if it's any coincidence that they're the oldest in the group (28 and 30) and the only ones who seem to really want to stay and do more work.

And we were just discussing the other day, what a strange coincidence it was for the three of us to have been grouped together in the very first project at the workshop - and somehow stuck together throughout the month.

Because as I said before, it was likely we would have drifted together anyway. We have the same kind of work attitude (when we're doing our work, the whole world can just fuck off, including friends), a tendancy towards unreasonable perfectionism (rajiv triumphs here) and a tinge of workaholicism (lars wins hands down). I'm kinda in the middle. I still like my sleep more than anything. And plus we talk in class regularly, together with about 4 or 5 others - and it occured to me the often although we start out arguing we always end up agreeing with each other and the argument goes *poof*. i'm not sure if it's just the 3 of us, the rest are probably similar as well, but somehow it seems more obviously similar. Ah well whatever eh?

Sunday, February 27, 2005

I was aiming more for like 1819.

You Belong in 1967


If you scored...

1950 - 1959: You're fun loving, romantic, and more than a little innocent. See you at the drive in!
1960 - 1969: You are a free spirit with a huge heart. Love, peace, and happiness rule - oh, and drugs too.
1970 - 1979: Bold and brash, you take life by the horns. Whether you're partying or protesting, you give it your all!
1980 - 1989: Wild, over the top, and just a little bit cheesy. You're colorful at night - and successful during the day.
1990 - 1999: With you anything goes! You're grunge one day, ghetto fabulous the next. It's all good!

Friday, February 25, 2005

Are you stupid or something?

Watching Forrest Gump now on cable TV.

The workshop is over, and it only occured to me that it has been a month when the Norwegians were discussing about leaving on Monday.

Just some things to tell:

1. The last day of the workshop was its highlight

Lars finally got what he wanted - which was a debate/fight of some sort during the evaluation of everyone's projects. It's quite funny really, how much scheming there was behind the scenes to make the sparks fly.

The discussion never really did take off during the two days, and Lars was getting very frustrated. I think he's probably the only one. I wasn't expecting anything in the typical West/East fight... and plus the Norwegians seemed too bored to be bothered with opening their mouths.

But thanks to Rajiv, who kind of knew that his work would incite some sort of disagreemetns (because he said he had been criticising others too much), the fight did indeed start.

The classic excertps are:

Another local student to Rajiv:"You're a snobbish middle-class snob trying to impress the foreigners."

A Norwegian to the above local student "What the hell is wrong witht that? You want everything served to you on a silver platter?"

And unfortunately the discussion was cut short by Shahidul trying to keep things under control.

2. I've heard pretty unforgettable stuff

Quote of the year goes to Mr Rajiv, who said, "If one lie will break a thousand lies, why not?"

In reference to Lars lying to just about everyone in order to get some work done for his project on Child Labour.

And the runner up goes to Eivand from Norway, who said, "Why are we only talking about this now when this model is involved?"

In reference to a heated debate about Lars project when he featured Bangladesh's most famous model in not so flattering pictures with her child servant. Everyone was talking about whether permission to publish/take photos was necessary. And Eivand in the midst of it all said what he said, and went on to point out that permission rights never came up in the previous projects featuring tribal indigenous people.

*DING* light bulb goes on.

3. Some Norwegians wasted their money coming here

The girls irritate me, because they seemed more interested in the shopping than anything else. And even though Linn put on a beautiful sari, it didn't make her look very good in light of the fact that she said after that "It's best to remember that some of the shopkeepers here are not very smart."

Other complained about inedible food (that's because Norwegians use no spices in their cooking) and the incompetant people.

Bloody fuckers. Everyone bowing in front of you trying to make things easy for you and trying to serve you and you say that? Bloody fuckers. I'm just itching for one of them to say it in front of me. They're taking everything for granted.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005


Originally uploaded by elsija.

More photos.

Photos are updated, again.

And this is the link.

I just included some stuff from the Eid... just your basic slaughter/blood/gore thing.

And also, a few photos on the project on the family that I was working on as I mentioned before... These are the ones I selected in my final edit... it's a bit odd since it's not my favourite photos, or the best technically, but I suppose I had to sacrifice some things to make some sort of a "story".

I'm not sure how it'll turn up on your computers.. my laptop showed more contrast.. this one i'm using now really played down on the contrast so its like all grey... so anyway... yeah...

It's located here.

Monday, February 21, 2005

Photos Updated.

The photo link is somewhere below I think.

Am tired and angry. Maybe childishly angry I don't know. For many various reasons. Maybe it's the lack of sleep. Pissed off at a lot of people. Ok, just three.

Main target of anger is the Norwegian teacher-in-charge who's being a pain in the fucking ass. The deadline was noon today, and most of the local students couldn't make it. Because we all have film cameras. And we have to wait for negatives to be developed, prints to be ready, do the selection, queue to scan in the negatives, fight to use the computers to do editing, struggle with English captioning and text.

Oh ya only one scanner.

So don't come here with your big ass and keep saying how organisation was so poor this year compared to the previous year when they ha "THREE scanners" working, and don't lecture us on how we should have kept out negative scanners clean so that the local students wouldn't have to cope with editing out so much dust and scratches.

Mention it once, make your point, and shut up. Don't bloody keep repeating it to poor Joseph who is trying his best to rush everyone and pissing everybody off also in the process.

All your freakin' students have digital cameras. ALL of them have laptops. And even so, some of them couldn't even finish on time. And you want to compare with us? and say how "a deadline is a deadline".

We're already trying to cope with the difference in technology, don't come and make it look as if we're incompetent when you didn't have to do the same.

Just your basic rant and gripe.

Saturday, February 19, 2005

“When darkness comes, we go to sleep.”

I wrote the following after a emotionally exhausting shooting day. My project on the street family is almost finished, but I fear that the effect they'll have on me has just begun.

She hasn't stopped asking me to bring her to Singapore. She knows I'm studying, and only 21. She told me, she'll wait till I get myself a job and my own company so I can get a visa for her. She says she'll wait. And of coruse, write letters in the mean time.

What on earth will her address be? Mirpur Road, the zinc roofed tent under the tree next to the Rubbish Dump along Dhanmondi Residential Area Road 7? I don't know.


It is a difficult line to keep behind, the line that distinguishes reality and myth, that changes lives into stories. How do I tell the truth of Sufia’s life, without turning her into a statistic – another analogy to be used to elicit temporary pity and sympathy – how do I prevent this?

Hers is not a story to be forgotten, for the simple fact that I have met her, and I have known her, and she has combed my hair and let me into what she called her worthless existence. And for anyone reading this, she must be the same to you. Do not insult her pains and sorrow by allocating her a space alongside the rest of the people whose lives serve simply as a contrast to yours.

Intelligence is etched along the lines of her face that has bore too much sun, and in the lines next to her eyes that have seen too much. She knows she is poor, it is a fact not worthy of discussion. She needs money, she wants to buy a house, and a license to drive so she can work again.

In the two weeks that I spent with her and her family on the street, the only emotion I have seen on her face is that of silent resolution – a sort of grim determination to make it through the day, to finish the routine so she can sleep to awake to another day.

But in our longest conversation ever, the face which I thought could only show strength broke into pieces. I had thought it impossible for her eyes to show more sorrow than it already contained, but I was wrong.

When she was about to leave her son at the hospital, he asked, “Mother, where are you going?” And she said, “To get you a doctor.” And he leaned his head on her arm, an only son seeking solace in his mother.

She told me, she had thought he was resting, that he was relieved the way a child is grateful for his mother’s comfort when he falls down. And suddenly she was there in that hospital room for a second time, her whole body shaking as she told me, no, he was not resting, he was dying. And soon, Shahuddin, 28, was dead.

It is impossible to understand a mother’s grief, and to think that I do would be to insult Sufia. And so I looked as Yasmine, her youngest daughter, whose mental capacity did not allow her to understand why her mother is crying. I was looking for hope, but Yasmine’s uncomprehending eyes showed none.

How can a woman like her sing and laugh? Why have I had the privilege of seeing her smile, when she has so few of those to give? In her generosity to me, she had fooled me to think she had managed to keep her spirit free of sorrow. And while I had initially saluted her for that, I realized how impossible that was.

Her tragedy is that this sorrow is not her own. In the faces and the eyes all around me here, I see the same story of loss, pain and hopelessness, repeated till it disappears into a vague fog that you can’t touch and see.

Yasmine is 12, and the only words she can say are guttaral noises only her mother comprehends. She does not understand the concept of hygiene, and flys into a rage when she is unable to express herself. Scars are scattered haphazardly across her wrists, which she shows me with a wide smile, the same smile I see on children’s faces when they present their first drawing and painting.

I wonder, what would she say if she could speak? Will she tell me how sad she is? Can she even understand her situation? Am I allowed to pity her if she does not pity herself? What will she say when I tell her that millions of children around the world do not have to drink water out of a hose, that they have houses where they keep their books and toys and hot water to bath with every night? Does she even realize that there are other types of existence?

This is a girl who has been invisible her whole life, someone society chooses to ignore. This is why her happiness depends on the amount of attention she receives, and why she constantly clamors for the focus of my camera.

I thought I had found a family who could show me how happiness comes easily to those who do not have much. That the answer to life was basic existence and contentment. It’s true, in their world, that happiness is cheap and easy to come by. But happiness is not contentment, and it never will be for them.


Monday, February 14, 2005

To reply the comments:


Yeah joce haha i know what you mean.. but now I actually can understand WHY I will hate/immensely dislike Singapore. In the past it was just some vague floating feeling that gathers in your stomach and makes you want to just go and sleep and forget everything. Now at least I have a concrete explanation.


Yes you can try to come but only there aren't any budget flights. Good luck.

Friday, February 11, 2005

For the privileged few who have the address of my other blog. It's been updated. After a long time. I know. Sorry.

For the others:

- I'm busy.
- I'm in love with this place.
- I think I will hate Singapore when I go back.

The end.

Monday, February 07, 2005

They made us too complicated.

Humans are too complicated. It's nothing new to say this, but I'm starting to get immensely irritated at how some people have masochistic tendancies to complicate themselves and others.

The whole issue of first impressions... whether or not to trust them. I tell myself not to, but I forget sometimes.

And because of the mad rush of new acquantainces recently, I've found many first and rumoured impressions crushed. And the difference is so stark and such complete opposites that I'm extremely irritated.

Maybe leaving things at first impressions while maintaining distance is the best way to go.

Yesterday, I slept at 5.30 am because workaholic Ovick suddenly took an interest in my photos taken at Buriganga River. What was initially supposed to be a brief glance through turned into a five hour long portfolio picking session. He skipped supper AND beer AND tea break just to do that, and I can't quite figure out whether he's realyl that much of a photo-lover or just trying to impress.

Either way, I'm thankful for the help and criticism. It was quite a night to remember really. Five people tired like hell sitting at the Pathshala courtyard, with over 100 photos of mine scattered around us in groups on the floor, people walking through the mess picking up photos to form stories and patterns... debate over what was good or bad about photos, what I should have done etc etc.

But then Rajiv told me that it might not be a good idea to take up Ovick's offer to give me a crash course in developing and print in his own dark room at his house. And he was vague and er rather ominous. So now I'm just confused over what to make out of my first impression of Ovick. Obviously it doesn't sound like the most decent of proposals, but after you've spent 5 hours in the moring talking about work and photography with someone you really don't think twice about another offer to do more work.

FUCK. Will I be this naive forever???

And yes I was aware of the high taxes.. but after speaking to them it doesn't sound like a bad idea. I'm not too sure if it'll work in Singapore though... but none of the Norwegians said they would give up all their welfare privilages to pay less taxes. They don't mind, because they do see the benefits directly.

And yes, I do want to start a photolog soon, but I'm so fucking busy to scan and upload photos... and I've too much and the thought of having to pick through them again makes me cringe. I guess I'll just upload all the touristy snapshops I took, and settle the rest after the workshop in March.

Just for information's sake, for those reading this who I know will ask if they were here with me: Rajiv's Pisces/Aries.

He's got quite a history, which thanks to the many squashed first impressions, I'm unwilling to believe wholeheartedly.

This is what he says:

That he's a theatre activist, and does directing in traditional theatre. This much I belive, because he has friends from there, and knows too much about the local theatre scene.

And he reads a lot, and loves poetry more than books.

He spent a year in India studying the traditional Hindu dance, the one where they wear bells ont their feet. I believe this too, because he demonstrated a bit for us.

He speaks Bangla, English, Urdu and Hindi.

Highly ambitious, and has planned out the next ten years of his life. Work, scholarship to England to finish his Masters, return to Bangladesh to work because "we need more profesionals here."

Plays the flute.

The End.

Friday, February 04, 2005


Over a birthday dinner of sorts over tandoori chicken and sweet lassi, we savoured the cold, sweet night air.

There was never a laspe in conversation, and we talked endlessly about everything. Photos, people, books, poems, communism, westerners, imperialism, bengali culture, the paths which led us to be what we were that night.

I don't know which moment I enjoyed more. It could be when Rajiv introduced his favourite book as Marquez's Hundred Years of Solitude just before I was going to recomment him to read Marquez's Love in the time of Cholera.

Or it could be during the "Name your Favourite Poet" round when Lars burst out laughing because I said William Blake was my favourite poet, as I had just taken the words out of his mouth.

It could also be what Lars said to me when we were on the rickshaw on the way back, when all of us were so cold no number of shawls could shield us from the wind.

"You're brilliant."

"Thanks, you're the first to use that word on me."

"Really? I can't imagine why."

Happy Birthday Lars, don't be so sad that your girlfriend isn't here with you.

I could literally feel my brain expanding, it's so new to have such conversations with people who are from a completely different background for you.

Isn't it amusing? Yellow, brown, white. Norsk, Mandarin, Bengali. From three countries, and we can still find specific, detailed similarities.

And it's not because we were forced to work together as a group. I think if there were no fixed grouping, the three of us would have eventually drifted to each other anyway.

I knowt his entry is almost disgustingly self indulgent... I just haven't experienced something like this before, and I have to record it in some way or another.

"He repeated until his dying day that there was no one with more common sense, no stonecutter more obstinate, no manager more lucid or dangerous, than a poet."


Been busy recently, thus the dearth in postings. Here's a quick recap of my rather crazy and hectic and wonderfully busy past few days.

Am now taking part in a photography workshop, thanks to the charitable nature of my boss Shahidul. It's a month-long, and it's actually an exchange programme of sorts between local students of Pathshala (the photo school affiliated with Drik) and students from a photography university in Norway. There's about 20 plus of us in total.

The highlights of the class includes a four day workshop which started yesterday with Jack Picone... who won international prizes in photojournalism, including one from World Press Photos. He's Australian, and awfully charming.

He'll be giving us two assignments, and evaluating our work individually. We only have one day or less to do it, so I spent the whole of today and half of yesterday at a dockyard next to the Buriganga River, near old Dhaka. The experience, needless to say, is unbelievable and undescribable. For once I'm having a taste of what it's like to be a photojournalist, and it's all very good. I get to do the journalism that I like, go in depth with the characters I photograph, ask questions like I'm writing a story - and I get to take photographs.

The other highlight is that we have a major assignment which we have 2 weeks to complete. The topic is up to us, and we've to do a photojournalims subject on it.

Right now, the thing I'm still thinking of what to do. But I am inclined towards profiling a street family which I spotted and photographed one night. The mother was asleep, father doped out and stoned, and daughter practising writing Bengali on a scrap of paper with one candle under their makeshift tent along the road.

Have spoken to them, with the help of a local student Rajiv, and it looks good. the girl doesn't go to school, and the mom teaches her. Father sells cannabis by the road. They liked the three of us (me, rajiv, lars) and invited us to come back whenever and to their actual home somewhere else.

It's all looking good. I plan to stay with them on the street for a week and just photograph non stop.

About the people, thanks to the workshop, I've been meeting a lot of new people who have been immensly helpful.

The local students are a gem. They assigned us in groups, and Rajiv is our local guide.

Rajiv is 22, huge eyes, communist, avid photographer who believes more in symmertry and placement than journalistic content. Strongly against capitalism, speaks fairly good english, fiercely proud of his country, and just one helluva great guy.

Also, Lars is Norwegian, and he's in our group. He's one of the older ones, he just turned 28 about an hour ago.

This part here is for GUIQING.

Let's just say that Lars is the heterosexual, younger version of Cenite.

Aquarian. Shaved head. Has a degree in philosophy before he took up photography. Talks in the same half reserved, half amused manner. Keen photojournalist, works in a newspaper back home, beliefs in the Bresson's decisive moment, carries a backpack too heavy for me to lift, prefers to work alone, and a workaholic who quit his one pack a day smoking habit 5 weeks ago - and still struggling with that.

I'm jealous of Norwegians. They have free education, including up to university level. They have free health care. They have mountains and fjords.

Lars and I share the same view on... almost everything. Including the thing about being "fundamentally alone". Not that I necessarily believe him because he's so in love with his girlfriend. He constantly questions whatever I say or ask, which is refreshing because everyone has been trying to be Miss/Mr Congeniality all this while. Rajiv is also not afraid to disagree.

All this is working out very well.

I'm seeing more of Dhaka than I've ever had before. I've gotten the guts to move around on my own, and I don't think it's that unsafe anymore. Just make friends with everyone, which is not that difficult, because I'm a foreigner and everyone wants to be my friend. The more people I'm friendly with, the less the chances of something bad happening to me, because i've so many people lookingo ut for me.

I really love it now.

Speaking quite a decent amount of Bangla. Enough to get information like names and ages. And to ask them to bring me to their houses, how long they've been staying here etc.

Everywhere I go, I'm still attracted to the children. It makes me a walking cliche of course, but I can't help it. The children here are so alive. and most of them stop being shy after a short while.

So today I spent the afternoon carrying Razu, 3, thorugh the streets of a village next to the river while his sister Aasia, 9, tried to find her mother for me to photograph. We didn't find her, but it made me really happy to carry Razu - who in every single way, acts like a spoilt Prince of the World.

I know this entry has been disgustingly boring and some people I know reading this are probably going to want to kill me after this... Sorry lah. I'm typing fast because I want to sleep. Woke up at 5 am today to make it to the river before sunrise, and I haven't stopped moving or working since. I'm exhausted. But goddamn happy. Goodnight.