Saturday, December 31, 2011


Last New Years I counted down on a beach in Key West. I kissed a boy who took my breath away and jumped into a freezing pool with all of my clothes on. I was 22 and a few years younger.

This year I stood on a 5 story rooftop in Bangladesh. I had a cup of scotch in my hand and looked over a candle-lit city. The family in a roof below me stretched out a blanket and sat in a circle sharing food, eating with their hands.

Bulbul and Neelu ran up just in time for the 30 second count down. We clinked drinks and drank to the new year and to being alive and to the countless times over the past 6 months we thought “Where am I?”

So that’s it for 2011. Nevermore.

I had my head down for most of the year studying in graduate school to finish successfully and to get a good internship. But I surfaced for a few times. In a deep red canyon in the Negev Desert in Jerusalem. On top of a mountaintop in Nepal. Seconds before salsa dancing for the entire school. Getting lost in a 3am romantic blizzard in NY. Singing on a rooftop in Baltimore with some of the greatest new friends. Pulsing and losing myself in a Girl Talk concert. These are the moments I felt awake.

I meditated, I ate sweets, I wrote down my new year resolutions and I sang Auld Lang Syne.

The greatest compliment anyone ever gave me was

“Chelsea, you know how to bring the sanctity to the commonplace and to create your own celebration.”

And that’s all I can hope to do for the rest of my life. I’m here in a country that doesn’t understand my traditions or celebrate my holidays but I’ve learned to observe them to myself.

Isn’t that the answer?

2012: Bring the happiness and holiness to ourselves because we’re the only ones who will be there until the end.

My new little friends

I was walking home from work the other day and I realized I was being followed. 5 little girls were walking at short distance following my pace, giggling and looking away every time I turned back. They caught up to me.

"Hello. What is your name?"

"My name is Chelsea! What is your name?"

"Hello. What is your name?"

"Amar Nam Chelsea."

They followed me all the way home.

"Hello. What is your name?"

I ran into the house and got them all these little toys a friend shipped to me. They are tiny pills and when submerged in water turn into a dinosaur play thing.

I gave one to each girl and explained what to do with them in Bangla.

"Put it in water and wait. Then...magic!"

The next day the girls met me at the office rushing up and exclaiming
"Dinosaur! Rawwr!"

We are now very good friends.

"Hello what is your name?"

This is a video of me walking home from the office. You can see my little friends.

Friday, December 30, 2011


My mom sent me a package! With twizzlers, swedish fish, party decorations, burts bees creams, and hair products!!

I'm still homesick. And scared. And a bit sad.

But tomorrow I'm going to wake up early, throw aside this cold I have, and go for a walk. Then I will work all day, even though it's a weekend, work out, and bring in this new year right.

Just watch me.
Monday, December 26, 2011

Oh, oh then suddenly you know you’re never going home

I’ve been here for 6 months.

I’ve been working hard. Learning about myself. Figuring things out. It’s so simple to live out here. I feel simplified. But it can get very lonely.

I miss my friends and my family. I miss living in a place where I could say “Do you want to grab some dinner? I’ll meet you at the coffee shop. Let’s get dressed up and go dancing!” What I would DO to get dressed up in a little dress and heels and go to a bar.

On the other hand I've been to Nepal, just got back from Bangkok, and am heading to China next week...

And I’m doing something of substance. Thank god. I love my job and I love how I feel about myself and the woman I’m becoming.

But my family had Christmas without me this year. My ex-boyfriend has a new girlfriend. My room is being subletted by a stranger. And most of my friends overseas are now back in America.

I’m afraid when I go back that it’ll be like I’m from somewhere else, just visiting. That I’ve changed faster than the things I’ve left behind.

“Oh, oh then suddenly you know you’re never going home.”

Asalam Walaikum,

Christmas in Bangladesh

Christmas in Bangladesh. A country I was thankful wouldn’t gag me with the Holiday but also a country who wouldn’t notice it. I would have to make my own sanctity.

Christmas Eve Day I set out into town to get into the festive spirit. It was a crisp day and I wore a wool hat. All along the road are used clothes lined out for sale. I looked through the piles skeptically. Most of the clothes you would need to burn before wearing, but I found a big sweater that could be of use.

I wound around the market looking for treasures. Really wanted a pair of warm slippers but couldn’t find any. Wanted to find a silver toe ring, but couldn’t find one. Not even in the silver market. I did however find: hair gel (I’ve decided to start doing my hair here instead of always throwing it back into a bun. Every time I leave my hair out the girls at work fall over themselves to tell me I look good. I get the point.),a pencil holder, a new water jug which I plan to decorate and give to the office (ours used to be pink and is now brown…).

I tried out my Bangla on this outing and I was surprisingly competent! So fun. All around me I heard not-so-soft-whispers “America…girl…america…” Rock star.

I went to the food market and found and purchased: 10 bars of Cadbury chocolate, 3 snickers bars, some ginger tea, sparkling apple cider, and a box of cocoa powder. A Christmas miracle.

For Christmas Eve dinner we had delicious fish curry and roast chicken masala.

I was invited to a Christmas Eve party at my mom’s house and at 7am on my Christmas morning I was skyped in and served an e-Brandy Alexander. It didn’t occur to me to change out of my pajamas because it was the first thing in the morning. But I soon realized that I was on the big screen at a party.

I was sitting up in bed with my headphone, earphone contraption. “Chel you look…kind of like Stephan Hawking.”

“No she kind of looks like Christopher Reeves.”

“Jesus Chel, couldn’t you have put on some clothes?” Said my sister.

It was kind of like showing up to a party naked.

Next time everyone is in their pajamas, I’m going to skype in and be wearing a wedding dress.

I was working Christmas Day but was simultaneously downloading The Holiday on my computer.

My mom and sister woke up and skyped me in for their Christmas morning. I was propped up on a table so that I could see Fiona open her presents. It was so crazy, like being there. I opened up my bottle of apple cider and celebrated.
I was expecting the worst this holiday. Many of my friends who were doing their internship and e-supporting me with their own experience have since returned to the US. It’s been tough losing those time zone comrades.

I really miss my family and “normalcy.” But a part of me felt like I was there for my family because of Skype. Skype: “The Whole World Can Talk For Free.”
For my own Christmas I made some hot chocolate with the cocoa powder and Neelu and I curled up with our heaters and watched The Holiday. Jude Law, you can be my Christmas present any day of the year.

My Christmas almost ended perfectly until Family Drama walked in and shook me around a bit. I’m still pretty dizzy.

It’s all good. Angst does wonders for my skin.

Merry Christmas Everyone!

This holiday was brought to you by Skype.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

A Day in the Life

I decided to document a day in my life. Carried a pen and a little book around with me and wrote down my actions/thoughts as the day went on.

Morning starts with the bathroom shakedown. Brush my teeth, wash my face etc. all while shaking so the 20+ mosquitoes in my bathroom don’t land on me. I’ve gotten quite skillful at not poking my eye out when I try to put in my contacts.
Making coffee in the morning has to be done equally fast so the water being poured into the machine doesn’t catch a mosquito.

I wrap myself in several layers of clothing, a scarf, and a hat. It’s fifty degrees right now in Gaibandha and we live in buildings built to reduce heat in the sweltering summers.

I eat my breakfast, pack my coffee, and walk to work. The fog was so thick this morning that I spent a good portion of my walk hypothesizing why that was. Is it because it’s getting colder so the warmth of the life below is creating a faster condensation rate? Or are there more cook stoves going that release particulate matter into the air because people want more hot breakfasts during the cold? I almost fell into a pothole and decided to stop thinking.

I settle into work with my coffee, answer emails, read the news headlines and begin my day. A wave of nausea overcame me and didn’t leave for most of the day. So it goes.

Today I’m working on a paper about evil spirits. I’m reading through 3,700 infant verbal autopsies to find instances where mothers talk about the evil spirits that have killed their children. Thousands of detailed descriptions of the symptoms their children had right before they died. Gruesome examples of Shamans telling the mothers to beat the child to get rid of the evil spirit.

I can’t get through I’ll Follow You Into the Dark by Death Cab without tearing up. Does anyone second that? I’ve disallowed myself to listen to any more sad music while reading these interviews. Only angry music like The Clash. Or Alanis Morisette.

During lunch I mix half a cup of cold water with half a cup of boiling water. This trick is the best thing that ever happened to me. I eat steaming hot vegetables and rice, a piece of fish and some hot Dhal I pour into a bowl and drink like soup.
I found a store that sells tootsie pops in Dhaka and I bought the man out. I keep them in my desk and every day after lunch I eat one. It’s the little things.

At 6pm I go home and meet my Bangla teacher. I use my cellphone to light the pitch black walk. My Bangla teaches me with stories and Bangla dramas. It’s incredibly effective. He always brings in a question to ask me before we start my lesson. “What does ‘beat it’ mean in the Michael Jackson song?” Today he asked me “What does ‘I’m a Barbie Girl in a Barbie World’ mean?”

I ate dinner and made tea and settled into my bed. I read my book interrupted every once in a while by the dance of the power outages.

Good night!
Wednesday, December 21, 2011

My Weekend in Gaibandha

I stayed in Gaibandha this weekend alone. It was gorgeous. Friday morning I rolled out of bed, wrapped myself in 2 sweaters a scarf and a hat (it’s in the fifties here!), threw some hot water and grounds in my little camping French press and settled back into bed. I stayed there, mosquito net draped around me, the entire day. Like a little invalid. My aunt sent me some pesto and I found some Rigatoni during my last trip to Dhaka. So for my meals I sautéed garlic and onions and made rigatoni pesto. The rest of the time I drank my stash of whiskey and watched my new favorite show: Mad Men. I picked up my guitar and fiddled with it a few times. But the creativity side of my brain sat lazy and cold.

On Saturday I met Kumkum for a beauty outing. We went into the market to a beauty parlor to beauty it up. Beauty parlors are the same in every part of the world. Ladies gotta get prettied in every culture and that’s pure as poetry. This beauty parlor was a 12x12 room with 8 ladies getting their eyebrows done, hair treatments, facials and henna.

A Bengali drama was playing on a fuzzy TV in the corner. Bengali dramas are like American soap operas with more slow motion, zoom shots, and less sex.

I got my eyebrows threaded and henna on my left arm. Kumkum had her hair treated with a protein pack to help reduce hair fall. Many women have a lot of hair fall in Gaibandha due to the high iron content in the water. I could use a little hair fall.

The ladies gossiped openly and I joined in to talk about how how much I like apples, oranges, bananas, and mangoes! I am wearing pink! You look pretty in your hair!

I’m a keeper.

Asalam Walaikum,
Saturday, December 17, 2011

Last day in Bangkok

I got up early. Because yesterday was a rainy bust and I had only one day left to do all I wanted to do in Thailand. I was a on a mission. First I took the skytrain to a boat. Got on the boat and sailed through Bangkok to the famous Wat Pho temple.

Right on the water was the Wat Pho temple. Cloisters rose high and majestic around a very large stone courtyard. Statues of Buddha sitting and praying were adorned with lotus flowers and sweets. The sun was beating down and I didn’t feel holy. It was beautiful but not resonating. Maybe I wasn’t in the right frame of mind, but I think it’s because the temple didn’t have a good story. There’s nothing like a story of sorrow and triumph to make you feel god.

The Reclining Buddha lay in a massive hall. At one time you could only see part of a head, the massive torso, or the stretching legs. We dropped coins into bowls beside the body. The hall was bouncing with the clinks. It was an enveloping sound.

I sat in one of the prayer halls looking up at a golden Buddha. Next to me were other white people deep in meditation. If you have read my other posts, I am on a personal quest to find a compassion in religion, for religion. I’ve meditated in the Kali temples in India, went to the holy sites for Muslim, Christian and Jewish religions in Jerusalem. Trying to understand it all.

The Dali Lama said “There are many different religions and cultures in the world and each has developed to suit its own people. Because of that, I always recommend that it’s best to keep the religion you were born into. In the West, most people are Christians, although there are also some Jews and some Muslims. For them, or for anyone, to change religions is not easy and sometimes it just creates confusion.”

I’ll meditate on that.

For now, I had to get back into the boat, circle around for a bit, realize I was on the wrong boat, get on another boat, head to the skytrain, and RUN to the India visa office to get my passport and some god willing get my Indian Visa.

A line of other US citizens were waiting in the embassy grumbling “India hates us, discrimination, disgrace, discrimination…”

My passport would have an Indian visa but I would have to wait 2 hours.

So I went to get another Thai massage. This one was better. But at one point the woman picked me up over her back and tried to do this cracking thing and my back injury came back in full force. I was hobbling for the rest of the trip. (Now I am better.)

I got my Passport with Indian visa BOOYAKASHA and went home. I was taking Naz out tonight on the town and had to prepare. It was a multi stage night planned to perfectly in typical Chelsea fashion. First we would got to Condoms and Cabbages for drinks. Then to Koi, a chic restaurant for dinner. Followed by drinks at Sax, a famous jazz joint.

In typical Indian fashion we were hours late for the plan. Naz brought his beautiful car and we rushed to Condoms and Cabbages. It was closing but we got the gist.

Condoms and Cabbages was a restaurant created by a public health activist to support sex education and safety. Now an establishment, Cabbages and Condoms is known for its eclectic art pieces. Condom dresses, furniture, Christmas trees decorated the lobby. Instead of mints, you took a condom on your way out. But it was closed, and it was 11pm and we were so hungry.

We made our way to Koi. A valet took our car and we walked into a restaurant out of NY magazine. Models lounged on the furniture and a DJ played steamy beats in the back. We sat down on one of the ridiculously low tables and opened the menu. There food was for ants. Nothing. Maybe a celery stick dressed with a salt crystal. Not enough. I feigned ill, and laughing and now leaning on each other for support we got back into the car.

Naz knew of a place. On the 80th floor of a hotel promised a buffet with an amazing view. We raced there. And it was closed. Naz turned into a turkey leg and the tables turned into cakes. We went downstairs to the café and ordered so much food.

We went up to the 80th floor and looked down at Bangkok, a red city blinking like stars. In four days I did a lot, but only caught a glimpse of this complicated city.
Naz took me home and I collapsed into bed, ready to wake up in the morning and leave.

Naz was truly a kindred spirit. I laughed consistently for 4 days. He called the airport and found my kindle and ipod.

I always rely on the kindness of strangers.

La Bangkok,
Friday, December 16, 2011

The Rain from the Train

I woke up in a daze at 2pm. Where was I? What had I seen the night before? Who am I?

I had a headache from a hangover of sights. I could have stayed in bed for the next year. But I was in Bangkok. And I needed to get out and see stuff. I don’t know, because I have this little voice in my head always going “you’re missing it!”

I decided to go to one of the famous temples. It was raining outside. But this did not make Bangkok drab. The techni-colored raincoats, boots and umbrellas made the people on the sidewalk from the skytrain look like strewn skittles.
I decided to wait out the rain in a Japanese place with a big window. I ordered lots of sushi and green tea and looked out the window at everyone leaving the subway.

I was feeling really down because I had realized that I had forgotten my kindle and my ipod on the plane. Two things I used more than any other thing in Bangladesh. And there was a sentimental reason. My iPod was given to me by my family 5 years ago for my high school graduation. It is engraved, “We are so proud of you! Love Mommy, Lisa, and Fiona.” My parents are now separated. I couldn’t believe I could be so dumb to leave it on the plane.

The rain wouldn’t let up so I walked under the tarps of a streetside market. Tons of amazing shoes and shirts were laid out on tables. The thai have it going on with fashion. But all the clothes were made for such little people. And it’s not like I’m a giant. I couldn’t find anything that would even remotely fit me.
So I snaked back through Bangkok on the train and got back into bed.

At 9pm I woke up hungry. I couldn’t find my friend Naz so I decided to go out solo.
I went to this used furniture store by day chic restaurant by night called Tuba. I ordered a frozen daiquiri the size of my head and the Thai steak.

The thai food is very spicy. But it’s a different spicyness than the Bengali food. Bengali curries are a deep rich spicy. It reminds me of a belly laugh. The Thai spice is cutting and crisp at the tip of your tongue like a giggle.

So full, I crawled back into bed, for the last time.

I couldn’t sleep.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Red Bangkok

First thing’s first. I had to shave my alpaca body because I was in Thailand now and momma’s wearin’ a tank top dress. Significantly lighter I head to the Indian visa office to get an Indian visa. Thailand is colorful and bouncy. Even the cabs are pink. The people are small but the women all wear strappy, thick, colorful high heels.

At the Indian Visa office I was all business with a touch of James Bond. The line was out the door so I found an older used ticket and presented it to the counter. “My number was called but I didn’t hear it.” WAABAM. I’m in. “Ma’am we don’t allow multiple entry just single.” “Well what if I go to India, Bangladesh and then back to India?” “Yeah I guess that would work for a double entry visa.” WAABAM. “But Ma’am we don’t expedite visas, you’ll have to stay another week to wait for your visa/passport back.”

I was not crushed at this news because I was on some kind of mafia high and was ready to make them an offer they couldn’t refuse.

In the elevator an older, Indian man in a powersuit got on. I asked him if he worked for the Indian Embassy. He said no, he was the country manager for Kingfisher Airlines but he liked me and would walk me to the Indian Embassy and even though it was off hours he would get me in. Turns out he is a Bengali from Kolkata! My Bangla is finally paying off…in Thailand! We exchanged business cards and after some Indian head bobbing all around, he got me into the first gate.

The second gate was a bit tough. I tried to follow in some other officers but got stopped by security. “Oh no no, it’s ok, he told me I could go in.” “Who’s he?” “Oh you know, that guy…shoot forgot his name.” AND IT WORKED.

Third gate. “Do you have an appointment with the consulate?” “Yes.”

Assistants Desk: “You can’t see the consulate this is off hours.” “I know I know but I need this visa extended! My sister is getting married in Dhaka on the 11th and I need to fly home!” “OH yeah, what does your sister do for a living in Dhaka?” “She’s in advertising. Works for Citi Color advertising firm.” “Oh I’ve never heard of it.”

The consulate walks out and I scramble for my papers. “Please sir, sister, married, expedite, please.” “Sure, sure.” He waved me off with a nod, his assistant put a sticker on my application that said expedite and WAABAAM.

I took the train for a victory lap and got off at the famous MBK shopping center. I was expecting it to be full over treasures and cheap bargains fleamarket style. Instead it was a 7 story pristine megamall. I walked around and saw hundreds of old ugly white men with very young beautiful thai girls many shopping bags in hand. But truth is, I’m a poor graduate student so this mall didn’t hold my attention for very long and I head back to the hotel.

At the hotel I met the restaurant owner, Naz. Naz was an Indian expat who most recently worked in West Africa. He came to Bangkok on vacation and never left. I was told by my professors, that if you are in Bangkok, you absolutely need to visit the red light district as it is the most famous in the world. Naz promised he would show me around later that night.

For dinner, I went down the block to a few street food stalls. The Thai ladies were cooking up something delicious but I had no idea what. I tried pointing and grunting but it was getting nowhere. Suddenly a Brazillian stepped up and ordered me what he was getting. I always rely on the kindness of strangers. He was a DJ in Bangkok that lived nearby. We ate dinner together: A papaya salad with pork and tofu pad thai. Freaking scrumptious.

At 11pm I was ready to go out into the red light district. My outfit was channeling: I’m-Not-A-Prude-But-I’m-Not-For-Sale. This was not a dark alley. This was the Disney World of Sex. As bright as Times Square, the red light district wound around and around. Prostitutes, as it was explained to me, were grouped. The Russian Prostitutes hung around the grace hotel, the Kazhakstan prostitutes on another street, and the Arabic prostitutes would not go home with you, no matter the price, unless you are Arabic. Then there are the Kathoey. Male-Female Transgenders. About 1/3 of all prostitutes I saw were Kathoey. You can generally spot them when you find a woman who is prettier than the rest. She is a he is a Kathoey. Many can’t afford the surgery and are transvestites.

Naz and I sat on a little table in the center, drank orange juice and looked around. The place was crawling with old british men with crooked teeth and hunched backs. With Arabic men and their sleezy facial hair. Many had a few girls at once around them. Most had on wedding rings. It was gross.

The girls were so young and beautiful. But they were not innocent. They barked their price at you and shook themselves in your direction. Naz and I were married for the night and were practically invisible.

I did go to a show. I will not write about it in this blog. I am saving all of you your virgin brains. You can email me for info if you must.

We left the red light district and went to the back packers paradise. Whities all on one block high as a kite. I stopped into a street spa and paid to have my feet dipped in a tank of fish that eat the dead skin cells off your feet.

I lowered my feet and the fish swarmed toward me, covering my legs and gently nibbling at my feet. It was horrible. I started yipping loudly and making a huge scene. “Keep your feet in, it gets better!” Naz had insisted. It didn’t. Never again.

I passed a food stall selling lizards, worms, cockroaches and scorpions. I didn’t stop.

The night ended with McDonalds French Fries at 4:30 am.



Tuesday, December 6, 2011

I Arrived in Bangkok

My visa is only good for 30 days at a time. My plan was, until that can be fixed, to skip over the border to India (only 2 hours away), have some tea, and then come back. But getting an Indian visa in Bangladesh is comically hard. So. I’ve decided to go to Bangkok to a) leave the country before my visa expires b) get an Indian visa from Bankok and c) have fun.

The day before I left I took a bus up from Gaibandha to Dhaka and spent the night in a hotel vomiting up my organs.

Luckily, today I am fine and left for Bangkok.

I arrived at 5pm and the sun was already setting. Everything around me is pink, blue and green. It’s like a lollipop world. People’s hair match their cars which match their cellphone and their 6 inch heels.

I’m staying in a “serviced” apartment. Which is basically a hotel that charges less. I had only a few hours of sleep between retching the night before and my eyes were droopy. But I was in a new country and I have to be fabulous. So I went next door from my apartment and got a thai massage. Only ½ hour into being in this country.

The massage was pretty epic. I felt immensely relaxed but I can’t say that it felt all good. In fact, a lot of it hurt. The woman was very good at finding pressure points and squeezing them. She moved my body around in all sorts of directions. I think at one point I was balancing on my head, my feet in a pretzel position next to my ear and my hands nowhere to be felt. But after, after. I felt glorious. I bowed profusely at my new goddess and head out for some exploring and food.

Thailand is strange. There were many shops dedicated to gamers. Large, plush chairs set up with whole families glued to computer screens watching their own avatars. There were some shops called “family” where I think people were playing games with video cameras?

Many many karaoke halls advertised “VIRGINS!” I guess virgins make good singers? The street food looked incredible. I decided on a buffet style BBQ. You get a tray, and pile what you want to cook onto it. There were buckets of meat, fish, noodles, soups anything you can think of. I chose a bunch of indistinguishable meat and some squid and some crazy half crab/half lobster mutants.

It may have been the most adventurous first meal I could have tried because on top of trying all sorts of things I’ve never seen before, I had to know how to cook it too. The waitress helped me get a snail out of its shell and how to eat my shell fish mutant. I had two dishes that were pre cooked and they were incredible. All the things I had to cook were weird and kind of gross.

But the good news is I found a fruit and nut toblerone at the 7/11.