|The happy couple|
An eye-witness account for those
of his friends and family who were unable to attend.
It was AMAZING!
I had earlier asked Robin how many of Miss Cho's family and friends were coming from Korea. 'About 15' he thought, and we would be 4 or 5 from UK and Denmark, plus probably a few friends from Dhaka. I expected there to be about 20-25 guests.
But slowly the truth dawned, when I saw his plan of campaign on his computer. One of the many tasks to do during the last few days before the event was to get 150 'order of service' programs printed. Another task was to 'see if the concrete was dry' (under the tables for the outdoor reception lunch). And to ask the residents committee (of the building where his flat is) for permission to hang lights on the front of the building - about 2,000 of them. And while he had him/them, to ask if they minded a party on the roof in the evening?
John and I met up with Sarah in Dubai on Jan 1st. We had thought she wasn't able to come, but two days before, JSF told us over Skype that she was coming, having obtained her visa, and booked flights on 'lastminute.com' - the same Emirates flights as we were on, both ways! Sarah too had thought a fortnight would be a good length of time to get a taste of Bangladesh. (Was Yvonne directing things from above?). We had a good flight, much enlivened by local Bangladeshis on the plane, and the 'in flight entertainment'. We saw 'The Queen' (Helen Mirren: very good) and 'An inconvenient truth' with Al Gore - an absolute MUST for any thinking being.
We were met at Zia International Airport by Robin and Miss Cho, Kevin and Tara.
They seemed to think we might
all 7, plus bags, get into a modest station car taxi, but we opted just for the
5 of us, Kev and Tara following on in a (bicycle) rickshaw. After a bit of a
hairy drive (now dark), the last part contra traffic flow, we arrived at their
new flat - second floor of a modern building with gate and guard in Uttara, a
suburb north of Dhaka.
|"See if the concrete was dry"||Trying on saris||Lounge in the flat|
Robin has two guest rooms and a guest bathroom, which we found very comfortable. As it was winter - not more than 20C, we ladies opted to boil water on the stove for washing though John showed his viking blood by taking cold showers. Robin had thoughtfully provided mosquito nets, but we saw only a very few the whole time we were there, thanks to the temperature and the mosquito proof windows in the flat.
Next morning I was amazed to see out of the window a young man energetically engaged near a fence. Was he fighting?, or washing clothes?. Neither: It turned out he was skinning some animal (either a goat of a haunch of cow), which was hung up on the railings. Robin had explained that the previous day had been the festival of Eid, when families return to their villages and sacrifice a cow and give the meat to family and the poor: for those in Dhaka a large number of cows and goats are brought to a street market to be sold, and dispatched on the spot.
There were quite a few remains of hooves, horns, ears etc.still lying around in some of the side streets. We didn't go to the market street till all was cleared up. However we were invited to an 'Eid' lunch by Robin's friend Omi and his wife.
As Robin hadn't been to his new flat, we went by taxi. Five of us plus driver in a green 3-wheeled 'CNG', a little gas car made for two passengers.
Omi is a very cheerful and clever computer guy whom Robin had met on the Internet, and who has helped Robin with lots of computing. We met his wife and little boy and were sat down to a very tasty lunch. The form is that the guests eat alone, while the host stands and talks, and the wife slaves away in the kitchen. We were given knives and forks, though the Bangladeshis eat with their fingers (of the right hand). Omi showed us his 'Certificate of Merit' from Microsoft of which he was proud, though I'm not sure why he had been so recognised. But he was clever enough to have a hacked version of Windows Vista running on his computer, which showed lots of family pictures in a continuous background slide show.
We had a
second invitation for the same day, to supper with another friend, Upol, who was
the husband of a teaching colleague, Sylvia. Again we were fed while Upol and
his father entertained us. The food was equally good, cooked by Sylvia and her
mother-in-law. Upol's father was proud to be manager of a 'garment factory' and
I understood Upol was also employed with garments, but is trying to start his
own business as he works long hours for very little pay. Robin has given him
ideas about rebelling from the system, but he is a bright and very nice guy.
Sylvia is super - we got to know her better at the wedding and party afterwards.
She teaches at the Korean International school, where Robin is (unpaid)
'educational consultant'. The day before we left Bangladesh, Robin had organised
us to give short talks on his teachers' education morning! John completed his,
but luckily there wasn't time for mine.
|'Blue Peter' project|
|Koreans in the flat|
Two days before the wedding the Korean contingent arrived in the evening- 5 of Miss Cho's family - sisters, brother, in-laws and six or seven from the church, including three who were deaf. Miss Cho was very involved with a Korean church for handicapped before she came to Bangladesh 18 years ago. Only Mr. Ahn spoke good English, so we were a bit quiet to start with. However the lady evangelist leader picked up a mat I had made in the afternoon from plaited rope (a copy of one found in Denmark), and we started on a sort of 'Blue Peter' activity, which broke the ice.
The following day Robin and Miss Cho went to the Koreans' hostel for breakfast, and brought everyone back to the flat at 11. I thought I had a free morning and was busy cleaning the kitchen in bra and shorts (it was warm) when they all came back - Robin was somewhat horrified at my deshabille, and blocked the door so the Koreans shouldn't be shocked! But later on Miss Cho kitted them out with local clothes, there was great dressing up session as they were togged up in saris and salwar kameezes. Sarah and I had also loaned some, and felt less conspicuous when out in the streets.
|Rickshaws for fifteen|
|Robin talks in the first village|
|Leaving the village|
before the wedding Robin had lots on his plate: last minute arrangements for the
wedding, meeting Graham and Sandra at the airport, a Christmas service in the
Armenian church in Old Dhaka and, we discovered at 8.30pm, an appointment at 8
for a special pre-wedding ceremony. After delayed flights because of fog, (n)ill
luck with getting the wedding program printed in town due to lack of installed
Korean fonts, marches and police with riot shields, helmets and batons on the
way to Old Dhaka, a scary rickshaw ride in ever narrowing streets as dusk fell,
we eventually were stopped by a lot of police - and then waved on to the
Armenian Church (police presence because of VIPs, arch bishop, ambassador etc.)
where we joined a lovely, peaceful and familiar Epiphany service in English,
with favourite hymns and a good sermon about the message of the wise men being
that God is for everyone, regardless of race. And tea and cakes afterwards!,
where we met more of Robin's friends, notably a French lady called Colette and
an English vicar/missionary/headmistress called Angela, both of whom had
befriended Robin in times of need, but had discovered such a character that
acquaintance had deepened to friendship. We had to leave quite quickly in order
to meet Pop and Sandra at their hotel on time: in fact we were 10 minutes early,
even after seemingly impassable traffic jams in a mini-taxi in Old Dhaka. Out on
the edge of town there were no signs of riots or police - not many taxis either,
but Robin found one, who drove him off to find another while we caught up with
news from England and tried to prepare Pop and Sandra for what was to come.
|Back at the flat we gasped at the sight of the thousands of lights strung over the house - strings of Xmas tree fairy lights from top to bottom (6 floors) at half meter intervals and an oriental bridal arch also with lights. I looked forward to a peaceful evening before the big day, but no! A quick cup of coffee and then out to the 'important ceremony', Sang Hee wearing a lovely yellow gold sari.|
|Turmeric ceremony||Sheema paints the couple||Omi and friends|
We walked a few hundred yards down the road to a private house where friends Milton, Lippi, Sheema and others performed a 'Turmeric' ceremony for the bride and groom to be. As honoured guests we each received flowers, and fruit and sweets and all in turn daubed the happy couple, sitting on cushions in an orange bower, with yellow and orange pastes made from spices after a prayer or two had been said in both English and Bangla. Kevin and Tara and other friends were there too, and Kev promised to bring a printer back to Robin's before midnight so he could print off the wedding program, which John and I promised to take into town to photocopy next morning.
The doorbell rang at 7.50, and I opened it to Urmi, one of Sang Hee's Korean friends who has lived and taught in Bangladesh for 8 years (so au fait with both languages and cultures - also English). Miss Cho's appointment at the beauty parlour was at 8, but no-one seemed concerned as they all left the house at 8.30. The shops would apparently not open till 10, so John and I went forth at 9.45 to the photocopier, coincidentally finding the minibus and driver (marked 'Press') that Robin had ordered for the day to ferry people and things around - good plan. But neither bus nor driver (not English speaking) was around when we eventually got out of the shop clutching our 150 warm wedding service sheets. It later transpired that Robin had cancelled them for coming 2 hours late... I don't know how he managed, in the next 1.5 hours, to buy and transport 150 litres of water, fruit juice and serviettes to the reception, pick up and accompany Pop and Sandra to the church, and fix Kev to accompany us there by taxi ...'and please bring the bridegroom's clothes'! Sarah and I had a fraught 45 minutes trying to make each other's saris hang correctly - but we thought they finally looked OK. (But after the ceremony, Urmi took us both in hand and did it properly - 'there should be pleats, not gathers', and she found us some more safety pins, which helped a lot.)
|On the dry concrete|
|The Cho family greet the guests|
|Decorations in the church|
Later videos showed that the beautiful floral decorations in the church were the work of the Korean congregation, but I just assumed they were professional - yellow and white gladioli and creamy white bands of muslin at the sides of the central aisle and over an arch at the entrance. A huge mound of pink and white tulips on
|Waiting for the bride and groom|
|Entering the church||Sue reads the lesson||The Korean Church leader signed the whole service|
|Dr. and Mrs. Robin Upton||Song by the daughters
of our into English translator
|The best man's speech|
Kevin is a good speaker, and read with dignity the wedding lesson on faith, hope and love from Corinthians. I read the second reading from Matthew on the impossibility of serving both God and money, and how we should not concern ourselves about our food and clothes, as God would provide for us. I felt a bit hypocritical seeing all the finery around us. But the last verse 'do not worry about tomorrow: tomorrow can take care of itself' stood me in good stead later on in the week.
Unusually for a(n English) wedding, cameras were shooting all the time, from every conceivable angle before and during the service and, not unusually, afterwards.
I hope to illustrate this account with a selection of photos. The Koreans run a close second to the Japanese in photography, and I think all were downloaded to Robin's computer before people left Bangladesh. We have a DVD that is too full for my poor little computer to read.
|Sang Hee||Cutting the cake||Angela, Kevin and Tara|
The bride was made up in traditional Bangladeshi style, with dark red lipstick and shimmering, gold make-up, golden ornaments of her face and hair, and henna and gold patterns on her hands. Her sari was red and gold and quite magnificent with a long transparent and gold veil. Robin wore a gold coloured tunic and a red stole and NEW sandals!
After the ceremony there was a buffet lunch in the school playground (on new, dry concrete), which was decorated with a red and white awning, and with about 20 round, 10-seater tables with white chairs. There was both Korean and Bangladeshi food, and plenty of water and fruit juice to drink. A two tier iced sponge wedding cake was ceremonially cut, and speeches made and translated to Korean and sign language. Afterwards a church mini-bus transported some of us and lots of unserved food back to the flat, while Kevin and Tara took Pop and Sandra on a rickshaw ride round town, which was apparently much enjoyed.
At the flat the Koreans unfolded
a large mat, and all sat cross-legged on the floor opening wedding presents,
while the Brits took up the chairs and enjoyed a cup of tea. Earlier in the day,
or maybe the day before, Robin had pushed invitations under the doors of all the
18 other flats in the building to come and celebrate and eat at 8pm. Many nice
people turned up: a good opportunity to get to know the neighbours. Several
business cards were exchanged, with flat numbers pencilled on the back. One pair
I particularly liked were a couple of doctors - a lady gynaecologist whose
husband worked for UNICEF. There were some children, one of whom reported 'Dad
says you have pretty crumby furniture for a foreigner!' - or words to that
effect. Maybe he was one of the kids who runs the length of the flat above,
apparently with boots on the tiled floor, every night between 10 and midnight!
There had been talk of a party on the roof, but it was deemed too cold by the
natives: it would have been difficult to take the hot food up there anyway.
Next day, Sunday, John and I opted for a rest! We were helped in achieving this as there was a countrywide blockade, and all transport was on strike. It was also promised for the two following days, though we managed to take a small, local bus out to the country. We then walked over a bridge and found a brick factory. i.e. locals making clay bricks individually by hand and putting them in rows to dry in the sun, after which they would be put into the 'kiln' (100m x 20m) for about 6 months! 70,000 at a time. There was a very tall chimney, which belched black smoke to start with, later white. Robin joined in and made a few bricks, and Sang Hee and I both had a go at pushing the barrows full of clay. It was hard work. The workers received about £1.20 a day for 10 or 12 hours and lived on site in small brick shacks, sleeping on the ground, but were happy that we were interested enough to join in and take photos.
Further on we stopped at a 'tea shop' by the path, just outside a village, and had cups of 'cha', their strong, sweetened
|Sarah and children|
On another occasion we had been invited in to see a new house built on stilts, with a double bamboo pole gangway, 3 meters above the mud. I couldn't quite understand how the owner had managed to get a bicycle into the living room - he must have carried it. The house wasn't finished, but we were assured that the rusty corrugated iron floor was quite safe.
|House on stilts|
Later that day the bamboo walking was to be tested further, as we came to a bridge, this time of a single bamboo, though with another to hold onto. Unfortunately half way across, the single pole was well cracked, though still just
|Sarah and friend||In the village house 1.||In the village house 2.|
|Deaf children in school|
the strikes, our visit to the Deaf School, T.B. clinic and widows sewing project
in Tongi, was put off till the busses ran on Wednesday, but when we arrived at
the compound there was a huge welcome with flowers and a red ribbon for the
bride and groom to cut as they entered in their new state as man and wife. The
administrator, Augustine, explained that they had been waiting three days for
|Bangla alphabet on |
The deaf children repeated their lessons to us -the Lord's prayer, the 10 commandments, Psalm 23 in sign language and Bangla, and also the English alphabet. Rote learning is a large part of the program, but Robin goes in once a week and does more creative things with them - making mastermazes, bonga board and other toys he enjoyed as a child. I find it hard to imagine how one can teach a totally deaf child to speak: it apparently starts with mouth positions and feeling an unambiguous sound on the front of the throat. The children spoke with varying pitches of the voice, some very high. Being deaf is a social stigma, so deaf people, as Miss Cho found out, have an extra hard time. This was why Sang Hee decided to work for other deaf in Bangladesh.
It is also tough being a widow, and the USA charity, Friends of Bangladesh, started the 'Widows Friend' sewing project. We met about 120 women sitting on cushions on the floor in three rooms, well lit with neon tubes. They were embroidering many different pieces, many of which were English bible texts, but some more national scenes. The embroidery is sent to USA and sold. Robin and Sang Hee had given me a fantastic piece entitled 'the boat race' (100x60cms) for my birthday, which had been made there. One of the widows showed me the many holes in her fingers,
|Risky bus travel|
|Clinic records on paper |
After the strikes were over Robin organised us to go by train some 200km up to Srimangal in the north east, to
|Train to Srimangal|
We arrived in Srimangal in the dark and were met by Mr. Rahman in his jeep. He took us to check in at Hotel Tea Town - the best hotel (but the least clean or comfortable I have ever stayed in, though John said he had stayed in a similar one in Moscow). We left our bags, though not valuables, and were then driven to the best restaurant, where we had a large and good chinese meal, which cost twice as much as the accommodation. I had brought our mosquito net and my own pillow, and we didn't sleep badly. The next morning Mr. Rahman sent his driver, Kamal, in the
|Mr. Rahmans verandah|
At Mr. Rahman's bungalow we met his 10-year-old daughter, Rubra, and (later) his wife. We were also shown round his garden, where as a keen biologist, he tried to grow various plants. But he complained this was difficult, owing to all the pesticide residues since the land had been tea plantation until 10 years earlier. Rubra was a bight and cheerful child who spoke very good English, and said she would like to go to school in England - though was a little more doubtful when I explained there would be no servants at her beck and call. Mr. Rahman had 10 in his household, but explained that also included 'two for sleeping'. (Night guards?) Robin's friend, Angela, had explained that a 15-year-old daughter of a well-off Bangladeshi could not even tie her shoelaces, as she had servants to do it for her. Towards dusk we were driven off to see some rain forest, where we might see gibbons. We heard them, and had a pleasant walk, but it really was too dark to see anything much. We saw really massive teak and iroko trees. Later in the evening we had the day's share of anxiety as Robin negotiated tickets for our return by train the next day. A long time, several phone calls and a bit more than usual baksheesh were required. However we got the tickets at least three minutes before the train departed the next morning, and were delighted to find ourselves in a compartment to ourselves. Sarah and I made use of the sleeper bunks, and the journey passed quite quickly. At least we could see where we were going, and knew when to get out! It was lovely to get back to the clean and comfortable flat, and to spend the evening with Robin and Sang Hee, watching some of Robin's films, notably one on 9-11, which has certainly raised our awareness of the real world.
On our last day in Dhaka, we participated in a half day teacher training course organized by Robin at the international school, visited Colette and Mr. Alim, a most interesting French/Bengali couple who had 'befriended' Robin through the Armenian Church , and in the evening another visit to Upol and Sylvia, which ended with Mr. Rahman taking us all, including Sylvia and Mrs. Rahman, to dinner at a modern restaurant called the Baton Rouge: he showed with amusement the logo on the porcelain, which said 'Beton Rouge', which, the waiter explained, was a spelling mistake! The 11 pm curfew, which had been imposed two days before, was no longer in force, but we all voted to go home as quickly as possible in order to pack.
We had a slightly delayed departure, but were inexplicably upgraded to business class, and although Sarah missed her connection to Heathrow, she was found a hotel room in Dubai and booked on another flight next morning. We managed also to get a room at the same hotel and had a comfortable night, with a hot shower and clean sheets on a spring mattress, which fortified us for our 18 hour journey home via Hamburg next day. The good bit was the free breakfast in Dubai airport and then a comfortable, if delayed, flight: the bad bit was finding the car battery flat in Hamburg airport. But then the good bit was having the jump leads in the car and finding a friendly German to help us start and then a trouble free drive to catch two ferries to be home to Clint by 9.30pm.
At no time in Bangladesh were we frightened of the people - smiles were returned 99% of the time. It was just
I think this was the first time I have had a real culture shock (apart from seeing Danes eat a cheese sandwich for breakfast with knife and fork). The political chaos was apparent, but the people seem happy. The state of the streets, open drains, wandering dogs, overcrowded taxis and battered busses were unsettling to us over-protected Europeans, but there seemed to be a system. I was pleased our holiday was during the winter - I would have found 40C very
I think that Bangladesh suits Robin very well - there aren't many rules to obey, except those for self survival. He is able to use his brain and have time to develop his own thoughts. I was astounded to see how he enabled Sang Hee to have a phone conversation with her Korean friends: she rings the number, and Robin listens to hear when it is answered. Then Sang Hee speaks and when she has finished, Robin takes the receiver and listens to the answer, repeating the Korean (which he hasn't yet learned) he hears with sufficient accuracy that Sang Hee can lipread the answer! I think they will have a good marriage, but it will be different from the average!
|Sang Hee and Robin in the train|
Susan Upton 26/1/2007
A good book on Bangladesh is the
Lonely Planet Guide.
Some photos of Bangladesh are available online at http://bdesh.info.
Photos in numerical order. Click on the thumbnail for a full-sized version, or right-click to download.Fig1 The happy couple