Density and Bangladesh

Wide-open spaces frightened me when I was little. Wyoming didn’t suit me when my parents and I drove there from Boulder, Colorado to go camping with my uncle. Miles of slowly rolling hills and dusty nothingness punctuated every half-hour by forlorn “Welcome to Pleasantville, Population 320” green-and-white road signs were an unwelcome reminder that, if the car broke down, we would surely die.

I learned to like camping and the wilderness. I no longer fear the void. Still, I enjoy density. Take brownies: I’m a jet-black with coco solids, density of platinum, escape-velocity-of-impossible-to-resist kind of guy. Let it be known that Yale’s organic brownies are staggeringly delicious and dense as neutron stars. I like my cities the way I like my brownies. Singapore’s Housing Development Board estates nestle tens of thousands of people into an area that in American suburbia might house 100. I use the word “nestle” intentionally. I don’t feel crammed or packed or squished into my HDB flat in Jurong. It feels alive. A different group of eight-to-ten Indian men play badminton in the courtyard every evening around seven o’clock. Kids frolic. Taoists burn paper and incense and leave offerings for the hungry ghosts of their ancestors. Malay families during Hari Raya Puasa (Eid-ul-Fitr) walk from home to home of their friends and family in matching brightly colored dress. I’m told that Malay families used to leave their doors open to the sidewalk and the life inside spilled out – I’d say it still does.

This post is supposed to be about Bangladesh. I’m en route as I write. Singapore and Bangladesh have density in common: Bangladesh is the most population dense large country. My visit will be brief: I’ll be in Dhaka for 16 hours, in which time I will visit three high schools and do my best to explain why I find Yale-NUS College so exciting. We’ll see if my predilection for density and waves of humanity holds up in the country Henry Kissinger once called the world’s “basket case”. Check back tomorrow for my Bangladesh recap.

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