Boarding an airplane heading to Bangladesh is the crossover point into another culture.
I stood in line for the flight from Singapore to Dhaka and just about everyone appeared to have originated from our mutual destination. I was going to Bangladesh to do research on new infrastructure and manufacturing operations that are happening as part of the country’s role in the Belt and Road for a new book. I was going back to South Asia, a region I haven’t be to since 2006 when I did my second bout of travel across India — a place that I just assumed that Bangladesh would culturally similar to.
As I boarded the plane it was clear that I was crossing into very different cultural terrain. I was just in Singapore and Cambodia; two places where the people tend not to infringe upon personal space and, generally, don’t bother you too much. This was something different:
In the aisle the boarding passengers were arranged in a mob, pushing past each other, crashing head on as they tried to go towards the rear and the back of the plane at once. Everyone seemed to be trying to stuff their overloaded carry-on allowances anywhere they could be stuffed — taped up bundles and bindles everywhere. People were just hanging out in the aisle talking with their companions rather than sitting down so other passengers could more easily get through. The guy behind me was needlessly pushed up close to my back, his luggage kept clipping the back of my leg. I turned around and told him to back off; he didn’t seem to get the concept. Getting to my seat took at least 10 minutes, and by the time I got there someone else was already sitting in it. After a discussion about how the letter on the ticket indicates what seat you’re supposed to sit in, I was able to kick him out.
I sat down. Peace.
I smiled. The feeling of annoyance often comes when you are in unfamiliar circumstances where people do things differently than you, when you’re powerless against a tide of another culture and another criteria for what constitutes proper behavior. Nobody else on the plane seemed annoyed; this was normal for them. And experiencing these myriad different “normals” is why we travel, isn’t it?