Where the ... is Bangladesh?

Boz and I normally take off on our Sea-to-Summit training hikes with a well-planned route and agenda. However, we decided to just wing it last Saturday and insert a few stops for drinks and snacks along the way. (So yeah...that implies we don't normally stop at all. That would be true. We normally walk for 8+ hours straight. This whole adventure was my idea, so I feel like I shouldn't complain until it's over, but rest assured, I have things to say.) Four or five miles into Saturday's hike found us around Shinjuku Station, which proudly asserts itself as the busiest train station in the world. The pride part is lost on me as the absolutely insane crowds make Shinjuku a nightmare to navigate. Boz and I avoid Shinjuku at all costs. And by "all costs", I obviously don't count the time I walked 2 miles, in heels, around the station to attend a chocolate festival. (That sounds like something I should use against my children someday. 'Oh, you think the Easter bunny should bring you chocolate!? Your mama once had to walk 2 miles IN HEELS to get a piece of chocolate!' I'm gonna rock parenthood.)

Anyway...so B and I were strolling through Shinjuku, taking in all the hitherto unfamiliar sites, when we came upon a tiny shop with long, colorful skirts swinging in the entryway. I've trained Boz to stop walking and remove his wallet when he sees tiny shops with long, colorful skirts swinging in their entryways, and Saturday was no exception. We went in...looked around for 0.15 seconds...and I found 14 things I needed. Oddly, good judgement prevailed and I narrowed my selection down to one skirt since we still had 23 miles ahead of us (but I got the name and cell number of the owner so that I can go back. Obviously.)

As we were paying for our items, the shop owner asked "Where are you from?" We hesitated for a few seconds, as we always do, because we're never sure whether it's apparent we're from the States. Should we say America?...Texas?...it's just such a dilemma. These encounters will go down in my top-10 list of awkward situations. Everyone must be completely befuddled, thinking "These two don't even know where they're from?? How is that possible?"  In this particular case, Boz chose America and the shop owner, after informing us that he is from Bangladesh, proclaimed (with much animation),"Oh! America! So wonderful! America does great things for my country. We appreciate America!"

Boz then said things about politics or government or something and I nodded along encouragingly while wondering if Bangladesh has camels. (The entire store environment just seemed reminiscent of a camel-friendly place in my shockingly insular mind.) I love camels.

We wrapped up the conversation by complimenting the shopkeeper's beautiful store and then continued on our way.

The second we were out of earshot, B and I dove into a quick analysis of the encounter.

I don't have THE SLIGHTEST CLUE what the U.S. has done for Bangladesh. Boz and I try to support as many philanthropic causes as possible, but to be honest, we have yet to find a common ground. B gives money to our church and carefully accounts for his donations. I buy beer for the homeless and occasionally donate to semi-vetted animal causes like, say, an orangutan sanctuary. This is something we debate often and 15% of the reason we got married. As far as I am concerned, however, we have never donated a dime to any Bangladeshi cause. Boz assures me we have, via taxes. He is adamant we have donated vast amounts of dimes to innumerable causes, most of which are socialist/communist/whatever. Regardless, as we recounted this specific experience, both Boz and I were: a) filled with patriotic pride, b) inspired to investigate and support whatever the hell the U.S. might be doing in Bangladesh, and c) reminded that while we oftentimes feel like undercover agents sent here to explore the underbelly of Tokyo (...I don't know what that means either. But I called us undercover agents so I can't just say we explore restaurants and upscale hotels), we are also representative of something huge. The U.S. has stretched its tentacles all over the world and Boz and I sometimes find ourselves the very face of that influence. We have been thanked for the actions of our government, questioned on our stance towards various Asian countries, teased (good-naturedly) over our cultural habits (e.g. holding hands), and probed about our feelings towards hot topics such as whaling. We are as close to America as some people will ever get, so we serve as a stand-in for the entire country, for better and for worse. It is an awesome opportunity and one which presents itself at entirely spontaneous moments...such as when Boz finds himself trying to explain exactly why/how we use the term 'chicken shit' as an adjective.

So, with all that said, America, if you have any questions or comments for Asia, just let us, your loyal representatives, know and we will pass them along.

Boz and I wrapped up our conversation with me proclaiming "I love Bangladesh now. I really hope we go to India someday."

Seriously. There's zero hope for me.

(studying elementary geography...)

There's your representative right there, folks. Just ridin' a panda bear.