Thursday, April 05, 2007

I Attend a Seminar on Architecture for Low-Income Housing
March 24, 2007

This weekend I attended a seminar called “Architecture for the Economically Disadvantaged” at the Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (BUET). It was a great conference and I met a lot of really intelligent, interesting people from Bangladesh, India, Sri Lanka, and Nepal. I did notice several interesting differences between Bangladeshi conferences and American conferences though. The first difference is that the conference (and accompanying exhibition) was formally opened with a ceremony by the head of the Department of Architecture and the Chancellor of the University.

Another difference was that there were frequent tea breaks throughout the day. Every 1.5 to 2 hours we took a break for tea and biscuits. I quite enjoyed this tradition as it was a nice way to break up an otherwise packed itinerary. Plus, it allowed the parties present to meet each other and discuss the papers during the break.

The third difference was that the conference was not in their native language, Bangla; it was in English! I was grateful for this difference because it enabled me to understand the papers, but I thought it interesting that English is the primary medium for education (most universities and colleges here are English-medium) and professional conferences. Because the presenters were not presenting in their native language, however, most of them just read written speeches (even though the presenters were fluent in English.) I found this unfortunate, because although the information in all of the speeches was very interesting and important, the flat delivery of the material made it difficult to follow at times.

The fourth difference was that at the end of each session (each session had four speakers and lasted 1 hour and 45 minutes) a “Critique” would take the podium and give a five minute critique of the papers. Then a “Rapporteur” would get up and give a five minute summary of what we just heard. Sometimes the Critique would have something interesting to say, but on other occasions it was just a monotone summary of the papers. The speech of the Rapporteur, however, was always a monotone summary of the papers which I (and most of the others in the room) found to be both boring and unnecessary since we had all just sat through the presentations and therefore knew everything that was just said. I can see the benefit of having someone take notes on the proceedings, but I think it would be more beneficial to share the notes in written rather than oral form.

The final difference was the boxed lunch that they served. As in the U.S., we were handed boxes and drinks at lunch time. Inside the box, however, was rice! (The box was lined with a plastic film). They also gave us shrimp, vegetables, and beef individually wrapped in little bags.

One other amusing thing that happened was that when the conference was opened by the Chair of the Department of Architecture, about ten reporters (TV and newspaper) immediately rushed to the front of the room to take pictures of the Chair and Chancellor. They stood between the audience and the panelists blocking our view, furiously snapping photographs. Then, after about fifteen minutes of that they turned around and started taking pictures and video of “the audience” – meaning me! (I was the only white person in the room…) It was really crazy. I was just a conference attendee! I sat there trying very hard to pay attention to the speaker and to look serious, but when the third TV camera came by for an extreme close-up shot I literally had to bite my lip to keep from laughing out loud! It was quite an experience! The one good thing about being “popular” though was that it was very easy for me to meet people and I had some great discussions with several of the presenters. In fact, I became quite close with some of them and I hope that we will continue our acquaintance.

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