18 September 2007

Week 2: Ramadan starts and a trip to Old Dhaka

2nd-1st in Dhaka 9/12

Had to go to the Embassy to go get a security briefing. Embassy security took 40 minutes. Every bag is checked and scanned several times. Passports scanned and re-scanned. We were very late to the “prompt start” of the meeting, and I felt bad not being there when we were supposed to. Briefing was actually a bit interesting, with a good history of US Security in Bangladesh. Glad to see the other professors who are doing Fulbrights here.

Met Shaheen and Harvey, the main contacts for Fulbrights here. Learned how I get mail, quiet important.

So I Installed Roller Coaster Tycoon 3 this morning because internet is down. That’ll be a good distraction on rainy days, or days I feel tired. Fun game. I remember playing it way back and how much I liked it. I’ll make sure I don’t get addicted and forget Bangladesh.

Went to Gulshan 2 and back to get dictionary, a music CD, and scotch tape. Dad called on the way over. He got to hear sounds of Bangladesh in the background it was so loud. Wished him happy birthday.

Listening to my new Bangladeshi rock CD. Hoping to find some rock bands I like. Naira offered to go to concerts with me, especially since her cousins are in some bands.

2nd-2nd in Dhaka 9/13

It’s always interesting having a cook and someone clean for you. You have so much extra time. Someone mentioned to me that when you hire your own workers, it may seem odd at first, but it’s a great thing you can do, giving someone employment (a secure and safe job at that.) Its my first time doing that obviously, and its an interesting feeling.

I’m enjoying getting to have tea with Shakil and Santa during our tea break. The place we go to is small and hot, and we sit at a side table. We get some of the best tea I’ve ever had. But I didn’t drink tea before I came here, so that last statement really has no weight. And we’ve had samosas...yumm. Its neat just to chat with them there in between classes.

Shakil keeps saying all the places we’ll go. I can’t wait.

2nd-3rd in Dhaka 9/14

Friends kept wondering what my food situation would be during the month of Ramadan in an Islamic country. In summary, I'll be able to eat during the day during the next month. Some details:
1. No, it won’t be odd for my cook to make food during the day, because my cook is Buddhist.
2. Not everything shuts down, just 80% of stuff. And then it all reopens at night for Iftar (the breaking of the daily fast.)
3. Iftar dinners are gonna be Barney-level-AWESOME! (that’s a How I Met Your Mother reference, the tv show I spent all my lazy summer watching.)

I told some guy at a video store to find me all the box seasons of Entourage...because DVDs of tv shows are like $5 a box here. However, I looked into buying an iPod...I wouldn’t, I don’t like mp3 players much. But it was $500 for an iPod video, some things just don't get cheaper here.

It’s really weird how I start my weekend when its still morning on Thursday in the US. And I finish my weekend, halfway through their Saturday. The time difference, plus a weekend that starts a day earlier really changes things!

I can’t send facebook messages here, I think because of the college’s network that I’m technically on. My roommate, other students and I also noted googling certain words won’t work...obvious sexual words are off limits, but there a few funny ones like chicken and morality that can’t get past the block. Morality is the word that alerted me to this peculiar situation. One they missed…cock? First off, that’s inappropriate, but also, why are male chickens allowed? Hens are allowed in too. So I guess, as long as chickens of different sexes are kept at a safe distance…

Eid break is in October. One week off for the whole country, or my class at the least. That’ll be cool. Need to find a place to go. And someone to go with.

Went to Farah’s (teacher of the Beginners class) place for Iftar. Met her nephew, Rasha, who is a CE student at BUET. Will call him to meet up and he offered that we can see BUET together. We talked about CE for awhile, and grad schools. Tough to talk Bangla to Farah’s family, they don’t speak slow obviously, and I can’t pick things out that quickly. I tried my best. It’s frustrating but motivating. I want to work on my listening skills the most.

Out walking at 11pm tonight, I see everyone coming home from Iftar. Looks like zombies in the unlit streets. Each person at their own slow pace (full from so much food.) All a bunch of shadows…really looked like a zombie movie. I do find ways to scare myself a lot.

2nd-4th in Dhaka 9/15

Two kids were begging at our car window. As usual, we politely dismiss them. They persist which isn’t out of the ordinary. Then I notice one of the kids, being a kid, goes to the nearest rickshaw, and kicks its back end. The rickshawallah gets off his rickshaw while the cross traffic is still moving, and goes to beat the kid. The kid gets hit once, and blames the other kid he was with. The rickshawallah walks away, but then comes back yells a few words and hits the kid again.

Spent the day watching cricket with Risal. Watched New Zealand vs Sri Lanka, and then Bangladesh vs South Africa. Its addictive. I now understand all three types of cricket well, and the strategies involved. Glad to gain that understanding. The sport is now much more entertaining to watch. I found myself getting pissed as Bangladesh kept losing wickets. I understood how things needed to progress. I’m excited to root for them now. I hope there is one match in Dhaka sometime during my stay. Also spent time listening to music. Watson Brothers are my current favorite. Below, Risal and I.

We dropped by a mall and walked around the shops a bit. Looks like knockoff iPods are 20 dollars. Nice sandals I considered purchasing were 14 dollars. Dress sneakers for 20 dollars. Maybe I’ll actually buy something, or maybe I’ll be cheap as usual.

Saw a movie being filmed on top of a truck on Airport Rd. Two guys being filmed throwing fake punches, camera rolling. The whole street was watching as they drove through traffic. Always pretty neat to be part of the action!

2nd-5th in Dhaka 9/16

Updated my first wikipedia article today on cricket hat tricks.
I was watching the cricket match, saw the hat trick happen. Looked up what a hat trick was, and saw that it had not happened before in a 20/20 match. So I went ahead and added that it did happen today!

Today in language class I described to Shakil how to play baseball, in Bengali. It was tough. Using all new vocabulary. But because it was fun, it wasn’t as frustrating.

Contacted with Dr. Haque about GIS project. Hopefully I’ll get heavily involved. Mapping Dhaka seems like it could a lot of fun. I would really enjoy that. Using my GPS and GIS skills to do something practical in this city. I trust that he’ll know be producing quality work too.

Today I also read about how since Tejagoan airport was reopened, many buildings are now in the flight cone. It used to be the international airport before the city outgrew its old borders, and when they built to the new airport, this old one was closed, and a military base set up around it. The issue is, during its closure, numerous high-rises were built in the area around the airport. And with its reopening, they are now in the airspace cone the airport is supposed to have clear for operations. The city wants the buildings
knocked down, or stories removed. Many issues arise.

2nd-6th in Dhaka 9/17

I've been finding some really neat articles here on transportation issues. The city has passed huge projects to be completed in the next 17 years. Big issues they have are east-west connections in the city, bypasses, and commuter rail lines. All of these are being targeted. These kinds of issues are exactly why I wanted to come here, to see
how they are handling them.
I took pictures of one of the older flyovers in the city from below as our bus passed beneath. I'm real interested to see how the volumes compare between the flyover and the main road one would travel if you didn't take the flyover. You have well moving traffic on the flyover, and a dead stop below for minutes at a time. I'm thinking the flyover might be handling more vehicles than the main road. However the concrete supports have removed 3-4 travel lanes below it on that main road, so it'd be neat to compare before volumes of the main road, and the after volumes of the flyover+main road. So many things I want to look into once research starts! Below are four photos of the Mohatkali flyover. First looks at the flyover as it splits from the street, and the other three from below .

Shakil and I went down to Old Dhaka today. What an experience. Nothing like I’ve ever encountered in my entire life. We took a rickshaw, then took a double decker bus to the university area. This took 2 hours! What a ride. We talked, looked out the window. But mostly just sat there and inhaled the fumes. I played cricket on my cell phone, my new favorite “nothing to do” activity. When we got to the university area, we walked to a rickshaw stand, and got a rickshaw to take us to Old Dhaka, another 20 minutes away. We got dropped off at Chak Bazar. The busiest bazaar in Dhaka I’ve heard. We roamed amongst the food. By roam, I mean push through crowds that don’t move and vendors 2 feet on either side. Only by luck are you able to take a step. Once we got past the iftar food and the mosque, we got to walk on streets which were crowded with rickshaws and CNGs. One lane each direction. Pedestrians squeeze down the middle or side, sometimes straddling the gutter below us. While walking, I notice that others will pinch me. Shakil had warned me about this. He doesn’t know why.

We finally turned down another street, who knows which one, but looking on a map later, we had gone a good distance. Our goal was to find some iftar food and head back to the universities to eat. While walking though, I got to see all the thin alleyways and stores selling things only as bulk, distributing it to the rest of the city, I don’t know how though. Many of the buildings look intricately and anciently built. The city used to be very pretty here. The streets are all but gone. Pretty fountains, now off forever, are in the middle of some intersections. The street can’t be more than fifteen feet wide. Five story buildings on either side.

We ultimately ended going back to Chak Bazaar. We bought tons of food. Fried items of everything, cucumbers, many kinds of sweets, and some meats. Then we bought some water and plates and cups. This was all a crazy experience. No one seemed to be cheating us out of money, as iftar prices are set pretty well. But the madness involved in getting the food packaged and into your hands was incredible. You’d scream for what you want amongst many others, somehow the right amount ends up in your hands, you hand them the money, and they hand you the change. Many smells are in the air, from fish, to cooking meats, fruits, spices, and sugars. Such an array.

Two funny instances:

  1. A younger man, who spoke English well, grabbing my arm and asking me “Are you a muslim?” I shrugged and shook my head. Scene averted.
  2. I was wondering if I could take a picture. Then I saw a young guy across the table of goods taking a picture with his phone, so I figure it’d be okay. I took my camera out and snapped a shot, then put it away. I then saw he was taking another picture, this time of me, the only white guy in this whole bazaar. I smiled as he took my picture. He saw me smile, realized I knew he was taking my picture. He then looked up from his phone and smiled at me, nudged his friend, and they both laughed. Caught ya!

Shakil and I then grabbed a rickshaw which we took to BUET. We ate in the canteen there. Had to wait 30 minutes about for Iftar. We talked and laughed. When iftar came, the whole canteen became silent except for the sounds of eating.

We stuffed ourselves. We had so much food leftover, and were still full. The leftover food we gave to a beggar.

Learned later that many Dhaka folks will ask if one has ever been to Chak Bazaar for Iftar. Most haven’t and my friend was surprised to hear I went. Who knew?

Below, several pictures from our trip to Old Dhaka for Iftar. 1, last few to catch the bus. 2, Chak Bazaar in Old Dhaka, where we bought Iftar food. 3, How food is sold on the streets in Old Dhaka. 4, Shakil and his Iftar meal in BUET canteen. 5, Me and my Iftar meal in BUET canteen.

2nd-7th in Dhaka 9/18

Have I mentioned my bed is hard as a rock. I’ve started getting used to. Anyway, I still find myself enjoying the bit of comfort it gives every night.

Discovered some frustrations today. Phoning frustrations. I tried calling the Rowing Federation using the number from the internet yesterday, and it wouldn’t connect. I assumed the numbers were disconnected since the emails weren’t working either. But today I called my professor, and again, nothing connected. I decided, it must be a fault of mine, but had no clue what I was doing wrong. My cook couldn’t understand my problem. Took me a long time to discover that dialing a land line needs to be preceded by a 0. My problem was solved!

Well then I called my professor, and the extension I dialed (he provided) must’ve been incorrect, my fault for sure. The guy who answered didn’t understand me, and hung up. Sigh. Next try, let’s see if I dial the rowing again, the correct way. First number didn’t work. Second number, the fellow didn’t know English, and he was unable to help me. It didn’t seem like I had reached the right place again. Oh well.

Finally contacted Dr. Mizanur Rahman through the school operator, and scheduled for me to come by his office at 2 tomorrow. I hope I can get there in enough time and not get stuck in traffic. I also called Dr. Haque, and I’ll try and see him after BUET tomorrow.

By the way, I had to learn to eat with my right hand here, since the left is considered very very dirty.


Anonymous said...

wow your posts are so detailed! i love it though, especially the pictures, so i can see how life is going for you over there. keep writing!


Saket said...

Great blog Donny! I'm catching up on all the entries today. Some of those pictures you took remind me of walking through the streets of Mumbai. It's so amazing you're over there experiencing this.

I love the terse descriptions of some of the weird things that happen.

"Caused two buses to collide."

"Saw a man bodyslam a women, choke-hold style."

Keep it up Donny.

Also -- i got a webcam too so we can skype as well.