28 November 2007

Week 12: Thanksgiving and "Oh No! Haircut Time"

Last week I mentioned how Chili's and Best Buy were here, and now I have the pictures! (pics: Chili's right?; nope inside you'll find Thai/Chinese!; Best Buy right? nope inside you'll find soap and non-perishable food products)

12th-1st in Dhaka 11/21

Today I did a big trip around the city for various things, northeast to southeast to southwest to north central back to northeast.

Estimated how much I’m saving by taking buses everywhere instead of rickshaws. On the low end, I calculated about $30 a month. But on the high end, I estimated $120 a month. It’s because CNGs are just so expensive, but the only option if you want to travel far and don’t take buses.

After class I headed right down to Motijheel where I was going to have lunch with Altaf. I had had to reschedule it to today because of my rescheduled meeting with Dr. Rahman yesterday. I met him at his office and he showed me around where he worked. Met his coworkers, and we all had lunch in their conference room. Altaf sent for some briyani and it was delicious, also tried some cow stomach they had as well.

Took a bus to Nilkhet Market to pick up my copied STP. I got there, and they were just finishing. So I got to watched them bind the new copy with string and add the binding glue and material.

Took another bus to Banani. Met up with Jayita and Ishita for an hour. Another of Jayita’s friends was there, and him and I talked a bit about his computer engineering project he’s working on. Jayita and Ishita gave me more details about their club’s performance on Saturday I’m going to see.

I inquired about the tallest building in Bangladesh several times now. I’m now quite sure it’s the Bangladesh Bank Building (first three photos on the page), at 115 m and 30 floors. It’s not super super tall, but it’s the tallest here. About the same height as the tallest in Raleigh (except this city has 10 times as many people!) I spent some time today looking at many websites about skyscrapers in Dhaka. Pretty much the city has hundreds of buildings between 15 and 30 floors, but not above that.

Well in all my searching for pictures I landed upon a neat blog of Ershad Ahmed who worked as a civil engineer up until the 90s. Wanted to share some of my favorite posts of his to show what Dhaka's buildings look like, and other neat stuff!
Tall Building Photos
More Tall Building Photos, most of BBB
Incredible collection of maps

Got a call about another cool housing opportunity. 5 bedrooms, 8 people, central AC, great location. I’ll explore tomorrow night with them. Good price as well.

12th-2nd in Dhaka 11/22

Today is Thanksgiving, but you wouldn’t know it unless you were from the US or Canada and celebrated it. Most people I talked to about it hear have heard about it, but don't what happens.

After class went to a Thanksgiving lunch at the woman’s home who runs the American Center. She invited all the Fulbrights and some of her other ex-pat friends for Thanksgiving lunch. Lunch was everything Thanksgiving, and well done too. It was cool to see most of the Fulbrights there, Jen didn’t come. Nafisa had just left her phone on a taxi, but she was quite stable, I know that I would make me a wreck. Really good turkey, pie, cranberry sauce, and potatoes.

Met Karen, another Fulbright, but she’s with the Fulbright-Hayes program, a slightly different scholarship. She’s currently staying with Megan. Cool thing! Karen went to NC State. She graduated 10 years ago, but she went; another alumnus! She also lived in Sullivan Hall for one year. It was real cool to talk North Carolina with her, and about all the NC State stuff we could. She remarked how weird it is to be hearing all these names and places so far around the world.

It’s weird not to be home for Thanksgiving I guess. Every year I’ve been with my family, almost every year in NJ. I hope that I get to talk to some people since they have a bit of a break in their life right now.

I went to Megan’s for Thanksgiving dinner. I was supposed to go see a new house today, but they cancelled on me since they got back from work late. Oh well. Got to spend the whole night at Thanksgiving. Megan had 5 of us over: myself, Karen, Faisal, and two guys from her work who are both medical students. We had chicken instead of turkey. I “carved” the chicken, or in other words, ripped it apart into manageable sized parts. We had pie and rolls courtesy of Jen who had cooked a lot for another Thanksgiving dinner.

12th-3rd in Dhaka 11/23

All plans got cancelled today. Not seeing either house. Dance practice was moved to Sunday. So now nothing to do.

Went to Farhan’s house. Chilled in his room and had some snacks. Listened to music and talked. Saw the music video for my favorite Bangladeshi song “Rong” which was cool. Just a relaxing time. Afterwards we got some petha on the street. I started feeling a bit sick at his house. A bit of a cough and some congestion on the way home.

I forgot to mention last time that petha is only a winter-time treat. Apparently this is the season for petha, and it will be on the streets only for the next month or so. Get it while it’s hot!

I got back and went to Megan’s place, had some leftover Thanksgiving food while sitting around with Jen, Ben, Karen, and Faisal. Later hung out on the roof with Faisal and Karen and Megan. Tried to get me to come to a party. I wasn’t up for it. Wasn’t feeling good. Was congested and coughing more and more. Drank some ginger tea that Karen gave me.

In Dhaka, there are many many signs for concrete and steel. Much more than I ever remember seeing in the US. Why I thought? Do these businesses have a lot money? Are they competing hard for business? Why would they want to advertise so thoroughly to the general public. Wouldn’t they want to focus only on their buyers. But after thinking about it, I realized maybe why it’s like this. Dhaka is the second fastest growing city in the world only to Lagos, Nigeria. So, when you’re growing, you are building a lot. Thus, a market is created where building supplies are not only in high demand, but suppliers must advertise to stay competitive. Thus because of this building boom, and so many things under construction at one time, it becomes a market necessity to make your name known. Any thoughts on this theory?

12th-4th in Dhaka 11/24

I woke up feeling real gross from being sick. Spent the morning at home. Did some studying and other things. My head hurts, my body hurts, and my nose is stuffed. Feeling badddd.
Went to Café Mango for a bit and had some ginger tea.

In the evening I was heading to Jayita’s and Ishita’s Cultural Club’s performance.
Because I got to Jayita’s part of town early, I had some nuts, cookies, and tea on the street in front of their apartment building. Then wet up to meet Ayon and her sister Kakoli to head over.

The performance was in a very nice performance center near Dhaka University called Osmani Memorial Auditorium. Very fancy place, gorgeous grounds. I can’t imagine an NCSU performance of a cultural club arranging such a nice venue.
I sat with Jayita’s sister Kakoli, Ayon, and his sister Sraboni (the one who just got married.) We were in the 3rd row. Well, the official 3rd row, the place was utterly packed, kids were sitting in the aisles and in front of the stage on the ground. Hugely popular event. It was about 2 hours long, and started about a half hour later than the time they told us. There was a real pretty program with essays and pictures. I haven’t gone through it in detail, but I did read Jayita’s essay. Mainly because Ayon read it first, and pointed out to me that she had written about me in there. She and I had had a conversation a few weeks ago about how proud I was to visit all their memorial sites, and how I thought how special their history was. Well this inspired her to include that into her thoughts about how Bangladeshis should be proud of their country’s history in her essay. Glad I was a small inspiration.
The performance was pretty incredible. I was moved to some tears at the beginning when they had a battle scene set in the Liberation War of 1971, followed by the playing of the national anthem with the flag in the background and five different war figures (a crying girl, a victorious soldier, mother holding injured son, and two others I can’t recall)…it was very moving, and I felt how powerful it was.
During the show, Ayon and I snacked on the cookies I’d bought beforehand. The show actually was all in Bengali, and so I didn’t understand 90% of it. But I still got the point of most performances, liked the songs, and laughed at the humorously acted out parts.
Oh, and this whole time I’m feeling pretty sick, ughhhhhh. (pics: Osmani Memorial Auditorium interior, end of show with all club members on stage, close-up of Jayita (in green) and Ishita (third golden shiny shirt from right) at the end)

12th-5th in Dhaka 11/25

Feeling a tad better today, maybe because I forgot to set my alarm and woke up an hour late! Had 10 minutes to get ready for class and get there! Not like they can start the class without me, I’m the only student.

Went to class in a sweatshirt…so comfy, but I’m sick. Test took a long time today to complete, but I also tried writing some complex sentences. Today’s reading was fun, we’re reading about Dubai! I love that place and really want to go one day. Conversation class was fairly relaxed, and Nadia and I recorded a conversation so people (well Saket asked about it) back home can hear me talk, but the quality isn’t so great.

In the evening all the Fulbrights, significant others (if applicable), and friends went to a restaurant together, and Harvey, who is in charge of us came as well with his wife and daughters. We went to a real good Bangladeshi restaurant in Gulshan-2. Actually, there are two restaurants with this name, right near each other. Why? Are they related..not sure? Anyway there was a bit of confusion and preference on which one was meant and which was better. Dinner was delicious. Heard Lauren’s story on how she got mugged the other day. Shared food with Nafisa and her cousin Ridwan who came along. (pics: Karen/Megan/Nafisa/Ridwan at dinner, me/Jen/husband Ben at dinner and I'm wearing Jen's glasses to reenact my Aktel photo shoot experience)

Afterwards we went to Movenpick ice cream parlor…ice cream was pretty good. Got espresso and caramel, but it’s a bit of a fancy place, so their names on the menu consisting of 2 or 3 words were twice as fancy as their taste. (pics: super nice ice cream parlor with Karen and Erin ordering; disappointed in my ice cream spoon which was functionally designed for scooping in deep cups, but not structurally designed for withstanding the hardness of ice cream and thus bending upon scooping and not extracting the ice cream)

Today I also found that Brand New had released a new song…(fork and knife) it is the mastered version of Untitled 07. Excellent!

Skyped with mom and dad! Yay! Always great to do that.

12th-6th in Dhaka 11/26

Why is a bathroom called a water closet? Well, at least here in Bangladesh, it really is a room which could be covered in water, and is about closet size. Since most bathrooms here don’t have special shower basins or tubs, the entire bathroom becomes soaked when you bathe. The shower head is usually in the middle of the room, and the drain is in the center of the bathroom floor. So this closet is usually soaked! For this reason, you always wear sandals in the bathroom. The floor is usually wet all day from showering, so whenever you simply want to use the toilet, and don’t want to get your feet wet, you put the sandals on! These sandals are left outside the bathroom for all to use: visitors and family members.

Went to Arirang with Megan, Jen, Ben, Tuni, Clay, and Kristin. Korean food. Putting a lot of faith in the place since last time I got food poisoning. This time I went with all safe eating options, just in case. Kristin talked to us about her new eco-friendly hotel resort she’s organizing now that she’s post-Fulbright. Tuni and Clay leave Friday to go back to the states…crazy to think I’ll be at that point in 9.5 months.

Everyone has been sick recently, foreigners and Bangladeshis. The “cooler” weather is at fault I guess. It’s now high 70s low 80s during the day instead of being mid 80s...drastic changes!!

Worked on my calendar for my Fulbright project. Recorded what I’ve been thinking about for changes to my project, and listed my goals and action items. Started structuring my schedule, put in the breaks at least!

12th-7th in Dhaka 11/27

Tired in class today. Still a bit sick.

Sujit made an excellent lunch of stuffed bell peppers with mutton and mashed potato cakes. I think it was all leftovers from yesterday, and to tell the truth, this meal was better! He also made some interesting new breakfast today…he gave us thin crepe like pancakes and a sticky molasses like sauce that was made from dates. Very sweet and thick and strong. Could only eat two.

Finished off the calendar after lunch. Added some more details but didn’t want to complete it entirely since I wanted to get Dr. Rahman’s opinion of it.

Had problems printing at home, so I brought it to a printing/copy store near my house in Nadda bazaar…found out its cheaper to print one and copy it many times, than printing anything multiple times.

Dr. Rahman and I met for about an hour. He was not sure how we could apply my new idea of travel journals to the project. I was really interested in keeping track of people’s mode choice habits. Said I need to do a good lit review before I jump into any decisions. Said a good 3 months of reading only at least. Well I start in a little under 2 weeks. I’ll be spending time in the library reading at first. Getting a handle on history and policies of here.

So what one thing I didn’t think about before going to South Africa, and then again here, was where to get a haircut. Maybe other foreigners never think about this either, don’t know. But its quite scary. All of a sudden you get to the point where your hair is getting long, and you realize you have to tell another person to cut your hair the way you want it in another language! And if they mess up, or you don’t get the words across right, your hair is now massacred! Now I guess I could’ve gone to a nice English-speaking barbershop, but, well I didn’t.
So, got the haircut after dinner. I went to a small hole-in-the-wall place in the bazaar near my house. Here, a man goes to a “saloon” to get a haircut. This saloon had chairs for 3. They only use scissors and combs, not sure how clean either were, and don’t have any clippers or actually anything that needed power. Cutting the side of one’s head with scissors is very hard to do as opposed to using clippers. I’m not sure if my guy was being extra careful, but it took him 2 hours to do everything! He must’ve gone back to my sideburns 8 times! He was very careful with them. He shaved my neck with an actual razor, but no shaving cream. In fact, he didn’t use anything but water until he shaved my face. I really didn’t know why he shaved my face, then put more cream on, and shaved it again. As I found out afterward, a man’s face is always shaved twice at the saloon in Bangladesh. He also put shaving cream on my nose, and I’m not sure why, because he just wiped it off after.
I was quite nervous about this haircut, probably why I waited 12 weeks to get one. I guess I’m willing to chance my Bengali on most things in this country, except when it comes to something that’ll be permanent for me. Haven’t been to a doctor yet, that would be similar I assume. But take food for example, if I mess up, I don’t have to eat it…and if it makes me sick, that only lasts one day. But haircut, that could be long term damage! So I was glad it turned out all right. My hair had gotten pretty long, and I was only liking it when it was under my hat
He told me to name my own price. I had heard a haircut should cost Tk50 to Tk80, but I assume those haircuts only take half hour at most. This was a marathon haircut, and he did a great job, and I’m sure he lost business taking all my hair off so carefully. Ultimately I gave him everything in my pockets, Tk160, probably overpaid, but ultimately, it’s only $2.00.

22 November 2007

Week 11: Cyclone Sidr Comes to Bangladesh

So, I wish I could say more about Cyclone Sidr which hit Bangladesh hard, and tragically killed many people. I know many people read about it in news reports, but honestly, I cannot provide more important information than that. In my blog you'll find how it affected my personal life. However, Dhaka, at least what I get to see roaming around the city, was not devastated. Some shacks were knocked down and many people lost power and water, but it was all restored within two days. So what follows in this post is just snippets of what happened here, and how it affected me. Again, I wish I could say more, but the worst hit areas are 12+ hours away. I would like to let you know that if you'd like to make donations to help in the relief efforts, two places to do it is through the Red Cross or Save the Children. My roommates and I have talked about ways we can help out, and will be looking around to see what is possible. Dr. Haque, who I worked with on his GIS project, has produced some good maps himself of how the cyclone hit Bangladesh, see the link to his blog in the left column.

11th-1st in Dhaka 11/14

Zoo day! Both the beginning class and the intermediate class are going to the zoo. We have a van from the school to take us across town to see the animals. Before we left, Shakil and Santa went over my test with me, got 40/50! Yay. Not bad.
Getting into the zoo only cost Tk10. So cheap. We brought our lunches in that we’d bought from Cooper’s. We saw all different kinds of animals, some you wouldn’t see in US zoos, those which were Indian varieties of African species. Like the Indian lion, the Indian porcupine, and such. The Bengal tiger was there of course. The cages weren’t the best, but weren’t as bad I imagined. Not made to look like habitats, but not cramped cages. The otter for example had a linoleum pool in its cage, not that much effort, but also not that much money I’m sure. The animals probably aren’t the happiest, but I will applaud the effort, its important for education of people. Food is covered in flies, but I guess that would be the same in US zoos as well. (pics: monkey's cage and zoo visitors, the Indian lions cage, Shakil snapping photos and Santa looking at the animals, a peacock who put on this display for a few minutes)

One gross part was the zoo museum, where stuffed animals were held. They were old, and falling apart, and thus a bit gross. What was also really gross were jars of animals preserved…like little monkeys…or parts of animals, like hippo skin. It was not the best. (pics: stuffed animals of different sorts, jars of animal parts/whole animals

We ate lunch by a lake. Little kid played with us, and I ended up giving him my extra cookies. Climbed a tree with him. (pics: Nadia/Farah/Erin/Santa/Shakil sitting down for lunch, myself and the little kid in the tree)

After we went to the botanical gardens which was right next door to the zoo. Entry was Tk5. The gardens were pretty big. They were also covered in trash. You would hope the gardens would be well taken care of. We took many pictures as we roamed the grounds, went all the way to end where there was a lake. The last place we went in the gardens was a giant “fountain” which many Bangladeshi movies have been filmed at. (pics: the intermediate Bengali class at the gardens, I really felt this picture captures what there is to do in any botanical garden around the world...stand and observe, Santa at the famous "fountain")

Upon getting back I went to Aktel’s office to drop off my passport information to Saifullah who will give it to the trip organizer for our trip to Bandarban in December. The place, if I haven’t mentioned is restricted to foreigners, so I need to special permission to enter. He also told me that an opening might be happening in the apartment building I’m going to be room-sharing. He said he had his friends reserve it for me and it’ll probably open up in January. It’s a bit bigger, so more than Tk7000, maybe 8000 or 9000. still in my price range for sure! Very excited!

11th-2nd in Dhaka 11/15

After class I headed to the American Center to pick up packages. Got two from parents, NCSU stuff and some Halloween goodies…Oreo cookies! Yumm!

I was in a bad mood because of the lack of transportation options today. It was raining today. The cyclone in the Bay of Bengal made it rain all day, and its coming our way, so throughout the day the winds were picking up in intensity. So, due to the bad weather, not many rickshaws were out riding. Thus finding a rickshaw took forever, and 2 out of 3 times I tried, I couldn’t get one, and ended up walking to my destination. When it’s raining, a rickshaw will give you a piece of plastic to hold up in front of you while you sit. The rickshaw top covers your head, and the plastic covers your legs and windblown rain from your body. The plastic also serves to cover the seat when no one is in the rickshaw, so the seat stays dry.

In the evening I headed off for the concert in Dhanmondi. It took me 2.5 hours to get to Dhanmondi, and another half hour to get a rickshaw to bring me across Dhanmondi in the rain to the concert venue. There was tons of traffic since it was a Thursday afternoon/evening/night (last day of work week) plus the increasing rain and wind from the cyclone. Luckily I had a seat, but its still a long time to be on a bus. For many minutes at a time, our bus would just sit and not move. Then finding a rickshaw in Dhanmondi was tough because there weren’t many because of the rain and the increasing wind. Plus they weren’t willing to go very far. There was a lot of competition to get one from everyone trying to get out of the rain. I stood under a shopping center awning in between asking for a rickshaw to remain mostly dry.

The concert, at least the bands I saw was good. I was with Farhan. We hung out and talked. Between the two bands we got some pizza. The last band, Radioactive, who performed on the American Idol-esque DRockStars was incredible. The guy had an incredible vocal rang. He pulled off Skid Row and Guns n’ Roses, and the last song was their original and was impressive as well.

Farhan and I took a rickshaw (long time to find one of course) for a high cost to the bus stop closest to his house so I could grab a bus and he could go home from there. Rickshaw was really having to chug through the wind. The buses I liked were not running at this time. And there were no CNGs either. So I ended up taking a local bus home again. But this was not the nice local bus, it was the short tiny ones, that always have jammed people in them. And look like they are falling apart. And you just jump on and off and hand money to the doorman. And it was a cyclone, and it was rainy and windy…what an experience.

11th-3rd in Dhaka 11/16

Last night was a crazy crazy cyclone! The cyclone came from the Bay of Bengal. The wind and rain was incredible. Although it was bad during the day, it came worst at night. I was supposed to go to Mymensingh today with Ayon and his university friends, but we cancelled at like 7 in the morning via phone because of the bad weather. Actually by 9am it had calmed down, but it was still gross out. It was hard to sleep with the incredible wind, howling. Erin took our clothes in which were hanging up outside.
This morning, branches were everywhere, some shacks were destroyed, including Megan’s favorite tea shack. People were everywhere picking up the debris, from kids to older citizens. It’s been a long time since a cyclone has come apparently I was told. (pic: Megan's favorite tea shack near my house crushed by debris, the man in the red shirt owned the tea shirt, and the tea shack is under the pile of brush behind the fallen tree)

Our power is out because of the storm.

Worked out this morning. Went up to the roof of my apartment building and jumped rope. Our apartment building’s lift operator was up there too. He told me he lived up there, and showed me his one room concrete home on the roof. It’s cool he lives up there. It’s neat to look out over my local area.
After that, I went on a run around Baridhara, my first run in the daylight. Saw the debris everywhere.
When I returned I stretched in our parking garage. I gathered a crowd of about 7 people. All the guards on duty, the apartment caretaker, and the drivers all watched me intently. The lift operator even did some of the stretches with me. He said he exercises on the roof in the mornings. They were very interested. One of the bigger guards showed me his belly, and told me how he needs to exercise. Funny experience to say the least.

The power was out in the city all day. Internet down to. The cyclone must’ve really affected the area. Our home was working off of generator all day, meaning only certain circuits are given priority. In my bedroom, it means only one outlet works, the one my computer, lamp, speakers, and mosquito repellent is attached to…best one to be working in my opinion. It’s not too bad I guess for our place. But parts of the city don’t have water either, since the water is pumped and that requires electricity.

11th-4th in Dhaka 11/17

Still no power or internet this morning.

But spent the morning writing, and such. Then remembered Lauren had asked about hanging out today. So we decided to meet up. We first went to fix a problem with her DVD player, then went to the market to look around. She decided to buy some potatoes so she could make some French fries. Went back to her place and we made the French fries. She had internet so I got the chance to check online my email and saw that many people had sent me letters of worry. So I sent one big email to everyone to let them know I was still alive.

We then headed out to go to the Parliament building area. The bus we took there was packed to the max, and she and I were left standing near the front door. Worked out well since we were one of the firsts to get off. We took a walk around the Parliament buiding, which you can’t get close to right now. Currently the two infamous ex-leader’s of the country, Khaleda Zia and Sheikh Hasina are being held in sub-jails on the Parliament Building’s property, so no one gets to be there anymore. But you can still walk around the streets surrounding it. We walked around the Zia Uddyan as well. This time in the light. And the grounds surrounding it too. We decided it was time to get a late lunch, and so we went on a search for the Chili’s I saw last week.
Well after a lot of walking we finally found it. To see the “chili’s” sign outside (I'll post a pic when I get them from her), with its recognizable shapes, but to see inside only Thai and Chinese food, well its makes you laugh. Also reminds me of the Best Buy in my nearby market. Same yellow sign, same black block letters and font, but it’s an iddy biddy store NOT selling tvs, computers, dvds, cds, etc.

Celebrated Tamzid’s birthday with Siraj and Megan at Spaghetti Jazz.

11th-5th in Dhaka 11/18

I set up a meeting with Professor Rahman tomorrow at 4 pm, he called me during class.

In class today I made a challenge with Shakil and Santa. I told them I could learn all the names of all of Bangladesh’s 64 districts by final exam time. And for every ten districts I get correct on the exam, I get a bonus point. We’re also going to include 6 of the major rivers, for a total of 7 possible bonus points. Today I started preparing my study system. I took one of my maps with all the districts, outlined their shapes dark, and scratched out their names.
A district is similar to a county in the US. A division would be equivalent to a state. The 6 divisions are: Rajshahi in the northwest, Dhaka in the north-central, Sylhet in the northeast, Chittagong in the southeast, Barisal in the south-central, and Khulna in the southwest. As late as 12 years ago, Barisal was a part of Khulna, and Sylhet was a part of Chittagong.

I made the Radiohead 01 and 10 mix, which combines OK Computer and In Rainbows in alternating sequence…apparently it’s supposed to be excellent, that they were “made” for this. But I’m quite sure its just a bunch of good Radiohead songs all sounding good, and maybe not really being made to be fit like this.

I took some pictures of these the other day: the school vans. Like the flat bed rickshaw vans, the school vans are also rickshaws but made to hold people. These cages are also put on backs of pick up trucks or CNG engines, bigger than the cages used for schools, and use to bring around adults. But the rickshaw driver picks the children up and drops them off at home. The symbol on the back is the number. Usually about 10 kids fit inside, all in their school outfits. (pics: two school vans with rickshaws in the background, a clear picture of a school van)

11th-6th in Dhaka 11/19

Got on the bus with what I thought was plenty of time to make it to BUET to meet with Professor Rahman. But by the time I was in Malibag, still half hour away, it was already the meeting time. I called my professor and told him I’d be late, but he said he had a meeting after my meeting, so he wanted to reschedule. I felt real bad, I should’ve known a big jam could’ve happened, but didn’t prepare correctly. I’ll leave extra early tomorrow.

So instead I took the bus all the way to Dhanmondi. I was aiming to go to the Petha (pronounced pita) festival. Petha are considered cakes. They are thin, made in oil, are sweet, and come in a variety of shapes. For many, the center of the petha is softer, with a crispier rim. One looked like a sun, some are decorated and ornamented. But they’re all sweet, and all fill you up quick. I tried two.

After I walked around the lake, heading toward Nando’s since I really wanted to eat there. Nando’s is a South African chain restaurant that I enjoyed many times in South Africa when I studied abroad there.
Nando’s was bit different here though. In South Africa, its only fast food, you go to the counter and order, and they’ll bring it to you. But here in Bangladesh, they had waiters and menus. It was like an upscale restaurant, but the food was the same! I ate my French fries like I did in South Africa: with vinegar, peri-peri sauce, and the salty seasoning I always used.

11th-7th in Dhaka 11/20

Today I met with Dr. Rahman. After class, I got my lunch at home and headed straight to BUET. I wanted to arrive early if necessary, and I did, so I waited around patiently. We met for an hour or so. We started first talking about what he thinks will be my likely course of action, not going into detail, but summarized what he thought I’ll do in a few sentences, now that Jatrabari is not happening.
He was thinking that I’ll first research US, other western world, and other developing countries large scale projects’ planning. The next step would be pick two or so case studies in Bangladesh, and research their planning practices carefully. Finally I would make comparisons between what is happening here and elsewhere in the world, with the idea of making suggestions to the system here. Some of the case studies we considered were some major river crossings here, very big bridges, and also some non-transportation related stuff, such as a new major landfill in the southeast part of Dhaka. He thought it would be better to look at completed projects, because there will be more data available, and more literature. Also a project being worked on would be less willing to share its information. Also talked about looking at Dhaka’s Strategic Transportation Plan (STP), which was just finished. It goes over a lot of the near future plans, seems like a great thing to do, since it is itself a plan!!
We touched on some of the problems Bangladesh has with projects. One issue that stood out in my mind was the lack of data. Many projects get built with very little collected data, non-thorough data, or poor data. And thus many times the actual volumes are much higher or much lower than what was predicted. This lack of data causes money to be distributed to projects that may not need that much, and other projects which should be bolstered, being built underfunded.

Recently they’ve gone to the Paksey bridge which crosses the Padma River, and did traffic counts and surveys of drivers. The bridge is currently running at 60% of the expected volume, which is an issue since it is a toll bridge, and its not making back the money it was supposed to. They’ll have finished a report on it by February.

Afterwards, since he gave me another student’s copy of the STP, I took it to Nilkhet Market to get it copied. The thing is about 200 pages long, and bound. But this place, which I posted about earlier, is the place to come for copies, as they’re stands upon stands of copy machines. I found one which would copy the book for Tk0.72 per page, and bind it for Tk10. Left it with them and was told to come back tomorrow same time.
In fact, most books in Bangladesh seemed to be copied this way. A master copy is acquired, and the binding is removed, than it is mass produced via copy machine, with each being binded after. This seems to be the main reason funding Nilkhet Market’s many copy machines. So I find many books with copy machine quality paper. But since its so cheap to do this, it brings books to more people because they can be sold at a lesser price. All around Nilkhet Market, outside of the copy machines, are book stores, selling the books copied on copy machines.

Naira wanted me to come hang out and watch a movie. We went to her sister’s fiancee’s house and watched Fracture, was a good movie The guy's movie watching room was well done. Basically, his family’s old apartment he turned into a theater with a drop down screen, projector, and amazing sound system. Pillows on the ground to relax on and watch. We got some burgers and sandwiches.

15 November 2007

Week 10: Eating plenty of coconuts in Kuakata (and pretending to see the sun rise/set)

10th-1st in Dhaka 11/7

Went with Rajibul and his friends Tanvir and Ishti to Saderghat, the part of town where the launches leave from, to get launch tickets for our trip this weekend. We will take a launch south on the rivers to Barisal. Then a bus to Kuakata. We went house to house picking all the friends up, then made our way to Saderghat. We explored the many different boats we could take. Almost all were leaving today, so we had to find out which ones would leave tomorrow night, when we wanted to leave. Checked out the cabins, walked around the many decks. To get between boats sometimes we had to walk planks, or jump down, or climb up. It was a playground of big boats. We finally chose one, our rooms, and then paid the money. Tk220 each in the end for a one-way ticket.

There is one food/beverage I don’t like here, but I’m not alone in my disliking. It’s a greenish salty spiced yogurt drink called borhani. I've tried it now three times, and each time have not been able to take more than two sips. I mention it now because the third try was lunch today.

I saw a funny thing. A store owner was sweeping the front stoop of his store with a broom. But he was sweeping all the dust onto the freshly cut fruit of the fruit seller next to him. The guy’s fruit was getting dirty. However he just sat and watched, and didn’t seem to care…hmm. Think twice when buying food off the street (not like I already do)

In the evening I went to Nafisa’s aunt’s house for dinner. Good food as always, some delicious pasta this time. Talked to Ishraq about the Premier League and Champions League, and how the playing time affects the better players on better teams.

10th-2nd in Dhaka 11/8

Decent class. Did well in listening, and explained to Nadia in partial-Bangla how my weight has fluctuated in the last two years. From August 2006 to August 2007 I technically gained 32 lbs since in the former I was dieting for the Canadian Henley 64kg weight class, and the latter was this summer when I hadn’t worked out consistently since rowing ended. But if I didn’t explain it, it makes it seem like I’m now overweight! I graphed it for her, and it was actually really interesting to see it all in graph form.

Met Tanvir at the Aktel office. Pavel (which I learned to be Rajibul’s nickname) met us, and we went to both of their houses to get their bags. Hopped in a CNG, and grabbed Ishti, and went to Motijheel. From there, grabbed rickshaws down to Saderghat. This is all on a Thursday night, so traffic in the city is ridiculous. We get caught in many jams. Our rickshawallwah told us he was real happy to have a foreigner in his rickshaw on our long ride to the boat terminal.

The boat is big. It has three floors. The bottom floor is just open, where the lowest class ticketed people stay. They have thin mats on the floors, and they sleep there. The second and third floors have rooms, not sure if there is any difference though. On the back of the third floor is open deck where it looked like staff were sleeping, and from there you could look out on the water. From the front of the boat you could see a lot too, but you can’t hang at the bow because you get yelled at by the boat captain for being in his line of sight…learned from experience. (pics: view of a launch next to ours, the third floor of the launch with its rooms)

We got to the boat with 30 minutes or so to spare. We met Mishu there, who also works for Aktel. Found our rooms. My water bottle decided this was the best time to open up and leak all over my backpack.

I took some photos of the dock area before we left. Tons of people going home for the weekend. Boats from here go all over Bangladesh, but mostly to Khulna, Sundarbans, and Barisal, as they are easy to get to by boat, in the southern part of the country. The boats hold about 300-400 people I’m told, but wil typically take 500-600, and over 1000 during the holidays. For this reason, during holiday times, these boats sometimes sink due to overweight issues. They also have a reputation for crashing on the river because they race each other…was really hoping this wasn’t as “frequent’ as they say. (pics: many people getting onto the launhes at Saderghat, the view of Saderghat just after we pulled away)

Had 3 dinners. First was Pavel’s parota and meat curry. Then we had my sandwich, fish cakes cookies, and fruit. We bought some apples. Than later we ordered some rice, vegetables, and fish and enjoyed it on a table in one of our cabins.

We spent the night talking, playing cards, and looking outside the boat, and sitting at the bow of the boat right below where the captain looks out, so we wouldn’t distract his view. Played a card game called 9-card…was fun and addicting, and can’t wait to share it in the US. (pics: Ishti and Pavel playing 9-card, Mishu and Ishti eating dinner in the cabin)

The boat captain doesn’t have permanent lights aimed at the water, but has a sweeping spotlight he turns on every minute or so, he does a quick sweep of the water ahead of him to look for smaller craft, then turns it off. I guess it’s smaller craft’s responsibility to move. The entire time I can see other boats on the river, all shapes and sizes, but mostly launches like ours. They pass by all night. Showed me how important river transportation is for the country. The rivers are incredible. I can barely see the sides sometimes, of course it’s dark, but I can make out a few lights. In the water, there are baskets with a few candles in them, I think these are lighting the way for the captains.

I went to bed at 1am after playing lots of cards.

10th-3rd in Kuakata 11/9

We docked in Barisal at 4 am. You’re allowed to disembark any time during the day. But we had a bus to catch to Kuakata at 7 am, so we disembarked at 6 am. We got some breakfast at a small restaurant. For breakfast we had parota, egg, dhal, and some leg bone of a sheep. (pics: view into Barisal when we arrive, view of launches at Barisal)

This part of Bangladesh is apparently more religious than other parts I’m told. Because of that, you’ll see more women wearing burqa, in this case all black. In restaurants there are special women’s eating “cabins” where the table can be hidden by a curtain.

The bus ride, my friends said was horrible, worst they’d ever been on. But I didn’t’ think it was too bad, maybe I was expecting a lot worse. My seat on the bus, like most I encounter here, is too short for me, my knees don’t actually fit between the two seats. So I have to sit the 4.5 hour journey sitting with knees into the aisles. This kind of a bus is a “local bus” because it stops for everyone, and people get to stand in the aisles. The trip from Barisal to Kuakata has 5 ferry crossings. The first 2 are close to Barisal, the middle one is about halfway, with the last two closer to Kuakata. (pics: road ends and that's where the ferry docks, doorman watching the road go by, women jammed in the seats in the front of the bus, Pavel/me on the bus, posing on the ferry, one of the docks the ferry left from at one of the rivers)

Had several coconuts during this trip, and one yesterday I forgot to mention. All of these coconuts are still ripening, green exterior, but that’s why there are supposed to be so good. The person first cuts off the top, and pokes a hole in the inner skin. You drink the coconut water first, which is apparently really good for you and high in minerals. Then you hand the drained coconut back to them. They cut it in half, and you scoop out the coconut with a broken off piece of coconut shell. It’s soft since its not fully ripe yet, a ripe coconut has a hard interior. They’re pretty good, the water is my favorite part. (pics: cutting the coconut to drink the water, eating the inside after cutting it open)

Each ferry crossing took lots of time. Sometimes they waited for the ferry to fill up, sometimes it was on the other side and it had to come back over, sometimes there were so many buses we had to wait our turn. One time waited half an hour. Oh well, it gave us time to stretch our legs.

The hotel we stayed at was pretty nice. We fought to let all five of us stay in one double room, against the hotel’s three per room policy. We won. After changing into swimming outfits, we went to buy a return bus ticket, and had lunch, some rice, vegetable, and fish.

We took vans everywhere. A van is a rickshaw, but without a seat, just a flat bed you can sit on. Usually used for transporting goods, but also a cheap way to get around town. (pic: Ishti on a van)

The town itself only had few concrete structures outside of hotels. I was the only foreigner I saw the whole time. Town is mostly shacks selling goods and for living. Streets are packed, but it’s not big at all.

The beach was good. Its long to the water, but the water covers most of it when tide comes in. Tide was out, so we could walk a long way out. Bay of Bengal, my first time seeing it, and I’m sure not my last.

At the beach we played in the water. We wear shorts/bathing suit and a shirt. Men don’t usually take off their shirts, and it’s one of the few times it’s ok to wear shorts.Women wear what they would always wear, a sharee or shalwar kameez. We had fun tackling each other in the ocean. We walked along the beach, saw fisherman pulling their boats in, kids doing some work, motorcycles riding up and down the beach carrying people to other places, people splashing and taking pictures like us. Bunch of boats anchored just about 100 feet out into the water. Not many peddlers, but some, mostly food. Got some more coconuts and drank the water. Bought a soccer ball and played some beach soccer among the five of us, Ishti in goal. The sun set on the water, just like it was supposed to, but we couldn’t really see it set, due to clouds all around the horizon. But I could now verify, that yes, the sun sets on the Bay of Bengal. Had some fuchka before leaving. (pics: Pavel/Mishu in the Bay of Bengal, Tanvir/Pavel/Mishu/me wet from playing in the water, beach visitors in their beach clothes, resting on the beach chairs Pavel/Mishu/Ishti/me, Pavel kicking the soccer ball to Ishti, Ishti riding a bike he paid a boy Tk20 to ride and Tanvir watching, boat docked in the water, fishermen beating out his net, fishing boats, blue in the straw/chair/lungi, sunset on the Bay of Bengal)

The entire time motorcycle drivers are asking to take us places. Up and down the beach to different sites? Some forest, some market…I don’t know. (pic: motorcycle to take you away)

You have to pay to sit on the beach chairs, only about Tk20.

After dinner and going back to the beach, Tanvir and I were exhausted and crashed on the bed. We had pushed both beds together so all 5 of us could have bedspace, one guy sleeping “on the crack”…wasn’t as tight a fit as I thought it’d be with all of us sharing 2 twin size beds. We got some tea late, and I woke up to have some, a biscuit, and wash my face/brush my teeth. (pic: our sleeping arrangement)

10th-4th in Kuakata 11/10

Woke up early for the sunrise. Took two rickshaw vans from our hotel about a mile up the beach to a spot which is better for sunrise watching, why? I still don’t know why. Well this morning we saw lightening and heard thunder in the distance…uhoh…the sky was getting brighter, but then it started raining. We sat under some umbrellas, but those only leaked onto us. So, after the sun “rose” we left. We couldn’t actually see it because of the clouds, even less than the sunset the night before. But again, I can verify the sun also rises on the Bay of Bengal. So yes, in Kuakata, you can see the sun rise and set on the same body of water. Pretty cool I guess. (pics: "sunrise" on the Bay of Bengal, in the morning Ishti/Tanvir/me, beach chair and beach soaked in the rain, taking shelter at beach shops )

In the afternoon, after much card playing we went out. Pavel and I went to the market to buy some stuff. I watched a fight (#9) and then decided to buy a seashell with my name engraved in it in Bangla. After dropping it off at the hotel, we went to meet Tanvir and Ishti at some fish market. Well it was a long way off, and I wasn’t going to bring my camera because I thought it was just the same as the fish markets in Dhaka, and because we were going to the beach to play after. It was a long way off, took a van to get there. The rough asphalt ended and turned into a dirt road. We were passing many villages and shacks on the way too. Began wishing I had my camera. But then we got there, and was real upset I didn’t have my camera. The whole place was impressive. This fish market was less a market, and more of a place where they dried fish, and you could come there and ask for some. The fish were hanging on wooden drying racks, about 10-15 feet high each, with three levels of fish drying. Most fish were about one foot long, but some were huge. Some were splayed open with wood, others just hanging loosely. The sun was setting from behind the racks on the ocean. Light was peaking through. It was gorgeous. The dried fish was outrageous smelly, but after awhile kinda enjoyable. The area was huge. It was right on the edge of the beach, where the grass stopped, and the sand started, and cows were munching on the grass. Boats were pulled right up on the beach to the drying place. Men squatted on the ground salting and cutting the fish.

They bought some fish, and we left soon after, took the vans back to the hotel. We packed up, and headed for the bus.

The bus ride home was uneventful. Ate some parota and egg for dinner. At one ferry stop, had some coconut. We had the same ferry stops to Barisal. After that, on the way to Dhaka, I was in and out of sleep. So not really sure what happened. We crossed a real big river at some point. Sleeping was horrible. In Barisal we had a 15 minute rest, and I took some photos of rickshaws at midnight. Highway 10x better condition from Barisal to Dhaka than from Kuakata to Barisal. (pic: rickshaws with their lanterns in Barisal at midnight)

10th-5th in Dhaka 11/11

We arrived at 6:30 in the morning to Gabtali bus station, in the northwest side of the city. I took a taxi back home, it was easy, and I didn’t mind paying a bit more. I’d been on enough buses!

Got ready for class. A slow day. Was kind of tired and wasn’t focusing well.

After class, came home and had a quick lunch. I was heading down to BUET to meet Dr. Mizanur Rahman for only the second time. Was glad I was going to get to see him again. But I got there and he had to cancel the meeting, they’re doing a lot of testing of students right now and it wasn’t a good time. We decided I’ll come by next week, but I’ll make sure to call before I come down.

I also had had plans to meet with Ayon at Dhaka University after. So I just walked on over, and hung out with him and his friends on the main lawn for about half hour. Watched some videos on their laptop of a recent dance party they had at Ayon’s bedroom. Classic!

After Ayon and I went to Dhanmondi to see Saquib’s photographs in his university’s photo club’s exhibition. It’s the first time his photos are being seen by the public. It was pretty cool that he was getting people to see his work. I was very impressed. I know it’s just a school club, but I’ve never had my work of anything really publicly displayed. Cool to see the other 41 photos (3 were his making 44) as well. (pics: Ayon observing, Saquib and one of his three photos on display)

10th-6th in Dhaka 11/12

After class I was intending to have a nice easy day. Buy the things I’ve been meaning to buy, and hang out with Megan. It went perfectly. Went to buy computer speakers, and its nice to finally listen to Radiohead’s new album with real speakers.

Megan and I went to FFC for dinner, got lots of delicious fried chicken. Here there was a great example of things on the menu being written incorrectly. In one place one the menu, it said potato wedges…mmm delicious. However, on the other side of the menu, it said the meal came with potato wages. I asked Megan, “Will we be getting paid in potatoes tonight?”

Oh, and I saw a Chili’s the other day. Same exact sign of the Chili’s in the US, but apparently it’s not the same restaurant, not even close to the same food either. They just stole the sign design. And a new Pizza Hut is opening up near to my new home, that’s pretty cool.

And wanted to mention how big of jerks CNG drivers are (and actually at the time of posting this there was an article in the paper about it!), and why I don’t even bother using them anymore. Everytime you talk with them, they never want to go where you want to go. Why not? I’m going to pay you money for you to take me somewhere, what are you gonna do instead, sit here and do nothing!!?!?! They never want to go where you want to go. And they scoff at your when you tell them. And if they do want to go, they never want to use the meter like they are supposed to. Instead they charge an incredible amount of the trip. Unregulated supply and demand in its worst state.

10th-7th in Dhaka 11/13

Today after class I spent most of the day at home. I left for a little bit to pick up my photos of the advert from Benchmark. I can’t post them yet, not until the ad is out, so you’ll have to wait. But I look ridiculous in my opinion, but it’s what they were looking for, not me. Pavel also said they have more trips in the planning and they’ll def invite me come time.

So for lack of anything else to talk about, I’ll bring up the bus loading process here. The ticket counter is on the side of the street. People hang around the ticket counters, but don’t buy the tickets until the bus is actually in sight. Now, once spotted, sometimes it could be a few minutes until the bus actually gets there, because of traffic, but sometimes it makes it there in a few seconds if it can plow its way through. Either way, it’s not until the bus actually pulls up that people decided it’s time to buy their ticket. Then there’s a mad rush to get on, pushing a bit, along with pushing to buy the tickets at the counter. The bus starts to pull away before everyone is on. The last few have to do a bit of a run and jump. The ticket counter guy doesn’t do much to help either. He sometimes will refuse to sell you a ticket until he sees the bus. But this can be understood since if a competing bus company is operating the same route comes, and it shows up before his company’s bus, people will choose that bus over his. In this situation, is common practice to refund the customer’s ticket, so he can ride the other bus. So to avoid this, the counter guy waits until the bus actually comes near so they don’t have to give refunds.