19 December 2007

Week 15: You can wave your Victory Day flag from Bandarban to Dhaka, it's all Bangladesh!

15th-1st in Dhaka 12/12

Dance practice, showed up, but no one else did. So after talking to Naira’s sister for a bit, came home and went to play badminton.

I’ve been posting to skyscrapercity.com for Dhaka. Really like this new forum, people give positive comments for everything you post. I’ve been taking photos of buildings under construction, and posted them up. It’s a neat forum, helps me keep up with current large projects here. (pics: Nafi Tower in Gulshan 1 going up, Doreen Tower in Gulshan 2 which has topped off but no siding)

Got a lot done with the concert today. Got contacts from Diya for Radio Foorti, one of the biggest radio stations here, and amadergaan.com, a big website concert promoter. It’ll be great to have both of these on board. Arranged that Diya will cover our concert for The Daily Star. And got the band lineup together, and arranged how much time each will play.

15th-2nd in Dhaka 12/13

Flags are everywhere. Victory Day is approaching! At every major intersection several men are selling large flags, small flags, and every size in between. Headbands you can wear, and flags to hang from your car antenna. They are all hand made. Victory Day is Dec 16th, and it’s the day Bangladesh won the war Liberation War in 1971 with the help of India over West Pakistan. I bought a large flag a week ago and a headband as well. Flags are flying everywhere, from homes, from cars, buses, rickshaws and shops. Very patriotic. Victory Day is the most popular holiday to fly flags, and it also happens to a lesser extent on Independence Day, March 26.(pics: look for the small flag at the front of his rickshaw, flag seller walking Gulshan Avenue, on a car's radio antenna, two flag sellers on either of side of Gulshan Avenue)

Met up with Saifullah and other folks going on the trip at Fridays Fast Food for lunch and a briefing on what’s up with the trip this weekend.

Dance practice. We practiced two songs tonight a little. Found out how big the stage was. We’ll be putting 4-10 people per song on a stage which is 8’ x 12’

Got picked up by Rana to head off to the bus to Bandarban. Headed to the bus station. Bus came a bit late. Another foreigner on the trip, her name was Claudia, a mathematician from Switzerland visiting a friend of hers here. She’s here for 6 weeks and is traveling without her friend on the trip. We were assigned to sit with each other on the bus. Before attempting to doze off on the bus, we chatted for a bit. Was an AC bus, first I’d been on in Bangladesh.

15th-3rd in Bandarban 12/14

Arrive at rest stop at 4 am in the middle of nowhere. And it was packed!!! Tons of buses, and everyone was eating meals. So much commotion for such an hour. What was crazy, was that all the buses left at the same time! We were one of the last of about 30 buses to leave, and I swear, the complex was empty after. There must be scheduled meal times at this rest stop that buses know about, because there was no reason for it to be a mad rush at 4 am, and not a single bus arriving after. Were there for 20 minutes but I wasn’t really hungry. Instead stood and watched buses zoom by on the narrow 2 lane highway, and talked to the guy who was directing the buses in and out of the parking lot.

The highway from Dhaka to Chittagong is the busiest in the country. All exports and imports go through Chittagong’s port, and a lot of this is produced and used respectively in Dhaka and to the north. But, the highway is still only a 2 lane highway, no bigger than a rural road in the US. Buses zig and zag down this road, passing each other, entering each other’s lanes, trying to arrive as fast as they can. Rickshaws are also on the shoulders. And other smaller vehicles still use the road. Plus the road passes through many small towns. Overall, its very dangerous and scary, and I’m surprised that I never see a single collision. Check out a minute clip below or here and count how many times your heart skips a beat. I'm at 4.

Dozed off and woke up when we got to Chittagong. Saifullah pointed out to me that you could see the famous Chittagong ship deconstruction yards from the highway between some of the trees. Couldn’t see any of it though. We crossed the Karnaphuli River on a bridge which is only one lane. And the lane is also used by a train. Totally cool! What a good idea for a low volume bridge. (pics: one lane bridge for motor vehicles and train rails down the middle, at the end of the bridge where the rail tracks and the road go their separate ways)

The hill tracts are the only place in Bangladesh to have mountains and hills. They are along the southeastern part of Bangladesh, on the border of Myanmar. Very beautiful and green. Bandarban is one of the main cities here. The hill tracts are where many tribes live, who don’t speak Bangla as their primary language. The religion of most tribes is Buddhism. (pics: views of the Bandarban Hill Tracts)

Too bad it’s hard to get to for foreigners. Checkpoints are along the way to Bandarban when you get close. It’s because the hill tracts, which is where Bandarban is, have been known for outbursts of violence and attacks on visiting groups in recent times. I had to have prior permission from the government to enter here. I had to check in at the border of the district. Signed a log and they checked my passport and my permission papers. It was a very intimidating procedure. At some checkpoints, a police officer came on the bus and checked it for things. They are very serious about not allowing more problems to happen here. Especially to foreigners. That’s why the government does what it can to keep foreigners out. If something happens to the foreigner, it’s on the back of the government, and it’s a burden they’d rather not hold, so best to keep foreigners out as much as possible.

Arrived, and had breakfast. Would be the same breakfast every day. Some perota, potato and veggies, and an omelet. Beautiful view from the whole resort. It’s the guide tours resort. Nice place, well kept. Several cabins, some made of woven materials, and on stilts, so the floors are bouncy. I was in the dorm with the other bachelors. About 8 of us in there, no bouncy floor though. (pics: dining hall, dorm bedroom)

A few of us, before lunch, hiked down to the Sangu River, the main river in Bandarban. It could be seen from our resort. We hiked the 40 minutes down to the river down some pretty steep hillsides. Got real sweaty. Walked through some groves of palm trees. Past some households made of organic material. Reached the river. Some activity. Some boats. Terraced plantings on the riverside. Played a bit in the water. Hiked back up and got ridiculously sweaty. (pics: myself on the short hike, the steep climb with three of my friends coming down, Sangu River, Tanveer playing in boat)

Went to Tiger Hill in the afternoon, a high point close to our resort. Form there you can see in many directions. Meandered around. Took photos. Had some snacks. (pics: on top of Tiger Hill Huda/myself/Imran, @Tiger Hill Imran/Hasan/Badruddoza/Huda, snack seller selling a typical array of Bangladeshi snacks)

Later to a very touristy spot which surrounded a lake. Had a zoo and many food vendors. Plus two very rickety rope/plank bridges. I didn't appreciate those very much. I knew my dad wouldn't either. Also ate sugar cane for the first time. Very difficult for me for some reason. Supposed to peel off the outside with your back teeth and my teeth hurt for a few days because of this. I didn't get very far with it. The place also had a small zoo with a bear, monkeys, and deer. (pics: trying to chow down on sugar cane, on the rope/plank bridge with Imran and Hasan)

Showered at some point in the icy cold shower.

15th-4th in Bandarban 12/15

Woke up to fog in the river valley. (pic: fog in valley)

Got in trucks and headed to a mountaintop over 25 km away. This place had an army outpost. On the way there, crossed some pretty rickety bridges. Some villages along this road, which pretty much snaked along the top of the mountains. Pretty bad conditions on the road. Very bumpy. One guy threw up. (pics: snaking along the mountains in our vehicles, Ashrafi and girlfriend holding on for the rickety ride, roaming around at the army outpost, Imran/myself, sign saying your cell phones actually get reception here, everyone taking advantage of the cell phone reception they found...not much in the hill tracts)

Second stop was the top of one the most easternmost mountains in Bangladesh. Also the highest mountain accessible by road. Some structures on top, and well decorated area. A helipad. We took photos. Found the most beautiful bathroom in the world. It was three urinals on the side of the mountain, but facing outwards, so you can see the mountains as you pee. (pics: myself using the most beautiful toilet in the world and enjoying the view, Imran doing the same, Saifullah and me on top of the mountain, Saifullah and his daughter walking at the top of Bangladesh)

Stopped at one more mountain before seeing our fourth stop which was a waterfall. But since this is the dry season, wasn’t much water at all. very dry. But still very slippery. Almost took a big fall. Others did. Meandered through the river bed. Some village women were washing clothes in the river, and taking baths with their sarees on. (pics: posing in the river with Ashrafi/Parvej/myself/Badruddoza/Imran, view down the river, women washing clothes in the river, the waterfall but without the water since its the dry season)

After lunch and nap everyone went to see a Buddhist temple. Apparently one of the biggest in Bangladesh, and one of the most beautiful as well. We got there too late, sun was setting, so we couldn’t stay long; in fact had to convince them, the Buddhist monks there, to even let us see it. They let us walk around it for 5 minutes. No pictures allowed to be taken of the shrine inside. Had some models on the way out that depicted the history of Buddha. Wish I could’ve spent more time there and seen more.(pics: top of Buddhist temple, view one direction, view the other direction, one of the models depicting the Buddha's history)

Came back for dinner. Was BBQ chicken!! Yumm and French fries too. Good job on the chicken. After dinner, one guy on the trip, Popel, played guitar for everyone, and they sang some Bangladeshi rock/folk songs, but I didn’t know any.

Wore a lungi for the first time today. This is the national dress for men, as a saree would be for women. It’s a big piece of fabric in the shape of a cylinder, so no ends. You tie it basically by pulling it tight against you, twisting the top until its snug, then tuck the ends of the twisted fabric into the waist…and it holds up. Very comfortable. No underwear below. Very popular for men to wear this around the house. I’m definitely going to buy one. It’s useful for also changing your clothes among other people. (pics: sporting a lungi for the first time, posing with Badruddoza)

15th-5th in Dhaka 12/16

Today was the bus ride home. Had breakfast and we headed out. Sat next to Claudia on the bus again. Talked a bit about her time in the US, and what she thought were some weird things that Americans did. I also asked her many questions about Switzerland.

As today is victory day (Happy Victory Day!) there were two parades we saw from the bus in the streets in some of the small towns we went through. (pics: Victory Day parade, same)

If I haven’t talked about the flag yet, I’m linking it here to describe it, but I have yet to find why the circle is where it is. What is the meaning, if you know…please comment!! The flag is everywhere today! Buildings, cars, kids, stores, homes, rickshaws, CNGs, buses…all had flags out. It’s very patriotic. Cool to think just 36 years ago, on this land, a war was won to give this country its freedom.

Saw a quick glimpse of the ship deconstruction yards between the trees. Incredible sight even for just a second. Saw a half dismantled ship just docked on the sand. Wow! Want to find a way to see this up close.

Saifullah told me I won’t be able to move into tomorrow because my future roommate won’t be at home. That he’d gone home to his village. I was surprised, we had made plans. So wasn’t sure when I’d be moving now. Didn’t find this information out until today. Wonder how I would’ve found out if I hadn’t asked Saifullah about him helping me move. Oh well.

Came home. Hung out with Megan at Margherita Pizza and scarfed down a cheese pizza. Went back to her house and met Tony, the professor whose house she’s living in while he’s away. He’s back for 2 weeks or so. He’s a professor at NCSU, but also is the organizer of my language program. He had just gotten back from Calcutta, so was a bit tired and was off to bed soon after I arrived. Megan and I looked at my fantasy football team, and she asked me many questions about it. Showed her why it’s so addicting to me.

15th-6th in Dhaka 12/17

Woke up and saw parents had called. Called Sandee on skype and told her I had been asleep. Set up a time to talk tomorrow.

Had lunch with Tony, teachers, and Erin. Went to Déjà Vu Café, I feel like I’d been there before…haha.

Good food. Salad bar which was very ornate, but really had tomatoes and cucumbers prepared in four different ways, some sliced baby corn, some random peppers and onions, and 6 dressings. And egg and crouton. Got some seafood soup which was good. Some roast beef for lunch. And a crepe for desert. Tony treated.

Dance practice was fun/productive. We got a lot done, now have 4 songs I know.

15th-7th in Dhaka 12/18

Spent time reading this morning and afternoon. Going through the STP slowly. Very complete document. Really covers so many aspects of the city’s past, present, and future transportation issues. Never knew how much went into this. I guess I’ve thought of all of this before, but to see it done so thoroughly is impressive.

Fixed with Nafisa more details about the concert, and talked about my visit to her place in Khulna tomorrow.

Bought my first lungi. Should be very comfortable to sit around in at home. Also some underwear, and not knowing what size to buy since the measurement system was different from what I know, asked the guy in the bazaar what he wore. He proceeded to laugh at me. Anyway, bargained the price of the underwear down to 70% original cost, but when I got home, found it to be too small. After dropped in to cofi 11 for some coffee and ice cream and brownie and hung out there until dance practice.

Dance practice was great. Practiced all 4 songs I was in several times, and felt like we were doing them pretty well. Found out how we specifically are incorporating the firespinning into one of our dances. It’s all going be pretty exciting. Watched the girls do their dance, and watched the two guy/girl dances I’m not in. It’s all going be a great show!

Hung out with Faisal, Megan, and Kira after. Kira was in the same language program with Megan this summer. She was visiting from Kolkata for a few days where she is studying her 3rd year of Bengali. Went to cofi 11, my 2nd time today, and we had dinner.

Language test at 5:30am tomorrow morning on the phone…thus gone to bed early. Its for the Fulbright’s language grant, so they can evaluate if their invested money was well spent on me.


Saket said...

I tried figuring out why the red circle is off-centered, but got nothing so far. :/

how did Claudia take in all the sights? i imagine what you see when you look out the window is very different than what you first saw so many months ago.

hope the language test went well...

Btw, I saw teh google map. WOW you did an AWESOME job with it. Even the different icons and stuff! I had a kick out of seeing all the different places. You've really been hitting places all across town!

Saket said...

Ok, so I posed the flag question to my friend Nader, and he found a wikipedia article.


Apparently its off-centered so that when it is flying from a flag pole, it appears centered. With teh attaching strings and all, it stands off a bit from the pole...

Kind of a weird reason huh.

Ben G said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ben G said...

dude, i don't know what you can take from that wiki article
since it says: "Unlike the japanese flag it does not represent the sun (the red circle)." then a few sentences later: "The red disc represents the sun rising over Bengal." Donny, it looks like you're going to have to do some digging to get the real answers.
Or maybe you can translate http://bn.wikipedia/org/wiki/Flag_of_Bangladesh

Donny said...

my friends said that they learn this kind of information in grade 4. but he can't recall the reason. he was going to try and find out what it was again.

really i gotta go find a 11-year old and quiz them

PEACHY said...

hi! this might be a very late response, but a colleague told me once that the red circle in the Bangladesh flag represents "blood", since there were lots of killings before they were able to get their freedom.