30 January 2008

Week 21: Cool weather and rain can ruin your health, trade fairs, and large religious gatherings (BUT NOT MONEY!)

21st-1st in Dhaka 1/23

It has been a bit cooler and windier these last few days. Not as sunny out either. Perhaps it’s the start of the seasons changing. On a side note, I’m so intrigued by the idea of the monsoon season. It’ll be my last season I experience here. And it’s the most unique. I’m always wondering what life will be like then.

Washed our bed sheet, I will finally feel clean sleeping in that bed.

At BUET I was waiting to get my computer access approved today. So while I waited I did some research work on crowded buses, collecting my last bit of literature before I start reading into it more critically.
When the director was finally available to approve my computer usage application, the security guard told me to come in. They were very hesitant to give me access as I wasn’t an official student. I didn’t have an official letter showing where I came from either, and only my professor’s signature proved someone knew I was supposed to be at BUET at all. After lots of discussing amongst each other, it was decided if the director’s boss approves me, I’m ok. So another bit of waiting, then that top guy approved me. They gave me a username and password and showed me the computer lab. The internet isn’t especially fast, but it’ll be good enough, and it’ll be nice to be able to use programs and internet without bringing my laptop to campus.

When I got home, Ashrafi called me and said he and Popel were going to go see Radioactive at Decagon Café. Radioactive is a band I saw the night of Cyclone Sidr, with the spectacular vocalist. They also were the winners of DRockstars, a rock band American Idol-esque competition in Bangladesh last year. Wasn’t really a concert, more of a café performance. They did two sets. Mostly English songs. They played a few of their own numbers. During the intermission, Popel introduced me to the vocalist who was his roommate for a year. I asked when their CD is coming out, and he said soon enough.

Spent the rest of the night trying to get a currency converter to work in the sidebar of my blog. Required me to learn a bit of HTML to edit what was already available on the internet. Wanted people to be able to convert from taka to popular viewers’ currencies to understand the values I’m throwing out.

21st-2nd in Dhaka 1/24

Went to HSBC to get money for the Bangkok trip, and because I needed an encashment slip to show the money I was paying with was originally US dollars. But there, I realized that Megan still hadn’t given me a firm yes/no on whether she’ll come or not. Called her, and she said it was likely. So I’m going to wait until Sunday then see if the answer is still yes, then rebook the ticket on GMG if she comes.

Three weeks ago, I completed my collection. Of what? Money! And by that I mean the bills of Bangladesh. Waited until a week with less to write about in the blog to put all these pictures up.

For weeks now I’ve been trying to gather all the taka notes, but with a certain aim in mind. I was trying to get a brand new and a real old bill of each denomination then take their photo together for comparison. The main motivation behind taking these comparison pictures was the Tk2 note. The old ones are so unrecognizable, they might as well just be scraps of paper. They are torn, brown, and look like garbage. And they are probably the most often exchanged note because of this. No one wants it in their wallet, and whoever you give it to will give it away just as quick. As well, local bus fares are usually around Tk2, so Tk 2 notes are commonly being passed around.

As you can see, the oldest Tk500 note I could find still doesn’t look so bad, despite it being old enough (at least 2004 or earlier) to have a different picture on it altogether! The holes in the new notes are because they come in bundles with a string passing through them all. I took shots of each bill front and back. Each bill is a different size and color. (pics: what I felt was the "front" and "back" of the Tk2, Tk5, Tk10, Tk20, Tk50, Tk100, and Tk500 notes. New above old in each)

The only time I actually had all the notes in my wallet at one time, happened in Khulna, and I took a picture of them all spread out. Also took a photo of the three coins, and the one different Tk1 coin I had. The coins differ in that the Tk5 coin is actually 12-sided (that’s the Jamuna Bridge on it,) the Tk2 coin is a bit thicker and its edge is smooth, and the Tk1 coin’s edge is reeded, like the US quarter. (pics: "front" and "back" of Tk5, Tk2, and two different Tk1 coins; all bills spread out the first time I noticed I had all of them in my wallet at one time.)

And that last note which took me many months to find….the newer Tk20 note.
The following link has information on all the bills, you just have to click through to read it all.

In my collection I also have a 50 poisha coin (half of Tk1) and a Tk1 note, but don’t know where they are packed up right now.

Went to Shawarma House for lunch and to do research. The staff watched me the full 4 hours I was there. Finished gathering the articles for my literature review there. I think I have what I want now to understand my topic fully. Diya came by for a half hour or so. Showed her pictures on my laptop of friends and home.

Naira invited me to come watch a movie at Probal’s big movie watching room. When we picked up Probal and Nerpa, we got to see their new place they’ve moved into after marrying. Not much furniture yet, so it looks enormous. They even have a pool in their apartment building. That’s really unheard of here.
We went to Probal’s movie place, and we watched Shoot Em Up. What a violent bloody shooting movie. Still cool. The girls really didn’t like it. But for the theater like environment there, the guys felt watching a drama would be a waste of the big screen and sound system.

Rained today. A lot cooler. This is surprising weather actually for this time of year. There really isn’t supposed to be rain in the dry season. People are blaming global warming.

21st-3rd in Dhaka 1/25

This morning I woke up to see it was raining still. It was very cool outside, and the rain was light. Apparently the cold and rain caused seven deaths in northern districts of the country, people who can’t afford warm clothes even for 55 degree temperatures.

Went to the trade fair. It’s a big annual event which lasts a month. It’s set up behind the Chinese-Bangladesh Friendship Center, a big convention center. Fair had pavilions and shops. There’s apparently a competition for the company who creates the best pavilion. In the past, when it came, the Trade Fair used to be the only time and place you could buy international goods, but that time is long passed. (pics: entrance gate to the trade fair with pavillions in background, fountain and pavillions at trade fair and in the background is the big central spire with a globe on top.)

I was supposed to go with Ayon, Saquib, Nipu, and others, but as of last night they all backed out. So Megan came with me, and she invited Karen as well, so it ultimately was the three of us.
Walked around, asked about prices. Though I heard it’s supposed to be really cheap here, I’ve seen cheaper prices elsewhere in the city. Looked at a few shirts, but they were all too small. It was wet and a bit cool, but not too bad. (pics: many of the stalls which form the border of the trade fair, Karen and Megan inside a stall that sold Bangladeshi made handbags.)

By the way, in Bangladeshi shirt sizes, I’m a XXXL. Crazy that I’m the big guy around! The XXL size is usually too short in the arms.

Also a major event happening in Bangladesh right now is Biswa Itjema. Its technically in Tongi, next to the Turag River, but that’s still in the Dhaka Metro Area.
It’s the second largest gathering of Muslims in the world, after Hajj in Mecca. Over three million people will come in the next three days. I know many people who are attending. It’s a big prayer gathering. Throughout its duration, the event causes a lot of traffic in the area. And a lot of extra flights are coming in and out of Bangladesh.
But as I was writing this, I read a news report that the event is getting cut short this year because of the rain and the cold, which left three people dead. Such a shame. Since this just happened, I updated the wikipedia article (go see from the link before.)

Ate lunch at Diya/Farhanaz’s place, which has been in planning for a few weeks. Delicious home cooked food. Was there until 5:00.

Today I started really looking at graduate schools. Made a spreadsheet to compare them, like my father made for me when I was choosing undergraduate schools. Have several points for comparison including what the school’s most popular transportation research topics are, how many transportation professors they have, and if they have a student section of ITE. However, just as important items like how good the weather is, how their football team performs each year, and of course the likelihood of rowing there or not is included in the spreadsheet! Tonight I completed my analysis of Cornell. I have eleven universities on my initial list, which was pulled from a list of the best civil engineering schools. Texas, Berkeley, Stanford, Cornell, Illinois Urbana-Champaign, Purdue, Georgia Tech, Northwestern, Michigan and MIT, as well as Virginia Tech’s Metropolitan Institute and comparing them all to what I know already about NCSU.

21st-4th in Dhaka 1/26

Supposed to go to Sonargaon today. But the rain and the cold made Megan and I decide to cancel it. It’s mostly an outdoor affair there, and it wouldn’t be fun with 60 degree rainy weather.

Today is the KKC back at NC State. 3000 people registered, and they had to cap it there because of t-shirt limits. Wonder what it could’ve grown to. It is so exciting. Can’t wait to see how it goes. I care about it from an organizational standpoint, as well as how it succeeds in raising money for the NC Children’s Hospital. Saket, Greg, Peyton and I, as the past organizers, keep sending emails around and commenting on how we think it’ll turn out. (graph link) The way registration grew day by day compared to last year is spectacular (graph thanks to Saket.) Incredible what happened. 400 people in one day near the end!

Was home most of the day. Started a literature review document which I’ll gather all my thoughts on the articles in.

Met up with Saifullah, Ashrafi, and Sunny at Anam Rangs Plaza. First helped Saifullah buy some CDs of American music for his new car. He wanted some faster stuff and slower stuff, but not rock. So I suggested Justin Timberlake, Black Eyed Peas, and Coldplay. Hopefully he’ll enjoy. I know Coldplay is rock, but it’s not heavy metal or punk, which was what he was trying to avoid. Back at Popel’s house later we had some snacks and hung around and talked. Celebrating that Ashrafi will be going to the US next month.

Newspapers posted on walls everywhere. I’m going to make the guess that this is the way that most people in Dhaka get their news. In many locations around the city, the daily paper from different newspapers are posted on the walls of buildings and fences. Sometimes just one newspaper, sometimes up to eight different newspapers. New editions are put up each day. No English papers, only the Bengali ones. There’s usually a crowd of four to five guys reading the papers each time you pass by. I also see rickshaw drivers stop to take a break and read too. A lot are put up near bus stands as something to do while you wait. This practice seems to be a good way to keep the general population, who can’t afford a TV or a daily paper, up to speed on local, national, and world affairs. It certainly promotes knowledge and discussion among the readers. Couldn’t imagine how else they would get the news if this wasn’t done. (pics: five men separately passing by stop to read newspapers on a board in front of the Jigatola bus stop, two men stop to read newspapers on a wall near Dhaka University/BUET)

21st-5th in Dhaka 1/27

BUET students are doing online course registration for the first time ever this semester. They are continually coming into the computer lab in which I’m sitting to register. Many times in pairs to explain to each other how to navigate the nuances of the new system. I see a lot of them staring at the registration page for minutes on end, trying to understand what exactly needs to be done, and exploring the possibilities of this new online system.

The computer lab I’m in is fairly nice. Twenty computers, all Dells. Not that fast, but fast enough. Most people are coming to browse the internet. We remove our shoes before we come in. and we leave our bags in cubby holes near the entrance. Meaning I have to empty the contents of my bag at my computer station, then bring the bag back to the door.

Went walking to find a place for lunch. Went south from BUET to see what was there. Found a restaurant that looked really nice inside. Well designed tables and chairs and a neat interior. I ate lunch there, and it took about 45 minutes, and in that time, NO ONE ELSE CAME IN. Felt bad for the owners. They obviously put a lot of effort into the place, and no one is coming. I wonder if I was the first all day. Took them forever to make my food, and although I’d like to blame their lack of customers on bad service, I think the case is rather that they had to fire the stove up and cook everything fresh since I was the first.

Going carefully through each document for the literature review, and taking notes on the parts which are important to my project. There are no studies that I can find that did exactly what I want to do, or even 50% of what I want to do. In what I’ve found, buses are simply deemed overcrowded, but how that affects operations is rarely even mentioned.

21st-6th in Dhaka 1/28

Today’s plan was to buy tickets for my flight to Bangkok. Last night Megan confirmed she’ll be staying in Bangladesh an extra month and a half so she’s definitely interested in coming to Bangkok with me. So we made plans to get that done today.

First I went to the American Center to pick up a letter telling of my affiliation with Fulbright. I’ll be giving this to my professor at BUET so we can get me access to other places on campus. While there, Harvey told me about the conference for Fulbrighters that India holds twice a year. All South Asian Fulbrights are invited, but we have to pay our own way. Honestly, I’d go if it wasn’t so expensive. It’s a $500 dollar plane ticket to get there and the hotel is $150 bucks a night, all inclusive. That one trip could be almost two months of living for me. I just can’t take that kind of time and money to do this. Although it’d be nice, I’ll have to say no.

From Megan’s job we headed by bus to my travel agent from last week in Motijheel. We booked our tickets at the travel agent, but not without them serving us lunch first: fried chicken, fries, and a roll. Just like last time. And it’s not like they were trying to win our business anymore, really not sure why we’re fed there.
We got the GMG deal just fine, Buy 1 Get 1 Free to Bangkok. Had to shift our travel dates because of flight availability, so now we’re traveling from February 15-19. Will be a fun trip to see Bart and Shariful and now have Megan there too. Hope to see a lot of the sites in Bangkok and see what the rave about the city is. Had to go to the bank to take out the big wad of cash…handed over 91 Tk500 bills to pay for the tickets!

When I got home this evening I couldn’t find my disembarkation card. This piece of paper is given to you when you arrive in Dhaka at the airport. They stamp it and it says you entered Bangladesh through the airport. Very necessary if you leave the country over land to prove how you go there. It’s a big deal. I had brought it with me to the travel agency inside my passport. Must’ve lost it there went they went to make photocopies of the passport. Quite frustrating. Wondering if I’m will have to fight to leave the country next time. Will try calling agency tomorrow to see if they have it, but not crossing my fingers.

Got sick again tonight. Stomach problems. And no one can see it was street food this time, as I’ve only eaten at good restaurants the last few days. Was not happy get sick again. It always seems to start at night too. Don’t know what’s causing it.

21st-7th in Dhaka 1/29

Today I’ve been sick. At home all day. Worked on my literature review from home. Reading about New Zealand's mens single sculling rivalry. Watched videos from KKC coverage(including Technician slideshow and UNCTV pre-event coverage.) But mostly just recovering and drinking oral saline.

Called the travel agency to see if they had my disembarkation card I lost at their place. Nope, they hadn’t seen it. So now I’m going to try and see what will happen. I’ll try and see if I can get it all worked out before I arrive at the airport on February 15.

Had cereal for breakfast. And managed to have rice and some blandish curry for lunch. Potato and tomato curry only. Felt good to eat the warm food. It’s been cold in the house lately too. Given me a sore throat as well.

Talked to Lauren online, one of the other Fulbrights. She’s going to be leaving early. She was mugged once, and recently her roommate got mugged for the second time, all in their neighborhood. Well its enough that she’s calling it quits and doesn’t want to stay anymore. I’m likely going to buy her TV, DVD player, and fridge. Win-win for both of us as she gets some money for the stuff she bought and I get cheaper prices for used items.

Throat this evening has gotten worse. Hard to swallow food, and also hard to swallow water. Will go to doctor tomorrow. Diya and Farhanaz’s parents are both doctors, and their mom’s hospital is real close by. So I’m going to get this checked out if it’s not better tomorrow.

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