14 February 2008

Week 23: When the Padma River and the internet run dry

23rd-1st in Dhaka 2/6

Forgot to say last week but yesterday marked 5 months!

Mohan left today for a trip. His semester at his university just ended so he’s going to visit his wife and son at her village, then take them back to his village where they will stay until he goes to retrieve them to come to Dhaka in March. The way he said they are “going home” made me think how her village is no longer her home…how his parent’s home is now considered her home.

Our boua was sick again, and she didn’t want to wash the clothes, I understand. Feel bad that she’s always sick.

Went to Gulistan for the afternoon. I was doing some simple data collection on buses, getting their basic characteristics (number and location of doors, seating patterns, names, route numbers, etc.). Since Gulistan probably has the most bus companies passing through there, it was a good spot to start this part of my data collection. I had a spreadsheet I was filling out by pencil, noting buses as they passed. Was there for about three hours, standing from different locations trying to get different vantage points. A bus company’s buses usually had to pass 4-5 times before I could get all necessary data on them. Most bus companies don’t print their route number on the bus, so I left it blank for now, as it isn’t that important. I can always get that when I start riding the buses.
Probably the most interesting part of data collection is the stares, conversations, and crowds I collect. Most folks are content in just passing me by with a good intent stare that lasts for about 2-10 seconds. Others would rather stop and at least ask the most basic of questions: “Your country?” But a good bunch of people stopped and asked many questions and even helped in the data collection. At one spot, where I stood for about an hour. I had crowds ranging from 6-20 people at any given time. The closest ones would ask questions and talk to me. The ones in back would just listen and watch. There was usually one or two men who controlled the bulk of the talking. They were interested to hear about the work I was doing, and would read my data collection sheet aloud, showing that they could read English proficiently. I had to explain what some of the terms meant. It wasn’t too annoying, and they understood I was working so if I didn’t answer right away they weren’t upset. Having them around helped too, as I could ask them if they knew if a certain bus was local or ticketed. Realizing they were of use, some guys would yell out each bus which came by. After some time I had tell them I had those buses already, so no need to yell them out each time.
Of course the most bizarre of things still happen in these encounters. Among them were people offering me pornography DVDs, a guy ranting about Pakistan, and a guy saying that Bangladesh should rid itself of all shop sign boards written in English. Plus I had about three people tell me I should stop doing my work and go have lunch with them.

Afterwards I bought some shoes from a Bata clearance outlet as they were having a sale. One pair for regatta days/any day involving lots of water, and a pair that was lace-less and looked like Converses.
Then went to buy my TV. Went back to the stores which had first offered me good deals from about a month ago. I ended up buying it for Tk 8000, and am quite sure it is not authentically Panasonic (as in made somewhere else and with a fake Panasonic label slapped on the front…oh well.) Fine by me, it only needs to work for 6 months. I asked if he’d buy it back after my stay, and he agreed, at a buy back price of 65%.

The salesman got a young man standing outside the store to help me bring it to a taxi. The kid picks it up and puts it on his head, A HUGE HEAVY BOX! And he starts walking using only one hand for balancing. I tipped him big. Taxi was expensive as I was a foreigner traveling with expensive stuff during rush hour. Double the taxi fare displayed by the meter.

Got home and rearranged the room for the TV. Involved pushing a lot of Mohan’s stuff into piles, which he okayed before he left. Watched a real bad movie, Undiscovered, as my first movie on it. BAD. I didn’t even watch much of the end.

Played badminton with guys for first time in a week. Was great to play. Had really missed it. Got some dinner at my favorite briyani place. Been craving it for a few days.

23rd-2nd in Dhaka 2/7

People are always quite impressed that I can type so fast. I’ve seen people stop and watch me type while at computer labs. I’ve been asked how I can type so fast, and without looking at the keys, and I tell them its all thanks to my dad who made me learn when I was in high school by buying me a learn-to-type computer program, and paying me $50 if I could learn to type 50 wpm. Here in Bangladesh, it makes sense that I can type faster than others since it’s my native language and I don’t need to think about spelling. Most people I see typing here type with the search and destroy method, or both hands on the keyboard and just very slowly, looking at all the letters.

Farhan came over. We went to Shawarma House and had lunch. Chatted about his engineering program and my experience with mine at NCSU. Over a good lunch too…we got a “pizza sandwich” which was essentially a calzone, and I am glad to have discovered this.

Bus ride to Rajshahi with Santa went pretty well. It was really cool to see the Jamuna Bridge for the first time. It’s the 11th longest bridge in the world, and I was so excited after hearing so much about it. It was nighttime when we crossed the 8km bridge, and the string of lights going across the river was spectacular. The bridge is a divided 4 lane highway with train tracks running alongside. It is also pictured on the Tk5 coin. I took one picture on the bridge before the bus conductor told me not to take pictures…I think it is a security issue. (pic: Jamuna Bridge stretching out 8 km ahead at night, taken from my bus)

23rd-3rd in Rajshahi 2/8

In the morning we immediately took a walk to the Padma (pronounced Pad-da) River. River was incredibly dry for being the mighty Padma (also called the Ganges River when it goes through in India.) People were strolling along the bank via a rough pathway of concrete bricks and dirt. We followed the path for a bit, then veered off back into city streets, stopping for tea and biscuits, and then breakfast of parota and vegetables at a hotel. Took a rickshaw to book our ticket for the bus ride home. (pic: Padma River as seen from Rajshahi during the dry season)

In the afternoon went to Varendra Research Museum. It is the oldest museum in Bangladesh. Houses many Hindu sculptures and relics found from historical sties around the country. The coolest thing to me though was the collection of items from Mohenjo Daro in Pakistan, which are from 2500 BC. To see them in such a small museum was impressive. One could tell what having a ton of 9th to 12th century Hindu carvings does to a museum caretaker though…it makes one forget how special they are, because they were lying everywhere: against the wall, on the floor, etc. (pic: 9th to 12th century Hindu sculptures lying every which way at Varendra Research Museum in Rajshahi)

Went to the river to walk along it again. Saw an International Tennis Tournament happening, under-18s, here at Rajshahi tennis complex. Never would expect an international tennis tournament to be occurring in Rajshahi, Bangladesh. I knew it was happening this weekend due to the slew of teenage Indian tennis players who were staying, and playing their stereos at all hours, at our hotel.

Got to the river. Saw that people were walking in the essentially dry river bed. Okay, very very very dry river bed. We walked across, and saw that the mighty Padma, though several hundred meters across a little downstream, was reduced to a 6 foot wide trickle at this one point, which you could hop across. Incredible. Yes, this is the dry season, but the river is extra dry these days because India has built big dams on the Ganges upstream, and thus Bangladesh is getting a lot less water these days during the dry season. And then during the monsoon season, India lets the dams loose, and Bangladesh is left with an instant flood. Thus, the river usually would be dry in this season, but not to this extent. (pics: myself walking on a path in the dry river bed, the mighty Padma River reduced to a 6 foot wide trickle in Rajshahi)

Still, it’s incredible. We met some guys in the river bed who said the river is usually 20 meters deep, and that we’d be well underwater from where we were standing. They said the river usually takes 20+ minutes to cross by boat, and now that it is dry, one can walk across in over an hour. Villages have sprouted in the dry river bed, and herds of cattle could be seen grazing. People bicycled along well worn paths. Crops were being farmed. Incredible that in a few months this is all underwater. I was at a loss of words. Another branch of the dry river apparently is on the other side too, near
India, but the land in between the two spurts of water is considered Bangladesh. Way too far to walk to see the other branch. (pics: looking out over the plain which is the river bed and seeing grazing cattle and village residents, cracked Padma River bed with some growth before the river returns when the monsoon comes)

We went back to the “bank” of the river and took it into Rajshahi, got some tea and later some dinner.

23rd-4th in Rajshahi 2/9

Took a rickshaw to Rajshahi University, way across town. Rajshahi is sometimes called a university town because of the large role it plays. I, however, didn’t really perceive this, but I guess it’s as close to a “university town” you get.
University was enormous. Was told that it is the largest campus in Bangladesh. I wouldn’t doubt it. Enormous. Took over an hour to walk across it one way, with a short tea stop, and we didn’t even reach the other side. Ponds are everywhere, buildings are spread so far apart. Roads just seem to go on forever. I personally would want a rickshaw each time I had to go even halfway across campus. I guess when you’re not bordered in by a city, you can spread far and wide. The most beautiful part of the campus was the enormous expanses of trees and fields. Endless spots to explore. Some neat sculptures too, as well as their own Shahid Minar. (pics: a dorm behind a small pond and palm trees at Rajshahi University, never ending road at RU, RU's Shahid Minar, the two main science buildings and the pond between at RU)

Bus left at 4 pm. We got some lunch from this real nice restaurant/café first. The guy taking my order was having a hard time understand what we wanted. And then he brought some of the wrong stuff (we had asked for a Belgian waffle…yesssss! And ice cream on top…we only got the ice cream.) After trying to make him understand, the owner came over and apologized. This restaurant had only opened yesterday!!! Thus, this was the worker’s second day. Everyone was still trying to figure things out. Now I understood why there were so many problems, and why the place looked so clean. But the waffle, once delivered, was great, and the coffee frappe was refreshing. Hadn’t had one in so long. (pic: my coffee frappee and cell phone)

Once back in Dhaka, I was walking on the side of street when I saw a CNG get hit by a bus. It knocked the CNG over and sent it flying. Glass everywhere. Bus kept going, not even slowing. People from the side of the street rushed to the CNG and helped tip it back up. Brought the driver and the passenger to the side of the road. Rolled CNG out of honking non-stopping traffic. Luckily it was in front of the Parliament’s main gate, so lots of police there to assist. Driver looked worse than passenger. He was real shaken, and had trouble standing, and holding his head. People got him into a rickshaw and told the rickshaw to go to the hospital. They got the passenger into a taxi with her belongings. Very scary. It was such a violent hit.

Got home and saw my internet was not working. Worried that it was because I hadn’t paid my usage bill. Thought I still had a week, but knew I should go pay it tomorrow morning right away.

23rd-5th in Dhaka 2/10

Internet still not working this morning. Went and bought a card to refill my credit. And even after entering card into computer, still didn’t work. Uh oh. What’s wrong? Called Citycell and they made up some excuse about drops in service. Suggested reinstalling software, and I did it twice with no luck.

At BUET, had a meeting with Dr. Rahman and his seniors. Only met one new student today, two of the other kids didn’t come. I listened as he talked to them, where he told them they could work on whatever project they want, and if they work with me that’s fine. But make sure they’re doing their own work as part of the study. For example, they need to do their own literature review.
He also gave met the permission letters he got using the Fulbright letter, so I have permission to use all the libraries here.
Afterwards met with the senior students, one who’d I met, Arjun, and talked to them about what I’ve been up to, and the direction of the research right now. Told them how I envisioned them being part of the project, whether they just help in data collection, or actually take it up for their senior thesis. Explained to them the pros and cons of both. They’ll both help no matter what, which is nice.

Spent almost 7 hours in computer lab getting a database together to hold my data as it comes in. Worked on the bus database first, entering the data from last week. Listened to the new Say Anything CD while working.
Realized that by using Micrsoft Access to manage my data instead of Excel I do two things. One, I manage my data in a way that allows me to use it more effectively. Second, I force myself to go to campus to actually do my work since I don’t have Access on my computer at home!

Had to walk home. Traffic was real bad because apparently their was some disturbance/demonstration near New Market blocking traffic. I walked through that area but didn’t see anything though.

23rd-6th in Dhaka 2/11

Internet still not working so decided to go to Citycell to get it fixed. Decided I would collect data from the bus rides I’d have to do around the city while trying to solve my problem. Kakrail Citycell couldn’t do anything for me. No technical people there. Told me to go to company headquarters in Mohakali.

On bus ride to Mohakahli to go to Citycell HQ the craziest fight ever happened (its #15, but I haven’t been posting about fights in blog recently) but this was the best ever. We were all sitting happily in our bus (in traffic, not moving), when, two guys from the street burst onto our bus already mid-fight. They were going at it…choking, punching, kicking, throwing. All in the tightest of bus quarters! The whole bus explodes in yelling and screaming. One woman runs to the back of the bus and hides. People are standing up and getting in there to break it up and yell at the two guys. People come running from the sidewalk to come and watch, and yell and shout too. Then some of them start yelling at each other too. Not sure if they knew the guys or not. Finally bus riders split the guys up, and one runs to the back of the bus sits/hides. Everyone in the back of the bus starts yelling at him. I honestly have no clue what is being said. I just sat there. Ultimately the bus was pulled to the side. Yelling calmed down. One guy stayed on the bus, one guy left. For the rest of the bus ride everyone was in a loud commotion yelling at each other.

Citycell was just an overall depressing experience, and though I wrote a long thing about it, the summary is that the internet not working is not Citycell’s fault, but my laptop’s. The modem is down, and it seems that a virus is preventing from working. We tried my internet card on another laptop and things worked fine. An IT professional checked it out himself and tried many methods to get my computer to accept the modem. But alas, after about an hour and a half of working, he finally conceded and said he thinks I’ll have to reformat. I hate hearing those words. Was quite upset, and started making mental preparations on what I’ll need to do: get installation CDs from parents in US, ask them to bring back up hard drive when they come in March, back up all data from Bangladesh, etc. I hate doing that.

Went to internet café right after a long bus ride back to Dhanmondi to let mom and dad know about what’s going on. Asking them to send all the installation CDs via DHL as soon as they could.
Came home and started backing things up, preparing for the reformat. Making lists of things I’ll need to take care of. Sigh.
And then, magic. I had to restart my computer for some reason, and checked my internet randomly…and it worked!!!!!! I do not understand at all. I can’t figure it out. I have zero explanations why it would just click.
Risal told me later that he sometimes has a problem when he pays his bill a bit too late, just like this. But although I’d say maybe I was experiencing the same thing, why would my internet card work in someone else’s laptop? It was definitely something else. Thus there is no explanation to why it works now.

The next step for today was going to buy mattresses, pillows, and sheets. I had decided already to buy it from the row of bedding stores near Nilkhet Market. They seemed to have the best prices and infinite selection. I had already collected what I thougt were good prices in the past few weeks. The second store I went to this evening blew all those prices away. I had my seller. It was quite quick and easy. Some bargaining. We got a rickshaw van right outside his store to load up two mattresses (one for bed, one for “couch”,) one mattress pad, two sets of sheets and pillow covers, two pillows, and one longer lounging pillow for “couch.” Total = a lot less than I expected.
They had stacked up all the things on the rickshaw van, and they asked if I wanted to follow in a rickshaw. No way! I was going to ride on top, just like I mentioned in last week’s post! So I hopped on, held on tight, braced myself on the van platform, and went along for the ride, during rush hour! Not easy. Legs were getting cramped. (pics: the pile of stuff I rode on top of from Nilkhet on the rickshaw van, simulating how I had to sit and hold my other bag back at the flat)

After getting home and getting beds upstairs (which required getting a key to our apartment’s outer gate from the landlord) went out to get some dinner. Celebrated computer coming back to life and the bed stuff buying with a delicious burger, fries, and milkshake at YumYum Cafe.

23rd-7th in Dhaka 2/12

Really getting more and more into Dune. Have woken up and read a quick chapter the last two mornings. Always can’t wait to see what happens next.

Headed over to Baridhara after breakfast to go to Jahangirnagar University with my old classmates and teachers. Got to see the classroom for the first time in awhile. Looks real nice. They have a library cabinet building up, more chairs, more tables, and a more official looking office.
Lots of traffic heading to Savar where the university is, and thus I think we spent less time there than anticipated. The head teacher Farrah wasn’t there as she was visiting her daughter and son at boarding school. Rafat, the last Fulbirghter to arrive, also taking Bengali, was not there with us because the embassy was giving his security briefing.
Met the new student, Laurel, who came just to learn Bengali for three months. She did her beginners course at the University of Wisconsin after she graduated from Minnesota

Before getting to the university we had some lunch at the Dept. of Tourism’s restaurant in Savar. Saw a neat sign that I asked the owner if there copies I could buy, but he said they didn’t have any. Oh well. (pic: I really wanted to buy this sign)

Walked around Jahangirnagar University. Beautiful campus. I’d say more gorgeous than Rajshahi University which I went to earlier in the week. Ponds filled with wildlife. Nice buildings too, and reminded me of NCSU because of all the brick. University is well known for being beautiful. Nadia, one of my old teachers, showed us around, as she graduated from there. Neat to see where she went and hear a more personalized tour. (pics: lake and view at Jahangirnagar University, Nadia in front of her academic building at JU, JU's Shahid Minar, myself/Erin/Laurel all AIBS students at JU)

Went to Pizza Hut this evening with Jen and Ben. Delicious as always. Told Jen about Naira and how they have similar topics and should talk. Set that up. Also told Ben how I’d love to have his assistance in my data collection, since he’s not too busy here in Bangladesh. He said he’ll definitely help. I’m looking for him to test out my data sheets with me, since I’ll always need two people collecting on one bus. So want to hear how usable he thinks they are.

Scheduled to meet Karen tomorrow morning early with the van she’s organized. We’re taking our stuff from Lauren tomorrow morning…my fridge and drapes are amongst that stuff.

Also got a call from Ayon inviting me to the Pohela Falgun celebration at his university tomorrow. This is the “start of spring” festival. I told him I’d be late as I’d have to be moving the fridge to my place.

Mohan came home and talked to him for awhile. He asked me about all the things I’d bought when he was out of town.


Saket said...

another great post. sucks to hear about the internet problem. let me know if i can help out with anything.

that huge campus you mentioned sounds amazing. does bangladesh have some "engineering" campuses or do they all offer a similar set of classes?

crazy to hear about that fight. i don't think i saw anything like that in india. One time we were taking a train to a hillstation. There was a young girl (like 7?) who apparently couldn't find her parents and started crying. Some guy told her to stop being so loud, and that pissed off a lot of other parents, who started yelling at the guy. that same train, we had boarded and had stowed our luggage. because of people before us, the luggage space above our seats were already filled so we just found spaces near us. this other couple comes on board and *demanded* that their luggage stay in the rack directly above their seat. we looked around and showed them other open spaces and even volunteered to help them get it up there. they refused and then started yelling at us. and my uncle and aunt were like "wtf are you cereal? you want to start a huge argument over this? just chill out" then other people around us started getting in on the argument. it was pretty amusing to watch.

i loved hearing about that huge crowd of people around you when you were taking data. you gotta dress up next time in something strange! like wear a funny hat. :)

Ben G said...

that fight scene makes me think of the countless family guy episodes when Peter fights the Chicken. So now I just have this vision of you on a bus, and Peter and the Chicken jump aboard in choke holds.

Donny said...

there are some pure engineering universities, such as mine BUET. students take much more courses to complete their curriculum, over 165 credits! and very little humanities. the education they receive is immense!

Saurav Chatterjee সৌরভ said...

hey , it was sad to hear about the Padma/Ganga river's condition in Bangladesh. Its no good here in India too.
I wanted to seek permission, for using the "Dried River bed picture" for my blog..
please lemme know on ma email- saurav2006complex@live.co.uk
Thank you