20 February 2008

Week 24: Look that Buddha has twelve toes! (or How I learned to appreciate Thai food)

24th-1st in Dhaka 2/13

Today is Pohela Falgun (the first day of the month of Falgun.) It also the first day of spring season, called Boshonto in Bangladesh, and its arrival is celebrated. Falgun is the 11th month of Bengali calendar. I think all of this will make more sense if I describe the Bangladeshi calendar, which I had to memorize the names of for my first Bengali class.

There are 12 months in the Bangladeshi calendar, and it’s solar. It is divided into six seasons consisting of two months each.
The year starts on my birthday actually, April 14. The seasons and their two months are listed below:

Grishsho (summer season): Boishakh and Joishtho
Borsha (monsoon season): Asharh and Shrabon
Shorot (autumn season): Bhadro and Ashshin
Hemonto (dry season): Kartik and Agrahoyon
Shit (winter season): Poush and Magh
Boshonto (spring season): Falgun and Choitro

Woke up on this festive day to bring my fridge to my home. But problems occurred. Karen had set up for us to get a motorized van to bring our stuff from Banani. Met at 8:30, except there was a communication problem and what actually came was a rickshaw van. This is fine, but only if you’re traveling at night. During the daylight hours, rickshaws can’t cross main roads or go down them. So we couldn’t go at this hour. We had to reschedule for later in the evening. I went home, glad that at least I’d be making the celebration of Falgun that Ayon had invited me too.

Upon meeting Ayon and his friends at Dhaka University I saw the bright colors I had heard everyone would be wearing, the girls especially. Oranges and yellows. Ayon told me how there were many programs going around campus during the day. Musical performances, poem readings. All were celebrating the coming of spring. It was quite a festive mood all over campus. Everyone seemed happy, even though classes were still running today. No one was going though. Got my face painted right when I arrived under Ayon’s insistence. The guy put a red line down my forehead, but then also wrote I Love Bangladesh on my cheek. I thought was too cheesy and erased it. Some
We hung out at the Teachers Students Center (TSC) and in front of his faculty’s building. Saw some music played. Had lunch at one of their cafeterias.
Ayon told me that this day is also considered to be the Bengali Valentine’s Day, and he says its only coincidence that the Christian Valentine’s Day is tomorrow. (pics: girls dressed in the Falgun colors, every color of the rainbow represented
by Ayon and his friends, musical performance in front of Arts Faculty Building, Ayon/Ragib/myself on Pohela Falgun)

In the evening met up with Karen again. We had dinner at a Mexican restaurant and waited for our rickshaw van driver to call us to say he’d arrived in Banani. We then met him at Lauren’s apartment. Loading the stuff onto the van wasn’t too hard, Lauren left it all ready for us in her apartment, and we just brought it down, and he strapped it to his rickshaw van tight. We headed to Karen’s home first following the van in another rickshaw. Scary traveling as we had to travel down main roads with big trucks passing quickly right next to us and honking loud. Got to her place around 11:00 pm. Brought her stuff up the 4 floors. Our rickshaw van driver brought the AC and other stuff up to her place on his head. I then rode with him on his rickshaw van to my place and we brought my fridge upstairs.

24th-2nd in Dhaka 2/14

Bangladeshi people, mostly the young ones, seem to be pretty into Valentine’s Day. Lots of restaurants have hung lights and have Valentine dinners advertised. Girls and guys are walking every which way holding hands, and lots of girls seem to be wearing pinks and reds today. Noticing couples making plans to share meals together.

I took a Falgun bus all the way to the end of it’s line. I was going to ride it from start to end, doing a practice data collection run. At the end of the line, which is pretty far out, I grabbed the front seat of the bus after buying my ticket and prepared for the data collection. It was a Thursday night and I knew I’d get a lot of traffic, but also a lot of bus crowding. Overall it went fine. I learned a lot of things, and knew there are decisions I’ll have to be making about what I want to accomplish. Found some data hard to collect, and realized the impracticality or uselessness of collecting others. Realized I’ll want to stick to buses inside city limits that don’t go out to far, so as not to “waste” time on parts of the route far from the city where not much is happening. Should stick to routes only in the city. Scoping down and focusing on the direct issue is my task.

24th-3rd in Dhaka 2/15

Megan had called last night about our flight to ask a question, and she found our flight had been delayed 3 hours. GMG, which is considered the best airline in the country, is not without its large share of late arrivals and departures, but they seem to know about them long before hand. We were able to plan for it appropriately and thus postponed our leaving time from our homes by 3 hours.

Packed light for Bangkok. A backpack and a sidebag. Got to Megan’s and we already had a problem. The hostel we’d booked in a real good place all of a sudden said they didn’t have our reservation, and couldn’t let us stay. We scrambled to get info on more hostels and quickly got one just for tonight and would plan to shift later.

Haven’t been to airport since the photo shoot for Aktel, and this was my first time as an actual departing passenger. We took a CNG. The guards at the airport were giving each vehicle a fuss about entering the drop off area, but passed us through without a single question, perhaps because we are foreigners.
Lots of people hang out at the airport to watch people come and arrive. Outside the drop off area there is a row or two of people just standing and watching for their enjoyment. Also in the drop off area, there are a lot of people not flying. They do security checks at the door, and if you aren’t flying you don’t get in. Every passenger seems to have brought many friends to see them off, so that’s why it’s so crowded. Only one door into the airport, so we had to wait in a line/mass.
Inside the airport, we had to wait for our check-in to open. Check-in was very manual. No computers, they checked our name on a printed list against our paper tickets. Then manually assigned us seat numbers.
Immigration wasn’t hard either even tough I’d lost the Disembarkation Card. They simply gave me a new one to fill out. I think if I wasn’t leaving from the place I’d arrived, it would’ve been a bigger problem (e.g. leaving over land when I’d arrived by air.) Not many restaurants in the airport, very little in fact and very empty. Had a snack from a small snack bar. There are three snack bars like this, an internet usage place, and a book store. Not fun if you get stuck at the Dhaka airport.
Both the ticket counter and gate check-in said we were missing our visa to go to Thailand, and we had to explain to them that US nationals don’t need a visa to go there, even though Bangladeshis do.

Flight was right on time to leave at its delayed time. GMG’s planes are bought from other companies, so they’re all used. Decent condition, a few tears in some seats, but pretty well done. An unrecognizable foreign language was written all over the plane, from the previous company who owned the plane. Flight attendants wore GMG’s banner colors and symbols on their sarees. Gave us a sucking candy and a packaged wet towelete before take off. Dinner was Bangladeshi cuisine, including Bangladeshi sweets.

Bangkok’s airport is one year old and gorgeous. Decided to take a bus to our hostel as we had directions from the hostel’s website. Figured it’d at least be an adventure if we messed it up. Had to take shuttle bus to bus depot from terminal. Lots of airport employees on there. Finding the right bus was easy, and the bus sped off on big superhighways away form the airport. Realized I was driving on several times more highways on this one 30 minute trip in Bangkok to the airport than all of Bangladesh even has in the whole country. (pic: Bangkok airport's check-in area)

We exchanged just a little money at the airport, knowing money exchangers would be prevalent in Bangkok and could get better rates outside the airport. It was true. 1 dollar = 31.7 Baht in the airport, and 32.2 Baht outside the airport.

Hostel was nice, but far from where we’d want to be later. Went and bought a SIM card and charged it. I’d recommend that to anyone going traveling for a few days in any country. SIM cards are cheap, and you can swap them in and out of your phone and having a local SIM makes everything so much easier. Couldn’t imagine our trip to Bangkok without being able to call Shariful and Bart anytime anywhere. Really, the little bit of money you spend, a few dollars, is outweighed many times by the time benefit you get out of it.

After grabbing our first Thailand meal at a night market, went downtown via the Skytrain, which I was in love with the entire trip. How could I not as a transportation engineer? It was super cool. I kept thinking how it can be expanded and what it can accomplish long run. Took many photos of it during the trip. (pics: Bangkok's skytrain at a station, skytrain traveling two stories above Bangkok traffic)

Went to Khao San Road with Bart and his fellow student Steph. First time seeing this road that I’ve heard much about (how it’s a hostel street with many bars, foreigners, backpackers, and craziness all the time) and it all was true. Many lights and bars. Overwhelming. Was real cool to see Bart in first time in at least 3 years. (pic: Khao San Road at night)

24th-4th in Bangkok 2/16

After a lot of walking and searching for good hostel prices, turning down places which were too high, we found the Miami Hotel for 800 Baht a night (1 Baht is approx 2 Taka, and 32 Baht is 1 dollar) Bart and Steph were coming by just then too, and we met up, got some breakfast (which was more of lunch food of seafood and rice for me) and headed out to check out some sites in Bangkok.

Bart took us to Chatuchak Market, towards the north. This is a market which is open only on weekends. Sold everything and anything. Crowded aisles similar to New Market in Dhaka. Were there for an hour at least, just exploring all the different aisles. Megan and Steph bought some stuff, but I just bought food. (pics: Bart in one of the interior hallways of Chatuchak Market, one of the outdoor aisles in the market)

Next we took the skytrain back south. On the way we alighted at the Victory Monument skytrain stop. Bart explained that this monument was for a small battle that the Thais won against the French, but couldn’t say more. So I looked up the wikipedia article on it laterm and got more details. Looked like a major transportation hub, and it was cool how the skytrain circled it.
The king’s image is everywhere. Bart told me that the king is really respected by his people. That he’s a great king and does a lot for his people, using funds to build projects of different types for his countrymen. His face can be seen everywhere from the money, to buildings, to signs, to billboard. His older sister, the princess, recently died about a month and a half ago, and the country is still mourning her death. Her image is also everywhere, surrounded by flowers. Government workers are wearing black to work every day since her death. Some of Bart’s classmates interact closely with government offices, so they are also having to wear black everyday. (pics: Victory Monument with surrounding traffic and skytrain with a picture of the king in front of it, image of the king on the side of a skyscraper near Chatuchak Market, at the The Grand Palace: princess' body is available for viewing by Thais, governmet workers dressed in black mourning the princess' death)

Next up was to see some of the Buddhist Wats in the city. We went first to the Giant Swing and Wat Suthat. I’ll let websites describe what I surely can’t do. I was there and purely observed and marveled at the architectural elements I’d always heard so much about, and the Buddha images I’ve seen only in pictures. This first Wat is famous for its wall paintings, some of the most important in the country. (pics: Giant Swing, Steph standing below Giant Swing, image of the Buddha inside Wat Suthat, sample of the paintings on walls of Wat Suthat)

Next we headed over to some of the Wats near the Chao Praya River, the main river flowing through Bangkok. Visited Wat Pho with the famous reclining Buddha image. It was enormous. The whole complex was breathtaking. The blog title this week comes from this place where, as a joke, I told Megan and then Steph and then Bart that the reclining Buddha had 12 toes, and watched as they counted several times, exclaimed it had only 10, turned to look at me to see me looking at them and grinning. I then got punched in the arm. (pics: Wat Pho with sun setting behind, myself standing in front of reclining image of the Buddha in Wat Pho, myself/Megan/Steph/Bart standing in front of the reclining Buddha image and next to the "12" toes (just read above), Steph/Megan standing on the side of a chedi at Wat Pho)

We grabbed some lunch/dinner from a street side stand. Have to mention how much pineapple that Bart and Steph ate from the streets. At least two full ones over the course of the day. But it was really good and sweet. The food stands in general were full restaurants with chairs and many ingredients. (pic: Thai food street side stall)

Took a boat ride down the river to take a different and cheaper way to a skytrain stop than a taxi. Neat to see the river sights by night, including the famous Wat Arun on the west side of the river. Took the skytrain into the city, and headed to Baiyoke Tower, the tallest in Thailand. We took the elevator to the revolving sky deck at the top of the tower. Neat to see the city spread before us all lit up and identify all the places we’d gone today. Had to laugh at the bathrooms there. For some reason, the men’s room had a picture of Qui-Gon Jinn on the front, and the women’s room Queen Amidala. Bart and I loved it. (pics: Wat Arun seen at night from opposite bank of Chao Praya River, Victory Monument and surrounding area seen from Baiyoke Tower, myself over Bangkok at Baiyoke Tower, Qui-Gon Jinn and Queen Amidala's images grace the doors of the men and women's bathrooms respectively)

Found Thai accents quite hard to understand. English is not as prevalent here as it is in Bangladesh. Although all signs have English on them, due to the large number of tourists in Thailand, the native Thai speakers had less control of the language as the average Bangladeshi I’ve encountered. For example, a rickshaw driver in Bangladesh speaks enough English to complete his job, but a Thai taxi driver was hard for us to interact with.

24th-5th in Bangkok 2/17

Taxi cabs in Bangkok were preferred over tuk-tuks, which I never actually rode. The taxis have a meter and are less likely to scam you. And there are so many, if one doesn’t want to use the meter, you simply just go to the next one. And they were bright and colorful too. However when possible we took mass transportation.

Met up with Bart in the morning near the station near his house. Headed to The Grand Palace which also contains Wat Phra Kaew, home to the famous Emerald Buddha (actually made of jade.) The complex was the most expensive of all places we went. If you were wearing shorts or a cut off t-shirt, they gave you thin pants and/or a long-sleeve shirt to wear to cover yourself. You had to be dressed appropriately to come into the complex. (pics: three different chedis at Wat Phra Kaew, two of the chedis closer up and Bart in the foreground, myself in at Wat Phra Kaew, Emerald Buddha from outside the temple (no pics allowed inside))

After went to Siam Paragon, the newest fanciest mall in Bangkok. Met up with Shariful there too, and another of his friends. Mall was impressive. The second floor has showrooms for Jaguar, Maserati, Lotus, and Lamborghini to name a few. Meandered this mall and MBK, another super large mall, which at one point was the largest in Asia. Bought a shirt as Bart said I would need a nice one for the place we were headed tonight.
Bart left and Shariful, his friend, Megan and I roamed Siam Paragon some more. Ate at a McDonald’s, couldn’t resist since it was right there! (pics:
Lamborghini dealer inside Siam Paragon, escalators criss cross inside Siam Paragon, Khalid/Shariful/Megan browse MBK Center, exterior of MBK)

Later changed and met up with Bart at another tower called the State Tower which has the highest open air bar in the world. Very fancy place. Well so fancy that despite the shirt I just bought and the nice pants I wore, my fancy sandals were enough to prevent me from entering. So we debated buying shoes somewhere, but it was already really late. So Bart brought us to another area of bars in the city so as not to waste the evening.

I went out to buy some water after returning to the hotel, and walking the streets I saw a man riding an elephant.

24th-6th in Bangkok 2/18

There are practically no trash cans in Bangkok. Not in malls, not on the sidewalks, not at fast food restaurants. I don’t understand what people do. If there was anything that was very annoying it was having to carry my trash everywhere to find a trash can. Bangladesh also doesn’t have garbage cans, but at least we can throw the garbage anywhere. Yet despite the lack of cans in Bangkok, the city was impeccably clean.

Took the subway to one of the regional train stations in Bangkok. The subway, only a year old, still has very low ridership. The stations looked empty. Train felt empty too. Such a shame it’s like that. Hopefully with additional lines built in the future they’ll attract more riders.

Megan and I were heading out to Ayutthaya, the previous capital of the Thai people before shifting to Bangkok in 1767. Thus the city is famous for ruins from that period with many Wats and images of the Buddha. We took a 1.5 hour train ride north from Bangkok. Although the city disappeared, it wasn’t like Dhaka where the city turns into countryside. I felt that we were in still urban-like, suburban-like areas going out that way. Arriving at the train station, we had to take a boat across a river, as the entire city is surrounded on all four sides by rivers. It’s not a big island, but most of the sites are within the rivers. (pics: river surrounding Ayutthaya, street scene in Ayutthaya)

The sites were impressive here, and it was neat to imagine what they looked like 300 years ago. Since we’d seen the modern ones just yesterday and the day before, you could visualize clearly what it’d be like long ago. One of the Wats was recently restored, and the image of the Buddha inside recently covered in gold. There were pictures inside of what it looked like mid 50s when it was a ruin. Amazing to see the change. Neat to explore the expansive sights. These ruins are apparently frequently photographed, some of the most of any places in Thailand. (pics: image of the Buddha at Wat Maha That, myself at Wat Maha That, ruins at Wat Maha That, two chedis at Wat Phra Sri San Phet, myself/Megan in front of Wat Rajaburana, Megan inside Wat Rajaburana)

Saw some boy scout groups. Took some pictures of them exploring the sites like we would explore Washington DC with my troop. Saw a lot of Boy Scout related things while in Bangkok, including a scout shop in which Bart and I snapped a scouting photo. (pics: Boy Scouts exploring the Wats of Ayutthaya, myself/Bart inside a Bangkok scouting shop giving the scout sign)

That evening met up with Shariful and some of his university friends at Khao San Road. Went to two bars, heard some live music, and danced. Bart showed up near the end of the second bar, as he was working on a project. Had some Burger King, yummy! (pics: Megan/Adib/Shariful in bar on Khao San Road, Shariful inside Burger King!)

24th-7th in Bangkok 2/19

I never really liked Thai food before coming to Bangkok, and I’ve stuck to that the last few years. Didn’t like Thai because each time I went, I never ate anything I liked, and my nose always would start running because of the little bit of spice they used. So never would eat Thai if I could avoid it. Well this trip changed me. This first meal alone was incredible. I slurped down Thai noodles and all the delicious ingredients within. I would learn on this trip how much more varied Thai cuisine is compared to Bangladeshi food. Left this trip really liking Thai food, and hope that it’ll continue if I eat it elsewhere from now on. (pic: myself enjoying street side Thai food)

In the morning packed up and checked out of the hotel but left our bags there. We checked the status of our flight and had seen it had been postponed 3 hours again. So we had a bit more time in Bangkok now. We met up with Shariful and his friend Adib from last night again at Siam paragon. I got some Subway, finally got to eat that turkey sub I’ve been dreaming of.
One thing I noticed today while I was in the men’s room today at Siam Paragon was the woman who was cleaning it. I think this is the first time I’ve ever seen someone of the opposite sex cleaning a bathroom during operating hours. Never remember seeing a woman cleaning the men’s bathroom elsewhere. (pics: Shariful/Adib in front of the Jaguar dealer in Siam Paragon, Adib/Shariful on escalator in Siam Paragon)

Bought a few last items that we’d been searching of. Exhausted and tiring of walking here and there, we simply grabbed a taxi to the airport instead of taking the bus. Wasn’t too expensive. Got to see the sky train extension as we headed to airport, it’s almost there. Takes time to extend a system to a new important passenger supplier.

Airport was fun. Since our flight was delayed, even though we knew it and planned correctly, we got free meal tickets for the Burger King or Dairy Queen in the airport. These are given out by Thailand’s air administration to all airline passengers who experience significant delays in major Thai airports.

Plane ride was real cold. Had to make a stop over in Chittagong to drop off and pick up some passengers, Then continued on for 25 minutes to Dhaka.
We landed at Chittagong airport and were the only airplane there. We literally pulled a U turn on the runway, then drove right to the gate. Then instead of backing out of the gate, they just turned the nose around, drove to one end of the runway, turned the plane, and took off. It reminded me how one would drive in a parking lot if you were the only one there, cutting across all the spots and obeying no rules.
A man who we had met while leaving on our flight, was on the same flight back to Bangladesh. We saw him in the Bangkok airport too. Anyway, at immigration he offered to take us home. Was real nice, especially since it was raining.


Ben G said...

I'm glad you found an appreciation for Thai food, it's always been one of my favorites. I found a good place in DC to get some real authentic stuff too.
So whats the deal with the new year? Do they follow the Islamic calendar also? or just for religious stuff? Does everyone celebrate this new year?
And as for phones, while it might be easy to talk about how convenient it is to get a new SIM card when you go to another country, if you have a US phone, chances are you're out of luck. Neither mine, my dad's, nor my sister's, though they were all GSM phones that had been unlocked, worked in Sweden, Chile, Germany, or Russia.

Donny said...

they follow all 3 calendars, but the bangladeshi new year is the most celebrated, everyone celebrates it. probably the biggest holiday here. yes, the islamic calendar is only for religious stuff.
on all newspapers all 3 dates are printed.
ya the US sucks in regards to phones. my friend got her T-mobile US phone to work here, and don't know how. but i'd recommend anyone traveling for a long time to buy a simple phone in their first country and SIM card it the rest of the way. now that us humans have trained ourselves to be able to contact/be contacted at any time, its hard to be untrained. or maybe its just me.

Miss Bangkok Hotels said...

When I first visit Bangkok I found that I can see Temples everywhere, especially during the tour of the Chao Phraya River. I've saw the real lifes of people living on both sides of the river, It's a heart warming experience for me. One things to remember: when visiting temples, show respect to the Buddha, and the monks. Take off your shoes before entering into the hall and don't wear shorts or tank tops in temples.