05 March 2008

Week 26: Mohan's move was faster than some of the crowded buses I ride (Living and Working alone)

26th-1st in Dhaka 2/27

Moweena, my boua, is talking to someone in the house next to us, both out the window. Moweena is picking up Mohan’s stuff on the verandah and their chatting away like best friends. I don’t think it is an overstatement when I say that everyone talks to everyone in Bangladesh. When out on the streets there hardly is a soul you would not talk to. Perhaps not a full conversation, but a little chit chat. Kids talk with adults. Police with beggars. Rickshaw drivers with bus drivers. Rich with poor. Store owners with shoppers. Men with women. On the bus everyone talks with strangers. And amongst big groups, no one hesitates to yell their opinion. I’m not sure how else to emphasize that everyone is talking to each other all the time.
This really does help to explain why so many people come up to me and ask me questions on a daily basis. A day doesn’t go by where someone has a conversation with me about what I’m doing here. They are not singling me out as a foreigner and pestering me, but rather acting how they would with any of their fellow countrymen.
One aspect of this, which I’m not sure causes the freedom to chat, or is an effect of it, is the way people address each other. The titles they use create the effect of having a big family, calling each other “brother”, “sister”, “uncle”, etc.

Today Mohan moved. We woke up early to help the rickshaw van drivers. We had to clear the room for them to get the bed, cabinet, and other furniture out for Mohan. There was no advance packing. Mohan that morning threw things on top of blankets, and then around the contents he tied the blankets into bags. Moweena really did most of the work for him. He had her pack all the blanket packages up. My assigned job was to wait in our flat and make sure nothing got stolen by the rickshaw van drivers who were doing the moving. I was also moving my stuff around into one neat pile so that they didn’t take any of that to Mohan’s new place. (pics: Moweena and Mohan sort through some of his stuff, a blanket splayed out with a pile of stuff on top, a blanket bag, the two rickshaw vans brining the second batch of Mohan's stuff down our street)

After the move was complete I got to by his new flat and see it. It is on the 6th floor, no elevator. Although huge, it’s cheap because it’s up so high. He has a lot of space to waste.

Moweena was very helpful today. She assisted so much during the move, and then came back with me after and helped me clean the whole place up. She swept the floor and then cleaned it with water. The place looked so much better. It allowed me to put everything in the right spots without having to worry about cleaning the floors later.

The rest of the day I spent setting up my house. I went to Pantha Path and bought a desk, a bed, a folding table, and two chairs. This involved a bit of bargaining and finding the best deals. Brought them home riding on a rickshaw van. Was an easy move up the stairs and setting up in the flat as they were all relatively small compared to the cabinet I brought last week.

I set my room up which was lots of fun. I still need a good desk chair, something to put my TV on, and somewhere to put all my toiletries. I decided not to have everything pushed against the wall, but instead make it a tad interesting with my mattress couch jutting out into the middle of the room. (pics: my bedroom at time of posting, opposite view of bedroom with my couch (which is a mattress), and my dining area in the front room)

Went back out and picked up my curtains form the tailor, and some light bulbs since I’ll need them when Mohan takes his.

When Mohan came back at night from work, to grab a few things. He was amazed to see what I’d done with the place. Shocked that I’d completely changed the room around.

Tonight I finished reviewing Purdue University. Then started on Northwestern University.

26th-2nd in Dhaka 2/28

Went to get coffee at Mango Café in Dhanmondi with Diya. Were there for an hour. Got an egg and cheese sandwich, interesting to see their interpretation of this staple of the American on-the-run breakfast. We walked back via Dhanmondi Lake.

Bought a ceiling fan, need two, but found one for what I thought was a good price, and hopefully might find one cheaper elsewhere. Tried finding some blankets, but none were at any stores in my area. Later I decided I’m just going to buy bed sheets. No reason to buy a blanket if come summertime I won’t even want to use it, and I leave in early September. A thin sheet will suit me just fine.

In afternoon I went searching for some DVDs. Was looking for three: Glengarry Glen Ross, Dune, and Willow. I went to Rifles Square because they have several DVD outlets. (had some good petha on the way over!)
Found Glengarry Glen Ross after a lot of searching, but no one had
Willow or Dune. Oh well. Will check Bashundhara City sometime. I don't expect them to have it I guess. They mostly have new movies, with a very very small selection of older ones.

For dinner I met up with Karen, Erin, Erin’s husband (who arrived today from the US!), Nadia, and Laurel. Since all but Karen were coming from across town, they hit traffic, and so I showed Karen my home in the meantime. Also showed her the famous opening scene of Glengarry Glen Ross. Neat to have my first visitor to my place.
Ending up eating at Kozmo Lounge. Were there for about two hours. Met
Erin’s husband, neat to meet the man she’s talked about for all this time. He was very glad to be back in his homeland.

Tonight I finished Northwestern University. That makes me more than halfway done with the review. I have completed 6 and have 5 to go. Tonight I did some extra color coding on the spreadsheet. Think it looks real sharp now. #7 to review is UC-Berkeley.

26th-3rd in Dhaka 2/29

I spent some time researching Berkeley this morning. Also watching Bangladesh lose horribly at cricket over the internet.

Went to New Market. Bought more bed sheets and kitchen supplies. Hopefully that’s the end of my supply shopping. Also checked out a TV stand and a medium sized cane shelf, which I might go back tomorrow and buy. This furniture was being sold street side. Bought a measuring tape to measure the places at home to see if they’ll fit.

In the evening played badminton for first time in awhile. Was fun. Went 2-2 tonight. Came home and heated up my dinner from what Moweena made this morning, egg curry!

Let me describe to you what it means to be the densest country in the world. Okay, so maybe Bangladesh, according to wikipedia, is not the densest in the world, but honestly it’s the densest non-small country in the world. All ten of the countries ahead of it, including Monaco, Hong Kong, Bahrain, and Singapore are islands, city-states, or really small (Monaco is 1.5 sq km!) All of these are smaller than 1100 sq. km, meaning all of them are less than 2/3 the size of my home county, Monmouth County, in central New Jersey! Bangladesh on the other hand is the size of Minnesota.
Comparing Bangladesh in terms of population is one thing. US is #3 in the world, Bangladesh is #7, with about half the number of people. But in terms of density, Bangladesh is 33 times more dense!
What does that mean? How do you make someone understand what that means? It is hard to show that in Dhaka, since the whole city is surely like any other large South Asian city, with people every which way. In some places in New York City it may very well feel like Dhaka. Hidden amongst the buildings though, live many more people. Some women still don’t leave the house except to buy things, and even that could be rare. Thus you might be missing out on seeing a large part of the entire population! As well, there are semi-permanent communities built up in many patches of open land, and these can house more people than you can imagine.
But it’s not until you leave the city that the density of Bangladesh begins to make sense. Outside the city, driving across the fields by car, bus, or rickshaw, you see people everywhere. Wherever you go in Bangladesh, there is always someone else in view. There are no empty spots. When you drive in the United States, you can go miles without seeing another person, especially out west. But in Bangladesh, even in the hills of Bandarban there were still people walking along the roads from place to place. In the remotest fields, there are people farming. On the widest rivers, there are small boats ferrying a crowd of people across. I am serious when I say there are no empty places in Bangladesh. It is when you realize this, and take into account what this means, that you begin to understand the density of Bangladesh more. And once you understand and grasp this density, it helps to understand Bangladeshis as a people.

26th-4th in Dhaka 3/1

Today I came almost to the end of my furniture shopping. I would like to find a desk chair as I spend most of time at my desk, but will go back to Pantha Path to find one. But today I bought from the side of Mirpur Rd furniture which looked handmade, and the cost seemed to prove it. A TV stand with two shelves below (Tk400), and cane four-level cabinet thing (Tk 200), that I’m using to hold toiletries and commonly needed items.

I just gave my rent and the rest of my advance. They explained to me how I’m going to get my advance back. I now understand that my two month’s advance is actually to partly pay for my last month’s rent. So when I leave in September, I don’t have to pay my rent that month. They will use part of the advance to pay my last month’s gas/electric bill too, so that I don’t “forget” to pay it. Ultimately, of the Tk12,000 I gave as an advance, I get Tk5500 back.

Mohan came by with a young electrician, who took out the fans, and installed mine. Mohan grabbed the majority of the rest of his stuff, and along with his brother-in-law, we all walked the stuff to Mohan’s place down the road. There the electrician installed Mohan’s fans. I also got to meet Mohan’s wife, and his son. His son is now 2.5 months old, his name is Rihan. An adorable boy. They referred to me as uncle.

On the topic of babies, many babies here have a black dot, about half an inch in diameter drawn on their forehead. It is called a “tip”, and its purpose is to ward off bad spirits from causing bad things to happen to the baby. The local belief is that the tip will keep the baby safe. The parents draw this on the baby’s forehead using what was described as something similar to mascara. (pic: look closely at the young kid next to the guy sitting in the window...above the kid's left eye is a tip)

Another tradition in regards to young children is to shave the heads of young girls regularly until a certain age. Tradition says that if this is done, the girl’s hair will come out much fuller when it is finally allow to grow. Thus, many young girls are seen with hair which is still very short at ages which you would expect it to be longer. (pics: young kids marching in a parade in Chittagong division...look closely to see that many of the girls have short hair, a mother and short-haired daughter at the Dhaka Zoo)

Today finished reviewing UC Berkeley, next up is Georgia Tech

26th-5th in Dhaka 3/2

Today was my first day of data collecting with the aim of actually keeping the data. It wasn’t practice anymore. Took four bus rides, and was feeling pretty good about the data collection. Started wondering with the data I am using, if I could simply collect from street side, and thus get more buses per hour. However, I began to realize that with the amount of activity that happens on buses when it is not at the stop, it is necessary to spend time actually riding the routes. This is especially true for local buses. Also decided that without time on the bus, I would not be able to see the effect crowding has on overall travel time. Might spend sometime curbside later to complement the work I’m doing now.

Bought many things today including fish, pohnir, and lentils for the first time. Excited for the cooking Moweena will do when I know there are more ingredients to vary the dishes

After coming back from research I’m pretty beat. And disgustingly sweaty. After eating I take a cold shower (unless I want to boil water, it’s always cold) and then watched a movie, read, went to bed.

26th-6th in Dhaka 3/3

Made a list of buses to ride this morning. I’m going to ride 3 buses of each type, 10 times. That’s 5 types for ticket buses, meaning 15 buses to ride, meaning 150 rides. If I can do four a day, that’s 37 days. I have enough time for that. Then afterwards I’ll do the local buses. I want to be done with the ticket buses my mid to late April

After doing my bus riding today, decided I had to scrap yesterday’s and today’s earlier data. I was missing things in my recordings that I wanted to have for all, and so I decided to only keep the later ones from today. One of the conductors on my last bus today asked what I was doing, as he saw I wasn’t getting off the bus. After telling him his expression seemed to say, “I can’t believe you’d CHOOSE to do this.”

Went by the American Center today. Picked up some mail and had a short meeting with Harvey and Shaheen about my progress here. After met up with Jen and Ben, since they were at the Center too, and we had lunch at a Korean restaurant that Jen loves. Also went to the Embassy, needed to add extra pages to my passport because I’m out of room. They’ll do it for free, just have to leave it for a day. The security at the Embassy today was especially friendly once they knew I spoke Bengali. Was actually hard to leave because they kept talking to me, asking and asking questions! I prefer that over the typical brashness I receive.

Stopped by DPavement on way home tonight, a neat restaurant that my friend Nipu keeps talking about. I was only asking to see their menu. But while I stood there for a less than a minute looking at it, the owner brought me a complementary lime juice felt great to my body, exhausted and hot from the bus all day.

26th-7th in Dhaka 3/4

Got a text message on my phone this morning from my cell phone provider, forwarding a message from the government telling people that it IS safe to eat properly cooked poultry and eggs even under bird flu conditions. Very interesting.
I’ve seen some restaurants and stores which have hung signs saying they no longer will be serving chicken or eggs during bird flu conditions.

So half of my apartment building’s staircase and garage got painted white, and the other half did not. What I think happened is that one landlord (who owns the flats on the right side of the building) wanted to paint the place white to make it nice looking, but the other landlord (who owns the flats on the left) didn’t. So they got in an argument, and the right-sider decided to paint it white to show that the left-sider was being ridiculous. So now when I climb the stairs, I climb through a hallway of white, I turn the corner, and then it’s not white anymore, and I turn the next corner and it’s white again, and so on. (pics: the ground floor of the my building...half-painted, my landing...half-painted)

Did four routes today. Did a fifth but sat in a bad seat and it just didn’t work out, I couldn’t count what I needed, so I had to scrap it. Not a bad day. Got the data I needed, and did it correctly.

It’s been storming really bad at nights, and nights only, for the past few. I always wake up in the late hours of the night and hear major gusts of wind blowing. Sounds like a hurricane out there. Last night it was accompanied by a major thunderstorm. (UPDATE: Found this news article on March 9, it tells of 74kmh winds in Dhaka these nights!)

Today heard music being played on a bus for the first time. That was weird. I feel like all day I have interesting stories that could be shared, but by the time I get home I’ve forgotten them all. At least I’ll say that I usually am well entertained by the day’s activities.


Saket said...

wow dude, the apartment is looking great! nice work with that. good observations about people talking to each other and about the population density issue. i don't know if i notice the same thing regarding everyone talking to each other in India, but then again I'm usually with family so I haven't paid attention to my surroundings.

Boo Berkeley! You can't go there! down with the bears! :)

Which schools are coming to the top so far in your calculus?

Your parents are coming soon right?

The heat of summer is probably coming soon....

- Saket

oh yeah -- you filled up your passport! w00t

Donny said...

right now my top schools are Texas and Berkeley. I still haven't finished, got busy with my work! When I do, I'll be sure to put my list up

parents coming in 2 weeks! heat of summer is coming, and its already really hot