31 March 2008

Week 29: Dhaka asks my parents "Your country?"

29th-1st in Dhaka 3/19

Today I took my voice recorder into a shop to see if it could be repaired. I took it to a place which repairs cell phones. I figured the technology was so much the same that they should be familiar with the parts and pieces and could handle it. I mean, they both have a speaker and microphone, screens, buttons, microchips, and most important, a place to plug in an external wire (I can hear my electrical engineering friends Saket, Greg, and Ben laughing at me right now from across the world.)

Well the guy poked, tested, checked, soldered, and played for about 20 minutes. And after testing it, no luck. Still didn’t work. Power went out while testing, and he couldn’t put it back together because his soldering iron requires electricity, and all was off. So I left my expensive device in his hands and said I’d come back tonight.

Did three routes today. ATCL was first, and I took it from Mohammedpur to Motijheel. Then quickly took a local bus to BUET to have a meeting with Dr. Rahman. Sadly the meeting only lasted 10 minutes as he had more students waiting. But it was nice to catch up and tell him my progress. I’ll go back and see him after my parents leave.

Stopped by a travel agency to get a price quote for my trip to Nepal with Emily. Made the reservation but had to wait until tomorrow to confirm.

Went back to Motijheel and grabbed a Rahbar Gold bus to Uttara. This bus took 30 minutes to arrive. I don’t understand how some of these bus companies stay in business with horrible service.

Took Anik bus back to Azimpur. On this ride I noticed lots of lightening. By the time I got to Azimpur, the wind and lightening had really picked up.

And by the time I got onto the next bus to take me back to Jigatola, it was really bad. People on the bus were yelling at the driver to drive faster, before the storm broke.

I got off the bus and about 4 minutes later the storm opened up. Wind and rain were howling and pouring. I stood underneath a store’s awning with four other people and waited to see if it’d slow down. It didn’t. Wind and rain were crazy. Wind was pushing rickshaws, undriven, down the street. I finally made a run for it and sprinted for a restaurant, where I could at least eat dinner while I waited out the storm. When I finished eating, the storm had slowed and meandered home.

29th-2nd in Dhaka 3/20

Went to tour office, and they confirmed my ticket.

Been eating carrots and cucumbers on the street recently, had the guts to risk it possibly upsetting my stomach.

In Uttara had a late lunch, then took the Shakti bus. Interested to see where it would end up, first time riding full route. Route was pretty empty until we got to near the end, where at Gulistan and Lalmatia the route got packed with tons of people. Then the wind and lightening started again. By the time the bus ended, it was really windy and dust was blowing everywhere. Hard to even see without shielding your eyes. I didn’t even know where I was, had never been there, and only knew the name and the rough location. Walked until I found a main road about 100 meters down, then waited to see a bus that would take me someplace familiar. Didn’t take long, I recognized all the buses as I see them all daily. Hopped on and took the route back to where I needed as the storm broke and poured around us, not as bad as last night though.

After getting home I went and got a pizza. I was real worn out from all the riding. But the pizza was bad, they used American cheese instead of mozzarella. Wonder if they knew I can notice the difference.

29th-3rd in Dhaka 3/21

Bought a fan for my kitchen and living room so that area of the home could cool down a bit. Mainly just laid around all day. Relaxing before all the hustle and bustle of my parents arrival. Told my boua to come for lunch tomorrow so my parents could eat comfortably here. Also contacted with the rental car driver on where and when we would meet.

Got a haircut to look clean and spiffy for my parents arrival. Haircut was interesting since the power went out midway through. Thus he couldn’t see what he was cutting…uh oh. Well they brought out a lantern and used its light to cut by. However, the power going out meant the ceiling fan stopped. It was good because my hair was no longer flying everywherere (that’s why you don’t put ceiling fans in a barber shop) but it was bad because I was sweating heavily after that, which is gross during a haircut.
Haircut ended up being so-so…I prefer it in lights I have to say.

All day I thought about my parents traveling in the skies.

29th-4th in Dhaka 3/22

I met the rental car near my home and we drove up to the airport to pick up my parents. I was so excited, so neat that my parents were going to be in Bangladesh. The driver had a really nice car. He bought it himself, and handles renting it as his own business. Had nice padded seats, and you can tell he takes good care of it. He had some good CDs in the car too, but I decided since he has a CD player I’d bring some CDs of my own.

At the airport we got there awhile before my parents arrived. He parked in the parking deck because you can’t just sit and wait outside the main door. The arrival area is fenced off, and lots of people are waiting along the fence for family members to arrive, or simply just to watch people arrive all day for fun. People surround these gates on all sides, and many foreigners comment how intimidating and uncomfortable it is for a first time visitor to Bangladesh to arrive and just see masses of people staring at them. (pics: outside the arrival area at Dhaka's airport, masses of people standing along the fence outside the arrival area greeting all people coming to Dhaka)

I talked to some guards and asked them if I could stand inside the gated area for my parents. They said when they arrived, I’d be allowed to enter. So I went to stand outside. Then I was called back and they said they asked and it would be okay for me to wait inside the gated area.

Parents arrived, and we hugged each other! So happy! It was great to see them after 6.5 months! Their flights went off fine and landed fine. No complaints. We all agreed how spectacular and awesome it was that they were now in Bangladesh. The ride from the airport to their hotel was great, to show them my city and tell them things and just talk in person for the first time in months, and not over the scratchiness of skype.

We checked them into the hotel, they adjusted their belongings. Gave me all the things they brought me which included Cheez-its, brownies!!!, tour guide books, some news articles, some computer CDs, a Wolfpacker magazine, some birthday cards, and other small things.

I took them back to my home where we were supposed to have a meal from my boua. But she never showed. We were a bit upset. Really had wished she’d come so they could’ve tasted her cooking. I was also going to teach them how to eat with their hand properly in the unemabarassing confines of my home. They ended up napping while we waited, and finally after 2 hours we went to a nice Bangladeshi restaurant nearby where they could have some dishes and use their hands.

From there we had to attend an orientation meeting for our Sundarbans tour. Nothing special, they stated some simple things, and were speaking mostly in English for my parents. They gave us tea, cake, and sodas…always hospitable. We got all the details, and we were done.

Headed down to the Parliament building and roamed around it and Zia Uddyan for a bit. Took a big loop around the large green space. They got to experience their first real persistent beggar children, who followed us until we got back to the car. (pics: Dad/Mom at the tomb of Ziaur Rahman, Dad/Mom overlooking Chandrima Uddan)

We went to Bashundara City and let the rental car and driver go for the day. We roamed the mall for a good while. Passing through the semi-packed aisle and seeing the 8 levels that the largest mall in South Asia has to offer. Didn’t buy anything. Shopped mostly to see if we could get some Bangladeshi salowar kameez for mom.
We had dinner in the food court, I bought them some fuchka, their first, and hopefully not their last. Some kebabs and parota for dinner. Nothing fancy, just fun. (pic: Mom trying to fit an entire bite of fuchka in her mouth)

29th-5th in Dhaka 3/23

Picked them up from the hotel and we went to Old Dhaka. First up was Bicycle Street to find rickshaw art. We ended up in the wrong place, and ended up taking their first rickshaw ride to Nazira Bazar just north of where we were. There we found about six shops selling rickshaw art. Saw lots of nice examples, and ultimately we decided to buy some with images of tigers on them and city scenes. This art is that which the rickshaws decorate their rickshaws with. There are a few famous artists that do this, and for them the city is more beautiful. (pics: items a rickshaw wallah can decorate his rickshaw with, rickshaw art)

After this we took rickshaws down to Ahsan Manzil, which was good for a quick look around and pictures of the river. But then we walked along the river for a bit until finding a dock to walk down onto. Once my parents saw the small boats, and were solicited by the boat drivers, they decided they wanted to take a spin in the busy Buriganga River. I had no problem with it, it’s fun. So we took a half hour spin on the boat, and they got to see some river life on the banks. Plus the garbage filled river. (pics: Dad/Mom stuck in traffic on their second rickshaw ride, Dad/Mom at Ahsan Manzil, on the boat in the Buriganga River, launches lined up in a row on the Buriganga River with our boat driver in front)

From there we walked up through the Hindu part of Old Dhaka, Tanti Bazar. Saw some of the temples. The streets were colorfully tinted purple and blue as yesterday was Holi, the festival of colors, where it’s celebrated by throwing colorful dyes on each other. We stopped at some of the jewelry shops. Mom was looking for some Bangladeshi pink river pearls. We found strings of them that could later be turned into jewelry. (pics: streets blue and purple from Holi, buying pearls at Tanti Bazar, strings of pearls from the Padma River)

We had walked a lot. It was a bit tiring. They definitely got to experience some rickshaw close calls, and plenty of staring. And of course everyone inquiring about how we were and what country we are from. They got a healthy dose of that.

From there we went to explore BUET. I showed them around all the places I know. Even got to show my mom the research library. My mom the librarian loved it. (pics: Dad/Mom at BUET in front of Civil Engineering Building, mom in BUET's library with another librarian)

Went to Shahid Minar. My parents were really glad to see the monument I’d talked so much about, and all the history behind it. Had two beggar boys following me there, and they were quite explorative, at one point lifting up my shirt to look at my stomach. I didn’t mind, as long as they weren’t bothering my parents. (pic: Mom/Dad in front of Shahid Minar)

We ended the busy part of the day going to New Market. They got to experience the crowds, the pushing, the yelling, and the advertising. My dad and I went to my tailor and got tailored shirts made. We’ll pick them up near the end of our stay. (pics: Dad picking out fabric for his shirts, myself arranging measurements for our shirts with my tailor)

Dinner was with the Siddiqui's: Altaf, his parents, his grandmother, and some other extended family. Anwar, Altaf’s brother, is my dad’s co-worker. Pretty much without him I never would have had the the friends or the fun I’ve had in Dhaka.
Dinner was lots of fun. Lots of chatting and laughing, story telling and of course eating. My parents ate some great Bangladeshi food that Anwar and Altaf’s mother cooked. It was a great visit. They even got to thumb through Anwar’s wedding album. (pics: dinner spread at the Siddiqui's, Mom/Dad enjoying dinner, Dad/Altaf/Mom looking at Anwar 's wedding pictures, the Siddiqui family at the dinner table with my parents)

29th-6th in Dhaka 3/24

Met them at the hotel and we started the day off at the Liberation War Museum. Even though I’d been there before, I still read all things again, to help reinforce the history of Bangladesh a bit more in my brain. Dad went quicker through than Mom and I, which is typical of a Katz family museum visit. Sandee would’ve gone even quicker than Dad (at least in her younger days, then pouted that we were taking so long haha)
Museum was preparing for Independence Day coming up on March 26, decorations were up. (pics: Mom at the Liberation War Museum, getting ready for Independence Day)

From there, we headed to Nando’s for lunch. Dad enjoyed it a lot because the spices I brought him back from South Africa were available at this restaurant. No bottles to buy though.

Next was Lalbagh Fort. They were filming a movie there “Shudhu Tomake Chai” (I only want you) and we had to keep moving out of the back of their scenes. Dad and Mom got to swarms of people come up and ask us questions, and then take photos of us. Kids and their parents, school boys, and young couples. Some asked simple questions, some lectured us about America and Bangladesh. We spent two hours there, exploring all parts of the fort, more than I had had time for last time I visited. One of the best parts is always to look over the edge of the fort onto the streets of Old Dhaka. (pics: Mom/Dad/myself at Lalbagh Fort, Dad getting questioned by some visitors, movie shooting with many observers, movie shooting in the middle of Lalbagh Fort, Dad at the edge of Lalbagh Fort overlooking Old Dhaka)

We headed to Aarong where they bought some Bangladeshi crafts. There was one piece missing from one of the sets we wanted, so I’ll have to go aback sometime and see if they got the piece in.

After, we met with Jen, Ben, and Karen at Red Tomato and had dinner. I was glad as my parents seemed to get a lot of questions answered by different people than myself, differing viewpoints.

29th-7th in the Sundarbans 3/25

I picked my parents up early with the car and headed to The Bengal Tours office. From there we were supposed to take a bus to Khulna to start our Sundarbans tour. Well all the quick rushing for an early arrival was useless because the bus came two hours late. Since the Padma River ferries are running less frequently due to low water levels, it causes major problems in travel times for buses heading to southwest Bangladesh.

The bus was very comfortable, with only three large seats per row. They played a Bangladeshi movie on the ride and I was actually able to understand some of it! Ultimately Mom and Dad took the window seats in our row, as I have plenty more opportunities to see the countryside. At the Padma River crossing where we had to wait a long while, we got out and watched the ferries and launches go back and forth. It was a fun way to pass the waiting time. Also had them drink coconut water for the first time. (pics: Dad/Mom on the bus ride, three ways to get across the Padma River: ferry, launch, and nouka, myself/Dad with some guys interested in questioning us at the Padma River ferry crossing, Mom/Dad walking through the lines of trucks and buses waiting to cross the Padma by ferry)

On this trip I spent any of my reading time with a guide book to Nepal, in preparation for my trip there in July with Emily.

Since our bus came 2 hours late and we got held up on the Padma River ferry crossing, our bus went to Mongla instead of Khulna, a little farther downstream. That way we could cut a few hours off the boat trip, as the bus goes a lot faster than the boat. We made it just fine and were back on schedule. The boat was in the middle of the river and we got to it by a little wooden boat that everyone fit on (about 24 of us.) We had just enough people to take the company’s bigger boat instead of their smaller one. Meant we had lots of space, including a cabin to myself.

We had dinner on the boat, got to meet all the passengers as some people met us in Mongla, and meanwhile the boat started on its way to the Sundarbans, checking in at a forest station and picking up two armed guards for the trip (to protect us from tigers and pirates!)

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