09 April 2008

Week 31: Despite their creativity, BUET Civil students wouldn't have been able to design a prettier Parliament

31st-1st in Dhaka 4/2

Today was the Civil Festival at BUET. Each faculty has a festival like this, full of music, entertainment, lectures, and panels. Last month I noticed signs for the Mechanical Festival. I’m sure there’s an Electrical Festival and an Architectural Festival as well. But as I’m a civil engineering student, the Civil Festival is the one I care about! After experiencing it all, I have to say I wish my university back in the US did this. It’s a great way for a department’s students to interact. Of course in the US there are a lot more clubs and events on campus, so the success of an event like this probably wouldn’t be on such a large scale.
Arrived at BUET and headed to the auditorium where the festivities would take place over the next two days. Around midday today the event was to have a rally, a kickoff event. There was a small 4 piece band dressed in old guard wear with a horse and cart, and they paraded around the campus with students following behind cheering. Couldn’t imagine something like that for an event like this at NCSU. (pics: BUET auditorium and cafeteria on a typical day, Civil Festival banner and the kickoff event band and horse cart)

Met some of Arjun’s friends, and picked up my t-shirt for the event. It was free! Wish I could get a shirt that just said BUET, but that kind of school apparel like we have the US doesn’t exist at all here (it was at least available, although not worn by the South African students, at the University of Cape Town.) Some of his friends were telling me all about their research projects, as they were all transportation students. I offered any help I could. (pics: myself/Arjun flanked by his friends)

I went up to the computer lab in the meantime until the evening when the rest of the activities were. Worked very quickly on my data processing.

The BUET auditorium is impressive, with balcony seating. The seating arrangement was enforced: civil engineering students ONLY in the orchestra seating section and the balcony was for all other faculties (mechanical, electrical, architecture, etc.)
This created quite a dichotomous atmosphere. As I’ve mentioned before, the Bangladeshi way of booing is a chant of “Boo-Wah”, and it’s very piercing and quite catchy for anyone jumping on the booing bandwagon. Well the balcony, being non-civil engineers and looking for anyway to jest their rival engineers were quite liberal with their Boo-Wahs. When the sound cut out, Boo-Wah. When something wasn’t funny enough, Boo-Wah. When the dancing was a bit off, Boo-Wah. When the air was feeling stuffy, Boo-Wah. When the clock struck a new hour, Boo-Wah. When it just felt good to say it, Boo-Wah.
In response, the civil engineers seated below would all stand up, turn back, and start yelling at the groups up in the balcony section. Or they’d start chanting louder for their fellow students on stage by cheering “Hey-Hey” in the same pattern as the “Boo-Wah.”
The rowdy atmosphere made the whole evening a blast, never lulling. The whole 3 hour performance was full of cheers, screams, rants, and raves. Although it could be considered rude, all the boos from the balcony, I think it only adds to the performance, as the students below were die hard supporters of their classmates in their faculty.

The sponsor of the tonight’s event was Seven Rings Cement. An appropriate choice for the Civil Festival. I thought that was slightly amusing. Towards the end of the evening there was a short PowerPoint slideshow presentation from Seven Rings Cement about what they do here in Bangladesh. Despite it being a bit dry, all the students paid respective attention.

There was also a speech from a professor who was teaching his last year at BUET, and is a real favorite of the civil students. They were adoring and attentive during his talk. He broke down into tears when talking about it being his last year.

The performance and evening was great in itself, one of the best I’d seen in Bangladesh for an evening of performances. I understood a lot of the sketches and songs. And a lot of the acts had me laughing harder than I have in a long time.

The show opened with two guys wailing on guitars in a dramatic fashion, and as they parted, several guy dancers came out and did a rock dance bit. It had the audience cheering mad.

Next up was a “fashion show” civil engineering style. Wearing their most fashionable clothes the students came down the catwalk carrying civil engineering related things.
One group of three students, two guys and a girl, came up carrying soil sifting pans. They waved them like tambourines, then put them one on top of each other like you would for actually sifting soil, and they shook them. They all then looked inside at the “dirt” which had fallen through the sieves, and the guy holding the bottom pan gave a fist pump because he “got” all the soil.
Another group came out carrying rulers and drafting T-squares and took them out like swords. Another group came out with two girls carrying out cinder blocks and then two more guys with sledgehammers. They then proceeded to pose and model them and pretend to smash the cinder blocks. Another group showed up carrying rebar, and stood mid-stage twirling around the poles. The last group I can recall was a transportation one. Two guys came out wearing bright orange vests. Then two girls with rolling electronic measuring devices. Then two more guys came out from side stage as pedestrians, one was one-legged and the other was on a scooter. It was hilarious. I was buckled over in laughter. The guys in the vests then had the pedestrians cross as they timed them!
This is definitely in the top 5 funniest things I’ve seen performed. A “hey hey” to the students. So creative and well pulled off, complete with a catchy techno soundtrack. (pics: Civil fashion show: models with sieves, models with rulers and T-squares, models with rebar, models with safety vests and electronic measuring devices and pedestrians)

The rest of the night was musical performances, skits, and dances, all were great. Some had me laughing hard. My research assistant Shegufta performed a song. (pics: Shegufta singing, Civil students performing a hip-hop act sporting US college basketball team jerseys)

Ben bought his plane ticket to come to Dhaka! He’s confirmed to come May 30!

31st-2nd in Dhaka 4/3

On bus to BUET several other riders wanted to ask me questions, including which country I liked better: US or Bangladesh. I asked them sincerely if they liked their home village better than Dhaka, and they all said yes. Using that as a reference, I told them I liked the US more, as that is my home country. Explained that of course I love Bangladesh, a very beautiful and welcoming place, but I’m not going to say I like it more than my home. They agreed that this was acceptable.

Went to BUET midday. This morning for the Civil Festival there was a series of presentations, 3 hours long. I came near the end and caught the last presentation about Sidr disaster relief. The guy said BUET and the government made colorful short books for people in the affected areas on how to build homes that stand up to cyclone winds. Very little text, and mostly pictures, for people who likely have a low literacy rate (41% in Bangladesh.) It showed simple things like cross bracing and roof pitching in pictorial form so a person can understand and build. Creative and context sensitive!

Two short films produced by students in the Civil Engineering faculty. Before each short film there was a 2 minute clip about Holcim Cement. Again, an appropriate sponsor!
The two films were decent. I had a hard time understanding the second, as the scratchiness of the track made the Bengali really hard for me. Both were funny at points, and strangely both ended on down notes. They also both were about students of the university dealing with education, girls, and friends.

After this, the final event was a panel discussion between students, professors, and people in industry. Arjun said the topics covered are the same year after year so he wasn’t going. And since it was going to be career advice mostly in Bengali, I decided to skip too.

Wind started picking up later, just as I was heading out to pick up my suit and shirt from the tailor. Got my clothing, and it all fit nicely. Paid and took a rickshaw back to meet up with Diya at Rifles Square. It started raining on the rickshaw ride, and luckily I had the clothing in a waterproof bag they gave me and I used that to cover me in the rickshaw.
At rifles square Diya and I just walked around, I bought two Bangladeshi DVDs, Nirontor and Matir Moyna, that I’d been meaning to watch. Had some fuchka at Dhaba in the mall.

31st-3rd in Dhaka 4/4

Got an itinerary from STA for my flight home, and sent it off to Fulbright for approval.

Met up with the newest, and last Fulbright to come to Bangladesh. Her name is Kasey and she’s been living in India for 2 years and will now do her Fulbright here in Bangladesh. I met her and another of her friends at CafĂ© Mango and we talked for a long while. To my calculations she makes the 8th Fulbright to Bangladesh this year. She wanted to know about all of them, how often we meet, where we all live, etc.

After meeting for coffee, she and her friend wanted to explore Old Dhaka. We took a rickshaws down to Chawk Bazaar, which is actually quite a ways when riding 3 people in a rickshaw. This actually was probably my record for longest distance traveled with 3 people in a rickshaw! My legs were so cramped by the end.
We just meandered through Old Dhaka with no direction in mind. Somehow we ended up by the river, which always just seems to happen. And we jumped in a boat to do a little cruise upriver. Went farther upstream than I’ve gone before.

They then left by rickshaw, Kasey had to get back for a dinner. I stood around for a bit, ended up having some tea with a store owner who wanted to talk with me. Then I decided to take a new way home by jumping onto a tempo and seeing how far it would go. Took it all the way to Nawabganj on the west side of Dhaka as it followed the river embankment.

From there I thought I’d try and find Mamun’s, Mohan’s brother-in-law, college where he is studying leather technology. I knew it had to be in the area because I knew what part of town I was in. Walked for about 20 minutes in the direction I thought it might be, and while asking 2 guys on the way if I was right, ended up there. Gave Mamun a call and actually woke him up from a nap. When he met me he said he was actually getting ready for an exam tomorrow. I told him I was sorry for surprising him like this, and he said it was okay. Still, our hanging out time was only twenty minutes. After showing me his dorm room he said he had to go study, and told me to hang out with his roommate, Poddo. Although it seemed a bit odd to tell me to hang out with someone I didn’t know, we did hang out for two hours, even going to Dhanmondi to walk the streets for a bit.

31st-4th in Dhaka 4/5

Today is 7 months!

And today I got to see Jatiyo Sangshad Bhaban, the National Parliament building. The building has been closed since last January when the caretaker government took control, and deposed leaders were jailed. The building was designed by the famous architect Louis Kahn. It was commissioned by the West Pakistani government in 1961, and our tour guide called it “the only good thing West Pakistan ever did for us [Bangladeshis]”

The building really is spectacular from close up and, from what I’ve only seen previously, from far away. It looks to be only two floors from a distance, due to the way the building is structured and “windows” built, but it’s actually ten stories tall.

The gates to get in are well guarded, as they likely usually are, but now it’s to keep almost everyone out. An ex-pat woman here helped arrange the tour, and through a local tour company, we (ten foreigners) were able to get permission to enter and tour the building. Well she and three others backed out at the last second, so it was a much smaller group who went. My friend Ben went too.
We had to wait outside the gate on the driveway for some time as our permission was verified. From there we got to pull up to the building’s entry tunnel, and enter the building at the ground floor. I had always imagined the building completely empty these days, but there were still plenty of cleaning woman, men repairing, guards, and army officers. We were accompanied on our tour by the main security officer of the building and two guards.

Parts of the building were off limits on the day we went. For example the large library on the ground floor was closed. We were forbidden from taking photos inside the building, which was understandable, but also sad since it’s such a gorgeous building.

The tour was very lax. They would take us to a part of the building, and we’d meander around looking at things on our own free will. If we wanted to know something, we had to ask. The best was when we were brought into the main assembly. It felt like a playground the way we were able to explore it freely, everyone going their own ways.
The assembly was incredible. It’s eight stories up to an umbrella looking roof made out of concrete. Neat to see the seats that Khaleda Zia and Sheikh Hasina sit in when they were actually in power. Got to go into the back chambers where decisions are actually made.

The whole place seemed to be covered in a bit of dust due to the lack of use. Interesting to see a big pile of rubble in the corner of a part of the buildings. It seems a lot of the marble along the walls has fallen off over time. Ben spent the entire visit pondering why this would happen.

They took us into the mosque, which is still in use for some workers, on the south side of the building. Rare to be able to enter a mosque, and this one is a unique since it is for only the members of parliament. They also took us into the cafeteria.

Got to walk around the outside of the building , see the moat surrounding the building up close. Walk up the steps at the front of the building (there are 46…if there were 47 I’d say it was intentional as that was they year Pakistan gained independence, and this project was funded by Pakistan. Ben and I counted twice just to make sure.) (I'm an engineer so I take lots of building pics: our tour group walking around the outside of Jatiyo Sangshad, cafeteria's balcony and a good representation of what the interior of the building looks similar to, the building is surrounded by water which comes right to the building, using security officer who escorted us to show the scale of the building, back side of Jatiyo Sangshad where the President and Prime Minister are supposed to enter, looking into the interior, Ben/myself in front of Jatiyo Sangshad, using Ben to show the scale of the building just before we ran twice up and down the steps Rocky-style counting them.)

After Ben and I went back to his and Jen’s home and picked her up. Ben and I discussed how some of our cane furniture has termites, and little piles of dust are always seen around it.

Went to lunch at a place that had Mexican food. It was expensive, and wasn’t that great. Lots of cheese was nice, but wish the Mexican food was better. Will definitely enjoy Mexican food upon coming back to the US.

Later we browsed the store downstairs which had lots of books to browse. Always sad to see USA travel books that are inches thick but only have four pages on New Jersey, mostly talking about Atlantic City and Cape May.

Got some coffee at Coffee World and talked for awhile. Then Ragini showed up. She was a friend of a friend of a friend and we got connected on facebook before she came to Bangladesh through one of those friends. She’s currently having problems arranging her housing as she just arrived. Jen and Ben left after chatting for awhile, then Ragini and I sat for about an hour more and talked. Then dropped her back off at her nearby current home with a family.

31st-5th in Dhaka 4/6

Took the Dibanishi route and collected data on the way to Banani. Picked up mail at American Center. Got a package from parents, a postcard from Ben, and my Krispy Kreme Challenge 2008 t-shirt!

Dropped by Nafisa’s Aunt Sylvi’s home in Baridhara where I’ve been meaning to swing by to for months just to say hello and to see Ishfaq and Ishraq. She fed me some snacks while I was there and showed me the photos from Nafisa’s engagement last week. Ishfaq woke up later, he’s been sick. Wasn’t very talkative. She told me how they are in the end of getting their visas to the US.

Took the Winner bus back home. A few good stories on the bus tonight, besides the fact that the bus got really crowded halfway through and people were unable to board at the stops.

  1. At some point we were sitting in traffic and all of a sudden there was a woman laying in my lap. It seemed like she’d collapsed onto me. Fainted. Her eyes were blank staring up at the ceiling of the bus. I had no clue what to do. The guy next to me, whose lap she also had fallen onto (I had the head and shoulders, he had the torso) wasn’t saying anything either. And everyone on the bus around us wasn’t saying or doing anything. It felt like ten seconds in which it was silent. Maybe people were shocked, maybe this was normal. What was I to do? I tried lifting her a bit but I couldn’t, she was lying on me too oddly. Finally the guy next to me was yelling at her to get up. Could she on her own effort? Then someone picked her up, yelling ensued, and they sat her down in someone else’s seat. Maybe she passed out from the heat, maybe hunger. She looked like she works real hard, probably in a garment factory, and looked like she hadn’t eaten all day. I was really nervous, scared. What if she was dying on my lap? I was so tense for about two minutes. Didn’t know what to do or say. Everyone was acting like nothing had just happened. It was so strange. So silent. No one seemed to think it was out of the ordinary, or it was so bizarre we were all just stunned.
  2. Saw a snowman. It was plastic, and large, and was being carried down the street on some man’s head. Saw it just after the woman fell on me. We were going so slow it passed us. We then passed it as traffic broke, and we drove about a quarter of a mile. But then we got stuck again. And it passed us again. Then traffic moved another quarter of a mile, and then it passed us again. It was funny. Surely no one has ever built a snowman in Bangladesh, yet here is this man carrying it down the street, on his head, so that it’s popping six feet out above the rest of the crowd. Where is he taking it? What will it do?
  3. Some guy got off the bus while it was moving, nothing and unusual and you just have to jog until you slow down. Well the bus was going a bit too fast for him, and the guy was going so fast he couldn’t control his direction and ran smack into an oncoming rickshaw. He apologized profusely as he held his stomach.

Tried going to get some fish and cereal but the nice supermarket was closed. Oh well. Came home, ate dinner, and wanted to shower but water in the building was gone. I waited until 12:30 to shower when the water came back on.

Also started working on my Fulbright midterm report. It’s not too lengthy, but does require a bit of thought and evaluation of my time here. I read the requirement for each question as 1500 words maximum. So I started writing away in Microsoft Word to copy it in later. Then I copied it in. Tried to save but got an error message. Maximum 1500 CHARACTERS! Dang. Had to go back and delete about 75% of what I wrote. But at least I didn’t write up every question first! I would’ve spent a lot of time deleting.

31st-6th in Dhaka 4/7

Moweena came really early today, at 6:20. At first I didn’t realize it was that early. I read in bed and tried to nap, then checked to see what time it was. It was only a little past 7:00, meaning she’d been there for at least 40 minutes judging at where she was in the cooking. I was a bit perplexed why she would come so early.

Spent morning working on my Fulbright midterm report, and processing some bus data.

Today I did 4 routes. I took Falgun up to Uttara, then Shakti down to Postogola. Ate lunch in Postogola, and then took the same buses back in reverse to where I started in Azimpur. Was almost continuous in my bus riding, took very little breaks, and despite the five hours of sleep I got last night, didn’t feel tired at all.

Fulbright hadn’t liked my initial flight plan home, not enough US carrier flights. Finally might have a flight ready to be booked. STA sent me an itinerary which looks good, and follows the Fly America rules, but is the wrong dates. I also found a Delta flight which is cheaper. If when he changes the dates, the flight is cheaper, I’ll go through STA, otherwise I’ll book Delta. Nice to know I’m close.

Watched Knocked Up today. First half in the morning, second half at night. Was thinking about it all day, wanting to know what would happen. Really liked it.

31st-7th in Dhaka 4/8

Moweena again came really early today at 6:30. I brought it up and asked her to not come until 7:00. Told her I can’t sleep once she arrives, and I don’t need her that early anyway. But for once I ended up actually falling back asleep after she left, was definitely some well needed rest.

Went by Farhan’s for lunch and there we discussed Fantasy Kingdom this weekend, our birthday next week, and the trip we want to go on. I think we might go to Rangamati instead of St. Martin’s because his parents won’t let him go. That provides its own difficulties as foreigners need to get special permission to enter that district.

At BUET, did lots of data processing with the time I had left in the day. Didn’t get as much done as I’d like. It really is a hard process to get through!
Wondering how much of my project I’m going to finish. Thinking more and more that I’ll only be slightly close to finishing the analysis of the data. Might not happen until I’m back in the USA. A bit disconcerted. It takes so much time to process the data, and of course collecting.

Emily got her visa for Bangladesh back. It's good until 2013!! Five years and she's only staying less than a week! It's funny because another girl I know coming her for 3 months got a visa which expired before she was supposed to leave the country!

I bought fish for the first time on the street today from a guy with a big bowl of fish.

Summer fruits are on their way. I’m seeing lots of new things at the fruit stands, and it makes me happy. Watermelon has been out for about three weeks now, I’ve only bought one though. jackfruit, the national fruit of Bangladesh is starting to grow on trees all over, and some ripe ones are now out on the stands. They are the largest tree grown fruit in the world. And lastly, the first mangoes have just started to come to fruit stands!


Greg said...

Dude, is it just me, or does that BUET engineering building look just like the Civil Eng building at State? Or every other building at state with that kind of windows?

Their posters are in English? Are you sure you aren't just in Bangladesh, Indiana or something?

Sounds like a blast, the tour looked awesome, glad you are enjoying it.

Saket said...

Those pictures from the Parliament building looked quite stunning. What an interesting design!

I'm jealous that you get mangoes! :)