19 April 2008

Week 32: Pohela Boishakh is my birthday (was it fated for me to come to Bangladesh?)

32nd-1st in Dhaka 4/9

Bought my plane ticket home today. On October 17, I will return to New Jersey. I’m flying Delta from Bangkok (where I’ll be finishing up my travels) through Seoul, Atlanta, and finally to Newark. Was nice to get this done and out of the way.

Farhan called me to say that Rangamati is a “no” with his parents. So we are switching to Srimangal, and hopefully they’ll agree because there are no issues with that place. I then emailed a tour company about a trip to Rangamati for when Ben is here.

Got four buses this morning processed at my home. I did it all in three hours. Was very proud of myself, really focused hard and got them all processed. They were all long routes too!

Went to BUET to get some databasing done. Had ten buses to input into the database. Did it all as quick as I could, wanted to get that all done. Didn’t delay too much, but did need a few mental breaks because it is draining to sit there doing only data entry. Got a few emails from friends, so that helped to break the doldrums.

After the data entry, I took a bus to Motijheel, only so I could take a bus home. Figured I had enough time for one bus route, and night bus routes give some of the best crowded bus data because the bus is almost always crowded.

32nd-2nd in Dhaka 4/10

So last night at the lab, I was unable to “Safely Remove Hardware” for my flash drive, and after five tries, trying different things, I finally just had to pull it out. Well today when I went to take yesterday’s work off of it, all the data was corrupted. Over four hours of work wasted. Needless to say, I’m really frustrated, angry, and shaken up. It’s not like I was careless, I was doing what I could to make sure I did things right. I should’ve emailed myself the files, or left them on the desktop. I delete them from the desktop so that no one looks at my work. I’ve definitely seen students doing that at BUET. Guys sit down at a computer, browse through everyone’s work on the desktop, open up files, explore what people are doing. Then just leave. They only come to snoop and see what others are up to. I didn’t want to ever be a victim of that, so I always delete my work from the computer’s desktop and empty the recycle bin.

Anyway, I’ve rationalized that it could be worse. Could’ve lost all my data. Could’ve lost the spreadsheet data (which is annoying to input) but it was only the database data. Will go back one day and plow through it as quickly as I did yesterday.

In a “proving” to myself, I went to collect as much bus data as possible, and I was rewarded well! All the buses I rode today were crowded , very crowded, and it was a great day. I took Midway for the first time, and took it all the way to the end, neat to see a new part of town.

32nd-3rd in Dhaka 4/11

Headed to Fantasy Kingdom today with Ragini, Farhan, and Nipu (Nipu’s friend Ashfaq came later.) Fantasy Kingdom is Bangladesh’s only big amusement park, with rides you might find in an international amusement park. (pics: Fantasy Kingdom's main entrance and ticket counter, Farhan/myself/Nipu/Ashfaq/Ragini in Fantasy Kingdom)

Water Kingdom and Fantasy Kingdom were empty. Ghost town empty. Water Kingdom seemed to only have two areas/rides open when we first walked in. I almost worried that I’d wasted my money. We changed into our swimming outfits (not exactly swimsuits, you have to remain covered in Bangladesh,) and joined the entire crowd at the wave pool. Maybe 100 young people there. We had only just waded in when dance music started blasting from a nearby pavilion and water started spraying from its roof. The whole wave pool quickly emptied out and ran to dance in the pavilion. Then the wave pool turned off. 2 dance songs later, the music stopped, the pavilion’s water spray, and the lazy rivers water jets started spraying. Everyone jumped in the lazy river and took a dip. By the time that was turned off, the water slides had been turned on, and everyone ran over there to use the water slides. There were five or so, and they only had two running at a time. Then the slides were turned off and the wave pool turned back on.
It occurred to us that in order to save water/electricity/staff costs, the park alternates which rides run at any given time. This allows them to focus all their time and energy and money on certain things. The crowd doesn’t mind. It means every place always is alive and energetic when you’re using it. and though your time was dictated by the park, it didn’t seem controlling, and it created an excitement for the next activity. (pics: the play pool at Water Kingdom, Ashfaq/Ragini/Nipu/Farhan dancing to the tunes being played in the wave pool of Water Kingdom)

The water slides didn’t have a line or a system of who gets to go next. You had to wait below the end of the water slide, and then yank a tube from the person who came down the slide. Lots of yelling and grabbing and pulling. Once you grabbed a tube, you ran up the rusty iron steps to the top of the slide, then slid down. Coming to the bottom meant you were confronted by six to ten guys all grabbing for the tube you sat on.

One of my favorite slides was the short one which didn’t have tubes. You just jumped down this really wide slide, into a pool below. People were going down this without a care in the world. No waiting until the bottom cleared out, just crash into them. People going sideways, forwards, upside down, giant groups all at once. This was the scariest slide just because it hurt so bad when people crashed into you, or you hit the slide the wrong way. I went down sideways and hit a bump wrong and got a bruise. Ragini said these are also popular in India. It’s such a simple ride, but allows so much freedom, and seemed to be the favorite of all the park goers. (pics: the simple slide ride which allowed people to do as they please going down including sideways and in big groups)

Of the people at the park, about 80% were teenagers and young adults. Also around 80% men.

Lunch was some grilled chicken and naan. Delicious! Ate it by the side of the pool. I was really wondering what amusement park food would be in Bangladesh.

Fantasy Kingdom’s rides were intense. They weren’t super tall, super fast, super fancy, or super at all. But what they lacked in those areas, they made up in extremeness! The bumper cars bumped harder than any bumper cars I’ve every bumped before. The spinning rides spun faster and with more jolting than any spinning ride I’ve ever spun on before. The only thing which didn’t do this was the roller coaster. It was fairly smooth, and too short. I felt so banged up after riding the rides. Probably came home with whiplash. (pics: Fantasy Kingdom and roller coaster in background, Farhan/Nipu on roller coaster at Fantasy Kingdom, Ashfaq/Nipu/Ragini/Farhan looking a bit queasy after the intense rides, Ragini/Nipu on the spinning swings)

Fantasy Kingdom was fun, but I have to give it to Water Kingdom for more long lasting entertainment. Each ride at Fantasy Kingdom has a price, but you can get all rides once pass. The rides were generally good. I didn’t feel unsafe on any of the rides. If I go back though, I’m skipping Fantasy Kingdom and only going to Water Kingdom.

Fantasy Kingdom rides were closed all morning. It was as if they expected you to go to Water Kingdom all day. Later in the day Fantasy Kingdom rides started running more frequently. And even then it was very quiet in the park. You walked up and rode any ride you wanted. Sometimes you waited for the ride to run, so they could get more people on it (just like bus riding!!) The log flume didn’t even have water running in it until people decided to ride it. They run the rides (save energy) only when people come to ride it. And just like water kingdom, there seemed to be a flow of people from ride to ride.

I didn’t put my pants on for the ride home. Just wore my bathing suit. And twice, people asked me why I wasn’t wearing my pants, and just carrying them. Funny that they felt it was necessary to ask me that.

32nd-4th in Dhaka 4/12

Watched, Nirontor, one of the better Bangladeshi films that won awards. I enjoyed it, and it had some powerful messages. A fictional film about prostitution in Bangladesh, and one women’s experience with it trying to support her family.

Heat index hit 110 today. Ugh. Bus to and from BUET was near unbearable, sweating so bad. One guy was wiping the sweat from his brow and flicking it out the window but some was getting on me as well.

Went to BUET and redid all the data I lost last week. Glad to be back where I was supposed to be! Did it a lot faster than last time as well.

Sore from the rides yesterday. Maybe have whiplash?

Finished reviewing Georgia Tech, that’s 8 down, 3 to go! It’s been awhile since I’ve done any grad school reviewing as I was focusing on my work and my parents coming.
And also finished Univ. of Michigan. This wasn’t a challenge because they didn’t even have a transportation program! So it was quick and easy! I had it on the list because of its reputation as a great civil engineering school, but again, this is initial review, so I’m learning a lot in just this first round.

Tonight walking out of BUET I saw the typical cow sitting on the sidewalk. But tonight, circling the cow was a little kitten! It was so cute. The cow paid it no attention. But the kitten was meowing its little meows over and over. I stopped to watch the little animal, literally a hundred times smaller than the giant cow, bother the big one. The big one didn’t seem to care. Then the kitten went over to a rickshaw wallah sitting on the side of the curb resting, and that def annoyed the rickshaw wallah. He tried yelling at it to make it go away, then finally had to give it a tiny shove. Kitten wouldn’t stop, so he got up and drove his rickshaw off. Kitten went back to the cow. So so so cute! (pic: the location where animals get tied up outside of BUET...this is where I saw the kitten and cow)

32nd-5th in Dhaka 4/13

Finished up the Fulbright Mid-term report. My favorite questions was where they asked me to fill out my monthly expenses for "Transportation to/from study/research location"
Ummmmmm the transportation is my research location! Where does going to/from stop and doing my research begin! I had to make a special note on that.

Overall the report wasn’t too hard, I filled it out little by little. Most bizarre question was that they asked me how much my medical expense were before I left. That was 9 months ago! No clue. Couldn’t remember.

Did three buses today, and was in the middle of doing my fourth when we got caught in a massive jam. Barely moved at all for such a long time. I ended up just scraping this last route. Wasn’t worth sitting there anymore, especially since most of the passengers already had got off: over 25 people had left early due to the traffic. Was so hot and sweaty on the buses today. Two of the buses were literally the most crowded buses I’ve ridden since I've started. Very intense researching. Exhausting even.

Farhan and I met for lunch. Talked about our plans for our Srimangal trip this week. Then bought our bus tickets at the bus station.

Went to a watermelon seller tonight, and ate slice after slice after slice. He started at me while I did. So tasty and refreshing after sweating all day on the bus.

Electric and water were off at home when I came back. Not refreshing. Ate by flashlight in the heat. Finally got power back later, and the water pump turned on, and I could shower to feel better.

32nd-6th in Dhaka 4/14

Got 4 missed calls after midnight struck, and 11 texts! 6 more texts and numerous phone calls would come throughout the day. In total 51 facebook wall posts, 2 facebook messages, 10 phone calls during the day (two from the US: my parents and Chris,) and 6 emails. Interesting to see the methods people choose to wish a “Happy Birthday!” I did not keep track, however, of how many people wished me in person.

A note on birthdays in Bangladesh. I got a phone call from Farhan last night how Ayon, Saquib, and Opu want a treat for our birthday. I was a bit confused, and asked him, “Why would I give them a treat for my birthday, don’t they give us things?” Nope! In Bangladesh, whoever’s birthday it is treats others on their birthday. This makes sense, I remember Tamzid paying for the dinner we had with him on his birthday. This is opposite of what the culture is in the US, where if I were to go out tot dinner with lots of friends on my birthday, I would not be expected to contribute anything in terms of money to the meal.

Probably the best birthday gift I got was that Samantha Huq, the girl who I became friends with when she sought my assistance on her Fulbright application essays, found out that she got the Fulbright! This was what I found out as I woke up. This started the day off right. I was so happy for her! Also excited because she’ll be coming and hopefully our times will overlap just a bit so we can meet.

Today is also Pohela Boishakh, the Bangladeshi New Year. Boishakh is the first month of the Bangladeshi year, and it starts the summer season in Bangladesh, Grishsho, lasting for two months from mid-April to mid-June before the monsoon season starts. Don’t think, however, I woke up this morning and was surprised to see the festival all over town. I’ve known my birthday was the Bangladeshi New Year since the beginning of senior year at NC State when I first started applying for the Fulbright. At that time, my teacher Farhanaz and I realized we had the same birthday…and she told me what that means in Bangladesh…New Years Day! Heard so much about this holiday for a long time.

The colors of Boishakh are highly stressed in songs, text messages, clothing, and chatter. It’s apparently a very important part of the holiday. Everyone is supposed to wear red and white. I had neither, so I wore yellow.

Started the morning at Ramna Park. This is the place that everyone told me I had to go on Pohela Boishakh. Every time people asked me what I’d do for my birthday/Pohela Boishakh, I’d always say I wanted to see the boat races which happen in the villages, but that never panned out. I would tell people this though, and they’d think it was ridiculous, and say I should go to Ramna instead.
Ramna Park was crazy, like Times Square in New York on New Year’s Day (very likely has the same number of attendees.) My friend Ragini came with me to meet up with Farhan, and we had planned to meet at 7:30am. Even at that early in the morning the streets were closed down, packed curb to curb with people walking, and lots of things were happening. People selling many things including many face painters. Our bus couldn’t proceed through obviously, and since we hadn’t expected this, we were 15 minutes late to meeting Farhan and his family. (pics: streets crowded for over a half kilometer approaching Ramna Park, men waiting to paint the faces of Pohela Boishakh celebrators, Ramna Park jammed with people, Farhan/myself: the two birthday boys on Pohela Boishakh in Ramna Park)

Ramna Park is famous for Pohela Boishakh because people go there to see programs of poems and singing. One performance everyone talked about is done every year under a big tree, and I only caught one glimpse of them while I was there, so many people surrounding the area! The park was jammed. Security was tight to get in. (pics: the main performance everyone talks about under a big tree at Ramna Park, thick crowds covered every inch of Ramna Park)

We spent our time at Farhan’s father’s program. His walking club organized it, and provided breakfast of chicken briyani and fish. Saw performances organized by the club, including some singers the crowd went wild for, getting up dancing and clapping. They had fenced off the area for only those who had tickets to get in, but at some point, the crowd surrounding the fence decided to jump it, and soon the place was filled. The organizers could do nothing, and just asked everyone to please sit and stay composed during the program, as it was supposed to be private. I thought they brought a lot of energy to the atmosphere though. (pics: crowd cheering, surrounding the fences, and hanging from trees to catch the poems and songs of Pohela Boishakh; performers on stage including young girls wearing the red and white of Pohela Boishakh)

After watching the program for a bit, we headed over to Dhaka University, which is really close, but took a lot of time (crowd pushing and browsing shopping stalls) to get there. Ragini bought some flowers for her family she stays with. I bought some mango milk (similar to strawberry milk,) been looking for it for awhile. Both of us bought some Bengali wooden letters, for our names. She remarked how she never saw Hindi letters like this in India. Farhan bought some snacks. We met up with Saquib and his girlfriend. Didn’t stay long, we were all so hot. Sweating like crazy. The parade at Dhaka University had occurred earlier and some of the horse drawn floats still lined the streets amongst the crowd. (pics: wooden cutouts of Bengali letters, drinking mango milk near Dhaka University on Pohela Boishakh)

Went to Rifles Square, with Farhan, Saquib and Saquib’s girlfriend. Sat and talked, they ate. Ragini went home before that, meeting up with the family she’s with. I then headed home, grabbed Farhanaz’s gift, and went to her house for lunch. Diya had her friends over, and I spent most of my time with them. They served amongst many things pantha bhat for lunch. This is dinner rice soaked in water. We added green chilies, onion, and some mustard oil to it, and then ate it all up. You eat it with hilsa fish. Customary food for Pohela Boishakh. Gave Farhanaz her birthday gifts. And got to meet her new daughter as well. (pics: myself/Farhan/Saquib on Pohela Boishakh, myself/Farhanaz on our birthday with the gift I got her (blocks with Bengali letters...proper for my former teacher), myself/Diya on Pohela Boishakh, myself holding Farhanz's new daughter)

Went home, changed from my panjabi into a fotua. So hot and sweaty. Headed out to Banani to meet up with Farhan, Ayon, and Opu for dinner. Farhan and I were treating for our birthday. Lots of pizza. Gave Farhan his gift.

Ended the birthday/New Years Day going over to Mohakhali DOHS to Shahrina’s place where I met up with Tashfique, Shariful, Mahenaz, and Shahrina. They all left after a bit, and I only stayed an hour, which was okay, I was getting tired.

No water when I came home. Had to shower with the half bucket of water I filled this morning. Really wanted a real shower. I was so gross from the day.

32nd-7th in Srimangal 4/15

No water when I woke up either. Now I was a bit upset since I wanted a real shower before heading out to Srimangal today. No such luck it seemed. However just a half hour before I had to leave, the water turned back on. I quickly washed some dishes, showered, shaved, and headed out to the bus. Lots of traffic this morning, and it was a good thing I had planned to arrive a half hour early, because I ended up arriving just on time as traffic made the trip last twice as long.

Farhan was already at the bus station. Our bus left only a little bit late, but the trip was shorter than we thought, only 3.5 hours. No problems on the way. We listened to a Bengali rock CD mix I made. He really liked it. I bought a headphone splitter so we could listen to the same music at the same time.

Farhan and his father had found a government rest house we could stay in while there. It was pretty decent, and was free (well it later turned out we had to pay Tk 25 per day, which is a lot less than a hotel.) We arrived and greeted the contact Farhan had made with a man in the government office. After settling, we took a rickshaw out to the nearest tea estate.

Srimangal is know for its tea estates. The area is mildly hilly, and tea gardens cover the entire landscape. Much of the tea which is grown here is exported, and it’s said only the best teas reach foreign soil, leaving the scraps for Bangladesh. However, since Bangladeshis add 2 sugars and 2 milks to each small cup of tea, having the best tea leaves wouldn’t really be a difference maker. The area is gorgeously green, and relatively quiet.

At the closest tea estate to Srimangal, which is the Bangladesh Tea Research Institute, we got off our rickshaw and just started roaming the grounds. No exact purpose. Just to explore. As a first time hiker, Farhan had some doubts about some things we did, but I did my best to assure him all would be okay. We walked up and down a riverbank between the tea gardens and found our way back to the main road. (pics: area of town near our rest house, myself amongst the tea gardens, Farhan trekking through the tea gardens, tea gardens of Bangladesh Tea Research Institute)

The best part of the night was seeing fox holes all over the tea garden, then seeing foxes cross the river just after we crossed it! The two foxes were just shadows in the twilight, but we could identify them.

After dinner at the same place we had lunch, we headed to bed. Town is fairly small, but still very busy at its center. We could walk around easily, or just take a rickshaw.

1 comment:

Ben G said...

don't forget the gChat greeting from the majority of your Fall 2005 MV4+!!