07 May 2008

Week 35: Not able to work on Labor Day (feel better after record breaking bus riding day)

35th-1st in Dhaka 4/30

I ran this morning. Woke up at 6am, quickly put my shoes on, brushed my teeth, and was out before my body even knew it was awake. Ran out to Dhanmondi Lake, the sun had just risen. It was gorgeous out, slightly cool, but still humid though. The lake was packed, even at this hour. Running was slow as I haven’t ran in months, and because I was running slalom style through the crowds of people. I’d say that within a 20 yard stretch there were about 15 people minimum. They are everywhere. Most are walking. Almost no one wears shorts. Only saw about three runners. And about 75% of the people are over 30. And surprisingly it’s about half and half men and women. Or at least the number of women was so large it was enough to make me say, “Wow, that’s a lot of women.”

The run itself was very refreshing. Had a good pace going and tried my best not to slow down too much. I definitely was feeling pain by the end, it’s been awhile. But it was a great feeling of accomplishment. The run was only 2.5 miles, and I think I averaged around 9 minute miles, but it’s a starting point.

When I used the bathroom at North Tower today in Uttara, I found an awesome sign in one of the bathrooms. Had saw this online once, but this was the first time in person. (pic: this toilet is for sitting not squatting so please don't use it as such)

Found out tomorrow is May Day, or International Worker’s Day, or also referred to as International Labor Day. I knew for a few days, but it didn’t process in my mind that it was tomorrow, or what would happen on that day until tonight. Tonight, a random man I talked to on the bus mentioned how the roads will be empty tomorrow, and when I asked why, he said May Day of course! I was dumbfounded. Tomorrow I had a big research day planned with Arjun, was gong to get a lot of work done, but I couldn’t do anything if the roads were going to be empty for a holiday. Arjun texted me soon after asking the same thing. I had to call him back and cancel.

On walk home, a man asked to talk to me, and he told me he is my building neighbor. Took me awhile to realize what he was saying, but finally realized that he and the woman with him are the people who live through my window in the other building, the one Moweena works for. I found out he is also a transportation engineer, and works for the city planning department. What luck! I asked if I could come visit him at his work sometime and he said that would be good. Seemed like he does a lot of neat work for the city, and even helped in making the city’s transportation plan.

35th-2nd in Dhaka 5/1

In Bangladesh everyone knows about May Day because it is a national holiday. They are quite informed, as I was not, as apparently it is an international holiday, and is celebrated worldwide as International Worker's Day. They were shocked to find out we don’t celebrate it in the US. They had a hard time grasping the fact that the holiday is celebrated based on events that happened in the US, yet the US doesn’t celebrate it. That made no sense to them. They started telling me the whole story about the labor movement in Chicago, etc, and I could only shake my head and tell them we don’t participate. I explained that we have a different Labor Day in September, and I found out the reason why later while reading about it on the internet.

On this day of forced vacation I spent a lot of time emailing for graduate schools and data processing. In the evening Farhan came over and we watched “Into The Wild” then went out to eat at the Star Hotel. Food wasn’t very good there, but perhaps it was because it’s Labor Day and they are maybe understaffed.

I was so sore today from running. Hurt to walk down the stairs. My solution to that, I will run tomorrow.

35th-3rd in Dhaka 5/2

Ran for the second time this morning. Was feeling so tired last night, but I just went to bed and made sure to get up this morning refreshed. I felt it. I threw my shoes on again, and left the house. Took a bit longer route today, about 3.5 miles, and did it in about 30 minutes, a little faster pace than yesterday. And it didn’t hurt that much. My legs feel refreshed after running.
I’ve put both my routes on USATF’s Running Routes database…my routes are the only two in Bangladesh.

Finished processing the bit of data I had to do, but there wasn’t much else I can do as I wasn’t able to collect yesterday, and now am behind where I wanted to be.

Went out to Rifles Square. Bought two CDs: Arnob’s first CD and The Watson Brothers. Also bought a stack of CDs to burn. And bought a 4-in-1 DVD with the main movie being Cloverfield, which I saw posters for when I was in Bangkok.
I tried going to buy some cereal, but the nice supermarket was so jam packed as it was closing soon, at 8pm, that it wasn’t worth the wait. I left and walked home hoping to buy some mangoes. Well on this walk home a huge winds swept into Dhaka. People I heard yelling it was Cyclone Nargis, which we have been warned about as it headed for Myanmar. The winds were incredible, they came out of nowhere, blowing dust every which way. Businesses scrambled to lock up and tied up there goods. No one wanted to sell me mangoes as they just wanted to get home quickly.

I watched Cloverfield during dinner. I really liked it, and I understand why they said it made me people sick, with the camera moving around and all.

35th-4th in Dhaka 5/3

I’m feeling a bit sick today. I’m real tired, exhausted, I guess from running for the first time in awhile and not getting much sleep. Whenever I sit down or stand up I get really massive headaches. It only got worse as the day went on.

Dropped off my shirt material at my tailor for three new shirts, then headed to BUET where I spent most of the day working. Put eleven buses into the database. Very cold in there, the AC is on full blast. We have to take our shoes of course, and that doesn’t help in heat conservation. I feel like I should carry a light jacket with me just to work. You walk out and it must be at least 30 degrees hotter outside. I also listened to Arnob’s new album “Doob” while working, and I think it is excellent, his best work so far.

Tonight I got some pizza at Pizza Corner, one of the three pizza restaurants I’ve yet to try in Dhaka (yes I’m keeping track.) I would say pizza is #3 in line to fried chicken and burgers as the most popular western fast food. It has a number of chains specializing in it, including Pizza Hut. Fried chicken is definitely the most popular though, with every restaurant that serves something beyond rice seeming to offer fried chicken. Burgers are popular too, but I find this is usually the least tasty attempt there is at western food.

Then there are also the Bangladeshi versions of these western fast food items. Fried chicken stays the same, but a Bangladeshi fast food restaurant serving a burger many times just has a slab of unrecognizable meat inside a bun with a piece of lettuce. It reminds me of a failed lunch room attempt at a burger. Or the chicken burger, which is more often just a piece of fried chicken, bone and all, inside a bun. I really don’t know how to eat that without just separating the bun from the chicken. Yes, Bangladeshis eat the bones of their foods, but as a burger, this just doesn’t seem to work. Bangladeshi pizza is an interesting one too. It’s usually a 6” diameter crust with a choice of two items: beef or chicken. These are mashed into a brown paste and spread over like pizza sauce. Then a tiny bit of cheese is added to the direct center of the pizza. Maybe a few pieces of diced tomato might make it on there as well.

Went to bed early, hoping that sleeping will help stop this headache.

35th-5th in Dhaka 5/4

Woke up and still had a headache, so I took an aspirin in the morning to get rid of the pain. I’m not usually a medicine guy, but I’ll give it a shot in some cases. Medicine is real cheap here, and everything is over the counter. I bought a packet of ten aspirins, 500 mg, for Tk8.

I left at a decent time today, not especially early, but with hopes of getting a good day of work in. I boarded a bus to take me north to my first route, and this bus didn’t even make it four blocks before it broke down. Luckily another bus of the same company was nearby and it took all of us unlucky passengers on. Also good that this was not a sign of what was to come because…

Today was a huge success! I managed to complete six buses, a new daily record! This was great for me as I didn’t get to work last Thursday and felt redeemed. And top it all off, every bus was crowded. There were no major issues and didn’t waste much time between routes, transferring quickly.

After the buses, I was going to meet Nipu at DPavement for some pizza, event though I had pizza last night. Before I got there, I went back to the shops which were selling license plates. Went to a new shop to talk to them. Asked them about license plates again, and I now finally understand why license plates stay separate of each other even though independent places are selling them. Your license plate number is the same as your driver’s license number. So you give them your number, and they make the plate for you, so you can then put it on your car. Well I could give them any number I want as I wasn’t going to use it anyway. But I really wanted a used one, and asked about the old ones hanging around the shop. After some repeated asking, they finally said sure, and I bought it for Tk200. (pic: license plate I bought DHAKA METRO-CH 51-8237)

DPavement pizza was all it was cracked up to be: best pizza in Bangladesh, hands down. The cheese was awesome, toppings done just right, and the crust was the kind you look forward to instead of dreading. So happy, can’t imagine eating any other pizza here after this. Nipu brought his friends along from his university as well.

Also found out today from my parents that Ashrafi, my friend from Dhaka who moved to New Jersey while I was here, went over to see my parents for dinner. He was at my home for two hours, and my mom cooked a wonderful meal, and they talked over many subjects, including a lot about Bangladesh. I was very happy that my parents got to host someone who I’d told to visit them.

35th-6th in Dhaka 5/5

Today marks 8 months in Bangladesh.

The Indian visa application center is not for the meek. The visa application is infamous, as I’ve heard from others, and I experienced why. Getting inside the center is tough. The guards aren’t happy to let anyone in without a hassle. Talking to the same guard four different times I got told: to leave, to wait, to walk to a window, and my last time to go inside the gate. The Bangladeshis wait in a massive line outside the place, while foreigners, as there are less of us and have to go do a separate place inside, are supposed to be just allowed in.
Inside, I was told I had arrived too late. But I had arrived before the required noon cutoff time. They said they only take so many applications a day: 14. I was #15. That seemed conveniently unfortunate. Didn’t know what to do, had taken all morning to get in and now I couldn’t do anything. Well I decided to wait and see what happened. Several other foreigners showed up and were being told the same thing. Well as the place emptied, perhaps they got compassionate and let us in to apply for a visa. Well my interview didn’t go so well. They wanted proof that I was researching on a Fulbright and why I was at BUET. I have letters for those, but didn’t bring them today, never even crossed my mind to bring them. Well without those letters, proving why I was in Bangladesh, they would not give me a visa to go to India. I had to come back tomorrow. I asked, before I left, for tips to avoid the frustrations of today.

Went to lunch at Auvi’s home, Annita’s husband (went to the cricket match with them a few weeks ago.) Ayon came as well, and of course Auvi’s parents and Annita were there. The meal was delicious, and I was famished after being at the embassy stressing for so long. The whole afternoon helped me forget the anxiety of the morning. They served, as one dish, meat cooked in a style they said you only find in Chittagong. It was bit more like barbecued beef. Ultimately they gave me the leftovers of it to take home.
I talked to both Annita and Auvi about graduate school as they both are electrical engineers finishing up their undergraduate degrees. Both are interested in US graduate schools. I told both of them about NC State and what I knew about the ECE program there from what I know from listening to my friends Ben, Greg, and Saket.

Afterward, I did two more buses, both Dibanishi, and both relatively crowded. This route always has odd crowding patterns, with it being completely empty, than full, than empty again. Or other bizarre crowding conditions. I stayed on the same bus between routes, and waited the ten minutes while the bus sat curbside. Meanwhile I took pictures of the empty bus, and myself sitting in the empty bus. The driver and conductor also told me to take their pictures. The driver while he was driving…that was scary! He wasn’t looking at the road at all. (pics: myself alone on the Dibanishi bus, Dibanishi driver and conductor posing)

35th-7th in Dhaka 5/6

Today was a much better embassy experience attempting to get my Indian visa. I came a lot earlier, and was the first foreigner in line when they started at 11 am. Also there was two guys who I saw yesterday who also needed to come back. They are staying at the mosque in Kakrail, which is a very popular mosque that lots of Muslims come to visit and stay and pray. One of the men was helping the other (who came from Israel to pray at this mosque) apply to get a visa since the other man spoke neither Bengali or English very well. The translator, invited me back to the mosque after we applied for our visas, and I accepted, thought it would be such a chance to go inside. He said I’d be very welcome.
Well the visa application was much easier when I had papers proving what I was doing in Bangladesh (will bring these to all future visa application interviews.) The Indian interviewers do a great job intimidating, as I am sure they are told to be. I’ve heard though from people who’ve been to both embassies that the US interviewers are very scary, and will nitpick your application for a long time. The Israeli man did not have the same luck. I heard them say that he doesn’t even have a visa to be in Bangladesh, and he has to go back to Israel to get one, then he’d have to come back to get his Indian visa. What a predicament.
Well I was told my visa would be ready next week. By the time I got out, the two men were gone. I waited around for about ten minutes, hoping to find them, but they probably left quickly as the one was denied his visa. Too bad, I would’ve been very happy to go to the mosque with them.

After this stopped at Coffee World and bought a coffee drink, and did some work while I drank. Then by Banani and stopped at Bengal tours to start organizing a Rangamati tour for Ben and I, and nicely they served me lunch when I was there. I must be a familiar face they want to feed. Then swung by the American Center and picked up some mails, both from my parents, including a Star Wars birthday card.

When I got to Uttara to start taking some buses, I found out that one of my buses, Shakti has been cancelled for awhile. That’s a bit annoying as I still have two more routes to complete on that bus. I’ll just have to wait it out and see what happens. Took other buses instead today on which I still have routes to complete .


Saket said...

Ah...international worker's day. Nader has a lot to say about that. :)

I'm stoked you found a great pizza place. Maybe you should start documenting all the best places to eat in Dhaka for westerner's craving something that tastes like home?

Also -- do they put ketchup on pizza?

Donny said...

Yepp, ketchup on the pizza. You're given a packet or two of ketchup when you order.

And I'm going to guess that some places use ketchup instead of tomato sauce as the pizza sauce.