26 June 2008

Week 42: Starting to get some results, starting to collect new data

42nd-1st in Dhaka 6/18

We had a few losses of power at BUET today, more than we had the last two days. Really was disruptive to what work we were trying to get done. Another hiccup today was that Shegufta somehow erased half of her work. She’ll have to redo it now, and I’m sure it upset her more than it did me.

I’ve had to figure out how much to pay her for her help. I’d offered a few months back, and at the time she’d said no need, that experience was enough. But I brought it up again this time, and she accepted. I’ve used advice from Jen who is paying several assistants doing transcription work at Dhaka University. I also took into account the starting salary of a civil engineering graduate in Bangladesh (Tk15,000-Tk20,000 per month.)
This whole experience is me giving first time experience in managing personnel in civil engineering, as opposed to the rowing team, and making managerial decisions. Choosing work for an employee’s skill level is a neat challenge.

Tonight was a Fulbright get-together. It was my “turn” to organize it, so in the past week I’d sent out emails to everyone, trying to get a date set. Six students, two scholars, and Shaheen all were willing to come, so I set the date as today, and made a reservation at Red Tomato, the same restaurant I enjoyed with my parents when they were in Dhaka. Well by this evening two students had cancelled and one scholar didn’t show up, so it was a much smaller get-together than I had hoped. In fact, Jen and I were the only current Fulbrighters there. Kristin was a Fulbright last year, Julia is affiliated through an English-teaching grant, but not officially a Fulbright, and Dr. Haque had already had finished his grant, but just happened to be back in town. (pics: Julia/Dr. Haque/Jen/Ben at Red Tomato for Fulbright get-together, myself/Dr. Haque/Shaheen Khan at Fulbright get-together)

Bad part of the evening was that some people who ordered a pizza disliked it. Apparently it was way too saucy, with a bad sauce. I’ll put this as the second worst pizza in Dhaka, the worst being American Burger’s (who think it’s acceptable to put American Cheese on their pizza.

42nd-2nd in Dhaka 6/19

Today I got up early. I had planned to have three data collections today, one during the AM peak hour, one during the midday lull, and one during the PM peak, at the Elephant Road bus stop. I got there for the first data collection and decided the Trans Silva bus counter, in the middle and without any obstructions from the ticket seller’s bench, would be good to station myself. I asked the ticket seller if I could sit next to him while he worked, and he said sure. I collected data for one hour on the buses that passed about how crowded they were and how long they stayed at the stop. From this, and future data collections like this, I hope to arrive at a value which I can say represents the amount of crowded buses running in Dhaka every day.
While sitting there in the morning, I heard someone say my name. It was Altaf on his commute to work. He was buying a ticket for Trans Silva to go to his job (although I would advise him to take one of the six other buses which go to his job because they are all cheaper and of equal quality, Trans Silva tries to encourage people not to get on the bus at this stop for Motijheel/Gulistan by keeping its fares high for those stops.) He did quickly invite me to come visit at his office today before he boarded, so I told him I would.

The ticket seller I was sitting next to was great to talk to. I got to ask him questions about the buses, getting his take on things. Also found out, clearly from him, why some buses don’t come down this stretch of road at certain times. That was very valuable information that I’ve been wondering about for a long time! Because seven of the buses that come by here have to reach it by pulling a U-turn on a perpendicular road, during the 8:30-9pm period when offices are opening, the police want those buses to take an alternate route. However this alternate route still requires that U-turn, so I’m not sure what the benefits. It does, however, force passenger to have to cross a 4-lane divided road to get to board the bus on the perpendicular road: unsafe!

I went home just in time for Moweena to arrive. In fact she was waiting outside my gate because she was about to leave! If I tell her to come at a certain time, she likes to come a little bit early and then leave since I’m obviously not there yet. Despite how much I tell her I will always get back on time. This morning I was planning on showing her how to make French toast, as I really wanted it, and it’d be cool if she could make it sometimes. As I was about to explain, eggs and bread in hands, she guessed what I wanted to eat, just the Bangladeshi version. Well I asked her if that is the one with onions and chilies on it, and she responded in the affirmative…so I asked her to please make it without that, and she looked at me strange. But she did, and it was delicious!

Went to Motijheel to visit Altaf. He showed me photos of his new wife, they got married just recently. He also showed me photos from when Anwar was in town with Sanjana, and a neat photo of the two married brothers and their wives. We then got lunch next door and hung out at his office for a bit after. It’s been since March that I’ve seen him, every time I called earlier he was always busy. We remarked how everyone always feels busy in Bangladesh, always running someplace, but no one gets that much done. I’m going to blame the traffic.

I then headed straight to my second data collection at the same bus counter. No issues, a few more people talked to me asking what I was doing since it wasn’t early in the morning and they were more awake. The bus counter shift change occurred, and the guy from the morning introduced to the guy I’d be sitting next to again later in the evening.
For the third data collection it was raining when I arrived. That made it a bit more difficult, but I still managed somehow. It slowed down after the first ten minutes. It was a bit harder to see the buses in the dark, but it was only one hour, and I quickly acclimated. This day was more exhausting than I had expected.

42nd-3rd in Dhaka 6/20

Watched two movies today, one right after waking up and just while lying in bed, and one later during lunch. It was a great day at home. My last to spend all day at home for three weeks, so I wasn’t going to let it go.

I posted my blog, applied for jobs, read lots of online articles, relaxed all day. It felt great. Needed a day of recovery mentally and physically. Moweena made French toast again and it was delicious. Also getting good news about travel partners. And lots of emails back from professors and students for potential graduate schools.

In the evening, after relaxing all day, I attended a dinner at Jamal Ahmed’s home, where he was hosting this summer’s AIBS program for a meal. I was invited by the director Tony Stewart as an AIBS alumnus. The students were great to talk to, and Jamal’s home/studio (he is a famous artist) was clean with his latest work all around, and the food his wife made was great. Had some long conversations with several students about transportation. One particular student Jeremy, Ben, and I talked for a long time about different regions of the US and how they’re responding to their transportation issues, particularly Arizona where Jeremy is from (and I recently read a report about,) and then moved on to talking about ITS solutions and other fun transportation topics. I stayed until about 10:30, then grabbed a rickshaw home. (pics: summer AIBS students James and Luke along with Ben at AIBS dinner at Jamal Ahmed's home, paintings in Jamal Ahmed's studio (sorry blurry))

42nd-4th in Dhaka 6/21

It’s always very humid in the house now. The rains are coming each day, but nothing heavy yet, at least not in Dhaka. The problem with the humidity is that it gets into everything. My towels don’t dry anymore between showers. And I noticed that my favorite hat hanging on the wall for a few months is now moldy! Very upset about that. I need to make sure all cloth items are staying locked up or I’m going to have a lot of ruined clothing. I checked some of the clothes I have in bags under my bed, and those seem ok. I don’t have space to store them.

Working with Shegufta at BUET today was productive. I did more writing than I usually do, wrote some Visual Basic code, and crunched some numbers on my data sheets. She processed three buses.

Moweena came in the evening because she came too late in the morning to do anything productive. I had her wash clothes, including my sidebag, which has gotten really gross. In fact a lot of the things I use a lot get this layer of grime that I can feel. Its sweat, just built up on the fabric.

Today I also met a guy who worked on Dhaka’s Strategic Transportation Plan, the document I spent about a month browsing through when I first started reading up on Dhaka. He was telling me how he did a lot of technical work under the guys running the project from Louis Berger. I bombarded him with questions, and I think I wore him out! I asked them how many people were on the team who collected the data, how much time it all took, what were his direct responsibilities, what the management structure was like. I was very interested to know what goes into such a large project of studying solutions for a city with horrible traffic.

42nd-5th in Dhaka 6/22

Went to BUET at the usual time, but Shegufta called me to tell me she won’t be coming in today. So I spent the whole day coding one small part in Visual Basic. Somehow the computer isn’t blocking me, don’t know what changed. But I was able to run it and test it for errors. It works now and I’m very proud to have written my first visual basic program.
Simply, it’s a program which takes my alights and my boardings from two different sections of my sheet, and analyzes them as they would’ve actually happened in real life. This involved a lot of IF-THEN and DO WHILE statements, but I got it to logically work out the order of the alights and boards. Even got to play with an array! Was fun to figure it out. Then fun to have the data automatically reentered back into the sheets.

After, I met up with Farabi in Dhanmondi. Hadn’t seem him since January when he came to visit family for a few weeks. He’s here for the summer now, and is trying to do some social volunteering work. Always tough it seems, the project he joined basically gave him office work, so he left, and will be going to Grameen Bank now to work with them.

Farabi and I tried going to play some billiards, but the place we went was packed. We stood around for half an hour hoping one of the table’s would clear up, but all of them just got more packed as more and more university students came by to meet up with their friends who were already playing. Realizing we’ll likely never play, we walked down to Rifles Square to go bowling. We bought socks since we both were in sandals, and played on their 4-lane alley. Of those 4 lanes, we were to find out two don’t work at all, one lane is only able to handle one bowler, and the other can only handle two. We had to wait for a couple to finish on the two-person lane. When we finally got to bowl, we bowled two games each. I got 116 and 112, about 30 points less than my average at home, but the difference mostly came because I was not completing any of my spares. My accuracy was very poor today.

From there we went to Mirpur Rd. to find a place for some food. We ended up stumbling upon a place called Shanghai. Farabi had said he didn’t want Chinese food, but I told him I had a hunch that this place didn’t serve it, despite the name. Well we went in and the place was themed in Chinese décor, but the menu was everything but! In fact the menu was full of neat items, and I was excited we’d found the place, I will definitely come back. While there, I looked again at the sign, and realized that it said “Out of Shanghai”, surely that is the reason the menu is intentionally not Chinese.

42nd-6th in Dhaka 6/23

A few things in the Gulshan area to get done. One was to go by the Best Air office and buy a ticket for Dhaka to Bangkok in late September. They are having specials right now, but not on one-way tickets. So I tried to buy the ticket, but uh oh, problem as always with buying tickets. I can’t buy for September yet! They have only set their summer schedule, which runs to the end of August. So their fall schedule is not made yet, so no one knows when they’ll fly, if the route will even exist, or at what price!! So I was told I have to wait until the end of July to buy a ticket for September, because they won’t have the schedule ready until then.

Also, while I waited to hang out with Farabi, dropped by a few jewelry making stores and looked into making cuff links with the pearls I had. Only one or two even knew what cuff links were. Gathered prices from those who could identify a cuff link.
Farabi and I finally met up after he finished hanging out with someone else, and debated what to do. We didn’t want to hang out around food, but that’s all we could think of. We tried going to the Western Grill which is inside an old airplane, but they were closed. We ended up just going back to his family’s place where he’s staying and played cards and had snacks.

I then headed over to Gulshan 1 for data collection. I stood at the Gulshan 1 west side ticket counter and recorded the buses passing at their peak hour. When I stand at these data collections, a lot of people come up to me and ask me which bus to get on for certain destinations, and also ask where certain bus counters are. I guess I look professional, or rather I don’t look busy. Sure it’s a mixture of both. Data collection went fine. Left my bag with the Winner ticket counter, but the guy kept leaving since the bus has such long headways at night. So I kept staying at the counter to watch my bag. Three guys talked to me so long I swear they missed the buses they wanted.

42nd-7th in Dhaka 6/24

Morning started at home, a breakfast of egg, roti, and honey. Headed to BUET, and got there around 10:30. Shegufta and I set to work. She had three more buses to process until we were all caught up. I had some graphs I wanted to make in my analysis that I could show to Dr. Rahman in a meeting the afternoon. I also worked to make my spreadsheets easier to use. I’ve created a lot of data and I can’t let it get out of hand. I also tried starting an abstract for this conference, but didn’t get far, wanting to wait to talk to Dr. Rahman instead.

Trying to get some graphs printed out for Dr. Rahman for our meeting turned out to be quite an adventure. BUET doesn’t have ANY printers for use of the students, says Shegufta. She blames it on the fact that they only pay Tk22 a semester for tuition, but I said that’s silly since they are a public school, and their tuition is of Tk22 doesn’t go to anything useful, so using that logic they wouldn’t even have teachers. Anyway, no printer at BUET.
So I went to Nilkhet, where all BUET students go to print things. But it was Tuesday, so the entire place was closed. Not a single place I could print. Meeting time was getting close, so I rushed over to Azimpur to try and find someone to print from. Found a computer place, with three dusty computers. The guy said they could print. This was the slowest computer and slowest printer I’ve seen in this decade. But it got printed and I rushed back to BUET in time for my meeting, total time used to print out four pages, 55 minutes!

Meeting went fine. Showed Dr. Rahman my graphs, and was glad to be finally showing him some results. We talked about the conference I want to go to in Chennai in September, that Dr. Stone at NC State told me about. Talked about writing the abstract and the draft paper, and what types of things I should focus. What I took away from the meeting is that I need to focus on making graphs and charts readable for users. Any graph not understandable is a bad graph.

Working with Shegufta has been good. She spends all day listening to my voice, which I will applaud her for, I’m sure that can get frustrating. She does get a real kick out of certain recordings in which the recorder has picked up a conversation of someone asking me things about my work in Bengali. She starts giggling.

In the evening I spent some time looking at flights in Southeast Asia from Singapore to Bangkok. It is cheap, about 62 dollars. The plethora of low cost carriers in Southeast Asia is driving down prices to absurd levels.

Emily warned me that there are problems happening in Darjeeling. I hadn’t looked at the news at all. It looks like we’ll be canceling that part of the trip. The Gorkha people, who originate from Nepal, are striking, wanting their own state in India, called Gorkhaland. They told all tourists to leave. Thus, we will likely drive straight to Nepal after reaching Siliguri.

19 June 2008

Week 41: Second cricket loss, first time trapped in an elevator, several disruptive power outages

41st-1st in Dhaka 6/11

I’ve noticed that the midday highs and the nightly lows are now only separated by three to five degrees in the weather forecasts. It seems like the heat is trapped, and nights don’t really cool down anymore.

Took Ben to lunch to try some foods that, honestly, I don’t eat anymore here. At least one I used to love, biryani. The other, borhani, I’ve never liked the few times I’ve tried it.

After spending the morning at home, we went to New Market to pick up our clothing from the tailor. Everything fit very well, and we were happy with our results. Ben now has the task of bringing his stuff around the world. We also ordered some beach-like shirts, one for each of us, and went to a button store to choose what buttons we’d like. We walked around the market for awhile after looking for some items of interest.

We then headed to Gulshan for Aaron’s goodbye party. He leaves tomorrow morning. I’d never really been to any of the foreign clubs in Dhaka, and was amazed to see the luxury some people choose to enjoy. Tonight was their weekly cookout, with a variety of meats, including pig, which you never see in Bangladesh. I got chicken skewers, Ben got shrimp skewers. Lots of people came to bid their goodbyes to Aaron. The system they work on here for payment is through a complex booklet you have to buy of a set cost. As a result, Ben and I were left with $8.50 (yes dollars) of credit, so we bought a double cappuccino, a latte, and a slice of cheesecake.

41st-2nd in Dhaka 6/12

Today is Ben’s last full day in Bangladesh. We were at home in the morning, Ben had to plan out a lot of things for his trip to India, and my slow internet makes that a long process. I went out and made some copies of things for him: maps, plane tickets, etc.

The day was centered around an international cricket match between Bangladesh and India at Mirpur Stadium. The game is the third One Day International match between the three nations in the Tri Nations Series: India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh. Bangladesh had already lost to Pakistan, and India had beaten Pakistan, so things were not looking up for Bangladesh’s match versus India (well, honestly that is known weeks beforehand.)

I had to pick up tickets for Luke and his friend Stephanie who were coming later, so I told Ben and Ayon to go inside and I’d meet them there. The ticket counter had three windows, two for the cheap Gallery seats, and one for the Reserved and VVIP seats. Well despite the prices attached to those latter tickets, that particular line was the only one that went through a giant mud puddle. You had to walk along the bamboo handrails separating the lines to stay out of the puddle. There are always penalties for sitting in the better seats.

I met up with everyone inside, already there along with Ben and Ayon were Hridoy (Ayon and Jayita’s cousin), Jayita, and her fiancée Apurba. Later Opu would arrive, and then finally Luke and Stephanie later on. (pic: Hridoy/Opu/Ayon/Ben at the match having a serious discussion on the state of Bangladeshi cricket)

Bangladesh had chosen to bat first, and the inning went well, they scored 222 runs and lost their last wicket in the final over. It looked like Bangladesh could have a fighting chance if they played well defensively in the second inning. The game was quite warm, and the sun blared on us for about an hour, causing people around to shield themselves with whatever they had around (flags, hats, bookbags.) We had several bottles of cold beverages and two ice creams to keep cool. (pics: India bowls to Bangladesh in the Tri-Nations Series, Ben/Opu/Hridoy/Jayita watch the match, Bangladeshi cricket supporters waving the national flag, blocking out the sun by whatever way possible)

During the innings break, a friend of Jayita’s found us. He works for the Bangladesh Cricket Board, and insisted that he bring us to the VVIP section to sit. He didn’t need to twist our arms. We arrived at this section by actually leaving the stadium and then coming back in through several security checks. But once inside, we had incredible field-side seats.

From our excellent seating position, however, we watched as Bangladesh got dismantled by India. India scored runs at a run rate of over 7.0, a high pace. The game felt a bit slower as we watched Bangladesh lose. At one point Ben and I found some excellent game food beyond the ice cream, samosas, chingaras, soda, and chips that were being sold in the stands. A meal of a chicken cutlet, two spring rolls, and an excellent bread roll. Our friends left slowly, Jayita and Apurba first, Luke and Stephanie next. At the end of the match, only Ayon, Opu, Hridoy, Ben and I were left to cheer on two end-game wickets collected by Bangladesh. (pics: Ben/myself in our new seats, field view from the new seats)

Upon coming home, Ben wanted to update his blog one last time, and get packed. Meanwhile we also watched the movie Darjeeling Limited. A perfect fit since Ben is about to go across India.

41st-3rd in Dhaka 6/13

Got up very early and brought Ben to the bus counter to leave for Kolkata. No issues, he boarded, and is now on his next leg of his world tour: India for three days before heading to Sweden to meet with his family.

Spent the middle part of the day updating the blog, posting photos, and applying for jobs. Also caught up on all the blogs I read, as I’d stopped reading when Ben was here.

Moweena didn’t show up, so I didn’t have a fresh breakfast. This resulted in me not eating much today. I finally got lunch around 4pm, and it was just then that Jen and Ben called to invite me over for dinner at their place tonight. Good thing I didn’t order too much.

Before heading over to their place for dinner, a group of Muslim men came to my door. I answered, and they asked if there were any Muslims at home. They said they had come straight from mosque and they wanted to share a prayer. Finding it was only me, they proceeded to other doors. But when they came back downstairs from the floors above, I intercepted them, and inquired about what they wanted to share, and why today. It turned out that today was a great day of prayer at the mosque, and they wanted to share what they were feeling with others who had not come. They were reminding other Muslims how great it is to be a Muslim, and how great Allah is. It was neat to hear about the passion they had felt inspired to go out as groups and share. Although I didn’t get to share a prayer with them since I don’t prayers in the Koran, I was glad to be an audience to them and to hear the messages they had come to talk about.

Dinner at Jen and Ben’s was fun. Luke and Sam showed up as well, both were students with Jen last year in AIBS. Jen and Ben cooked tortillas and the appropriate fillings. It was delicious, and I ate a lot. Jen and Ben’s friends came over, two Bangladeshi girls, and this instantly changed the language of the evening to Bengali. Although they didn’t like the tortillas, we had a fun time talking with them for the hour or so they stayed.

A story I wrote for Fulbright when they requested stories from Fulbrighters got posted on the front page of their website. See the link here and in the sidebar.

41st-4th in Dhaka 6/14

Today I really got back to work. I finished the pre-processing of all my buses I had collected data on, and then processed two of those. I did this all in two different restaurants, just to get out of the house.

I had been at home all morning, doing photo stuff, getting things done online. I joined a website that allows you to find travel partners. Ever since Landon got word from his company that he can’t come with me to Southeast Asia, I’ve had a feeling of doom that I’ll be traveling alone. So I joined travelchums.com and a few others. Looking forward to seeing what happens.

But I was also feeling real sick today for some reason. After being out working, I was feeling exhausted. Beat down. Weak. Worn out. I put a movie on and sat and enjoyed, didn’t feel like moving. After the movie was over, I just shut my eyes and slept right where I was. I was too tired to get up to brush my teeth or shower. Finally around 1AM, I woke up, showered, and went to my real bed.

41st-5th in Dhaka 6/15

Woke up feeling very refreshed. Got a reply on travelchums from someone wanting to travel. That was great! Hope more show up. Signed up for a bunch more travel buddy websites, and posted on a few message boards. Hope some of these are effective. I would think people who post on there, or are active, are actually wanting to make something of their time there.

Talked to Dad since it was Father’s Day. That was very nice. Would be great to be at home sharing it with him, would be a real treat.

Processed three buses today. Local buses take longer to process than ticket buses because there are more stops, and more boards and alights per stop, and the stops are longer. This all adds up to what feels like less productivity. I don’t get as frequent feelings of completion because I go through stops and buses so slowly.

Felt very sick again at night. Couldn’t take my cold shower. Wore a shirt to bed for the first time since winter. Then woke up middle of the night sweating. Was up for awhile lying in bed.

41st-6th in Dhaka 6/16

Today Shegufta had promised to start working with me on a more regular basis. We planned to meet in BUET’s computer lab at 10. I gave her the bus stop data to process. Although this takes a longer amount of time, I felt because it involved less types of data to work with while still requiring a fairly active regiment of work, as compared to uploading information to the database, it was fit best for her. As well, since it takes longer than the database entry, daily I can enter what she does the day before into the database quickly, and then move onto analyzing, which I haven’t done enough of yet.

Currently I’m learning visual basic and how to write macros and seeing how I can apply this to my project. This also involves making decisions on how I want to manage my data, and in what programs to analyze, and which to store.

Only hiccup of the day was when Shegufta lost all the work she’d done over 1.5 hours. I had warned her to save often because of the computer lab’s eventual power outage, and of course she didn’t save at all, and lost all her work when we lost power.

After she left, I stayed a bit longer working, and then headed out. I got in the elevator, and its doors closed, and just then the power went out. I was stuck. Then it came on, and the doors opened, and I decided it’d be smart to get out before the power goes off again, but before I could get out, the elevator reshut its doors (it seemed to be restarting a routine) and started going down. Just as we were going down the power went out again. I sat there wondering what happens when you’re stuck in an elevator when the power is out. Power went back on again, and the elevator started moving again, and reached the bottom floor, but the doors wouldn’t open. I was there for 10 minutes with some man outside telling me to “wait.” Then magically the doors opened, and he wasn’t even standing there, and I left the building.

I came home and spent a lot of time working on visual basic, learning more of what it can do and practicing writing small programs with my excel tables. I enjoy learning new programs, even though I don’t pursue new ones actively.

It got windy this evening, and a fluorescent light bulb that’d just been leaning on my balcony (Mohan left it here) got blown over and crashed, scattering glass everywhere. Had to clean that up.

41st-7th in Dhaka 6/17

Another day feeling a bit weak and tired. Not sure what’s wrong.

At BUET Shegufta processed two buses for me, while I databased two, and then spent some writing, cleaning my data in the database, and fumbling around trying to get my Visual Basic operations to work.

Spending this time at BUET with Shegufta has allowed me to ask her what the giant bell is that rings at times throughout the day. She explained the bell announces exam times during the exam period, two hours left, one hour left, finish time. Heard all over campus. A neat idea that can stay a tradition for sure.

Working in the lab more often now has allowed me to discover some of the annoyances. For one, the computers won’t allow me to run macros or visual basic operations. I don’t understand how an engineering university’s computers aren’t allowed to do this. I understand the worry that students might make harmful macros, but other universities worldwide seem to figure a way out around this.
Like many offices and schools, certain words are blocked from being to be searched through a search engine. I’ve discovered one of those words at BUET is “analysis”, a word which I think could be useful for people in the fields of science and math.
The last and most significant are the power outages. Since we are all on PCs, when the power goes out, all the PCs turn off. BUET does have a generator, but nothing more, so although power comes back quick, we lose anything that hasn’t been saved. And since the power outages come randomly, you have to save all the time. Not usually a big problem, but because the computers are slow, and my files are large, saving takes about fifteen seconds each time. This adds up and slows down productivity. Today, in five hours, we had six losses of power, one for about ten minutes. We just sit there in the dark.

I've started to learn to read Hindi in preparation for traveling to India. It's not hard now that I already read Bengali with ease. I'm using an internet website that has simple pages with the characters on them and does it's best to make lessons

11 June 2008

Week 40: Lake, hills, ocean, and sand: Cox's Bazar and Rangamati

40th-1st in Dhaka 6/4

After a good night’s rest back at home, Ben and I headed over to Ayon’s for lunch. Farhan had come over as well, so Ben and him got to meet for the first time. Lunch was delicious as usual, and Ben got to experience Bangladeshi hospitality at its best, getting fed more food even after he felt he could eat no more. I think he thought he was going to burst. Afterwards we laid around for, essentially just letting the massive amount of food we ate digest. (pic: Farhan/Ben in an unplanned before/after picture of our very filling lunch at Ayon's house)

From there we quickly went and bought bus tickets for ourselves and Jen and Ben to go to Rangamati this weekend. We got stuck with the back seats on the bus, and are hoping that won’t be too bad.

Ayon, Farhan, Ben, and I took rickshaws down to the Buriganga River to see Old Dhaka and Ahsan Manzil. The river was just as busy as always, and we just missed the closing time of Ahsan Manzil, so we could only view it from outside its gates. We then got in a boat to tour the Buriganga for a bit. Although this is my fourth time doing this, it is my favorite thing to do in Dhaka, and each time provides new things to see. Today was my first time doing it at sunset. Farhan was very nervous, he didn’t like the busy atmosphere and being on the water in the middle of it. (pics: Farhan/Ben/Ayon on a boat in the Buriganga River, ship on the Buriganga River passing in front of Ahsan Manzil, sunset over the Buriganga, Ayon/myself in the boat, Ben on the Buriganga, two boatmen in front of a sunset on the Buriganga)

Farhan and Ayon left after that, while Ben and I headed over to the Hindu area of Old Dhaka to look at some of the jewelry shops, and to look into buying some pink pearls. We bought some individual ones in the idea of turning them into cuff links. (pic: weighing pink pearls in Old Dhaka)

40th-2nd in Dhaka 6/5

Today is 9 months.

We both posted our blogs today, and thus ended up spending a lot of time at home. We took turns, and it took the majority of the day. We broke for lunch.

But just so you don’t think we spent all day lounging at home, we went out to Bashundara City in the evening. I bought some DVDs that I’d wanted to see and some Ben recommended to me. We walked each floor, but not intending to buy much. Also got a pre-bus ride snack, a dosa. (pic: Ben poses in front of the eight-floored Bashundara City's central atrium)

We came home and got our stuff prepared for our trip. Lastly we headed out to the bus station to catch our night bus to Rangamati. Jen and Ben met us there. It left about a half hour late, and the back seats ended up being pretty bumpy. Would not choose those again if I didn’t have to. But I did my best to sleep. At least it was AC, overall I didn’t mind.

40th-3rd in Rangamati 6/6

We arrived in the morning at Rangamati. We had to go through several security checkposts, and each one had my nerves running full speed. I was worried we’d be denied for an odd reason. Well things went fine, we checked in to a handshake and a smile at the first checkpost and wrote our names and information, didn’t need to get off the bus for a handshake and some question asking at the second, and the third without a smile or a handshake required us to write our names and info again. Then we were in!

The road up was really windy curvy, and a bit scary. I started feeling nausea and so did Jen.

At one point the bus driver, who was clearly driving faster than I would’ve chose even in a car, caused the bus to swerve. It fishtailed several times as we went around a turn, and it was scary, very scary. The second it finished the bus riders exploded in yells and told the driver to take it easy!

Rangamati is a town based on a series of islands. The lake which surrounds the city, and winds through the islands is Kaptai Lake. It is man-made by the damming of the Karnaphuli River which runs through Chittagong, which occurred 1960s. The dam provides power for Chittagong. When the dam was first built, it flooded the entire area, and caused the tribal people living there to move to higher ground. The palace of the king of these tribes is now underwater! Thus the city is the tops of several hills, now islands. Small bridges and causeways connect them all, forming a city that has a very unique character for the country. There are no rickshaws as the hills are too big, and instead CNGs work as a jitney system. One main road goes through all the islands and it is here that most of the activity occurs.

Our hotel, Hotel Sufia, was on the water's edge. My room with Ben had a toilet that didn't refill after you flushed and the bathroom light was out, but it was nice hotel otherwise. The back of it had a dock that led down to the lake. (pics: view out of the back of our hotel onto Kaptai Lake, Jen/Ben/Ben on the stairs to our hotel's dock with a goat with green horns climbing up)

After resting up, and a small lunch, we went on a walk that was suggested to us by a friend. It started out on one of the furthest out and most developed islands. From there we crossed several bridges to go between three more islands before coming back to the main road. The hike was very interesting. Although following a road the whole way, it had plenty of climbs and drops, and brought us past several villages. (pics: Ben posing on a bridge on our hike through Rangamati's islands, Ben with Rangamati's hills and dried up lake in the background, Jen/Ben/Ben cross a bride which seems to be missing a few pieces)

At one point we stopped in at a bamboo structure which housed eleven looms. Since it was Friday, it wasn’t fully operating, but two loomers were there, and we asked these two men, and the crowd around us about the work, how the looms operate, and where the products go. Found out a lot about their village and its history, as well as why these businesses exist here in the hill tracts and not in the major cities. (pic: Ben inside the loom workshop, movie: loom worker performing his trade)

Later we came upon a small Buddhist temple and monastery. We talked to some of the children and monks who were there. Then some of the kids led us across the street to a Hindu temple, where people were just leaving from a midday gathering of prayer. They asked us to sit, and offered us some of the sweets they had made of coconut and rice. As well, they served us kichuri. Despite already eating lunch, we put the food in our stomachs. (pic: Hindu temple and its visitors where we were served food along the road we hiked in Rangamati)

The entire hike we were questioned by locals about our home nation and why we’d come to Bangladesh. It was a good 3 hours or so, and we were tired by the end. We came out near New Market, and there we bought our bus tickets for going our separate ways in two days (Ben and Jen to Dhaka, Ben and I to Cox’s Bazar.) (pics: view over the hills of Rangamati, crossing a dried up part of the lake by a bamboo bridge where you would usually have to ferry across)

In the evening we went out to dinner at the Roof Top Restaurant a restaurant that specialized in serving food indigenous to the tribal cultures of the region. We tried bamboo and chicken dishes cooked in traditional ways. It was a nice break from the typical Bangladeshi cuisine. The place also had a nice open air atmosphere.

40th-4th in Rangamati 6/7

Under suggestion from our friend, Ben and I headed next door for breakfast, as opposed to taking the free breakfast at our hotel. It’s the same food, but we were told the hotel’s food was very oily. We sat down next door and then got approached by a man…the hotel owner! He asked us why we weren’t going to take our free breakfast at the hotel. He seemed hurt. I asked him why he was eating here and not at the hotel. Seems a bit ironic that he chooses not to eat at his own restaurant.

Today we had planned to go out on Kaptai Lake. As foreigners, to do this, we have to have police escorts. This is a requirement which is annoying, but can have repercussion if you don’t follow the rule. The region has had bursts of violence, many times targeting tourists in recent years, so despite their not being any present current threat, the police are still required. So in the morning I had to take a CNG with a hotel staff member across town to a police station, where we had to bring back 3 police escorts! When we arrived they were still in their pajamas, so I had to wait 30 minutes while they changed into their uniforms. I had to pay the large taxi fare both ways. The police officers all had guns to protect us.

The lake is currently very low, just before the monsoon season. Islands are showing that would normally be under water during typical water levels. As well, the trees start about 40 feet up every bank. Our hotel would actually be right on the water, but currently it sits 40 feet above water level, hanging out over the land on its stilts. However, I don’t think the low water level detracted from the prettiness of the region. It was neat in fact to see hints of what the land looked like before it was flooded. Made me also realize how careful boat drivers have to be during all seasons not to drive over the tops of hills just under the water’s surface! (pics: the city of Rangamati as seen from Kaptai Lake at low water level)

Our boat was about 30 feet long, and had chairs for us and our police escorts. The boat driver sat in back and operated the two stroke engine and the rudder. We could stand or sit out on the bow if we pleased. The lake was very pretty, and when the engine was off, very quiet. It had villages all around its sides, and boats crossing it with people on board. Boats all about the same size as ours. We headed through, and Ben and I realized at one point we were heading on the river’s original course as the sides of the banks were rock, and were shaped as though they weren’t just land that had been flooded. (pics: boats docked at Shuvalong on Kaptai Lake, Jen/Ben on the boat with police officers in the background for protection, bow of our boat as we travel across Kaptai Lake)

In this area we stopped at Shuvalong Waterfall, which had a very low flow, only able to be seen from up close. So, we got up as close as we could. All of us guys climbed the waterfall’s bottom most rocks. This was not easy in the sandals Ben and I had on. (pics: Ben at the base of the waterfall (in orange) while Ben and I are a level below (in gray and blue), Shuvalong waterfall at a low flow)

We had lunch at Cheng Peng Restaurant, and had some chicken cooked inside a bamboo shoot, along with rice. The views from the restaurant, which is the middle of the lake on top of an island, are of the city and the surrounding water. We walked to the top of the island for a better view. We also had to pay for the police escort’s lunch, which on top of the tips we gave them at the end of the day, was all we had to do for their accompaniment. (pics: view of Kaptai Lake from Cheng Peng Restauarnt on an island in the middle of the lake, myself/Ben posing in front of Kaptai Lake)

Midway between these two places it started to rain. It stopped, but a second burst came later, and at this point the boat driver insisted on going back to port. We missed out on seeing the hanging bridge on the other side of Rangamati, the king’s current palace, and a Chakma Buddhist temple. The rain stayed on when we got back to the hotel, and meanwhile we played my favorite Bangladeshi card game “29” until past the rain’s end. Dinner was shrimp cooked inside a bamboo shoot. (pics: rain pours down as we hide in a rocky cove of Kaptai Lake, Ben/Ben watch as rain pours down around us as we travel)

40th-5th in Cox’s Bazar 6/8

Ben and I got up early to leave the hotel, and picked up the bus outside on the curb. This first bus ride brought us to Chittagong. We had to sign out at the checkpost. We arrived in Chittagong after 2.5 hours, then had to get a rickshaw across the north side of the city to the bus station at which we could catch buses to Cox’s Bazar. The scenery on the way down was highlighted by the hills of Bandarban to our east the entire time. Otherwise, it was typical Bangladeshi scenery. Ben and I listened to a mix he had made of songs from our crew days the entire way down.

After arriving we changed into swimsuits, went and bought bus tickets home for the next night, and also got some snacks as we hadn’t really eaten yet.

Then we headed to beach! It was a gorgeous sunny day, but we have no pictures as we didn’t bring our cameras because we wanted to go swimming. The water was warm, and playing around was tons of fun. The water also had a strong current, and we kept finding ourselves far from where we’d entered.

Walked south from Sea Beach Road where we had first gotten to the beach. The sand was decently soft. There were very few beachgoers at first, but we found them all later, clustered around a 200m long stretch where there were umbrellas and chairs, a bit of a corralling effect. Didn’t seem like people left this spot. Just in front of reaching this, we found a large sea turtle shell. Inside the remnants of a turtle were still there, and wild dogs were picking at its bones and eating what was left of its flesh. There were large lifeguard stands that had the signs “Watch Bay” on it, perhaps a reference to the popular show Baywatch? Farther south as the land curved, we saw hills towering over the seas. The dunes next to the sea were all well covered with vegetation: small greenery closer to the sea and coniferous trees behind that. Much better protected for erosion than beaches in the US. (pics: the only place on the long beach that people were hanging out at in Cox's Bazar, tree and shrub covered dunes in Cox's Bazar)

We walked back up to where we started, enjoying the last of the sun before it set behind some clouds.

That night we went to a restaurant we had heard good things about from several of my friends. It is called Mermaid Café and is right on the beach side. You pull up by rickshaw to see a giant sign for the restaurant, but no restaurant. You inquire to a man sitting by the sign about it, and he will then lead you on a 5 minute walk along the beach by flashlight between the dunes. Our friend had warned us about this, otherwise we would’ve been a bit apprehensive. But instead it was a really cool way to approach the restaurant. We could see it from the distance all lit up in lights, and could hear music as we approached. It was in the style of a beach bungalow, lit by hanging lights. The man with the flashlight brought us right to the entrance and then went back to get more guests. (pics: Mermaid Cafe in Cox's Bazar at night, Ben happy to enjoy a crepe in Bangladesh)

The food was great. A great selection of seafood served in a variety of styles. They also had crepes for desert. They invited us to see their kitchen and a small art gallery they keep on premises.

40th-6th in Cox’s Bazar 6/9

A trip to Maheskhali Island was suggested to us by Aaron, so in the morning we headed over to the port of Cox’s Bazar to take a speedboat over to the island, about a 15 minute ride away. The tide was out, so in order to reach the speedboat, we had to walk over strung together thin boats that worked as a temporary dock. We had to pay a small fee to both get onto the real dock, and another walk along the temporary dock. (pics: seafaring boats at dock in Cox's Bazar with people paying the dock fee to ride the boats to Maheskhali Island, the string of small boats used as a dock extension)

Upon getting to the island, we were surrounded by rickshaw wallahs before we could even leave the boat. They were all crowding the temporary dock of strung together boats. And they followed us up onto the jetty. A bit impractical as there wasn’t much space up there anyway. Well we decided to not take a rickshaw and get some breakfast in town instead. Two rickshaws, however, followed us along the entire jetty and into town asking us to ride with them, at least a quarter of a mile. I’d never seen such persistence. They then waited outside the place we ate at hoping to get our business. That kind of annoyed us, so we decided to take a different rickshaw after breakfast.

We first stopped at a Buddhist temple complex within the town. They had several images of the Buddha housed in a variety of temples. A man there explained only a little to us about the place. He did tell us the island had a population of 200,000 people. I was shocked. Had no clue it was so big, but looking at a map later, I realized how big of an island it actually was. The same rickshaw then took us to the next spot.n the east side of the island there are decently tall hills. (pics: Buddhist monastery on Maheskhali Island, stupa next to the monastery in Maheskhali)

On top of one of these hills there was a Hindu temple and a Buddhist stupa. We looked at both and also enjoyed the views of the island. (pics: view of the hills of Maheskhali island with a hut on top of one, view of the city of Maheskhali on the island)

At the bottom of the hill when we got down the same rickshaw wallah was still waiting for us, and he followed us as we walked the long distance down a pier. He wouldn’t give up on our business. Ben and I sat at the end of the pier for a bit, watching some fisherman, and then considered what to do next. We thought about hiking in the hills along the island, but rickshaw wallah (and another that’d shown up) warned us that the people there aren’t good people and its dangerous. Well whether they were trying to scare us and make us take their rickshaw somewhere else, or telling the truth, we decided against it. Ultimately we decided to take a small boat back to the main dock a bit of distance around the island. We left our disappointed persistent rickshaw wallah on the jetty. (pics: Ben posing on the long pier on Maheskhali Island, fisherman fishing at the end of the pier)

Upon getting back to Cox’s Bazar city, we went to the beach, took some pictures, even though it was not nearly as nice as yesterday. Very windy, and rain was threatening. But still warm. We played in the water a bit keeping an eye on my camera on land. (pics: Ben near the edge of Bay of Bengal, Cox's Bazar's beach, kids playing in the Bay of Bengal in Cox's Bazar, Ben posing near inner tubs at the popular area of the beach in Cox's Bazar)

Walked farther than yesterday, and finally decided to go climb one of the hills behind the city. They looked to be of similar height of what we could see down the shore, so figured this should be just as good for views. And it was. It was tough finding a way up, as villages were along the base of the hills tightly packed with no way to get close. But we found a road the cut through the hill, and there was a path to climb to the top of the hill from there. There were a few other guys up there who were doing the same thing as us, looked to be kids from the villages below. The views allowed us to see all of Cox’s Bazar, down and up the coast quite a ways, and far inland. Neat to see the villages just below us bustling and the new hotels along the ocean. (pics: Cox's Bazar's hotels and ocean as seen from the hills just behind the city, village along the edge of the hills in Cox's Bazar)

We headed back to the hotel, dropped off the camera and went back to ocean to play in the water. The sea was very rough. It would pull us along the shore a good distance in just a small amount of time. Kept having to get out and walk back up. Sat in the sand, enjoyed the warm waters of the Bay of Bengal.

We showered and got ready for our bus. Had a small dinner, and I showed Ben fried rupchanda fish (pomfret.) The bus ended up getting delayed one hour, and we played cards in the ticket office until it left. Bus ride ended up starting around 11:15pm.

On all the travels Ben and I have done here, our primary sustenance has been water, Choco Marie biscuits, and bananas. We’ve been trying to avoid having stomach problems on the bus. The biscuits have been incredible, filling me up after only a few.

40th-7th in Dhaka 6/10

The bus got in later due to its late departure time, but also because it is having to take a longer route. The Meghna Bridge we found out later is under repair, so the buses are having to go north through Narsingdhi, taking an extra 2 hours on the trip. This is going to cause rolling delays. We still got into Dhaka around 9AM.

After resting from the trip, Ben and I ate some lunch at Nando’s. He had wanted to check it out as he’d seen it South Africa, but hadn’t eaten there. And we are lucky to have one here.

From there we went to the Green Line ticket counter in Kalabagan. Ben bought his ticket to Kolkata on Friday. Ticket was very cheap, and buying it was incredibly easy! Compared to the hassle I had for buying plane tickets, I think the time saved buying bus tickets makes up for the length of the ride!

I then took Ben to the Liberation War Museum. I had to go help at an orientation session in Baridhara, so I gave him specific directions on how to meet up with me later. Although I was a bit worried, I had total faith he’d be fine.

The orientation session was for my former language program AIBS. Jen, Karen, and a former student Luke were all invited by Tony Stewart, the program director, to give the new batch of fifteen students a short orientation on life in Dhaka, answering any questions they had about life here and the program itself. After a short introduction by Tony, he left, and left us to chat. The kids were still tired from arriving just yesterday, but we still had a session for about 50 minutes. They asked questions about getting around, clothing, food, health, and we were glad to talk about it all. We also raised several topics we thought they show know about. (pics: new listening classroom at AIBS, 2008's batch of summer Bengali students at AIBS at orientation)

The program has almost all new teachers from last year. Only Santa remains from even the teaching staff I had (Nadia and Shakil left take jobs in other countries, and Farrah quit.) Two of the new teachers were Fulbrights to NCSU last year and taught Bengali there (just like how Naira and Farhanaz taught me the year before.)

I met up with Ben at Gulshan-1. He had no problems getting there, and received help from several people on the bus and at the bus counter. Was very happy that it went all right. We walked to Time Out for dinner and with the goal of getting some paan we could trust. We tried out the mango drink that is only available in this season, very salty and a bit spicy. Dinner was fine, Ben tried out Bangladeshi Mexican food, and I got some Malaysian noodles. Then we got try the paan they serve there. I ordered one that they said was not too sweet. Ben and I stuffed it in our mouths and chewed away. It wasn’t as bad as the last few times I’ve tried it, now that I’m getting used to it. Ben handled it much better than I did my first time. (pics: our paan at Time Out before eating, Ben putting the paan in his mouth, the various ingredients that are put inside paan)