30 August 2008

Week 51: Chittagong, second city of Bangladesh...save the best for last

51st-1st in Dhaka 8/20

Today was a stressing day. It started with me waiting for Moweena for 4 hours. I couldn’t go out to work as I needed to speak with her that I’ll be out of town for 4 days. But she didn’t show up, and now she’ll show up at some point in the next few days and find me not there, and get annoyed at me.

Talked to my landlord’s wife this morning about my moving out, and that a future Fulbright Tiffany will be moving in. Had to establish if I could leave all my stuff in the room if Tiffany is taking my place and buying my stuff. The landlord’s wife said she won’t get my place, but get the place the floor below next to the landlord’s. I also asked about the deposits and how I’ll get them back. Before leaving, the last thing she said was that she wants my fridge. I explained I promised it to the boys downstairs, and she said “No, you will give it to me” in her nice voice. Again I said it was promised, and then she said “I will talk to them, and then you will give to me” in her not so nice voice. Made me feel very uncomfortable. I just imagine her telling me if I don’t give her the fridge, then she won’t give me my deposit back.

After I finally got out of the house, I went to ride the Safety bus four times. Only two times would come of this. The first two buses got in big jams, and thus I knew I didn’t have time for a fourth before heading to my dinner invitation. So I boarded the third, glad to know I would at least get that one done. However this bus got a flat tire 2/3 of the way through the route, and that was the end of that. Had to scrap the route, and 1.5 hours wasted on it.

Headed to Shegufta’s home from there. I thought it was interesting that I took four modes of transportation to get there. First I took a tempo from where the bus had had a flat tire. I got off the tempo and walked from that point on the tempo’s route to Farmgate. There I got on a local bus to Bangla Motor, where I picked up a rickshaw to take to her home. I then proceeded to get lost and it took about 10 minutes to find her home. Oddly she lives in a really empty street, but it was the lack of businesses (that have addresses on their signs) made me get lost amongst the nothingness.
Dinner was great! But they stuffed me so full. So many delicious things, and her mother kept putting more on my plate. She had 20 items total for us that night. Her father knew a lot about the space programs of the world, a favorite for the retired mechanical engineer, and I enjoyed listening to what he had to say about that and other topics he has picked up in his numerous science magazines.

Random thing. While stuck in traffic tonight, our tempo conductor was chatting with the driver of someone’s SUV (the owner wasn’t inside.) The driver told him to hop in for a spin. So he did. He left us. Never came back.

51st-2nd in Chittagong 8/21

Auvi picked me up early to take me to the train station. Our train to Chittagong left at 7:40am. I was nausea this morning, and the train food options didn’t help. The only sanitary food on the train, according to Auvi, was the many bags of potato chips we ate. I did manage to buy some bananas and peanuts through the train window at a stop mid-route, and that was much more fulfilling.
The train itself was very clean. They had food servers coming down the aisle every few minutes serving sandwiches and chicken burgers (both which Auvi told me not to take), chips, cold drinks, and candy. The views out the window were great. It was neat to leave the city by the train, see its view of the traffic (which the train itself is causing.) Neat to pass by all the cities on the way to Chittagong. Its not a direct route, we first go north to go south because the Meghna River isn’t bridged on the most direct route. We stopped at about 15 stations along the way. At points we can see the hills of nearby India as we passed by the eastern border. The landscape as we got closer to Chittagong was of the hill tracts of Bangladesh, gorgeous. (pics: Dhaka's train station in the early morning, six ticket collectors came through the aisle at once swarming us checking our tickets and were out of the cabin before you realized what had happened (also a good shot of the inside of the train), our train sweeps through the Bangladesh countryside, someone else enjoying the view of the Chittagong Hill Tracts)

We arrived, and headed to where we were staying. Ayon was staying at his cousin’s home, while Auvi had arranged for him and I to stay with his older sister and her husband. These two places were about 30-40 minutes apart by rickshaw.
Auvi’s sister Shubha and her husband Asif have a cute son named Arham, and he called me “Donny Mama” (Donny Uncle) from the start, at the direction of his parents. It was cute, and it quickly made me feel at home. They were extremely welcoming from the start, and Shubha cooked amazing food. The attitude around the dinner table was light, and we had several great laughs across the time we were there. I enjoyed playing games with Arham over the whole weekend. (pics: Auvi relaxing with his nephew Arham, Arham/Spiderman)

Tonight, Auvi and I headed to what he called the Bashundara City of Chittagong. It was 6 floors high, but at least 10 times as small a floor plan for each level. Still, it is pretty nice and the best stores are there. A food court on the top floor had a small variety, and we got some fuchka covered in yogurt and then some ice cream. (pic: Sanmar Ocean City-Chittagong's Bashundara City says Auvi)

I’ve been plowing through Freedom at Midnight. Incredible book. Read it at all my free chances. For the first time understanding the birth of all the nations in the subcontinent, and not just Bangladesh. Incredible history.

51st-3rd in Chittagong 8/22

I keep getting a hard time from people about the US having less gold medals than China in these Olympics. Although I defend my country and say we have more total medals (and that’s how my newspaper back home had always ranked countries) they said only gold medals matter, and thus the US is second for once. Everyone is rejoicing over this.

We set out this morning to the Chittagong Shipyards. I have known about these for years, but read more about them when I got the Fulbright, and really wanted to see them when I came. Today was finally the time. Although much controversy surrounds them in terms of safe working conditions, child labor, and where the profits go to, I’ve been told and read online that it is possible to go inside. You just have to try a few entrances until someone lets you in.
Well we weren’t that lucky. A bunch of us went: Auvi, Asif, Ayon, Ayon’s cousins Hridoy and Protoy, Auvi’s cousin, and even Arham! Two CNGs full of guys interested in boats being taken apart. We’d heard it was easier to go on Friday when things were less busy, and thus more likely for someone to be let in. Well maybe the opposite is true. The guard wouldn’t let us in at any of the three gates we tried, and two said that we could have a chance if the supervisor was there to grant us permission (on a weekday.)
We could only peer through the fences. It was still very impressive. Some of the biggest boats on earth just cut in half, and it’s all by hand labor. The ships just sit on the beach, and in front of them are all the metal taken from their hulls and decks. The streets to the shipyards are filled with things taken from the boats such as life preservers, toilets, cabinets, and sinks.
I really wish we could’ve gone in. It was a big “want” for me in Bangladesh, and I’ll leave without ever gong inside and seeing this wonder up close. (pics: materials collected from the ships at the Chittagong Shipyards, a view of a large ship being taken apart and lots of scrap material from outside the fence)

We headed home, had lunch, and rested most of the rest of the day until we went to Foy’s Lake in the evening. From what I knew, Foy’s Lake sits amongst a few hills just next to Chittagong, and is a very beautiful area. Well apparently over time commercialism stepped in and now there’s an amusement park on the lakeside, as well as bungalow hotels. The natural beauty still exists, under concrete pathways, steps, rides, boats with ads pasted on them, etc. Oh well. Still a nice place to pass time with friends. The tickets were a bit expensive to get in. We went to the lake right away, and took a 20 minute boat ride on a small sized craft run by a loud engine. It putted us around the lake for awhile. (pics: Arham looking out on Foy's Lake, Shubha/Prottoy/Ayon on the boat ride around Foy's Lake)

From there we took a short stroll along the paths. A few of us started climbing up one of the hills to get a better view of the lake. On the other side of the hill you could see all of Chittagong. (pics: Ayon/Arham/myself posing at Foy's Lake's walkpaths, Auvi and others below climbing one of the hills that form the rim of Foy's Lake)

We rode some of the rides there. I got on the swinging pirate ship, the bumper cars, and the kids roller coaster. Arham loved the roller coaster, especially since it was the only one he was allowed on. He was crying when we rode the other rides without him. (pics: Auvi/Hridoy/Ayon thoroughly enjoying the swinging pirate ship, Prottoy/Hridoy/Auvi await the bumper cars in anticipation)

Auvi and I were up late tonight hanging out around the home, and we felt an earthquake!! I’d never felt one before, and neither had Auvi. I was sitting on the bed and I started to feel it wobble. I didn’t understand what was happening at first, and Auvi didn’t either. He was standing, and the cabinet he was standing next to had been rocking. We looked at each other and he was the fist one to say “earthquake.” It lasted for about 30 seconds. We were both a bit scared, not sure what to do. It wasn’t very strong, just a bit of wobble, but it was our firsts. If we had been sleeping we wouldn’t have felt it.
His sister said in the morning that Chittagong gets lots of earthquakes like this.

51st-4th in Chittagong 8/23

This morning Auvi’s dad arrived from Dhaka to stay at his sister’s home too. He had come for the wedding tomorrow that we’ll be going to in his village.

Auvi, myself, Ayon, and Prottoy headed by CNG with Asif to his factory. He is the executive director of a garments factory. It was my first time getting to see a place like this, despite the many in Dhaka and across Bangladesh. He was a great tour guide showing us each part of the process. The factory makes sweaters, and we saw how they are put through the looms by hundreds of workers, how many more then put the pieces of the sweaters together, then inspect them, wash them, iron them, do quality control, add buttons and tags and details, and then pack them up for shipping. The factory was very clean, and seemed very well run. My favorite part was seeing the small part where the designer makes all his samples to send overseas to gather orders. Once a design is chosen, his group then creates a guide on how to make the clothes for all the loom workers. The worksheets for this were pretty cool, long procedures to follow filled with complex codes. (pics: looms at the garment factory, showing the data sheet that a worker follows to make the sweaters, Asif explains to Ayon/Auvi/Prottoy how a garment is made and put together at his factory, the linking section putting the sleeves and body together, the designer's office, the shipping box proudly announcing where the clothes were made)

We later got a snack at a fried chicken restaurant, and then went to see the World War 2 cemetery. I saw a similar cemetery in Comilla in October, and found out here that there are eight total scattered across India, Bangladesh, and Myanmar from the Burmese front of the war against the Japanese. (pic: World War 2 cemetery in Chittagong)

In the afternoon Auvi and I went over to Ayon’s cousins home, and we all headed out to Patenga Beach. From there you can watch the sunset. Well Auvi and I had arrived too slow, so by the time we all got to the beach, the sun had set. But still the views of the ships out on the water waiting to go to port with all their lights lit was beautiful. The place was packed with people, and this was after we saw many leaving after sunset. There were shops to buy sea-themed gifts. We had fresh cooked crabs from some guy with a pot. (pics: Auvi/Hridoy/Prottoy/Ayon at Patenga Beach at night, boats waiting outside Chittagong port to deliver their goods, the pot of crabs we ate from, craftsman at the beach market)

51st-5th in Chittagong 8/24

We headed out to Auvi’s father’s village in the morning. We were to attend a wedding and see his family’s home. Ayon, Prottoy, Auvi, and I shared a CNG on the way out, and that meant Prottoy had to sit on Ayon’s lap the whole way. A bit squished.
We stayed in the village for about an hour, roaming around the old house, the nearby rice paddies, and just around in general. We got fed some snacks by his father’s brother's family, some juice, biscuits, samosas, and guava. From there it was to the wedding. What resulted there, or rather what didn’t, was far from what I expected. (pics: myself/Auvi/Ayon at Auvi's father's village, Prottoy/Auvi/Ayon on our visit with some of the oldest homes behind them)

We arrived, and already there were about 200 people there, about one quarter standing outside. The whole wedding was split between men and women to maintain purdah. The groom had his own stage on the men’s side, the woman had her stage on the woman’s side, and a giant wall was between them. We sat down immediately to eat, and that lasted about 15 minutes. We then stood inside for about 3 minutes, and outside for five. Then we left. In total, we were at the wedding for about 25 minutes maximum. I asked Auvi, why we had come all this way, just to eat and leave. He explained that the majority of the people who come to the wedding do just that. They are there to be treated by the hosts to a free meal, and never intend to stay for any part of the wedding. I asked if anyone stays to see the actual marriage between the bride and groom, and he said a handful. (pics: myself/Auvi outside the wedding, the groom sits on his stage)

We went back to Auvi’s place in the late afternoon, and were given snacks by his sister. This would be the first of five snacks that Auvi and I would enjoy this afternoon/evening. See below.
Before the line of homes we visited, we first headed to Battali Hills Park, which has an overlook over the city and out to the ocean. We arrived just after sunset, and thus only stayed for a bit. But the walk up the hill was neat as it was a gorgeous wooded park inside the hectic city. Dhaka’s parks do not have this feeling. The view from the top was spectacular. One forgets what views of Bangladesh are like as the whole country is mainly flat. (pics: Ayon and Prottoy climbing up Battali Hill, view of Chittagong out to the Bay of Bengal from the top of Battali Hill)

Then started the evening of visiting and eating. In succession we visited three homes of Ayon’s family. As Auvi is a new member of the family, marrying in, he wanted to visit them all as he was in town. At each we were given a cold drink and a variety of snacks. it is expected of us to eat a fair share of these snacks, or else you disappoint your host. By the third home, we were stuffed. It was admittedly hard to finish off our last bit of sweets. Then for Auvi and I we had to go over to see his mom’s sister. There we were given our final snacks for the night, and luckily they were understating on why we didn’t take very much. (pics: Ayon/Prottoy/Amiyo at one of their relatives homes, Auvi/Ayon's cousin Bilu/Shreya/Prottoy's mother/Poulomi/Bilu's wife/Auhona/Prottoy on our visit to their home)

At home, despite all our snacking on sweets and salty tings, we still had a small dinner his sister had prepared for us. The rice and dal were actually quite refreshing after eating so many sweet things for the last few hours.

51st-6th in Dhaka 8/25

We woke up early to catch the train back to Dhaka. It left at 7am. Five of us were going: Auvi, Ayon, and I and in addition Ayon’s cousin and his son Hridoy. Hridoy is starting university in Dhaka, so this was his trip to college.

The train was faster than the one we took to Chittagong. This particular one was considered express, and only stopped at a handful of stations. We got back in just 6 hours as compared to the 8 it took going out. It also had higher quality food, including better potato chips. Auvi approved of it being good, as opposed to the food on the way out. On the train I spent a lot of time drawing in Auvi’s notebook. I drew tons of maps, mostly of the US. I also drew my family tree as well as Ayon’s family tree. (pics: myself drawing maps and family trees/Chittagong Hill Tracts as seen from the Dhaka-Chittagong train)

Upon getting back, I headed home, and rushed around the afternoon getting ready for Altaf’s wedding reception tonight.
I had wanted to wear my new French cuffed shirt and cuff links tonight, but my tailor still wasn’t done with my stuff. I picked up my cuff links at the jeweler though, and I’m happy with them.
While out, I stopped to weigh myself at a streetside scale. I hopped on in anticipation: 143 lbs. I’ve lost a bit more from the last times I was weighing myself. In total now, about 25 pounds since arriving in Bangladesh.
Also bought a toothbrush from the street. Despite always being shown these on the bus and the street, I had yet to buy one from there. I can now say I’ve done that.
I also went to FedEx near my home and confirmed prices with them, the procedure for shipping, and got a box that I’ll start packing things into to bring back to them. For the box I want to use, I can’t take it from their office, so I have to pack my things in one box, bring it to their office, and repack it in another box.

I end up walking through the remnants of a political demonstration today, or perhaps a riot. Dhaka College students, near New Market, had taken to the streets in protest of actions by the government. I saw remnants of what looked to be a burned car, and there was broken glass all over the streets. The street itself was closed to vehicles, and I didn’t know why until I reached Dhaka college. All the buses and cars were being rerouted down Elephant Road, what a mess! A lot of the New Market stores had closed up shop, locked their doors in worry. The police presence was incredible, all in their riot gear. But still pedestrians were just walking by on their daily duties. Some groups of people still seemed to be in protesting mode, gathering in large groups to yell about something, but the police weren’t minding them too much. I did avoid the crowd just in case. The police, by the time I left, were less interested in what had happened and more interested in the hawkers selling hand towels, children’s masks, and guavas.
When I got home I saw I had received an email notice from the US Embassy to avoid this area, ooops.

Tonight was Altaf’s wedding reception. I was very excited as it was the first time I would meet his older brother Anwar (who is the reason I met so many people in Bangladesh) and his wife, Jayita’s older sister, Sanjana. The reception was at the Officer’s Club on Baily Road. I was wearing a suit, and because it was so hot, I decided to take an AC taxi to the wedding. Expensive, but as I only take buses, I’m felt I can splurge this one time (it is about 10 more times expensive to take that taxi than a bus.)
Upon walking in I immediately got to meet Sanjana, and no less than 2 minutes later Anwar came by to introduce himself. Finally met them. I talked to Sanjana a little bit as she was not as busy as Anwar. As the groom’s brother, he was running around saying hello to everyone and making sure they were happy. We chatted a little bit before I left, and I arranged to see him and his wife before they leave to go back to the US. (pics: myself/Ayon at Altaf's wedding, Ayon/Annita/Hridoy and other cousins at the wedding, the reception hall)

I went up on stage to take a photo with Altaf and his wife like everyone else. Congratualted him, and we had as long a chat as a wedding reception allows a groom to have…a few seconds.

51st-7th in Dhaka 8/26

Today I grabbed a photo of the recycling place that I had talked about last week. It is here where they will collect your trash and give you money for it. (pic: recycling center or the place they will pay you for your reusable trash)

I spent some time today packing up my cabinet’s drawers. Emptying out everything, and putting it into the box, to bring to FedEx next week. Choosing what to take and what not is tough. I’m trying to create a pile of junk, but also don’t want to miss out on things that meant a lot to me here.

Selling my furniture has been easier but at the same time more stressful than I imagined. Although I have buyers for everything pretty much, everyday I feel I’m getting hounded by people insisting I sell them something, as opposed to the people I’ve already promised it too. Everyone feels they deserve it more, and are stubborn when I tell them “no,” and they get a bit angry. And others feel I should give it to them for free using the foolproof argument “you very rich American, I so poor Bangladeshi.”

Headed out to ride the buses. I did the #1 bus from Gulistan to Mirpur-12, and then the Safety bus between Mirpur-12 and Azimpur twice. Jams were bad, but not hair pulling. I almost dosed off on the second route. I had lunch up in Mirpur at a place I’d been looking at for awhile, and it was less than impressive.

Been trying to capture photos of all the “_FC” restaurants in Dhaka and around Bangladesh. To my knowledge there is AFC, BFC, CFC, DFC, FFC, GFC, HFC, KFC, MFC, and TFC. I’ll try to post a collage of them if I can get them all.

At night I had to meet the DHL van in front of Dhanmondi 8/A, because they didn’t want to find my home. I also feel this was easier, and was glad to do it.

22 August 2008

Week 50: I went to Rangpur, but it is in Dhaka where you'll find the 'Rajdhanir Raja'

50th-1st in Dhaka 8/13

I bought more pineapples last night. I asked Moweena to cut them up this morning. But this time without using a chili! Last time she added a chili to my pineapple, as that is what is typically done in Bangladesh. Spicy!
Also had a discussion with her this morning about what the different words to describe fruits and vegetables are after she told me my pineapple was unripe. There were three words we were throwing around, and I was trying to find out which was which. One seemed to be for when it was on the tree and unripe, one for when its off the tree and unripe, and one when its rip. And for when its bad: she just said “throw it away” but never gave me a vocabulary word.

I then headed out to work, but first stopped by New Market to pick up my cuff links. I found the guy, and after waiting there about 5 minutes as they dealt with two other customers, he turns to me and says the didn’t make my cuff links. He told me he went to ten jewelers and no one wanted to make them. So he handed me my pearls back, and gave me my deposit back. I was frustrated.
Stormed upstairs to find that elusive jeweler who could help me. I had talked to another guy in the past and went to him. This guy said he could do it, with a confident voice, and I trusted him. We arranged a design, and even decided to add another pearl to the design, and he says it’ll be ready in a week. I’m paying him a bit more, new pearls excluded.

I then hopped on four bus routes on a bus I had never ever ridden before, the #36. I’d heard about it in fables: it only allows sitting, and is very strict about it, and provides very quick service. Nafisa used to ride it to work and back. It was my finally my turn. I boarded it in Azimpur, and was a bit confused about the boarding. There was a line, but not everyone was allowed to board. Confused. So I got in line. It only allowed 10 of us on. At the next stop, with 50 people waiting in line, only another 10. Same at the next! And at the last, 10 more, filling all 40 seats of the bus, no more no less. And we were off, straight to our destination, no stops mid-route.
I rode the route four times, and it wasn’t until the last time that the bus got caught in a jam. And what a jam! Took us one hour to go about 3 km. it was horrible. When I got off, instead of taking a bus home through the jam. I walked. It was faster. All the buses I passed walking never passed me back. I got home, grabbed my India travel book and brought it to dinner where Erin wanted to copy pages from it for her trip to India next week. In all, I must’ve power walked for 40 minutes!
Dinner with Erin was great. We haven’t seen each other in a long time. And thus could talk for hours catching up on stuff. We ate at Korai Gost, and she enjoyed their quality Bangladeshi food.

50th-2nd in Dhaka 8/14

Today was a successful day. I did a morning data collection at Tejgaon, standard curbside stuff. Then I waited for Shegufta and another guy who would help us collect survey data on passengers. I was nervous for this, wondered how it would go. I had only recently decided to go forward with this, thanks to some prodding by my dad.

Was out there doing a bus count before they arrived. Realized before they came that I really don't have the best Bengali to be asking these questions quickly to bus passengers rushing to get on the bus. So I figured if both of them came, I could ask them to take on the interviews, and I would be there collecting data on the buses passing and the rough male/female split of the survey group.
The site I chose for the surveying I realized was good for many reasons. One, the local and ticket bus crowds are separated by a distance, so we could survey them separately and know our survey groups. As well, the buses, due to traffic control, come in waves. So we had large time gaps to interview people without them being distracted by arriving buses.
I had crafted three questions that I felt could clearly help understand what passengers are thinking. Simply: Do crowded buses frustrate you? Do you try to avoid crowded buses? Would you pay more for no crowding?They arrived, we went over the questions, and I asked them to translate them into Bengali. I listened to see if I liked how it was being translated. Making sure they interpreted what I wanted correctly. I then told the boy to stand near the local bus riders and interview them, and I told Shegufta to take on the ticket bus riders.Shegfuta did amazing. She had no issue walking up to each person and demanding an interview. I thought being a girl would be detrimental, but instead, I think it helps her. The women will talk to her without worry, and the boys all take up the chance to talk to a girl! On the other hand, the guy she brought to help had a harder time, I can’t imagine what I’d experience. (pics: Shegufta interviewing passengers, Shihab interviewing passengers, Shegufta gets swarmed by young guys hoping she'll interview them, myself/Shegufta after collecting data)

We collected almost 300 responses to my questions! About 50/50 ticket and local. Incredible. I couldn't have done it without them, and told them that.

I then went and rode the #3 bus twice. Some jams. Nothing spectacular. Got a bit sleepy but didn’t nod off.
One old man who sat next to me talked to me about Michael Phelps and how impressive his gold medals are. That was cool. Glad Mr. Phelps is being a good ambassador for my country. The Bangladeshis have 6 athletes in the game, in shooting sports and swimming, but none performed very well. In fact, Bangladesh’s best shooter is currently in jail, and it was clearly disappointing to my friends.

I collected data in the evening at Kakoli bus stand. It started raining a bit, and it made it a bit uncomfortable for awhile. but it stopped after a bit, and the crowd under the overhang I was at dispersed, and then counting became a bit easier. After my work I went to a nearby stall to get some popcorn. One of the guys selling recognized me from another time I’d been working at Kakoli, and asked how I was. This prompted another guy to ask me if I had popcorn in my country. I said of course. And he explained how popcorn only came to Bangladesh just two years ago. I confirmed this later with a friend. Popcorn in Bangladesh for only two years! (pic: Kakoli bus stand at night...the bright light in front is the popcorn stall)

50th-3rd in Dhaka 8/15

Found this article this morning through one of the blogs I read, The City Fix. It touches on so many topics that I had wanted to cover in my initial project: the analysis of the Jatrabari flyover. But due to its cancellation because of corruption, I switched to the bus project. But the article also talks about the pedestrian issue, which had been my second project choice to the crowded bus study. It’s so cool that the issues I’m interested in are written up in one article! I feel like I would’ve been able to write this, I should be the expert by now!
It talks about pedestrians not using over bridges or tunnels, but I’ve seen police easily solve this problem at several locations, namely Kakoli and Bangla Motor. Although there is still some non-usage, the police have really gotten people onto the bridge. The bridges though don’t seem ready for it though. The Bangla motor bridge for example ALWAYS has lines to get up the stairs, because the pathway isn’t large enough to handle the volumes.

Went to see a movie at Bolaka Cinema tonight. Toma and I had talked about going to see a Bangladeshi movie for a few months, and finally we upped and did it. We arrived at 6:45, and the ticket seller said the movie had started at 6:30. But knowing that I wouldn’t understand much anyway, that most Bangladeshi movies’ plots really don’t need much to understand, and we were just going for pure entertainment, we didn’t mind being 15 minutes late. Actually, we walked in and the movie was just starting, perfect timing.
The only other time I’ve seen a movie was Pirates of the Caribbean 3 at the nice theater at Bashundara City. Bolaka’s actual theater was bigger and much older. It had three seating sections separated by price: those closest to the screen were the cheapest, in back were the middle range seats, and the balcony had the most expensive seats. The cheap seats were packed, Toma said with rickshaw wallahs (others have told me this too.) but I was also told this theater is popular with Dhaka University students (but they are out of session right now.)
The movie was a riot. I’d seen Bangladeshi movies before, but live was much better. At least 12 characters with speaking parts were killed in the in same scene in which they were introduced, and of course scores of cronies of the bad and good guys were killed off in every scene. So much blood. If this was real life, Bangladesh would be the least densely populated country in the world in less than a year.
The movie itself was blurry at points, and the whole time had scratches on the film.
People got up to pee continuously, and it seemed people walked out to pee more often during the movie’s songs. People could be heard talking somewhere in the theater the entire time. Phones rang frequently and people always picked up. People cheered when the hero did something great, and roared with laughter at parts (at some parts why they laughed Toma didn’t even know.)
The movie had so many characters! I couldn’t keep track with who was who, who was bad, who was good, who loved who. It felt the many plot lines wouldn’t even connect, but apparently they did…and I don’t know how. The hero was in the first scene of the movie, and I swear he then didn’t show up for another 35 minutes while a million other things happened which I didn’t understand how they related to the hero.
After the unannounced intermission, placed at the end of a random scene, there were more previews for more movies coming soon, some English.
Toma said most people come just to see the movies’ actresses, or starlettes, because of the slightly revealing clothing they wear.
Although an action movie, the movie is clearly intentionally a bit silly. The reactions and facial expressions are priceless. The bloodshed unstoppable. The songs full of love amidst falling bodies. fun to dance to. The best part was the crowd who cheered and booed and laughed, and I only wished they did it more!
Oh and the movie was called “Rajdhanir Raja” or “King of the Capital.” The plot was roughly about our hero who decides to leave one side of a city’s rivaling big wigs to the other side. He cuts his wild hair and falls in love with his new boss’ daughter. In the end he kills off everyone from his old side. There were so many other fighting parts and mini plots that I don’t even understand, but this was the gist of it. Swords and guns should really be given the leading roles. (pics: Bolaka theater's advertisement for 'Rajdhanir Raja', Bolaka's main lobby, Bolaka's theater during intermission, movie poster for 'Rajdhanir Raja')

50th-4th in Rangpur 8/16

This morning I headed to the Hanif bus station to meet Ayon and his Dhaka University friend Turzo. We were heading up to Turzo’s home in Rangpur to spend a few days relaxing and hanging out. Turzo had invited me about two months prior, and I was glad to come along.

The bus ride up was 6 hours long, and Turzo and I sat together. We chatted almost the whole way, getting to know each other. Turzo’s mother was also on the bus with us, as she had been in Dhaka for the wedding of two of Turzo’s cousins (I am told it is legal in Islam for two cousins to marry.) The girl cousin, the new bride, was on the way back to Rangpur for a few days before coming back to be with her new husband.
I asked Turzo on the way up how many brothers and sisters he had. One younger brother and one younger sister he told me. I asked their ages, and he said his brother was 13, and in fact, his sister was a twin. I laughed that he calls her his younger sister, not his twin. He told me he is 30 minutes older than his sister, but purposely refers to her as a younger sister! I asked if it is just to tease her that he came out first, and he said of course. And he insisted in childhood that she call him the respectful title of “paiya” and not by his name, because he was older.

We arrived in the late afternoon, and after freshening up at his home, we headed over to Carmichael College. This was very close by to Turzo’s home. It is a large expanse of land that has a prominent college in Bangladesh, from which Turzo’s father graduated.. The buildings are from the early 1900s. We roamed the grounds a bit, but it was already getting dark, so we didn’t stay long. Instead we headed into town, ate some chotputi, sat on the steps of a Shahid Minar and chatted. Took some tea which Turzo was proud to say was made with fresh milk. (pics: Ayon walking by Carmichael College, Ayon/Turzo in front of Carmichael College's main building)

We enjoy a lot of guavas from Turzo’s guava tree behind his house. After not having guava my whole life up until last week, I’ve now eaten a bunch in just a few short days. (pics: Turzo climbing his guava tree to find some good guavas, a mostly-eaten guava)

Got to play carrom today for the first time. I have the game on my phone, and although I’ve seen people playing it in storefronts, I’ve never gotten the chance to play. The game is played on a board covered in a bit of sand. You flick disks at each other in a fashion similar to billiards. The goal is to get the smaller disks into the holes for points. It was hard to get used to, and I never really was having much luck in aiming by the end. Flicking the disks with the fingers was incredibly hard. Turzo showed us two different types of games that can be played, they both were enjoyable. (pics: Ayon/Turzo/Turzo's brother playing carrom, myself playing carrom)

50th-5th in Rangpur 8/17

Today is a major holiday, Shab-e-Bara'at. Also known as Mid-Sha’ban in most of the Muslim world, one is to spend all night praying. On this day Allah is chooses the destiny of all people on earth for the coming year. It earns its name in South Asia from this, the night of emancipation. When I got up to use the toilet in the middle of the night, I could hear people nearby reciting prayers. Kids like to pop firecrackers on this holiday too says Turzo, and I heard a few pop in the evening and one in the morning.

After breakfast, we headed first to a cold storage building, that his father has a part in owning. We were given a tour of the refrigeration equipment, power supply, and then actually into the storage holds where 110,000 bags of potatoes are being held. It was pretty cold in there, but not unbearable. There were five floors of potatoes, all sitting there staying fresh.
We then climbed up some rickety metal ladders to the roof and took a view of the surrounding landscape. (pics: cold storage employee/Ayon/Turzo roaming the cold storage and stacks of potatoes, myself amongst the potatoes in cold storage, Turzo climbing on the ladder of the cold storage facility, the view over the land from the top of the cold storage facility)

From there Turzo took us to a rajbari called Tajhat Palace, built during the 19th century. Today the museum inside just happened to be closed. We walked around it, looked at its exterior, played around, and took pictures. After we sat under a tree in the grass. Was a bit hot out. (pics: Ayon/Turzo in front of Tajhat Palace, Ayon so upset over the museum being closed that he takes it out on me while I was napping)

We headed home for lunch. His mom made some excellent hilsa fish. We showered and then headed out to Carmichael College again. We wandered the grounds until it started pouring. We sat under the main hall’s overhang for about 45 minutes, meanwhile we played Shollo Guti. (pic: myself/Ayon playing shollo guti)

We headed over to the weekly market, known as a “hat [hot]” in Bengali. We were planning to buy a duck for dinner. We thought to explore the rest of the market, but due to the rain, the area was flooded, so we skipped it, but I got this shot of the cow part of the market. Then headed to the ducks. There was a giant basket of baby ducks. We looked at the ducks, and chose the one we wanted. Turzo had me carry it, grasping it tightly by its wings pulled behind its back. It didn’t squirm at all; it’s feet were tied already by the man whole sold it to us. (pics: the cows at the weekly market, baby ducks in a basket, Turzo choosing our duck for dinner, myself carrying the duck home)

At home, we had to slaughter the duck for his mother so she could cook dinner. I held the neck and body while Turzo held the head, and sliced the neck’s main vein. He explained we were slaughtering it in a prescribed way to ensure the food was halal under Islamic law. This is the first time in my life I have played a role in preparing meat beyond the cooking. (pic: Turzo/myself slaughtering the duck for dinner)

We went after this to go buy my bus ticket for tomorrow. As well, we headed by rickshaw across town to see the gate of Turzo’s old school. We couldn’t go inside as it was night, but even in the day, random visitors aren’t allowed. So he just pointed to things over the fence.

50th-6th in Rangpur 8/18

We headed out this morning to visit the birthplace of Begum Rokeya, famous for her works for getting women’s education accepted in Bengal, and pioneering many women’s rights ideas. She is a native of Rangpur, and her place of birth was relatively close to Turzo’s home. The house is now just a foundation, but it’s also an ornamented garden. Since there was no information about the woman there, I asked Turzo to tell me more about her. He told me a detailed history of her life and the struggles she went through. It is incredible the effort she had to put into convincing women themselves they deserved an education. He explained how many Bengali women were superstitious about even talking to her, and would shut the door on her, and then pour water over her from an upstairs window as she turned to leave. She was also an accomplished writer having many of her essays, poems, and stories published. Her biggest impacts may have been her fight against the injustices she saw for Muslim women in Bengal, fighting against the restrictions that hurt their physical and emotional growth. (pic: Ayon at the home in which Begum Rokeya was born)

After lunch, I headed home. The bus ride home was fun. I started reading “Freedom at Midnight” and was flying through the pages. Another book which my father left behind for me. Very thankful he did. Once it got dark, I put on my CDs. Despite all my traveling in Bangladesh, this is only my second bus ride alone. Guess I’ll have a lot more in India next month.

The ride was fine, but as usual, after the snack break, I had to pee. Yes I peed at the stop, and I had not been drinking any water. But suddenly at the Jamuna Bridge, 2 hours at least from Dhaka, I had to go. It just got worse and worse. I decided that I would get off the bus outside of Dhaka when they let off some passengers, but close enough that I could still board a Dhaka city bus to finish the journey in. Then it stared raining, and everyone shut the windows. So now it was hot and stuffy, we were going slower because of the rain, and I had to pee still. We hit the stretch of road where I could get off the next time the bus stopped and then a miracle happened. We hit a really bad traffic jam. Our bus stopped, and it looked like we wouldn’t move for an hour. I got off the bus and went to the side of the road and had the most relieving pee of my recent memory.

The jam was bad. We didn’t move at all. Then to make things worse, cars and buses behind us decided they’d use the opposing traffics lane to scoot to the front of the line when no vehicles were coming. Then that lane got backed up! This made things worse obviously, because the opposing traffic now had nowhere to move, and thus whatever was causing the jam ahead was not being solved. (pic: stuck in a jam in the rain at night coming back to Dhaka)

50th-7th in Dhaka 8/19

Erin called me this morning. She had denied an Indian visa, and although I couldn’t do anything to help, she was just calling to express her anger and annoyance. Why, they wouldn’t say. But now all her travel plans to India have to be scrapped. It’s such a shame. I can’t see why she would be denied. Everyone seems to leave the Indian Embassy in Dhaka with a horror story of some sort. She waited there to get an answer but as given none. She tried calling, and was hung up on several times and until she was screamed at for repeatedly calling.

I rode four buses today, the jams were incredible, especially on the first route. An hour just to go a few blocks. It rained pretty bad today, and that’s what was causing the jams I guess. In front of my house it was flooded, meaning I had to wade through ankle deep gray water. Gross, but what else can you do. Long after the rain was gone, the jams persisted. I said it before, I think the traffic has gotten worse since I’ve arrived.

People always seem to point out that I have a few “red dots” on my face. They comment saying that I have mosquito bites. Nope, sorry I have to say, they are called pimples, and only because of my fair skin they stand out as opposed to someone with a darker complexion. It’s a bit embarrassing since they are pointing out pimples I have, but not so much since they don’t realize that is what it is. They seem quite concerned that I’m getting too many mosquito bites. This has happened over ten times at least.

Tonight I went to get my hair cut. I went to a new place that I’d seen recently open up. It looked really nice inside. I walked in, and they were playing a song by the Bangladeshi rock band Artcell, one of my favorites. So I figured the place was perfect: great music, great d├ęcor, and that would surely translate to a great haircut. Well the great haircut was good, but I had to backtrack on my statement of good music. I should just say “good song.” They played that same song almost the entire time I had a haircut. On the sixth play, I asked if they had anything else. They let the song play once more before they changed it.