A Travellerspoint blog

Dhaka is many things, but so far, not a shithole

In other words, culture shock is wearing off and I'm getting to know people now....

I haven't composed an entry for the last two days as I simply got swept up into living a work life here...which is why I'm here. It's not a vacation, after all... Up early in the morning, every morning, so I can use one of the two sad little treadmills in the "fitness center" on the roof (before the humidity sets in). Then back to my room for chats with friends on Facebook, chats with the parents on Skype and checking email. Then shower (if the hot/cold ratio of water permits which varies greatly) and off to my breakfast of chicken korma, rice porridge and instant coffee.

Yesterday was a special breakfast for it was the American presidential debates. I was actually reminded of this fact four minutes before they began by a friend in the States and after trying to coach enough wifi to see it on my laptop, I finally gave up and watched it in the breakfast room. With two mysterious Chinese buisness men and five Muslim hotel workers (also men). BTW...the Chinese are investing heavily in Dhaka. 25 billion dollars this year alone. Everywhere I go, instead of seeing Westerners at hotels, etc...it's Chinese.

Anyway, the debates turned out to be just what I figured they would be. But I especially enjoyed talking politics with the Bangladeshi hotel staff. They, to no surpise of my own, were more well versed in American politics than many Americans I'm aquainted with. At one point, as Trump leered and meanaced Clinton on the stage, one of them waved dismissively at the screen and said, "He is like what we've seen before. Full of himself. What's awful is that he's coming from your country now." Yeah.

They also compared him to Daesh (ISIS) members. I couldn't disagree.

Anyway, I'm enjoying the work life here. My co-workers and I are getting to know one another and it's really helping our understanding of the various challenges we were facing when just trying to do all this over Google Hangouts. I could never understand why the Lead Engineer was late for every meeting, for instance. Now I get it. Dhaka is a semi-controlled chaos. It's amazing anyone makes it to work.

The food is great. Spicy...all of it. But the landscape of the city is what really gets me. How does this amazing human experiment even work? The power lines, for instance, are seemingly strung together with no reason. Yes, there are no power outages or fires. The streets are filled with chaos and beggars, rickshaws, tuktuks, and motorcycles...yet not one accident. I feel safe. My car lacks safety belts, but I've decided not to care.

My hotel is basic, so after work each night, I speak to the driver in Bengali: "Ami ki dinner korte Westin jete pari?" (Can I go to the Westin Hotel for dinner?) and he takes me. The driver is a quiet and rather tall Bengali in his thirties, if I had to guess. If I want him to stop and let me out in some chaotic part of the city, he does so reluctantly and somehow...even if it's an hour later and I can't hail him on the phone (spotty service here), he will simply materialize out of a crowd of hundreds of people and chaos and so forth to fetch me to the car where he impossibly found parking. How he even finds me again is a mystery that's yet to be solved. I have a theory he's ex-military or police. Very sweet though. I often wonder what his life is like. But he speaks no English. I am endeavoring to learn some Begali while I am here (also because I hope to be sent back as often as possible).

I have heard that Dhaka is a shithole. That it's one of the worst cities to live in. But all I've found so far is an introduction to a humbling experience full of truly beautiful people. But it's all new still. I have a few more weeks to settle into it all.

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Posted by oedipamaas 10:39 Archived in Bangladesh Tagged people food dhaka banglasdesh Comments (0)

Day 2 - Dhaka

Hotel _Ream?

Up early this morning…the jet lag benefitted me last night by sending me to sleep at 10:30pm. Like a normal person.

I was up at 6am as a result and well rested. Took my breakfast downstairs and had the following: rice kanji, small pancakes, baked beans, chicken korma, instant coffee.

Bangladeshis don’t seem to be big coffee fans. Even in the office where the engineers work, it’s tea. There is instant coffee there, I suppose, in case someone like me shows up. Though I did revise this opinion later in the day when we visited a nice coffee shop (owned by Americans of course). But this type of establishment is not the norm. Tea stalls are.

Anyway, that may be an adaptation I need to consider.

News today out of the States: Hurricane Matthew is lumbering through the southeast. It seems very distant. I’ve not used the TV in my room and don’t plan to. Trump said something. Don't care.

My writing is picking up and the quietude of this place, the Nascent Gardenia, is washing over me. I feel at peace and the anxiety I was wrestling with has ebbed.

Anyway, later today, around noon, my boss and his wife fetched me from my appointed quarters and took me sightseeing. We went first to an artisan shop, very fair trade and high end. It was pretty amazing. Lots of handicrafts and specially made clothes (dyed with plants), etc.. Then we dove into lunch at the Chittagong Bull (Gulshan). Ok, if you are at all a fan of deeply complex spicy food, go there when in Dhaka. And if there is such a thing as Bangladeshi bbq (with a slow smoked meat with a bark on it), this is it. And my god, the flavors. Unlike any Indian food I'd ever had. It was unique. We enjoyed the bbq meat, beef liver in spicy gravy, rice and lentils, and a cucumber and onion salad (very typical). Along with freshly made naan where I watched the dough being handmade and stuck to the side of the pit oven to char. Incredible. They were worried it would be too spicy for me. In fact my boss' boss called and worried over the phone I had been taken to this restaurant.

No. No worries. I love hot, hot food. I'm not happy until I crawl out of there on my hands and knees with an endorphin high, quite frankly.

Spice notes so far: mustard oil, green chiles, garam masala, corriander, cumin, cilantro, tumeric. Keep it coming Dhaka!

Then we went to an upscale coffee shop (these are few and far between) and we enjoyed good beans and conversation and then eventually my driver dropped them off at a relatives home in Gulshan. But not before my boss needed us to pull over to a tea stand to buy two cigarettes. While he transacted this, I couldn't help but notice the old woman running the little stand with her jars of milk and sugar and so forth also had a special jar for bees and flies. They were swarming in there. She had put something in there so they wouldn't get into anything else. It was mesmerizing to watch.

Later, after going back to the hotel to rest, I summoned the driver...who by the way, just sits in the car for hours waiting for me to call. It's a bit unsettling. He speaks little English (actually, none) and I feel terrible about getting into the car after I've rested, etc.. I asked him if he'd eaten with pantomimes to underscore what I was asking. He just smiled and nodded.

Anyway, went to this festival today: Durga Puja. It's apparently THE biggest holiday/celebration for Hindus in Bangladesh for the whole year. A celebration of power. And it's complex. You can look it up. However, they built this temporary temple for it last week and it looks real. I had the driver drop me across the street and did my first Dhaka street crossing. No small task, really. But you just give over to fate and go with it. Stroll casually into the path of oncoming everything with the knowledge it will probably be fine.

The festival was really incredible, lots of ritual and lavish incense burning on the stage. Everyone there was completely tripped out by my presence. A Hindu woman dotted my forehead and three men painted my hand with something I don't understand, but admired.

Two boys standing in front of me were fanning me (it was hot) while I admired the ritural. Everyone smiled at me or expressed complete confusion. Seeing a western woman (or a Westerner) alone in Dhaka is just NOT a usual sight. I was the only Westerner there. And I felt so lucky.

Side fun note: the hotel nearby that had the "D" burned out of its neon sign. Which read "Hotel Sweet _Ream". Yeah.

Later I tried to go to see some folk music, but was out of taka (the local money) and cut myself on the bathroom door trying to make it out. The local ATMs weren't trustworthy of dispensing fraud free cash, so I pointed the driver (in pantomime and repeatedly saying the name) to the Westin Hotel. Where there I enjoyed a good buffet and a poolside bar. I will admit to taking comfort among Westerners for two hours there and enjoying it. Then I got the driver back out from the parking lot and had him take me to my hotel (no bar).

I'm exhausted, but have been writing and winding down. A full day. A good day in Dhaka.

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Posted by oedipamaas 09:55 Archived in Bangladesh Tagged dhaka durga banglasdesh punja Comments (0)

Day One in Dhaka

Or how to navigate angry Germans and the land of rickshaws

I left Dubai after an eight hour layover and not having slept on the 17 hr flight that brought me in. When I gathered with the other 300 or so people for the Dhaka flight at 2:00am Dubai time, it wasn't hard to notice I was only one of four Westerners in the crowd. An hour of being stared at. Which would've been hard, but my boss had already warned me they mean no harm. They are literally wondering what the hell you are doing where you would need to go to Dhaka. Not many people have a hankering for this part of the world.

Oh and it's not like they're going to give you a visa to enter that easily either. So I slept most of the way there...and woke up in time to capture some pics off of the wing as we descended. It's monsoon season, so there's lots of clouds and water on the ground.

I had been prepared with a formal letter of invite from my company, but apparently this German man who was trying to gain access to the country had to have a meltdown over the fact he failed to produce such a letter. It devolved into embarrassing name calling and him screaming things at the Bangladeshi police. Who in turn, smiled and endeavored to make his life worse and worse by telling him to stand in a line where when he reached the counter, he was directed to another line. Which in turn made him angrier.

As I was procurring the visa, my driver hunted me down and stood in front of me silently holding this sign up with my name on it (he had a picture of me and there weren't many redheads around that day in the airport). It took two hours to get the luggage. With him was my "security detail" who seemed to have donned a fake Bangladeshi police uniform complete with epaulettes. As we left the airport, I could see hundreds of people thronged behind a tall iron gate, pressing in and holding onto the bars while awaiting loved ones outside the perimeter where they were not allowed to enter any further.

My driver sped through Dhaka quickly. Traffick laws are non-existent here. Instead, drivers must go with the flow. And I like it. It's how I like to drive, quite frankly. Pedestrians stepped right out in front of us, not a care in the world and we artfully dodged each one. Rickshaws everywhere. Tuk tuks zooming past, cutting us off, us cutting them off...a ride in Dhaka is never dull.

I got to my hotel, unpacked, and went straight to work after a cursory shower. And finally met my co-workers! They had a special lunch brought in and we ate this green chile spiced rice with chunks of beef and round potato balls. Delicious.

My night time ride home was beautiful. They really love to light up the streets at night... And Dhaka is a very mysterious city; meandering alleys, strange and hidden shops and street food eateries... So far, this is going well.

Tomorrow, my boss and his wife show me around more. Stay tuned.

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Posted by oedipamaas 07:35 Archived in Bangladesh Tagged hotels culture transportation airports dhaka Comments (0)

Here we go To Dhaka, Bangladesh

And of course...elsewhere

Yes. Packed and ready to go. After a full month of nerves around this trip, I'm set. My head is in this. No more fucking around. Hell, I even sprayed my clothes with Premetherin in a perhaps futile attempt to ward off Dengue Fever. No matter; this is the blog where you can hopefully feel free to follow my every bout with flight delays, dysentery, challenges in third world countries; and me developing a hopefully strong and new relationship with an engineering team in Bangladesh. I look forward to a new found joy in encountering people from a so completely different world from me, it breaks me down and brings me back again. Because that's, let's face it, what travel should do.

Next post...the departure from San Francisco to Dubai...and then 8 hours later to Dhaka, Bangladesh for the three and a half week work stay. Then onward to Cambodia and Thailand. No return date or flight has been set yet. I like that...

Posted by oedipamaas 03:41 Archived in Bangladesh Tagged hotels culture transportation airports dhaka Comments (0)

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