March 25, 2004
Day 2 - Electric Boogaloo (Dhaka)

One thing to be said for jet-lag is that it makes it easy to get an early start to the day. I decided to head down to Old Dhaka for the morning to see the sights (and smell the various smells). For extra adventure, I took a taxi.

I had noticed that there seemed to be a lot of traffic cops around, and that while they didn't seem to do much, they all carried sticks (not official sticks - just any old rods that they found lying around). During the taxi ride, I learned what the sticks are for, as we received a warning rap for nudging one of the cops too hard.

l didn't really have a specific touring agenda, but not wanting to be vague about my destination I told the driver I wanted to go to a specific market. A cautionary note: taxi drivers in Dhaka can be very literal. The driver decided that it would be best to get as close as physically possible to the exact centre of the market. To this end, he turned onto a "street" so wide that it would take two people with their arms outstretched to span it. Provided, of course, that both of these people had previously lost an arm by being smeared between a taxi and a wall of store-fronts. For an extra challenge, the street was already fully occupied by people/rickshaws. Once I realized that the driver had no intention of stopping until we actually drove into a store, I decided to abandon taxi. The driver helped himself to a 30 Taka tip (~$0.75) out of the change; I felt it was worth it.

I wandered the market for a while before heading to the nearest tourist site identified on my map - the Pink Palace. It wasn't open yet, but walking along the river-side street I spotted a bridge in the distance. To get there I had to weave my way along the street, dodging all the people busily engaged in the traffic of fruits and other foodstuffs. At least, I assume they were buying and selling - either that, or they unloaded it from boats years ago, and just haven't been able to leave the area due to congestion.

The bridge, as well as providing shelter for huge piles of rice, provided satisfying views of the river. I also saw a local artisan busily converting authentic river rocks into genuine, hand-crafted gravel. By the time I wove my way back along the food-stuffs street, the Pink Palace (admission: 2 Tk) was open.

As far as I can recall from wandering through the exhibits inside, the Pink Palace was built by a local rich guy, or possibly a foreign rich guy, as a vacation home, then used for various political/diplomatic activities, before being turned into a museum. Dhaka's first water treatment facility was involved. Not all of the signs were in English, but I think I got the gist of it. The palace proper is surrounded by a small park - the admission price is enough of a discriminant to create a significant population density differential.

During lunch, I saw half (2) of Bangladesh's MiGs fly overhead. My sister pointed out that if they were to fly along the longest horizontal straight line over Bangladesh, it would take about 10 minutes. This is about as long as it would take for India (the most credible of unlikely invaders) to take over the country. Hooray for defense spending!

In the evening, we headed to the Canadian Club, where it was Scottish Country Dancing night (few Canadians were actually involved). It turns out that despite my lack of experience, by the standards of the Dhaka Scottish Country Dancing club, I am somewhat competent. I think this was because not much emphasis was placed on doing the correct thing with your feet, provided your body was moving in approximately the right direction, and you could remember whether you were male or female.

Supplementary material

Posted: March 25, 2004 10:28 AM
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