Archives: Dhaka
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 at 10:28 AM | Comments (0)
March 23, 2004
Day 1 - Somewhat Sleepy (Dhaka)

I arrived in Dhaka at 6:00 am local time, 7:00 pm EST. At this point, my body had given up trying to guess what time it really was. My sister had taken advantage of her High Commission connections to get a pass directly into the arrivals area. There she noticed that while there were still about a hundred people in the two foreigner customs lines (including me, at the back), the three Bangladeshi line guys were sitting around with nothing to do. They were caught in a state where they were willing to process anyone who came to them, but not willing to advertise this fact. Taking advantage of this, I sprinted to the front. It's a dog-eat-dog world.

Emerging from the airport, I was unprepared for the awaiting throngs. I'm aware that in North America, there are a number of people who go out to watch planes land and take off (I don't know why), but here was a crowd of the size normally associated with major sporting events. And they weren't there to watch the planes; they thronged against fences just to witness the spectacle of people emerging from the arrivals area. I tried to foreign and exciting; I think it must have worked, because our driver was able to identify me as the Canadian he was looking for, having seen only the back of my head.

We encountered a volume of traffic "much higher" than my sister had previously experienced coming from the airport. I'm somewhat skeptical as to how often she comes back from the airport at 6:30 am. I saw a no-honking sign. It's kind of like the "it is against state law to run over pedestrians in cross-walks" signs you see in New Jersey. Promising.

My sister and brother-in-law live in the foreign missions part of town: Gulshan (full name: Gulshan Model Town). Interestingly, addresses are given as being in either Gulshan-1 or Gulshan-2, depending on which of the major traffic circles is nearest. When I say "traffic circles," you should not imagine the somewhat orderly intersections of the type they have in the UK, or the watered-down traffic-circles-with-traffic-lights you find in North America. What I mean is "a circular area with traffic passing through it".

My body still reeling drunkenly trying to figure out why the sun was up, I went for a walk around Gulshan. It was good to be back in a place where the streets are filled with people who all seem to have something to do but a fairly relaxed attitude about doing it. There seems to be a lot of new construction going on. I don't know if that represents a real estate boom, or shoddy previous construction.

In the afternoon, I slept.

Accompanying photos.

Posted at 08:40 AM | Comments (0)