Friday, June 12, 2009

Practically All-Inclusive Day

Dhaka University- Faculty of Fine Arts

A colleague from GCC (Morshed) invited me and a visiting intern from Japan (Atsu) to see parts of Dhaka on the first day of the weekend (being an Islamic country, weekends are Friday and Saturday, just like Qatar). I took a 'CNG' (nickname for 3-wheeled auto-rickshaw that by law runs only on compressed natural gas) for 20 minutes to the National Museum (100 taka or $1.45). The museum had changed its hours (even Lonely Planet had listed it opened), so in the meanwhile we (and 2 other Bangladeshi friends of my colleague) toured the campus of part of nearby Dhaka University, including the library, fine arts, and language. School was in its one-month summer vacation and the first day of the weekend but students still chilled about.

While briefly watching a cricket match, I received a nasty ant bite that basically for the rest of the day made the top of my foot feel as if someone had step on it with a stiletto. (I'll see how it is tomorrow). We then grabbed a CNG to a local 9 story-mall so one friend could buy a punjabi top for a wedding he would attend this afternoon. Afterwards we grabbed a snack- I had a mango lassi (yogurt & mango drink), Bangladeshi bread with turmeric veggies and we shared another Bangladeshi dish of some sort of crispy shell with chickpeas and veggies, covered in yogurt.

Tasty Bangladeshi Dish

Our hosts had to go pray the Friday Islamic prayer (Jumu'ah) and Atsu and I entertained ourselves for a while. We checked out the numerous music and movie shops selling cheap (70-100 taka or $1.00-$1.45) copies. Star Trek and other recent releases were amongst the titles. We then went to see a Bangladeshi movie in the top-floor cinema, a romantic drama about an impossible (perhaps Romeo and Juliet?) type relationship set in rural Bangladesh (BD). Of course it was all in Bangla but we got the big picture. Prior to the film there was a homemade (but well-done) video plea to donate taka to raise money for a med student who was recently diagnosed with lukemia and needed a 70 take charo(?) (10 million) bone marrow transplant in India to save her life. The ad, played twice, implored the audience to stop her tears, restore her dreams and not let a future doctor die. Numerous signs and folks with donation boxes with also outside the mall for the same cause. Few other interesting observations: video of flag and the BD national anthem played before the film and everyone stood (but no singing), phones whipped out to record the major songs of the film, the man next to us shared his popcorn with us and the 3 hour film had a 5-10 minute intermission.

We needed a policeman to translate our destination to the CNG driver afterward (tourism is not big here at all- so major destinations are not well known by their English names) and we met Murshed at the National Museum. It highlighted many cultural facts, habits, resources and history of BD, including birds, fruits, handicrafts, arts, Language Day and the Liberation War from Pakistan. Atsu and I were somewhat on display as well, as folks stared, followed and may have taken pictures.

It poured while we were in the museum and had to take off our shoes to wade across the driveway museum entrance to the street. We finally found a rickshaw driver to take us to Murshed's apartment (triple the price, as everyone waited for the rain to end and wanted to get home at the same time- 30 taka or 43 cents). Atsu and I met Morshed's wife, sister, cousin, baby and we had juice and mango. His sister then went with us to have 'a snack'- really a 9 pm biryani (rice, chicken and hard boiled egg) dinner for Atsu and I and nothing for Bangladeshis- they normally ate at 10:30/11pm with family. Atsu and I then shared the 150 taka ($2.17) 30 minute pollution filled CNG ride home. 

And of all this day- the only thing I paid for were 2 CNG rides- 200 taka or $2.90. That's it. Bangladeshi culture is that if you are invited to anything, your host pays for everything. I kept inviting them to visit me in Chicago or Michigan, so I can pay them the same outstanding courtesy and generosity they showed me today.

Atsu and I with Morshed's family

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