Sunday, February 27, 2011

Weekend Lite

I'd intended to rest up this weekend, but fate had other plans. Friday was pretty awesome, actually -- I went to Bittersweet cafe in Gulshan-2 and met a Parisian who railed against gender discrimination in this country when it comes to offering drugs, alcohol, and, er, escorts to foreigners. "Why don't I get those offers just because I'm a woman?" she demanded, as I happily slurped at actual coffee. Good times.

Friday night was another story. I had to revise a proposal and didn't get to bed until around 2 AM, which was when Boston office lunched and stopped calling and e-mailing me. So I woke up the next morning bleary-eyed for my 10 AM massage/general beauty appointment, which went okay (I am no longer a hairy monkey, but massage is better sa 'pinas). Then I tagged along to the home of a nice lady who was donating books to us, and she took us to the American Club.

Now, you might think that being at the American Club is the perfect time to order a nice, juicy burger. No. No. No. This is Bangladesh, which specializes in chicken. So I got me a chicken shawarma, which came with truly excellent yogurt and some garlic-heavy paste into which I dutifully dipped my very slender french fries. The photo will give you an idea of why burgers here aren't good--I believe the patties come frozen and the buns are not special at all. This picture is from Treat, an eatery in Mirpur that has a nice massive flat-screen HDTV. Nice, unless you're eating while watching Zombieland.

For the evening, me and my co-workers (real ones, not SIKROT ones) went to Mainland China, a restaurant where the floor rotates (!). At first, us non-Dhaka-ites were too busy eating and chatting to realize this, until we looked up and noticed the bathroom was in an entirely different location! ZOMG so high tech! Also, this place had a man whose only job as to switch on the lights to the bathroom whenever a guest approached. How boring. Anyway, the food was good.

Annnnd that was the weekend report!

Thursday, February 24, 2011


OH MY GOD. OH MY GOD. CNN'S 2010 HERO OF THE YEAR IS HERE. As in, she is staying here in the guest house with me. This is me after she introduced herself.

Nobel laureates! Heroes of the Year! Am I glowing from all the humanitarian superstars I'm meeting? God, I hope so!

More tomorrow after I ambush her for photos.

Everything is Curry

One way to avoid curry here is to eat at a Chinese restaurant, which of course has its share of perils, including blistering green peppers masquerading as green beans for the unwary vegetable lover. But I must say I am a fan of the Szechuan beef, which is tender and tasty as beef should be.

This post is brought to you by sleepless nights courtesy of overseas office drama.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Look, Ma, I Have Friends!

In the US my motto is "arrive on time." In Bangladesh my motto is "arrive alive." Spent a fewhours in traffic today, first on my way to work, and then later back from a book launching event. The morning bit didn't faze me, though, even when my driver tried to sneak into a cantonment for a shortcut and the soldier at the entrance took one look at my clothes and banished us to an ignominious side street.

Here's what traffic is usually like. So I'd be in a little green cage with wheels on, which smooshes itself as close as possible to the vehicle in front of it. Meanwhile, the vehicle or rickshaw behind my CNG would be smooshed against us. And everyone is honking to let all pedestrians know that by God, they will get run over! Seriously, drivers don't slow down for crossing people, but I think there's a Bangladeshi gene that allows people on the street to scamper to safety in just the nick of time. It's all good.

I was gregarious today and cheerfully introduced myself to everyone in the office I hadn't met. Then a tall German came up to me and said she was a new intern and invited me to lunch with "the boys," who turned out to be a New Yorker and a Peruvian. We ate at a little Bengali food place -- yep, even "chicken grilled" is curried -- and afterwards rode in a minivan to get to aforementioned book launching event. It was like a Little United Nations Interns program in there, with Hungary, Brazil, Philippines, and L.A. and Ohio represented. Ohio was Bangladeshi by heredity but didn't speak or read the language, and L.A. was also an immigrant, but fluent in Bangla. Here are a couple of great conversations involving them:
Ohio: I should've just gone in my car.
L.A.: Don't you want to bond? When you sweat together, you bond. Clean friendship isn't true friendship.
Ohio: I don't know where we are. I can't read Bangla. I'll have to call my dad.
L.A.: So, like, can you not do anything yourself?
All: LOL
L.A.: I really didn't know how to phrase that diplomatically.
Me: She meant, "Are you helpless?"
Ohio: No, I have my cousins. But they don't want to hang out with me.
L.A.: Probably because you don't know where you are.

That particular ride through traffic went by fast. You know what didn't go fast? The damn event. It took three hours and was entirely in Bangla. I pretended to be alert by sitting up very straight, propping one leg up on the chair in front of me, and reading 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea on my iPhone. All I can say is, fish porn. It's great that I can skip six pages in one go because all Jules Verne does is list all the types of fish the Nautilus caught.

Anyway, after the event, by social instinct we little interns formed a big circle and discussed how to best get home. Four of us discovered that we lived close by-ish to each other, so we hopped into a CNG -- three in the back, one in front, which is illegal but okay if you're foreign -- and spent almost an hour in traffic. And now here I am, dusty and happy. I really think I'm achieving Zen, especially after reading the Buddha's biography, and especially with my current job, which constantly demands that I adjust my expectations, e.g. "Competence and loyalty will be rewarded," or "It all makes sense, really." Ha! Ha! Ha! No, and no. And the trick is to keep smiling until that smile becomes true for you. End post.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

The Little Intern

My mornings usually start off with my mind screaming, "Wake up! You have terrible horrible emails in your inbox!" So then I roll out of bed, stretch, shower, and tell good ol' helper what I'd like for breakfast. It's usually a cheese sandwich and yogurt and banana with my staple milk tea, but yesterday I knew that lunch would be impossible so I told her I wanted my leftover beef from yesterday, and some rice and dahl. It was 8:45 am. When I told her I would need this food by 9:30, she was all, "OMG no can do!" (I'm paraphrasing here). But long story short, I got to gulp down my breakfast in plenty of time, because my Dhaka-boss was late.

Here's my lunch. Everyday at the office, a peon (hehe, makes me think of Warcraft II) comes 'round and delivers tea and some sort of baked good to everyone. So since my baked good was full of potatoes and onions, I figured I'd call it lunch instead of snack. I was glued to my screen all day, with only a minor break to report to Dhaka-boss about the progress of a tiny task. I met a couple of new people at the office -- one of them had just come back from East Timor and was off again soon to Thailand -- and wrangled my way into riding to a book launching ceremony with the head of admin, who had been regaling me with tales of how she never wears saris because she wore one once and it almost unraveled on her. I don't even own a sari, but I did bring my baro't saya in case I need it. Baro't saya: it's a travel must!

So Dhaka-boss was going to go home at 8 pm again, and I told her, gee, maybe I'll head on back by myself. So I did! I am very proud to say that I went home all by myself, like a big girl. Yes, yes, I know I'm almost thirty. Hush. My heart is very young. Anyway, I stood on the curbside for five minutes getting feasted upon by mosquitoes before I got a passing CNG. The picture here is what it looks like being in a speeding green cage with all the pretty light decorations for the cricket world cup. I admit I spent most of the ride fretting because I didn't recognize the roads the driver was taking, and there was a point when we got stuck in a traffic jam where I was pretty sure that I was a one-minute walk away from the entrance of my residential area, but not quite sure enough to get off the CNG. I turned out to be right, but my main concern was getting out before the meter hit Tk100 (Taka is the currency here), and I got out at Tk94 or something. I swear I'm not being cheap; it's just that I only had one Tk100 bill on me since I hadn't gotten my living allowance yet. (I did when I got home -- whew!)

Despite not having lunch, I was too exhausted to have dinner, so I just polished off a thing of yogurt and an orange. It might have been a clementine, I don't know. Now, I imagine normal people crawl into bed or the couch to watch TV, but I had to check my email again, and yep, there were "URGENT NEED THIS NOW!" emails in the inbox. Damn you, communications technology, damn youuuuuuuu

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Laundry vs mosquitoes

I despise laundry. I hate lugging the basket all the way to the washing machine, then transferring to the dryer, then lugging it back, and then folding all my clothes. I am also against the act of ironing, unless the act is performed by someone else, on my clothes.

So imagine my utter delight when I saw this neat little pile of ironed and folded clothes! Even my polka dot pajamas got ironed! Ha ha ha!

The great thing about being here in the guest house is that I get someone who will cook, clean, and wash for me. She is also very alert (when she's not watching cricket on TV), and comes over every so often to check if I want milk tea. The answer is usually yes. My meals usually consist of the basics: rice, curried/spicy meat, dahl (lentil soup), and a random non-leafy vegetable, like eggplant. Or is eggplant a fruit? It has seeds, right? Fruits are not veggies because fruits have seeds, right? No se.

The non-great thing about being here is that I don't get a day off ever. Fridays and Saturdays are my nominal days off, but I have to work on Friday because Boston is awake, and the truly dedicated work Saturdays here...including, er, let's call her my local supervisor. I am beat. Also, the mosquitoes absolutely adore me here. They hide in my bed and happily suck my blood when I try to get some sleep.

Oh well, everything's got its good bits and bad bits. At least my bad bits aren't too bad. Yay other person who does my laundry for me!

OMG My Face Is So Round

The work week here goes from Sunday through Thursday, so I thought I'd get to relax on Friday and Saturday. No such luck. I spent most of Friday with my bum parked in my work chair, conscientiously typing up a talking points document (that was subsequently ignored, oh well) and trying to organize my inbox. It's quite something to wake up to 50 emails full of screaming instructions, but fortunately I have absorbed the "insha'Allah" attitude here, which is equivalent to our "bahala na ang Diyos" state of Zen (although of course we usually say "bahala na si Batman").

Fortunately, a dear former colleague texted me with an invite to dinner with his family, so I leapt at the chance. He works in government, so we got a government jeep, and on the ride over he told me all about his being "on duty" at the ICC Cricket World Cup opening, which I saw on TV. It featured live singing acts -- including Bryan Adams of all people -- and looked like a heckuva good time. Not, apparently, when you're in uniform and expected to protect the Prime Minister, but hey, he got two free tickets that he gave away to junior colleagues, so I expect his popularity is in the stratosphere.

Dinner was most excellent. We started out in a small sitting room and had mega-spicy soup ("I like it!" I gasped sincerely, eyes watering) and chatted away. His wife and daughter were there, too, and I know the daughter as she goes to the university. Apparently, she'd only ever heard of me from her dad, with whom I worked frenetically in summer of '09. Anyway, they're a super nice, warm Bengali family, and soon enough I was chowing down shrimp, fish, beef, fried chicken, and fried rice at their dinner table. Even grandma was there!

Here's a picture of me with the daughter, A., and mommy, whose name I didn't quite catch, so let's call her Auntie. Also, my roundness is an optical illusion -- A. is really just that thin. Hah! Just kidding, I'm totally fat.

After dinner they pointed out all their trees -- mango, guava, and date trees -- and I got a necklace that looks like a giant crystal rosary without the cross. The evening was full of laughter. Bhai (kuya) and Auntie were always cracking up at random comments, and A. regaled us with university gossip. Although I'd intended to be home by 10, I got a ride back at midnight. Yikes! And then of course I worked for the next three hours, but that's boring.

Now it's Sunday, I mean Saturday, and I hope I'm done with work...ohpleaseohpleaseohplease

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Day 2: Derp?

Not much to report. I went to the SIKROT location and got to know some of the people who work there, and my fellow interns. Yes, it seems I am the Crisis Intern, which is either awesome if you think about it, or I swear it's not what you think.

Anyway, the office sports a sweet view of the stadium where some ICC cricket world cup matches will take place. I read in the local paper that lots of people were howling mad this past week because they got vouchers from banks, but then couldn't get their tickets at the stadium because the ticket booths closed abruptly and without explanation. So there was a big bunch of people who had vouchers for tickets but couldn't get into the stadium! Eek! Fortunately, I think those were only the practice matches, but sports fans are nuts, in my limited experience. I say limited because I usually avoid sports fans.

I got home via CNG today for Tk100, which is more than what I saw on the meter, but the office peon -- they literally call him "peon" -- who got the ride for me had negotiated the price before I got there. I got home pretty fast (17 minutes!), which is good despite the usual terrors of insane Bangladesh driving -- and seriously, I say this as a confident Manila driver. I also got the chance to practice all my Bangla directional vocabulary: "dani"means right, "bame" is left, "shoja" is go straight, and "thamo" means stop. BAM. Also, "shoma" is mosquito, the evil creatures that somehow get into my bed. Despite the mosquito net. Derp?

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Day 1: Dhoooooom

The morning of my first full day began innocently enough, with doves cooing gently outside my window. I had slept soundly and with nary a mosquito bite (thank you, mosquito net inventor!). I took a cold shower, lounged in bed to finish a book (it was a national holiday so all offices were closed), then decided to venture outside to search for the legendary King's Cafe, a Malaysian coffee house franchise.

Since I am adventurous (and my place is tucked away where no rickshaw dare enter), I decided to walk. Basically, I have three bustling streets to deal with: Airport Road, Kamal Ataturk Road, and the glamorous Road 11--don't let the name fool you! Airport Road boasts a pedestrian overpass (Allah be praised!), and I present to you a view of Dhaka traffic on a good day.

I was also pleased to note that the capital offers equal opportunity employment when it comes to backbreaking labor. These ladies were delighted at my not-so-ninja picture taking, and posed smilingly long after I was done.

I was also happy that I didn't get as many stares as I did in Chittagong; Dhaka is so much more cosmopolitan! Also, there are tons of foreigners here for the cricket world cup, so I am one among many.

As I walked back, I saw some irresistible Engrish. Are YOU shooting like a blind?

So anyway, near as I can figure out, this map accurately describes my current environs (image not to scale, and I have no idea where north is):

Finally, I got home and had a bizness chat, and then a bizness dinner, which looked like this:

Then I had coffee, so now it's 2 am and I'm typing like a madwoman. Dhoom, dhoooooom.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Epic Journey, Tapos Brownout

The red line of epic-ness!

Revelation: airline ticket counters are hot spots for human kindness. It all began as I checked in for the Boston-JFK leg of my epic two-day journey to Bangladesh. Evil officials bent on maximum inconvenience had decreed that passengers could only carry two items on the plane: a purse OR a laptop bag OR a tiny tiny carry-on bag. But I had all three! In response to my blank stare upon being told about the cabin limits, the lady told me to just stick my purse in my carry-on. Viola, it fit, and I walked away a proper citizen adhering to all flying rules.

Then, after magically heading in exactly the right direction to get to my terminal in NY, the ticket guy for Emirates weighed my carry-on and announced that it was overweight and would have to be checked in. BUT, my carry-on contained highly stealable items (TX calculators) that I'd been assigned to hand carry to the SIKROT location, so I fired back, "No, I need the stuff in there. Can I repack?" Ticket man raised an eyebrow at me and asked where I would put my stuff, at which point I revealed that I had a spare purse inside (I actually had two, because I believe in being Crazy Prepared). He looked searchingly at my face, with its winter hamster cheeks glowing with wholesome innocence, and said, "Just bring it." Yay!

Another revelation: sometimes, one can get really lucky. Case 1: out of habit, I'd headed straight for the terminal for Doha, only to realize about an hour later that I was actually going through Dubai this time. I speedwalked to the right place and arrived just as they called my row. Score! Case 2: I had no seatmates! And being a shorty, I was almost exactly the right height to stretch out fully on three seats with three pillows under my head. Gyahahaha!!!

Emirates is F-A-N-C-Y

Case 3: while wandering around Dubai airport, I realized I had left my iPhone somewhere! I dashed back to -- and I didn't know this at the time -- the wrong mobile/laptop charging kiosk and demanded, "iPhone!" to the young man occupying my previous seat (I thought it was, anyway). He obligingly offered me his own iPhone, and looked blank when I freaked out in response. The uh, holy men (guys in white robes) looked concerned as I muttered imprecautions under my breath, and they said, "No iPhone." I thanked them and suddenly realized -- I'd left it on top of the toilet paper dispenser in the ladies room!

AAAHHHH~!, I screamed in my head as I zoomed through the terminal. Below is a helpful diagram:

Long story short, no one in the ladies room stole my iPhone, hereby named iMelda for all the trouble she caused. The nice Pinay janitress was surprised: "Andami nang nagbanyo diyan ha!"

Case 4: and THEN, there was a big crush to get to the boarding gate, but my permanent expression of mild confusion (and blue passport) got me into the VIP line. Gyahahahahahaha!!!!

Engrish is truly global!

Case 5: finally, as we wearily trooped/shoved into the plane at 3:30 am (two hours delayed), a concerned husband, who'd been telling every stewardess he could collar where his wife and child were seated (apparently they were seated separately from him), turned around and smacked into my carry-on. I apologized, of course, and he declared, "I'll help you!" and hoisted the overweight sucker into a nearby overhead bin. Yay!

I arrived a couple hours late, spent the next hour in line at immigration, and another half hour waiting for my baggage. I got airport pickup by the wrong person who helped me find the right person, and the uniformed guys who were supposed to assist me at the airport somehow ended up with some snotty Columbia University students (not like me at all!). Then I finally got to have lunch with my dear colleagues here, went home, and...

May extra mattress pa!

...ay, brownout. I'm told it's brownout here from 6 pm to 1 am, but I guess someone lied, because I have power (=wireless internet) again. Yay!

And now, bed.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Off Again!

Aalis na naman ako! Magsusulat ako in Tagalog kasi sabi ni bosing lihim na PANUKALA ang dahilan ng aking paglakbay. Sa Linggo ang lipad ko. Isang buwan ako sa Bangladesh. Nakakalokaaaaa!

Datapwat matatanggap naman ito ng puso ko sapagkat nakakapagod din naman maglakad araw-araw sa napakadulas na kalye! Masarap daw ngayon ang panahon sa Bangladesh -- hindi ganon kalamig, at hindi ganon kainit.

May gantimpala sa kung sinong hindi nalito sa post na 'to.