Monday, June 24, 2013

Tuesday, June 25th (The Weekend Part 1)

So, what a crazy weekend! It’s been awhile since my last post but that’s because I was traveling this weekend. Like I said, my Dad came in and we headed up to a northeastern city called Srimangal that’s in an area known for it’s tea, lemon, and pineapple plantations as well as Lawachara National Park (a preserved rainforest).

My Dad arrived on Thursday morning early, and I had slept at the hotel. Oh my god was the hotel nice. Clean, cozy bed, a hot shower, good food. It was heaven. He arrived early and we went downstairs to breakfast—an endless and delicious buffet of options. After breakfast, we headed to my apartment, and my Dad got to walk the streets of Dhaka for the first time. It was as crazy as ever—honking, swerving cars, busy sidewalks cracked and littered with garbage, throngs of people. My apartment was not far from the hotel, and we just grabbed some clothes and things for the weekend. I also got to show my dad the market by my house. We walked through the meat stands, the vegetable stands, the fruit stands and the boxed goods stands—people yelling out “Madame! Madame!” as per usual (oh yeah, they all call me madame here…). After the market we headed a few streets over to Road 11. This is the main road in Bananai (my neighborhood) and is the busiest. It’s full of restaurants and shops all the way down. We stopped in a traditional clothing store and King’s Confectionary—a bakery where I FINALLY found some whole wheat bread! Yum. I’m going to have it for the first time for breakfast today (the only bread at the market is basically Wonderbread).

After roaming a little, we hopped in a rickshaw to go back to the hotel. My Dad’s first rickshaw.  A rickshaw with two people and a big bag is certainly less stable than one, and we definitely filled the seat. Also, there’s nowhere really to hold on and depending on how careful your driver is you go over endless bumps and potholes. When we got back to the hotel, we had a couple of hours before we were going to take a tour of the National Assembly Building (where I had gone with Martin—Parliament—but we were going to go inside). I decided to take my Dad to Star Kebab, a very authentic local restaurant I had been to once that has good kebabs, naan, biriyani and jahl fry—all pretty classic dishes here. However, it had started pouring and storming harder than I had ever seen it rain here, so we tried to wait a little for it to pass. We ended up taking a car, which was a very pleasant treat I will unfortunately not have access to as the rain picks up. I’ll be braving the weather via rickshaw or by foot…I think it will mostly be a you-have-to-accept-you’re-going-to-be-soaked-most-of-the-time type of thing. We headed there and ordered the few dishes I had listed. Kebabs are straightforward enough. They don’t actually come on sticks though—they’re just seasoned (and I think fried?) pieces of chicken that you tear off and eat with the naan. Yum. Biriyani is a seasoned rice and meat dish. Pretty straight forward. We got chicken. And then Jahl fry they consider a “gravy” but really its just pieces of meat in a thick-ish sauce that you eat with rice or naan. It’s sort of oily but has good flavor. After our pretty big and heavy lunch we headed back to the hotel for our tour.

The tour was great. It started with a minor problem in that I didn’t have my passport with me and you need one to get into the building. But, this is Bangladesh. Soooo, we stopped by a convenience store and picked up a packet of cigarettes: my passport for the day. Bribes can get you places here. 

The tour guide was great and when we got to the building (after a LOT of traffic, as per usual), we went on in. The building was designed by the famous architect Louis Kahn (I don’t know if many of you have heard of him). I guess he worked on Yale and some other buildings you have probably seen or heard of. You can Google him. But anyway, I have posted a picture before of the actual building, so you can go back and see the outside of the building (from a long way away). It’s very modern and geometric and sits on 200 acres of grounds (hence, my picture being far away). Also, all sides of it are surrounded by a lake/mote that goes right up to the sides of the building. The original plan was to have the houses around this lake/mote be Parliament members’ houses and they could boat across to the main building. It didn’t pan out. But a cool idea nonetheless.

The building is mostly made of concrete with strips of marble, and the inside is all exposed concrete. The inside has cut outs of circles and triangles and squares between the different hallways and passages. There are also several large cylinder light shafts throughout the building (that add the geometric nature of the building) to bring in plenty of natural light. The light fixtures, the furniture and the general set up of the building feels like you’ve stepped right back to 60s (when it was designed). Parliament was in session that day, and the Prime Minister was actually in the building. We didn’t see her, but at one point when were walking around there were like 20 guards fanned out around and above us on balconies and I guess they were screening the area before she would walk through.

We went into the main assembly hall where Parliament was supposed to have been in session thirty minutes before we showed up. It was not even ¼ full and people were milling around chatting. Then, an alarm started going off. It was the alarm signaling there were not enough parliament members for them to go into session, and more members needed to arrive immediately. Classic. It went off for a while and finally stopped—I guess enough people finally showed up. Pretty wild that they can’t get people to show up for these sessions. I remember going to Parliament in South Africa and being similarly surprised by how dysfunctional it seemed.

After our tour, we headed back to the hotel and ended up just having dinner at a restaurant there. Sort of boring, but it was nice to be able to shower and go right upstairs and know I wasn’t going to get sweaty and grimy trying to manage to get around town on a rickshaw. We went to bed early, because we were going to have to get up early to leave for our ride to Srimangal.

I will post later about all of our Srimangal adventures! There were a lot and this post is already getting long and I have to get off to work. I am breaking up my posts about this hectic and fun past week. I really should’ve just posted along the way! Woops. I can blame bad internet and a crazy schedule. But off to work I go. Like I said, I will post about our tea plantation and rainforest adventures later. 

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