Sunday, August 30, 2009

First Days in Dhaka

Buckets, Bureaucracy, and Breakage

OK, well we’ve kept you waiting long enough. After arriving in Dhaka we were picked up at the airport by our landlord. He told us we were staying in a temporary apartment until ours was ready. It was a bit disappointing because we were anxious to get into our permanent home, but the place was fine (although a bit strangely decorated – as in nothing was hung over four feet off the ground, but there were lost of decorations from the waist down…). We only had to stay for a few days and then we were able to get into our permanent place.

While we waited, we took our first trips around Dhaka together as a family. It was fun for Sam to visit some of the places that were so familiar to her and finally bring Jon and Atticus along. We took some time to explore our new neighborhood.

PHOTO: Sam and Atticus on a roof

Our first morning out we took a walk around and ended up taking a little rest at Gulshan Park. Actually we were killing time because the coffee shop, Café Mango, didn’t open until 10 am. Since we were jetlagged, we had all woken up at about 3:30am. It was nice to sit and relax outside though.

After we waited for it to open, we went to get some breakfast at Café Mango. This is a little café that Sam used to go to very regularly, and it is just a nice easy place to hang out. The coffee is reasonably priced, the food is good and pretty inexpensive, and it caters toward the bideshi (foreigner) and upper class college crowd, so the environment is comfortable (meaning Sam can take her orna off – the orna is scarf women wear over their chest). Atticus very quickly bonded with place, and now going to Mango is one of his favorite things to do. He especially likes riding a rickshaw there.

On Friday we were able to move into our real apartment at Babylon Gardens. The neighborhood is quiet but there is a main road just down the way, so it isn’t too isolated. There is a shopping center with a little grocery and some other shops about 6 blocks down that is an easy quick place to get water and basic things. It seems a little more expensive than some of the shops a bit farther away though, and certainly the grocery store prices are astronomical compared to the outdoor markets. Sometimes it is just easier to stop by the grocery though. (I uploaded some apartment photos straight from Picasa in a couple separate posts below this one because it seems to work better when doing a lot of photos. The connection is a little slower here.)

Our apartment is actually a three bedroom, because he didn’t have a 2 bedroom open. It is huge, and it has ceiling fans in every room and AC in our bedroom. It seems to stay pretty cool (although this is all relative).

One of Jon’s first encounters here at the apartment was with a little tiny cleaner boy (maybe 5 years old?). He knocked on the door while Sam was in the shower, so Jon had to try and field the communication on his own. It ended with him having to close the door on the kid while he tried to get in. He thought he was asking if we needed him to clean.

A few minutes later, (Sam is out of the shower now), the little guy returned with our doorman. It turned out he wanted a bucket, and so Jon was bringing all our buckets from the back balcony over one by one and he was rejecting them each time. Finally Sam asked if he wanted to come see and he determinedly walked straight to his specific bucket, grabbed it and left.

It raised a few issues:
1) we needed to learn the word for bucket.. Several encounters even prior to the little kid at the door had involved buckets. The word for bucket is balti.

2) Buckets are going to be a more important part of our life here, ie: Laundry is done in a bucket; garbage goes into a bucket; cleaning requires a bucket of fresh water; there are plastic buckets for sale everywhere at a wide range of prices… buckets are ever present.

3) Buckets can be used to help clean up the mess you made when something broke - and everything breaks. Constantly.

So since we’ve moved into our apartment the follwing things have been broken (mostly by Jon who seems to manhandle everything).

The glass door to the tv stand
The towel rack
The faucet in the kitchen and bathroom
A Bucket
2 squeegees
A trash can
I’m fairly confident this list is not comprehensive.

The final major aspect of Bangladesh we’ve had to encounter is the massive bureaucracy. We had to get cell phones, which required sim cards. These are highly regulated. You have to fill everything out in triplicate, provide a copy of your passport, photos, your fingerprint, a local reference, and go though about 3 to 4 people. (Because you can’t pay the same person that collects your paperwork – that must be done at the cash counter and then a receipt is given to the paperwork person. Everything is handwritten on the form, then slowly typed into a computer. Those are then printed and then you sign all the forms, handwritten and printed. Then you get your stamp stamp stamp on your forms and you receive a tiny little piece of plastic (about 1cm by 2 cm) that goes in the back of your phone.

We got our phones through Grameenphone, but later we wanted to get a wireless internet device that works on a cell phone modem and so we had to get another sim card from Banglalink. Before that though, we had to go to Computer City to buy the modem. Actually, it is a pretty cool device. It plugs into your usb port and you can use a cell phone sim card to access the internet. It is nice because it isn’t reliant on electricity and it gives a good backup to the apartment’s wireless connection, which has been problematic.

Even buying the modem required 2 people to help us- one guy told us about it and collected our information while another typed in SLOWLY into the computer in order to print our receipt, which I then ad to sign, and it was then placed into an envelope and given to me. Why did I need to sign that? Who knows.

Well that’s enough for now. Next entry we’ll get into our daily life a bit more – sweeping, school starting, grocery peculiarities, etc…

Apartment Photos I

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More Apartment photos

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Thursday, August 27, 2009

Some Changi Airport Photos (more later!)

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On Our Way – Again!

So since our tickets were for a Sunday departure we had the travel agent put us in a hotel for a couple days until we left. It was easier to be closer to the airport and then we could take the shuttle to get dropped of. We stayed in a hotel right by DIA in a weird little enclave of big chain hotels and a few restaurants. Actually, it was literally a few- a Village Inn, a Ruby Tuesday, and Dicicco’s. With such limited options, we ended up eating at all three. Our last meal in the US was dinner at Dicicco’s- which really gave us a memorable send off.

Dicicco’s ( is among the most ridiculous places we’ve encountered in a while. Inside is a mess of stenciled grape vines on the walls, fake sculptures, weird balcony seats and every lame attempt to try (and fail miserably) and look like a nice restaurant while still maintaining a full on over the top theme park feeling.

The crème de la crème though, was Jerry. Jerry was positioned on a massive stage, wearing white pants and a navy blazer, seated at his Casio-tone with a two story projected digital fireplace behind him. He was playing pop hits on the piano at abut one third of the usual tempo. It was so slowed down that it was a puzzle to try and figure out what the song was even supposed to be- it was maddeningly familiar but basically unrecognizable. Some hits we did decipher were Killing me Softly, All by Myself, the James Bond theme and that song from Titanic. The absolute best part though was when the fireplace image ended and it was just Sony digital player screensaver behind him. The food was predictably plain and all in all it left us ready to get on our way to new horizons.

We had no problems at the airport, and everything went smoothly- even security was fast and uneventful. We flew to LA and then caught our connection to Singapore (which had a stop in Tokyo). After a long flight we stopped through the Tokyo airport- we just had to disembark and wait about an hour and re-board. It allowed us to experience a tiny piece of Tokyo though- the digital toilet!

The digital toilet (as named by Sam) had a control panel on the side of the seat and allowed you to choose buttons for options such as water spraying on your bum (illustrations included on the buttons – this was a round W shaped line with a spray of waves and arrows going somewhat violently toward it), flushing sound (this had a musical note on it) and others with less amusing illustrations.

After re-boarding we flew the rest of our 18 ½ hour journey to Singapore and arrived at Changi airport about 1 am.

Changi airport is in many ways indescribable. It is a completely planned and artificial experience.

We initially wanted to to stay in the transit hotel for a few hours and then take the free Singapore tour the next morning. Our flight left at 8pm, so we figured we had plenty of time. The hotel was full though and after wandering the airport for about an hour we decided to just suck it up and pay the high cost of a room at Crowne Plaza, also attached to the airport. The Crowne Plaza required us to go through immigration though. ‘Oh well,’ we thougt ‘we’ll be going into Singapore tomorrow anyway, so let’s just go through tonight.’ Stamp, stamp, stamp – we were through with our Singapore visit pass and headed to our fancy pants hotel.

The hotel was really nice. Our room was fancy and comfortable and it came with a free breakfast! We didn’t sleep too long though because we had to make sure we got back into the airport to sign up for our free Singapore tour.

After a couple of hours we went to get our breakfast. It was a glorious spread of fresh fruit, pastries, eggs and accompaniments, coffee, juices, cereals – a much needed break from the Indian-vegetarian airline special meal choice we’d been eating for a day and a half. We had a nice relaxing breakfast and then proceeded to go sign up for our tour- the desk opened at 7, and we wanted to 9 am tour, so we decided to go sign up and then come back to our room until it was time to go.

As we went through immigration to re-enter the airport a small nagging voice in her head told Sam she should have checked out first, but she dismissed it and just waltzed back through immigration. Stamp, stamp, stamp – back in the airport.

We were informed by the lady at the tour desk that we couldn’t go on the tour because we had already gone through immigration the night prior and re-entered that morning and you can’t just go in and out that often in a day. ‘Crap!’ we said, but we need to check out of our hotel. ‘Oh no,’ she said, ‘you’ll have to go tell them you made a mistake and see if they will let you through.’

Sigh. Not only do we get no free tour, now we have a stressful thing to deal with. If we had known, we wouldn’t have come back in and would have slept more at the hotel, or gone in to see Singapore on the bus ourselves, or checked out of our hotel (which we were paying cash for so we had left a deposit) but alas, now we had to plead our case to the beauracracy and see if we could get through again. The men at the desk were really nice though and agreed to walk Sam over to check out while Jon and Atticus waited.

We walked over to an area where there were a bunch of army guards with assault rifles and he told me to wait there. He then disappeared for like 15 minutes. Finally, he came back and the lady at the counter (next to the disturbingly young and heavily armed guards) took my passport. I had to walk with the immigration guy over to the hotel. On the way he says “If anyone stops us, just tell them you left important papers in the hotel.” Fabulous- not only have I surrendered my passport to Singapore officials, but now I learn it is under some sketchy storyline in order to make it happen, apparently checking our didn’t seem urgent enough to make the exception.

I checked out of the hotel and got my deposit and got my passport back (it is freaky to give up your passport abroad) and got back to Jon and Atticus. Meanwhile, those two had apparently been becoming best friends with the workers and Atticus ended up getting an enormous bag of hard candy out of the deal.

So it was now about 10 hours until our flight and we took in the sights and sounds of Changi airport. These sights and sounds are no small affair. We saw a cactus garden, a butterfly garden with over 100 species of butterflies, free foot massages (Atticus’ favorite), bamboo garden, koi ponds, art stations, free internet, resting areas (but no alarm clocks- dumb). It was still difficult t fill the time but I guess it was probably easier than any other airport on earth. We'll post a photo montage of our time in Changi once our connection is a little stronger.

We finally boarded our flight and arrived in Dhaka at about 11:30 at night. No luggage was lost, our ride was right on time an things went well. On the way home Mr. Tanvir, our landlord, said the person in the apartment before us stayed a few days more (we were late, remember) and so he put us in an apartment down the street until August 28th. We all slept a much needed sleep and then woke up early due to jet lag.

Next entry: First days in Dhaka!

False Start

From Denver to London (oops- scratch that) to Delhi (no....) to Colorado Springs to Denver (again) to Los Angeles to Tokyo to Singapore to Dhaka

Well, it has been while and we haven’t updated - but that certainly isn’t because nothing was happening. Where to start? Let’s begin on Tuesday, August 18 – the day we were supposed to leave. Actually, let’s start a little earlier. In JUNE, we bought our tickets at a travel agency in Braintree before we left for Colorado. She booked us on a British Airways flight to Delhi and a separate ticket on Jet airways from Delhi to Dhaka. At the time, I (Sam) wasn’t crazy about this having 2 separate tickets, but she assured us that all we’d need to do is recheck our bags in Delhi. I asked her if this would be a problem since we weren’t getting an Indian visa, and she said, no because we’d only be transiting in the airport. Foolishly, we believed her.

We arrived at Denver International Airport at about 5pm to catch our overnight flight to London. At the check-in, I asked if they could check our bags all the way through to Dhaka, even though we had a separate ticket. They said no. Then the subject of our Indian visa came up. It turns out, they say, that because of how she booked our tickets, we do actually need an Indian visa. In fact, British Airways wont even let us on the plane without a visa. They can’t (won’t, really) re-route us because since our tickets were purchased through a travel agent, they can’t (won’t, really) change the tickets. The travel agency is closed at this point and an hour or so later, we end up calling Sam’s mom to come get us from the airport. It was incredibly frustrating to have all this buildup and goodbyes, only to turn around and go back where we started.

PHOTO: Atticus waiting to be picked up from DIA

After three days of waiting for the travel agency to try and get British Airways to re-route us, the agency had to accept that B.A. wasn’t going to do anything. As a result, they had to buy us new tickets. These tickets were not as good- with a crazy long flight and a 18 hour layover in Singapore. They left on Sunday, August 25. At that point though, we just wanted to go, so we didn’t put up a fight. We may re-visit this with them later, since they want our help getting money from British Airways.

After looking online though, we decided that maybe the layover wasn’t so bad, and we’d take the opportunity to see Singapore. Things didn’t go exactly as planned.

We won't have a great internet connection for the next day or so, but we'll try to get the blog posts caught up to where we are (dhaka) as soon as possible! Next entry: Changi Airport!

Monday, August 17, 2009

From Boston to Bangladesh!

Welcome everyone to our blog. We will be documenting our family's move from Boston to Bangladesh for 11 months. S. will be working on her dissertation, A. will be going to first grade, and J. will be doing what he usually does...

We'll be arriving in Dhaka August 20, and will update as soon as things are settled in.


p.s.- the title of the blog represents we three in Dhaka, Bangladesh where the population is about 6,700,000 or so. 3 in 6,000,000 is only an approximation.