09 February 2012

Week 3 - What I've learned

Can't believe it's already been three weeks.
  1. After close observation, Dhakans flail when walking down the street, just like I do. They bob and weave and get stuck behind a porter carrying what looks like two 50 pound bags of cement mix on his head, just like I do.They get trapped between two rickshaws, just like I do. They get marooned on the islands in between the seas of vehicular traffic, just like I do. They step out into the street to avoid the human scrum on the sidewalk only to have a pick set by a CNG, pulling them up short and forcing a retreat back to the sidewalk, just like I do. This makes me happier than I’d like to admit.
  2. A “decimal” is a unit of area which, despite sounding metric, is actually 1/100th of an acre. It’s obsolete everywhere except in some parts of rural Bangladesh and some parts of Annam in India, where it’s still used to measure household plots. Farmers use it around the Teknaf and Chunati forest reserves. Good luck converting that to hectares.
  3. It can take three hours to go 45 kilometers, or two hours to go 15 km. Traffic is gridlocked around the capital for much of the time. Red lights mean nothing. Horns are used all the time, though for what I’m not sure since no one heeds them. (And when I say “all the time” – that is only slight hyperbole. On a three hour drive last weekend from Jessore to the end of the road in SW Bangladesh, the longest the driver went without using his horn while I was awake was 45 seconds. I fell asleep in self defense.) On side streets, sometimes a horn from behind can tell your rickshaw driver to make way, but many times, where’s he gonna go?
  4. If you are so inclined to give to beggars on the street, keep your small money handy, like in your shirt pocket vs. your pants pocket, so it’s less awkward and so you don’t have to pull your wallet out. If you give while stuck in traffic, either pedestrian or vehicular, your action will attract many, many others – especially as a foreigner. Proceed as you wish.
  5. Bangladesh has a bag ban! No "poly" (i.e., plastic) bags. And it's mostly observed. Bags in stores will be made of jute (locally grown) or instead of a bag you'll get a net made from jute or hemp.
  6. Carrots are in season, and are delicious. You can buy them nearly anywhere, including sitting in traffic. Though again, if you buy anything – carrots, popcorn, BAUs (sour apples the size of an egg, so-called because they were developed at Bangladesh Agricultural University), a laminated guide to the fresh water fish of Bangladesh (on offer, improbably) – while stuck in traffic, you will most certainly be approached by many, many more vendors.
  7. I defy you to find a green vegetable in Dhaka - and I mean a leafy green vegetable, not a pepper or a cucumber. I went out for a fancy meal the other night, for a change of pace, and the menu said "House salad: mixed greens and tomato." I got a bed of peppers and a cherry tomato. Tasty, but... not quite what I was thinking I'd get.
  8. Next time I'm bringing packets of instant oatmeal.
  9. Lots of garments are made here, and lots of irregulars stay here. There was a guy with a “Wrenesto Che Guevera” shirt. The pink shirt that looked like it’d lost a fight with a bedazzler I saw tonight on a 30 year old I sure hope was an irregular.
  10. Hoodies are a surprisingly common sartorial choice here. Saw a guy, mid twenties, full beard, skull cap, Islamic dress, wearing an “Old Navy” hoodie tonight. You see them on males everywhere: your 30 year old rickshaw driver, the 20 something passing you in the street, the 65 year old shopkeeper.
  11. Many people walk around with English slogans on their clothes that don't always mean what they think it means. The guy at the mall yesterday with the “boy crazy” shirt may have been, but my money is on something getting lost in translation. The shirt worn by our van driver to the National Park yesterday read “My heart beats all day,” in big block letters. That is surely accurate, as far as it goes.
  12. Bangladesh is conservative country in terms of dress. Even for a field trip to a National Park the expectation was absolutely for a collared shirt (as we were there for official business), and the preference was for a button down shirt and dress slacks. They don’t have to match or to be new, but that’s the protocol. I’ve not seen anyone in shorts outside of the gym, and even there I’ve taken to wearing my sweats.
  13. Gender. I’m still observing and trying to understand gender here. It’s complex and nuanced and I haven’t figured it out. There are women in very public roles here, including both the current and previous prime minister, and you see many women in the street, on buses, driving - this isn’t (our ally) Saudi Arabia. Most women in Dhaka wear a sari, and most of them have something on their heads, though not a full covering – usually the back third. They are scarf-like, brightly colored, and draw further attention it seems. And the women here certainly are attractive. You will see some women in full burkas on the street in Dhaka, and a higher percentage out in the country side. This ain't California, either. Women are presented as "other" in a way I’m not used to considering. This should be its own post.
  14. Global English is different than what native speakers use with each other, of course – it’s a lingua franca that is leached of its beauty, often, but there are charming turns of phrase that pop up every once in a while. (When's the last time you used "bestowed"?) “Available” is used as a catch all for “there is”or "there are" - in the Sundarbans last weekend we were told that “Bengal tigers are available in the forest” and “monkeys are available also.” I didn’t ask to see a menu.
  15. Many sounds in Bangla are very similar to Japanese. I swear I've heard "Nandaka" every day, but when I look there is not a Japanese-looking person available. (Except for earlier this week at breakfast, when there was.)
  16. The present perfect as a tense isn’t well understood in spoken English here, even by people with pretty advanced skills. In writing it shows up all the time for the simple past, but in speaking it's pretty consistently going to throw someone for a loop. You can see them replaying the question in their minds and looking for the verb, particularly with irregular English verbs. Instead of asking "Have you been there before?" you'll get further ahead by asking "First time (place/ experience)?" and point at them. The present progressive is, however, available. For simple present. Or for simple future. All the time.
  17. On the street in Dhaka, the penetration and quality of English is very high, the highest I've seen in Asia outside of Singapore. Better than Hong Kong, from what I remember. It's just that I am editing for eight hours a day.
  18. The English language TV options are pretty limited (so I turn it on sometimes. So?), but where has Supernatural been all my life?


CFox said...

Who else blogs about verb tenses!?? xo,

KenAnselment said...

B, when do you return stateside?