Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Lahore Museum photos

This was probably one of the highlights of my life! The museum was amazing and filled with really old artefacts.  It was an excellent museum that covered the history of the region, including Indus Valley civilisations, Gandhara society, and the advent of Islam being introduced to the region.  I haven't seen all the museum as we were distracted by so many other sections that I forgot there was a gallery of contemporary art.  I'd like to spend more time there than we had, so I hope to get there next time I visit.  I wasn't really sure what to expect at that museum; if you've been following my blog, you'll know that I was disappointed in the way that Pakistan keeps up its tourist attractions, but this museum is very well done, and I was really impressed.  I'm as excited about this place as I was at the National Museum of Anthropology in Mexico.  I decided to create a separate album for it.  For the most part, I included descriptions of things after the artefact(s), but at some point, I switched for some reason, and you'll notice that there are two descriptions in a row, and it changes from that point where the description comes before.  I hope this gives you a little taste of the fascinating diversity of this region!

Lahore Museum 2012

The saddest part is that these societies historically were pluralistic and diverse; economic conditions were better, and trade and commerce were more prevalent.  In fact, many anthropologists consider the Indus Valley to be the birthplace of modern civilisation due to their sophisticated cites with features such as sewage systems.  What has happened since then to move the country to the condition it's in today?  Well, that's a topic for another day.

Pakistan 2012 photos

Here are some random photos from my trip to Pakistan.  I went to Ichira market briefly, mainly to just see it as well as to get a temporary nose stud to replace the one that got accidentally taken out of my nose that I wasn't able to get back in!  It was a strange experience getting the new one.  We went to a jeweller that my mom and Asif knew in the market, but as the call to prayer had just ended, he had already gone off to the mosque for afternoon prayers and had closed up shop.  So we were recommended to another shop, only when we arrived there, it wasn't a jewellery shop but what looked to be a drug store with shampoos and other beauty products.  But, the guy did have nose studs!  He used some sort of numbing spray on my nose, which was such a relief after all the trauma my nose had gone through trying to get my old stud back in and then wearing an earring in it instead to keep the hole open.  He used nail clippers to shorten the post until it fit inside my nose, but then he took a pair of needle-nose pliers and curled the end of the post into a double loop so it wouldn't fall out.  The only question I had was, how do I get it out?  The guy said you just remove it with nail clippers!  And if you're worried I took photos of this process, don't worry.  I wouldn't gross you out like that.  This story is all you get.

Meanwhile, if you want another description of Ichira market written in great Penglish, I highly recommend clicking on the hyperlink in this sentence.

Pakistan 2012

Bangladesh photos

Sadly, I didn't get many photos from here other than a few from in traffic and from my hotel room window.  I don't know why I didn't think to ask the hotel if they had a tour guide or something like I did the first time I went to Indonesia, but anyway, it's too late now.  Here are a few snaps!

Bangladesh 2012

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Flying to Pakistan

For the first time in my life, I flew to Pakistan.  Previously, because I was in India, my main option was to cross the border by land because there are only limited numbers of flights that go between the two countries.  But this time, being that I was coming from Bangladesh, there were several flights going to Pakistan, so I was able to book a flight and not have to go through the time-consuming, though straightforward process, of passing through the border.

Line-up at my gate in Dhaka
Anyway, no matter what method of transportation you choose in this part of the world, it will always be an adventure.  I was not impressed when I got to my gate to see a huge long line-up of people.  Like Indonesia, you clear security right at the gate, so all these people were in line to clear security and then head into the seating area at the gate.  I didn't know about this process, so I had been shopping nonchalantly in one of the stores there before heading to the gate because I had arrived there quite early.  I was confused that there were no ladies in the line-up, just men.  However, I did spot one lady going through security, and I wondered if I had missed a special line for them or something.  So, I decided to wait in the line-up, unsure how all these people would get processed in time for departure, and hoping that someone would come along and tell me to go to the front of the line.

That very thing happened.  Turns out they prioritise ladies, children, and the elderly, and I was really happy about that process.  Finally, a time when it pays to be a female!  But the funny part is that at the gate in Dhaka, when they announced that women, children, and the elderly go through first, they told other people to sit down, and this airport guy was just screaming at people, yelling at the them to sit down if they decided to stand up.  It was the funniest thing!  I like that no-nonsense style of boarding since in India, people just line up willy nilly, and there's no order at all.  These people made sure there was order!

Luckily, I was seated in business class the entire way, though I'm sure I only paid for economy.  Regardless, on PIA, it seems to make no difference other than that you get some extra leg room and are perhaps seated with a more educated seat mate.  The food and service were no different.  I guess that makes sense considering the business class seats on PIA are only about $100 more than the economy seats, and you will always get what you pay for, right?  At least it gives me funny stories to blog about!

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Dhaka traffic

Well, I had already been warned that Dhaka traffic is extremely slow-going.  Too many people on the roads all at once.  I've actually felt like I would be hit here more so than any other country where traffic laws and signs are guidelines and road decorations.  There have been a number of close encounters!  Have I been afraid, though?  Definitely not.  I trust drivers here because they know what they're doing, and it seems that accidents are inevitable since practically everyone has scratches on their cars.  Besides, I think it's difficult to have a bad accident by going at high speed since the roads are so crowded, you really don't have many opportunities to go fast; you're just in a snail-paced commute to get wherever you're going.

One thing that I noticed here that's really smart, though, is that everyone has small chrome bumpers on the fronts and backs of their cars.  Of course, this is really the way cars should always have been made.  I remember when a shiny chrome bumper was a standard feature on cars back home, and now we have these flimsy pieces of crap on our cars that always seem to be just shy of a million dollars to fix when you get the slightest nick in them.  The chrome bumpers actually protected the car, and they didn't sustain too much damage to themselves in a regular fender bender.  Oh, the good old days!  Anyway, looking around, I realised that everyone had them, although many still had scrapes and small dents in their cars.  I don't know if the chrome bumpers had been retro-fit or when they are usually attached to the cars, but I wish we had these at home.  Maybe we do, and I've just never known where to get them since few, if any, people have them.

The other thing they have here are three-wheelers as buses.  In India, I've only ever seen them in the forms of small pickups, though perhaps there are bus versions, too.  I wish I could have got a good shot of one of them that we passed where the back had what looked to be police officers.  The funny part to me is that they were riding in a regular vehicle, not a police-issued one.

There are also lots more people riding on top of buses.  I couldn't get a photo of that either, but I thought this one would suffice.  I miss the old days of being able to ride in the back of a truck, though I have to say that I don't think I would want to sit in one in a city with millions and millions of people.  That's too much exhaust to be breathing in.  Tomorrow I'm off to Pakistan for some vacation time, so I'll have a few more photos to share before posting my larger albums after getting back from my trip.  I started trying to post at least a photo or two right in my blog entries not only to satisfy those of you that can't wait for photos, but also because it makes my entries look a little nicer and not so text-heavy.  I hope you're enjoying these teasers!

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Beyond India - Bangladesh!

I've been to India enough in the last couple of years that I'm not sure what more I can say on the subject.  It would be one thing if I were seeing new sites or going to new cities, but I did the same tour circuit for work as last year, coupled with the fact that I came down with laryngitis/a cold, so I haven't been that reflective.  Besides, the work schedule was too hectic to really think about anything else.  What free time I did have, I wanted to spend it with the great people I was travelling with, and the one free day I had to spend it with my family since I happened to be in a city where I have family.

But this time, I got the opportunity to travel to a new country, Bangladesh.  I was excited, although a little afraid in the sense that as I get older, I find myself feeling a little agoraphobic in large crowds where I don't know anyone.  This largely is how I felt all of my childhood and teenage years, and I don't know why I'm reverting.  In any case, the fact that Bangladesh is one of the most densely populated countries in the world made me think there would be wall-to-wall people unlike what I would see in India, but so far it has really been ok.

My first impression of the country was kind of funny though.  When you get to the airport, you'll see piles of blankets tied up with twine as in the photo to the right.  I couldn't figure out why people are travelling with so many blankets and furthermore, why they're not picking them up.  I thought perhaps they buy then from India or somewhere and are importing them, but otherwise I had no explanation.  I posted this photo on Facebook, and a friend told me it looked the same as when she landed in Dhaka but that the blankets are actually wrapping up fragile items inside like televisions.  That definitely made more sense than what I thought was happening!

I did a visa on arrival when I landed, a surprisingly easy process.  It isn't entirely clear where to go to start this process, but the people who work in that area speak enough English to guide you, so I was able to do it pretty quickly.  The funny part is that they asked me for a letter of invitation for my business, and the guy had a hard time believing that visiting high schools was work.  However, when he saw one of the emails I had printed out (specifically for the purpose of showing that some people had invited me here), he just ripped it out of my binder and added it to my application!  It was so weird, but at the end of the day, I didn't really need that piece of paper.  I was more taken aback by the fact that he just ripped it out rather than ask if he could have it and then open the rings to remove the paper.  He was really funny, though.  He didn't think I should claim being there on business and actually seemed excited about the fact that I was in Bangladesh at all so that he gave me no resistance in getting my visa settled.

Upon arriving at my hotel room, I was feeling pretty exhausted, having not really rested properly since getting my cold.  My nose was running a bit, so I went to the bathroom to get a tissue that turned out not only to be pink, but to be correspondingly rose-scented!  I'm not really a fan of scented tissue generally, and I was surprised that the hotel uses it, but it seems like that might be the only option here since when I was at my school visit today, that was the tissue at teachers' desks as well.

I had already received an email about my shipment of brochures from China being held up in customs, but then my other shipment coming from back at the office was also stopped up, and I received only an envelope of information from FedEx with some forms that I should apparently sign.  According to the information, Bangladesh only allows shipments of up to 5kg in weight, or else you have to pay extra fees.  Who knows why this is!  The papers looked overly complicated, and as I was so tired and still had some other catching up to do for work, I thought I would take care of it this morning before my school visit.  Well, it turned out I had to actually go to the airport's customs clearing house to pick it up.  The hotel said it would be easy, but when I got there, it was a madhouse of only men, and I got a lot of stares.  Eventually, an agent that the hotel had said would be there found me and looked at my papers.  He was trying to determine what to do when some guy came and snatched the papers right out of his hands.  He tried to protest, but the guy kept going and asked me to follow him.  I went with him into the hollows of one part of the warehouse, stopped only by a guard with his Kalashnikov that wanted to know where I was going, and I tried to signal that I was following a guy, but it was useless, and the guy was disappearing, so I just took off and hoped no one would take aim.  When the guy with my papers was about to make a right turn toward some area with a bunch of shelves, a very senior-looking guy came from out of nowhere and told me to follow him into his office.  The guy with my papers didn't appear to be very happy about that, but he brought in my papers at the man's request and then took off.  The man turned out to be the assistant commissioner of customs, and he told me that there are all kinds of people out there that will try to tell me to pay more money than I'm supposed to.  I mean, there's absolutely no way of knowing who anyone is here.  The only person who looked like he should work there was the agent that found me because he actually had a uniform and an ID tag around his neck.

I couldn't read the customs guy at all.  I couldn't understand him, for one thing.  His accent was thick, and I was only picking up about 60% of what he was saying.  Secondly, he wouldn't change expression.  But as soon as he saw my Canadian passport, he lit up and told me that his son had just graduated from U of T and was now working at HSBC.  Then he proceeded to lecture me on the fact that he's upset our government makes it so hard for Bangladeshis to get study permits and asked me why I hadn't yet written to my MP about it.  I assured him I would see what I could do now that he had made me aware of the situation.  He decided that he would then clear my package as long as I paid USD50 because my items were taxable.  According to the Bangladesh government, promotional materials that are not for resale are taxable because they are used to conduct your business.  This makes no sense to me, but I paid it anyway, especially since my other package was also at customs, so I wouldn't have had any brochures for students at all.  He had tea brought for us, and then I had no choice but to stay for a few moments and drink it, even though it was really uncomfortable in his office because there were lots of other men in there, and they were all talking to each other, including the customs guy, and I was just sitting there silently.  a FedEx guy actually brought my box to me, so I excused myself politely and left.

I wanted to get my DHL package while I was there, but when I asked him about it, he wanted to see my papers, and since I only had the tracking number, apparently that wasn't good enough.  When I returned to my room after my school visit, I had a letter from DHL just like the FedEx one, and I've decided to forgo it.  I really don't need them that badly, and it'll mean having to go out to the airport and deal with all that lunacy again--as well as another payment, and it's just not worth it.

Rickshaws lined up in a traffic jam
Meanwhile, the roads here are colourful with brightly decorated rickshaws.  I didn't know that they're so much more widely used here, but they're definitely plentiful!  The other interesting thing is that they have the three-wheeler taxi scooters like in India (tuk-tuks in other countries), but here, they have cage-doors, which in my opinion is smart because then you have better abilities not to fall out!  Buses are also badly beaten up and bruised here.  I don't think there is one bus that hasn't been in an accident!  You'll notice the bus behind the three-wheeler, and it looks pretty scary.  It's definitely a little different here even though it's also the same as India in many ways.