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.

No comments:

Post a Comment