Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Another amazing location —

We are now on the island of Koh Lanta, which is located along the western coastline of Andaman Sea in southern Thailand. It is about a 3.5-hour ferry ride from the mainland. The ferry system is wild and you have to pay attention to make sure you end up on the correct boat.  About 2 hours into the trip we “docked” with a smaller boat that took us to Koh Lanta.

As you might expect, the area around the port is pretty developed with lots of hotels and markets.  However, thanks to Elizabeth’s extremely diligent researching we are staying at a place called the Mango Houses, about a 30 min trip from the port.  It is a collection of Chinese-style wooden pole houses that have been converted guesthouses in an old Chinese fishing village named Lanta Old Town, which was the original center of the island.

In contrast to our last accommodations, these units are very rustic. The electricity and plumbing have been updated (actually better internet than the last place) but they are otherwise as they were more than 50 years ago- with painted wide planked floors and high ceilings. Our house is on stilts and the ocean virtually runs under it. There are hammocks on the front porch and we were lucky to get here just before sunset, which was magnificent! (see photo)

We had initially intended to stay here for two days before returning to Dhaka but since this location does not have a beach close by we have decided to take a ferry to a neighboring Koh Phi Phi where we have booked a place right on the beach.  (Agoda is the website to use to get great deals!)

Tahn, the young woman who checked us into Mango House, is very friendly and helpful.  We were looking for a place for dinner and she brought us down the street into a small home/restaurant. The owner was about to close but Tahn was friend of the woman so we literally walked through the house – front to back - to sit on a porch overlooking the bay.  We were the only ones there- but cooked for us and we had a wonderful meal.

Elizabeth and I have wondered just how the first settlers felt when they came upon this island.  This place certainly look like a paradise!

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

A picture is worth a 1000 words!!

We have spend two days at a Spa/Resort on a hillside on Phuket, a town in southern Thailand.  The photo above is the view from our room.  Need I say more!  We have decided that, in most ways, this place is the antithesis of Dhaka - in other ways not so different.

Today we will take a ferry to a island off the coast where we will spend the next two days. I suspect there will not be much internet but I will take photos, for sure.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Lots of ways to get around!

Elizabeth and I are currently in Thailand.  We spend a two days and a night in Bangkok where the name of the game has been transportation. We were taken to Dhaka airport by a driver that Elizabeth hired for my stay in Bangladesh.  (She correctly figured that I could not handle an unlimited number of rides in CNG’s in the traffic in the heat!).  We flew to Bangkok and then were bussed from the plane to the gate.  We took a cab ride to Bangkok.  While in Bangkok we rode in tuk-tuks, cabs, a ferry, a long boat and a skytrain. I think the only form of available transport we missed was a motorbike and, in light of the drivers in Bangkok I just was not game for that!
Bangkok is a busy, busy place.  New Bangkok looks like any other city with its Intercontinental Hotel and Starbucks, but the old city is quite remarkable.  The layout of the old of the city reminds me of Boston, meaning that is largely marked by the river and it is really confusing.  The streets are narrow and lined with endless shops.  In one part of town they are organized by type- a string of unfinished furniture shops, a string of shoe shops, a string of shops selling pet birds and rabbits, and on and on.  Everywhere there are small stalls of men and women cooking all forms of food- (most not recognizable to me). They will have a little card table set up next to them and there will be one or two people having lunch or dinner.   They open just before lunch and close around 11 pm. 
After dinner last night we went to the top floor -63rd- of the State Tower Hotel.  The building is topped with a gold dome that is continuously misted with cold water so that it appears to be steaming.  There is a skywalk that is outside and includes a circular bar and a patio with a 270o view of the river and the city.  It was magnificent!
Today we went on a trip along the Chao Phraya River.  We hired a long boat and went up the river to a connecting canal where there was a river market.  Like the city, there were lots of stalls with people cooking- many of them doing this in small boats.  In addition, there was a market with all manner of pastries, plants and knick-knacks.  We strolled around taking in the sights and sounds, and Elizabeth took lots of photos. Once she gets these uploaded I will post the link. 
We are now in Phuket, a beach town in southern Thailand.  Our hotel for the first two days here is located on a hill overlooking the (Andaman) sea but since it was dark when we arrived we have not seen the view.  More about that later!

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

North End capuccino in Bangaldesh?

This is surely a country of contrasts ---

Elizabeth's apartment is in what would be considered to be a mansion yet there is no washing machine in the whole house.  On the other hand, there are so many servants (leaving the house today I saw at least a dozen) that hand washing clothing is no problem.  Unfortunately, this service does not extend to
Elizabeth :o

In the shadows of high rise building are tiny make-shift stalls selling live chickens or cigarettes (thanks US), cooking food or providing barber services. 

There is an enormous amount of building going on but the methods are arcane and the sense of architecture is entirely lacking.  Yesterday I saw a 10-12 story building going up; the the face was being bricked by men using bamboo poles that were lashed together as staging !   

On the roads are rickshaws, motorcycles, bicycles, cars, a few SUVs, pedestrians, buses, trucks, mini-buses, CNG's (more about that later) and some occasional cattle.  The roads have standard lanes separated by lines and traffic lights but you would never know it.  People drive where they want, pedestrians walk where they want and intersections are a virtual free-for-all.

People wear all manners of clothing- women mostly wear sarees and shalwar cheemez.  Men in the city wear shirts and pants. Shirts are sometime kurta, long shirts that come just above the knees. In the country side they wear lungi (fabric tied around the waste into a knot).  Religious men wear panjabi.

Right now I an sitting in a cafe called the North End Coffee Roasters. It is a lovely, quiet, air conditioned place with internet and the best cappuccino I have ever had.  You would think you were in the US except that the power just went off and we are currently operating on a generator!   The cafe was opened two weeks ago by a couple that originally came from Boston (hence the name).  They spend a couple of years in Bangladesh about a decade ago working in the local schools at the invitation of a friend.  They went back to the US and he learned the coffee trade (he used to be a soccer coach).  Now they have returned here to develop the coffee trade here in Bangladesh. They are working with farmers in Chittagong, Bangladesh (southern Bangladesh near the Burma border) to teach them how to farm coffee.  Currently, coffee is imported and is terrible - Nescafe :(   - so he knows there would be a great market and a wonderful source of revenue for the farmers. They are not yet fair trade certified but are aiming towards it. 

Last night Elizabeth and I hosted a seder.  We did not so much hold a service as explain the holiday and the traditions to Bengali guests that Elizabeth had invited over.  We shopped much of the afternoon for ingredients but then got caught in so much traffic that we did not get home until after 5 pm.   It all worked out fine!  We made tsimis using sweet pumpkin, (modified) chicken marabella and what I am calling "express" matzah ball soup (i.e. we had to cook it fast!).   Interestingly, most of the rooms in the house are air conditioned but not the kitchen because the servants generally do the cooking, not the woman of the house, so the kitchen got really toasty while we were preparing our dinner.  It was a very lovely evening and I got to meet a lot of Elizabeth's friends - all doing interesting things here in Bangladesh. 
My luggage finally make it to Bangladesh yesterday :)

Monday, April 18, 2011

Shadowing Elizabeth

I am beginning this post while I sit in on Elizabeth’s weekly Bangla tutoring class.  She initially had three months of intensive language training and now has weekly one-on-one tutorials. Bangla is a derivation of Sanskrit so you can only imagine.  Having been traveling with Elizabeth for the past few days I can say that her Bengali is good enough to get her around.  She can converse, give and ask for directions, order food and – most importantly  negotiate for prices!  In many stores, items are not priced so one has to negotiate.  Vendors always give foreigners prices that are at least twice what they should be so it requires some serious haggling to get them down to a reasonable price and Elizabeth seems to be quite good at that!
Yesterday we went to a village in the Bangladesh countryside at the invitation of a woman named Maleka who Elizabeth is interviewing for her “Woman Warriors” project.  It was about a 3 hour ride – not sure the distance probably about 50 km (30 miles) but there is lots of traffic and the roads got increasingly narrow and bad the further from Dhaka that we went.  The roads to the village were lined with small three-sided structures that are shops, each with two or three men sitting.  In between these small village centers are long stretches of fields – mostly rice paddies – people do sustenance farming. All the work is done by hand with minimal assistance from some cows – no farm equipment anywhere. 
The village home of Maleka belonged to her husband’s parents. Because he was an only child, she is now responsible for maintaining this home.  It was very rustic- some electricity, no plumbing.  She lives mostly in Dhaka where she was a social worker, working primarily with women who were traumatized during the Liberation War 40 years ago.  Fortunately, she spoke quite good English so I could be involved in the conversation and understand her great stories.  She made a classic Bangladeshi lunch for us, which included rice that was harvested from a field nearby, daal, potatoes and vegetables from her garden.  Lunch was eaten with our fingers! 
Elizabeth and I are planning a trip to the beach in Thailand.  More to come on that adventure!

Friday, April 15, 2011

Trip to Bangladesh

Three flights, several thousand miles and two days later.... I made it!

I got off to an interesting start... my flight from Boston to JFK was canceled due to bad weather so they booked me on a flight to LaGuardia, which meant I was going to have to pick up my (heavy) luggage and get myself over to JFK.  I was not thrilled with that choice but it was the only option.  While I was waiting at the gate I learned there was a Jet Blue flight to JFK so I got myself switched to that, though my luggage may still be in LaGuardia (another story).

The flights were quite excellent!  On my way to NY, I sat next to a Rabbi who ended up telling me Passover stories and recommended a Chabad in Dhaka (go figure!).  I traveled on Etihad, the airlines of the United Arab Emirates, to Abu Dhabi and Dhaka.  It was fantastic service!  I met Bengali-Americans on all flights who gave me advice- "if you have a driver, don't let them drive too fast", "never drink the water", etc.   There are very few women traveling alone on these flights, and even fewer white women traveling alone, so I got a lot of assistance with my baggage.  I was telling Elizabeth how pleasant a change it was from the US and she agreed but says it comes at a price  - as women are otherwise quite repressed.

Not surprisingly considering the wealth of the country, The Abu Dhabi airport is amazing- dramtic tiles, plants and lots of amenities.  The transition to Bangaldesh is quite stark.  The flight to Dhaka was filled with laborers who work outside of Bangladesh to support their families. 

I arrived in Dhaka at 4:10 am and Elizabeth was waiting at the gate for me.  Being a white woman who can speak Bangla turns out to be very helpful and Elizabeth was accompanied by a high level security man who shepherded us through customs and helped me file my lost bag claim (yes, my luggage did not arrive!)  Elizabeth tried to give him a tip at the end of the several hours that he helped us and he refused (was actually a bit offended) and told us he helped us to be a friend :)

Elizabeth is living on the top floor of a house owned by she connected with through the photography community. It is a lovely house and she has a room mate who is here from the Wisconsin working for non-profit doing research.  Importantly, her room is air conditioned.

I slept a good part of today (what day is is anyway?) and now we are out off a late lunch and to buy some clothes for me as the skinny jeans I wore on my trip here do not quite fit in.

More later.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

T minus 1 day and counting!

Well, 24 hr from now I will be winging my way to Dhaka, Bangladesh via Abu Dhabi.

For any of you who do not know, I am going to visit my daughter who is in Bangladesh on a Fulbright fellowship. She has been there since mid-September- and has come home twice to visit. She will not be finished with her fellowship until October so if we want to see her we go there!

I leave Boston tomorrow (Wed April 13) night at 6:30 pm and arrive in Dhaka on Friday April 15th at 4:50 am. Being the quantitative person I am I have done some calculations. I will be traveling 9303 miles to get to Dhaka and will be in the air for 19 and 2/3 hr!! I will be gone about 3 weeks, which I think is the longest I have been away in as long as I can remember. 

To be clear, Bangladesh was not on my list of "1000 places to visit before I died" but I am on my way! I checked the forecast for Dhaka on "Weather Bug" on my iPhone to see what I should expect when I arrive-- it said 95 degree but with humidity it will feel like 136 degrees. Elizabeth assured me that was not possible and it was the way the computer does it calculations. Someone else told me that once it gets about 115 it doesn't really matter. Those are probably both true!

My suitcases are filled with all of the goodies that Elizabeth has requested including "lots and lots of qinuoa", oatmeal, Odawalla protein bars, maple syrup, gummie bears, etc. In addition, I am bringing a new computer, a camera and a ton of film-- security will be a test!!

My plans are to live Elizabeth's life with her for about 3 weeks. Not many mothers get to spend 24/7 with their adult daughter for more than two weeks so I consider myself very fortunate!!

Elizabeth has been doing some blogging since there got there so if you want to check out her comments go to

This is my first blogging experience so we will see how well I do!

Sonargon, Bangladesh.  © Elizabeth D. Herman