Getting directions in Dhaka seem to center around, “you go out of the Westin, second left, by the pot hole…” or “you know DIT 2, well, it’s over near there” or “not the Nokia store but the other one. I don’t know the address.” The traffic in Dhaka is infamous. Part of this notoriety is the insane sensation of being in a life-risking video game with whizzing and weaving rickshaws, scooters, cars, trucks, buses, bicycles, pedestrians, hawkers, CNGs (green tuk tuk type things that run on some other fuel), and flatbed wheeled carts pulled by a man. Every one of those conveyances is going at a different speed. If you like to drive NY-style but with no real rules… then Dhaka is for you. Oh and the gear/stick shift is on your left because you are sitting on the right of the car and driving down the left side of the road… while playing “chicken” with the cars coming directly at you one rickshaw-length from you… I only closed my eyes once… otherwise, I kept them open. Otherwise, I would have missed the rickshaw with the family of three with the infant sleeping in her mother’s lap… rickshaw bouncing down the dirt road…
The blazing sandblasted sunlight of day in Doha dispels the mystery of the nighttime souk. The new Museum of Islamic Art on the crescent shaped harbor hovers like a pyramid or a citadel. The palatial ramp leads to palm trees and a fountain. Inside it is cool and quiet. The large atrium is the main theme with a spiral staircase hardly breaks the vast sense of space inside the museum. The multiple stories of the museum all open up inside to the cavernous central space. The museum is free although the special exhibits cost money. I had only a short time so I stuck to the permanent galleries. And the bathroom. The ladies prayer room and toilet is down one side of a rest area. This area harkened back to earlier Islamic design with a wall with fretwork cut out casting a dramatic pattern of dappled lights on the tables and chairs. Skyscraper high glass panes reveal a rising skyline emerging in the desert along the green waters of Doha… allowing you to emerge from the small dark galleries filled with 8th century glass incense jars the size of a thimble… to a looking glass of the world as Qatar is now… the skating rink and the yogurt marinated chicken kabob photos are from the mall… Doha’s largest…
Beside the lush Gulshan lake wooded path, in the gated neighborhood of Baridhara in Dhaka, Bangladesh, is a quiet street, lined with six floor high rises, milky lights and security guards at each gated house. Shinier and brighter than the residential buildings is the Ascot, a hotel with a rooftop restaurant. A barbecue restaurant. Passing through the hotel which is decorated like a spa (dark wood and zen plants) and past the staff all welcoming and greeting (there is no shortage of people in Dhaka), you whizz up in the elevator to the rooftop. Outside, the warm winter air (70 F even at 6 pm) is vibrating with Latin rhythms. The walls are decorated with strings of white holiday lights and exotic vines.
The food is good. My salmon with baked potato with butter and chunks of garlic is served with steamed vegetables. Plus, a yummy “jus” of citrus sauce. The portions are normal (so small compared to American portions); the service is slow but friendly; the prices baffling (not what is printed because of the addition of taxes etc.); and you must bring your own wine (and corkscrew). There are wine glasses on the table but you bring your own. This is a barbecue restaurant because the steak, salmon, red snapper, etc. is cooked on the grill (large drum style grills which give those grill marks and scent that tell you that you are eating outside!) My salmon entree cost around 890 Taka but I paid around 1,350 Taka (about $19) to include bottled water and taxes.
With the roar of landing airplanes, Latin music, mosquitoes and exclusion from the world at ground level… this could have been an experience almost anywhere in the world. It’s a good life.
A re-built souk, wandering warren of alleys and streets crowded with shops selling textiles, pointed toe slippers, Sponge Bob backpacks, and every other glittering consumers’ unknown desire. It’s inexpensive here if you want to bother with frugality. Otherwise, it’s about as pricey as Las Vegas… ah, the shopping that could be done! Ah, the stories to weave thousand-fold while the smoke of water pipes hover like jinns in the night… all under a moon like a glinting panther eye… oh, world, show me another story… keep me up all night longing for your next delight!
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I’ve been told that Americans are infernally saying thank you all the time. It’s true. We are. We are. But, really, we are thankful. And I’m thankful for you.