Happy, Healthy, and Educated Slum Kids – ABC Charity School

A brilliant smile of health.
A brilliant smile of health.

A toothbrush is a small sign of hope. But, at the Eglal’s ABC Charity School in Dhaka, the fact that the kids brush their teeth every day, get fed every day, and get an education every day — is a tiny sign of hope. The children at the ABC school all live in the slums of Dhaka. These children are lucky that they, once they get admitted to kindergarten, will receive a bilingual education, free health care, free lunch, daily showers, uniforms, toothbrushes, and mentoring through high school and, hopefully, beyond.

It only costs $250 to sponsor one kid for one year, and all the money goes to the school. The volunteer board, the volunteer teachers, and so on, do not take any of the money. There are a few staff who do get paid, but mostly the donations go directly to the education and welfare of the kids. While there are a plethora of charities to throw oneself into in Bangladesh. I chose this one. Visiting the school allowed me to see how little money it takes to provide a bit of protein and vegetables for a healthy mind. Food for thought.

Education in Bangla and English from kindergarten!
Education in Bangla and English from kindergarten!

Another thought is how well run this place is without the bureaucracy. When the school and board members realized that some of the children (many who are being raised by one a single parent) had to leave school to go work, the school put into place an incentive which when paid to the family, keeps the kid in school. So basically the kid’s job is to go to school. How nice is that?

The school goes through the eighth grade, after which the children are place in high schools. These graduates come back to teach at the school when they themselves are not in school. One young woman says that her hope is to go on to university after which she wants to return to run the ABC school.

These girls are so eager to learn.
These girls are so eager to learn.

The ABC school was started about ten years ago by a teacher at the American International School Dhaka. She has returned to the U.S. but her students now have “pen pal” skype sessions with the slum kids of the ABC school. How cool is that?

One egg a day. The kids can eat more rice and vegetables but protein is expensive.
One egg a day. The kids can eat more rice and vegetables but protein is expensive.

It is said that they more you give, the more you will receive. I hope that the kids at the ABC school get way more than I have given them.

Parents picking up kids at the ABC school.
Parents picking up kids at the ABC school.

Deep and Superficial in Cambodia

One of the many visual delights of Angkor Wat.
One of the many visual delights of Angkor Wat.

Cambodia may well be the next Asian tiger with its combination of world heritage sites, tragic history, burgeoning business recovery (everything in dollars and riel), and hands on service industry. I recommend visiting the killing fields, not so much for the site itself (there are many all over Cambodia) but because the audio tour is well informed and one of the most humane. The narrator makes you aware of the past plus kindly asks you to contemplate humanity and how to be humane to it.

The depressions of the killing the fields with the stupa in the distance.
The depressions of the killing the fields with the stupa in the distance.

Then go to Angkor Wat and think about the wonders of what people can build in the jungle. The place is worth seeing at dawn or sunset. It will be hot at almost anytime you visit. It costs $20 to get in and that’s not bad for a world heritage site.

Stir fried instant noodles for $1. These stalls move all over town. A meal for a buck!
Stir fried instant noodles for $1. These stalls move all over town. A meal for a buck!

The town of Siem Reap (Siam Conquered) is very touristy but if that’s what you want, then go for it! There are still enjoyable things to be had. The dollar massages are still done well, the fruit with chili salt is still refreshing, noodles for a dollar (seems like it all costs a buck) are still greasy and yummy, the shopping still good (though not as cheap as to be dirt cheap). Surprisingly the prices are not as low as you might expect. A pair of “hammer pants” or ali baba pants cost $7! (I bargained down to $4). It is not expensive but not the prices expected. Everything is quoted in U.S. dollars but the locals can give you change in both dollars and riel, or a combination of both.

The night market in Siem Reap. Very geared for tourists.
The night market in Siem Reap. Very geared for tourists.

The Khmer people are graceful, sweet, and affectionate. Visit Cambodia for the people.

This little girl hacked away happily at this coconut with her machete.
This little girl hacked away happily at this coconut with her machete.

Touched By A Manta Ray

True blue color therapy in the Maldives.
True blue color therapy in the Maldives.

I have never been into sand or sun or beaches but visiting the Maldives changed my mind. It seemed as if the water was not as salty as in other tropical places. But, maybe the fact that I was touched by a giant manta ray, has influenced my opinion. We paid the $48 for an outing to swim with giant manta rays, sea turtles, and fish. When we got into the water, the giant rays swam around us like a flock of kites gliding around our amateurish flailing limbs. I assumed that this was a popular feeding ground that the guides knew about and I also assumed that seeing the rays was a guarantee. Apparently it is not. So I feel even luckier. I am fairly sure that I was touched because I had stopped flailing around and was simply floating away on my back, totally ignoring the manta rays. Once I had been patted on the back by the ray, it had all my attention!

A colorful fish in the shallows.
A colorful fish in the shallows.

Day Boat Trip Out of Dhaka

Our proud prow.
Our proud prow.

It is possible to take a one day boat trip out of Dhaka. We used a company that charged around 2,500 Taka per adult if there there at least 20 adults. The boat is spacious (and shaped like a peacock!) and we had it all to ourselves. Lunch and several touristy stops were included: we had a quick walk to an old estate, a stop for a swim (dolphins were also promised but alas), and a visit to a village where the laborers make “jamdani” saris. The “jamdani” clothe is a woven gauze and very expensive due to the labor involved in weaving it.

The country estate.
The country estate.
Jamdani weavers working on saris.
Jamdani weavers working on saris.

I enjoyed sitting on the rooftop deck, in a comfy chair, watching the river float by. Plus, there is a toilet on the boat. So the day out included two hours in traffic, six hours on the boat, and an hour back to Dhaka.

Grab a chair in the shade and enjoy the breeze.
Grab a chair in the shade and enjoy the breeze.

Best Vineyard Food – New Zealand

Eggplant/aubergine salad. So much better than it sounds.
Eggplant/aubergine salad. So much better than it sounds.

We were whizzing past the views of paradise on Waiheke Island off Auckland’s coast. The bus driver/guide had suggested places in his well rehearsed voice but after all the other tourists got off at the beachfront restaurant, I asked him again. Where would you eat? He mentioned a vineyard that had won some award last year. He said it was a bit of a walk at almost a kilometer.

The view from our table... vineyard to ocean...
The view from our table… vineyard to ocean…

We got lost. We asked a local for directions. He heartily endorsed Casita Miro. When we found it, we went in through the kitchen. Like everything else in New Zealand, it was both casual, elegant, and ridiculously fresh. The restaurant bakes all their own bread and their food is tapas style. They make good coffee as well so you can enjoy a latte as well (in New Zealand, they have another drink called a “flat white” which is a latte with no foam hence flat. The best one we had was made by an Italian guy down at the harbor in Auckland).

Tagine style lamb shank.
Tagine style lamb shank.

Casita Miro is only open for lunch so plan for it. Enjoy some of the vineyard’s wines… make this a destination.

Deep-fried mozzarella.
Deep-fried mozzarella.
The large windows of the restaurant.
The large windows of the restaurant.

Waitakere Day Tour from Auckland, New Zealand

Heartbreaking vista to eternity in New Zealand.

Yes, this is a shameless promotion of a day out with Shane of Waitakere Day Tours. Read this great review on TripAdvisor here. For $150 (New Zealand dollars), you get a great day out.

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The group will never been more than seven and you get a healthy home cooked picnic lunch. You will see so much on this day out that I cannot explain it all. Just know that if you don’t have time to go to South Island, then this tour will be great value.

Healthy slaw salads and egg pie picnic.
Silky cool soft water running through a kingdom where we roamed.

My favorite part of the day is hard to pick but it was probably when Shane said, “you can leave your shoes in the van.” This was followed by a walk on the silky cool river bed. Shane was so personable that you will want him to be your friend. And not just because he can introduce you to his ancestor trees… New Zealand is a paradise on the bottom of the world. The tourism machine of this land of Lord of the Rings, Narnia, etc. is well oiled but Shane’s family run business, eco-friendly brochure, Maori cultural insight, and price make him the ultimate tour guide. I highly recommend taking six friends and having a fantastic day out. Did I mention that the time spent in the van is never more than 45 minutes? And, take comfortable shoes for the rain forest walk.

Tell Shane that I said hi.

Trees nurtured by family placentas makes talking to ancestors easy.

One Year of Madventures.me – Still Mad for Food and Adventure

Madventures.me is one year old. One year ago, I started this blog in preparation for new adventures in food and travel. One year of great food and travel in Amman, Copenhagen, Dhaka, Doha, Istanbul, Jerusalem, Krabi, Luang Prabang, Mumbai, New Delhi, New England, Singapore, and many more.

I started this blog to share some of my adventures with family and friends. As I’ve blogged, my blog has evolved into a source for providing information on restaurants in Dhaka, shopping, and how much one can do in Bangladesh. As a blogger, I’ve been enormously happy when readers from all over the world visit my blog. Thank you for stopping by… from almost the entire world:

Map of visitors to madventures.me in the first 11 months.

As my readership expands beyond people I know, I’m curious about what leads readers to my blog. So here are the top search terms people have searched for in the past year:

Top search terms on madventures.me.

Long Out in the Country in Denmark

A plum ready for plucking.

The countryside in Denmark is never far from a town and spending a few days “long out in the countryside” as the Danes say… is easily achieved.

A 300-year old thatch roof farmhouse in modern colors.

Good homemade food, a few fruits from the garden, and a wood burning oven make for a “cozy” experience (the Danes love to be in a state of coziness).

Strong cheese called “Old Ole” on crisp bread.

Pottery Village Trip in Bangladesh

Bangladeshi river boat driver.

Photos are still the best souvenirs. The one I got here of our boat driver was my favorite from the hundreds I took on a touristy trip to a village where they make pottery. While the trip was geared for tourists and the villagers are used to being photographed, they were still kind and friendly to us. I didn’t feel so milked as I have in many other “villages” around the world. On top of which, at this village, the forced shopping component was at a pit stop along the road back to Dhaka. It was a fun day out.

The expert fixing one of the bowls.

The bowls we got to try our hands are mainly used for yogurt.

Stylish lady and her 95-year-old mother.
The villagers asked to have their photos taken.

Restaurants in Dhaka – Part Two

Every week, my group of Food Adventurers Tasting Treats in Exotic Spots try out a new restaurant. This is part two (I wrote part one in March) of my review of places we’ve tried plus some I’ve been to on my own.

Bulgogi at Dae Jang Geum

Goong (the Castle – as one can tell from the large wooden gate) is on Road 50, House 12. Previously called Dae Jang Geum until a copycat restaurant opened up down the street! (13/13): Korean palace food. Best restaurant in Bangladesh. Best service and best food which happens to be Korean food. You can cook your own meat at the table on the 4th floor. Go for the fresh food, service, and salmon sashimi.

New Kings Kitchen (5/13): Cantonese. Note: they have karaoke.

Saltz (8/13): Seafood continental style. Like an underworld theme park. Must try: the fresh juice.

Spitfire (8/13): Western style. Same good juice as Saltz upstairs. Must try: serves warm bread rolls with every meal.

New Mermaid Cafe (9/13): Large airconditioned location on Gulshan Circle. Note: wish they had an elevator but maybe that would not be eco-friendly.

Rok (8/13): Meat of choice on volcanic hot rock. It’s a gimmick. Note: interior is more swanky than caveman.

Sajna (7/13): Indian. Good for business meetings. Must try: Can’t think of what.

Red Shift (6/13): Cafe. Rooftop. Note: It’s a coffee shop. Enough said.

Flambe (4/13): Random menu but not much to offer. Note: some dishes okay but not a repeat kind of place.

Pan Thao (8/13): Best Thai food in Dhaka. Note: Service can be slow.

Leave Your Shoes Outside to Pray

Every back street in Luang Prabang, Laos, is filled with something new to see. We heard a bell pealing and then saw a quiet flow of people, locals and tourists, making their way, not to one of the many temples, but to a little building squeezed between a shop and cafe. It was so low key that I’m sure we could have taken off our shoes and joined in.

Come on in.

The Price of Tourism

Just as the end of a museum tour ends in the gift shop, a pit stop at a “model” resettlement village is sometimes the price to pay when traveling as a tourist. In Luang Prabang, Laos, we hired a tour guide for a day. He told us that we just need to make one stop along the way… a Hmong village.

Wares for sale in the Hmong village.

The Hmong people had been resettled here and ma”ke a living selling crafts to tourists. There are many debates on the pros and cons about whether this life is better for these people. Some people react by becoming very sad. Others feel uncomfortable. Yet others give the cute kids money after they’ve taken their photos. Some buy the crafts for sale. In this village, there was no pretense. The path through the village was lined with tables and stalls selling wares. We made our forced tour as fast as possible but, from the Northface clothing hanging on the line, it was evident that one could pay to stay overnight at this “authentic” village.

The youngest and the oldest women do the washing.