Until Unimart opened up early this year, Dhaka did not have a true one-stop-shop. Unimart is located on Road 90, under the first floor and it is a large shop for Dhaka. They have a bakery, a deli, an ice cream stand, a fishmonger, green grocer, gift store, clothing, shoes, and almost everything you might need or want.
They even have toasters, blenders, irons, school supplies, hijabs, football/soccer jerseys, and toys. I bought a jigsaw puzzle of Bangladesh for under 300 Taka ($3) which I plan to give as a gift.
What makes a woman attractive in Bhutan? Apparently, it depends on the region. In the western regions of Bhutan, an attractive woman is one who can care for her farm. In the western part of Bhutan, the daughter inherits the farm (as they say, “because her parents love her so much” that they give the farm to her knowing that she will care for it). In some areas of Bhutan, the families are matrilineal, or as I was told “the woman is the boss” in the relationship. But, often, the inheritance depends on which child is not doing as well for him or herself.
In the eastern regions, red cheeks and a tall and slim figure are considered attractive. Many young people move to the big city of Thimphu, get a better education, a non-agrarian job, and live together before getting married. Once they have tried it, if they think it will work, then he proposes. Around Thimphu there are many nightclubs where young people like to go to meet, to dance, with singing karaoke being a favorite pastime. The large festivals are also prime seasons for meeting potential mates. The average age of marriage is rising in the city to 25 but until recently, it was much lower.
In Bhutan, there are no outward signs of marriage such as wedding rings or bracelets (Hindu women can wear white Shakha bracelets as an indication of their married status). When I asked, I was told, “you must trust.”
How to live the good life in Dhaka? I will now share some recommendations from an expat who thoroughly loves her life in Dhaka. As she says, this is because she has learned to enjoy “the good life which is affordable here.” This first part is about tailors (she also mentions porcelain and spas which I will share next time).
a. Ferdous has extensive fabric selection, including a lot of linen. They copy extremely well (400 taka plus fabric), and make tuxedos (about 8000 taka). They also make excellent suits. Located on the north side of Madani Avenue near Gulshan 2 circle. Store is on the second floor, look carefully when you drive, they have a big sign outside).
b. K L Sweden (located across from Ferdous, on the south side when you drive on Madani Avenue to DIT2 market, the store is down a side street right after the VIP Photo building on the other end of the VIP Photo sign, which is not obvious from the main road; right next to Shinepukur plates store). They also copy shirts very well and have good linen. They also do tuxes. All very good quality.
a. Best copier of western clothes – European tailor, located at the corner of road 12 and UN road, keep walking from UN road in a narrow alley, it is right after another tailor and fish store. It has a bright yellow sign. It is down the alley once you see the fish store. Cheap.
b. Best tailor of Western clothes who can copy anything, or can make them from a simple picture (he is my personal favorite of all times!) – Johny, he comes to your house, his number is 01923270358. Johny makes fabulous ball gowns and costumes (for expats there are many balls each year… Glitter Ball, etc.).
c. Shaheen, also on road 12, is a popular choice. I do not use him, I hear he has a bit of an attitude and is relatively expensive.
d. For sarees and saree blouses and petticoats – Sharonika in Pink City. Located on the first floor (need to take the escalator once inside), and then simply ask for the store, it is a bit inside. As many will tell you, local tailors have trouble making blouses for our body types and I have found Sharonika to be very good at that. Prices are, as usual, cheap. For saree bordering (must be done for each new saree you buy) is only 250 taka.
e. I have heard a lot about the Russian tailor Svetlana, but have never used her. Apparently, she is quite artistic and good, but she is very busy and often out of the country, as well as quite pricey and opinionated on what you should be making, versus what you want to have made.
Finding places can be tricky in Dhaka. As much as I’d like to show you all where things are… I thought I’d make a map of the 99 expat places instead! These places are current as of September 9, 2013. I put an extra huge marker on Goong, the Castle, because that is the number one place people ask for directions to — Road 50, House 12B — and I made it number 12 on the map! Look for the large wooden gate. Go in and enjoy.
In Dhaka, businesses rise and fall like eddies on the delta, and they often change location. So, most importantly, on my map(s), I have put the ACTUAL location, not what the address indicates. Because floor numbering varies in different parts of the world, I have only listed it if the place is not on the first/ground floor. Otherwise, I’ve called it “level” using the ground floor as the first level. As the Westin’s sign is like a lighthouse beacon in the night, I started with the Westin Hotel as number one as it is often used as the North Star. Then I divided Gulshan into four sections divided by Gulshan 2 circle. For those counting, there are not 99 numbers on the maps because many of the locations are in the same building or on the same block. Also, I have not included all 100 restaurants at which I’ve eaten. Only places people ask about.
I have tried to make sure that the addresses are correct, though not always written the way that the locals would write it, and I cannot vouch for the phone numbers except for those who do house calls, like Tailor Johny, because I did not call all the numbers! Bangladesh’s country code is 88 and for some numbers you will need to drop the zero/zed and/or the two or add them or something… it’s confusing. But that’s a whole different topic. If you cannot find the location, check back on my blog as I may have posted a photo of the actual location. Again, the official address may be different; the location is for real. Happy hunting!
And now for the weather. The monsoon arrived. When it rains, the rickshaws are still a popular form of transportation. The driver will often cover his hair in a plastic bag (banned as carrier bags two decades ago) and the passengers get a blue tarp to pull over their legs.
Monsoon is only one of six seasons in Bangladesh. The following is how I would describe the seasons in Dhaka.
Spring (wear yellow on February 13 to mark spring!): February 13-April 14 (20-30 C = 70s and 80s F; humidity is 60 %) or “Hot with Mosquitoes and Why Am I Sweating in February?! Oh, Because It Is 90 F!”
Summer: April 14-June 15 (30-45 C = 90s and 100s F; humidity is 85 %) or “Hotter with Mosquitoes and Constant possibilities of Heat Stroke.”
Monsoon/Rainy Season: June 15-August 15 (30-40 C = 90s F; humidity is 95 %) or “Too Wet, Sweaty, and Hot for Hordes of Mosquitoes-Oddly Not As Hot As It Was.”
Autumn/Fall: August 15-October 15 (30-40 C = 90s F; humidity is 90 %) or “Hot and Dengue Mosquito Season.”
After-Autumn/Late-Fall: October 15-December 15 (20-30 C = 70s and 80s F; humidity is 80 %) or “Hot with Mosquitoes But It Is Almost Wedding Season.”
Winter: December 15-February 12 (15-30 C = 60s and up to the 90s F; humidity is 60 %) or “Wedding Season.” Which is still mosquito season.
As the national costumes remain the same all year round, the men wear lungis and women wear sarees and shalwar kameeses, but in winter, they wrap a cloth like a shawl and a head wrap around their head. To a Bangladeshi 20 C is cold and in the winter when the temperature can drop to 10 C, there are deaths. The Bangladeshis also find warm weather pleasant since they are used to it. Most houses and apartments do not have heating and many have only one air conditioning unit.
In my experience of two monsoons, I have been surprised. In 2012, there was no monsoon. And in 2013, it has rained but not in the torrents that I expected. I have seen worse rain storms in Kuala Lumpur and Washington, DC.
The prevailing theme (you may have noticed) is that all throughout the year, there are mosquitoes and on any day, it can be 90 degrees! I have had heat stroke in December, February, and March, perhaps because I did not expect such hot weather in those months. The result has been a rather silly collection of sun hats.
Imagine a town where shop after shop is filled with tailors waiting to make you a suit like James Bond’s. That is Hoi An near Danang, Vietnam. Some of the shops (like the one which did James Bond’s suit) are fancy inside as is the other leading shop called Ao Baba. I did not shop at either of these stores. My advice is that if you try several shops, take a photo of the shop so that you’ll remember where you shopped. Also, go to this town in December or January. I went when it was already humid and 93 F at 8 in the morning. This meant that I was too sweaty to try on clothes. Most shops are open from 8 am-9 pm. Most shops can mail you clothes later ($30/kilo) if you email them what you want copied (they will keep your measurements). Some places will let you select material and design online. The pants cost about $25/pair. Shirts cost $20-30. Suits run $140. The shops have lots of material and “samples” for you to get copied (or say that you want that collar with those sleeves etc.) plus many shops have more cloth elsewhere. Just ask. Almost anything can be made. I had sweatpants and a sweatshirt made. There are also shops which sell material including stretch and spandex (something that cannot be bought in Bangladesh). Clothes take about a day to be made but if you have a few days, then you can get a perfect fit at leisure.
The town also has shops which will make handmade shoes. Any shoe you can imagine can be copied in your size. They cost $30/pair and take about a day to make.
I also suggest that one stay in Hoi An because the town is a world heritage site (hotels run about $24/night and up) if you are there for the clothes. If you are into the beach, then stay closer to it. The beach is a few miles away from the town of Hoi An. You can also take the bus to the other major sites in Vietnam from Hoi An as the town is geared for tourists.
Again, I would go back. Beautiful town, cheap hotel, 50 cent banh mi sandwiches, strong sweet coffee, and great clothes shopping. But I’d go in January. The humidity made me not care about anything except AC and water. It is not conducive to shopping. The changing room is basically a shower curtain pulled to one side… which led to some comical experiences (standing in a hallway with the shower curtain blowing open while granny, holding baby in arm, tried to yank clothes onto my sweaty back…).
While the lungi is the traditional Bangladeshi men’s wear and the shari or shalwar kamees is traditional women’s wear; fashion is changing. Many people wear denim jeans and western style clothing. Recently, I went to a fashion show and one could see the local influences merging with western clothes.
This show was the result of a joint venture by the French and German cultural centers here in Dhaka, but the billboards around town show modern Bangladeshi fashion from Arong, Yellow, etc.
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.
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.
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 Khmer people are graceful, sweet, and affectionate. Visit Cambodia for the people.
This is not for the faint of heart — garment sale shopping… One of the things to do in Dhaka is to shop for good bargains at a “garment sale.” A garment sale is hosted by one of the garment producers through a charity. For example, H&M donates “seconds” and other rejected garments which are then sold with the proceeds benefiting a charity. Basically, word gets out (via Facebook etc.) that a garment sale is happening at a certain time and place. People arrive up to an hour early to line up. Once the doors are open, people rush in and the melee commences. People are tightly packed crowd and they grab whatever they can sometimes out of your hands. The experienced have a bag and shove anything into it. Then they sort out and inspect what they want in a corner. The tables are labeled with “shirts” and so on but the piles are emptied within 30 minutes. Then folks toss back their rejects. Why join this insanity? Other than the fun of watching it? The clothes are 150 Taka per piece (about $1.90) so you can find a nice sweater or pair of jeans for under two bucks.
The most popular search topic on my blog, other than weddings, seems to be what men wear in Bangladesh. So I thought I would blog some more about it. On a typical day in Dhaka, men still wear the “lungi” which I wrote about before. For a more formal event, men can wear a long tunic called a “punjabi” over tight white leggings. Or men can wear a “dhuti” which is sort of the men’s version of the sari. You can even use a sari. It’s tied and wrapped around to look like pants. Very elegant.