There are many “body shops” in Bogota. Not for cars but for people.
I’ve stood crossed leg in many a bathroom in Bogota (photo is from the U.S.), waiting for the lady in the stall as she frees herself of the “body” (pronounced “bow-dee”) so that she can relieve herself. These are also called “faja” (“fa-ha). Actually, some women wear more than one spanx-like corset: one for the waist, one for the bust, one for under the bust, one for the rear, one for the overall… and maybe there are more. Just as there are many ankle specialists (from the combination of platform shoes and rough sidewalks), there are also many “body” shops. The shops also have “body” for men.
Some women use these corsets to diet. If the corset is so tight that you can’t eat, well, then…
Tourist in Dhaka? I get asked where to take friends and family when they visit Dhaka. Depending on how long the visit (hopefully it’s at least a week so that your guests can recover from jet lag), here is my run down of what to see and do, and frequently asked questions (FAQ):
When to visit? In the winter. The temperature will still get up to 70-90 F. You know that saying about “mad dogs and Englishmen”? Well, it’s true. If you go outside in April-October, you may become a mad dog from the heat. Not sure if you will become English…
Travel agencies and tour guides? Yes, use them if you want to. You can usually talk your way to about 2,000 taka per person for a group of six or more for half a day. Most tour companies include riding around in a minivan, called a “micro-bus” in Dhaka, bottled water, and long talks about the sites. That said, at almost every site, actually all the time, you will be surrounded by friendly Bangladeshis eager to talk to you, about the site or not. The official guides, or random fellow who opens the site for you, appreciate a tip (10, 20 taka for the random fellow) as almost anyone likes a tip (like the guy watching your car).
Self-guided? It can be done… if you want to attempt it in one day, here is how I would do it (but, I would try do this over two days leaving the Liberation War Museum and New Market for a different day):
“Bangabandhu” – site of assassination of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, father of the current prime minister of Bangladesh. It’s located at Road 32, Dhanmondi. Opens at 10 in the morning. There is a nominal fee and you cannot take anything (no purses, no phones, nothing), into the museum. Leave it all with a driver in the car. Agree on a time when the driver will come get you.
Parliament: It’s an award winning building. If you want a tour of the inside, you will have to work your contacts.
Lalbagh (there is a bath house and weaponry if you get someone to unlock the door for you): It is the site used when the TV show, the Amazing Race, came to town the first time. But, it’s so much more.
Pink Palace (Ahsan Manzil): It’s a pink mansion turned museum. It has large steps which allows for a sweeping view of the riverfront.
— Eat at Nirob — Lunch (if the traffic is flowing, you could be here by 1:30 p.m.)
Old Dhaka/Hindu Street: Buy shell bracelets (called “shakha”). These are usually worn by married Hindu women as a symbol of their wedded state.
Liberation War Museum: This is not for the faint of stomach. Gruesome photos and explanations about the war in 1971.
Dhaka University – Curzon Hall is a notable building.
New Market: buy whatever you can find, from lace, sarees, curtains, carpets, etc.
BBQ Tonite: enjoy the smoky courtyard atmosphere and grilled meat on a stick… if you have the energy.
On another day:
Boat trip on the river (can include visits to jamdani weaving workshop, jute factory, etc.). These day boat trips are relaxing once you get on the boat. They usually include lunch on board. Book through a tour company. They will pick you up and drop you off at home. One of the companies even has a boat shaped like a peacock. There are many companies but I liked this one: Tourist Channel Bangladesh… 02-8189273. Or 9130260. CEO is Iqubal Hossain. Touristchannelbd@gmail.com. It was 50,000 taka ($633 and the boat can hold 25-35 adults and 10 children, or something such combination) for the whole boat for the day including the bus to and fro, and lunch and tea. They were efficient without being overly “talkative.”
Rickshaw factory tour: Arrange through a tour company. If your guests can visit Dhaka when the Rickshaw Relay happens, even better. (The Rickshaw Relay is a fundraiser which is popular with expats.) There are half a million rickshaws in Dhaka, so you will see many of them, and I’m sure that any one of the rickshaw drivers would be happy to let you drive them around if you want to give it a try.
Shop in Gulshan: Shops include Aranya, Jatra, Aarong, Folk International, and Artisan (where “reject” Western clothes are sold, like TJ Maxx or Ross).
Fly to Cox’s Bazar, the world’s longest beach, or Sylhet tea country, or take a multi-day cruise in the Sundarbans, the world’s largest mangrove forest. Look for the Royal Bengal tiger. I know people who have actually seen one in the wild.
Attend a wedding: If you ask your Bangladeshi friends, they are usually very happy to include your guests. Then your guests will have the fun of getting dressed in the traditional Bangladeshi clothing.
Keep in mind that the traffic may change how much you can see in one day, or on any day. Take water, mosquito repellent, light cotton clothing, a good camera, nuts or other snacks, and sun protection (hat, umbrella, scarf). I have been on these tours in June and I sweated so much that I began to hallucinate that I was a fish. But, I got lots of photos!
I’m slightly obsessed with travel-size containers. I like things that will fit in my purse (leaving enough room for my huge camera). Unlike in Bangladesh, where I almost never thought about cold weather, the cold weather in the U.S. in January made me realize that I need to carry lip balm and moisturizer in my bag. I was standing in the Container Store evaluating the options and realized that nothing was small enough. As I looked at their fashionable contact lens containers, it struck me! I would re-purpose a contact lens case. I used a cheap contact lens case.
Left for lips and Right for rub.
I decided to use some products which are as “natural” as possible. I recommend both. I simply cut the lip balm (it is egg shaped inside) and placed it in the lens case. The lotion was even easier to squeeze in. But, you could use whatever products you like.
For other small containers, I recommend REI for all things travel. I just like to go there to dream and imagine all the inventions and adventures to be had.
A few days, a few months, may go by, but eventually, most expats will acquire some form of domestic help. Bangladeshis have domestic help in their homes and it is a way of life here. Bangladesh is rich in human labor and affordable (to us expats) domestic help is one of the advantages (or just part of the realities of life here) of living here. As an expat, we can afford to pay our domestic workers a good salary, provide a place to live (some are live in), and the arrangement seems to work. I appreciated having help, especially my driver (mentioned him last time), but the key is to find what works for you. I will try to cover what I’ve learned about domestic staff employment but I may have to come back and update this as I recall more details (as I know that this is of great interest to some). First of all, for many expats, this will be their first experience having domestic help. For many, it is the first time, they are the employer with employees. It takes work to learn how to be a good boss. Okay, on to nuts and bolts:
How many staff? Depends on your needs/wants. I had a housekeeper who cooked and cleaned. I paid him extra for extra work helping at parties. I then switched to a part time cleaner who came three days per week.
Where do you find good staff? My advice is to ask around. Find someone who is as picky (oh sorry, as “quality conscious”) as you, and then try to find domestic help like they have. Also, keep in mind that what works for them won’t always work for you. It is easy and hard to find good employees. Sometimes, you will get accosted in your building by staff who tell you that this is their turf and that you have to hire them because they have always worked in that building. Take it as you will (or won’t). Some find this style too aggressive. Also, outside the building, there will be people coming by looking for work (everyone knows that you are new). Another thing, all the domestic staff probably know each other. It’s a network. Many are related to each other (or can bring a “cousin” who can work for you).
Interview: Yes, do. Also do a trial period. One staff I had to let go, sobbed and begged… and showed up days later to beg again, apologizing. But it wasn’t a matter of apology. It just didn’t work.
Contract? Yes, you can draw one up but your staff may not be able to read.
Live in or out? Many domestic staff also live in (all apartments have a “servant’s quarters” but mine was small. I guess free housing is free housing, but, I use my “servant’s quarters” as a closet).
Salary (including insurance, healthcare, bonus, uniforms, and tea money): Here goes… As expats, we pay double what they pay (and we don’t make them work as much) so we are attractive employers.
Driver (mentioned him last time): A driver is a skilled person and they make between 12,000-20,000 taka ($150-250) for 40 hours per week. Drivers have very loose schedules. Some work six days per week but only a few hours per day. Most are sort of “on call” and that’s why they get paid (to wait around). Average pay is 14,000-16,000. Most drivers are men. There is a school for female drivers run by an international non-profit but they also teach men to drive. So far, I’ve heard of one professional female driver but there must be more. Hopefully, your driver has a real license. Some people send their other staff to driving school and this benefits everyone.
Cook: To only be a cook is the top position unless there’s a housekeeper who doesn’t get their hands wet (these are rare). Have them make you a meal to test out their skills. Many of the cooks in the expat pool have worked for other international families and can cook cuisines from all over the world. I know of some folks who diligently taught their cooks how to make their dishes the way that they liked them. I had planned on making a menu of what my cook could make so that he could take it on to the next employer, but I never got around to it. The cook can also go buy groceries. Some can make meals for you without you having to tell them what you want, and this can be a boon to some busy people.
Housekeeper or cook/cleaner/bearer (bears your tea to you): The salary range for an expat’s housekeeper is 12,000-20,000 taka ($150-250) for 40 hours per week. Housekeepers make more than bearers and cleaners (if an employee is a cleaner or bearer only, they make less). They can also do your shopping for you and fetch your dry cleaning etc.
Nanny/Aya (or caregiver): Some families have more than one (one for each child and one as a babysitter. Why not). Some expat families even hire caregivers for their elderly family members. The salary range is lower 10,000-18,000 taka. The aya/ayah/nanny is a fixture in expat literature and the separation from the aya is the most traumatic.
Gardener: Many expats hire someone to grow vegetables for them, plus normal yard work. They get paid around 12,000 taka per month.
Dog walker: I have heard of people hiring part time dog walkers but I would guess that a full time one makes about 8,000-10,000 taka per month. Funny story, one of my friends found that her cook had been giving the dog tea… if you know how strong Bangla tea is, then you know that that dog definitely needed walks!
Bonus? Yes, a 13th month salary at Ramadan for Muslim staff and at Christmas for Christian staff. Once per year unless you want to give them more at another time (second Eid) BUT that is not the norm. This “bonus at second Eid” question is one of the most frequent questions that I hear. Plus, almost everyone gives their staff gifts of belongings like TVs, clothes, bags, computers, etc. especially when trying to organize for a move. The staff will often ask to be allowed to buy or have the things that you don’t want. Almost anything from America is a hot item. Sometimes, the staff will give you gifts. Try to not accept them as they usually can’t afford it (like a 2,000 taka sari).
Uniforms: Much is said of this. Usually something about two uniforms per year or the money to buy or have made a uniform. The amount I was asked for was (negotiable like all other prices in this country) 2,500 taka. I think that for most staff, this is a form of income. That said, some staff do wear uniforms. There is a certain dignity in wearing a uniform when at work, and that I understand.
Tea money? Many people give their staff tea money or lunch money. This is how they supplement the low wages. Tea money of 1,500 taka per month is extremely expensive tea and is more likely to be food money. To expats, $13 is nothing but I’m guessing that a Bangladeshi can buy a cup of tea for two or three taka.
Other expenses: There will be other expenses that the staff ask for money for: their children’s weddings, school fees, hospital fees, a new cell phone, etc. etc. It is up to you as the employer to decide if you want to pay it or lend it. Some people withhold some of the salary and keep it as insurance or savings for such events (make it part of the initial salary discussion). In the true spirit of “if you don’t ask…” You will get gotten but you can probably afford it. On that note, you will hear lots of “You have so much; and I have so little.” Many people will pay for the staff’s children’s school fees (what’s $120 to you when you can provide an education. It’s a form of charity).
To end the discussion of money, you (or I did) may likely pay salary + tea money + uniform + “emergency life expenses” per employee. I’ve heard some expats say, “it’s less than car insurance in the U.S.”
Other duties: In general, if you have a good relationship, your staff can do many things for you that will make life easier. I had my driver do all sorts of errands from getting my lace fixed (yes, one guy who can re-weave cloth for 100 taka) to buying jersey (very hard to buy in bolt form here) to finding a place to sell bottles. Some people actually have their staff help as “lady’s maid” and do massages, hair removal, pedicures, manicures, hair cuts, or paint mehendi/henna on you. There may actually be some people who have a “lady’s maid” but I haven’t heard of any (my friends aren’t rich enough). But, when you need to dress for a wedding and need your sari wrapped, you can have your staff do it for you (usually 500 taka at a salon).
Keys/Privacy: Some people do lock cabinets or rooms. Some give one key to the door (so the other lock can be used by you). Some keep the key to the car and have the driver come get it before they go anywhere (a Bangladeshi friend had the experience of discovering that his driver was using the car as a taxi business while he was at work.) Some people worry about stealing… and lock up their oil and flour… Many people lock up a room just because they want a level of privacy. After all, the domestic staff know EVERYTHING about you. They take out your trash.
Dismissal/Severance/Firing/End of contract: If you leave or dismiss your staff, it is normal to give them one month’s notice and pay them a severance pay in proportion to time served. Usually it is a month’s salary for each year. Even if you have to fire the staff for some reason, it’s normal to give them severance. If you liked your staff, try to find time to write them a letter of referral. They will use this for future job hunting.
At expat parties, there is an incessant buzz of talk about domestic staff. I try to not get involved. But these are some of the subjects people talk about:
“How much do you pay your….?” “Should I give a second Eid bonus at the second Eid?” “Do I give the bonus at the beginning or the end?” “She won’t leave at the end of the day and just hangs around!” “She’s lazy but she’s honest.” “Why do I need a full time driver when he just sits around for 30 hours of each week?” “I sent my driver to English school.” “I sent my cleaner to cooking school to improve her professional skills.” “How do I get my cook to use less oil?” “How do I get my cook to make food for less than 20 people?” And so on.
I think I answered most of this questions above except: The cooking oil question — I have heard people tell their cooks that they need to lose weight. Or that the cook can keep whatever oil is leftover in the bottle. Like with most lessons, repetition is important. Repeat, repeat, repeat.
I hope that this has been helpful.
After a year in Bangladesh, I realized that I had made a mistake. When I got to Dhaka, I had the intention of hiring a woman (empowerment and all that) but instead I hired a man with a full CV (he came well recommended). What I realized after a year is that I should have hired a young woman and sent her to school to learn English, to sew, and to give massages. I could have had a tailor and a massage therapist at home. Next time!
If you want to know how the celebrities feel, come to Bangladesh. As a foreigner, you will have your photo taken almost all the time. At any wedding, any meeting, any corner of the street. If the big city types in Dhaka are not interested in taking your photo, you can go a few kilometers away from Gulshan and get ready for your “kodak moment.”
My experience with photography in Bangladesh has been non-aggressive. But, there will be many photos. I also take many photos of them, so I guess it’s only fair. In a country of 160 million people, there seem to be 160 million cell phone cameras. The photos on this blog posting are from the Gabtoli cattle market where our group of foreigners almost pulled a greater crowd than the cattle.
It has been two years of food and adventure blogging on Madventures.me. Thanks to those who have read, recommended, commented on, and taken part in the adventures chronicled on my blog. The search engines have had one more year to consume year one. Here are the top search terms in the last year:
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.”
While a smile will get you far, as a foreigner in Bangladesh, learning a few phrases of Bangla is a good idea. I am not a linguist so I’ve made up my own system of phonetics. These are some of the phrases I have learned:
PAH-nee — water — This is the Bangla word I used most in this hot, hot, hot land.
DON-ah-bawd — thank you (foreigners like to use this but I’m told it’s not really part of the culture. I’ve seen nods of the head or a closed fist to the chest used as “thank you” and that works too).
Sah-ley-al-eh-kyum — greetings (it’s from Arabic and is how you greet people or announce your presence) — I often just say “good evening/good day/hello” and that seems to work.
DECK-A-hawb-aa — see you later.
AH-che — gotcha or yes, I’m listening to you and I understand that you are speaking. I like “gotcha” because it rhymes with the Bangla word.
EK-tah — one of (EK is one).
SHESH — done as in “enough” and “it’s over.”
LAWG-bey-nah — No need or I do not need it (useful when rickshaws try to run you over in their eagerness for your custom). This is the phrase I have found most useful.
Bhutan. Land of Happiness. Land of Gross National Happiness. Land of the Thunder Dragon. The Hermit kingdom. Whatever the name, it is unlike any other place in the world.
As a non-Indian, Nepalese, or Bangladeshi, getting to Bhutan must be done through a tour company. The company takes care of your ticket, visa, hotel, and itinerary. We used a fledgling company called Bhutan HappyLand Tours. While some of the kinks need to be ironed out, overall, I’m glad that we went. Indeed, I feel myself yearning to go back. Our guide was unflagging in energy and answered every single one of my vast array of questions, from early in the morning till late at night.
They filmed Seven Years in Tibet — in Bhutan — and you might want to stay that long. If you can afford it. It is not cheap to visit at $250 per night, $450 for the ticket from Dhaka, and $40 visa. But beyond that, the only other money you will need is for souvenirs and to tip your guide. Everything is best paid in U.S. dollars (100 bills are best). Druk Air, Royal Bhutan Airlines, is the national carrier of Bhutan and there are only two flights per week from Dhaka to Paro.
There are many itineraries to choose from but we chose the three night tour of Bhutan. We saw archery, graphic wall art, butter churning, monks praying, and much happiness.
Since the country is shrouded in mystery, there are many things that set Bhutan apart from other countries. More in a future blog posting…
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.
Beggars are part of daily life in Dhaka, as they are in India. They are on every street, often with missing limbs, physical deformities, and naked babies hanging from their arm. Many foreigners feel sad and uncomfortable by the presence of beggars. For many expats, the hardest part is when out and about in town. When sitting in traffic (which is a huge part of life in Dhaka), the beggars will hobble their way through the traffic. They will tap on your car window. Sometimes they bring hungry babies to the car. Sometimes, they make eating motions with their hands. If you walk in Dhaka, the beggars may touch your arm and some may follow you. Usually, a guard or policeman (almost every building in the expat areas has a guard and there are uniformed police everywhere) will shoo away the beggars. During Ramadan, the number of beggars surges in Dhaka because they come to where the money is and because part of the Ramadan tradition is for people to give charity (called Eidy). There are many children beggars and articles have been written about how these children are part of gangs run by pimps and that giving money to these children perpetuates the situation. One thing is for sure, if you give anyone money (buying the beggar child’s stickers — a common device), they will remember you for all the rest of your days in Dhaka. When expats roll down their window or keep the door open to give money to the beggars, the beggars will make it difficult to roll the window up or close the door. Sometimes, the beggar will hang on to your leg and not let go even when you walk away. This adds a disconcerting element to an already uncomfortable situation for many expats. The beggars have no time for fear.
If the beggars are hard to handle, you can get tinted windows for the car. Or you can learn to ignore it. The more you ignore the beggars, the quicker they will move on. And never make eye contact.
Normally I don’t take photos of them but I took a few for this blog posting (though not of the countless mangled children).
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.