Tag Archives: Family

Bangladeshi adventures – part 1

As some of you know, my browner half / partner in crime has traveled home to Bangladesh at the end of December to visit family and renew his visa for the next many few years that he’ll be a post-doc. While it would obviously have been better if Dr. Trot could have gone South Asian adventuring as well and reporting the events back first hand, that was totally impossible this year. Fortunately for you (however unfortunately for my ego) Dr. M is as good of a writer as he is everything else and has agreed to let me share some of his adventures with you. Also fortunately for you (but unfortunately for him) it has already been quite the adventure just making the trip to Dhaka. But like I said, he is a far better story teller than I so I’ll leave the rest to him. Enjoy!!

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Introduction

Greetings everyone!

I apologize that it has been a while since I last sent out an update. It seems like I need to be almost completely detached from my work in order to have enough time for one of these. I am currently in Bangladesh (Dec 28 – Jan 26), and for once, in years, I have a ton of time with not much on my plate. Well, at least not much work-related stuff anyway. The purpose of this trip is partly to redeem myself for not visiting the last 4 years. In addition, I need to renew my US visa, take official ownership of certain family assets, dodge marriage proposals, establish myself as the coolest cousin to a 7 year old (there is no competition currently) and learn some new recipes. If you have noticed the journal article theme to this update, it is because I have been infected with the style. In the weeks leading up to my departure to Bangladesh, I have had to deal with writing up 3 separate publications.

Abstract (Short version)

The trip took 9 more hours due to fog in Kungming, China, making it a total of 45 hours instead of the 36 that I had prepared for. Flying China Eastern Airlines and connecting through China was a grueling experience; I felt lost in translation for the most part, communicating with single words, grunts and gestures. I made it to Dhaka but have not left home much as the political situation in the country is extremely unstable, and the sounds of gunfire and petrol bombs are common even in my quiet, residential neighborhood. I am still unmarried and plan on returning so. I am applying for my US visa tomorrow: wish me luck so I can come back and go for a beer with you at some point. Below is a detailed account of my journey and my time so far in Bangladesh for those interested.

Observations and Discussion

I had bought my ticket for home in late November, much later than I anticipated. Luckily, I managed to find a pretty affordable deal with China Eastern Airlines on Vayama (thanks to Dr. Volzing): just over a $1000 for a trip across the world, not too bad! It would be grueling time-wise (a 36 hour journey in all, including connection time), but it was easy on the postdoc lifestyle. I set out for the airport 4 hours before my scheduled flight (thanks to Antone for obliging). In the past, I have had to go through a special registration process when leaving and entering the country (for being a foreign national from Bangladesh) before going through security, and the process has often taken longer than an hour. Being that it was the day after Christmas, there was not much traffic at the airport. It actually ended up being great finding out that they have eliminated the special registration process since my last international travel!

I noticed a confused looking South Asian lady watching the departure and check in board for information on flights. I went up to her (referred to here on as B), we head bobbed to each other and thereby confirmed that we were both on the same flight to at least China. It turned out she was on her way to Calcutta, India and spoke Bengali (my mother language)! As we sat indulging ourselves on some Indian snacks she had managed to pack for the flight, I found out a little more about my newly found travel companion. B had been in California for 14 years, was married with two kids (12 and 7), and was on her way to see her dad who recently suffered a brain hemorrhage in the left cerebral cortex. At this point I had already told her I was working on a Parkinson’s disease related project, so she pulled out the CT and MRI scan reports on her phone and showed them to me. The region in the left brain controlling motor functions had been affected, which manifested itself as a lack of control/movement of the right leg. Additionally, his speech and recognition were also impaired. B was on her way to prepare her mom for the worst.

The first leg of the flight was 15 hours long. Although I had been up since 6am, sleep evaded me and I instead ended up watching 5 movies and chatting for the rest of the time with my travel mate. Also, as soon as we stepped aboard the plane, all pretenses of English went out the window. All announcements were made in both Chinese and English of course, but I kept waiting for the English version to come only to realize the announcement had ended and what I thought was being delivered in Chinese was actually in English. I never realized when the switch happened. After a couple of rounds of these I realized they were starting out the English version with something that resembled “Ladies gentlemen” and ending as “thank you for understanding” (NOT!). I was also not impressed by the food they served. I really thought it would be decent Chinese food, instead we got a chicken noodle thingy, a seafood udon which barely fit the description, and half a ham & cheese sandwich.

During the course of the next 5 hours while waiting for our next connection at Shanghai airport, I made the acquaintance of 2 other Bangladeshis (A and N) in the sea of non-English speaking East Asians. As the four of us sat around chatting (between 1am and 5am Pacific Standard Time), I realized that this long tedious journey still ahead of me might potentially be a little more bearable. Now I realize that I had underestimated both the tedium of the journey ahead and the usefulness of my companions.

As our next flight to Kungming was almost at its destination, we were told that we would instead be landing at a different airport at Chungde, due to too much fog at Kungming. This was midnight, and we would be stuck in Chungde till at least the next morning. Those of us going to Dhaka, Bangladesh had at least 13 hours till our next flight left from Kungming, so we weren’t terribly worried. The Airlines wanted to board us up at an undisclosed hotel, and their description of the next step following us going to the hotel were shady at best. We waited for the bus to go to wherever this hotel was. As several of these buses pulled up, some of the locals went on a wild stampede (imagine close to 20 munchkins trying to fit through a bottleneck at the bus door that could barely fit two). Us brown folk and the few westerners (inappropriately dressed for the cold fog in shorts and flip-flops) that had survived this far watched on. As all this was unfolding, two distinct groups were forming: those that didn’t trust the airlines and wanted to stay back at the airport for more information on our situation, and those who had surrendered their fate to the eastern airline gods. B, A, N and I went with the former group and stayed back at Chungde airport. Let me preface my account of the next 14 hours by saying that if you ever have the option of avoiding Chungde and China Eastern Airlines altogether, take it.

There was no toilet paper in the restrooms, half the sinks did not work, the currency exchanges were closed for most of the day, 98% of the people there did not speak English (this was an International airport) and the other 2% could barely manage to hold a conversation. Almost consequently, people at the counters were rude to non-mandarin speakers, communicating unhelpfully with grunts and gestures. At one point, being hungry with no useful form of currency, we began asking people at the airport for money that we could exchange for our dollars. A nice gentleman from Japan offered me 100 Yuan. We didn’t know what the currency exchange rate was (another instance of how useless I feel without the internet at my fingertips) so I gave him $15. Finally we could eat! We sat down at a restaurant named in Chinese characters, being served by a woman we named “Bilkis”, and shoveled down a couple of bowls of house spicy fish/beef. After spending a few hours trying to fruitlessly find a solution to our problem, we gave up and let them redirect us to a hotel for what seemed like an indefinite amount of time. Fog at Kungming was common at this time of the year, and there was no indication of it ever letting up. We had no idea when we would be able to leave Chungde and make our respective connections.

On the bright side, we got to step out into China. Another country crossed off the list I suppose. Obviously, I would rather have paid an actual visit to the country under different circumstances. But we took what we got. My visit to China consisted of a ride to the hotel, experiencing a little bit of driving without traffic laws (a prelude to what was to come in Dhaka), communicating with single words and gestures, some chinese TV, a nice shower and a nap on a real bed. Getting stuck in China for at least a few more days was a very viable possibility. My process of trying to settle myself in mentally was fortunately quite short-lived, as I got woken up to an Asian lady pounding on my hotel room door asking me to “Go down to 1”. I took that as a signal that we now had a flight going to Kungming. 2 hours later we were boarded, and 3 more hours later we were off to Kungming.

Chungde to Kungming is a short 1.5 hour flight which passed uneventfully. By the time we reached our destination, it was 6 hours past the scheduled departure time for our next and final flight out to Dhaka. We were pleasantly surprised to find that our original flight had been delayed 9 hours, and we would make it to Dhaka on the same day after all! In contrast to our predicament just over 6 hours back, our current position was a miracle. We even found a 24 hour wifi restaurant called something that apparently translated to “hamburger”, and who would accept visa credit from a US card. B departed for Calcutta, and A, N and I made our way to Dhaka’s departure gate. The rest of the trip went smoothly, and before we knew it we were in Dhaka.

In news closer to home: I have been sleeping under a mosquito net; “showering” by manually mixing hot and cold water in a giant 20 gallon bucket and using a 1L plastic mug to splash water on my body; refreshing my Bengali alphabets; eating dessert that I don’t know how to make yet; beating a 7 year old in chess, math, wrestling and 20 feet sprints (Don’t underestimate 7 yr old chess: B’s kid is no.2 in the world at under 8 chess, and he is at a level where he can only be coached by European masters); and looking up potential bioengineering professionals in industry and academia to start a possible future collaboration.

On a more serious note, the current political situation in Bangladesh is the worst I have seen in my life so far. My parent’s house in Dhaka is far removed from the heart of the capital and the place for all political demonstrations, and in previous years the evening news was the only way we got to find out about unrest in the country. However, today the political conflict has spread through all the capital’s veins and it is not uncommon for our 3pm lunch to be interrupted by gunshots outside our front doors, and molotovs and pipebombs exploding down the street. I haven’t been out much, except for the business of the visa renewal, which is a necessity at this point. For situations where we wouldn’t have thought twice about taking the car, we find ourselves in running shoes (my personal treads are Aasics Gel Kayano 18s) in easily exit-able public transportation (rickshaws and autorickshaws), which can be abandoned at a moments notice of brewing unrest and flying molotovs. Tomorrow is my visa interview at the US embassy, and I hope to make it there and back physically unscathed.

Conclusion

Alright folks, that is all that I have now for those of you with patience enough to have read through all of this. I will try and write again towards the end of my trip to update you on any new developments. Hope everyone had an enjoyable holiday season with friends and family, and wish you a very happy new year!

My Best,
Maroof Adil, PhD

P.S: For those of you who have had the pleasure of hearing from me how great of an advisor I have had over the past 6 years, you will be pleased to know that I have been officially granted a PhD from the University of Minnesota’s Chemical Engineering Department on December 31, 2013. Today is the first day I can legitimately add those 3 extra letters after my name (not that it has stopped me before).

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Happy Birthday Anna and Tess!

It’s my little sister’s 26th birthday today! Welcome to your late 20s Anna!

As you do not read my blog (I know, I don’t understand how one could possibly stand to miss out on this opportunity either…) you do not know of my new birthday protocol…trolling my phone for photos of you on your birthday to post for everyone else’s maximum enjoyment. Lucky for you (unlucky for the rest of is) there are a minimum number of photos of you on my cell. There are a few however, and a few more tangentially related to you. Enjoy!

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Our way of showing our love to the newly-weds

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Dr. Trot's luxurious accomodations en route to Anna's wedding

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Getting approval for the bridal shower supplies

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The star studded guest list begins ti take form...

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...and bouquets of shitloads of little tiny oragami flowers

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Happy Birthday Anna!

My family friend Tess is also also celebrates a New Year’s Eve birthday. Unfortunately I have ZERO photos of Tess on my phone so this year we will have to go with only one visual aid — Tess’s delicious granola that got me through the trip back east…

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Rest assured/paranoid that this will be made up for in 2014 however 🙂

Happy Birthday and New Year’s Eve!

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Thanksgiving 2013

I hope everyone has a wonderful Thanksgiving this year. I had an awesome holiday and an absolute shit-storm of a week to follow (see Week 18 + 1), hence this being just a bit belated. The good news is that rattling on and on about good food never gets old for me, so I’m perfectly happy sharing all of the delicious details re: my Thanksgiving over a week after the fact 🙂

To begin, everything is yummier at a balmy 65 F with the sound of the ocean in the background. (And no, I do not miss the cold and snow during the holidays one damn bit, they do not make it feel more festive and Thanksgiving/Christmasy, they just make it feel cold and snowy.)

Next, everything is yummier when it is prepared for you by a personal chef and his first mate…

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To acquire the strength to get through this most strenuous day, we first made a batch of homemade mac-n-cheese for lunch. That’s exactly what one needs for lunch on Thanksgiving day, right?

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mmmmmmm 🙂

Then it was on to the more serious tasks of the day…

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You can never have too much stuffing!

This is the vegetarian's  assignment?

This is the vegetarian’s assignment?

Before...

Before…

...and after!

…and after!

Dr.T: Maroof, can you beat two eggs for me please? **five minutes later Dr. M: Maroof 2, eggs zero! Dr. T: sigh

Dr.T: Maroof, can you beat two eggs for me please?
**five minutes later**
Dr. M: Maroof 2, eggs zero!
Dr. T: sigh

Never-the-less, our beautiful tripple berry and pumpkin pies

Never-the-less, our beautiful triple berry and pumpkin pies

Can you guess whose is whose?

Can you guess whose is whose?

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how you negate 18 weeks of marathon training!

In addition to a most gluttonous Thursday, we took the next 3 days to do nothing but eat and drink our way through Napa Valley. (See above comment.)

We managed to hit 4 wineries on both Friday and Saturday and two on Sunday before heading home in our understated vehicle…

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Out of character at all?

1. Laird

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That’s a little more like it!

Laird is small, family owned and operated estate vineyard and winery. You get a very nice tasting for $20 and a list of recommendations that should be taken with a grain of salt.

2. Domaine Chandon
Domaine Chandon was an over-commercial, over-plastic, under-authentic, non-appreciated experience. We tasted 4 sparkling wines here for $20, all of which I could have done without. I would not suggest visiting if you are looking for good wine or interesting vineyard/winery experiences. I would however recommend stopping here to survey both employees and clientele for who NOT to trust with your next cosmetic surgery.

3. Turnbull
Turnbull is a medium-sized family owned and operated vineyard and winery. For $20 the tasting was great, one of the best of the weekend, and the self guided vineyard tour was a pleasant way to sober up before getting back behind the wheel.

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Turnbull

I kid.

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Given the chance to ride a Ditch Witch, you’d be stupid not to!

(Just not now.)

4. Cosentino
Cosentino was a great way to end the first day of tasting. It’s a relative new (1980) but has quickly become regarded as a top winery in the valley. And for good reason. Again, they offer a very nice tasting for $20.

5. Mumm

Mumm Winery was the first stop of day 2. We took the ~1 hr long tour and tasted 3 wines. The tour was very well done with the right amount of info and entertainment. It kept moving without feeling rusehd or lagging. Plus, we got our glasses refilled 3 times en route, which didn’t hurt I’m sure. Regardless, not half bad for $25 each.

6. V. Sattui

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V. Sattui

V. Sattui was great. We got to taste just about everything on the menu for our $20 tasting and had fantastic help. This is the one place that we ended up purchasing something, to be cracked open next time I’m in CA. Here’s to hoping it lasts that long!

To complement the fun tasting, there was a retail shop with a bunch of chocolates and cheeses to pair with the wine and a BBQ outside for lunch if you were hungary and around during that part of the day. We were and got a lamb sandwich + a margarita pizza. Both were super good.

7. Prager Port

Prager was maybe my #1 pick of the weekend. It’s a little tiny family owned and operated port winery. Now I love port, so this might be skewing my opinion just a titch, but they had really great Port.

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Prager

AND, their back tasting room was covered in dollar bills from around the world. (This totally makes the wine that much better…even when you buy it to drink at home…) Of course we signed a dollar and hung it next to the Zimbabwe dollar so we could hang out with Master David and the Fresh Prince of Delaware for eternity in the port cellar. Or until we get stapled over…

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Evidence that we were here! (Until we get stappled over by the next port-loving drunk…)

8. Castello di Amorosa

Now the Cstello di Amorosa is very new and a bit over the top for me. It’s an (admittedly beautiful) replica Italian castle. But, it is a replica castle. In California. Maybe this objection makes me a bit of a Italian castle snob, but it just isn’t my deal. (And of course my deal is the right deal….right?) That being said, we took some really nice pictures and had a great time walking around the castle grounds…

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Castello di Amorosa

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Our new dining room.

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Yummy 🙂

The wine tasting was in a cellar tasting room and while the ambiance was great, thea assistance left something to be desired. We split 2 tastings and sampled all of the reds and all of the desert wines…none of which I can complain about.

4x dessert wines

4x dessert wines 🙂

After all of these adventures, we found some feathery and/or furry friends and gathered our strength for the drive back to Napa.

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The week’s survivors…

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…and their goat and sheep friends.

9. Hess

The Hess Vineyard, Winery and Art collection was a bit off the beaten trail and came to us upon the recommendation of Laird (one of their better suggestions). The grounds were beautiful, the 3 stories of modern art were super fun, the free personal vineyard (with 90 yr old vines!!) and winery tour that we went on was most informative and the wines we tasted (for $20) were delicious. This is another top hit of the weekend for me.

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Cold Hess

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Pretty Hess

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PSA: Every vineyard/winery should also be an art museum.

10. Domaine Carneros

Now for some reason I wasn’t nearly as offended by Domaine Carneros as I was by Domaine Chandon, but it had the same vibe — oversized, plastic and commercial. On the bright side here, we had a table to ourselves on a patio with a beautiful view on a beautiful day. The tasting menu was also sparking wines. The three that we tasted were definitely not my top wines of the weekend, but a hell of a step up from Domaine Chandon.

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Domaine Carneros

And with that it was back to Berkeley and then back to the reality of NJ and my F32. Joy.

It was a wonderful 5 days holiday regardless of what was waiting for me. For next time we have learned to scout out the small, less advertised and less traveled options. We will also have to incorporate sections of both Sonoma Valley and the Russian River Valley. There is so much wine tasting yet to be done!! 🙂

Cheers!

 

 

 

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HAPPY BIRTHDAY MAMA!!

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February 13, 2013 · 8:52 pm