…Cultural Forays

I was deliberately “exciting” this weekend, and attended all sorts of things that were going to be fodder for this narrative. But, sadly, they were mostly a bust. I did get a little bit of cultural immersion, but it wasn’t the stuff great travel narratives are made of.

Friday night we attended the district’s annual Pitha Utshab party, a celebration of sweet foods that are only traditionally available in the “winter” time. I thought I’d bring you back a review. While there were lots on display in cute saran-wrapped baskets, they weren’t for eating. There was only one kind of Pitha, a gummy rice cake that looked a bit like a pancake, but twice as thick, and half as tasty. It was kinda depressing. They served it with lots of other foods, but the line was CRAZY long, and people were cutting, shoving and generally chaotic in their efforts to get some. What made that especially odd was that they were all dressed in exquisite formal wear, and the event was held under a grand wedding tent in a flower garden, complete with fairy lights and linen table dressings. It was one of the loveliest things I’d been to in Dhaka, and yet there was still a food stampede.

On Saturday, I attended a CLO event that would take us to a part of town famous for it’s factory-seconds. Bangladesh is a major producer of clothes for international export, and the overruns and seconds get sold on the local market. Some of them get donated and sold in charity sales. (I’ve been to a few, full of H&M, Tesco, and Jones New York items.) The rest get sent to places like Bongo Bazaar, a large rambling market full of clothes. It seemed like the potential for shopping paradise, and I deliberately brought a relatively small amount of cash, to rein myself in. (When you buy in taka, the local currency, it feels like you’re shopping with Monopoly money.) The travel guides to Bangladesh highly recommend Bongo, as do blogs and local newspaper clippings. Perhaps we went on a bad day, but it seemed like a total scam. Most of the clothes were for small men, understandable, given the people who would typically shop there. Women around here wear saris or shalwar kameez, so there isn’t a demand for western women’s clothing. There were also several sections of children’s clothes, but not the glitzy stuff I was looking for. Many of the items were tagged falsely, with a Gap label, a M&S pricetag, but a DollarTree quality. There were a few stalls selling authentic stuff, but at High Street prices (to use a Britishism). The charity sales are flat price, all items are the same, whether they are 1st rate suiting, or cheap t-shirts that have holes and marker all over them. At Bongo, bargaining was required, and the resulting prices ended up about twice the charity sale price. Since the charities deliberately mark-up their rates to raise money, I can only imagine that the bargaining we were attempting at Bongo was pathetic, and completely related to our foreignness.

Oh well, I bought nothing. Several others got stuff they were looking for, but I was really only on the market for two things, and they had neither. Well, they had one thing, but were started the negotiations at 650t (a little under $10), and said final offer at 600t. Since the going rate at the charity sales is 150t, I refused.

I’m putting together a post on “crazy things foreigners do” (i.e. we Americans in Dhaka), so if you’ve ever done something that has elicited stares, “wows” or other general surprise from locals, send me a hint and I’ll include it on my list.

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