Tag Archives: shopping

…Istanbul

OMG, Istanbul was great!! Oh wait, I wanted to give a different impression first. All you FS types reading this: Turkey was hot, and there was bad traffic in Istanbul, and… and… Turkish is a hard language. Er… I’m trying to come up with reasons for you all to avoid bidding on the very few posts available in Istanbul, but it’s hard. So, I’ll go for the personal appeal, please, please, please, don’t bid on it. I want to. 🙂 If you read the rest of this, you might want to bid on it, so please don’t. The OUR “Orient Express” family has already done an excellent job of detailing the merits of Istanbul, and I’m going to have a lot of work ahead of me discouraging the rest of you from bidding on it.

But, yes, Istanbul was great. Really.

The breakfast buffet at the Armada

We arrived in the evening and took the hotel’s rather stealthily luxurious van to the back streets of Sultanahmet, the old town district of Istanbul. The Hotel Armada was both tastefully elegant, and yet a bit hip. The building was decorated with late 1800’s sensibilities (both Old West and Colonial), but the staff wore tight black t’s and pants. The food at the breakfast buffet was divine, and divinely fresh. I wanted to pack up the whole spread and air freight it home. They had fresh honey comb, fresh OJ squeezing, 5-10 different kinds of jams/bread toppings, 8 kinds of cheese, three kinds of tomatoes, etc…. Wonderful. In the lobby, there was a living sculpture of Mississippi red-eared slider turtles in a fountain. The roof deck (where breakfast was) had views of both the Blue Mosque, the Hagia Sophia, and the Marmara. There were fresh flowers everywhere. The soaps were handmade. There were exotic birds in gilded cages. But… I have no idea what the rooms were like, because we actually rented an apartment around the corner, which was even cooler.

Our apartment was about 30 seconds from the front door of the Armada, but gave us the experience of living in Istanbul, like a local. Across from our front stoop, was a front stoop where real Istanbullus sat and watched the afternoon go by. A klatch of three busibody ladies sat in plastic chairs in front of the local “everything store.” At the same store, Mr. Adventure bought an ice cream one night, and had the wrong change, so the proprietor told him to come back the next day and pay him back. Our neighbor’s baby smiled at our baby. The street cats sidled up to us as we walked by. People waved and smiled. It was not your typical hotel experience.

Turtles in the Armada lobby

If you do rent the apartment we used (Studio 1, ground floor and basement), beware the ground floor shower. It’s er… scary. The sprayer keeps popping off the hook and there is no scald guard. However, there are two bathrooms!!! And the one downstairs has a perfectly fine shower, that doesn’t spray water all over the ceiling when it falls off the hook. That apartment had a queen bed on the main floor, along with a 24″ TV that had only 1 English channel ;( CNN, a kitchenette (stovetop, sink, toaster, coffee set up), and a eating table. The basement had 3 twin sized day beds, a tiny TV, arm chair, and TONS of pillows. There was also ample storage for all your luggage, as nearly every wall was lined with cupboards and closets. And, because this is a hotel apartment, you still get the fancy linens, the cozy bathrobes and in-room safe that you’d expect to find in a hotel. The apartment we chose was the mid-sized one, but there’s a smaller and a larger one, depending on your family. Ours was too big for us, we didn’t use the ground floor as much as we would have if Neko were older. We’d hoped to put her down there since her sleeping schedule is different than ours, but the crib they provided didn’t negotiate the stairs.

At the ceramics museum

The first night, all we did was sleep. We were recovering from the sunburn and sleeping outdoors adventures of the previous few days.

However, the next morning we were up and ready to explore! After the aforementioned glorious breakfast, we headed up the hill to Topkapi palace, hearing the sounds of a traveling musical troupe, and espying people on stilts was up ahead in a crowd, but never quite catching up with the show. We eschewed paying the entrance fee to the Palace, partly because of the enormous line, and continued on our merry way, spotting another museum on the way. The museum was advertising an all-museums pass for 70L, which allowed you to skip all the future ticket lines, and (as we found out when doing the math) saves you money as long as you visit both the Hagia Sophia and the Topkapi. It also includes admission to the Harem at Topkapi.

Enjoying lunch at the kebap and rug shop. Neko flirted with the very friendly waiter.

This museum that was down the hill was the archaeological museum, and included 3 separate museums, filled with the treasures of the empire. There were ancient relics from various far-flung sites that were once part of the Ottoman Empire, Eastern Roman Empire, Caliphate, etc. There were fancy things that were once used by those various rulers. The neatest items were in the main archaeolgical museum (which was under reconstruction, and partially closed), but the neatest building was the ceramics museum. Glorious mosaics, tiles, stained glass windows… I could live there. Wouldn’t be hard.

Hagia Sophia, with teeny tiny people. Ok, those are real full-sized people, the building’s just really huge.

We took some breaks to accommodate food for Neko and for ourselves, and then walked up the hill to the Hagia Sophia. It was everything I imagined, and cooler. Mr. A had previously seen it, but it was being restored at the time, and full of scaffolding. This time, both of us got to revel in its mosaics, expansiveness, and the weirdnesses of the whole thing. Much of the original splendor is lost due to lootings, idolatry controversies and it’s conversion to use as a mosque, but the architecture itself is more than suitably awe-inspiring. That might be hidden if there were more of the earlier decorations.

Classic mosaics at Hagia Sophia (Imperial types offering gifts to Christ)

After the Hagia Sophia, we gobbled yet another ice cream snack, and then took a chilly, damp trip down into an ancient cistern. It had been hidden for hundreds of years, but rediscovered when travelers heard tales of subbasement fishing holes. And, yes, the fish in there were strange and enormous. Neko liked the way the lights glowed against the damp walls, and possibly the novelty of walking around in the dark after just being outside in the middle of a bright day.

Cistern a la spookiness

We followed that up with a trip to the Blue Mosque, complete with the requisite modesty police that drape you in ugly swathes of velcroed fabric to hide various parts of your anatomy. Unlike some other mosques, the Blue Mosque was not concerned about my hair, but about my “shoulders,” which probably meant my decolletage, really. Either way, I had pre-scarfed my hair, so I had to re-scarf myself to cover my shoulders, but the initial look was much tidier than the second. The scarf, purchased nearby, was a nice match to the mosaic walls of the Blue Mosque, however, so that’s something. Neko, tidily packed up in the Ergo was free of the modesty restrictions. This was a pretty place, but not really anything different than many of the other mosques we’ve been to. I would have liked to get closer to the pretty tilework, but it was all up on the ceiling.

Scarfing it in the Blue Mosque

We ate dinner that night at McDonald’s, because yes, we’re deprived here in Dhaka. It was the first McDonald’s we’d had abroad that was so dramatically different than USA McDonald’s. The burger was a Kofta burger, even though it was labelled as a Big Mac, and the chicken nuggets were more like a panko breading than the normal smooth coating. The fries were perfect.

“Magic” corn

We zipped from there off to a night bus tour that took us to the highest point in Istanbul to watch the sun set over Asia and Europe, and suffered from some terrible traffic on the way there. Apparently one of the bridges was closed due to some once-every-40-years maintenance schedule, and so everything was being routed over the bridge we took. That would have been ok, since we’re used to traffic, but it was accompanied by some really bad turkish traditional music on a short repeat. Normally that music would have filled in the bits between the recorded narrative, but instead we heard it hundreds of times. Mr. A said his nightmares were punctuated by its cadences.

A carpet vendor at Arasta Bazaar… the whole bazaar thing was much fancier than I’d expected. I thought it would be more like a street market. Bizarre

The next day we started with another great breakfast, and then hit up the Topkapi Palace, armed with our handy all-museum pass. While the guidebooks dissuade you from the Harem, suggesting it’s lewd, or somehow uninteresting, I think it was the best part of the whole palace, and certainly the least crowded. There’s a separate admission fee, unless you have the museum pass, so most people skip it. It’s really lovely, however. You get to see the insides of the actual home of the court, so it’s all the most decorated and cozy bits. There’s one creepy recreation of the Queen mother with some of the concubines, but other than that, it’s a great tour. I might have sprung for the audio tour if I’d known that there’d be so many things to learn about in there, but the rental place was all the way back at the palace entrance. We made do with the official signboards, which were pretty decent, actually, compared to the other sights in town.

Near our apartment, a sidewalk had these great glowing cobbles interspersed among the stones.

We sat in a grove on the palace grounds so that Neko could have her elevenses, saw the treasures of Mecca, skipped the royal treasury (because six million people were in line to get in), and wandered off back toward the center of things. The afternoon saw us use our bus tour tickets from the night before as passes for the day tour (interesting, but nothing special unless you actually take the time to HopOn HopOff at some of the sights). We followed that with a delectable dinner of contemporary Turkish cuisine at the highly recommended (by us and other) Oceans 7 in Sultanahmet, and made some purchases at the bazaar beneath the Blue Mosque.

That is paradise. We picked up some black zebra tomatoes that were the sweetest tomatoes I’ve ever had (surprisingly so), and some dark cherries. We brought them home, along with a couple weird chocolates, a box of kinder-egg knock-offs and a can of black olives. I heart Carrefour.

But, it wasn’t until the last day that we really became Istanbullus. Because on that day, we went to a mall. Yes, folks… a shopping mall. There, we saw a food court with 7 options of kebap and 3 kofta places (but no chinese or mexican…), 2 cart vendors selling “magic” corn, a kids play area… and we bought… an iPad! Yeah! A replacement for my broken computer! I’m still trying to figure things out, and epic blog posts like this one are still better on Mr. A’s computer, I think, but it’s been addictive already. We also toured the wonders of Carrefour (our second ever), and brought back salted olives, cherries and tomatoes to Dhaka. Awesomely good cherries and tomatoes. California quality.

Why am I still here? I need to go back and get me some more of that Turkish produce.

So, what did we miss? We did not visit the Grand Bazaar, the Egyptian/Spice Bazaar, the Chora Museum, Miniaturk (a miniatures park), the Aquarium, the largest shopping mall in Asia, a Bosphorus boat tour (we’d been on enough boats!), a dancing show (didn’t think Neko could hack it, and didn’t have food to sustain her with a babysitter). Some of these we weren’t interested in, some we didn’t have the time to see. Essentially, we need to go back. Soon. And live there. So don’t bid on it, unless you’re not on our cycle, then you can.

——

For fans of AdventuresIn who went to college with yours truly, Peaches, Istanbul was stop 2 on my “Jesus to Muhammad” bucket list. (That’s the name of a formative course also famous for weeding people out of the Honors program when I was there.) While there, we got our fill of ancient buildings, relics, mosaics, ionic/doric/corinthian columns, and egg-and-dart motifs. Some of those we actually saw in Olympos, but we’ll group them all together for simplicity’s sake. The previous stop on the list was Rome, and that was way back in 1998, so… er… I’d better pick up the pace if I want to visit the rest of the sites before I join them in moldering away. It’s a good thing I don’t have a list for any of the other 3 courses in the series, or any of the other innumerable courses I’ve taken, though Aix-la-Chapelle and the abbey at Cluny are on the life list, and were part of the J2M+ course series.

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…Dry Goods

So, I wrote up a rant about cleaning supplies as part of my “hindsight” series, but it didn’t come out the way I wanted it to. So, I didn’t post it last week, in favor of fulminating on the theme a bit. It’s still not ready, so this week, I bring you hindsight on… “Dry Goods”

What are dry goods? Back in the day, the term referred to fabric, garments, personal care tools, millinery, buttons, furnishings and fittings, etc. But, I’ll also include some of the craft, kitchen and bath items that aren’t consumable, because I’m a linguistic rebel like that. This will be a veritable ACME catalog of things.

Clothing

For women’s clothes, I thought I’d need more than I do, mostly because we have someone who comes in every day to do our laundry. I don’t actually want her to do laundry every day because it’s wasteful, but she doesn’t it anyway, and irons everything, even the underwear sometimes. I do wish I’d brought more underwear though, as it’s all starting to get bedraggled. The extra pack of athletic socks is still unopened, and I have WAY too many t-shirts. I do get to wear my favorite clothes all the time though, since they’re always clean.

There’s also those great charity sales, at which you can pick up cheap cotton knit clothing and the occasional other item (my hauls include: blouses, jeans, cords, jackets, sweaters, maternity clothes, baby clothes, polos, and heaps of shirts made of cotton knit in various styles).

Tailoring is cheap too, BUT. If you don’t have the right fabric, it doesn’t matter how cheap it is. So, bring some fabric. There are two kinds of fabric readily available here: cotton fabric of a quilting/craft weight, and silk. The first costs about $2.50/yd and the second is between $7.00 and $9.00/yd. So, not really all that cheap. Well, the silk is cheap, comparatively, but it’s mostly solid colors, or WEIRD. There is suiting too, in the men’s shops, actually, but if you want something particularly soft or stretchy, you won’t find that here. (Some tailors are talented in finding other fabrics, but it’s a bit of an ordeal where you give them a down payment, they go to the market downtown to get samples, you examine the samples and choose one or send them back for more samples, and only really works if you’re not really fabric picky. I’m really bothered by scratchy fabric, so maybe this is just a problem with me?) In sum, Nearly everyone agrees that fancy fabrics or stretchy fabrics should be brought in, if you want to get something fancy or stretchy made.

You probably will also want some kind of prototype or pattern/image to show the tailor to base your item on as well. Western clothes are not part of the women’s habille here, so you have to give them a lot to work with.

I wanted to have a western dress made of sari fabric, but that seems too avant garde for everyone I propose it too, so it hasn’t happened. Plus, many saris are just way more expensive than I thought they’d be.

I don’t have much to say about men’s clothes, perhaps the Penguin does, but he’ll have to tell me what for a later post.

Accessories

Bring hairpins, safety pins, and rolling pins (j/k). There’s loads of gold and pearls here, but nothing that doesn’t flash or glitter. The shoes are all TEEEEEENY tiny, extremely uncomfortable and glitzy. That might be good for some people, but my poor feet can’t take it. However, the streets are kinda mucky and/or dusty and/or fecal, so you’ll be trashing many of your shoes at the end of the tour, which may affect which ones you want to bring. You’ll also be fighting mold in your shoes, so YMMV.

Craft

If you sew yourself, or do any other craft, bring everything you’d ever think you need. Except, of course, the aforementioned quilting weight cotton. You can find that. I haven’t found a shop for sewing notions other than an hour away at the market for fabrics. The student shops in Gulshan 2 Circle sell single sheets of colored paper, but no construction paper, card stock, drawing, painting, artistic  or scrapbooking paper. They do sell acrylic paint in the basic rainbow and gold and silver, brushes and wall paint. There are no notebooks/sketchbooks other than very slim elementary school notebooks. No yarn (other than a tiny bit at that same fabric market, but its soooo far). There are no tools other than basic crayons pencils, sharpeners, and scissors, and all of those are only at the grocery store, Lavender. There are some twee stationary things at the Korean market, but I’ve been pretty unsuccessful at finding much of anything. I guess if you wanted to learn basketry, there might be some reeds in the marsh you could pick and dry, but that’s a bit extreme. There’s also a “mall” in Banani I’ve never been in because it looks like the #1 place to die in a fire or earthquake, there may be something there.

 

And, since the last two aren’t technically “Dry Goods,” I’ll just list the crucial things I’m remembering right now:

Kitchen

I really meant bring a rolling pin. No one here makes pies or rolled cookies, so if you don’t have one, you’ll want one. Oven thermometer (unreliable gas pressure). Kitchen scale. Parchment paper or a Sil-Pat (though saran wrap and aluminum foil are available at the commissary). Clear pitchers for water and juice (which are mostly available frozen). Smaller tupperware. Kitchen appliances that are NOT/NOT digital, as the power goes out all the time. You really want things that have dials and knobs, so that they’ll come back on when the generator kicks in, especially your slow cooker.

You don’t need a lot of plastic things, as there are tons of plastic vendors here, for trash cans, laundry baskets (in the perfect for we-do-laundry-every-day sizes), wash tubs, opaque pitchers, large tupperware, dish drying racks.

Bathroom

Shower Curtains and hooks (SOOO many bathrooms in every house!). More water pitchers, for purified water to brush your teeth in, you can get them here, but they’re pretty large. Anti-slip bathmats. First Aid stockpile! Bathroom scale.

 

…Sari Shopping

The rain has started again, though it’s probably just a preview of the rains to come. I bet we’ll have a few more weeks of relative dryness before the deluge. I went Sari (or sharee, if you want to say it with a Bangla accent) shopping this weekend, and forgot to take photos, so a thousand words will have to suffice for the photo.

There are some moderately western style stores here where expats are welcomed with high prices and a more limited selection in exchange for the freedom to sort through the racks yourself. Of course, you’re still followed closely, and they tidy up immediately after you. I thought it was just a weird cleanliness thing, but after speaking with the owner/manager of one of these shops, it is an effort to cut down on losses from theft. I can’t imagine stuffing a sari, painted trunk or metal elephant in my bag (items that I’ve touched under the close surveillance of a store employee), but apparently the expats who visit Dhaka have sticky fingers. Hard to believe that the relative strength of the dollar isn’t enough. I feel so profiled.

Anyway, while the mister watched Neko, I went with a friend to one of these expat-y shops, and found nothing. They had lots of nice things, but nothing appropriate for the event. So, off to a more traditional sari shop we went.

Traditionally, sari shops in the area act more like the personal shoppers of high end New York department stores. You, the client, sit in a chair while the vendor parades the saris before you. Of course, all the vendors are male, so watching them drape the folds of fabric off their shoulders is additionally entertaining. The vendors stand atop a long low dais that has a kind of sheet-covered mattress on it. They shake open each potential sari, chosen to fulfill the requirements you’ve outlined, and lay it on the dais. It’s got all the fun of hanging sheets out to dry in the sun added to glittery rhinestones and deep colors.

Of course, they want to sell you the nicest saris. My friend really liked one of these high end options, but balked at the $300 price tag, so we asked if we could see something in a similar color but lower price. Their first response was to show us the same sari in a different color. Not quite. Then they went immediately to the cheapest possible sari in a similar color, like something you might buy to give as a charitable donation, about $15. Is there nothing in between, we asked. And, finally, something. Not the same quality as the first, obviously, but very workable, and still elegant for the occasion.

Once you’ve decided, there’s a bit of a price negotiation, if you’re up for it. They gave us 25% off, most likely as an incentive to tell our friends to come to the same shop. Then, it gets folded up in a small flat box, and brought home, unless it needs additional sewing or cutting (as there are occasionally finishing needs on some saris).

On my own part, this was my first sari purchase, as I’d never really needed one, and they can be quite expensive when you factor in all the tailoring, petticoats, accessories, etc. I ended up with one I really love, though it doesn’t fit the “color code” of the event we’re going to. But, really, I’m not going to buy a fancy cream and gold sari that I’ll hate and never wear again (because I look awful in the color), just because someone wants their guests to look similar. I might be the one colorful thorn in the Bollywood dreams of the bride, but I don’t mind that.

Tomorrow, we’re hoping that the tailor will show up to take our measurements and make the shirt and petticoats to match the sari. I chose a beautiful raw silk in a similar hue as the sari. Most saris come with an additional yard or so of matching fabric to make the top out of, but since mine is a netted fabric, that would be quite risqué, a la Madonna in the 80s. There is, however, some trim on the blouse piece that can be transferred to the silk for the full effect.

All I need now is some bling and shoes. I’m worried, as the glitz code here is pretty high. I don’t have anything appropriate for either, and fear the cost/tiny size factors might be a problem. We’ll see. I promise pics of the event by the end of the month!

…Baby-having

Been wondering why I’ve been off the radar so long? 

This is why: 

7 weeks of pre-delivery medivac in Florida, marked by an excessive amount of garage sale-ing, consignment shopping, thrift store hopping and layette preparing. There are not really many options for baby items in Dhaka, and I’ve been trying to build up a year’s worth of “product,” clothes, toys, etc. to keep baby in style, or at least health. Of course, as a new mom, I have no idea what I need of what’s useful, so my choices may be completely off. Thank goodness for amazon, but we can’t really ship liquids, so I think I may have over-shopped on those. 

A little less than a week of hospital and post-baby delierium.

A week of bouncing up and down, trying to learn the ropes as a anxious, sleepless, happy new mommy. 

Thank goodness that Mr. A was able to be here, I can’t imagine doing all the crazy things we need to do on my own. Between paperwork, doctor’s appointments, shushing and late night feedings, I’d be lost without him.

We’re planning our trip back to Dhaka now, and I’m totally overwhelmed by the list of things to do.

Wish us luck!

…Happy times in Dhaka

We had a lovely day today in Dhaka. The weather has finally become something like a nice summer day in California. The humidity broke, and the skies are clear (ish). It was a perfect day for a little bit of adventuring here, or as much adventuring as this pregnant lady can handle all at once. 🙂 On a normal weekend day, we’re usually known for taking an afternoon nap, but we spent most of the day out. Since it’s my last weekend in Dhaka for a while, I am happy we made the trip.

It started off with a mosquito bite, not a very auspicious beginning to the day, but I got through that trauma quickly. Brush it off, brush it off… 🙂 Then, dressed in my casual stretchy best, we headed off to a charity fundraiser fair at the Grace International School. It was a fair-sized fair, about 30 vendors, many of whom I’d never seen before. Because Grace is a Christian school, they have connections with some of the Christian charities and NGO-training/manufacturing centers here in Bangladesh. Who knew there was a Mennonite mission here? They apparently make handcrafted paper goods, including cards, photo albums, wrapping paper, etc. Their main store is in Mohammadpur district of Dhaka, so the only time I’d ever see their stuff would be at a craft fair. Mohammadpur is VERY outside our driving comfort zone… (We noticed yesterday that the furthest we’d ever driven from home was about 2 miles, and only to that extreme in one direction… Pizza Hut).

After the craft fair (which was very productive… we even found a cute Sari-blanket for the wee-adventurer-to-come), we decided to follow the recommendation of a friend and have lunch at Roll Express in Banani:
But, we couldn’t find it, so we headed for someplace we’d been before, Dhaba, the restaurant that serves authentic “street food” but in a hygienic environment. They have a great tandoori oven and are well known for their Dosas and Phuchka. Their dining room is pretty small and intimately lit, but I’ve never had anything I didn’t like. It’s mid way along Road 12, on the east side of the street.

Afterward, we remembered that we were pretty close to another treat we hadn’t experienced yet, Cream and Fudge Factory, the coldstone knockoff that has all the Americans raving. Cream and Fudge is on the second floor of a building at the NorthEast corner of the Road 11 and Road 12 intersection in Banani. I had the EveryBerry Cheesecake and Mr. A had an AppleCrumble. Both were lovely, and a single was just the right size for after lunch. A single-size serving was 250 tk, a double was 400 tk. They also have shakes, sundaes and coffees.

While there, we checked out some of the other stores in the building.
Happy Octopus sells cute children’s things: casual and Very Fancy clothes, toys, items from Pebble (a local hand-knit NGO/company that sells to Europe and Japan and has a women-focused training and employment mission).

Haru Ichiban on the 3rd floor (i.e. 4 from the ground), sells stylish western men’s clothing from Esprit, Calvin Klein, Zara, and many other brands. They have both formal (i.e. tuxedo formal), business and casual fashions, shoes and accessories. Their FB site implies that they also have women’s things, but we didn’t really explore their items. Aesthetically, it was a very western-feeling shop to look at as well.

On the ground floor was Quesadilla,  a new Mexican-ish, American-ish restaurant, which I’ve heard good things about but haven’t yet tried. Their Mexican menu seemed pretty limited, but there were also some American classics to balance it out. Maybe we’ll try it when we get back from our baby-trip to America.

The building also housed a pharmacy and a dry cleaner. Something was being built on the 2nd floor, so there’s more excitement to come.

…Christmas in Dhaka

We arrived at post in October of last year, and our belongings arrived just before Christmas. We had stocked up on some Xmas essentials before we left the states, but there is always room for more, especially when you’re in a non-Christmas country. There’s no Christmas station, no overwhelming store displays and constant sales-pushing here. Of course, that means finding Christmas items can be difficult. But… not impossible!

In 2011, I’ve already seen Christmas gear at 4 places in the expat area of Dhaka.
Folk International (Near the Gulshan 2 Cricket field) began it’s Christmas item season on October 1st, and they’ll sell it until it runs out. As the season progresses, they’ll have fewer items. There a great source of ornaments, especially painted papier mache and laquer ones. They also have tree skirts and fabulous quilted wall hangings. (I saw one in someone’s house last year and was terribly jealous of it, who knew they’d bought it right here in Dhaka?). They also have some glittering table mats and runners to jazz up your holiday table. I saw them in red, green and blue, but they were almost out of the blue. They also sell gift bags in all sizes, from teeny jewelry bags to giant bags (about 30” and round) that look like Santa’s sack. There are also UNICEF cards here.

Sally Ann’s (Lane 6, House 365/2, Baridhara DOHS), a fair-trade branch of the Salvation Army’s retail mission, usually carries a lot of baskets, embroidered goods, napkin rings, and (strangely) wooden letters that you’d paint and hang in a nursery. For the next few months, they’ve also got a bunch of Christmas items. Last night, I saw Christmas trees made out of yarn, shiny wire or fabric. They also had three different kinds of wall-hanging advent calendars, one with large pockets to hide treats, ornaments or notes, one with little loops for ornaments. They also had a bunch of embroidered items (including tree skirts, tablecloths, napkins, etc.) with holly or other Christmas themes. Their tree skirts were made for table-top trees. They also had an impressive array of embroidered and sewn ornaments. (On a side note, if you’re looking for children’s furniture, they have some cute basket/wood dressers and cheerful table and chairs sets that they’ll sell off the floor or do custom for you.) They also sell coffee and waffles, but I’ve never had one.

Carlotta House, a convent in Bashundara, spends all year embroidering elegant tablecloths and accessories to sell for the holidays (they also make altar cloths and fancy work for churches in Europe). You can call them up and make an appointment to view their little shop, or find them at the DAWC’s Christmas Bazaar, usually held in November at the American School.
DIT 1, the sorta-mall, sorta-open air market, just southwest of Gulshan 1 circle is also a Boro Din (Christmas in Bangla, the local language) paradise. You can find 6 foot tall plastic, light-up Santas, strings of 220v fairy-lights (aka Christmas lights), cheesy trees made out of tinsel, actual tinsel, and everything else tacky you can imagine. It’s also a great place to buy cheap toys, and disposable dollar-store-esque items. They’ll also be very excited to see you. Unlike the others mentioned, DIT is all about bartering, no fixed prices.

Last, all the embassies, clubs, and service organizations hold holiday fairs. The DAWC’s is the largest. In 2010 it was held at the American school, on the field. Last year it was an incredibly hot day, but there were vendors of all sorts there. They sold clothing (kurtas, salwar kameez, childrens ruffle-cake dresses, giftable items), PEBBLE products, pearls, ornaments, holiday cards, gift bags, art (rickshaw, fine and folk), embroidered items, scarves, jewelry, vintage ship-salvage, brass, wooden chests… you name it. Bring a LOT of cash. There are food vendors, raffles and music acts to keep you entertained and nourished while you browse. The clubs also had smaller fairs, each with a good mix of stuff, including some that didn’t make it to the DAWC fair.

…Grocery Stores

In the US, when you want to buy a 12-pack of soda, or a last minute pot-luck contribution, you head to the grocery store, a paradise of 30 grand aisles, gleaming floors, bountiful produce, abundant options…. but here in Dhaka, space and variety are at a premium. Each grocery store is about the size of tennis court at most (and those are the nicest ones, where the expats shop), and you have to shuttle around to the various different markets if you want to get a variety of items. They’re also notorious for high turnaround and unreliable product availability: buy it now or abandon all hope of ever seeing it again.

There is always the local open market (the closest is a warren of dark alleys and strange smells, another one in upper Baridhara is smaller, but less stinky), but that won’t help you if you want soy sauce, noodles or a box of cereal. They’re for fruits, vegetables, meat and fish only.

Where do the expats shop?

Lavendar: Closest to the embassy area is Lavendar, behind the highrises in the NW corner of Gulshan 2 circle. It’s a 2 story shop which has groceries on the first floor and toys, gift supplies, children’s quality art supplies and oddities on the second floor. Their produce selection is small, but includes some imported grapes occasionally. You have to have your selection bagged and weighed by the produce attendant before you bring it to the check-out. Lavendar has a decent variety of products, including Nutella, cereals, baby formula, cleaning supplies, etc. but it’s a very tight space, and therefore hard to get around. It’s always busy. There is a meat counter, but relatively small. They’re also one of the primary bread makers in town, and sell their breads at many outlets.

Agora: Agora is about half-way between Gulshan 1 and 2 circles, on the west side of the street. Parking is available in the subterranean garage, but it’s a squeeze, and I’d only try it with a good turning radius. There’s also a hardware store next door which sells mosquito rackets and decent tools. Agora is bright and open compared to Lavendar, and has an extensive and well-displayed range of imported lotions, creams and soaps. They have a meat, chicken and fish counter, as well as produce. They have some tasty fried chicken and a seasonal pastry selection, as well as a good selection of beverages.

Meena Bazaar: On Road 11 in Banani, driving towards Gulshan, just before the bridge over Banani lake is Meena Bazaar and another, smaller market. Between the two of them, they seem to have a wide variety of cereals and slightly different selection of goods. I only shopped at Meena when I was there this weekend, but loved how bright and clean the store was. The staff were also very friendly. They had some instant sauce mixes I haven’t seen elsewhere in Dhaka (predominantly Indian foods), some bottled sauces and a larger produce section than I’ve seen elsewhere. There are very clean looking meat, chicken and fish counters. With the second market in the same building, I think this is a good place for one stop shopping. There is parking on the street in front, or the neighboring streets.

The Korean Mart: Also in Banani (on a cross street off road 11 near the Meena Bazaar and the bread paradise of DuMiok, which everyone raves about), is the Korean Mart. This is the place to go for tofu, East Asian vegetables, teas, sesame oil, condiments, and Japanese curry. They also carry a variety of ramens and kelp. If you’re desperate for twee Japanese-style stationary and office supplies they have some here, as well as a selection of plastic storage containers and kitchen ware. The food selection is small, but very specialized, and hugely expanded the range of meals I could produce.

DCC 2 Market: The DCC is actually a mini-mall, with a variety of shops intended to appeal to visitors and expats. Way back in the day, it was the only place to shop for anything imported. Now, there are 2 grocers here, as well as stores selling pearls, sports equipment, picture framing, antiques, baked goods, pet supplies and hardware, among other things. The two grocery stores are in the opposite corners of the first floor. I have not been in the southernmost one, even though it is the larger and more advertised of the two. The northern corner’s little market, down a dark hallway between a fabric store and a dry cleaners, has an extended selection of canned goods, imported cheese, pet supplies, chinese candies and a freezer full of frozen meat.

Other recommendations from expats?

The German Butcher, for your sausage and cut meat needs. He’s near the Gulshan Ladies Park.
The British Sausage Shop, near the ARA, also a variety of meats and sausages.
The Pork Shop, on road 13 in Baridhara, across from another decent, but small market,  looks a bit shady, but has good pork, supposedly.
The Pic-N-Pay, in Baridhara DOHS, on the DOHS road, supposedly has a decent selection, but the lighting is bad. There is also a new market in/near Baridhara DOHS on Progoti Sharani, but I haven’t been there yet, and it’s a bit of a trek, given the insanity that is Progoti Sharani Road.
Southwest Gardens,
carries organic produce shipped in from fields near the Sundarbans. I like their selection, and the place is serenely quiet, compared to shopping for produce in the open market. They also carry giant, frozen organic chickens, fish, and unusual meats (quail and lamb, for example). It’s on Road 99, House 23, in Gulshan, in a house with a blue gate. They’ll do a delivery service for you too, with a minimum purchase. Go in the morning for the best selection, or expect mostly empty bins.
The Guy Outside the ARA runs a vegetable stand with a changing selection of seasonal goods, and Doritos, Pringles, and boxed juice. It’s very convenient to shop here, and he often has something unusual that you might not see elsewhere, particularly if you generally have your housekeeper/cook shop for basic veggies and fruits.
The American Commissary, if you’re lucky enough to qualify for membership has alcohol, imported cheeses, frozen foods and American junk foods, as well as 3 kinds of capers. Surprisingly, nearly every grocery store in this list has capers, tahini and Nutella. Expats are a strange bunch.

The large supermarket Nandan closed just before we arrived in Dhaka, and is supposedly moving. However, I have read some local articles about how they operated without proper permits, and may not be returning to the Gulshan area. There is another one down in Dhamondi, so you can do your variety shopping there, if you’re outside the diplomatic area.

EDITED TO ADD:
Apparently one of the two grocery stores in DIT 2 has expanded its offerings and now has a fresh meat counter, direct from Australia. It also sells rice paper skins for egg rolls or wantons. I haven’t bought either, but people really recommend it.

Also, the Nandan on Gulshan Ave is open. It’s right across the street from the Agora, and has an illegible neon sign in Bangla out front. Do not try to self-drive there, as there is only one parking spot for the store and it’s down in the 3rd basement, they triple park it, and it’s a complete PITA because they run up to pull you away from your shopping to shuffle your car. Dumb system.

…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.

…a Thai escape

One of the things that expats do to have fun in Dhaka is go on vacations to nearby countries. There are, of course, two reasons for this: 1. You might never be back on this side of the globe. 2. You need to take a break from Dhaka itself, especially its traffic.

One of the places to go is Thailand, where you can go shopping for things other than Salwar Kameez (the local clothes), where you can eat tasty Thai food, and where you can get a great massage. There’s a direct flight there, so it’s a weekend trip. Yesterday we didn’t go to Thailand, but we had a Thai holiday just in our neighborhood.

I started the day by shopping at a charity clothing sale in support of the School of Hope, a school in a poor community that charges only 4 taka (less than 2 cents) per month in tuition.* The clothing was all donated seconds from local garment factories and everything was between 1 and 2 dollars.

After coming home, we had appointments at a Thai Day Spa for aromatherapy massages… wow. What a nice place. It’s called Samran Day Spa and has a variety of body treatments for men and women. When we were there we saw diplomats, businessmen, volunteers… They greeted us with tea when we arrived and brought us back to our rooms. The last time I had Thai massage, I was on a kind of futon on the ground, this spa used tables. Under the face hole in the massage table, they had placed a bowl of floating flowers. The masseuse has to be pretty limber, as they kneel on the table to so the pressure point therapy. My room had its own private bath and changing area. I highly recommend the place. We only had a 60 minute massage, but it felt like one of the longest I’d ever had, and they do up to 2 hours, as well as waxing, mani-pedi, scrubs and facials.

After the massage, we decided to go out for Thai food, down in Gulshan-1, at @Corner Thai. It’s located on the top floor of the Navana tower shopping center (use the elevator in the shopping arcade). It was the most expensive meal we’ve had here so far, but wouldn’t break the bank back in the states (about $35 for 2 people). It was also the spiciest. I have finally found a country where the chili pepper designations on the menu will feel spicy even to me. Yeah!!

It was a fun Thai escape. Today I have my first day of substitute teaching, wish me luck!

*The reason they charge anything is that most NGOs have found that a minimal charge has made the recipients value their education (or other charitable donation) more. They’ve paid for it, and they’ll work hard to see it succeed.

…Folk International

Several days ago, the CLO (Community Liason Office) at the embassy held a handicrafts and bakery fair, mostly in anticipation of the holidays. We went, but didn’t find anything we had to have right then, perhaps we’re a bit phlegmatic about decision-making.

Today, however, we realized that our attempts to live with an undressed dining room table were failing, as we were noticing scratches already. So, off to “Folk International” we went.

“Folk International” is on Road 108 at House 19 in Gulshan, behind the Wonderland Park. While we were there, a cricket game was going on across the street, and small children were playing on some swings and slides while the spectators watched the game.

The shop carries a wide variety of things made in Bangladesh, especially things made with local fabrics and dyes. They had some really lovely kurtas and saris, handspun and handloomed, and with a price to match, as well as things for every day use. I’ve been reading about local textiles recently, and how important to the activist community in Bangladesh they are. Apparently, you can tell a lot about political affiliation by the clothes people choose to wear, handwoven things (as they were in Gandhi’s movement) signify a pride in national heritage, and an activist patriotism. Fashions that are made with foreign fabrics are either a sign of cosmopolitanism or a cultural import from India, via Bollywood. There are religious symbolisms and socio-economic issues illustrated in both the cut and style of the local clothes. Unfortunately, I haven’t got a clue what they are, so when I finally find something that fits me right, I’ll probably be proclaiming an affiliation that I am unaware of. However, until I find a Kameez (long tunic) with a zipper in it, I don’t think I’ll be able to fit into it unless I dislocate my shoulders. They have absolutely no stretch, and are relatively form fitting, when fashionably made.

Folk International also carried tablecloths and napkins, so we will finally be eating in a semi-civilized manner. They also had gift items, jewelry, men’s items, and a variety of Christmas ornaments and decor (annually between October and December), including fun reusable gift bags made of the local jute fibers. We got a couple of these bags to wrap potential gifts in. It’s a really nice shop, and reasonably priced. They have fixed prices, which is nice for foreign types like us who aren’t very good at bargaining in the street market, much less the brick-and-mortar shops. We might go back later for some Christmas ornaments or party supplies, if our boat shipment (HHE) doesn’t arrive in time for the holidays. It seems like one of _the_ places for expats to shop, as there were French and English speakers while we were there, but apparently local people also frequent it, probably just not right in the middle of the Friday high-prayer time, when we were shopping.

After we left that store, we went on a futile salwar kameez hunting trip (I highly recommend the collection at Saporo cotton, if you haven’t been though, SO CUTE, but soooo not for people with chubby arms), visited the local Movenpick for some incredibly refreshing Swiss sorbet and ice cream, and stopped to look at a Thai Day Spa which was recommended.

In other news, our UAB (air shipment) came yesterday, so we now have a _few_ things we thought we couldn’t live without. Unfortunately, some of them were unexpectedly provided to us in our welcome kit, though not on the list. So, in retrospect, we wish we’d brought some more home decor and entertainment. However, we did get the Wii and some great board games, so, should you ever want a place to play, our’s is the house.