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Bangladesh – The Art of Hostile Hospitality – YAL (Yet Another Layover)

Warning – I occasionally suffer from Logorrhea, more familiarly called “Verbal Diarrhea.” This is one of those cases, and I present you a weighty tome of my mental effluent. Skip this if you want a quick read and wait for my Bangkok bucket rant instead.

 

If you’ve ever seen the Stepford Wives, a propaganda piece from North Korea, or one of the playboy bunnies doting on the Nosferatu known as Hugh Hefner, then you know what it’s like to see something beautiful on the surface, but feeling unsettled with the idea there’s something else going on.

Brittany and I got up fairly early, a respectful 7:30am, after a pretty hot and sweaty night, not in that way – power outages have a way of keeping you from getting a good night of sleep worse than Gilbert Gottfried singing you a lullaby. We grabbed breakfast at the local bakery, our newest discovery – breakfast for two for 114 rupees (that’s about $1.50 USD) and a cab ride that didn’t require negotiation, and we felt untouchable.

SLEEP WELL MY LITTLE ANGEL

Bouncing around the back of the subcompact cab, we pass the meat packing district with bright pink pig carcasses simply sitting outside on tables in the hot sun, making us sincerely question the meat we’ve eaten in Kathmandu. We go by makeshift police checkpoints – 4 to 6 military members holding a rope, blocking traffic and patting down motorcyclists, an overt display that we both silently hope doesn’t find its way back to the States. Arriving at the airport, we gather our bags, shake off the taxi drivers who don’t seem to understand a departing passenger doesn’t need a taxi, and saunter up to Bangledesh airlines ticket counter. Bangkok! Here we come!

You know that part in the movies where the music stops and the record screech noise is played, ok, well imagine that when the ticket agent says “We don’t have you in our system.”  We literally have 40 rupees (about $0.48USD) in our pocket, and don’t have a lot of options. Hit the ATM and head back to Kathmandu for another sweaty night with Gilbert Gottfried serenading my cerebellum, or try for a trip to Bangledesh, which is a 26 hour layover until the actual flight to Bangkok. We went with the latter option. We know nothing about Bangladesh, there’s no wifi in the Kathmandu airport, and there’s a complete lack of Lonely Planet guidebooks in the airport bookstore (should have been a sign), and we start to get the creepy vibe when we get to the boarding area.

Perhaps I’m off base, but I’ve generally been able to get a feel for an area by how the people react to Brittany. In India, it was the most unrelenting, unapologetic staring, in Nepal lots of smiles and head bobbles, unfortunately this boarding area was definitely reminiscent of the first.  Hey guys, here’s a tip, if you’re staring at someone so hard that they hide behind their boyfriend repeatedly, you should probably….I don’t know…stop? Also, crack a smile and wave! It makes you seem more like a friendly person and less like you’ve got a soon-to-be-filled vacancy in your rape dungeon.

All eyes on you Brittany

We eventually boarded the plane, after sweating our asses off for an hour in the non AC, less than inviting boarding area, and we sat in our seats. Of course my knees are squashed into the seat in front of me, curse of being a giant and all. The Bangladesh Air flight attendant came by and said “It looks like you have a legroom problem.” Great…..i think to myself, I’m going to get some hassle about being too big for the seats. “Why don’t  you move up there where you can stretch your legs” and points to the front row of seats. I nearly cried, I haven’t been so happy since I heard there was going to be a third Twilight movie.

Food, beverages, and an hour and a half later, we arrived in Bangladesh. We go to get a visa so that we can get a room and start seeing some of the town. $50 USD for a visa….what? The airline told us $20…..Wait, what’s this we have here? $20 transit fee? We ask if we can do that instead, since we’re only here for a day because of the layover. “Take this and sit over there”. “What about our bags?” I ask. “We’ll handle everything, go sit.” We’re handed a token with a number and a hotel name on it.

We’re basically sequestered into a sitting area with over 100 men, and every eye is on us, and by us, I mean Brittany’s ass.  We sit in the back of the room, and a couple guys are turned around staring unblinking at her, biting their lip, hitting their friends to look. I try to exercise my Nepal inspired Buddhist control, but at some point it gets too much and I get up, give them an abridged English lesson, and tell Brittany we’re moving. We wait another hour standing up at the front desk, groups of 2-6 guys routinely walk by and just stand by the desk staring at Brittany. Statistically speaking, the demographic in the airport is 95% male, and 99.9% off-putting.

Finally a representative of the airline takes us down to the customs area. The whole place is PACKED. Oh great, more waiting I think. But this is where the weird begins coming on strong. The guy takes us to the front of the line and begins processing our passports. Occasionally a local would approach the desk and he’d point them at the back of the line. Ok….this is cool….kinda….. We get through the customs area still led by the same guy, he goes and gets our bags, and takes us to a huge bus. “You go to your hotel now”. Our attempts to figure out what’s going on have failed every time, and now we’re on an enormous bus, which we have to ourselves.

For us???

Two minutes later, we arrive at our hotel, bellhops run up and grab our bags from us with smiles and take them to the front desk. Ok…..The guy at the front desk is very nice, takes our passports and gives us a key, he said “They will show you to your room” The bellhops try to grab our bags, but I get mine on before they can. Snatch the pebble from the masters hand young student. They lead us across the foyer to our room, we open the door, and the room blows us away. Sure, it smelled a bit of mold, but it had AC, a fan, a tv, and attached bathroom. Shit…how much is this going to cost us we think.

Less than a minute later, there’s a knock on the door.  “Lunch is ready, please go upstairs.” Ok…they’ve made us lunch? We walk up two flights of stairs and turn the corner to an enormous spread, its definitely similar to Nepalese – rice, lentils, spiced potatos, a fish curry, salad, and 7-up. We eat and just kind of sit there for a while before the awkwardness leads us to go back to our room. “I guess they’ll charge us at the end of it…..” We hang out in the room for a while, Brittany’s hurting pretty bad, shes getting sick, plus Total Recall is on, I haven’t seen it since I was like 7, so we stay in. The AC dial is turned up to 11, and we’re sitting pretty.

I’m concerned with the entirety of our Bangladesh experience being the inside of a hotel, so I manage to coax Brittany out of the room.  It’s late now, about 8:30pm, and we’re hungry. We set out for street food and see precious little on our street except the constant stares of –every- local. We finally find a small stand where three young boys ,between the ages of 6 and 12, are making puffed pastries and filling them with a potato and bean mixture. After sitting and eating those, and truly feeling like we were a zoo exhibit, we realized that it was really dark, and the vibe we were getting definitely wasn’t “the land of smiles”, so we skittered back to the room. We went relaxed on our bed for a bit, got undressed and ready for bed.

Knock Knock Knock.

Really? I answer the door. “Dinner is ready sir; please come upstairs and eat dinner. “ Brittany and I eyeball each other and then consent. Upstairs we went, to eat our second dinner at 9:30 at night. Once again, we turn the corner and behold a huge meal on the table. Game face on – Let’s do this.  We scoff down as much as we can and then leave. The hospitality here borders on aggressive. It’s like the woman who breaks your legs so she can take care of you…forever.

We end up watching movies and about 4 episodes of “So you think you can dance?” (Livin’ the Dream bitches!) and going to bed late. We’re stoked that we get to sleep in, as we’re both exhausted from the travel and the sleepless night prior. Bliss follows in our airconditioKNOCK KNOCK KNOCK. The door opens.

“Breakfast is ready sir, please come up stairs.” What? “Your breakfast is ready, go upstairs”. His words travel through my brain at 6am much like a four course meal of Imodium infused fondue would through my colon.

Ok….wait…is he in our room? “Uhm No thanks, we don’t want breakfast then, we want sleep”. I once told a kid there was no santa to console him after throwing his puppy out of moving car, but this dear friends was the most defeated I’ve ever heard someone. “But your toast will get cold…” He reenergizes himself, “I bring it to you in 10-15 minutes” and he leaves. The conversation between Brittany and I bounced between

“Wtf are they making breakfast at 6am for”

“Wait, he was in our fucking room? You locked the door right?”

Just as the blissful sleep began to retur-KNOCKKNOCKKNOCK. I contemplate answering the door naked, but I don’t know the ramifications – would it simply act as a deterrent as I had hoped or some sort of bizarre acknowledgement that I was indeed ready for my complimentary spongebath and colonic. I opt to keep the underwear on and answer the door, the lights are off, the AC is blasting, I cannot look like a pleasant picture at all. I try to take the try from him filled with all sorts of foods and coffee, but he won’t relent. “You must turn on the lights” he steps in and turns on the lights and sets down the tray. He smiles happily as he points out everything and then departs.

I eat my breakfast as my constant interactions have broken me out of any hope of easily drifting back to sleep. After eating my hard boiled egg, yogurt, toast with butter and jam, and banana and drinking my mango juice, I crawl back into bed to hibernate. Oh my god this is sheer bliss, a stomach full of food, cold air blasting, the warmth of the bed insulating me from it all, all with the knowledge that I don’t have to wake for another 4 hours. I drift into a blissful slee-RING RING RING.

You have GOT to be kidding me. “You answer it!” I declare defeated, like a girl in a horror movie, relentlessly tormented by the murderer. I whisper “The call is coming from….INSIDE…THE….HOUSE”, my humor is lost on Brittany as she explains to them we want neither black tea or milk tea, that we would just like to sleep.

Fast forward a few hours, they serve us another splendid  meal for lunch, take our bags and us to the airport on the once again empty bus, and ferry us to our terminal gate. When we tried to pay, they stated that we already had….. So what did $20 USD Transit Fee in Bangladesh get us? Transportation to and from the airport, four huge delicious meals, and an AC room with internet and cable tv with attached bathroom.  It also gave us a lesson in the most in your face hospitality we’ve ever experienced. If anyone had told us what to expect, we would have been a lot more comfortable, and been able to enjoy it a lot more. But it was like one guy in Bangladesh heard the phrase “Kill them with kindness” and over time and translation we were presented with a philosophy that was somewhere between “Murder them with Muffins” and “Can’t spell Slaughter without Laughter!”

Arriving at the airport – Busy much?

At the Airport

If you are flying somewhere and are presented with the opportunity for a prolonged layover in Bangladesh, and want to feel like Royalty on house arrest, then definitely pay the $20 transit fee. It’ll probably be one of the best, strangest experiences you’ve ever had. For us, we were so happy to see our plane, Bangkok here we come *finally*

Almost to Bangkok!

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Comments (5)

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  1. susan says:

    This is the most enthralling account, ever. It reminded me of being “watched” in Russia and Turkey..in Kazachstan we had an armed driver. Great story, glad you escaped the happiness. Love you

  2. Sean C. says:

    Great post, loving the sardonic metaphors and references!

  3. Susan B. says:

    most entertaining read yet!

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