Saturday, May 24, 2008

The Welcome Back

As I struggled to load up my backpack after it emerged from the X-ray machines, the man next to me was told, rather rudely, that his pineapple juice was going to be confiscated.

She gestured towards the plastic container, and told him NO in a rather irritated manner. I suppose she was irritated that he did not know about the infamous no-liquids-allowed-on-the-plane rule. I mean, everyone knows about it.

He did not quite understand what she was saying, and did not understand why his rather benign bottle was being taken away from him. He turned to me, uttering "pani, pani", as if to explain it was only a drink.

Exasperated that he was still not getting her point, she unceremoniously shoved the plastic bag and its contents into the rubbish bin. He got her point, and walked towards the gate looking rather unhappy.

On board Biman Bangladesh, it was chaos. There were no air stewards/stewardesses around to help the passengers figure out how to load their stuff into the overhead bins. The man who lost his pineapple juice spent a fair amount of time bumbling around. I felt like I was on a train bound for Kolkata.

Two air stewards appeared, looking rather hassled and I guessed the plane was short-staffed. I did spy an air stewardess ahead in extremely-empty the business class section, though.

I didn't remember my last flight on Biman being as messy as this.

Midway through the flight, a man emerged from the toilet smelling of cigarette smoke. He tried to return to his seat, only to get yelled at by an air stewardess that happened to be passing by. I couldn't help but laugh.

After the stop in Bangkok, the air steward asked me to "follow him". Turns out he was bumping me up to first class. I struggled for a moment while deciding whether or not to accept his offer. Privileges for the foreigner? Or was it because I was the only female sitting amidst almost 200 men? I didn't have any problems sitting where I was, no one was harassing me. I had managed to convince them that I spoke fluent Bangla, and those nearby turned to me for help when filling up the immigration forms. "Sister? Give me your pen."

Even the guy next to me only asked me a couple of questions before leaving me alone.

Well, I took the offer anyway. So much for my principles.

For all its flaws, there are certain things about Bangladesh's airport that kicks ass. Like the fact that I could get out of customs to draw money from the ATM, and then happily walk back through it to buy stuff from the dismal duty free shop. And like how the guys at the duty free shop accepted my takas even though they were allowed to. "If anybody ask tell them you pay in US dollar ok?"

Waiting for my luggage by the belts, I heard a voice call out. "Sister!" I looked up to see the guy I had lent my pen to. He waved it at me, as if happy to have located me again after having lost me to first-class. He threw it across the belt and I caught it with my right hand. Cheers for me, ha.

Queuing for the final scan, the man next to me was visibly upset at the number of people trying to cut the queue from all over the place. He tried his best to restore order, but no one listened. "Very bad people," he said, tsk-tsking along with me.

I played hardball while trying to get a cab. I turned down the first couple of offers (400tk), and stuck to my price. Just as I thought I was going to have to cave (surprisingly few cabs that day), a nondescript white car pulled up and offered my my asking price. This really pissed off the first cab driver that had been hanging around waiting for me to cave. All the others had not betrayed the 'brotherhood of drivers' and refused to slash their prices. This one was probably not a member.

So I just looked sheepish and rather apologetic as the driver hurriedly loaded my luggage into the car, all the while arguing with the other guy. What to do? I really felt quite bad about it.

It turns out that paying 100 tk less means you get a car without working wipers. Was not a good day to rain. My driver was going so slowly, even the CNGs overtook us. I didn't mind. If you can't see the road, you're free to go as slowly as you pleased.