China Diaries 01: Here We Go – The Journey Begins

American International University- Bangladesh arranged a cultural exchange program to China in collaboration with the Hunan Universities of Humanities, Science & Technology.  On 24th October 2019, I, along with a team of 17 members guided by a mentor, attended the exchange program that took place in a city of Hunan province, called Loudi.

Last year, during the monsoon, I was badly looking for a getaway. I always used to keep an eye on the university’s website, looking for new programs and opportunities (Yes, that’s how I landed in Japan too). There I found this notice of an exchange program sending delegates to China, and straight away without further ado, I just applied.

If I think of the time when I got selected for the program, I can remember how excited I was. I kept imagining how the trip would go, making my own to-do list, watching travel vlogs on Youtube, and so on. However, all the excitement didn’t last too long as soon as the visa processing started. The entire processing was so rigorous that at some point, I had a feeling that this program would not take place due to all the haphazard in the paper processing.

Meanwhile, the trip was shifted to a later date as we couldn’t prepare every necessary document required for obtaining a visa that is solely given to exchange program participants. More days passed, and eventually, with some help of foreign ministry, we managed to get our passports in hand with the long-awaited visa sticker attached to it, that too after visiting the embassy several times. I could keep writing the stories that went behind getting the permits, it would take an entire blog post – but the idea is not to bore you with just frustrations.

Although we were so distressed about the schedule changed to alternative dates, it came as a blessing to us as we were able to book tickets earlier at an economical price (great relief!). Delegates had to bear the airfare and the food costs – better to have foods of your choice while you’re in China; the host university covered the rest of the expenses. Now the wait is for the departure. Our initial destination was Changsha, the capital city of Hunan province. We decided that we’ll fly to Guangzhou first and take a high-speed train directly to Changsha afterward.

As planned, we started our journey on 23rd October, gathered in the airport, and checked in altogether. The moment made me nostalgic as it reminded me of the Japan trip. It more felt like time’s repeating – our parents came all together, we were doing all the check-in formalities while they were talking to each other. Some of them seemed anxious, even though it was all a friendly family meet-up at the airport, something that I enjoyed thoroughly. In every group, you will find someone who will be late all the time, and we were no exception. One of our friends was late as usual, who joined us at the very last moment. 

Time to say goodbye now! We thus bid farewell to all of our parents, completed the immigration, and boarded for the departure. I always enjoy flying a lot, yet this flight was different from others. At the time we were about to board, one of the flight captains came in and told us that we are going to get eight business class seats (got lucky!); credit goes to one of our delegates whose reference came handy in getting those seats. We happily grabbed the opportunity; however, the hospitality wasn’t just limited to offering us premium seats.

The captain called every one of us one by one inside the cockpit and demonstrated us a few of the flight equipment. As someone who is very enthusiastic about aviation, I had a brief friendly chat with the captain. While we were flying over Kunming, he explained to me how planes follow navigation waypoints in the air, how much they depend on the autopilot, how much time it takes to cross the Bangladesh border (15~16 mins).

Usually, it takes around 3.5 hours to reach Guangzhou. Despite that, it didn’t feel tedious at all during the entire flight time as we keep gossiping with the cabin-crews and the other delegates (among them many are my closest friends). Soon we reached the Guangzhou Baiyun International Airport with a fear of facing immigration as we had a different visa type – but yeah, we conquered immigration too. Finally, we made it to China!

If you are a first-timer in China, be very prepared to fight the great firewall. Take photos and instantly post it to Facebook and Instagram? In China, you won’t have that luxury. Most of the social media that people regularly use, like Facebook, Instagram, and all the Google Services, are blocked in China. They have developed their own social media platforms like WeChat, Sina Weibo, and QQ. Nevertheless, you can still use them if you have an excellent working VPN app. I have tried different VPNs and let me assure you that not every VPN will work for you. One of my cousins who live there suggested me to use LadderVPN, which worked pretty fine for me. Regardless of all this, you’ll start loving this country as you begin exploring.

This article is the first part of the China Series, covering people, food, culture, and experiences from the 18 days trip. In the next blog post, I will be sharing the journey from Guangzhou towards Changsha and thereafter.

India Diaries: What persuades me to visit India time and time again?

What do I most like about India? Diversity. India, the seventh-largest country of the world has everything you can imagine, a whole world in a country. You want mountains, you have it. You want deserts, you have it. You want exotic beaches, you have it. You’re more into cultural heritages? There you have it too. India is full of historical places spread out in the entire region.

I’m a mountain lover. I love to lose myself in the calmness of the mountains. The thing I most do when I badly need a getaway is to go out and visit any mountain surrounded places. In the last couple of years, I’ve been to Darjeeling and Sikkim, situated at the foothills of great Himalayas.

Darjeeling

Though Darjeeling nowadays has turned into an over-crowded and a messy place, mostly because it’s cheap to travel, it’ll always have a unique place in my heart as it was the first-ever hill-station I visited. The same goes for Sikkim too. During the wintertime in Sikkim, you’ll know how it feels to be in minus temperature, how it feels to be surrounded in snows.

Sikkim

I went to Sikkim with three of my friends in early January when it was biting cold all around. Gangtok is much cleaner than Darjeeling I must say and there’s plenty to do there. If you want to see the real Sikkim, you’ve to travel to the northern part of this region. North Sikkim offers plenty of greeneries on the way to Lachung as you move towards. Upon arrival in Lachung or Lachen get yourself mesmerized by the breath-taking views of snowcapped mountains. One must visit the Yumthang Valley and Zero Point if the weather permits as it becomes challenging in the wintertime to move vehicles in slippery snow-covered roads. Visiting these places in winter also need some luck, the roads remain closed if there are extreme snowfalls. The roads leading to the Yumthang Valley through snow-covered forests makes you feel like you’re in a place you’re dreaming. On our way to Zero Point, our jeep could climb up to 13,700 feet as the roads beyond were all snow-covered. We stopped the car and got off just to be shaken up in a -15 degree Celsius temperature. There was no one on the road at that time except only four of us. In front of us we could see the mountains and on the other side, the long stretches leading to the valleys.

Kolkata

I’ve been to Kolkata famously called “The City of Joy” for around 4-5 times. Being a Bengali I always feel a connection there as we speak the same language. It’s roughly 80 kilometers away from my hometown Jessore and that’s why traveling to Kolkata has never been a big deal for me. What I most like about Kolkata is their colonial architectures depicting the massive impact of British ruling in this region. Victoria Memorial, nothing much to say about this place. If you’re in Kolkata for sightseeing, it’s a must-visit spot. To spend your evening in a chill and calm place, head towards Prinsep Ghat, situated along the bank of Hooghly River. Now it’s time for taking a sip of coffee along with some samosa, and obviously for some adda, we went straight to the famous College Street Coffee House. They’ve preserved the environment like the old days and you’ll get that vibe too when you’re there. Lastly, don’t forget to try out the street foods, they’re simply amazing and delicious.

That’s pretty much sums up my overall experience in India. I’m looking forward to visiting Ladakh, Kashmir, Shimla and Manali in the future. They all are in my bucket list. Again, I would like to clarify that this is not some kind of guide or anything. I’ve just shared my experiences and moments that I enjoyed while I was there. If you need any sort of help regarding itineraries, feel free to give me a text, email or phone call.

Soon, I'll be writing about my trip to China.

Japan Diaries: 7 Takeaways from Japan Trip

After launching my own personal blog, I’ve been very skeptical about what I should start writing. What to begin with, what topics I should pick first and most importantly setting the tone of my blogs. One thing I was pretty sure, it would have definitely related to some of my trips I’ve been to by now. 

Yesterday we had a get-together with all of the Japan exchange program members in honor of Professor Dr. Koichi Fujita from Kyoto University, Japan who is currently now in Bangladesh for official work. Heartfelt gratitude towards our mentor Taufiqul Islam Mithil Sir for inviting us there. While having my lunch that’s when I realized it’s going to be a year of this amazing trip. Instantly, it got me nostalgic and emotional at the same time, sharing the table with these same people just before it’s almost about to be a year. I went back home carrying all the emotion and fall asleep. It’s 3 AM and I just woke up suddenly, constantly having the flashbacks, tried to sleep again though it didn’t work out. Then I thought why not put all these overflowing emotions in words. There I go start writing about the 7 takeaways from Japan trip.

The People- Polite, Kind, Humble

If anything that strikes my mind first is their people with high morals, values, and ethics. Before going there, I used to know that Japan is a polite nation, people are very friendly and helpful. Having said that, trust me, until you meet them, you won’t truly understand that these people are more than that. I feel so privileged to stay 15 days among these amazing human beings. From visiting so many different places to having lunch together, I’ve learned a great deal from them. You can’t stop talking about their humbleness and the generosity once you experience them. 

The initiator of the exchange program who sponsored 9 of the students, helped us achieve something that many of us once dreamed it to happen in a distant future. Mr. Yoshy Iwaki sensei, a man of honor. He was with us constantly throughout the trip, driving us to places, cooking food for us, taking care of small things. All he did by himself. Imagine, a man of this stature accompanying you the entire time. 

Sugioka san, a person of our father’s age, never left any stone unturned to make us feel comfortable in a place so far away from home. All of us had to do our own household chores and we could never stop him from helping us. 

Generally, people are hard-working, energetic, can literally walk miles and miles regardless of their age. People are very welcoming, they always put a smile on their face. Though I find them quite shy, they’re kind, formal and very respectful as well. Bowing down to each other is their way of greetings. If you go to a shop to buy something, you can see how politely the cashier will give you the change, obviously with Arigato Gozaimasu.

Disciplined Life is a Key

Japanese people are extremely disciplined. This quality has been instilled in them from early school days and hoikuens play a great role in this. Hoikuens are like daycares where busy parents send their little children due to their heavy work schedule. Such a hoikuen was Minori Nursery School where we got the opportunity to go and visit. The children there were so playful yet very disciplined. They do maintain strict routines and actively involved in creative games and projects. It was amazing to see those wonderful little kids doing different creative tasks. I’ll write another article just on this school visit experience. There is no chaos in train or bus stations as people always maintain a queue and wait for their respective bus or train. Here’s an interesting thing, people in Japan always tend to maintain a single sideline while standing in escalators so that the people who are in extreme rush can use the other side to go quickly. If you go to someone’s house and put off your shoes, you must have to keep them in a proper way together. You just can’t randomly put it off and place anywhere. It’s a primary custom to keep the chair inside the table always.

Time is Quality. Time is Money.

Japanese are best known for their punctuality. This is one of the core reasons for today’s success. Like you’ve heard, trains never miss to come on time and rightly so. We mostly used to travel around on shinkansen aka the bullet train and express trains. And they were never late. Time is money for them as their primary tendency is to focus more on their works. They even have their own techniques and technologies to cook faster, unlike us they don’t prefer to waste time on cooking stuff. If they say they’ll pick up us at 8 o’clock, it’ll definitely be 8 o’clock. And yes, we’re habituated Bengalis, most of the time we made them wait for us. We used to wake up late, gave more time on getting dressed and all. Japan has set an example of how you can utilize the time properly in life and become successful.

People are Extremely Cultural

You can’t stop talking about Japanese culture once you start. Japanese are worldwide famous for their rich cultures, customs, and traditions. Luckily, we got to experience some of their cultures and customs very closely. What strikes me the most is that they have these state-of-the-art museums all over Japan to showcase their history. I saw people coming from different countries crying in the Hiroshima museum while looking at the historical documents and artifacts. Every one of us got emotional while in the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum. We had been to tea festival, learned how to make tea and then drink it. You need to sit on your laps, pick up the bowl, twirl it and then take a sip. Onsen aka hot springs are very popular in Japan and considered as a tradition, people enjoy this a lot. Before entering into an onsen, one must have to clean themselves first. No swimsuit is allowed there. However, you can take a small piece of cloth with you.

And not to forget about the Samurai. In Japan, there are so many Samurai castles you can visit and see how they used to live and guard. When we checked in to Hotel Gyokusen in Matsue, the opportunity came to wear the traditional Japanese Yukata. Among many other notable things, Torii gate is something you’ll see a lot if you travel around places in Japan. Unlike the rest of the world, Japenese have a different bedding system. They use futons- a couch mattress laid out on the floor and it’s a custom to fold it back when you’re not using it.

Walk With You to Your Destination

Would you accompany a lost person until the person finds their destination? Well, in Japan, if you ask someone for directions they’ll happily accompany you to your destination without getting bothered at all. Once we were searching for a gadget shop in Shiga and so we asked a traffic surgent the direction. He could’ve just given us the directions but didn’t hesitate to go the extra mile for us as he accompanied us until we reach near the shops.

Hard to Find Dirt

Japan is extremely clean. You can literally sit anywhere without any hesitation. They look after their cities very well. One thing I liked very much that they’ve different garbage bags for different materials. Bottles are always destroyed and then dumped into the garbage. Hardly you find dirt anywhere as they keep their roads clean, their neighborhoods clean. You can’t imagine the precision of their cleanliness, it’s that clean.

The Standing Ovation

The day 8 was a big day for everyone of us as we were supposed to attend a dinner party organized by Otsu Rotary Club in honor of us. As to represent our country, all the males wore Punjabi and the females wore Saree. In that room there were many renowned businessmen of Shiga as well as people of higher stature. Upon arriving there, they all gave us a standing ovation as we were entering the room. All of us were greatly moved by this gesture. At that point I was thinking do we even deserve this? Can you imagine this happening in our country? I think not. It’s their way of showing respect to the guests. No matter how big you’re, stay to the ground. A great lesson learned.

Those 15 days in Japan has helped me in broadening my perspectives. During my bachelor's, by the grace of Almighty, I’ve got so many opportunities and also lost some as well. Japan came to my life as a kind of a jackpot. It’s been a year now. Whenever I reminisce the memories, it always gives me good vibes. Japan has been etched into my heart. I really wish to go there again. When I’m about to publish it, last year at this very time we all were at the airport and we were in doubt about our flight whether we can depart or not. That’s another story, I’ll tell another day. 

Matane.

First Post- Launching My Very Own Personal Website

I’ve been thinking about launching my very own personal website for quite a long time. Due to study and other work pressures it was just an idea until today. It feels really amazing to have a website of your own where you can raise your voice in a more private space. The idea was to create a resume sort of website and a blog along with it to share my thoughts and experiences.

I’m planning to write about my previous travel experiences, different stuffs that I really enjoy such as technology, aviation, photography, foods and literally anything pops up in my mind. I’ll try to publish the travel diaries in parts which you might want to look forward.

Lastly, a huge thanks to my friend Saif Hassan, Co-Founder of BossHostBD for sponsoring the hosting.

Any feedback is appreciated.