Home   |  Issues  |  The Daily Star Home   |  Volume 6, Issue 36, Tuesday, September 13, 2011


I is for I am She

My eleven-year-old daughter and I are watching television when we see a promo for a beauty contest. The title of the show: “I am She”. Cue shots of perfectly beautiful, tall women. Same walk, same tone, same smile. Their expressions are so photogenic that one marvels at how they keep the strain of the effort from showing on their faces. There is nothing natural about them.

My daughter turns to me and asks: “What does that mean? Who is this 'she'? Am I supposed to want to be like them?”

Trust a child to wipe an adult's jaded lenses clear!

She makes a good point. Why a title of “I am She”? Granted, I'm a total words geek and can spend an unhealthy amount of time marveling at a clever turn of phrase; but seriously, what are these organizers trying to tell us?

The cynical side of me decides that, since none of them have any particularly distinctive personality, perhaps all of them together qualify as a real woman. They can't possibly be implying that the winner of this competition is someone my daughter should aspire to be! Could they?? “SHE”…an end result of some sort of Holy Quest?? Pshaww! Preposterous notion, I snortle.

It's 2011 after all. If there is a “She” to aspire to, I can think of many better examples, right here in our daily life, that I'd rather have my daughter 'model' her life around.

'I am She who was abandoned by her husband when I was five months pregnant. Who raised her son in the kitchen verandah of a house where I worked as a maid for two decades. I breastfed him in between my clothes washing and floor sweeping. I put him through school and technical college. I bought him pants and shirts so he would not feel less than anyone else in the classroom. I got into debt for three years to buy him a ticket and send him to the Middle East as a car technician. I am She whose son repaid the loan within a year of going abroad. I am She who no longer needs to work but chooses to work because I don't want to be dependent on anyone, not even my own son. I am She who wears a gold chain around my neck as I walk to work every day at dawn. A gold chain I bought with my own money for my own self because I wanted to.'

'I am She who didn't want other people's pity because I was born deformed. I have the stunted body of a little girl, not destined to grow beyond four feet in height; but my courage made me larger than life. Then one day, a kind foreigner gave me a job as a salesgirl in her handicrafts shop. After I saved enough money I bought myself a second-hand cycle to ride to work every day. I pass rickshaw-pullers and pedestrians, aware of their jeers or leers but I pedal on. I am She who is not defined by the smallness of her limbs. I choose to be defined by the enormity of my ambition. I'm doing all the account keeping of the shop now. I can communicate in English. The village midwife had told my mother I wouldn't live beyond six years. I'm going to be twenty-seven years old next month.'

'I am She who has been married for forty years to my best friend. I have two grown-up children, a successful career and a wonderful circle of friends. I go to the market every Friday and stand my ground in the kingdom of men to buy the freshest fish in the market. I don't argue loudly like they do. I don't jingle the pockets of my kurta aggressively to signal to the fishmonger how much money I have. How can I? I'm wearing a sari! But here's the thing…the fishmonger waits for me to get to his counter and then takes out the lovely fresh carp he had been saving for me. It's larger than what I used to buy when I first started going to him fifteen years ago. Because he knows my family of four has now become an extended family of ten, complete with grandchildren. I am She who knows the fishmonger's name. She who helped his daughter get a job in a garments factory. I am She who understands people aren't pronouns.'

There are so many lessons to be learnt from the women around us if only we take the time to listen. Lessons of courage, beauty, strength, resilience. Switching off the television, I tell my daughter: “Forget this rubbish. Let's go visit your grandmother.”

By Munize Manzur


Mainland China

People returning from Kolkata, especially food enthusiasts, often have great things to say about the city. As far as Chinese cuisine goes, the name Mainland China is never far off when talking of Kolkata's specialties. So when Mainland China decided to extend its reach further east to our city over a year ago, it was cause for much excitement for those who knew of its fine reputation. And they came in grand style, situating their restaurant on the top floor of the Siaam Tower, near Jasimuddin Road in Uttara. What's more, the place is complete with a 360 degree panoramic view of Dhaka with a revolving floor enabling diners to take a full trip around over the course of their meal.

Diners initially, during the early period of Mainland China's venture in our city, expressed some reservations about the service there, and we quickly attributed that to the teething problems that accompany any new venture. Now that they have had time to settle into their 14th floor home in Dhaka, Star Lifestyle this week decided to try out this famous brand. Read on for our review.

Ambience and decor
The ambience at this place cannot be faulted. You step out of the lift and you are greeted by soft instrumental music and a delicious smell that will make you all the more anxious to start eating. Whether it is day or night, the place is brightly lit, something that we feel is essential to a good experience, despite what many restaurateurs in Dhaka who advocate dim lighting think.

The whole restaurant is circular and the seating arrangements extend from its centre in multiple distinct, concentric layers. The first layer, closest to the centre is a raised platform that has ornate seating arrangements. This is closed off by ornamental sheets of perforated brass hanging from the ceiling. The next layer is the revolving floor which is the most populated of the three layers in terms of tables, which it should be as the revolving idea is a novel one in Dhaka.

In all, the ambience and décor of the restaurant exudes an elegance that is essential to any fine dining experience.

We sincerely hope that the good folk at Mainland China forgive us for so saying, but this is a weak point in their establishment. It is no secret that service standards in our country are poor, but that is why we expect more from foreign franchises.

We feel that we must preface any criticism with the admission that we arrived at the last minute, just before the kitchen was supposed to close. But with that it should also be said that a restaurant that takes a healthy bite out of your wallet must have a uniform excellence in service, be it at the end of the waiters' shift or the start.

Service at an eatery must make patrons feel welcome and the servers must do everything possible to please their clientele. It is not that Mainland China's service is terrible; it is just that it does not have much to distinguish it from other eateries around town. With their fantastic ambience, one would expect service to match but we were slightly disappointed at the lack of smiles from waiters, which may seem trivial on the surface but is integral to an overall pleasant experience.

Diners pay good money to eat at these places, and no effort should be spared to make them feel that they can relax, take their time with their order, ask the waiter anything and be given a good answer -- generally be made to feel at home.

We did not seem to get that at Mainland China. Summoning a waiter when you want a refill of water should be a simple exercise, but during our meal we were often met with blank stares from waiters who seemed to be too busy with another table. The impression we came away with was not that of a well-oiled service. A specific complaint -- not sure whether this should be in the food section or the service section -- would be that there was no ice for our drinks, and for dessert we got melted ice cream.

Again, we understand we were late and maybe it's not always thus, but the thing about uniformity of excellence, we feel, should still apply.

Because it is not possible to write a comprehensive review of a restaurant's cuisine from just one meal, we will focus on what we had and readers can extrapolate as they choose.

A pleasant aspect of sitting down at a table in Mainland China is that no sooner are you sat, there is a complimentary cup of green tea in front of you. It is a refreshing start to the dining experience.

While we waited for the soups to arrive, we enjoyed the Steamed Chicken Wontons, which we all thought were more than satisfactory. The soups were similarly good, the Hot and Sour one proving to be a hit. It had just the right amount of spice, and unlike in a lot of other places that serve this kind of soup, it was not too runny.

Now to the main course -- let us just say that the Stir-fried Lamb with Cumin and Leeks was simply outstanding. It is a must-have, and we were all left wanting more. It came in one of those hot sizzling wooden trays, and the crackling sound only helped to whet the appetite. Rich in flavour and just a little spicy, it is one item this reviewer will go back to Mainland China for.

The other items -- the Kungpao Chicken, Sliced Fish with Spicy Black Beans -- were all good, but not anything to rave about. Maybe they were just dwarfed by the marvellous lamb dish. Or, maybe the dessert, which we have already mentioned, threw a damp towel over the experience and coloured our impression accordingly. A bit more on that, the Hot Chocolate Rolls with Caramel Sauce certainly looked enticing on paper, but proved to be a major disappointment in reality as we felt we needed steak knives to cut through them, so rubbery were they.

Value for money
The 'value for money' aspect of a place is tied to all the sections we talked about till now. While we feel that the food is of a higher-than-average quality and the ambience excellent, the service left much to be desired. And the dessert, we are sorry to say again, was just not up to scratch.

So, while Mainland China is and will remain a popular dining destination for the city's foodies, we feel that, considering their status as a foreign franchise and their prime location, there is still a lot they can do to go even higher in diners' estimations.

Our rating: 3.5/5 (it would have been 3, but since we reached there late we decided to give them the benefit of doubt, thinking that the service might be better at other hours).



The hunt for running shoes

It was in the shower, one fine morning, that I noticed my pouting belly. A man's wisdom is at times measured by his waistline and in this case, we shouldn't get carried away by appearing too wise. Hence dawned on me the idea of starting to jog. Track-suits were easy to come by, but the dilemma was the running shoes. How hard could it possibly be to procure an affordable pair of running shoes in the sprawling metropolis that is Dhaka City? Extremely hard, apparently.

Someone suggested Elephant Road while someone else spoke of the bargains available at Farm Gate. As the latter was more convenient, the hunt for running shoes in Farm Gate began. At this point anyone would probably be thinking that finding a decent pair of running shoes should be simple and the person will be forgiven for thinking it would be a walk in the park. Well, it isn't. Finding shoes in Farm Gate challenges every strength we possess, from our already deteriorating physical fitness to our unpolished bargaining skills.

Before you get to Farm Gate, you need to manoeuvre around the numerous cars, tempos and buses. Thinking of just taking the side-walk? I dare you to find one. Side-walks are just a synonym for makeshift stalls in Farm Gate. Also, there are dozens of gaping fools who crowd around the mystery men who sell things on their vans which guarantee curing everything from dental problems to cancer. These men on the vans are impeccable salesmen who always grab the attention of the lesser informed class found in abundance. A cinema hall and a university of sorts are tossed into the melee for good measure. Walking through all that requires practice and is more strenuous than imaginable. But, with great effort and determination, I managed to locate the shoe stalls. There were many of them and they all had a good collection indeed. Or so I thought.

The newly polished shoes stolen from mosques and retrieved off the 'rejected' sections garner a lot of customers. After barging my way in, I began to peruse the collection. No running shoes. Going to more stalls didn't result in success. Hoards of fake Gucci, Armani and Converse pleadingly looked up to me, but I still found no shoes to wear when going for a run. To be fair, there were one or two, but there's a certain rule in Farm Gate; No Sizes Available Except For the One That Kills Your Feet Slowly Everyday with Every Step. Amputation wasn't what I was interested in, really.

There was Bata of course, but when a man knows his newfound hobby will never sustain, the willingness to splurge diminishes. You may think Bata is a treasure trove of cheap shoes, but you are wrong. Remember the white sneakers made of cloth we used to wear during our Games class? They are extinct. Remember the running shoes that cost less than a 1000 taka? No you don't, because apparently they never existed. And just when I was about to give up all hope my eyes fell on the most beautifully priced pair of walking shoes. 590 taka, it said. Sure they were for diabetes patients who liked to walk, but they would last a year of jogging for sure. Yes they would and so I paid for them and took my brand new walking/running shoes homes. I could already feel my belly flatten.

The running shoes lasted all of two weeks. Next time, I want to stay in shape, I'll pick circle.

By Broke


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