Archive for November, 2009

New Additions

Sunday, November 1st, 2009

I’ve posted lots of new things today. Not exactly in any sensible order. But in my opinion the Sigiriya post is the one to read even though I think it has fallen off the bottom of the page. But if you go through the November archive you’ll see all of today’s posts. Plus the October archive gives you the next most recent batch.



Sunday, November 1st, 2009

It’s been a while since I’ve been told that people who do not have children are selfish and I’ve started thinking about this again recently. I’ve been asked a lot about why I don’t have children. This is a culture where family is so important and where any woman over 25 who is unmarried and doesn’t have children is seen as something unnatural.

So I’ve been thinking about not having children. In particular I’ve been thinking about a conversation I had with some people in Cambridge late last year. Most of the people there were either parents or hopeful parents-to-be. They found it very strange to discover someone (actually there were two of us) who identified as non-procreators.

They seemed horrified by the thought that it was possible for women to choose not to give birth. But you have to give birth if you want a child of your own! I hadn’t realised that a fundamental defining characteristic of all women was that they wanted to have their own children. Another item on the list of reasons why Kath isn’t really a woman.

But they seemed to think that being a parent was the greatest thing ever and that people who weren’t parents were selfish (because they’d prefer to go on lots of skiing holidays than to have children). I was a bit taken aback by the whole conversation and found it difficult to marshal my thoughts appropriately at the time.

I think part of the problem is that they don’t know why I don’t want children. This is because they didn’t ask, they just assumed and is also because I didn’t tell them.

There are a few reasons why I don’t want children. But the first and main one is that I don’t think you should need to have a reason to not want children, I think you should have a reason for wanting them.

And I just don’t want them.

I think they thought that I don’t want children because they are too expensive. This is only partially true. I’m very glad to not have to spend money on children. But if I wanted children then I’d find the money for them. They don’t need a lot of money, but they definitely do need some. And at the moment I’m not prepared to make the sacrifices I’d need to make in order to have enough money for children.

I think they thought I don’t want children because I want to be able to go on holidays whenever I want. Again, this is only partially true. And is the same argument as the money one. I value my freedom and independence (I don’t think there’s anything selfish in that). If I wanted children I would gladly give up my freedom and independence for them.

Perhaps part of the problem is that I am very aware of the fact that children do cost money and take time and emotional energy and take over your life. This is all fine. If that’s what you want. And it isn’t what I want. What scares me is the number of new parents I’ve spoken to who seemed surprised about these things. I didn’t think it was a secret.

I think they thought I don’t want children because I don’t value the role of a parent. And quite the opposite is true. I think that it is the most important thing that anyone in our society can do. And to be perfectly honest I don’t think I’d be good enough at it. It is patently clear that not all people are good parents. Some are excellent, some very good, some good, some are adequate, some are terrible. I think I’d probably be somewhere between adequate and good. And in my opinion that’s not good enough. Being a parent is far too important a job to leave it to just anyone, even if their heart is in the right place. I work as a teacher. I spend a lot of my time ruing the fact that many of my students have parents who are not good enough at being parents. I will not join those ranks purely so I can avoid being ‘selfish’.

Then there is the not insignificant issue of not having anyone that I want to have children with who wants to have children with me. And this is a partnership that needs to last for a very long time and needs to be an incredibly positive thing. Any negativity in that relationship will impact upon the children. So if I’m going to have children, I want to have children with the right person.

I’ve had lots of people here in Sri Lanka talk to me about children too. They seem to have two reasons for having children. The first is the continuation of the genes. If I don’t have children I will not leave a legacy for the future. I find this slightly strange when I hear it from Buddhists who believe in reincarnation. Someone asked who will remember me when I’m dead. I said I’d be dead, I wouldn’t care. But that I hope I will make a difference to a lot of people (without having to give birth to any of them) and that they would remember me. But again, I’ll be dead. I won’t care.

The second reason for having children is to have someone to look after me in my old age. I have several responses to this. One is I might die before I get there. The second is that having children just so they will look after me in future doesn’t sound very nice. I wouldn’t want my children to be created for the sole purpose of spending their lives playing nursemaid to me. I would want them to have their own lives. (Call me selfish if you will.) The third is that the amount of money I would have to spend on children (food, clothing, medical, education, etc) could fund a full-time fully qualified nursing staff for several years (if I were to set that money aside and save it for such a purpose).

I also don’t think I’ve mentioned yet the fact that the earth is becoming increasingly overpopulated. Bringing more children into the world is not the most environmentally friendly option. Added to that, there are a lot of children in the world who are unloved and unwanted. If I really wanted children I could adopt some of them rather than having some of my own.

So call me selfish if you will, but I think that not having children of my own at this stage in my life is the right thing for me.


Sunday, November 1st, 2009

I’ve probably ranted about this before. Or at least mentioned it in passing.

I’m absolutely gasping for a decent cup of tea.

By which I mean strong black tea. With a small amount of fresh (cold) milk.

Now that I have a water heater and plastic jug I can make tea in my room but it does involve powdered milk. Which is a close approximation to real milk but just isn’t the same.

There are some places where you can buy tea and it comes in a teapot with a small jug of milk and a bowl of sugar. This is good. However, the milk is invariably warm since it’s been made from powdered milk (well, I think that’s why it’s warm).

I’ve found that asking for tea with no sugar (when I get a chance to submit a preference) is a very good idea. It might mean I’ll have some teeth left when I get back to the UK. Though I suspect much of the milk powder is sweetened. So plain tea (the one with no milk) without sugar tends to be the best bet. And is especially nice if it has ginger. 🙂


Sunday, November 1st, 2009

Sri Lanka is a culture where respect is very important. When and where you sit, when you stand, who you talk to, how you address them etc.

One area where respect seems not to have caught on is speeches.

I have always been brought up to be quiet when someone is giving a speech (even if it is incredibly boring). One, it means the rest of the audience can hear it and two, it shows the person who is speaking that you respect them enough not to interrupt or distract. And so when I am here and I am listening to speeches I sit quietly. Even if the speech is in a language I don’t understand.

Most Sri Lankans however, don’t. There was one CCPSD Literary Association where I had to say shhhhh 8 times (in 1 hour). I was especially perplexed that I had to do it twice during the speech that one of the Buddhist monks gave on good manners.

There was also a time when students were giving group presentations. These were assessed. Members of the judging panel were talking to other members of staff while the speeches were going on. At one stage two of the three judges had left the room to answer phone calls and the third had her back to the presenter and was talking to her colleagues.

Another interesting aspect of Sri Lankan culture to add to the list. 🙂

Rock Temples

Sunday, November 1st, 2009

There are a lot of reasons why I like Sri Lanka. It turns out that Buddhist temples are one of these reasons. Or rather Buddhist rock temples. Or rather the fact that there are Buddhist temples that are built under, on or near rocks on the tops of hills. This means that when you visit the temple you get to visit the top of the rock.

So actually, it’s not the temple I’m interested in (though some are very interesting) but it’s the fact that they provide valuable infrastructure for reaching the tops of rocks and getting wonderful views of this amazing country.


River Bathing

Sunday, November 1st, 2009

I’ve discovered new and interesting ways of cleaning myself since I’ve been in Sri Lanka. I haven’t seen a bathtub here and many places I’ve stayed in haven’t had a shower. I’ve nearly got the hang of using a bucket of boiling water, a cold shower and a jug to wash myself without freezing or scalding myself. I’ve nearly got the hang of wearing a cheetiya while washing myself – for those times when I’m outside and washing either under a shower or with water from a bucket, tap or tank.

And then there’s washing in a river. Which I haven’t quite got the hang of yet. It’s kind of like swimming in a river. But it involves soap. Or rather swimming and splashing and playing first and then soap. I haven’t figured out what to wear for this process. I do have a swimsuit with me and even though it is a one piece suit that is very modest, I would now feel obscenely naked wearing it here in Sri Lanka. Plus the equitorial sun reflecting off my white legs is enough to blind anyone within a three mile radius.

I’m not sufficiently adept at wearing a cheetiya to be able to wear one while playing in the water. They tend to come undone and almost fall down quite a lot, even when standing perfectly still. I don’t think wearing one in a river would really work for me. I have bathed in rivers wearing a t-shirt and underwear. But that also felt obscene. So I have settled (I think) on borrowing shorts from someone and wearing underwear and a t-shirt. Which makes me feel sufficiently clothed which is nice. But it does make washing myself more difficult. There are times when some parts of my body really require contact with soap and clean water. Think cycling three and a half hours in 30 degree heat and you’ll start to get an idea. But this is hard to manage when you are wearing underpants, a bra, a t-shirt and shorts. And river water isn’t always clean. I mean, it’s clean but it’s clean with twigs and leaves (and fish) in it. And if a small child has been splashing just up river of you then all the sand and muck from the bottom now swirls through the once clean water.

So I find it hard to get to a position where I feel sufficiently clean. And then I’ve got to climb back onto the river bank and get dried and dressed (which certainly involves my feet getting quite dirty quite quickly). But getting out of a full set of wet clothing and into a full set of dry clothing in public with a towel is quite tricky.

I can change from one set of clothing into another set without exposing any skin. But trying to get out of wet clothes and then get dried and then get into dry clothes without exposing any skin is much more difficult. Especially if you actually want the dry clothes to remain dry on contact with your skin. For those of you who have cycled long distances in the heat you will know just how crucial it is that certain bits of you are not just clean but most importantly are dry!

Now I love bathing in rivers. Or rather, I love swimming in rivers. Or just being in the river enjoying the water and the trees and the sun and the blue sky and the peace and the beauty. (And the occasional splashing competition.)

But I think that when it comes to actually washing myself (with soap to remove dirt, sweat, suncream, dust etc) that an enclosed space where I can remove all layers of fabric, get washed, get rinsed and get completely dry before dressing is the way I’d prefer to go.

Though the river option is certainly more picturesque and is great fun!

Leaving Now

Sunday, November 1st, 2009

The phrase “we’re leaving now” seems to mean one of two things in Sri Lanka.

It might mean we’re leaving right now. No time to say goodbye, no time to do up your shoelaces, that is the bus, quick, run!

Or it might mean we’re leaving in 20 mins (or 2 hours, or in fact, never). So you get your shoes on and your bag packed and wait by the door only to discover that everyone else has now gone for baths, or breakfast, or phone calls, or to watch television, or are sweeping or something.

The difficulty is that it seems impossible to tell the difference between these two meanings.

Another part of the joy of Sri Lankan life. 🙂

Freaky Hotel Guy

Sunday, November 1st, 2009

I have done quite a bit of travelling on my own over here. To some extent it is because I like it. To some extent it is because I have no other choice. If I want to see places (or go cycling) and there isn’t anyone around who fancies (or can) come with me, then I have to go on my own (or stay home and miss lots of exciting places).

And apart from getting hassled by guides, tuk tuk drivers and souvenir sellers, I haven’t really had any problems while travelling on my own.

But then there was the night in Watawala. I didn’t really have any problems. But there was a fairly freaky guy in the guest house who was freaking me out quite a bit.

At first the place seemed lovely. The elderly couple who ran it were lovely. It was nice and clean and bright and welcoming and lovely.

And then a Sri Lankan guy (maybe in his 30s) appeared. I don’t know if he was their son or a paying guest or a cousin/brother/nephew/relation person or who he was. But he was trying to whisper something to me without the couple hearing. Now since he didn’t speak English and I didn’t speak Sinhala this wasn’t very successful. I eventually realised that he was trying to tell me that the next room along was his room.

Ok. Fair enough. Not sure quite what the point of telling me that was. But ah well. People tell me lots of things that I don’t really need to know, why not this guy.

But the looks he kept giving me were starting to make me feel uncomfortable. He was leering at me. (Attention all of my students: do you remember leering? The wolf did it when he was thinking about Little Red Riding Hood. The unpleasant smile that men sometimes do to women that makes them want to run away? Well, that’s what this guy was doing to me.)

And then after dinner he went into his room and stood in the doorway trying to get my attention. I ignored him. I may have been born in Australia but I’m really rather British sometimes. And one thing that we Brits are good at is staunchly ignoring things we find distasteful. Maybe that could be our demonstration sport at the 2012 Olympics. So I staunchly ignored. And then fled to my room as soon as I could.

My room had a bolt on the inside of the door. Which I felt very grateful for. Especially when I heard him tapping on the wall! More ignoring!

I don’t actually think he would have done anything to me. I don’t think I was in any real danger. But I did feel mighty uncomfortable that this freaky Sri Lankan man was so keen for me to know where his bedroom was. And there was the leering!

Anyway, the night passed without incident. More leering in the morning during the speedy minute or two while I drank my tea and got myself ready to go out.

Back on the bike and away from the freaky guy. Yay!

So not a problem as such. Just an unpleasant (and slightly scary) experience.

The Price for Foreigners

Sunday, November 1st, 2009

The Price for Foreigners

In many places in Sri Lanka there are two prices. One for locals and one for foreigners.

In some cases it is unofficial. How my I pay for a tuk tuk or vegetables or clothing etc can change depending on if I am on my own, if I ask the price in Sinhala, if there is a Sri Lankan with me, if I give my order and my money to a Sri Lankan and hide round the corner waiting for the transaction to be completed or if I bargain.

I bargain sometimes with tuk tuk drivers (Kandy to Panadeniya 600Rs, 500Rs, 400Rs or 300Rs – I think 400s or 500Rs is about right). But I never bargain elsewhere. When I was staying with Pushpa and Bandara I had to buy a sari underskirt. Bandara bargained them down from 175Rs to 150. Depending on the exchange rate 175Rs is just under or just over a pound. His bargaining saved me less than 20p. I get no satisfaction from bargaining a Sri Lankan worker out of 20p. I got charged 130Rs for an electrical adapter that should have cost me 70Rs. In the UK it would be at least a couple of pounds, if not more. Even if people here charge me twice the going rate, it still usually works out at less than half what I’d pay in the UK.

Sometimes it is official. The entrance fee for the Peradeniya Botanic Gardens is 30Rs for locals and 600Rs for tourists.

Sometimes, my residence visa gets me the local rate. Like at Peradeniya. Sometimes it doesn’t. Like Sigiriya (2750Rs vs 50Rs), Dambulla (1150Rs – not sure what the local price is), Mihintale (500Rs vs 0Rs).

Now I have very, very mixed feelings about all of this.

Reasons Why I Support It

  • 500Rs is a lot of money in Sri Lanka but GBP3.50 isn’t much money in Britain.
  • I earnt my money in pounds.
  • Generally most foreigners have more disposable income than most Sri Lankans.
  • Many of the tourist sites require upkeep and someone has to pay for that, why not the tourists.
  • One of the reasons why I am here is to help support this economy – that means spending lots of the money that I earnt in the UK.
  • The price they charge me is still a bargain and I’m very happy to pay it, why should I care whether other people pay more or less than I pay.

Reasons Why I Oppose It

  • Some foreigners have less disposable income than some Sri Lankans.
  • It isn’t a price for foreigners, it is often a price for people with white skin, regardless of where you are from. If you look Sri Lankan you’ll get the local rate, if you look foreign you’ll get the pricey rate.
  • I think in some cases they would make more money if they had a fixed price for everyone (for example Mihintale: 10Rs each regardless of nationality would probably net more money for the monks than 500Rs from the white people and nothing from the others).
  • It makes me feel like I’m being exploited and ripped off – it’s not the amount of money I object to – it’s being exploited or ripped off.
  • The cost of living in the UK is about 5 times higher than here, salaries are about 10 times higher, but some of these prices are 20 or 55 times higher for foreigners.
  • If I have to pay the tourist centres (mostly run by the Buddhist monks) a lot of money then that’s less money that I have to spend at the small shops on the sides of the roads here that sell me drinks and food and other bits and pieces and that are run by sometimes quite poor Sri Lankan families.

So those are some of the many things that going running through my head when I get overcharged here. And they are some of the things that I think and try to explain to the locals here when they get upset at me being overcharged for things.

But regardless of whether I am overcharged or not, I have enough money to last me until January when I head back to the UK. Which is very, very nice. And means I have another two months to try to train myself to not feel bad/ripped off/annoyed when I get charged a ridiculously inflated price for something.

Eating for Others

Sunday, November 1st, 2009

I used to eat food because I was hungry or because I fancied something tasty. And sometimes because I was bored. But in all these cases I ate because of me.

Now, in Sri Lanka I spend most of my time eating for other people. I eat when other people want me to eat. I eat what they want me to eat (even if it is fish or the horrible brown stuff in a leaf (halibutiya or something)). I then eat more because they want me to eat more. If I don’t try some of everything that is offered I get asked why. I eat seconds because I know they will be upset if I don’t. I’ve had people look completely devastated when I’ve said I don’t want any more food. (I was really full, the food was really tasty). “It’s just not tasty, I will do better next time, I’m sorry.” Aahhhh!!! No!!! It is tasty!! It’s just there is only so much food I can eat. Even if it is lovely!!!