Archive for December, 2010

Christmas In Sri Lanka

Friday, December 24th, 2010

Sri Lanka is not a Christian country. It is a predominantly Buddhist country. There are some Christians living here but they are a definite minority.

So Christmas in Sri Lanka should probably be a bit like Ramadan in the UK, or Deepawali, or Passover, or any other minority religious festival.

Well, it would be if Christmas was a religious festival. Which it really isn’t. Even in the UK it isn’t. People may pretend that it is, but for most people who celebrate it, the religious aspect is nominal if it even exists.

Christmas in the UK is, at best, a time to spend with people you care about. At worst, it’s a glorification of consumerism, materialism and greed. Snow. Santa Claus. Presents. Christmas Trees. Tinsel. Stars. Christmas Carols. These are the icons of Christmas. And the star is the only one that is remotely Christian (not exclusively Christian of course, but at least there is a star mentioned in the bible Christmas stories).

Anyway, my point is not to cane Christmas (pun intended). Though I certainly can if anyone wants to hear my rather Scrooge-like opinions on the subject. My point is that what Christmas actually represents is non-religious, and therefore is far more widespread than being celebrated exclusively by Christian communities.

In Sri Lanka, the news has had this ridiculous light snowfall effect over it for the past couple of weeks. Anchor women in saris with snowflakes falling in front of their faces – just bizarre. I’ve seen Christmas trees (real pine-type trees and fake plastic things). I’ve seen Christmas decorations – tinsel, streamers, etc. I’ve even seen a Sri Lankan guy outside a shoe shop dressed as Santa with a Santa face mask dancing on the street (in an attempt, I think, to lure people into the shop – though it is perfectly possible he was being paid by a competitor to scare customers away). There has been Christmas music on the radio (I am so sick of Mary’s Boy Child). There are Christmas-related ads on tv.

And yet, when I ask people here if they celebrate Christmas they all turn to me like I’ve just asked them if they sacrifice goats and say “No! We’re Buddhists!” with some indignation. I wish I could muster the same indignation when they ask me what I’m doing for Christmas. I may be white, but I’m not Christian. And I object to pointless materialism almost as much as I object to religion, so I don’t celebrate Christmas for those reasons either. For me, Christmas is, if anything, a good excuse to spend time with wonderful people and to eat wonderful food. And the messages of love and joy and friendship etc that are spread at this time of year are things I do agree with. I just think they shouldn’t be scheduled into the calendar for one day per year.

My plans this year were to climb Sri Pada (I wasn’t doing that for Christmas, it was just that the 25th and 26th were the best dates). But that has fallen through. So instead I’ll spend most of Christmas day on a bus travelling from Colombo to Bandarawella, where I will stay with lovely friends for a few days. Wonderful!! πŸ™‚

So I hope that all of you are spending Christmas doing exactly what makes you happy. If that is going to church, then I hope you enjoy church. If that is eating good food, then I hope the roast potatoes are done in goose fat and are gorgeously crispy on the outside and wonderfully fluffy on the inside. If that is spending time with people you care about then I hope you are surrounded by loved ones and that there aren’t too many arguments. And if you are doing nothing whatsoever for Christmas, then I still hope that your day is spent doing exactly what makes you happy. πŸ™‚

Have a fabulous December 25th. And January 17th. And March 4th. And November 12th. And all the rest of the days of every year as well. πŸ™‚

Mosquito Proof Clothing

Friday, December 24th, 2010

Before I left the UK I did some investigating into mosquito-proof clothing. Not only did I investigate, I actually bought some. 50GBP for a pair of trousers and a shirt – which is ridiculous money in my mind, well ridiculous for clothing but not so ridiculous if it turns out to be mosquito-proof. πŸ™‚

And they didn’t have them in black so my mossie-proof clothing is the only clothing I currently own that isn’t black. But, important as fashion is to me, it is far more important for me to be mossie-proof. πŸ˜‰ So I succumbed and bought the non-black clothes (the shirt even has silly pink trim on bits of it, dear god).

I was slightly sceptical about the stuff but was keen to see how it would work. The trials in the UK were positive. I wore them several times there and didn’t get bitten once – the fact that I didn’t encounter any mosquitoes is (in my mind) somewhat irrelevant. πŸ™‚

I have now worn them in Sri Lanka, in mosquito-infested areas. And I can now say – unequivocally – they work!!

I’ve worn my normal clothes in Mahesh’s living room and in Sujith’s house. And I got bitten. I wore my mossie-proof clothes in Mahesh’s living room and in Sujith’s house. And I didn’t get bitten. Well, I didn’t get bitten on the bits of me that were covered by the clothes, the skin on my feet is a veritable dirty blanket of mosquito bites.

But the mossie-proof clothes work!

Oh, and I should mention they appear to be dog-proof as well. I have never been bitten by a dog wearing these trousers. Wish I could say the same for my other trousers. πŸ™‚

Wonder if Craghoppers do a range of mossie-proof socks. Hmmmm.

48 Mosquito Proof Clothing

Before I left the UK I did some investigating into mosquito-proof clothing. Not only did I investigate, I acutally bought some. 50GBP for a pair of trousers and a shirt – which is ridiculous money in my mind, well ridiculous for clothing but not so ridiculous if it turns out to be mosquito-proof. πŸ™‚

And they didn’t have them in black so my mossie-proof clothing is the only clothing I currently own that isn’t black. But, important as fashion is to me, it is far more important for me to be mossie-proof. So I succumbed and bought the non-black clothes (the shirt even has silly pink trim on bits of it, dear god).

I was slightly sceptical about the stuff but was keen to see how it would work. The trials in the UK were positive. I wore them several times there and didn’t get bitten once – the fact that I didn’t encounter any mosquitoes is (in my mind) somewhat irrelevant. πŸ™‚

I have now worn them in Sri Lanka, in mosquito-infested areas. And I can now say – unequivocally – they work!!

I’ve worn my normal clothes in Mahesh’s living room and in Sujith’s house. And I got bitten. I wore my mossie-proof clothes in Mahesh’s living room and in Sujith’s house. And I didn’t get bitten. Well, I didn’t get bitten on the bits of me that were covered by the clothes, the skin on my feet is a veritable dirty blanket of mosquito bites.

But the mossie-proof clothes work!

Oh, and I should mention they appear to be dog-proof as well. I have never been bitten by a dog wearing these trousers. Wish I could say the same for my other trousers. πŸ™‚

Wonder if Craghoppers do a range of mossie-proof socks. Hmmmm.

Drying Clothes

Friday, December 24th, 2010

It is a well-known fact that clothes need to be washed on a regular basis. See one of my earlier posts for my thoughts on the washing of clothes.

What is equally well-known though frequently not mentioned is the fact that clothes need to dry as well.

Just washing them isn’t actually enough.

In Ratnapura it can take several days for clothes to dry (I mean 3 or 4). In Anuradhapura in the dry season it takes 1 hour. In the wet season it takes 2 days. Do you know how dirty clothes get when they are hanging outside (or inside or in a covered porch) for 2 days in the pouring rain drying?

But I believe that the various monsoons or inter-monsoonal rains are due to finish soon (this month, next month, the month after). At which point I’ll stop whingeing about drying clothes and instead write blog posts marvelling at how quickly stuff dries in the hot, dry sun.

Why is it so difficult for human beings to keep themselves and their stuff clean, warm and dry? Surely all the evolving we’ve been doing should imply we can do these fairly basic things. We can curl our eyelashes for godsakes, why is clean, warm and dry so hard?!?!

PS: I am currently clean, warm and dry. My clothes (all except the ones I’m actually wearing) are at a laundry being laundered so I am expecting them back later today, clean, warm and dry. So the clean-warm-and-dry problem is only intermittent – not that that makes it less of a problem when it is happening. πŸ™‚

Dog Bite Aftermath

Friday, December 24th, 2010

Here is what happened to me after the dog bite.

In the first post about it I mentioned that I went to the hospital and that they gave me the first rabies booster injection. And I think I mentioned that the doctor didn’t really look at the wound – certainly didn’t treat it but that when I went home, Suchintha’s mother helped me to dress it after I’d cleaned it. I also mentioned that I had to go back to the hospital to get the second booster.

So here’s what happened then.

I bought a larger dressing and removed the sticky plaster. The wound was about 3cm long, the width of a sticky plaster (they only come in one size in this country) is about .5cm. The length of the pad bit of a sticky plaster is about .5cm even if the length of the sticky plaster itself is about 5cm. So I needed a bigger paddy bit. This proved to be tricky. But I did get a giant (10cm x 10cm) surgical dressing and some micropore tape. The pharmacist assured me it wouldn’t stick. The phrase “my arse” springs to mind for two reasons. It stuck. To my arse. Well, the top of my leg.

I found another type of dressing a few days later which is like a sticky plaster but bigger (about 10cm x 20cm) which I thought was an improvement, though way too big, but too big is better than too small. The problem was that the pharmacy in Kandy where I got it seems to be the only one in the country that sells them. So when I got to Anuradhapura I had to Macgyver 4 normal plasters into one big one by carefully cutting the side sticky bit and then overlapping so that I had a big enough pad with no sticky bits in the middle. It mostly worked. πŸ™‚ By this stage there was only the occasional drop of blood on the plaster anyway, so it wasn’t bleeding profusely. Then the plasters came off. Yay! And stayed off. Yay!

On the Saturday I went back to Kandy hospital for the second injection (one injection, two sites, so they stuck half of it in one arm and the other half in the other). That didn’t take too long. But I did get sent from the injection room to the rabies room then back to the injection room where I had to wait for 15 mins (which turned out to be 1hr). But that was ok.

One of the other interesting consequences of the dog bite was antibiotics. The doctor didn’t say anything about antibiotics. But Suchintha’s sister’s husband is a doctor. When he heard about the bite, he asked if I had been given antibiotics. I said I was on Doxycycline (which is a broad spectrum antibiotic that was prescribed as an anti-malarial), but he said that wasn’t enough. So he suggested another one. Suchintha’s mother had some sample packs in the house so I dutifully started taking antibiotics twice a day (plus my anti-malarial, plus some panadol to help with the swelling and the pain). Suchintha’s brother in law said he thought that the doctor had probably been so excited treating a foreigner that he forgot to mention the antibiotics. Which seems a pretty major thing to forget in my mind and a pretty feeble excuse for being overwhelmed. But, I had my own personal medical team helping me out so I was ok. πŸ™‚

And the final piece of annoyance was my trousers. But I took them to a tailor in Kandy. I needed to get them taken up anyway. Which was lucky. Because the bit they cut off the cuffs they used to mend the rip. Which they did in a day and charged me a very reasonable sum of money for it. So I now have trousers with no holes (except the important holes that you need for getting into the things and sticking your feet out the ends).

And now, the injections are done, the antibiotics are finished, the wound has healed, the trousers are fixed, I can sit down comfortably. It’s all good.

I saw the dog a few days ago and it didn’t bat an eyelid at me. It seemed completely unconcerned by my existence. So that’s also a good thing.

Here endeth the dog bite story.

Indian Visa Application – Step One

Friday, December 24th, 2010

I went to the Indian visa office in Colombo. VFS is the agency that issue Indian visas.

I went to ask them about whether I could get another Indian visa despite the fact that my current Indian visa has not yet expired.

It seems I can. So I got the forms and filled them in and photocopied the things I needed to photocopy and then went back to the front desk and she looked at the forms to give them a quick check (gave me another one when she realised that I was actually an Aussie) and gave me a number. So I filled out the other form, got my Aussie passport photocopied and waited for them to call my number.

Which they did. And the guy took all my bits of paper, got confused by the fact that I had two passports but was in fact only one person. Seemed unconcerned by the existing Indian visa and seemed very happy to take my money from me. He kept all the forms, gave me back both passports and a receipt for the money. He also gave me a piece of paper that tells me to come back on the 23rd to actually get the visa. It seems it’ll take them 1 week to look through the paperwork.

So on the 23rd I’ll go back (between 8 and 9 in the morning) and drop off my British passport and my piece of paper. They will spend all day moving bits of paper around and between 5 and 6 in the afternoon I can go back and collect my passport – with, I hope, a shiny new Indian visa.

If this all works I will spend about two weeks in India. I’ll go on the 17th and come back on the 1st. If this doesn’t work then I’ll go on the 17th anyway and come back on the 25th which is when my current multiple entry visa expires.

So here’s a question: given that passports have chips and bar codes and things in them, why don’t they also have all the requisite visa information in them too, like father’s name, date of birth, current address, marital status, countries visited in the past 10 years, etc. Surely its not beyond the wit of man to make that happen. That should make visa applications easy. You just scan/swipe the passport, it puts all the info directly into their system (including a digital copy of the person’s photo), they ask any of the trip-specific questions they need, like intended travel dates and purpose of trip etc. They enter that directly into the computer. It then issues the visa on the spot and everyone’s happy. Takes less time, saves lots of money, is just generally a good idea.

Of course all of this assumes the existence of visas. To be honest, I’d be happier to see visas being abolished completely. Free, unrestricted travel, that’s what I want to see. πŸ™‚

Travel Insurance

Friday, December 24th, 2010

I like to think of myself as an intelligent, prepared individual. So before I travel, I get travel insurance.

Now, the main reason why I get travel insurance is to cover me for the really major things. Like getting hit by a bus, requiring lots of medical attention and needing to be flown home. Helicopter evacuation when trekking. Falling off a motorbike in Sri Lanka. Those sorts of things. The sort of things that will cost me more than my current contingency (1000GBP) will cover.

So I found a travel insurance company that seems pretty good for these sorts of things – in particular, they cover you if you are on the back of a motorbike – which many companies don’t do. I’m hoping that the 300GBP that I spent on travel insurance is a complete waste of money. In that I hope to never need to claim on it.

Now, I’m glad I think of travel insurance as only covering the major things. Because it certainly doesn’t seem to do a good job of covering the small things. So when I was in Kazakhstan and I started vomiting before my train trip and so stayed in a hotel instead of getting on a train, I thought that my insurance might cover me. At least a bit. At least for something. Not that I was relying on it. I figured, the extra cost comes out of my contingency, if I can get anything from my insurance then that’s a bonus. Which is the right attitude to take.

I wasn’t covered. I wasn’t covered for the train ticket I didn’t use because I didn’t cancel it BEFORE I LEFT ENGLAND. What kind of coverage is that if you’re only covered for things you cancel before you start your trip? Now, granted, this was mentioned in the terms and conditions and I should have realised this before I left, but that doesn’t make it more useful. In addition, I wasn’t covered for the extra bus ticket I had to get or for my extra Kazakhstan accommodation because I didn’t have a doctor’s certificate saying that I was too sick to travel. Now this one is arguably reasonable. Except in practice. I was vomiting. I wasn’t dying. I wasn’t really ill. I didn’t need to see a doctor. I needed rest. I needed fluids. I needed to watch out for dehydration. I definitely did not need to waste what precious energy I had trying to find a doctor who spoke English who could give me the right piece of paper so that I would get some money from my travel insurance company. And I think, if this had all been explained to me at the time (I probably should have called them in between vomiting while at the station debating what to do) then I think I would have done exactly what I did and say ‘sod the bloody insurance, it’s worth the few hundred pounds for me to avoid the stress and hassle and just concentrate on not throwing up, getting some fluids inside me and not dehydrating’.

And now, I’ve just bought a laptop from Sri Lanka. This cost more than 100GBP. Which means my insurance doesn’t cover it. In fact, the only way my insurance will cover it is if I get a BRAND NEW policy. They won’t refund the existing one.

Ah well. I’ll just put ‘replacing laptop if it gets stolen’ into the contingency bucket rather than the travel insurance bucket.

I really do hope that if anything goes seriously wrong the travel insurance people are much more useful than when things only go a little bit wrong.

Indian Food

Friday, December 24th, 2010

I have an apology to make. To all of India.

Those of you who have been paying attention may have noticed me singing the praises of Sri Lanka (especially Sri Lankan food). In particular, I believe that I’ve said that Sri Lankan food is better than Indian food. And in the case of hoppers, I stand by that claim.

However, it’s time to even the balance somewhat.

I’ve had iced coffee in Sri Lanka. And it was awful. The iced coffee in the Swiss Cafe in Kovalam is just amazing (the iced tea is even better, but the iced coffee is awesome). So India beats Sri Lanka in the iced coffee stakes.

Also, I had hoppers for dinner the other day and the people I was with had a masala dosa (or thosai as it’s called here). Now I didn’t actually have any of it, but it was nowhere near as good as the ones in India, it was soggy and didn’t have much potato and didn’t come with all the extra pots of goo and just generally wasn’t right. So India beats Sri Lanka in the masala dosa stakes as well.

And finally, there’s plain rice and boiled veg. In many restaurants in India (or at least in many restaurants in Kovalam, though I did see it in other places too) it is possible to get boiled vegetables and plain rice. For those days where my body just can’t face any more curry or chilli. Now this is really difficult to come by in Sri Lanka so in the plain rice and boiled veg stakes India also beats Sri Lanka.

I still like the pol sambol, dhal, fruit salad and hoppers better in Sri Lanka. But India is not without its culinary delights too. πŸ™‚

Flavours

Friday, December 24th, 2010

I’m going to whinge for a bit. Sorry.

But first the caveat: I do love Sri Lankan food.

Now the whinge: there are three main flavours in Sri Lankan food. They are salt, sugar and chilli. Almost everything has one, two or all three of those flavours. And while people here have said they find western food bland, I think that’s because western food tends to have a much subtler blend of very many flavours. Sri Lankan food tends to have a few flavours in incredibly strong proportions.

I’ve eaten may dishes here (in lots of different places) where the amount of salt in the food brings tears to my eyes and burns my lips. When I cook I use almost no salt. Here, everyone uses a lot of salt. I mean a lot. I mean teaspoons of it in each dish (not just a pinch or two). And seasoning is done by the cook in the kitchen, there is no seasoning done at the table. So you get as much salt in your food as the cook deems appropriate.

And sugar. I don’t usually have sugar in tea. In Sri Lanka it is difficult to avoid sugar in tea. In India there is too much sugar in the tea, and the Sri Lankans use about twice as much as the Indians do. I’ve had plain tea (very strong tea – practically stewed, with about 4 or 5 teaspoons of sugar) that has had so much sugar in it that it makes my toes curl all the way from the tips of my teeth to the back of my throat.

And sometimes I just want food that doesn’t feel like it’s trying to kill me. Chilli is nice. Some chilli. Sometimes. In some dishes. A little bit of it. But greatΒ  quantities of the stuff in everything is a bit too much. And a note for all cooks out there, please do not put green beans and green chillies in the same dish. When I was in India, I had a vegetable masala that was very nice until I picked up a piece of chilli thinking it was a green bean (looks indistinguishable) and bit into it. My eyes started watering, I lost the power of speech, I drank half a litre of water. I’ve been wary of green beans ever since.

End of whinge. I do love the food here. I love pol sambol (which has sugar, salt and chilli in it). I love the wonderful home cooking I’ve had. I love the fruit. I love the vegetables. I love the rice.

Speaking of food, it’s about time for my dinner. Since today I am cooking for myself (yay) and have no kitchen, it’s cheese sandwiches (processed cheese unfortunately, but multi-seed brown bread), and some apples and mangoes. Mmmmm. Tasty.

Kandy Model School

Friday, December 24th, 2010

Kandy Model School was where I spent my first three months in Sri Lanka last year. I taught at the primary section and the upper section. So this time, when I went back to Kandy, I went back to KMS.

I’ve actually only been to the upper school so far but I do hope to go to the primary in March before I leave.

I was staying with Suchintha (one of the English teachers from the upper school) so going to the upper school with her was very easy.

It was great to see the school again, and the teachers and the students!

Not much has changed. But there is a new principal. In July last year, the previous principal transferred to another school in Kandy. The previous deputy from the upper became the new principal there and a new principal was transferred in for the primary.

The other interesting difference in the school is that last year’s Grade 5s (from the primary) are now Grade 6 at the upper. And last year’s Grade 11s are no longer there (they have gone to do A Levels at lots of different schools). So without the Grade 11s the school was much quieter than I remember. πŸ˜‰

There were term tests going on while I was there so I didn’t get to do too much teaching

but I did spend some time talking to some of the students. I did some classes with Grade 6. They are awesome!! The strong focus on English that they have had at the primary school for the past several years has really helped. They were confident and they spoke well. Good work!!!

There was also a computer project called Thinkquest going on so I helped out a bit with that too.

It was really nice to talk to the staff. It was great to see the students. It was fantastic!!

And on the Friday there was a lunch in honour of all the staff who had been transferred.

All the teachers from the primary and upper school would be there. Which would be great.

I was hoping to go to the primary but none of us knew if the new principal spoke English and it would be nice to get his/her consent before I invaded.

We were waiting out the front of the school on the Friday when a man came up to me, said hello and asked if I recognised him. I said yes (I did). He said ‘Do you know where from?’. I said ‘CCPSDV?’. I remembered his face, but couldn’t remember him exactly. I did meet about 100 CCPSD people (in two batches) and about 140 cadets. Plus all the other teachers/friends/relatives/neighbours etc, I’ve met a lot of Sri Lankans.

It turns out that he was indeed on CCPSDV. So I was chatting to him for a bit. He said he was now at KMS primary and invited me to go there to visit. I said that would be great!

I was walking with Suchintha to lunch and she told me that the guy I had just been speaking to was the new principal! So there we go. Not only does the new principal at the primary speak English, but he’s also one of my ex-students! Cool! Such a small world!!

We had lunch. I was talking the previous principal and some of the teachers from the primary and the secondary as well as to the new principal (plus some other CCPSDV people on the phone).

Fantastic!

And, I managed to get a lift back in to Kandy town which was very nice given there was a LOT of rain. πŸ™‚

Shoot the Inventor of Powerpoint

Friday, December 24th, 2010

I don’t know who invented Powerpoint. But whoever he/she/it is, they should be shot. Well, that’s a bit harsh. They should at least be scolded and sent to bed without their supper.

Now, I am being somewhat unfair. The problems I’m about to mention with regard to Powerpoint are actually due to the people who use it and the people who train other people to use it. It’s not really the inventor’s fault if people do bad things with it.

There’s a phrase we use in English about putting the cart before the horse. Not really a good idea. Backwards. Doesn’t result in the same outcome as you might get if you stick the horse on the front and the cart at the back.

The same is true for Powerpoint. Sort of.

Kath’s Guide to using Powerpoint for presentations in a way that is friendly to her blood pressure (oh, and that produces MUCH better presentations):
Step 1: DO NOT OPEN POWERPOINT
Step 2: decide on your topic, know your purpose, know your audience
Step 3: DO NOT OPEN POWERPOINT
Step 4: research your topic
Step 5: DO NOT OPEN POWERPOINT
Step 6: plan your speech
Step 7: DO NOT OPEN POWERPOINT
Step 8: write your speech (either in full or in point form, it doesn’t really matter)
Step 9: DO NOT OPEN POWERPOINT
Step 10: practice your speech
Step 11: DO NOT OPEN POWERPOINT
Step 12: plan your slides
Step 13: Now you can open Powerpoint
Step 14: design the look of your slides (using the slide masters, pale yellow is never justified, for text, backgrounds or anything else – it’s not that I have anything against pale yellow aesthetically it’s just that you can’t ever see it)
Step 15: write your slides (use animation if you must – different animation on every slide is not required)
Step 16: write the notes for your slides
Step 17: practice your speech with Powerpoint
Step 18: print out your notes (or hand-write them if you’d prefer)
Step 19: practice your speech with Powerpoint and your notes
Step 20: print out your handouts (if you need them)
Step 21: practice your speech with Powerpoint and your notes in the venue (with microphone etc)
Step 22: get a good night’s sleep the night before
Step 23: relax
Step 24: Give a great presentation!!!

Attention all Powerpoint users out there!
Powerpoint is an aid that helps you deliver speeches. It is not the speech. Don’t start by writing your slides. Start by writing your speech. When you know what you want to say then you can use Powerpoint to add to what you are saying. You should be able to deliver your speech if there is no current, no computer, no projector, no Powerpoint. You should say more than the words that are on the slides (1. because you shouldn’t have that many words on your slides, 2. because if your slides contain everything then just send me the slides to look at in my own time and don’t bore me with your tedious speech).

Attention all Powerpoint trainers out there!
When asking your students to do a presentation, for god’s sake give them a topic and an audience and a purpose. Get them to write the speech. THEN you can teach them how Powerpoint can help them. And DO NOT require them to use animation on every slide – it really isn’t necessary. It might be a good idea depending on the point of the presentation and the audience, but generally it isn’t. And under NO CIRCUMSTANCES should you EVER change a person’s presentation without them knowing about it. Do NOT add diamond animation to every slide 5 mins before they are about to do their presentation (which is an assessed piece of work).

Ok, that’s my rant over. I feel slightly better now.