Archive for February, 2011

Going Home

Monday, February 14th, 2011

I have booked my flight home. I am flying out very early in the morning of the 27th of February.

This is a little earlier than I had thought. I was initially planning to stay till mid-March. But I brought forward the date by about two weeks. And these are the reasons why.

One reason is because my current visa expires on the 2nd of March and I didn’t really want to have to go to spend a full day in Colombo trying to get it extended.

But the main reason is that I just feel like it’s time to go home. I’m exhausted. Not the sort of exhausted that 10 hours sleep sorts out, but the sort of exhausted that means I need to go home and spend a few months back in the UK.

There have been no problems and I’m not upset or hating it or anything like that. I’m just finding that I don’t have the energy or patience to really enjoy it anymore and going home a bit earlier is better than staying longer and getting more and more fed up to the point that I start hating it.

I have loved every second of being here but I am starting to feel quite worn down by the whole travelling experience. Since the 1st of August I haven’t stayed in one place for more than 8 nights in a row and mostly I’ve been fewer than 3 nights. So that has meant a lot of packing and moving.

My plans have changed a lot, sometimes on my account, sometimes because other people have changed them for me. In each individual instance this has been ok, but all of them together has begun to be quite wearing.

I’ve spent most of my time in Sri Lanka as a guest staying with friends. And I have been looked after very well. In some cases a little too well. Being a guest can be quite exhausting and quite draining. There is a lot of food to be eaten and a lot of people to talk to. And IĀ  know that the people I stay with care about me a lot and want to look after me but there are some times when it is nice to be left alone, to be able to wash in private, to be able to eat as much (or as little) as I want, to not have to sing (in English or in Sinhala) etc.

And I’m fed up with rain and mosquitoes and cold showers and too much sugar/chilli/curry/salt and not enough pasta/raw veg/tofu/breakfast cereal/nice bread/nice cheese etc.

So, it’s time for me to go home.

But I love Sri Lanka and India very much. And I have lots of wonderful friends in both of these countries. Some of whom I haven’t been able to visit on this trip. So I hope to be back in Sri Lanka and India very soon. Later this year if I can afford/arrange it. If not, then next year certainly. I hope. šŸ™‚

Washing Hands

Monday, February 14th, 2011

Washing your hands is very important. When you are in a country where you eat with your hands it is really important.

Often when I go to visit people I get offered a bowl of (sometimes warm) water in which to wash my hand. Other guests get this too.

But I’m fairly sure that wetting my hand is not the same thing as washing it. I’m surprised, because I thought that here the hand-washing culture would have been much stronger than at home. To some extent it is, but it seems more to be a very strong hand-wetting culture than a hand-washing culture. Strange. šŸ™‚

Cancelled Plans

Monday, February 14th, 2011

I was in Kandy. I spent a few days at Kandy Model Primary school. The Friday was a holiday. So I had planned to go to visit a friend in Gampaha (near Colombo) on Friday and Saturday nights. Early Sunday morning I would go to visit a friend in Kiribathgoda (also near Colombo). On Monday I was planning to go to Anuradhapura to spend a week with a friend in his school.

Excellent. All organised.

On Thursday morning I got a phone call. I couldn’t go to Gampaha.
On Saturday morning I got a phone call. I couldn’t go to Kiribathgoda.
On Saturday morning I got a text message. I couldn’t go to Anuradhapura.

All three of my friends had very, very good reasons for why I couldn’t visit them. They were all circumstances outside of their control. None of them had been able to give me any more notice than they did.

This is not the first time that my plans in Sri Lanka have been changed at the last minute. And I don’t think it will be the last.

But three cancellations in three days did cause me to add ‘exasperated’ to the list of things that I have been on this trip.


Monday, February 14th, 2011

I’ve got the bus from Ratnapura to Karawita several times. Near Dela there is a saw mill. There is a section of forest that has been slowly turning into a big pile of logs over the time that I’ve been doing the trip. Largely, this makes me somewhat sad.

What I find interesting (ironic, funny, ridiculous, reassuring, infuriating) is that in the middle of this destruction is a bo tree. The bo tree is venerated in Sri Lanka as the tree that Buddha was sitting under when he attained enlightenment. This particular bo tree has a small wall around it and a shrine (like most bo trees in the country).

It’s just very, very strange seeing a single tree being venerated in the middle of ever-increasing clearing.

Standing for National Anthems

Monday, February 14th, 2011

I found myself at a conference in India. As part of the closing proceedings someone sang the national anthem. I stood for the anthem, just like everyone else.

I wondered why I was standing.

I think it is because standing is expected of me and I’m not enough of a trouble maker to sit through it.

It is not because I have respect for national anthems. I don’t. I don’t even have respect for nations. Not mine (whichever that is) or anyone else’s. If I were to have respect for nations and national anthems I would have as much respect for the Indian nation as for the British nation or the Sri Lankan nation or any other nation. But I don’t. In fact, I think that nationalism is a dangerous and unhealthy force. I see very few good sides to it and very many bad sides.

But I do respect the people that are running the conference. So perhaps I’m standing through national anthems out of respect for them.

Violence Against Women

Monday, February 14th, 2011

Violence against women is not something that I have experienced personally. Either here in Sri Lanka or in the UK or in Australia. And given how prevalent I know it is, the fact that I have not experienced it is something that I am incredibly thankful for.

I was having a conversation with someone here about how dangerous Cambridge is. I said I didn’t think it was dangerous. There are some assaults and muggings etc but the biggest danger to me in Cambridge is probably traffic. I think I’m far more likely to be killed or seriously injured in a traffic accident than I am at the hands of a person.

I was explaining that sometimes my friends aren’t too happy about me walking home from the pub at night alone. But I explain that I don’t believe that the risk is very great, and it is a risk I am prepared to take.

I explained that something like 15% of rapes in the UK are committed by someone unknown to the victim. The rest are committed by husbands, boyfriends, friends, family members etc. The myth that there is a sex criminal behind every tree or potplant waiting to attack passersby is just that, a myth.

My Sri Lankan friend was a bit perplexed by this. It seems in Sri Lanka that husbands don’t rape their wives. Not because a husband never forces his wife to have sex against her will but because rape is understood as being something that happens when a woman is attacked, tied up, beaten and raped by someone she doesn’t know. It is definitionally impossible for a husband to rape a wife. And I think that definition needs to change.

Why do people do things that make them unhappy?

Monday, February 14th, 2011

I’ve come to a realisation (one of many) while travelling.Ā  I think that the world would be a better place if people were more selfish.

I know this sounds strange. But let me explain.

Some people are happy most of the time. Most people, it seems, are not happy most of the time. Most of the time they are unhappy. They are stressed about work. They are worried about their families. They are torn between too many commitments. They are embroiled in office politics. They are juggling different friendship groups. They don’t have enough time to do what they want to do. They have too many things that they don’t want to do that take their time. They don’t have what they want. They can’t live the way they want to. They are not happy.

Sometimes there is nothing that can be done about these things. At least in the short term. If you hate your job and have financial responsibilities you may not be able to resign tomorrow. If you have an elderly parent who is not well you may be the only child willing or able to help look after them. If you want a new fancy, sportscar but can’t afford it, then you can’t afford it.

But sometimes I think many of these situations can be avoided. It seems people do a lot of things they don’t want to do because they feel it is expected of them. Yet they never seem to ask if it actually is expected of them and what will happen if they don’t do it.

Now I’m not advocating rejecting one’s responsibilities. I think if you have responsibilities you should work very hard to meet them. But I think it is possible to shed unwanted responsibilities or to not gain them in the first place.

One of the reasons why I don’t want to have children is because I’m not ready or willing to accept the responsibility that they entail. And I think there are many other people (men and women) who feel the same way. But I choose not to have children. Many others who feel this way have children anyway and hope things will just get better. Or have convinced themselves that this misery is just the way life is and they have no choice. I think if more of the people who don’t want children didn’t have children the world would be a better place. One, because overpopulation is a massive problem facing the planet, the human race does not need people to breed excessively. And two, because if people who don’t want to be parents aren’t parents then they will be much happier people.

But it’s not just children. If you don’t want to look after a dog, don’t get a dog. If you don’t like your job, get a new job (this may take time to arrange, but isn’t impossible). If you don’t want to live in an area that suffers from too much rain, then move somewhere else. If you don’t want to commute long distances to work then get a job close to home or a home close to work. If you don’t want to get married then don’t get married. If something will make you unhappy then don’t do it.

There’s a prayer/poem/dedication/thought that I am very fond of.

Please give me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference.

Unfortunately, I think most people think that most things fall into the “things I cannot change category”. I think most of life falls into the other category and what is needed is less serenity and more courage.

So please take the time to be more selfish. Be selfish responsibly, but be selfish. Have the courage to change the things you can and make your life happier.


Monday, February 14th, 2011

In Australia and the UK they’re called soaps. In Sri Lanka they’re called teledramas.

I’ve seen lots of them in Sri Lanka. I don’t understand most of what’s going on because I don’t speak Sinhala. But I did have one translated for me for a while when I was staying with several different people who were watching it.

Now soaps are interesting from a cultural point of view. They reflect the society in which they are set. The reflection is somewhat distorted but it is a reflection nonetheless.

The situations are often contrived and extreme. But they are parodies of real issues that exist in the underlying culture.

In the UK a segment about a teenager getting pregnant is handled in a sensational manner where everything that can go wrong does go wrong and there is a lot of ridiculous, unreasonable behaviour. But this doesn’t change the fact that teenage pregnancy is an issue in the UK and sometimes some of the things that can go wrong do go wrong and sometimes people act in a ridiculous and unreasonable manner.

So I’m guessing a similar thing is true of Sinhala teledramas. They are extreme. They are ridiculous. But they are a parody of real situations. And that makes them fascinating from a cultural point of view.

So I watch them with the people I visit. And I listen to their comments about what is happening. About what Sansala said to Danuka to make him angry with her. About what Sansala’s evil cousin has done this time. About what Sansala’s father has planned for her (marrying her evil cousin). About why the relationship between Sansala and Danuka has no future (she’s from the city, he’s from a village, she’s rich, he’s poor, etc). And I hear the women around me saying “ah ne, pau” which roughly translates as “oh no, poor thing”. The people around me watching see that Sansala and Danuka are perfect for each other. They see the evil cousin is evil (with that much hair gel, he must be evil). They see the pain that Sansala’s father causes her with his plans for her life and his disregard of her feelings and opinions.

And yet these people are the same ones who enforce these same sorts of situations on their family members. Well, ok, not the particular people I have stayed with, but many of the other people who watch these teledramas. There will be mothers watching these saying “ah ne, pau” about poor Sansala and they will be the very same mothers who are encouraging (or forcing) their own daughters to marry someone that the daughter doesn’t want to marry and forbidding her from seeing someone she does love.

The teledramas bring into focus the negative aspects of our cultures. How single, teenage mothers are treated in England. How couples who fall in love without their parents’ blessing are treated in Sri Lanka. And the society that makes life so hard for these people is made up of exactly the people who watch these shows and say “oh no, poor thing”.

But maybe there is hope. Maybe having these issues on our television screens in our living rooms at least brings the issue into our consciousnesses. From there it will take time before any changes happen. But maybe this awareness is the first step. I can only hope it is.

Bus with a TV

Monday, February 14th, 2011

A strange thing happened when I got a bus one day back in December. I watched television.

I got a local bus from Kandy to Aruppola (it’s about 30 or 40 mins from end to end).

The bus was a relatively new one. Quite shiny. Painted. Flashing lights. Etc.

To my surprise, it had a flat screen TV hooked up to a DVD player and mounted just behind the driver’s seat. So all the passengers could watch Sinhala music videos (and listen to them – full volume) on their commute.

I’ve seen TVs on air conditioned inter-city buses, but never before on local buses.

And given how crowded the local buses get, it seems like a rather useless thing to have, the crush of bodies means that the one or two people who have a direct sight-line to the TV will be so close to it that they won’t be able to focus on it anyway.

But it’s good for the few minutes each trip when the bus is not yet full or as the bus is nearing the end of its route and has emptied quite a bit.

Odd. šŸ™‚

My week with Alex ā€“ Dambulla to Negombo

Tuesday, February 8th, 2011

From Dambulla we went to Habarana where we could intercept a Trinco-Colombo train and head back towards the coast.

The station at Habarana isn’t in the town. It’s in the middle of nowhere. But there are two little hotels (again, no rooms) where we could buy food. Which was good, since breakfast was one UNESCO World Heritage site ago. šŸ™‚

We bought our tickets and found food. Then back to the station to wait for the train. The barriers weren’t working so when a train was coming a station guy had to stand in the middle of the road with a green flag to wave at the train and a red flag to wave at the traffic. Given how fast the buses roar along that stretch of road I’m amazed they managed to stop at all. But there seemed to be no problems with this method. šŸ™‚

We saw this a couple of times. Once for an express train coming from Trinco and again for a slow train which was going to Trinco. More sitting. More waiting.

The platform was quite short and we were sitting by the ticket booth. Which turned out to be quite funny because after waiting for about 2 hours (the train was an hour late) we had to run down the platform to the 2nd class carriage which was right at the front. I’ve been sitting around for 2 hours, why am I running now? šŸ™‚

We got seats and settled back for the long trip to Colombo.

At Maho Junction there was some shuffling around with engines and trains and things and we ended up connected to another set of carriages and now facing backwards.

We got various bits of snacks and drinks from various hawkers on the train and at the stations.

We sang Whitlams songs and TISM songs much to the dismay of neighbouring passengers. We played fences. We tried checking email but there was insufficient signal for that to work. We napped. We braved the cockroaches to use the toilet.

And I realised when we got the Veyangoda, that getting off there would be better than going into Colombo and then north to Negombo. Didn’t realise it was Veyangoda till we left it though. Ah well. Got off at Gampaha instead. šŸ™‚

Found a three wheeler to take us from there to Negombo. It was dark and I really wanted to get to the hotel before it got too late since I wasn’t 100% confident that the hotel we’d booked (who didn’t have a room for us but said they’d booked a room next door instead) were organised enough to have actually booked the room they said they’d booked.

Once we got to Negombo it took us a long time to find the hotel. Despite the fact that I had a map and showed the driver (I don’t think he can read maps). And I was trying to tell him which way to go. And Alex was reading the map and trying to tell him which way to go. But he preferred to make up his own mind and then stop randomly and ask people for help. But after a large amount of sub-optimal path choice we got to the hotel. And got a room. Yay! Since we were going to be leaving early in the morning we paid in advance and went out in search of kottu for dinner!


The next morning was up early and off to the airport. I was flying out at 7:30. Alex (far more sensibly) wasn’t flying till 9:30. I was off to spend two weeks in India. Alex was back to Paris (via Dubai).

In the 6 days since Alex had arrived we’d done a circuit down the west coast, across the south, up to the Hill Country in the centre, north to Habarana and back out to the coast. We’d seen the UNESCO World Heritage sites of Galle, Kandy, Sigiria, Dambulla. We’d got trains, buses and three wheelers. We’d eaten chilli mango, kottu, hoppers, wade, cutlets, bananas, curd and honey, rice and curry. We’d seen cities, beaches, plains, hills, jungles, tea plantations, coconuts, bananas, paddy fields, temples, ruins, giant squirrels, tiny squirrels, birds, monkeys/baboons, dogs, water monitors (yep, the water’s still there), land monitors (yep that’s land), fish.

A fantastic week! Thanks Alex for coming to see me and for giving me a chance to show off Sri Lanka. And for sharing kottu with me!