Archive for January, 2013

Corporal Punishment

Thursday, January 31st, 2013

I was visiting a primary school in India today. The school goes from 1st standard (about 5 years old) to 4th standard (about 8 years old). Though in this school, some of the students in some of the classes are a bit older. There are about 160 kids in the school. The school has two parallel classes. 1A and 1B, 2A and 2B, 3A and 3B, 4A and 4B. But 4A and 4B are taught together. The A groups are Malayalam medium, the B groups are English medium. Class sizes range from about 15 to about 30.

The school is an aided school. It is managed by the church but the salaries are paid by the government. The students pay no fees to come to the school. There are a couple of nuns from the convent who teach at the school. The headmistress is not a nun. She has no budget control (the church pays for the upkeep of the buildings, the government pays the staff). She has no ability to hire or fire teachers (transfers are arranged centrally, firing of staff almost never happens). She has no discretion about promotions or pay scales (your pay grade increases based on years of service).

There was an assembly this morning. (There is one of about 5 or 10 minutes every morning.)

The whole school is lined up on the school ground, a few students run things (students from different classes each day). They do some praying, some chanting, some exercise, read some news, ask some questions. Sometimes there is an announcement from a member of staff.

At the end of the assembly the students walk in lines back to their classrooms where they do quiet reading before the first teaching period of the day.

Today’s assembly was a bit different.

At the end of the assembly the headmistress called a student over to her (this is in front of the rest of the school, while some classes were heading back to their rooms). She spoke to the student and then caned him. On the shins. He was crying. He bent double and tried to pull away but she is much bigger than he is. She pulled him back to her again and hit him again on his bare legs.

Another student was called over and the same thing happened. In this case, the student was wearing long trousers. He was caned on his thighs.

I was visiting the volunteer who is currently teaching in the school. We stood back watching this. I left fingernail marks in the palms of my hands I was clenching my fists so tightly.

I wanted to run over and hug the kids. I wanted to rip the cane away from the head teacher and burn it. I wanted to face the nun who was watching this and cry to her in anguish. I wanted to jump on a bus and leave. I wanted to scream. I wanted to cry.

I did none of these things.

I stood there. I walked with the volunteer back to the office. It was the first time she’d seen a teacher cane a child in the school. She knew it might happen. But she hadn’t yet seen it.

She has seen a teacher give a child a gentle (?!) slap to the side of the head as a response to the child fighting in class. Yes, that message is clear. To show you how much we dislike physical violence in class I am going to slap you. (Sorry, I’ll put my sarcasm away now.)

I have seen children being caned a few times in schools. It hurts me. I don’t know what to do about it.

I know that corporal punishment is prevalent here and in Sri Lanka. I know that it used to be prevalent in the UK and Australia. I know that all four of those countries have signed up to the UN convention on the Rights of the Child, which says that children should be protected from all forms of violence and bad treatment (article 19) and that school discipline should respect the dignity of the child (article 28).

I also know that caning students is one small part of the reason why Indian schools are sometimes not safe, friendly places for students. Teachers cane students here. They also ignore them. Yell at them. Insult them. Dismiss them. Belittle them. Lie to them. Teachers leave children unsupervised for hours at a time. Teachers sleep at their desks while the students do whatever it is that students do when a teacher is sleeping at the desk. Teacher absenteeism is incredibly high. Sometimes teachers make arrangements amongst themselves so that one of the 3rd standard classes (for example) can take a few days off and the other teacher will teach both third standard classes together. The next week they may swap. Students are not praised. Students are not encouraged. In many cases students are not taught anything. It is in this context that students are being caned by teachers.

Not all teachers are like this. Some are dedicated professionals. Many, possibly most, are not.

I struggle. I am a guest in this country, in this culture and in this school. Caning students is culturally acceptable here. In some cases it is a student who brings a cane to me and suggests I use it to hit another student who has misbehaved. The teachers seem to see this as perfectly normal. Parents don’t seem to object. I need to be careful about how I can challenge this (if I challenge it at all).

But this is child abuse. And it is wrong. I do not want to be someone who stands by and does nothing.

I could remove myself from the school and never come back. I don’t have to come here. I have a choice. I’m not breaching a commitment or breaking a promise if I leave. But that doesn’t seem like the right thing to do either.

As usual, I think education is the key. I need to work out how I can explain to the staff that violence towards children should be seen to be unacceptable (because it is unacceptable). I need to work out a way to explain how positive classroom management and behaviour management can help teach children respect and discipline without the use of fear and violence. I need to work out a way to explain that being non-violent at school is so very important here particularly because this community is one in which many of these children will experience violence in the home (poverty, alcohol, inequalities between men and women and dowries do not contribute to a peaceful family life).

In the meantime, I take as much positivity, support, empathy and compassion into the schools as I can. I hope the very, very little that I can do can make some difference.

My Indian Family

Thursday, January 31st, 2013

I’m very lucky. I have a wonderful family. In this context I mean my blood relations. My dad, my sister. Lots of aunts, uncles, cousins and more. But I also have several other families. I have several non-blood families in the UK and Australia, at least three families in Sri Lanka, one in Thailand and one in India. And each of them is wonderful. They are all different but they are all equally my families.

Let me tell you about my Indian family and Indian family life for me here.

I’m staying with Johnson and his new wife Lisba. Johnson’s father and two of Johnson’s brothers (Dany and Johny) are also here.

I’m being very well looked after. They all worry about me a lot. Have I had enough to eat. Do I like the food. Am I bored. Do I need rest. Is there anything they can help with.

Meal times are fantastic times of the day for me. Usually we all eat together. Sometimes their father is out so doesn’t join us, but sometimes he is here. In any case the meal usually involves lots of discussion, much laughing (it seems Dany and Johny are particularly good story tellers – though about half of what Johny says isn’t strictly true 🙂 ), some translation for me and a general sense of camaraderie and well-being. Everyone helps with cooking and cleaning. Dany makes an amazing fish curry (I have to take this on trust since I don’t eat fish, but it smells wonderful and looks great). Johny makes a superb egg or potato curry (he is currently trying to teach me). Johnson makes great puttu (it’s soft enough that it just melts). Lisba makes an incredible soya meat curry. And as a team, we all make chappatis that are some of the best I have ever tasted.

And one of the best bits about the food is that there are usually two or three people in the kitchen working together to get it ready. The kitchen is usually my favourite room in a house and my Indian home is no exception.

I managed to stir fry some vegetables one day when I’d had enough of curry and chilli. But since the veg contained no salt, chilli or curry I didn’t think the others would be very keen. But, they all had some veg and said good things about it. Especially since they had curry and pickle that they could mix the veg with. I might have another go at stir fry veg, but this time with some curry and a bit of chilli and see if I can find a nice compromise. But I don’t think my normal stir fry veg and rice on their own would make the family very happy (if I were to do it again) which would mean more for me! Yay!

I’m allowed to chop vegetables. I’m allowed to do the dishes sometimes (I think me telling Johny and Dany that I’ve been washing dishes since before they were born helped). I make mint tea sometimes for everyone (or just for me).

And it’s not just being at home that I love. We go out sometimes for various errands, events or just for some walks. And that is also really nice. I usually have at least two bodyguards / translators / tour guides / entertainers. And they all do such a wonderful job of looking after me. And as pseudo brothers go, these three are very protective. They may all be younger than me but they look after me like older brothers. I am very lucky.

So I really do feel like a member of the family.

Just need to work harder on learning Malayalam so that I’ll be able to properly understand more of the dinner table conversations! 🙂

Protecting Your Daughters

Thursday, January 31st, 2013

I was talking to the Indian men I was with for New Year’s Eve. They are in their 20s and are currently unmarried. We were talking about how the people at the beach were mostly groups of young Indian men (about 90%, 5% were foreign tourists, the other 5% were Indian families (probably tourists)).

I asked what the girls were doing while the boys were out. Nothing. I asked if they met with each other to have their own parties. It seems not. I think that’s sad. Perhaps some of them have no interest in having a party or celebrating or going out, but I’m sure that’s not true for all of them.

I said that when these boys become fathers and have daughters of their own, they should let them have more freedom. They said “Haven’t you seen the news? Indian men are bad. It’s not safe. We can’t let our daughters out. If our daughters spend time with boys they will get pregnant. What about our culture?”.

If the problem with society is that Indian men are bad (I don’t think this is true) then surely we should lock up the Indian men and let the women roam free to peacefully enjoy New Year’s Eve on the beach. If men can’t be trusted to behave themselves then they should be punished for that, not rewarded.

These men are the future trustees of Indian culture. Culture is not something imposed upon us by some external mythical force. It is the product of who we are and how we act. Culture changes all the time as peoples’ behaviour changes. These guys that I spent New Year with will make decisions that will help to shape their culture. They can help to transform Indian culture into something better.

But what these men really can do is ensure they teach their sons and their daughters that men and women are equal (not the same) and that men and women both deserve respect.

Women don’t get pregnant just by talking to men. Especially if good sex education is available.

I also believe, but I might be wrong, that if men and women spend more time together then they are more likely to understand each other. Building bridges between groups of people is, I believe, a far more effective way of reducing tension and violence between groups than segregation. I went to an all-girls secondary school. I was quite scared and intimidated by boys. I met some nice ones when I was at university and slowly got to the point where I realised that men and women were different but that there was no need for one group to fear the entirety of the other group. And familiarity, in this case, bred confidence and security.

In any case, I don’t envy my Indian friends. They have difficult decisions ahead. When these young men become fathers they will make decisions that have a lasting effect on the members of their families as well as on their culture as a whole. I hope they have the strength to make the decisions that they consider to be right. I hope they will walk the line between overprotection and neglect of their daughters. I hope they will be examples of intelligent, rational, respectful interactions.

I wish them (and their contemporaries) the very, very best!

New Year’s Eve

Thursday, January 31st, 2013

I’ve had a bit of a mixed bag of New Year’s Eves in the past. Most have been very good (strawberry icecream in the rain in a Jacuzzi as an example), some not so good (best not mentioned here), some very quiet (in bed by 10 only to be woken by the fireworks and the people on the street shouting). But this one was certainly one of the best I’ve ever had. 🙂

New Year’s Eve 2012 involved buying chocolate and having an amazing iced mocha in Café Coffee Day (one of the Trivandrum branches of the coffee shop I didn’t get to in Chennai), and visiting a pier and a beach and some of Lisba’s lovely relatives.

And then there was dinner.

We went to Kovalam beach. I like Kovalam. We were heading for Coconut Grove (the best paneer butter masala I’ve ever had).

I’ve not been to Kovalam during the high season before so it was a bit odd seeing it so busy. But nice!

We walked through the scanners they’d set up on the steps towards the beach. I’m not sure what they were looking for but given the number of people who were walking around them or on to the beach another way, I don’t think it was too important.

Given the crowds we were a bit concerned about whether we’d get a table. But we needn’t have worried. I think it was still a bit early (only about 8). I also suspect that a lot of the people there weren’t interested in food.

So we did get a table at Coconut Grove. Johny, Dany, Johnson, Lisba and Me.

10e Johny and Dany - Coconut Grove - NYE_1024x612

10c Johnson, Lisba, Kath - Coconut Grove - NYE_1024x612

And I had paneer butter masala with some rice and some naan. The others shared some chicken and prawn curries with more rice and more naan. I had a chocolate banana pancake for pudding since it was a special occasion. Yum! Plus mango juice! Awesome!!

The food was amazing (even the meat eaters agreed that the paneer butter masala was fantastic). The company was wonderful. We had a really great meal!

Afterwards Johnson and Lisba headed off to find a bus. Lisba had to work on the 1st so needed to get a decent night’s sleep.

There was some confusion about whether Johny and Dany were going to look after me or whether I was going to look after them. But either way looking after was to be done.

The three of us wandered along the beach and enjoyed watching the crowds. There were a lot of police around (men and women). Most of the people on the beach were young men. I was glad to have Dany and Johny to look after me. I would have felt quite uncomfortable if I’d been there on my own, and slightly wary if I’d been with only foreign women. But I don’t think there was any reason to be worried. Everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves and having fun. There were some families and some foreign tourists around too, but not many.

Lots of people on the sand were building sandcastles or writing Happy New Year in the sand. It was very cool.

10zc Kath, Dany - Kovalam Beach - NYE_1024x612

We bumped into some friends of the boys and wandered with them for a while. We sat on the sand for a while and had a lovely chat. We did some more walking. It was very relaxed, very friendly, very nice.

And then it was time to head home. It was just after 11. But we didn’t want to be too late. It’s an hour and forty minutes’ walk back home from Kovalam and we didn’t want to miss out on transport. So we wandered up the hill, against the flow of lots of people heading down to the beach for The Bells. We found an auto (I think being white helped here, we got charged more than the usual rate, but hey, it was New Year, so that’s fair enough).

We got home at about half past 11 and sat up chatting till the New Year.

All in all a fantastic way to finish a superb 2012 and a great start for 2013.

A Cat In A Well

Thursday, January 31st, 2013

This post is unrelated to politicians of any description, but it is about a cat.

The house I’m staying in in India has a well.

There was a cat stuck in the well.

09b Cat in a well_1024x612

This has happened before (with a different cat).

The well is quite deep and it was maybe 8 or 10 metres from the top to the water level.

So we mobilised the troops (Johnson, Dany, Johny, their father, Lisba and me).

09d Johny, Jament, Dany, Lisba saving the cat_1024x612

We did this in the evening so we needed light. Lisba held the battery lamp, I had the flashlight app on my phone.

The boys tied a rope around the handle of a bucket. (An actual bucket, not me. I wasn’t going down into the well. Certainly not for a cat.)

09c Johny and Dany and bucket_1024x612

The bucket was lowered into the well.

The cat meowed at it.

We meowed at the cat.

The cat seemed not to understand what was going on.

The bucket was pulled up again.

The process was repeated several times.

It seems the last cat had caught on quite quickly and had jumped into the bucket on the second or third attempt.

This cat was not playing ball.

At one point the cat was hanging on to the edge of the bucket with its front paws.

The bucket was raised. The bucket was spinning. The cat was unhappy. The bucket got most of the way up. The cat let go. There was a splash. The cat meowed.

We tried again.

Several times.

The cat seemed not to understand what was going on.

Nor did it understand English.

Or Malayalam.

We tried again.

This time the cat crawled over the handle of the bucket.

That’ll do.

We pulled up the bucket, with the cat unceremoniously draped over the bucket handle.

The bucket made it to the top, with the cat intact.

The bucket and cat were tipped onto the ground as we all jumped away.

The cat was not a happy cat, but at least it was no longer a cat stuck in a well.

We had dinner.

Everyone was happy.

Note: since the rescuing of cats from the well there have been several cat incursions into the house (which, until recently has been insufficiently fortified against cat infiltration – the back door didn’t close properly and was just propped up against the frame leaving a gap big enough for a cat). The cats have decided they like fish curry. They’ve worked out how to tip the pot lid off the pot in order to get to the fish curry. They’ve worked out that most of the household have a nap just after lunch. Dany asked me if I know of any way to kill cats. I said he should stop rescuing them from the well! (Joking: neither he nor I want to actually kill any cats, particularly not by drowning them in the well, it would pollute the water and we need that water for watering the plants etc. Plus, we wish no harm to the cats, we just wish that the cats wished no harm to the fish curry.)

P!nk

Thursday, January 31st, 2013

One of my Sri Lankan friends played me an English song that she likes. It’s from a film. I can’t remember it now, but it reminded me of the likes of Avril Lavigne and P!nk etc. Which got me getting lost on You Tube watching P!nk videos.

I really like P!nk.

I’ve just bought her Greatest Hits… So Far!!! album. Which I think is awesome.

I love some of the messages in her songs. I love the humour in her videos. I love how she doesn’t take herself too seriously. I love the strength and weakness and pain and joy that she communicates through her music.

What I love most is the positive messages for young women that she has. I even love the fact that she is quite aggressive and uses quite strong language (don’t listen to her stuff or watch her videos if you don’t like swearing and/or adult themes – probably not a good idea to recommend her to children unless you’ve listened/watched yourself first).

‘Stupid Girls’ is a great song about why we let our media portray women as stupid, brainless and vacuous.

‘F**kin’ Perfect’ (which certainly does have some bad language) is a message to young women that no matter how bad they feel about themselves they are perfect! The video for this song brings me to tears every time I watch it.

‘Conversations With My 13 Year Old Self’ (not on the greatest hits album, from I’m Not Dead) is P!nk talking to herself at 13 and telling her that she understands her problems but not to worry, life will get better.

‘Dear Mr President’ is a letter to the president asking how he sleeps at night given the state of the rest of the country.

‘Raise your glass’ is anthem for the people who “are wrong, in all the right ways”.

‘So What’ is a hilarious song about getting over a break up – you really have to watch the video for this one. Her ex-husband makes an appearance in it.

Plus a lot of her stuff is just good, punky, rocky, poppy, music.

So, P!nk has officially made it on to my list of heroes/role models. I have quite a long, loose, diverse list of such people. I don’t generally try to emulate other people, but I do take inspiration from some aspects of who they are and what they do. Both from people I know personally and people I only know of.

Quiet Religions

Thursday, January 31st, 2013

There are some aspects of some religions that I like (Judaism’s emphasis on life, Buddhism’s emphasis on finding one’s own path, etc). There are some aspects of some religions that I don’t like (Catholicism’s use of guilt, the caste system in Hinduism, etc).

I’ve discovered another aspect of religion that I don’t like. Noise.

I don’t particularly care how noisy the religion is when it is inside its house of worship. I don’t mind how much singing, bell ringing, shouting, drumming, clapping, etc there is inside the building. What I’m not so keen on is what can be heard outside the building.

The Muslim call to prayer. The Christian church bells.

And now, in Poonthura, in India I’ve found another example.

There is a Hindu festival on at the time of writing this post. It lasts for 10 days. There are loudspeakers up around town broadcasting the noise from the temple. This is usually songs: some popular music, some folk songs, some devotional music. There was a drama on the other night. There is chanting. There are bells and drums.

We are two houses away from the loudspeakers. With the doors and windows closed inside the house, we can still hear it as if someone had the radio on in the room. In some parts of the house and garden it is really loud. And we are very rarely inside the house with doors and windows closed – it’s hot in this country.

The broadcasting starts at 4:30 in the morning and finishes sometime after 1am. There are gaps of half an hour or so at various times during the day, but not many of them.

This festival goes for 10 days. Fortunately today is the last day.

Note: since then, a new Catholic Church opened nearby with about 2 or 3 days of singing and sermons being broadcast, only a few hours per day. And then another Hindu worship was going on a couple of days ago in the afternoon and evening that was again being broadcast. Then a residents association meeting thing that was even louder than the others. The music for that started at about 11am and finished at about 11pm. I heard Jingle Bells three times – it’s January! I went for a nap at one point and my bed was vibrating with the noise! So it’s not just religious groups. 🙂

Christmas

Thursday, January 31st, 2013

I spent Christmas in India with Johnson and Lisba and both of their families.

Christmas Eve was spent at Lisba’s family’s home. We had a big meal together. We exchanged gifts. We went for a walk to the beach after dinner.

The gift exchange was great. There were 13 of us in total. So 13 gifts had been bought. Johny, Johnson and I spent some time wrapping the gifts (in newspaper – why buy wrapping paper when there is perfectly serviceable newspaper around? 🙂 ). This was cool. When I was a kid we used to go to church at 7:30 on Christmas Eve. We’d then come back and watch Carols by Candlelight (broadcast live from the Sidney Myer Music Bowl in Melbourne) on TV and wrap all the presents we had for the aunts, uncles, cousins and friends we’d be seeing during the Christmas period.

So spending time with two of my favourite boys wrapping presents and singing carols (badly) and chatting was a fantastic mix of old tradition and new experience. I think this was my favourite part of Christmas.

After the gifts had been wrapped we all sat round in a circle. Each person was given a piece of paper with someone else’s name on it. We checked that we didn’t get our name (I required a little help with this since I can’t read Malayalam). We then took it in turns to go round the circle and hand our gift to our Christmas Friend and wish them a Happy Christmas, they opened their gift and then gave their gift to their Christmas friend. The gifts were practical and not expensive (I got a water bottle! Bounce!). A great way to ensure the spirit of giving that is part of Christmas without letting ridiculous commercialism or consumerism get in the way.

Christmas Day was again good food, good company, good conversation and a walk along the beach. Some people went swimming. I didn’t. Mainly because I’m not a particularly strong swimmer and I’ve never been very comfortable swimming in the ocean. Another reason is that I’m not entirely convinced of the water quality (I shan’t tell you of the things on the beach that I had to be careful not to stand in/on). So I sat and watched the people in the water and I called my Dad and my sister. It was really nice to speak to them both.

I did manage to get a little bit sunburnt. Which was my own fault. I’d left my suncream and my hat at Johnson’s house. The day was quite overcast and I was covered from wrists to ankles but my forehead and nose did get a little pink. Well, it’s Christmas, getting slightly sunburnt on Christmas Day is another tradition from my childhood. And a passing resemblance to Rudolf is arguably appropriate.

Back to the house for lunch – another great meal and then a nap.

We went back to Johnson’s house in the evening and I got in contact with some of my UK friends. I’m very happy to be here with the wonderful friends I have around me. But that doesn’t stop me missing the family and friends that aren’t here. 🙂

Good people, good food, good conversation. Just what Christmas is all about.

My New Favourite Phrase

Thursday, January 31st, 2013

One of the great things about living in countries that use English is that they speak English in a slightly different way. There are differences between British English and American English and Australian English. There are also differences between Sri Lankan English (and the rest) and Indian English.

There are English words and phrases that I use in Sri Lanka that I don’t use anywhere else. “I can’t bear up.” “It is troublesome.” “This is unsuitable.” “Scold.” “What to do?”

There are now some that I’ve collected in India. “The beach is full of dirty” is one example. My current favourite is “after some time”. It is used a lot and it can mean a few minutes, a few hours, or never. When you call an Indian phone that is busy the message says “The person you are calling is on another call, please try again after some time.”. I love it! I’m not sure why I love it, it’s perfectly correct. But it makes me smile. Maybe because I hear it a lot. Johnson and Lisba went out to do some shopping. “Kath, we will be back after some time.” Johny and Dany went out (for whatever it is that they do). “Kath, we will be back after some time.”

It’s great! I don’t know how long my appreciation for it will last. But I’m sure that after some time I will find another phrase that I like more. 🙂

PS: possible new contender: “You are deviating my concentration.”

Aesthetic Sense

Thursday, January 31st, 2013

I think my aesthetic sense might be broken.

I’ve always known I’m a bit different. And my understanding of and appreciation of beauty has always been an obvious point of difference.

So I think my aesthetic sense might be broken.

It’s not completely broken. I can look at many things that other people wow over and I can wow over them too. I agree that many famous people are beautiful/handsome/attractive/whatever. I’ve seen some incredible pictures of landscapes, flowers, animals, corals, constellations, etc and thought they were beautiful. I think a frosted spider’s web early on an autumn morning is breath-takingly beautiful. And don’t even get me started on Edinburgh, or Sri Lanka, or Australia, or Luxembourg, or Tibet, or Nepal, or Cambridge, or the Peak District, etc.

But being in Sri Lanka has brought my aesthetic sense into question. The word ‘lasanai’ means beautiful. And it is one of the most used words in Sinhala. As a result, ‘beautiful’ is an English word that one hears a lot in Sri Lanka.

Sri Lankan’s care about aesthetics. They, as a nation, seem to have a well-developed aesthetic sense.

And the more time I spend with them, the more I realise that mine is broken.

They look at pictures of Sri Lankan brides (I’m mostly talking about Sinhalese women who go for a traditional Kandyan style wedding) and go all gooey. They all say ‘lasanai’ and draw out the s-sound to really emphasize it. And I smile and usually say ‘lasanai’. Sometimes I’m more honest: ‘wow, all that jewellery must weigh a lot’, ‘zykes, doesn’t it take a long time to get their hair done like that?’, etc. To be perfectly honest, I don’t find the wedding outfits aesthetically pleasing at all. I think the make-up is over-done. The jewellery is ridiculous and completely overwhelms the poor thing underneath. I think that Kandyan style saris do nothing whatsoever to beautify women (a few friends who have seen photos have asked me if one of the purposes of the Kandyan sari is to make women look ugly – I tend to agree). The sari jackets are tight and the gap between the bottom of the sari jacket and the waist is big enough to ensure that a roll of fat is visible, in even the thinnest woman. This seems to be desirable. I don’t find it pleasing. Now, this is ok. These women are not getting dressed in order to please me. It doesn’t matter that I don’t think it looks nice. They seem to think they look beautiful and other Sri Lankans seem to and surely that’s the point. My point is simply that I don’t find it attractive, and everyone else seems to.

Jewellery generally is something I just don’t get. I have no desire to wear it (mostly from a pragmatic point of view). I find some of it pretty, usually the simple, symmetric stuff. But I look at most of it and think that it looks gaudy or ridiculous or hideous.

I don’t understand Sinhalese (and Hindi) music. The women all seem to sing about an octave higher than their voices (and my ears) can comfortably cope with. So to me it sounds very screechy.

I’ve seen Kandyan dancing. And lots of people really love Kandyan dancing. On the whole I think it is somewhat ridiculous. I don’t find the movements beautiful. I understand that some of them are technically difficult and some of the execution of these difficult manoeuvres seems to be very well done. Though, some of it seems not so. But in any case I just don’t see why people would put their bodies into those positions since they don’t seem to me to very nice. (I have the same attitude to ballet). Perhaps I just don’t understand the symbolism of the work. This isn’t to say that I find all dance unappealing. I’ve seen some amazing contemporary dance that I thought was wonderful (though some of that also looks ridiculous). I think that a lot of the dancing that Madonna and some of her dancers do is wonderful. I find some ballroom/rock and roll/swing/etc dancing to be very nice too. I like watching ice dancing during the Olympics because I find some of that really beautiful.

So I don’t think my aesthetic sense is completely broken. But I do think it is broken.

Clothing. Oh dear. Clothing. Again, a lot of what people see as beautiful, I see as hideous, impractical, asymmetrical (in an non-pleasing way), chaotic, cluttered, garish. People (other volunteers and locals and my friends who see pictures) look at saris that various teachers wear in Sri Lanka and comment on how beautiful some of them are. I find very few of them to my taste. Even fewer are things that I would like to wear. But even just considering how they look on the women wearing them, I’m not enamoured. And this is without the practicalities coming into play. The sari is a completely ridiculous item of clothing to wear in a hot country while teaching. I’ll say no more about it now, I’ve ranted enough in other places about it. 🙂

In India, I had a conversation with one of my friends about various film stars (male and female) and which ones we each thought were attractive. Our differences in opinion were quite extreme. He was very careful to point out that he doesn’t think I have bad taste, just that our tastes are extremely different. Mind you, he didn’t like ‘Lord of the Rings’ and he doesn’t like strawberries, so perhaps his aesthetic sense is equally broken, but in a different direction. 🙂

I have realised that aspects of beauty are certainly cultural. Some of the volunteers have mentioned the fatter Sri Lankan women who roll out of their saris and don’t seem to care. The underlying assumption seems to be that the fat rolls are not attractive. However, Sri Lankan women seem to cultivate at least a certain amount of fat. I had a young Sri Lankan woman complain that her skin was too dark and she was too thin to wear a sari. It is unlikely that a western woman would complain of dark skin or being too thin.

There is one area where my aesthetic sense does seem to work. And that’s the natural world. Waterfalls, landscapes, valleys, mountains, cloud formations, trees, (flowers not so much), birds and animals to a lesser extent. I think Sri Pada (in Sri Lanka) and Poon Hill (in Nepal) and almost anywhere in Tibet are amazingly beautiful. I love the rainforests in Australia. I love the British countryside. Beaches don’t really do it for me, but lakes and rivers and mountains and forests certainly do.

So perhaps my aesthetic sense is just wired up in a different way. Or perhaps my attitude to make-up, clothing, jewellery etc just gets in the way of me being able to appreciate the beauty that may be there.

In any case, there are lots of things around me that I find beautiful. The fact that these things are not the same things as the things that other people find beautiful isn’t a problem. It’s just an interesting difference. 🙂 And interesting differences are things that I most certainly do find beautiful! 🙂