Thursday, February 28, 2013

Full Moon Poya Days: Opportunities for Generosity

When I first moved to Sri Lanka I was surprised (and naturally pleased) to learn of the abundance of public holidays to enjoy throughout the year. In 2013 there are 26 official public holidays celebrated. This is far more than that of other countries.

By comparison, there are only 10 official public holidays celebrated across the United States of America; 9 across the United Kingdom; 10 across Australia; 13 across France; 8 across Russia; 11 across Singapore; 16 across Thailand; 15 across Japan; and 6 across the United Arab Emirates.

Interestingly, Sri Lanka appears to have the most official public holidays in the world.

In Sri Lanka, 12 of the 26 public holidays are known as full moon poya days. Poya is a pali word (or Uposatha in sanskrit) given to the Buddhist day of observance, which has been in existence from the Buddha's time (500 BCE). It is a public holiday celebrated in Sri Lanka on each full moon day, and it signifies a "day of fasting" or "day of cleansing the defiled mind".

There are distinct names that have been given for each of the poya days to honor specific significant events related to Sri Lanka (see bottom of this page for the name and description of each poya). Usually businesses and retail shops do not trade on these days and the sale of alcohol and meat is prohibited.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

The funny world of Sinhala, Singlish and English

Sinhala is the primary language spoken in Sri Lanka and mother tongue of the Singhalese people. The Sinhalese people make up the majority of the island's total population, approximately 75%. The remaining 25% consists of Sri Lankan Tamils, Moors, Indian Tamils, Malays, Burghers and other minorities.

I've been slowly navigating my way around Sinhala. Given that my first language is English, I've found it more than a little challenging to pick up. Firstly, if you've ever stood and observed a conversation in Sinhala its quite apparent that fluent speakers talk at, what seems like, a million miles a minute. And it also sounds a little musical too, in a good way.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Waiting On: Galle Literary Festival 2014

One of my favorite annual events held in Sri Lanka is the Galle Literary Festival. Its founder Geoffrey Dobbs launched its first event sometime around 2005/06, and over the past few years the event has grown significantly in profile, participation and attendance.

I initially discovered the festival in 2011 and attended all four days over which it was held in Galle. I enjoyed attending the variety of author "in conversation" and panel sessions, book readings, literary breakfast, lunches and dinners, workshops and, other quirky events. The entire four days felt intimate, companionable and stimulating. The primary venues for most events are situated within the old Galle Fort, which is recognized by UNESCO as a cultural heritage site. It adds to the overall appeal of the event, as the fort has a colorful history and features both Portuguese and Dutch era buildings.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Sri Lanka: Cricket Nation

In all honesty, I cannot write a blog on Sri Lanka without dedicating a number of posts to the island's favorite sport of cricket. It also strikes me that you have to be living under a rock not to know something about cricket if you live in Sri Lanka. The average srilankan with access to the internet lists ESPN Cricinfo, ICC and Sri Lanka Cricket as their favorite" websites.

Cricket is one of the nation's greatest passions and almost everyone (from market sellers, bus drivers, office workers, city slickers, politicians, shop owners, villagers and more), have a view on it.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

The Daily Grind: Congestion, Pollution and Commuting

One of the most important aspects to living in any city is the ability to efficiently travel from A to B. We are social beings by default and aside from getting to and from work, we like to visit friends and family, seek entertainment and carry on with our daily routines. More often than not, whether we drive, commute by bus, tuk-tuk, taxi or train, we take it for granted. This happens globally, and it is no different in Sri Lanka.

Over the past few years of living in Colombo I've witnessed the increase in congestion on the roads. There seems to be an increasing number of vehicles (cars, buses, vans, trucks) on the road (note- I have wondered about the correlation between Sri Lankan Government regulations on the import of Japanese vehicles and the funding of grants and loans for major road infrastructure in Sri Lanka by the Japanese government). And, I've noted the buses and trains are filled to capacity (with no regard for health and safety matters as demonstrated in the image above) as commuters come in and out of Colombo. And I've yelled my fair share of expletives whilst sitting in traffic trying desperately to reign myself in from jumping out and punching a bus driver whose fingers move too easily to honk on the horn.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Paradise or Pit?

People often approach me to ask what it's like to live on the teardrop island known as Sri Lanka. Sometimes it's difficult to find the right words. Quite possibly there are no "right" words, but rather, it's an experience that really needs to be evaluated firsthand. Of course the experience will be unique for each person, most definitely different for Sri Lankans versus foreigners. And, it also makes a difference if you live in Colombo, Kandy or in smaller towns across Sri Lanka.

I have been residing in Sri Lanka, on-and-off for over five years now, predominantly based around Colombo. Initially, I felt some resistance, but my intention was always to embrace the new, the different and be adventurous. For one, it's a totally different culture than what I've been brought up in. It's Asian rather than Western in its history, culture, people, views and workings. Though surprisingly, there are very western parts to modern-day Sri Lanka. Historically, Sri Lanka has been colonised by the Portuguese, Dutch and British. The legacy of this resonates throughout the island in quite a few ways - from architecture, urban planning, education system, legal system, street names and much, much more. I have to stifle a chuckle whenever I meet a Cyril, Neville, Percy or Angelo.