Friday, June 28, 2013

An expat in Sri Lanka: the Good, Bad and Ugly - Part 3

“Police are inevitably corrupted. ... Police always observe that criminals prosper. It takes a pretty dull policeman to miss the fact that the position of authority is the most prosperous criminal position available.”
~ Frank Herbert, God Emperor of Dune

You can't live in Sri Lanka without having a few stories to tell about the police. Some of these stories are from my own personal experience while others are from friends and colleagues. And, there are many that are reported by the media too.

I heard a funny story this week about a thief. I think the story inadvertently says a lot about the state of the police force in Sri Lanka.  Anyway, the story goes... there was this thief running away from the scene of his crime with his stolen loot and was being pursued by a policeman. After seeing the policeman in pursuit, the thief ran even faster. Just as the policeman saw that he was about to lose the thief he yelled out "Hold on. Wait! I'm not going to arrest you. I just want my cut from your stolen loot."

Now you may be laughing at the story, but I think you'll find a few people here who would say this is probably a true story or it doesn't fall far from reality.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

My Sri Lankan Food Diary: Just an average week of eating

"You are what you eat"

Have you heard this saying before? Mmmm... Well, I really don't know about that! 

My diet is so varied and given I now reside in Sri Lanka I wonder what it really says about me. That said, I never used to worry about my calorie intake nor about what I ate, but as time has passed I now give due consideration to what, how much and when to eat.

Anyhoo, the reason behind this particular post is twofold.

The first has to do with people wanting to know a bit about my diet in Sri Lanka (i.e. what kind of food I prefer to cook and/or eat and how I've acclimatized to local food culture). And the second is my own curiosity as to whether my normal eating habits are particularly skewed towards specific foods, whether it's healthy (or not) and the balance between eating in or out.

This post might be quite interesting (and possibly embarrassing)... Now one thing to note is I do tend to travel a few times each month out of Colombo for work and play, so for this average week I've selected a week where I'm traveling for a few days of the week.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Travel Monday: A pilgrimage to Mihintale to uncover its ancient history

This past weekend in Sri Lanka we celebrated Poson full moon poya . It is a significant day on the Sri Lankan Buddhist calendar as it commemorates the introduction of Buddhism to the island by Arahath Mahinda (son of Emperor Asoka of India) on the same day in 247 BC.

According to the history books, Arahath Mahinda arrived in Mihintale, near Anuradhapura, where he met with King Devanampiyathissa. On his arrival Arahath Mahinda was invited to preach Dhamma to the king and his people. He later resided at Mihintale establishing a monastery for Sangha.

Mihintale was partially neglected at the beginning of the 11th century and as a result of the collapse of the Rajarata civilization in the middle of the 13th century it was then completely abandoned from. Archaeological activity began early in the 20th century to restore the large monastic complex and the structures apparent today.

Buddhists make their pilgrimage to Anuradhapura and Mihintale during the month of June to honor Arahath Mahinda and the establishment of Buddhism in Sri Lanka.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Navigating the sensitive topic of sex and intimacy on the teardrop island

I was very surprised to learn from Google Trends volume index data for 2012 that Sri Lanka was the most savvy (or you could also say, excessive) country to google the word "sex" in 2012, with the highest volumes focused around Colombo. Sri Lanka was closely followed by India, Papua New Guinea, Ethiopia and Pakistan.

It made me contemplate the perceptions, attitudes and, the reality of sex in Sri Lanka. To understand this it's critical to get a snapshot of the religious and cultural base of the country.

When I moved here it was apparent that things don't work the same way in Asia as they do elsewhere. There is a strong religious foundation and culture in most Asian countries that shapes the social fabric and value system of each place. Sri Lanka is not an exception in this regard, so the excessive trending of the word "sex" is highly interesting.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Never under-estimate the "psychological game" of Cricket

If you're an avid cricket fan, then you won't go through a game of cricket without experiencing every kind of emotion that's available. In my case, if the game is "on", then it will probably come as no surprise to those that know me, to see me yelling at the TV, throwing my hands up, punching my pillow or ranting at a player/umpire/commentator. Yes, I've got it bad!

Most of the time, it's the psychological part of the game that has me intrigued. I mean, to play at the professional level of cricket it's a given that players have talent, skill, desire, luck and performance. However, in the match itself, there is a whole lot more going on than just the cricket action.

Let me put it like this...

We've all been curious about certain behaviors on-and-off the field, but especially on the field. And there have been certain performances by teams where we've thought, why does that keep happening?

Monday, June 17, 2013

Travel Monday: A visit to Pinnawela Elephant Orphanage

Pinnawela Elephant Orphanage is a popular orphanage, nursery and captive breeding ground for baby and adult elephants in Sri Lanka.

It is located on a 25-acre coconut plantation adjacent to the Maha Oya River and north-west of Kegalle town in the Sabaragamuwa District.

The orphanage is open daily and proceeds from ticket costs go towards maintaining the facility and caring for the elephants.

Opening hours are between 8.30 am and 6.00 pm daily.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

The best things in life aren't free, the rising cost of living in Sri Lanka

My favorite things in life don't cost any money. It's really clear that the most precious resource we all have is time.
~ Steve Jobs 
There is relative truth in Jobs' quote, however the human predicament means we can't live on air alone and though time is precious, it doesn't provide sustenance for us to survive.

Sri Lanka has much to offer and that's why I continue to live here. However, it is evident that the cost of living in Sri Lanka, as well as globally, is on the rise.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

National anthems, intermissions and censorship

If you haven't been to the cinema in Sri Lanka, I really must encourage you to visit one of the local cinemas. You're missing out on a unique cultural experience. I say this, with a little smile on my face, because I'm reminded of this little nugget while on a recent trip to the movies.

The cinema experience on the tiny island has definitely improved over the past few years. In my early days, I hesitated to frequent the cinemas around Colombo because they were largely run down, a bit grubby and had limited runs of a handful of the latest movie releases. These days, due to renovations (and/or expansion) and a greater distribution of recent releases (particularly the action genre), the overall viewing experience has improved.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Travel Monday: Luscious countryside, rock temples and cave treasures

All journeys have secret destinations of which the traveler is unaware.
~ Martin Buber

Sri Lanka is an island that is rich for exploration and discovering the unexpected. In my experience a simple ride in a tuk-tuk, a walk through a forest or a drive off the beaten track can lead you to ancient places, untouched natural beauty and surprising experiences.

At one extreme we can plan our travels with a set destination and mapped out journeys down to the nth degree. At another there are only loose plans attached to a general sense of direction and a feeling of adventure.

This trip was one of the latter.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

An expat in Sri Lanka: the Good, Bad and Ugly - Part 2

“Being happy does not mean that everything is perfect. It means that you have decided to look beyond the imperfections.”
~ Aristotle

I'm often mistaken for a tourist or traveler. To a local this pretty foreign face equals unlikely or not expected to actually live in Sri Lanka. This can be both a positive or negative thing.

On the positive, it's fairly good because of the warm and welcoming local attitude towards tourists and travelers. And, by nature, most locals are genuinely helpful and hospitable. I've visited remote villages and towns where they probably haven't seen many foreigners, yet they're never paranoid nor unwelcoming. It's the complete opposite and so refreshing. Most visitors are often struck by the generous smiles and open faces around the island. I know for a fact this is not often the case outside of Sri Lanka. And I also know some of my Sri Lankan friends haven't necessarily been treated that well whilst traveling abroad, especially with increased attacks around the globe and paranoia on the rise. It's embarrassing and troubling the number of times I've stood at one of the counters at immigration or border control in UK/Europe and the US/Canada and listened to my brown-skinned friends being questioned with a not-so-subtle hint of in-hospitality and sometimes fear. So, to be warmly welcomed as a foreigner in Sri Lanka is truly a positive.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Travel Monday: Sri Pada - Pilgrimage, Faith and Spectacular Sunrises

“You can never conquer the mountain. You can only conquer yourself”
- James Whittaker 
Sri Pada is a sacred mountain (7,360 ft), located in the central highlands of Sri Lanka. It has religious significance to Buddhists, Hindus, Christians and Muslims. As such, it is known by many names:
  • Sri Pada derives from sanskrit and is roughly translated as "the sacred foot", which refers to a footprint-shaped mark at the summit of the mountain. Buddhists believe it is the footprint of the Buddha
  • Adam's Peak - Muslims and Christians believe the footprint to be that left by Adam after he was thrown out of Paradise (though the Portuguese Christians later attributed St. Thomas the Apostle as having stayed or visited the mountain)
  • Shivanolipatha Malai or Shiva Padam (in tamil) - Hindus believe the footprint to be that of their deity Shiva
  • Samanalakanda (in sinhala) - It has two possible references: one refers to the Hindu deity Saman, who is said to live upon the mountain; two refers to the butterflies ("samanalayā") that frequent the mountain during their annual migrations to the region
  • Ratnagiri - the Mountain of Gems

Saturday, June 1, 2013

An expat in Sri Lanka: The Good, Bad and Ugly - Part 1

"What is it really like living in Sri Lanka as a foreigner or expatriate*"
* An expatriate (sometimes shortened to expat) is a person temporarily or permanently residing in a country and culture other than that of the person's upbringing.

I am asked this particular question quite often. My network abroad, tourists visiting Sri Lanka, locals, expat Sri Lankans, and people I don't know but somehow find myself in a conversation with... All, eventually ask me this question.

So, I guess it makes some sort of sense for me to answer it here. Please note that these are my personal opinions, from my perspective, experiences and filtered through my lenses, cultural conditioning and biases. It may or may not resonate with you, but I kindly request you bear it in mind as you read on.