Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Fifty Shades of Thievery: A sign of the times for everyday Sri Lanka?

I seem to be a collector of stories. Some stories happen to be funny, while others are interesting or topical, and then there are some which make you wish for things to be other than what they are. This post is filled with the latter kind.

A perpetual theme that has caught my interest has been around everyday thievery (and dishonesty) in Sri Lanka (i.e  taking what isn't yours or hasn't been given to you freely), hence the title for this post "Fifty Shades of Thievery". The stories I'm about to share are not what you would normally read about in the newspaper or hear about on the news. Neither are they about politicians or government bureaucrats, local authorities or multinational companies.

These stories are about everyday small business or shop owners. People who live in your community and try to make ends meet, grow a small business and contribute to society. And people you might deal with in daily life.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Travel Monday: Taking a refreshing dip under the Suratalee Falls

The waterfalls in Sri Lanka... they come in all shapes and sizes: tall, spectacular, gorgeous, breathtaking, tranquil and dip-worthy! I have made some awesome treks (yes, to see some of these you will have to put in some effort!) to view and explore some of these waterfalls, and at some point, I will blog about them all.

For this post, I decided on Suratalee (or sometimes spelt Surathali) Falls. I was on one of my infamous roadtrips with a few friends and we unexpectedly found this waterfall. It was totally unplanned, and when we stumbled upon Suratalee Falls, we had been travelling from Haputale towards Belihul Oya on the A4 highway. It is close to Beragala.

Sometimes you see something that catches your eye (and this definitely applies to any roadtrip around Sri Lanka if you're adventurous like me) so you jump out of the car to investigate. That's how we found this one.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Expat Sri Lankans: Negativity, quirks and silly behavior

Expat Sri Lankans are a quirky bunch - I say this in the kindest possible way. I have the pleasure of knowing quite a few from living and working alongside them in different cities abroad; meeting them through friends and colleagues on my travels and exchanging funny stories; and coming into contact via social media.

The other day I was trying to categorize them for my mother, who was trying to understand this conversation that was unfolding between a group of friends. Truth be told, most of that conversation flew over my mother's head, but it got me thinking... I tackled one particular issue regarding expat Sri Lankans in an earlier blog post on Sri Lanka's brain drain and the question of whether educated or skilled expats would ever return "home" to Sri Lanka. As fascinating as this issue is, when I consider a few questions and comments triggered by friends, colleagues and my mother, I started to ponder more about the general attitudes and behaviors of expat Sri Lankans I know and/or have come across.

I mean no disrespect, but I think it makes for interesting reading, particularly to local and expat Sri Lankans.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Fiery electricity bills and short term ways to reduce the heat

Electricity is a hot topic in Sri Lanka right now. In fact, the whole power sector could be generally considered a hot topic here (and world-wide), both from an everyday cost of living perspective (i.e. energy costs make up a large proportion of household and business expenses) and an environmental one.

There have been heated debates and protests in Sri Lanka for many years, but more recently it's been bubbling up due to recent changes in electricity tariffs.

And, there was this article a few weeks ago headlined as "Sri Lanka man dies of heart attack after shocking electric bill" that sent some people into a tizzy.

The Ceylon Electricity Board ("CEB") filed cost estimates of Rs 268 billion for the supply of electricity for 2013 with the Public Utilities Commission of Sri Lanka ("PUCSL") in late January 2013. This sparked general outcries particularly in light of the CEB recording a loss of Rs 61.2 billion in 2012 (i.e. an increase of over Rs 40 billion in losses from 2011). The CEB attributed the loss to the rise in electricity generation costs. Further losses in the same region as 2012 are forecast for 2013.

The PUCSL reviewed and published the revised tariffs on 12 March 2013, conducted public consultation in March 2013, received written submissions till 28 March 2013. The PUCSL received over 100 written submissions and numerous oral representations were made on 4 April 2013. The PUCSL issued its Final Decision on Electricity Tariffs 2013 in June 2013

There was public backlash over the revised tariffs when they were published, and then President Mahinda Rajapakse backtracked a bit amid rising opposition. This resulted in a slight revision in the tariffs.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Travel Monday: Avukana Ancient Rock Temple

Sri Lanka has many amazing ancient rock temples. The Avukana ancient rock temple is one of them. I visited a few years ago and was stunned speechless by the amazing rock carved Buddha statue.

This ancient rock temple is believed to have been constructed in the 5th century by King Dhutasena of Anuradhapura (he is also known by the name Dasenkeli), who ruled from 455 to 473 A.D.

It is located near the town of Kekirawa in North Central Sri Lanka, which is somewhere between Dambulla and Anuradhapura and close to the ancient Kala Weva man-made rainwater reservoir. It is approximately 180kms from Colombo (or 3.5 hours by car).

Pilgrims and tourists will visit this rock monastery to view the 42ft standing Buddha statue that has been carved out of a large granite rock face that is not been completely separated from the main rock boulder. The actual height of the Buddha statue is around 38 feet, however it is raised on a rock pedestal that is around 4 feet in height.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

An expat in Sri Lanka: the Good, Bad and Ugly - Part 4

People say I'm extravagant because I want to be surrounded by beauty. But tell me, who wants to be surrounded by garbage? - Imelda Marcos 
You know you're going to be getting your stinky on when the subject matter for this installment of "An expat in Sri Lanka: the Good, Bad and Ugly" is all about garbage (also known as refuse, rubbish or trash).

I've had this on my list of things to write about for quite some time.

In most of the places outside of Sri Lanka where I have resided there haven't been too many issues or stories that spring to mind. BUT, since living in Sri Lanka it's been "knee deep in smelly trash" to put it mildly!

Garbage collection is a bit hit-and-miss in Colombo and it is not necessarily consistent across Colombo. Coming from abroad I am used to regular weekly bin and recycling collections, as well as dates for bulk rubbish collections. I'm also used to the local council providing me with the appropriate recycling bins to separate out plastics, papers and glass.

When I first arrived in Colombo I was living in an area where households literally dumped their garbage in a pile by the side of the road, and you would count yourself lucky it wasn't directly in front of or beside your home. The garbage attracted stray animals, emitted smelly fumes and gave the street a distinctly unhygienic and untidy appearance. At the time, I recall some of my neighbors informing me it was the only way garbage could be managed as collections were not being regularly made from people's houses.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Travel Monday: Up in the Air, Over the Water and Navigating at Ground Level

I've spent a significant portion of my life travelling... When I think back to my childhood, I took my first plane trip as a mere baby and my love of travel has literally blossomed from there!

I'm currently traveling and didn't get a chance to bring my library of Sri Lanka photos with me, so I've decided to blog about some of my thoughts on travel and favorite memories. I think it'll make for interesting reading and the photos will be whatever happens to be on my laptop.

Since a very young age I've been fascinated with how people travel, whether it's by walking, driving, swimming, hitching, cycling, sailing, flying or travelling by bus, train or some other form of transport. As a kid my family would always take a driving holiday as well as fly to somewhere warm and sunny, or do something adventurous like camping, cycling or hiking. We would immerse ourselves in the "foreign-ness" of our travels absorbing new cultures, languages, sights, smells, tastes and sounds.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

The Handymen Crisis in Sri Lanka: Headaches, Tricks and Dodgy Work

Getting work done around the house - everything from plumbing, home maintenance, paint jobs to refits and renovations - can be a real nightmare in Sri Lanka (and, for that matter,  probably elsewhere in the world too). I don't know what it is about this area of the manual labor workforce, but I've personally had my fill of headaches, dirty tricks and dodgy work practices to last me a lifetime. 

As it's currently the bane of my existence, I can safely tell you I've wasted hours comparing stories with neighbors, colleagues and friends (basically whoever will listen), as well as more than my fair share of time venting in frustration. So much so, I'm dedicating a whole blog post to the "handymen crisis in Sri Lanka"!

So tell me, do you know of any person who has never gotten upset with their handyman or tradesman in Sri Lanka?

No? Well, you are not alone...  Join my unhappy chappy club!

Let me start with my story...

Monday, July 1, 2013

Travel Monday: Jeep Safari of Minneriya National Park

Minneriya National Park ("Minneriya") is one of my most favorite places in Sri Lanka, even though it is one of the smaller national parks on the island. I think I've mentioned this in one of my previous blog posts. I think it's because I've personally had such memorable visits and I consider it on my must-do list when taking friends or family around the island.

People will often prefer Yala or Wilpattu over Minneriya, and I have no problem with that. There are certainly similarities across all the national parks in Sri Lanka anyway. I think what is special about Minneriya is the "Gathering" when more than 300 elephants come together around Minneriya Lake or Reservoir. It takes place annually around September and October. I am a humongous elephant lover so it goes without saying this is "it" for me!

It's also the way in which the national park is set out - the wide open and flat spaces, scrub jungle, the Minneriya tank and overall lusciousness - that pulls me in every time. I've also witnessed some of what I consider the most beautiful wildlife (particularly herds of elephants and amazing birdlife) and incredible passages of time while safariing at Minneriya. Wilpattu comes a close second for me, followed by Yala. I think Yala doesn't rate as highly for me because it's always so busy whenever I visit and therefore my rating on the experiential level declines.

Minneriya is about 180kms or five hours from Colombo. The park covers just 8,889 hectares including the Minneriya tank, which was built by King Mahasena (in the 3rd century AD). The entrance is along the Habarana–Polonnaruwa Road. Whenever I visit I usually stay around Habarana or Giritale (but you can also choose to stay around Sigiriya or Polonnaruwa, which are both convenient) and visit Minneriya within a broader trip that includes other adventures and delights. They say the best time to visit is between May to October.