Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Little triflings

Greetings dear blog readers!

From time-to-time I make note of things of interest or helpful tips. As you can imagine, these little tidbits do tend to accumulate over time. But, they don't necessarily "fill" an entire blog post on their own.

So, I thought I'd combine them into one blog post and ramble all over the page about a bit of this-and-that.

Airport runs are often interesting when it comes to getting to and from Bandaranaike International Airport. It can take up to two hours if you're coming to or from Colombo during traffic peak hours, though the distance is about 35 kilometers. Usually, this means you have to set off early to ensure you don't miss your flight. However, the new Colombo-Katunayake Expressway is set to open soon, which will significantly cut the journey down to 20 minutes over a distance totalling approximately 25 kilometers. This will definitely improve the airport travel experience for both locals and tourists.

I've had a few scary journeys to the airport. I'm not referring to attacks or crimes or anything of that sort. More like, travel experiences where I've run into some random event and I'm at risk of missing my flight. For example, one time I was unwittingly caught behind a perahera parade. The traffic police had not blocked off the road or turn off demonstrating their incompetence at event planning/traffic coordination. Many cars, including mine, turned into the road in question and found ourselves literally stuck - neither being able to move forward nor backwards.

I'm not prone to being overtly irate at police, as you never quite know which way it will go. Sometimes, you can plead your case, and some intuitive policeman can be quite reasonable, but mostly in reality, they can't be all that bothered with your plight. On this occasion, my friend who was driving me to the airport, went on the offensive and told the police officers off and basically told them what they should have done in the first place, which was to block the road off. Then, he got them to get all the stuck vehicles to reverse out so we could eventually reverse as well. By the way, this took about 40 to 45 minutes. And, I was almost shitting myself thinking I'd not make my flight if traffic was bad the rest of the way.

So, the moral of this particular story is to factor in some extra travel time for random events that might delay your airport journey. Better safe than sorry!

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A good cup of tea is a real joy at the best of times. In Sri Lanka, there are many ways to enjoy said cup of tea. There is a cup of plain tea with a few pieces of jaggery; a watery cup of milk tea with the teabag still dangling from the cup; a pot of tea at a classy tea shop or hotel where the leaves are missing with milk (usually made from milk powder) is served on the side; a cup of flavoured plain tea; a strong cup of milk tea made with condensed milk; and other little variations.

I think I've mentioned in previous posts my love for roadtrips and stopping by the roadside at some scenic bend in the road where I can partake of a hot cup of plain tea enjoyed with a few chunky pieces of jaggery, and some friendly conversation with the stall owner.

One thing I learnt recently was the price variation when ordering tea. It's common practice in the West to order a pot of tea for one or a pot of tea for two. This is available in Sri Lanka, however, it is more common in this country to order a cup of tea, rather than a pot of tea. And, I've found there is a significant enough price difference to boot.

The average price of a cup of plain tea is generally around Rs.30 to Rs.40 at a local cafe or restaurant. For a milk tea, the average price goes up to around Rs.55 to Rs.70 per cup. But, a pot of tea is on average around Rs.350 to Rs.500. Note - prices for cups or pots of tea are usually higher for upmarket cafes, hotels and tourist resorts.

Now, if you work out there are around sometimes up to 4 cups of tea per pot, you are definitely financially better off ordering tea by the cup. 

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One thing I love about everyday life in Sri Lanka has to do with generosity and, if you choose to, an ability to not be wasteful with food items or things. There is a natural social mechanism to pass things on or around the community. In the West I would often drop off my old things, such as clothes, books, accessories, music and so on, as a donation to the charity shop. They could then be sold at low/nominal prices to other people by the charity or shipped off to countries in need. But, it's more difficult to give out excess food or things like that unless it's for Christmas or special charitable events.

In Sri Lanka, I can do even better than what I did back in London. Over here, I can give or donate my old belongings to people with less means in my community, orphanages, or to people in villages outside of Colombo. I can also give leftover meals to street beggars or those that come knocking on my gate. Often, I give my gardener, handyman and rubbish collectors fruit from my garden or excess food from a party/gathering or other excess dry goods I might have at home. I even leave a packet of sweet biscuits for the boys that occasionally wash my car at the carwash. 

I feel so much better for doing these things because I feel like I've not wasted what I have and I've been able to share or help out another human being. I've found there is often no shame attached with giving or receiving these things - it's more socially and culturally acceptable. If you consider how materialistic the world has become and how quickly items become obsolete or redundant, I love the Asian way of recycling through the community and/or the practice of trying to fix before replacing. Last year I was gutting one of my bathrooms and rather than simply throwing out the old bathroom fittings and accessories, I gave them to my plumber so he could either get scrap value for them or utilize some of the parts around his home. Nothing went to waste.

Every year I have birthday cake - I'm lucky like that! Most of the time, I have leftover birthday cake, especially if I'm travelling out of Colombo. 

It's not often possible for me to take it with me if I'm travelling, so I usually try to find a local village daycare or kindergarten where I can share it with the local kids on the same day. It is remarkable how uplifting this can be. 

All it takes is a slice of cake!

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Oh, for the love of CHOGM. If you don't know what this is, not to worry, you're probably better off not knowing. I'm joking of course. How non-PC of me! I guess I might be able to blame it on all the controversy and attention surrounding CHOGM being held in Colombo, Sri Lanka. Okay, so it stands for the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting and is held every two years. This year it will be held from 15 to 17 November 2013.

Many who live in and around Colombo will have noticed the slowly-but-surely clean-up and supposed beautification of the city. Certain roads have or are being widened, curbs neatened, sidewalks paved or undergoing paving, trees planted, buildings painted and renovated and so on. I've even heard how some remaining inner city shanty homes are to be cleared and inhabitants moved away (note - before one of the South Asian meetings a few years back, the same thing happened) and some street beggars have already been encouraged to move on from their usual city spots.

I'm not super critical of what's going on, though I could be. I think it's because it's the norm for cities to do this. I'm not condoning some of the measures being taken, nor encouraging for public money to be spent on all that paving (most of which I note is sub-standard as they haven't leveled the foundation properly before paving, so most of it will sink when it rains anyway! Sheesh, even I could give a masterclass on how to pave!)

As I was saying, most cities who host large country events tend to do this sort of thing. Beijing did similar to this before the Olympics on an uber-grand scale. The last host of CHOGM was the city of Perth in Western Australia and they spent a fair whack on beautifying their city and clearing up the inner city homeless situation.

I expect CHOGM will mean a bit of an awkward time for Colomboites... with oodles of official government visitors descending on Colombo, heightened security, lots of politicizing of specific issues, media scrutiny and a whole lot more. Wish us luck aye...

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