Sunday, December 25, 2016

*~Seasons Greetings from Eva~*

An expat's perspective on the dengue situation in Sri Lanka

The latest headlines across local media read, "Dengue reaches epidemic level in 10 districts" and "Dengue: Public Health Officers’ leave cancelled". I don't know whether you've noticed the hike in these sorts of headlines over the past year, but there seems to be a lot of fear mongering with regards to the Sri Lankan dengue situation. Undoubtedly, this is an area of great concern for all inhabitants and visitors of the island and not something to be taken lightly. And one should always err on the side of caution in dealing with mosquitoes as well as being proactive in the prevention of mosquitoes breeding around your home.  

As an expat blogger I quite often receive questions about mosquitoes and dengue. These originate from travelers as well as people wanting to relocate their young families to Sri Lanka. Apart from responding with my own personal experience regarding living with mosquitoes in the tropics, I also point them in the direction of this National Dengue Control Unit website and the website for the Sri Lankan Epidemiology Unit of the Ministry of Health.

Interestingly, when you do some research into the facts (i.e. recorded dengue statistics) Sri Lanka is actually doing better in terms of the dengue fatality rate than in some of its worst years. The fatality rate takes into account the total number of dengue cases and the number of deaths caused by dengue. Over the past seven consecutive years, Sri Lanka has achieved a continuing downward trend in the dengue fatality rate despite the high numbers of dengue cases.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Expat News, Articles of Interest and Diary Events #3

This is the round up for the second part of November 2016. Can you believe we're in December already? One more month in 2016 and in the blink of an eye we'll be kicking off 2017. So what are the things you have to tick off before the year is done? Will you be in Sri Lanka over the festive season or joining family and friends overseas? I mix it up a little - some years I've stayed in Sri Lanka while others have been back with family and friends. Although I don't make a big deal about Christmas, I always associate it with cold weather and hot puddings.

If you're celebrating the festive season in Sri Lanka be sure to get out of the cities and enjoy nature. It's a beautiful time of the year, the weather is mild and there are so many places to relax or experience new things. If you're staying in the city, then there's plenty happening ing around Colombo that will keep you entertained or at least, well fed.

I'll be traveling, seeking out adventures and exploring my creative side over the festive season. I need a little time-out to clear the cobwebs, reflect on the year that has just passed and set some goals for 2017.  Do you do the same?

Happy end of November round-up! Keep on reading on...

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

An expat in Sri Lanka: the Good, Bad and Ugly - Part 16

It feels like it's time for another installment of "An expat in Sri Lanka: the Good, Bad and Ugly". You're probably wondering how life has been treating me over the past few months. It's been busy in all aspects of life, but I've been reaping the rewards of all the good stuff I've been sowing for the past few years. If you've been following this blog it's been quite a journey. My intention has always been to blur the lines between expat/foreigner/immigrant (or whatever you want to call me) and local. Therefore, a lot of the things I have thrown myself into have been towards learning, exploring, connecting and embracing. As the years have passed, I've felt more and more connection to Sri Lanka, like becoming part of the furniture. It's not perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but it's where I call home.

A few years back I started to grow more organic fruit and vegetables in my urban garden. If you've read my blog post titled "How safe (or toxic) is the food we grow and eat in Sri Lanka?", I had (and still continue to have) a lot of concerns about the widespread use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides in the agricultural industry in Sri Lanka and the lack of regulation to give confidence to consumers. One of my personal solutions was to expand the existing vegetable plots in my garden, and also look into planting more fruit trees. My efforts (with the help of my part-time gardener) have gone exceedingly well. So much so, I have harvested more organic produce than I can consume.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Expat News, Articles of Interest and Diary Events #2

This is the round up for the first part of November 2016. The main event seems to have been the release of the Sri Lankan Government's Budget 2017. I published a blog post about a week ago titled "Sri Lanka Budget 2017 - some highlights for Foreign Investors, Expats and Visitors" to sum up the big-ticket changes and implications. Other than the release of the budget, it's been a funny few weeks. The weather is very mixed and it feels like we're experiencing the late monsoon or rains. It's definitely a welcome change after the terrible drought conditions but you can't help but worry a little that it could turn to floods, which is something we really don't wish to contend with.

In Colombo this week each day is like an experience in two halves. The first half is sunny and tropical, and then it hits 2pm the sky turns grey (a bit like London in the winter) and the the rain and thunderstorms begin. Somehow the unpredictable and extreme weather in recent years is becoming the norm, and that makes me incredibly nervous. It has a significant impact on our agriculture, power generation and much more.

It's a strong and steady march to the end of 2016. There's plenty on the social calendar. I've also added some worthwhile local initiatives in a new section called "Opportunites for Generosity" if you're looking for somewhere to donate some money.  Happy round-up! Read on...

Friday, November 11, 2016

Sri Lanka Budget 2017 - some highlights for Foreign Investors, Expats and Visitors

Sri Lanka's Budget 2017 was presented in Parliament yesterday with the key theme of accelerating growth and social inclusion. The Finance Minister, Ravi Karunanayake made a comment in his Budget speech that, “No Finance Minister wants to impose taxes and burden the people. Every Finance Minister wants to give concessions to the people improving their lives.” Unfortunately, tax hikes have been imposed to lower the deficit.
Karunanayake also sounded emotional when he revealed: “No Finance Minister wants to impose taxes and burden the people. Every Finance Minister wants to give concessions to the people improving their lives.”  - See more at:

The full Budget Speech can be downloaded from the official website of the Ministry of Finance.

There were a few proposals pertinent to visitors, foreign investors and expats:
  • Foreign students who wish to study in Sri Lankan universities from 2017 will be offered five-year multiple entry visas
  • Overstaying tourists will be fined 
  • Increases to visa fees (new rates have not been specified)
  • Spouse residence visas will be issued for five-years instead of two-years
  • In addition to the existing pre-approved electronic visa, Sri Lanka will also issue one-month visas-on-arrival
  • Minimum room rate of a hotel to be abolished to ensure competitiveness

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Experiencing Buddhist Meditation, Retreats and Ordination in Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka has long been a favorite destination for all types of spiritual seekers, from those wanting to learn how to be calm and stress-free, avid meditators who enjoy long periods of solitude, seekers of the Truth, those with an aspiration to ordain as a Buddhist monk or nun and the rest that fall somewhere within all of that. Buddhism was introduced to Sri Lanka around the third century BCE, and it has remained predominantly Buddhist with over 70% of the population declaring themselves Buddhist at the last census.

So why do people want to meditate or learn about Buddhism? Well, the answer seems somewhat obvious. Life is demanding and stressful and some people seek an answer to either help them become successful, maintain that success, overcome stress in their lives or find inner happiness. But there are some who are seeking a deeper Truth or the answer to "Why are we here?". It could be said that those who seek out meditation are looking for something that is more internal and potentially lasting, and  doesn't involve alcohol, sex, or some other distraction. These days it's not just stereotypical spiritual seeker, but more mainstream. From politicians (like Hilary Clinton), professional athletes (such as LeBron James, Novak Djokovic, Shane Watson to name a few), high profile business leaders, law enforcement, students and everyday people like us.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Expat News, Articles of Interest and Diary Events #1

If you're active on Facebook, then you may have seen regular posts to the Adventure in a Tuk-Tuk Blog's Facebook page of assorted local news items relevant to expats (and travelers) and living in Sri Lanka; general interest articles; and a variety of local events for your diary. Seeing as some readers are adverse, less inclined towards, or not on social media, I thought I'd post a round up of all of this on the blog.

As I was compiling this round up, it struck me that it's actually quite a good overview of some of the everyday things we have to consider or respond to in living over here. Due to the drought and problems with power generation, we've had water cuts and power cuts to contend with, and ongoing challenges with increasing taxes and more. This installment has an entire month of news and articles, but I may publish this a bit more regularly than monthly. FYI, I've kept it free from the political stuff as that would go on forever, and I'm sure you can find it and read it for yourselves.

You will also find there is a lot happening with less than two months to the end of 2016. Can you believe how quickly this year has flown past? I'm not quite ready for the year to close... I haven't completed everything on my 2016 to-do list eek lol Anyway, I hope you enjoy the round-up!

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

A Summary of Expat Forums, Associations and International Centers in Sri Lanka

One of the questions I often get asked on this blog and via email is about expat forums and groups in Sri Lanka, most especially in Colombo, Kandy and Galle. It's understandable that this question comes up, as most of us have left our family and friends back in our native countries in order to move to  Sri Lanka for work, sea-change, retirement or whatever other reason. But we soon discover that it's a whole different predicament as foreigners living in an unfamiliar country. Although it can be exciting, it can also be overwhelming when you don't speak the language, don't really know your way around, the culture is so vastly different from what you're used to, and you find yourself missing loved ones much sooner than you imagined!

Expat communities and groups can help with the adjustment process, as well as helping you to acclimate to the new environment, networking opportunities, social activities, advice and tips, and sometimes also discounts at local establishments. But mostly, you'll meet people from all over the globe who also want to connect. I'm often very surprised at the diverse nationalities and different reasons for being in Sri Lanka.

There are also some international centers (most are linked to foreign embassies) that organize, host or sponsor a variety of arts and cultural events and activities that will keep you connected to your home country or allow you to immerse in something more international while living in Sri Lanka.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Travel Monday: Visiting Sri Dedimunda Devalaya on Kemmura Wednesday - Aluth Nuwara

Dedimunda Devalaya, Aluth Nuwara, puja, offerings, maluwaThere's something wonderful about letting someone else take you on an adventure. I particularly love when my local friends invite me on a day trip or a drive without really telling me what's on the agenda. Naturally, there's trust as well as a sense of excitement at not knowing where or what we're doing. Plus, after keeping to schedules most of the week, there's a lovely respite when you allow someone else to take over. Usually I find myself enjoying the experience as it will be something or someplace I may not have planned or visited on my own, and I usually learn something of interest.

Just last week I tagged along on a mid-week adventure with some good friends who are based in Kandy. They are a lovely group of friends with an adventurous spirit, who have some of the nicest manners I've ever come across. Whenever I've been in a spot of bother, they have reached out to help me out (especially when I was testing out Kandy as another base) or they have gone out of their way to welcome me into their fold by including me in events and gatherings.

Last Wednesday morning, I found myself buckled in and tucked up nice and snug into a car with my motley crew of friends. No major details were provided other than that it would be a good to dress conservatively in light colors (with white being preferable). The drive was immensely enjoyable. There may have been some car seat grooving and singing along to radio tunes in between the easy banter among friends.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Travel Monday: Feeling joy at the ancient Girihadu Seya

I had Girihadu Seya on my to-do list for 2016, and I managed to make a visit there. Girihadu Seya is situated in the Thiriyaya region of the Trincomalee District. It is located atop a 212ft rock near the Yan Oya estuary, and you will need to climb at least 300 steps to reach the place. Girihadu Seya was apparently where Thappassu and Balluka (devotees of the Buddha), who traveled from India to Sri Lanka, apparently placed a lock of the Buddha's hair. It is said to be the first Stupa constructed in Sri Lanka.

This place is actually quite off the beaten track. You wouldn't visit unless you had heard about it or where in the north-eastern part of the island. Although it is not as well-known, I found it to be an amazing place form an energetic perspective. You've heard me talk about energies and the feel of places in some of my past blogs, and this was definitely one of the few places in Sri Lanka where I've felt this uniquely joyful feeling.

Girihadu Seya came onto my radar because of a friend's recent visit to the place. I had never heard of this place nor the history behind it.The pictures and their experience just really intrigued me. I was fortunate to have been traveling in the north of Sri Lanka and it wasn't exactly on the itinerary for the road trip, but then I saw the turn-off sign, and I thought "I'm really meant to visit this place".

Thursday, September 1, 2016

An expat perspective on life with or without the indispensable domestic helper

It has been an interesting expat experience having the luxury of employing domestic help around the home. Back in the UK this would have been something I would never have considered for a number of reasons, the most obvious one being the financial outlay. But since living on the island, I've come to realize that Sri Lanka has a  long history of domestic work and it is considered the conventional norm, affordable, and pretty much indispensable once you've benefited from such services. Many of my colleagues, peers and friends employ domestic help for a range of household services.

A domestic helper is usually someone who works within the employer's private household performing a range of services for the individual or family from providing care for children and elderly dependents to gardening, housekeeping, including cleaning. cooking, laundry and household maintenance.

Sometimes they are called housekeepers, housemaids, houseboys, caretakers, nannies, cooks, gardeners, night guards and drivers. Many are live-in, while some live outside of the employers home. In countries where domestic help is the conventional norm, the homes (including apartments) have built-in separate quarters for domestic helpers.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Travel Monday: Experiencing Sri Lanka's Post-War North

I moved to Sri Lanka in early 2008 and the island was still at war in the north-east with no end in sight. Back in those days in Colombo, I recall always feeling a frisson of awareness and traces of uncertainty around the escalating level of violence and despair. It seemed far away, but at the same time also close. The war was never actually far from the mind because of the security checks, road blocks, constant presence of the military, battle updates and the random acts of violence. And yet, life in the capital city still went on. On 19 May 2009 the three decade war ended and there was a palpable sentiment of unquenchable grief and desperate hope intertwined. 

As an outsider you can't help but quietly observe, process and ponder because you're largely ignorant of what came before, what just happened and what it all means for the country. Although the end of the war was celebrated, there was a heavy undercurrent of immense sorrow for those who lost loved ones on both sides and a mixture of relief imbued with pain and hurt. In one sense, I understood why people celebrated the end of the war because it meant the fighting, violence and destruction had ceased. But at the same time I could also see the confusion and discomfort that permeated below the surface at the act of  celebrating thirty years of hate, killing and cruelty.

Due to obvious reasons, during the war, it was not possible to travel to the north and east of the island.  I understood this, but I still felt like I didn't have the full picture of Sri Lanka. It always felt as if there was a missing piece to the jigsaw puzzle. A few months after the war ended I found myself on a road trip exploring the island from the south-east to the north-east. I wrote about parts of that journey in the blog post Travel Mondays: Road trip from Yala to Trincomalee, however, I kept a lot of  thoughts and views coming from any post-war observations to myself. I also wrote another blog post on a trip up to Jaffna in Travel Mondays: Colombo - Jaffna by bus, train, boat and coach and I kept this travel focused.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

How much do you spend in a typical week in Colombo?

Colombo ranks at #139 on Mercer's 2016 Cost of Living City Index out of 209 countries. As such, Colombo is not considered one of the more expensive city for expats, unlike cities such as Hong Kong which top the list of the most expensive cities for expats. Even Dhaka #45, Mumbai #82, Phnom Penh #118, and New Delhi #130 rank as more expensive than Colombo.

It is not surprising to find that an expat's living costs in Colombo are one of the most asked questions when it comes to the ins-and-outs of expat life in Sri Lanka. I get about an email a week these days with this question from someone either moving or thinking about a move to Sri Lanka.

One of the things I always state when it comes to cost of living is that it can vary greatly from person to person depending on their income (i.e. are you paid in local or foreign currency), asset base and lifestyle (i.e, this includes things marital status, kids, eating preferences, social preferences and so on). An expat who is single versus married with kids will have a different cost basket to consider. Similarly, an expat that owns their own property and vehicle will have a different cost base to one that is renting and using other forms of transport. As with most Asian cities, there are higher taxes imposed on imported goods, so if you're living as if you're back in your home city (particularly when it comes to eating preferences) then you'll find yourself paying the same if not more than what you would have back home. If you adjust to the local lifestyle and food choices then it is actually cheaper.

Generally speaking, most expats will have a higher cost of living than the average local. It can be quite surprising to discover how much an average local will spend in a typical week.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Travel Monday: All Mannar of things to see and do

If you recall one of my blog posts from earlier this year, "Travel Monday: What's on Eva's Travel To-Do List 2016", I had Mannar Island listed as one of the things on this travel list. I've heard people say there's not that much for tourists in Mannar, except for dusty trails, some history  and small villages, but somehow I knew I'd find beauty, wonder and adventure. I set out on one of my epic road trips with an open heart and mind in search of new discoveries and memorable experiences. As with most of my adventures they never really start and finish where I plan. I like to meander and follow my nose to things, so this bit in Mannar is a little segment of a longer road trip that I'm still blessedly enjoying. 

I would recommend spending at least a weekend in Mannar. I don't think you can really get to know the place unless you spend longer, and a weekend still isn't really long enough other than to scratch the surface. It's not one of those international touristy spots in Sri Lanka. It's a little more off-the-beaten track, but to me it means you'll find more local hidden treasures and get to rub shoulders with everyday people, rather than tourists and big city folk.

You can reach Mannar by bus, train or car from Colombo. I'm keen to try out the rail service on the Mannar Line which branches off from the Northern Line at Medawachchiya Junction and goes all the way north-west to Thalaimannar. This time round I went by four-wheel drive, which meant it was possible to take in the scenery on the coastal route as well as try some off-road routes through Wilpattu National Park for an impromptu wildlife safari. I saw a government bus as well as a private bus on the Wilpattu route, so I suspect you'll get to enjoy the same route I took if you pick the bus option to Mannar.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

UPDATED: The Lowdown on Education and Schooling in Sri Lanka for Expats

One of the key questions for expat families moving to Sri Lanka concerns education and schooling. I've had a few questions come my way regarding what to expect over here and how to approach things. This is both an important and often stressful area of consideration as it determines your children's education, development and well-being while growing up in foreign country.

So let me start off with a few basics on the education system in Sri Lanka. Firstly, Sri Lanka's modern education system was developed under the influence of its British colonial history from around 1836 and the English language medium of instruction was promoted. The current Sri Lankan curriculum and examinations system is modeled on the British examinations system (i.e. GCE O-levels and A-levels).

Around 1942 a few changes in Sri Lanka took place to ensure all children had access to free education, national languages of Sinhala and Tamil were made the medium of instruction (as opposed to English) and other. The right to free education was written into the Constitution of Sri Lanka 1978, which mandates compulsory schooling for children between the ages of five and fourteen years old. These developments have contributed to the overall high literacy rate in Sri Lanka. According to the UNESCO Institute for Statistics (2015), almost 93% Sri Lanka's adult population and over 98% of the youth population are literate.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

An expat in Sri Lanka: the Good, Bad and Ugly - Part 15

When you depart Sri Lanka for any length of time, and particularly for distant shores, you oftentimes forget the smells and sounds of life back on the island. I’ve returned from a few weeks abroad and I can say I definitely missed being here. No doubt there will be the usual frustrations for this expat after being back home, but, it’s also a good thing to feel like this place is home and a place that I want to return to. And this is despite all the challenges and changes that this teardrop island has faced and is still facing. It’s been eight years on the island and counting.

Can you believe I actually missed the local sounds? This was a really odd thing because I usually complain in my head about the sounds of tuks and sometimes just the general noise in my area. But the funny thing was, I missed those sounds while I was away. It was like my background track was noticeably missing, like being unplugged from your usual radio frequency.

For those that haven’t lived in Sri Lanka, this track is a mish-mash of bird calls (from the sweet whistling
of the black-hooded oriole; the loud call of the asian koel; and the high-pitched chattering of the yellow-billed babblers); traffic sounds (from tooting horns or noisy tuks or bread and ice-cream mini-trucks that play the sounds of Claire de Lune or It’s a Small World); and the floating chatter and laughter of people walking along the street.

Monday, June 6, 2016

It's our Home, so let's take good care of it

Yesterday was World Environment Day, 5 June 2016. It even has its own website, which states that it "is the United Nations’ most important day for encouraging worldwide awareness and action for the protection of our environment."

I posted this picture to the Adventures in a Tuk-tuk Facebook page

It was one of many posts across social media highlighting awareness and action to protect our environment.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Travel Monday: A Foreigner's Guide to the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic

One of the most-visited places on the teardrop island of Sri Lanka is the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic in Kandy, also known as Sri Dalada Maligawa to locals. As the name indicates, the grand temple complex houses the remains of the tooth relic of the Buddha in a sacred chamber. It is believed to be the left canine tooth of Gautama Buddha that was retrieved from the funeral pyre by one of the Buddha's disciples and through history has found its way to Sri Lanka. 

The Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic is considered one of the most sacred places in Sri Lanka as the sacred tooth relic is regarded as a symbolic representation of the Buddha by Sri Lankan Buddhists, and thus many offerings, rituals and practices revolve around the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic.

Pilgrims, travelers and tourists travel from near and far to visit, pay respects, make offerings and/or to witness the annual Esala Perahera held around August. Personally, I enjoy visiting this place because it has a very lovely energetic vibration and a definite flow of goodness beneath all the pomp and ceremony of the pujas and oftentimes heaving crowds.

This blog post is mainly for foreign tourists or expats who are curious about why the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic is so significant to many locals and Buddhist pilgrims and who want to know how to make the most out of a visit.

How to Learn Sinhala for Foreigners and Expats

A few years back, I wrote a blog post titled "The Funny World of Sinhala, Singlish and English" and it seems like an opportune time to revisit this topic in a more practical sense. Over the past year I've had a quite a few expats get in touch, who are either moving or have moved to Sri Lanka, expressing an interest in learning to speak Sinhala (and possibly to learn to read and write too). This is wonderful to hear and warms my little heart to know that there are other expats who keen to connect and communicate with locals in their native tongue, and also to feel more at home in Sri Lanka.

There have been plenty of expat articles that emphasize how learning the local language can be really beneficial to the expat experience of living in a foreign country. For one, it brings you closer to the locals and to better understand the local culture. It's a real revelation to be able to laugh and joke in the local language! Another reason, is that you will find more confidence living in Sri Lanka once you have a grasp of the language. It also is easier to navigate around the island using public transport and being aware of notices and signs for things of interest. Eventually, all this knowledge will make this place feel more like home, and what's not to like about that. I know all of this to be true from personal experience.

This blog post offers some practical advice and resources to assist expats and foreigners on learning to speak, read and write Sinhala.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Travel Monday: What's on Eva's Travel To-Do List 2016?

I have a secret to share with you... my secret is that I have itchy feet! Admittedly, it's more figurative than literal lol You see, I love my freedom and if I had my way I'd be constantly on the adventure trail. Realistically though, that isn't possible 100% of the time, so I make do with a travel to-do list, which has a mind of its own. Places of interest and experiences get crossed off,  highlighted, and added on throughout the year. Even after living here for a number of years there is still a lot I haven't seen or done. 

My travel to-do list is one of the things I spend a little time on at the beginning of year, after reflecting on the year just passed. There are some wish-list items on there, places or experiences I want to revisit, requests from friends and items that interest me that have come by way of news and social media.

I thought I'd share my current short list with you, which is in no particular order of priority. What's on my short list might invigorate some of your own travel plans, so I'm sharing the good stuff! The long list is far too long for this blog post, but I can confirm that it will still keep me on the adventure trail in Sri Lanka for a few years to come wink

It's only been three weeks since 2016 kicked off, but I've already check off a few things, and I'll be writing up some blog posts soon...

Friday, January 15, 2016

A wondrous week experiencing Sri Lankan village life

As an expat living in Sri Lanka for awhile now, I'd say I'm relatively well-versed in the comings and goings of everyday life around Colombo and to a certain extent, Kandy. These are the places I've lived most of the time, as opposed to the various travel I've undertaken around this blessed little teardrop island. Very recently, I was invited to spend a week with a local family in their little village on the outskirts of Kandy. It was a genuinely unique experience and one I would love to repeat with more frequency. This blog post is about that experience which has deeply touched me on many levels and, which has taught me more about what is at the heart of Sri Lankan culture.

I met this Sri Lankan family a couple of years ago through another local friend, and pretty much from the outset the relationship has felt warmly familiar and easy. It probably has a lot to do with their innate hospitality, generosity and sincere kindness. And I'm treated much like one of their family. Now that I think about it, there are quite a few friends in Sri Lanka that have adopted me in this way, and it makes me think how very hard it would be to ever consider leaving this teardrop island. It's not often you can say that about the people you meet. And when you do, my advice is to treasure it because it is rare indeed.