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.