Monday, August 7, 2017

Travel Monday: Day tripping to Budugala and Kurugala

Who doesn't love a little road trip? Well I certainly do. You'd think I'd have run out of places to visit after a decade of tripping across this island. But, this just isn't the case. I still have a TBR list, which funnily enough stands for "To Be Roadtripped" . Budugala has been on my TBR list for something like three to four years.A friend had mentioned visiting the place and I'd also seen a description of the area in an obscure local publication.

A couple of months ago I got together a group of friends to take a day trip out to visit the archaelogical site of the ancient monastery ruins of Budugala and Kuragala. We set off very early from Colombo and took our time road tripping towards Budugala and passing through Ratnapura then to Balangoda and Kalthota. It's a scenic drive going inland in a southern direction with plenty of winding roads and glimpses of mountains and plains.

It had been very hot and humid during this time and the southern monsoon was still a little late in arriving, so conditions were still dry. I was a little thankful because in all honesty I wouldn't have been looking forward to hiking through areas that had a lot of leeches. Though having said that, I've trekked and trailed through many places in Sri Lanka when there have been leeches, snakes, and other creepy crawlies. Even when the weather is fine, I still carry citronella oil and dettol when I go on my adventures. It just pays to be prepared.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Expat News, Articles of Interest and Diary Events #12

It's been another crazy month in Sri Lanka. I've been fielding questions left-right-and-center (here and from abroad) about what is going on in Sri Lanka and, whether I think the country is going to implode under all the political, economic and environmental pressures and the general unrest across the population. I have plenty of personal opinions, which I won't share publicly, but what I will say is that Sri Lanka is facing a crucial historical juncture while experiencing a tremendous amount of pressure to bend and bow to external pressures. Truth be told, nothing is ever what it seems.

It makes for difficult, but interesting times to be living on the island. Difficult in the sense that, if you have your finger on the pulse of the nation, it's not a prosperous time for the population at large and many are facing hardship. The endless number of strikes across the different sectors gives testimony to this. People are unhappy about so many things that it's probably easier to list the things they are happy about than what they're unhappy about.

As an expat one of the main concerns is always the value of the Sri Lankan rupee and the ongoing saga of monetary policy. It doesn't matter as much while you're living and working in the country, but it's a different story when you're traveling, investing or planning to repatriate. The other things on the radar relate to changes to taxation, dengue epidemic, power cuts, fuel distribution challenges, water cuts, ongoing garbage debacle, proposals regarding residence visas and so on.

In the meantime, check out the month that was and some of the upcoming events for your diary... All the best for August!

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Capturing nature and birdlife

One of the aspects of life in Sri Lanka that has not changed in the time I have lived on the island has been beauty and proximity of nature. If you follow my social media feeds then you'll have noted my love of all things nature. Proximity plays a key part in all of this. Whether it's around home, along a walking track, or venturing out of the city - it's very much part of everyday life.

Each day I remind myself to take in the sounds around me. There's usually dogs barking, birds chirping, squirrels squeaking and the rustling of branches or leaves. Tropical life is vibrant and thriving all day round. And not a day goes by that I don't see butterflies, birds and some unusual sight. Just the other day I was walking to the train station and I saw a pig or boar foraging through a mound of rubbish on one of the neighborhood side streets. Sure you see cows roaming the Lankan streets like they're part of the everyday scene, but pigs, not so much.

Anyway, I've been thoroughly enjoying this ongoing fascination with native birds, flora and natural settings around Colombo recently and so I thought I'd post some of my photo captures...

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Expat News, Articles of Interest and Diary Events #11

This has been a tough kind of a month for me personally. I fell ill earlier in the month in what turned into a dengue scare. I had some of the symptoms for dengue such as high fever, muscle and joint pains, pains behind my eyes, nausea, headaches and lack of energy. Given the seriousness of the dengue epidemic in Sri Lanka, I went directly to get the dengue antigen and full blood count tests at a local medical center. Thankfully, two hours later my tests confirmed a negative result for dengue. If you do happen to fall ill and you're worried that it might be dengue, don't hesitate to get a blood test. Better safe than sorry.

In my case, it turned out I had contracted some sort of viral fever that seemed to be doing the rounds around Colombo. I'm not usually prone to illness, but when I do fall sick I'm not a very good patient. And this viral fever really tested me physically, emotionally and mentally. It's at these times that homesickness can be triggered and the inner child's voice that cries "I want my mummy". Yeah, yeah, I know... it does sound rather pathetic, but when you're feeling low, all the ugly hangs out too.

My mother, who I didn't tell I was sick until after I recovered, demanded that I return "home" for medical tests and also for a bit of r&r. Bless her, she's a dear, and I love that she still looks out for me from afar. As much as it's sometimes not-so-easy being away from family, it's also hard for family to be away from me. It's easy to forget this when we have social media, messaging and video calls. I interact with my closest family members on a daily basis, so it often doesn't feel like they're that far away. But this recent bout of illness reminded me of the oceans and time zones that separate me from them. Luckily, I have a good support network in Sri Lanka and there were people to take me to the doctor's, organize my medicine, feed me and check that I was recovering slowly, but surely.

So, all-in-all, June has been a bit of write-off for me. What has helped me to get back to my usual self has been consuming more fresh fruit and vegetables, keeping hydrated and being more with nature.

I don't know about you, but I'm looking forward to turning the page into July 2017... Bring it!

Thursday, June 1, 2017

UPDATED: Expat News, Articles of Interest and Diary Events #10

May has historically been a terrible month for Sri Lanka when it comes to natural disasters. With the onset of the southwest monsoon comes thunderstorms, strong  winds and torrential rains. Last May our little island experienced terrible floods and landslides after being hit by a severe tropical storm followed by a major drought. Prior to the May 2016 floods Sri Lanka was suffering a major drought. And tragically this year is proving no different with the island having experienced the worst drought in 40 years at the start of this year,and now in May, the current floods said to be the worst in a decade.

The island seems to oscillate between major drought to severe floods and landslides with increased frequency. And the Sri Lankan Government's poor record with respect to planning, preparedness, early warning systems, and crisis management in these situations is worrying.

Life on the island doesn't get more frightening than being on the sharp end of natural disasters and Sri Lanka has  certainly had more than its fair share. But as much as there are challenges in the face of these natural disasters, the resilience and generosity of the island's inhabitants is amazing to witness.

Earlier this year, a local friend living up near Kegalle shared a prediction she had heard from a third party regarding possible floods, landslides and potential dam bursts in late May 2017. I was shocked when this prediction came true on the predicted dates for this current tragedy.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

An Expat Perspective on Why You Should Grow Your Own Organic Fruit and Vegetables in Sri Lanka

I was reading an article a few days ago titled, "SL fruits could fetch better prices in int’l markets" that reinforced my concerns about food safety in Sri Lanka. In this article, an Agriculture Economist at the Ministry of Agriculture was quoted as saying "Sri Lanka has a better chance to gain good market prices for fruit exports in the international market compared to other South Asian countries due to local farmers using minimal quantities of agro –chemicals for fruit production unlike in vegetables".  

The fact that agro-chemicals are used heavily in food production in Sri Lanka isn't news to me. But, to have it confirmed and supported by the Ministry of Agriculture is another matter. I've been concerned about this for some time and have written a few blog posts on this topic. If you haven't read these, then check out "How safe (or toxic) is the food we grow and eat in Sri Lanka?" and "Sri Lanka: Pint-sized Plastic Garbage Island?"

Food safety is probably one of the main reasons that would force me to leave Sri Lanka. The only reason I haven't done so is because I've taken food matters into my own hands by growing my own organic produce. Concern over chemically-treated food and GM crops has been greatly debated in Sri Lanka and across the globe. It is undoubtedly a global issue, so moving to another country will have similar challenges though possibly less apparent due to government spin, posh wrapping and deceptive labeling.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Sri Lankan Hand Jobs - Reasons Why You Should Eat With Your Hands

One of the mainstay Sri Lankan customs is the gentle art of eating with your hand. If you want to eat like a local then this is something you'll want to put into practice. Eating by hand is a custom in many areas of the world, including parts of Asia and much of Africa and the Middle East. I've seen a rough estimate suggesting that between one and two billion people worldwide eat primarily with their hands. This might come as a surprise to those who have never come across this custom and/or are conditioned to eat with cutlery, such as spoons, knives and forks or even chopsticks.

My first introduction to the "Sri Lankan hand job" was on a visit to my friend Chathurika's home. In fact, my reaction to the sight that greeted me in her kitchen was somewhat hilarious as I caught her being hand fed by her mother.  Given that Chathurika was well-past her teenage years, I was gobsmacked by the sight of (1) a grown woman being fed her mother and (2) the fact she was being fed by hand. I think my mouth dropped open and stayed open catching flies until they both realized I wasn't actively participating in their banter. I genuinely thought it was really sweet they had such a close relationship, but seeing it for the first time was a bit of a shock as it was so far removed from what I was used to.

Since that time I've become much more accustomed to seeing people eating with their hands, as well as eating by my own hand. Admittedly, it did take me awhile to get the hang of it and I will say I'm still probably not as smooth doing it as a local.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Expat News, Articles of Interest and Diary Events #9

Life in Sri Lanka isn't always easy, though it's easy to be misled by the Instagram feeds of many posting idyllic shots of travel and expat life on the teardrop island. But in reality, life on the island veers sharply left and right of those glamorous sponsored shots by the hotel pool or the view through a social media filter of a pristine beach or mountain vista. 

I really don't like misleading people and I have less and less patience for those willing to mislead others. Sure, there is beauty across the island but those areas are being challenged on a daily basis as the country grapples with fundamental issues. These issues are mainly centered around the delivery of essential services, infrastructure construction and the rapid development of the island. If you have read the local news and articles over the past few months it provides a picture of what things are really like. And I do encourage those that wish to move here, to do this kind of research.

Just reading April's news makes it seem like we are living in a literal garbage pit. The irony is not lost on me as my very first post on this blog, back in early 2013, posed the question of whether I was living in a paradise or a pit. At the time I concluded it was more paradise than pit, but in the past few years I've had growing concerns about the decisions being made (or not being made) to protect the island's food supply, water supply, environment, wildlife and more. Based on all the garbage articles this month and my own experiences, it feels like more pit than paradise these days. And I feel like a broken record having written about Sri Lanka's garbage and plastic problems for many years now. As an expat who has lived in Sri Lanka for close to a decade, I wonder whether the price for all the short view decisions in favor of rapid growth and development of the island come at the price of the decline of all that is wondrous and good... Something worth thinking about eek

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Daily Meditation and the Sri Lankan Police Force

I was fascinated when it was reported, back in February 2017, the Sri Lankan Inspector General of Police, Pujith Jayasundara, had ordered all police personnel to meditate before commencing their daily work duties. Apparently the Police Chief's objective was to introduce meditation as a means to improve service delivery and law enforcement; to address spiritual development within the force; and to help overcome mental health issues such as depression.

A daily schedule of meditation at all police stations across the island has been introduced for all employees between 8.30am and 8.45am daily.  They are ordered to undertake at least 15 minutes of anapanasati (mindfulness of breathing) followed by metta (loving kindness) meditation to start the day.

Some would say it is timely move given the Sri Lankan police department's reputation for corruption and ongoing reports of police brutality and violence since the end of the civil war.

However, Sri Lanka is by no means leading in the area of meditation in law enforcement. In fact, Sri Lanka appears to be lagging behind other countries that have adopted this much earlier. It could be seen as somewhat ironic given Sri Lanka's ancient lineage of Buddhist meditation. But, better late than never as they say.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Sri Lanka: Pint-sized Plastic Garbage Island?

Image source: CNN
An article was published late last year on the Midway Atoll in the North Pacific. It highlighted the devastation of plastic pollution on this tiny island located in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. The video imagery that went with the article showed evidence of the direct impact of plastic pollution on the island's natural environment, inhabitants, sea life and the harm caused to food sources. The article went on to highlight Sri Lanka as one of the five worst polluters when it comes to plastic pollution around the globe, based on a study published in Science Magazine looking at mismanaged plastic waste from land into the ocean. The other countries were China, Indonesia, Philippines and Vietnam. It projected that Sri Lanka would still be in the top ten of plastic polluters around the globe by 2025.

After reading the CNN article, I also watched a full-length documentary on Midway Atoll titled "Plastic Paradise: The Great Pacific Garbage Patch". In terms of shock value, it hit me right in the guts when I saw the impact of plastic and waste on sea life, bird life, other wildlife and also human lives. It has serious consequences on our food systems, ecology and health.

As an expat living in Sri Lanka reading that the island made the top five worst polluters list didn't really come as a surprise. Why not? Well sadly, the evidence is right in front of us. A visit to to the closest beach provides all the evidence you need. You can even  go a step further and look at the current issues across the island regarding inadequate and ineffective waste management (the devastating garbage dump collapse at Meethatomulla is a recent example); illegal dumping; and the public's propensity towards plastic consumption (from plastic bags, bottles, caps, containers, wrapping and more), which provide further evidence of the serious nature of this problem.

Sri Lanka is literally drowning in its own waste as the garbage problems spiral out of control and the pollution of the environment (both land and sea) is par for the course.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

UPDATED: Expat News, Articles of Interest and Diary Events #8


Can you believe we're in April already.  I was fooled a couple of times on April Fools Day. If you don't have a problem with feeling foolish, which I don't, then it's a nice way to start the month... with a few laughs and giggles. 

Expat life continues to roll on... it feels like there are more expats coming over to look for opportunities or on expat assignments. I'm pleased more expats are embracing the Lankan way of life and getting on with creating a life over here. It takes some getting used to, but it can be a real blessing.

March was a busy month for me. Plenty of challenges to keep me busy, which keeps things fun and interesting.

Things seem to be moving swiftly along with ever-increasing large-scale projects, infrastructure developments around the island, potential sale of State-Owned Enterprises, and new alliances and business partnerships with other countries. I can't help but think most of these developments are being pushed ahead at the expense of many things that are valuable to the island. Time will tell, but my fingers are crossed in hope that the things which are truly valuable to Sri Lanka, will not eroded at the expense of all this development.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Sri Lanka's Long History of Fasting

If you follow Sri Lankan politics then you will have heard or read about National Freedom Front (NFF) leader Wimal Weerawansa's fast in prison last week in protest over the High Court rejection of his bail application.  Unfortunately he had to be transferred to hospital after only three days. But I suppose that outcome was expected given the reasons behind his prison fast. What interests me is not the politics behind Wimal Weerawansa's fast, but the historic precedence of fasting in Sri Lanka and why it still has significant importance (maybe now more than ever) from a medical, spiritual, and philosophical perspective.

By definition, fasting is a voluntary or willing abstinence or reduction from some or all food, drink, or both, for a period of time. It has been practiced for thousands of years. In fact, many religions including Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism and Hinduism have all practiced fasting in one form or another. In ancient yoga, fasting has been used as a method of natural healing. And even the ancient philosophers, such as Hippocrates, Plato, Socrates, and Aristotle praised the benefits of fasting. Philippus Paracelsus, one of the three fathers of Western medicine was quoted as saying "fasting is the greatest remedy - the physician within".

Sunday, March 5, 2017

UPDATED: The Question of Medical Insurance for Expats in Sri Lanka

The question of medical or health insurance for expats is one of those critical things that needs some proper attention. To be honest, a decade ago, I didn't think too much on it because of my personal circumstances, which was essentially that I was young, healthy and not 100% sure about my plans for living in Sri Lanka. I had some travel insurance to cover me for the initial period, but after that I considered Sri Lanka's free public health system as "good enough" should anything happen. Plus, at that time I thought myself low risk in medical terms. Of course these things change over time and you learn through experience about the health system in Sri Lanka, both public and private, and that helps with making better informed decisions about medical cover and healthcare options.

I also recognize that not all expats are the same and therefore each person's circumstances and requirements may be quite different. For instance, a foreign assignee (and family) might have medical insurance built into their expat deal. But a young expat adventurer may weigh their options and decide not to take medical insurance based on personal circumstances and low risk factors. Or the expat entrepreneur who runs a business in Sri Lanka and has a young family that wants good medical insurance cover has a preference for private healthcare as that's what is the norm back in their native country. Or the expat retiree who has come over on the "My Dream Home" visa programme which requires a valid medical insurance policy applicable in Sri Lanka will make a choice based on their age and medical needs.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Expat News, Articles of Interest and Diary Events #7

For a short month February was certainly a busy and event-filled one. We were lucky to have a few long weekends owing to the public holidays and that was a delight. I for one made the most of those and headed out of Colombo for some fresh experiences and opportunities to connect with the locals. 

All-in-all it was a good month and I can't complain at how the year is starting to shape up. Of course, the challenges still abound, but you have to roll with punches. I think you learn this as part of your life training in Expat 101 when you move to a foreign country.


I have a few interesting blog posts on the horizon. With trying to balance work, travel and being in the moment it can be difficult to find the time to put regular posts up, but rather than churn out blog posts, my aim has been to publish fresh and relevant posts that I'm interested in writing that are filled with experiences or tips that might be useful to fellow expats and travelers.

So, enjoy the February round up - there's been a lot in the news if you need to catch up.  Plenty on if you're looking for something to do around Colombo, particularly around International Women's Day. In any case, I hope there won't be too much March madness to navigate through...

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Myth-busting and Tips for Cooling Down in a Tropical Climate

We think we know what it takes to cool ourselves off in a tropical climate, but the truth for most expats and travelers from parts of the globe that have more than one season a year, is that we have no clue. And why should we? We've grown up learning about how to deal with four seasons and the challenges of getting through cold and grey winters where you really begin to question if the sun is a figment of your imagination. So when we move thousands of miles across the ocean, to an island like Sri Lanka with a romantic notion of tropical days and warm balmy nights, the truth of it all really sets in within a few days.

We don't have the local knowledge that would truly help in this kind of climate. And we don't necessarily go in search of finding it out either. If you're like me, you drink a little more water and go swimming to cool off. But then I started to wonder what the locals do. I mean they don't look like they drink a lot of water, nor are they a nation of swimmers or beach-lovers. If they're at the beach, more often than not, it's because their livelihood requires it, or they enjoy the water by being near it, but not in it.

As the years have gone by and the island has experienced some increasingly hot weather with plenty of dry spells and delayed monsoons, I've become more interested in learning about how locals cool down. It goes without saying I've been lucky to have people share their knowledge with me, and I'm about to share what I know with you. Hopefully, you'll find it useful to acclimatizing to the tropical heat.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

An expat in Sri Lanka: the Good, Bad and Ugly - Part 17


As expats I find we fall somewhere in-between immigrant and traveler. For some expats, it's closer to immigrant because roots have been planted and time has been invested in this foreign land we call home. While for other expats, it's closer to traveler because Sri Lanka is really just a short stint on the life journey of opportunity and experiences, or there's a "let's see how the first year goes" attitude combined with minimal nesting. 

Of course we are all travelers of a sort. We travel everyday to get from A to B and back again. We travel for adventure and to experience destinations around the island and beyond these shores. We travel to visit loved ones and to reconnect with our native countries. And beyond this physical travel, we travel through the internet, within the stories in books and, in the realms of our aspirations and dreams.

Traveling in Sri Lanka is both a wonderful and challenging experience for visitors and expats on multiple levels. Foremost, it provides an opportunity to experience the island's people, places, language and culture. I don't mean the kind of traveling where you jump into a private hire vehicle or your own vehicle, but the travel where you're rubbing shoulders with the locals on public transport (i.e buses, coaches, and trains) and getting the full experience of life on the island. I have learned so much from these kinds of experiences - from commuting on buses and trains in Colombo, to long-distance travels by bus, coach or train, and also off-the-beaten-track tuk-tuk rides as well.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Expat News, Articles of Interest and Diary Events #6

January 2017 felt like a literal whirlwind. Travels and re-acclimating was the order for the month. Somehow it's all settled quite nicely back into how it's supposed to be. There's lots of movement around Sri Lanka. Every time I make a trip to the airport (even with the airport maintenance at BIA), it seems as if there are more people coming and going. And, for that matter, if you read the statistics correctly, there are definitely more tourists coming to explore the island.

As for me, I'm happy to get back to life as I know it in Sri Lanka. I've made a few trips already since my return. A road trip down south and another shorter weekend trip up to Anuradhapura. It's pure joy to be able to explore and enjoy the goodness of this island.  I've got more to share on expat life and travels shortly, so watch this space...

Have you seen the calendar for February? There are plenty of long weekends to look forward to. One of the perks of expat life in Sri Lanka!

Monday, January 23, 2017

Travel Monday: Breaking dawn atop Sithulpawwa rock

With all the activity and movement over the festive season coming to an end, I realized I needed to re-connect with nature and replenish some of my energy reserves. Though I enjoyed time with family and friends over the festive season, the surrounding environment was very much an urban jungle and a huge contrast to the everyday life I've become accustomed to in Sri Lanka. Therefore, I made a quick decision to head down south to fuel up on nature and good energy. My destination was in and around Kataragama with Sithulpawwa, which resides within the boundaries of Yala National Park, very high on my go-experience list.

I had heard about Sithulpawwa from friends quite a few years back. Its name Sithulpawwa is derived from "Cittalapabbata" in Pali, which has the meaning of "the hill rock of the tranquil mind". It's an impressive name for a very unique place. It is recorded in the Mahavamsa, Sri Lanka's Great Chronicle of the Kings of Sri Lanka, that Sithulpawwa ancient monastery was built by King Kavantissa (100-140 B.C.) about 2,200 years ago. It was constructed as fully operational mahavihara or great monastery and a place where thousands of arahants or fully enlightened beings are said to have lived at one time.

I paid my visit to Sithulpawwa at the crack of dawn. I thought this would be one of the best ways to experience the rock temple, ancient ruins and the surrounding environment. I've always been drawn to the early morning when the air is fresh, the vibration is quiet or stirring and the climate is usually cooler.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Expat News, Articles of Interest and Diary Events #5


This is the round up for the first half of January 2017. I've been enjoying some rest and relaxation with family and friends to kick off the new year. It's been abundantly nourishing for me and I'm energized to get right back into the thick of tropical life again. And as I was strolling around South Bank, I came across this reminder of home!

It feels good to be leaving behind all the talk of (hard or soft) Brexit, the slide of the British pound and its recovery, Theresa May, Prince Harry and simply everything there is to moan about. Yes, I'm ready to return to my tropical haven, though I will miss my loved ones, Marks n Sparks and a few other delights. My suitcases are full of treats to last me awhile and presents for my Lankan friends.

I've been keeping abreast of the goings-on in Sri Lanka from abroad, and you could say, it's never dull in paradise. Methinks the year ahead is going to be a challenging one! I guess we're going to have to pull together again...

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Expat News, Articles of Interest and Diary Events #4

This is the round up for December 2016. I'm a little late putting this out there due to the fact I've been visiting and celebrating with family and friends over the festive season. I'm enjoying a spell in colder climates and never-ending puddings and traditions. How was the festive season for you? I hope it was better than you hoped for and it has left a good feeling for the coming year ahead! Last month I was saying how I couldn't' believe we were at the end of 2016, and now I'm thinking... are we really into 2017 already?

So how are you doing with setting those new year goals. I've made my list of new year's resolutions and a massive list of to-do and to-visit. I can feel it in my bones that it's going to be another stellar year, though I'm sure it will have its unique challenges. I wish everyone a successful and fruitful year filled with adventure, luck and new experiences.


I'm a little apprehensive about the reports of a bad drought and power shortages for the first half of this year for Sri Lanka. But, what can you do, but pray that things won't as bad as the reports are suggesting.