Sri Lankan Days: First Impressions

 

Yup, that‘s a George Orwell semi-reference (Burmese Days) and a shout-out to my high school english teacher. I’ll have to re-read that book.

Walking off the airplane after three flights, each averaging around seven hours, I reflect on the saying that it’s not the destination but the journey that matters and wholeheartedly disagree. We are greeted by a large Buddha statue with the hand in the blessing pose (if I remember correctly, I was too crazy tired and in no shape to think about taking pictures). Later there was a large sign saying that carrying illicit drugs was punishable by death. 

Sidebar: We take many things for granted, including how secular our society really is. People would LOSE THEIR SHIT if somebody wanted to put up a large statue of Jesus when you get to customs at PET. Also, the flight from Paris to Abu Dhabi (on Etihad, over all awesome) started, on all the screens, with a prayer from the Quran for safe travels. Imagine if air Can did something like that? Exploding heads I tell you.

Growing up, the only things I knew about Sri Lanka, besides that it was really old and far away, concerned the very brutal and cruel civil war that had been going on apparently since forever, and with no end in sight. I remember images of the the raging conflict from the news and GEO magazine. Exploded cars on busy streets, rows of “disappeared” civilian corpses. One photograph that is still seared in my mind showed female members of the Tamil insurgent forces, with hair cut short and large cyanide filled cylinders around their necks in full view over their uniforms. Even as a kid I realized that clearly, that meant Geneva convention like behaviour was not in play.

In 2009 the conflict came to an end. After countless civilian deaths and a final stand, the Tamil Tigers admitted defeat. That was barely ten years ago. The war lasted about 30 years. That’s a whole generation.

From a naive visitor perspective, today there’s no sign of any of that. Hotels are being built, tourists are walking around in their usual barely forgivable fashion choices and there’s no army presence in the streets. The only uniforms to be seen are traffic police, apparently solely giving out tickets to motorcycles. People are smiling in the streets, a lot, and trying to make a buck without being too unpleasant about it. The place feels like it’s quietly booming and it might well (unfortunately) become the Cancun of Asia. The time to go might be now.

Cranes and sail catamarans, two different worlds.

It’s only our fourth day here (I think), and I’m a little flooded with thoughts and impressions. From the meaning of the Sri Lankan flag, to the subtle effect of driving on the left side of the road (people walk the same way, which means I’m constantly looking like I’m asking old men to dance), to monkeys (lots), gay rights (not any), and how the people seem happy to see foreigners. Clearly, though tourism is booming, most people have not seen enough gringos to be blasé about it, we still get smiles and random salutations (not gonna happen in Mexico).  The hustling is there, for sure, we are walking income to locals, but it is still very low key, polite even. Also, some people will just stop and help if you need it, like when my unbelievably crap bicycle jumped its chain, and my hands were dark with grease (I got chills, their multiplyin’), a tuk-tuk driver offered me a rag to clean myself. Thank you buddy.

Random tuk-tuk.

I know this is not PC, but hey, as a friend is fond of saying, I am not a known giver of fucks, eating very spicy will actually change the smell of your sweat. Yes it is science. I did not expect that.

Awesome curries. The food is just fantastic. Yes that was for two, but there were Circumstances.

I don’t know what the future holds for Sri Lanka and its very ancient cultures and people, I’m not in a position to know what is “good” or “best”. I know, it’s a sucky way to end a post, but the feeling I get is that people are mostly happy these days, I hope it goes on.

Not so subtle with the symbolism yeah?

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