Tag Archives: expat

Living in Paradise does have Drawbacks, Honestly

If I had a euro (or even a rupee) for every time somebody told me that I was so lucky to live in paradise, how happy I must be and how that person wished they were me, I would be, one, quite bloody rich and two, probably quite a bit happier.

Many expat/travel blogs will bore you senseless with fantastic adventures made away from home, cool things done outside of a comfort zone, eating weird ingredients, pushing ones boundaries and finding ones inner Zen blah blah. This is not one of them. Yeah I have good times, sometimes even very good, but sometimes I just feel like punching smiley people who pontificate about how wonderful it must be to live in a beautiful tropical island and freelance from home in the face.

What people think

How people think my life is

How my life actually is

How my life actually is

I know, not nice. Still I would like to see those same people say the same thing after experiencing some of the lesser evils of this little bundle of fun in the Indian Ocean 🙂 I have moaned before here and here I will moan again and give you 5 inevitable grievances of living in Sri Lanka.

1) Random shit

Take today for example. I wake up to a beautiful day, do my morning stuff, switch the kettle on to make a cup of coffee… and… no luck, the power is off. I check the sockets, check the fuse box, listen out for the Singhala radio station which usually bursts out of my neighbours house at this time. Nope: “light ne”. Or translated: “power cut”. Ugh. Grab my phone 30 minutes later to call the electricity office and check what’s going on and just as the guy answers (after the third attempt may I add) the kettle springs into life. Fine fine, no harm done you say – only bloody 45 minutes doing things I didn’t have to. Forget working in an office and turning up on time…no chance. Still I’m lucky there so actually no real harm done.

Two hours later I eventually get ready to go out as I have some bank stuff to deal with. Need to see the manager and have been putting it off. Get to the bank. It’s closed. The guard apologises “sorry madam, today is [insert unintelligible name] holiday, bank closed”. Me: “but the wine store is open” (yes I know that is a completely random thing to say but you would understand if you lived here). In fact every single shop is open except for banks. It is a real “bank holiday” in the bloody sense of the word. Only nobody seems to know why.

Just because they can

Just because they can

I go to a wedding in the afternoon, a woman comes up with a tray of glasses of water. I’m not thirsty at all but I’m afraid to appear rude so I accept a glass and just as I am about to drink it it is snatched out of my hand. One person frowns, the snatcher is grinning “no, no you no drink, touch, touch…”. Eh? Another person appears and touches the glass with both hands, or actually barely touching and then holds his hands together as in prayer. “Like so” the snatcher whispers. My partner has stepped outside for a cigarette. I am mortified. Why didn’t anybody tell me about this custom, am I just supposed to guess this stuff? I see it happen to another foreigner a bit later. Maybe they do it as a joke, to make us look stupid, I brush that thought aside only for it to re-surface when somebody laughingly tells me and the other hapless looking foreigner are the guests of honour at this wedding. I barely know the wedding couple.  Random shit. Random annoying shit.

2) Being white (aka suddho or suddhi (male & female))

Every man and his dog thinks it is fine to ask you your name, age, occupation and marital status just because you are white (well… a foreigner). Some are genuinely interested, most are just nosy or practising their English. Annoying. Having to pay 10 times as much for any tourist attraction, including dubious places,  is perhaps acceptable for bona fide tourists from wealthy western countries in a poor third world developing country, but given that those “definitions” are so blurred nowadays (especially in Sri Lanka which is no longer classified as third world by most standards), and that residents on the same local salary still have to pay those rates by virtue of their skin colour is just stupid. It’s racist. And that is just the regulated price discrepancies. “Regulated racism”. Gah.

This would be acceptable if it was a common practice globally. It is not.

Don’t even get me started on the opportunists I come across in my day-to-day wanderings. I once heard a story of some Russians being charged 10,000 rupees (+/- $100 USD) to cross Bentota bridge by tuk tuk in 2008 (this journey takes 5 minutes on foot). The driver had told them he was risking his life crossing the bridge because of the war. Got to give him 10 out of 10 for ingenuity.

You are also often referred to by “suddha” or “suddhi” (which means white, in male and female form). By friends and foe alike, referred to as “the white person”. Yes, literally.

Muttiah Muralitharan laughing with (or at) David Cameron in 2013

Muttiah Muralitharan laughing with (or more likely at) David Cameron in 2013

3) Loopy shit

My neighbour has been having pujas at night to exorcise bad spirits – it is a Hindu religious ritual. Now I am wary of religions full stop so anything that is in the slightest bit strange I dismiss as utter madness (I do not mean this in any way derogatory – I am a non-believing, non-practising Catholic and fully believe Catholics are the craziest people on the planet). So, imagine when I am confronted with not only chanting, incense burning, coconut throwing, bell ringing, head oiling and bindi annointing activities, but also high-pitched wailing and something I can only describe as body jerking  when the deity being revered in the puja to exorcise the bad spirits has taken possession of a human being – a kind of spirit possession I guess (don’t quote me on that, my sources are the village gossips!!). From wiki (just to give you an idea): “The Coast Veddas, a social group within the minority group of Sri Lankan Tamil people in Eastern Province, Sri Lanka, enter trances during religious festivals in which they are regarded as being possessed by a spirit. Although they speak a dialect of Tamil, during trances they will sometimes use a mixed language that contains words from the Vedda language. This is big loopy shit. This is my neighbour. I am proper freaked out.

They also have extreme horror films on the bottom shelf in the DVD shop – completely unrelated but just saying. Chilled out tropical island lifestyle? Think again.

4) Gecko shit

Precisely that. Many geckos live in my house. They shit everywhere. A nuisance. Sometimes they have diarrhoea… need I go on? Gecko shit.

Gecko culprit

Gecko culprit

Let me finish with probably the most controversial of all:

5) Karma. Yes, that notion which the majority of you will perceive as that fundamental doctrine in Buddhism, that law of moral causation; “what comes around goes around”. Yes that one. You know the one where you think oh dear that will come back to haunt them when somebody does something bad and you read about it in the newspaper, or when an ex-lover gets ceremoniously dumped by their current beau and you think “YES karma matey!”. You would think that living in a place dominated by this very notion of karma would be pretty damn fantastic right? Well you’re wrong.

Picture this: It’s 9am in the morning, you have a full day planned. The power goes off (see number one). You don’t panic yet…no need. Only then you receive a call from your other half to inform you this power cut will last until 5pm. Your mouth goes dry – you have a deadline due at 4pm and your laptop battery will not last the distance to complete the work anyway. You panic. You demand some answers from the electricity board – no luck. You moan to your other half: “what to do?” he exclaims, meaning there is nothing we can do because it is all caused by a higher force which we have no control of. I am here driving myself crazy but the locals have accepted their fate, even if it inconveniences them greatly: there is nothing we can do so we will not be bothered in the slightest. I have a headache and high blood pressure, not to mention an increasing urge to commit murder, yet they are having a cup of tea gossiping with their friend across the road. Sri Lankans embrace karma. This is fantastic if it prevents you having high blood pressure, surely?

Yet, karma has a dark seedy side. This very thing which should make living our lives so much more simple also makes our lives so much more unbearable. This very notion of moral causation has evolved into quite a disturbing phenomenon – the absence of motivation. Accepted apathy. More worryingly, the absence of good and bad. The absence of any feeling of guilt. Much has been written about ethics and morality since the early Greeks. How the hell do we, as mere humans, know whether something is good or bad? Well to avoid getting into too deep waters here I will make a probably insane assumption that most of us do actually know the difference. Yes we do. Increasingly though I notice that this notion of karma is being used as an excuse for laziness – “I can’t really do anything about it so I won’t”, “my actions won’t change the outcome much so I won’t bother”. Also as an excuse for bad behaviour – “it wasn’t really my fault… it just happened that way”, “nothing we can do about it now, it’s already happened”, “it’s not my fault, he brought it on himself”, “if he didn’t do that to my sister five years ago then I wouldn’t have felt the need to steal his car”, “if she didn’t kiss that guy last night, she would not have a skull fracture today”. I have heard these kinds of things and have occasionally been shocked. People here often hide behind their religion and particularly the notion of karma to avoid the repercussions of their actions. Thankfully, this is something that is changing with better education and it will continue to change just like it did for Catholicism years ago. For me it can’t change quick enough. Religion doesn’t do a whole lot of good in my book.

A controversial piece. Feel free to argue and criticise in the comments. I’ll only delete it if it is outright slander :). And for all you lovely people of Sri Lanka please don’t think I am having a go at you and your homeland. I’m not at all, far from it. These are my opinions of my life here. I love the country and its people most of the time. We all have our grievances – I just took the initiative to air them. I would do the same anywhere else, even in my own country – probably ten times worse. Freedom of speech and all that – been a long time coming here 🙂

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Filed under Sri Lankan life, The life of a freelancer, Travel

Ten things I love AND hate about Sri Lanka

No football here today. My apologies if you ventured on here to find a football recipe today. It’s not going to happen – I’m too sore. Rest assured that I will try to put aside my prejudices in time for the quarter finals. Don’t be expecting any German or Portuguese food yet though. These things take time. Instead I’ll give you ten things that I love AND hate about Sri Lanka (in no particular order and don’t be too alarmed by the fact that the list is identical)

My beautiful tuk tuk

My beautiful tuk tuk

LOVELY

  • Rice and curry (because it is damn tasty)
  • Having the largest amount of public holidays of any other country in the world (go figure)
  • The Indian Ocean (I can stare at it for hours, relax and rejuvenate)
  • Complete strangers smiling at you (cheer you up on a bad day)
  • Wonderful abundance of wildlife (fascinating)
  • Buses available to go pretty much anywhere 24×7 (useful)
  • Coconuts and coconut trees (raw material for almost everything; coir, food (the delicious pol sambol and cocunut milk for curries), oil, toddy and arrack)
  • All day power cuts (perfect excuse to do nothing all day)
  • Many different climates in one country (incredibly interesting and beautiful)
  • Tuk tuks (versatile, quick; not to mention the cool factor)

NASTY

  • Rice and curry (because sometimes you just fancy a pizza for lunch/dinner)
  • Having the largest amount of public holidays of any other country in the world (very annoying when you have foreign deadlines and you’re working when the rest of the country isn’t)
  • The Indian Ocean (tsunami 2004 – not a good moment and still freaks me out occasionally when the ocean is rough)
  • Complete strangers smiling at you (hugely irritating when trying to go about your business quietly and anonymously)
  • Wonderful abundance of wildlife (one word – BUGS)
  • Buses available to go pretty much anywhere 24×7 (noisy and smelly, some with exhausts capable of knocking you out for a few hours)
  • Coconuts and coconut trees (dangerous to pedestrians, kills quite a number of people annually)
  • All day power cuts (see foreign deadlines above plus the fact that your freezer defrosts and you have to throw out your food, not to mention being bloody hot)
  • Many different climates in one country (always having to travel with an umbrella and jacket in the Hill Country)
  • Tuk tuks (can be dangerous and smelly in Colombo too…I’ve travelled in some where I was actually surprised my foot didn’t go through the rusty floor). This is getting better now in the capital with some metered cabs but still dodgy.

Saying all that I do love the place and the people, otherwise I wouldn’t be here 🙂

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Filed under Sri Lankan life

Looking for German and European products in Sri Lanka?

I’m pretty much an expat. When I tell people that I live in Sri Lanka the unanimous reply I usually get is “Oh wow you’re so lucky!”, followed by exclamations about how wonderful it must be to live in the sunshine all year round. I’m even convinced my friends and family who know me think that I spend all my time swimming up to pool-side bars (well err… they do know me ;-)) and sipping cocktails in the sun under coconut trees. Not quite (I avoid going underneath coconut trees because falling coconuts actually injure and kill a lot of people per annum in this country!). No – I actually spend most of my time inside under the fan working alone making my living just as others do.

Don’t get me wrong  living in Sri Lanka is great but there are drawbacks too. The main one is missing family and friends  back home and for me a close second second is food-sickness…not of the poisoning kind no, but missing food from back home, cheese in particular.

“That’s not so bad” I hear you shout. Yes I know I can order things from the internet or take a weekly trip to Colombo to shop but frankly because of the import prices and a 50% chance of your parcel ending up with your neighbours, the postman, at the other  end of country or in your dog before you get home we just don’t do it.

Anyway this means us expats are always on the look out for foreign goods to buy (or make) to make our lives even better than it already is. In my home town of Aluthgama we are extremely luckly to have the wonderful Mr. Nishan Fernando in our lives. He owns and runs the Nebula Supermarket (which also has it’s own Facebook page) and goes abroad once a year to source any products that the expat community desire. In return his many friends and expats bring things back for him too.

Nebula German & European Supermarket in Aluthgama, Sri Lanka

Nebula German & European Supermarket in Aluthgama, Sri Lanka

Inside Nebula German & European Supermarket

Inside Nebula German & European Supermarket

The spacious and friendly supermarket stocks everything but is famous all over Sri Lanka for stocking German and other European products that are difficult to find elsewhere on the island, such as German pate, Dutch mayonnaise, Collmans mustard from the UK and countless other things you may miss whilst you are in Sri Lanka.

Specific German & UK products currently stocked are:

Leberwurst (liver pate) – this is one of the absolute best-sellers and great on crackers

Leberwurst (liver pate)

Leberwurst (liver pate)

Gravy powders and seasoning mixes

Gravy powders and seasoning mixes

Lyoner

Schinkenwurst (pork sausage)
Fruhstuck fleisch
Bierwurst (beer sausage)
Jagdwurst (sausage)
Dr.Oetker pudding mix
Collmans English mustard
Dijon mustard
Herrmans mayonnaise
Rotkohl (pickled red cabbage)
Pickled onions, gherkins, capers etc.
Weinsauerkraut (Wine sauerkraut)
Weisswurst (white sausage, white pudding)
Frankfurters
Marmite
Vegemite
Campbells condensed soups
Fleisch suppe. (canned meat soups & soup powders)

German sausages

German sausages

Delikatess sauce zum braten (gravy powders & spice mixes)
BISTO gravy granules
OXO cubes
Maggi and Knorr Fix products
Bitter aus krautern (Salad mixes)
Tandil washing powder (German washing powder)
Sil (German detergent)
Teppichreiniger (German cleaner)
Haribo sweets
Salt sticks, crisps, chips & chocolates

Various cheeses

Fresh brown bread, baguettes and buns
And MUCH more…..

OK I suppose life as an expat in Sri Lanka has it’s advantages too 🙂 – I’ll leave you with some more product pictures. Please feel free to contact Nishan through the Facebook page or his website.

Plenty of pasta to choose from

Plenty of pasta to choose from

AND loads of pasta sauces and dried mixes

AND loads of pasta sauces and dried mixes

German detergents

German detergents

All sorts of condiments

All sorts of condiments

German biscuits sit alongside Sri Lankan favourites

German biscuits sit alongside Sri Lankan favourites

Many types of Nescafe coffee

Many types of Nescafe coffee

And your pets have not been left out!!

And your pets have not been left out!!

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Filed under Cheese, Sri Lankan food & recipes, Sri Lankan life

Relaxation Sunday – my first ever blog

Hello people, I’ve decided to start a blog today for several reasons: 1) I am bored on a Sunday and relaxing at home in Sri Lanka (and I couldn’t resist the lure of the laptop) 2) I live a lifestyle that many will find “different” or “interesting” – basically I live in Sri Lanka for 6 months of the year and the UK (or as many other places as I can go…finances permitting) for the other 6 months. Being Dutch by birth usually means at least one trip to Holland per year too 🙂 3) I love travel, food, recipes, indulgence, trying out new things and general enjoyment of life and why the hell shouldn’t I share my ideas, tips, recipes, views & opinions with other like-minded souls? 4) Although I would really prefer to spend my time writing about 5 star hotels and resorts in the Maldives, the Seychelles, the Andaman Islands (OK you get the picture!)…my actual working life consists mainly of translation and localisation work from Dutch into English and vice versa. So some of this blog will be about working at home, tips for that in general and specific translation blogs too. I will try to categorise everything properly…however this is my first blog so bear with me if I f*ck up. RIGHT – now that that is out of the way I would like to share with you the Sri Lankan concept of a “kade” or a “boutique“… A boutique shop in my local town of Aluthgama is not comparable to boutique shops in Bond Street or the Kings Road. The first difference is that my local “kade” or “boutique” sells everything. Uncle smiles at me as I approach:

My local Kade or

My local Kade or “boutique”

He gets ready to stand up to serve me and nearly automatically hands me a packet of 12 Gold Leaf cigarettes. Customised service if ever there was such a thing. I also buy a bottle of water, some butter (for the fresh bread from the muslim bakery…more on that later), a bag of pop-corn (no idea why, but why not at 20 rupees (about 10 pence), a bottle of mango juice and a DVD. Yes a DVD. I’ll let you know if it works later. Living in Sri Lanka means colour – whether it’s your local “kade”, a beautiful sunset or monks in their orange robes walking down the street. Sundays are my day off from work generally so I lazed about on the balcony and enjoyed the river views. We had parties:

Party boat on Bentota River

Party boat on Bentota River

With 80’s disco music and lots of Bob Marley. And then after a short bout of rain…peace and tranquility:

Fisherman on Bentota River

Fisherman on Bentota River at sunset

One of my favourite things in the world is cooking and trying out new recipes. Being as it’s a Sunday and a Sunday roast is not really applicable to my lifestyle at the moment I will give you two alternative recipes (both guaranteed to make you feel better after a Saturday night out): One the perfect hangover cure...my bloody mary: This is for one long glass so adjust your measurements according to how strong/weak you want it and whether you are serving a pitcher!

  • 2 fingers of vodka (I don’t do measurements)
  • 5 fingers of tomato juice
  • juice of half a lime (throw in a slice or two too if you like)
  • good shake of Worcester sauce (available from most supermarkets in Sri Lanka)
  • half a teaspoon of celery salt or normal salt (if the latter you may want to add very finely chopped celery if you want that taste)
  • pinch of pepper
  • good shake of tabasco (if desired)

The trick to this is really to get the right tomato juice and salt level. I like mine salty and spicy. If you are very brave and hungover add a raw egg. Let me know if any of you try it out!! THE SECOND is a Sri Lankan breakfast dish, which is wonderful in both it’s simplicity and the wonders it can do for a hangover:

Coconut roti with lunu miris

Coconut roti with lunu miris

A Delectable Pol Roti Recipe with Accompaniments:

Sri Lankan Warm Flat Roti Breads with Coconut Pol roti is a Sri Lankan dish which is normally served for breakfast with a chilli paste (lunu miris) or coconut sambol. This warm flat bread made with wheat or kurukkan flour and scraped coconut is a favourite amongst all ages in Sri Lanka. It is usually served with savoury spicy accompaniments (involving lots of chilli!) but can be eaten with butter and jam too. This pol (“coconut”) roti is usually thicker and harder than other roti types and can be made slightly crispy. In this recipe green chillis, onions and some curry leaves are added to give the pol roti even more taste. The ingredients you will need are:

  • 400 g refined flour
  • 1/2 coconut, scraped (you can buy this frozen from Asian food shops abroad)
  • 6  small onions, sliced
  • 1/2 cup cold water
  • 2 green chillies, sliced
  • 1 bunch curry leaves
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • Salt

Method: In a bowl mix scraped coconut, green chillies, onions, curry leaves and salt. Using your hand nicely mix in the ingredients till juices are released. Start adding the flour and bind the mixture. Add little water at a time and knead the dough. Knead till you get the normal roti dough consistency (thicker than pizza dough). Grease your palm with a little butter. (The idea behind greasing your palms is to avoid the batter from sticking to your palms). Divide the dough into 6-8 equal sized balls. Flatten on a floured board or plate using your palms. If more crispy crust is desired, roll using rolling pin. Cook on a heated heavy bottom pan (or a traditional Sri Lankan flat pan – tawa) until golden brown on both sides under medium heat. Remove from pan and serve hot with pol sambol or lunu miris (recipes below). Alternatively go for a sweet option and have the pol roti with butter and jam. I even have it with butter and cheese! Coconut Sambol or Pol Sambol as it is called in Sinhala is probably the most popular dish in the country. One of the easiest and cheapest to prepare, this dish is served from the humblest adobe by the roadside to the finest five star hotels in Sri Lanka. It is eaten in Sri Lanka as an accompaniment to rice and curry, for breakfast with pol roti or simply with bread. Ingredients:

  • 2 cups freshly scraped coconut (about 1 coconut)
  • 3-4 small red onions (shallots) or 2 red onions, very finely chopped
  • 1 tbsp of chilli powder
  • 1 tsp of chilli flakes
  • 1 green chilli, finely chopped
  • 2-3 tbsp lime or lemon juice
  • Salt and pepper (I like plenty of salt)
  • 1 tbsp finely chopped curry leaves (optional)
  • 1 tbsp of maldive fish (optional) – I am not a fan but others are – try what you like.

Method: Grind the all the ingredients above except lime (or lemon) in a mortar and pestle (wangediya) – or just bang in a food processor ;-). Mix in the coconut, grind some more until the sambol has a red tint. Squeeze the lime juice, mix and adjust salt to taste. Serve straight-away. Very often pol roti is served with lunu miris. This is a very spicy paste made from chillies and onions. You can vary the amount of chilli according to your taste. Ingredients:

  • 2 tbsp of chilli flakes
  • 2 or 3 fresh red chillies (optional)
  • Half a tsp of salt
  • 1 or 2 red onions (very finely chopped)
  • 1 tbsp ground maldive fish (optional) – again I leave this out but others swear by it.
  • Juice of a half a lime or lemon (or more)

Method:

  1. Grind the all the ingredients above except lime (or lemon) in a mortar and pestle (wangediya). Again you may find the food processor does wonders.
  2. Squeeze in the lime juice, mix and serve when fresh.

What is Maldive Fish? Maldive fish are small dried sprat-like fish from the Maldives. They should be available in your local Maldivian, Indian or Sri Lankan shop. If maldive fish is not available you can try dried prawns or other dried fish.  They have quite a strong taste and hence are optional in the above recipes.

Dried maldive fish

Dried maldive fish

Where to Buy a Coconut Scraper The shop that you buy your coconuts from will probably be able to tell you where to find a coconut scraper. You can also order them from the internet. If you can’t find one try a serrated knife. OR buy frozen coconut pieces from a large supermarket. Good luck. I’ll write again soon. x

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Filed under Drinks, Snacks, Sri Lankan food & recipes, Sri Lankan life, Vegetarian recipes