The title makes little sense, neither did my head when I finally decided to leave the country I have called home since October 2004, yep 13 years.
13 years of joy, sadness, hurt, immense moments of happiness, fun, near-death experiences, sickness, health, evil and good, and fucking great, absolutely dreadful, but fantastic too. Beauty and ugliness, rich and poor, intense colour, and black and white. Sometimes, sadly, just black. Not meaning the dark-skinned smiling faces, no. The darkness of depression.
The country I probably love as much as I do my own has certainly made me who I am today, and I must acknowledge that. People who holiday there, those who spend extended holidays there, and even those who pop in and out for work or what have you, will not have experienced what I have, or ever will.
That in itself does not bother me. Everybody is different. I made things difficult for myself mostly. BUT, no regrets. What bothers me is a multitude of numerous things (HA! How many can I fit in she wonders… a multitude of infinite things perhaps…). But, relax not now. Later, maybe.
People inadvertently want things to work out at the beginning. Nobody likes telling their friends and family a job did not work out, they were fired maybe or decided it was not for them. Their relationship broke up, they cheated on their husband or wife or they have a regret about something else big. Whatever, nobody is 100% perfect, people fuck up – fact.
Well, my stuff just was not working out. I needed to leave. I fought this feeling for over a few years to the detriment of my health (mental AND physical). I am now in Holland and doing great. I miss many things. I really do but no lists here, not now.
This article is about transition. So no photos of curries, people, animals and sunsets that I miss, no sentimentality, no moaning, no nothing.
Also no blurb about the benefits and pitfalls of Holland, no photos of cheese, people, animals and sunsets, no sentimentality, no moaning, no nothing.
Just an article to say – hey this is what I just did. It’s not so difficult to make a big step. I am going back soon, but not like before. Because I learnt my lessons the hard way.
So, I am in Haarlem (NL) for now – more to follow on that!
The Legend of These Roadside Boutiques AKA The Local Tea Shop
Kades, the traditional Sri Lankan shops or booths, sell an overwhelming variety of goods. Mostly gone from urban areas they are still common in rural areas.
If you happen to be travelling in Sri Lanka by road and require refreshment, desist from stopping at that modern establishment with its plastic tables and soft drinks. Rather, seek out a traditional kade (shop) with a simple wooden seat in front and a bunch of thambili (king coconut) lying inevitably beside it. With several deft cuts of a large knife (which look disconcertingly like a rusty machete) the thambili will be prepared for you to drink straight from the nut. It is more refreshing than any kind of mass produced aerated beverage. A cup of hot steaming plain or tea is also usually available, along with “short eats” – pastries and buns filled with spicy fish or vegetable concoctions.
The kade was formerly known as boutique (not from French origin but a corruption of the Portuguese word butica or boteca), has all but disappeared in Colombo and the other large Sri Lankan towns, although some examples are still found in rural areas. The most basic ones are constructed of wooden boarding with a window counter through which the proprietor conducts business. Bigger kades are built of brick but are open at the front in order to hang fruit, display rows of vegetables on trestles, and store sacks of rice, dhal and gram on the floor.
The proprietor of a kade is called a mudalali. Almost invariably he wears a banian (vest) and sarong. In earlier days he would wear a jacket over the banian and sport a konde (knot of long hair at the back of the head). The mudalali is one of the key persons in the village, because most of his customers, being poor and without cash for most of the month, have to rely on the credit he is prepared to give them. You won’t find any cash registers or other commercial paraphernalia in a typical kade, just a pair of scales and perhaps a pocket calculator.
Historical Literary References to Kades
That kades and other traditional mercantile establishments have changed little in the past 100 years is demonstrated by the following passage from Bella Woolf’s How to See Ceylon (1914): “The native shops – boutiques they are called in Ceylon, a relic of Portuguese days – are open to the winds of heaven. Here the seller sits cross-legged or on his haunches on the floor, while all the day and far into the night the purchasers swarm around. Strange to European eyes are the sacks and baskets full of curry stuffs, chillies, Maldive fish, and grains unknown to the West, kurakkan, gingelly, paddy and gram. The fruit shops brim with plantains (bananas to most people), pineapples, rambuttans (red and green round fruits covered with prickles), mangoes, custard apples, papaws, breadfruit, brinjals (purple and white), and pumpkins.”
“’Candles for sale’ is the device outside one boutique and attenuated specimens of the candle tribe dangle on strings. There are boutiques displaying gay-coloured clothes and hankerchiefs, there are betel leaves impaled on sticks, sold together with arecanut and lime for chewing purposes. In some places tailors are sewing for dear life – a tiresome touch of the West. In another doorway a woman sits at work on pillow lace. Here is a barber shaving his victim coram populo, or an astrologer casting a horoscope.”
In a further reference, Woolf writes of the boutiques peculiar to Jaffna (at the very northern tip of Sri Lanka): “Even the cadjan houses, it will be noticed, are built up against the fence and if they serve the purpose of boutiques as well as dwellings, the goods are not displayed for sale. The buyer pokes his head through a hole in the fence and calls out for what he wants.”
There are many other references to the humble boutique from English literature pertaining to Sri Lanka. For example, William Skeen relates in Adam’s Peak (1870): “We were overtaken by a smart shower, and gladly availed ourselves of the shelter of a boutique on the wayside.”
Henry W. Cave comments in The Ceylon Government Railway, also known as Ceylon along the Rail Track (1910): “Chatham Street is composed of a strange medley of restaurants, native jewellers, curiousity shops and provision boutiques.”
Clare Rettie remarks in Things Seen in Ceylon (1929): “The boutiques – or small shops – are piled high with vivid coloured cloths, all sorts of ingredients for curry making, betel for chewing, etc.”
Brooke Elliot advises in The Real Ceylon (1938): “The village boutiques (shops) are worth quiet inspection, including the Toddy-Shop or village ‘Pub’”
While such scenes can still be witnessed in rural areas, the average Sri Lankan shop at the beginning of the 21st century is a more prosaic affair. Nevertheless, the colourful arrays of vegetables, and sacks of rice and other commodities will arrest visitors. Even displays of mundane items such as biscuit packets have a distinct dimension of their own. Furthermore, innovative methods are employed. Circular nappy-driers with dangling clips, for instance, are used to hang a variety of small items from crisp packets to sachets of detergent.
Firstly I say sorry to my followers – I have started a new job which has kind of taken over my life so I haven’t been blogging much. Do not worry I’m not giving up blogging or sharing recipes, just bear with me whilst I get settled into the new routine.
I thought it would be interesting to share with you my experiences of Colombo. I have been visiting this city for 7 years and BOY has it changed AND BOY is it changing still.
I lived in Dehiwela for a little while on and off in 2006/2007, in a company apartment and loved it. It had sea views but was small and cosy and local enough to be home for me…nothing posh or special but the flat remains in my heart because it was from there that I got to know the real Colombo rather than just passing through and stopping at tourist spots like Odel’s and Majestic City.
Anyway, after my stays there I always thought I had the authority of Colombo knowledge when people asked me about it once I was back home in the South. How wrong I was and still am.
I don’t think I have ever seen a city change so fast so quickly. Every time I go something changes, new buildings arise out of nothing, restaurants and bakeries that I used to frequent have disappeared, yet more streets are one-way and don’t even get me started on the traffic lights. I think even the real Colombo residents don’t know half the time.
So today I met a good tuk tuk driver “friend” of mine and asked him to take me and my friend to the Old Dutch Hospital (from Punchi Borella) so we could have some lunch and a drink before getting the bus back home. He didn’t have a clue where it was (!!), so he stopped at Colombo Fort Railway Station to ask for directions – I more or less knew where the place was but he wasn’t listening. We ended up being overcharged by him but he claimed it was because he had to stop and ask directions. Ripped off by somebody who I trusted. Damn this didn’t bode too good….lesson learnt. A tuk tuk friend in Colombo is not the same as a tuk tuk friend in my home town, Aluthgama.
The Old Dutch Hospital – nothing to fault it really. Beautiful building, wonderful restaurants, cafe’s and bars. IF YOU CAN AFFORD IT. Since when did Colombo become London?? We had a drink but skipped lunch. Sure we could afford it but we were in the mood to go home by now. I guess I would have to go back on a Friday evening to get a buzz. Tuesday lunchtimes = dull.
Finally – last Colombo lesson learnt – if you’re only going a short distance (i.e. Old Dutch Hospital to Bus Station)…get a bloody metered tuk tuk. The one outside quoted us 200 rups. We ignored him and got into a lovely old uncle’s metered tuk tuk and he took us where we wanted to go for 100 rups and spoke brilliant English whilst telling us a quick story of his Burgher youth – bargain.
Some good, some not so good, such is life. But don’t stop changing Colombo – it makes you more intriguing and fun to visit. Photo’s to follow soon.
This is one of my rants. Forgive me if any of you take offence…I am just saying it how it is. Also note I am with one of these Sri Lankan men who grew up in a tourist resort, so I probably fall into the former category of actually seeing them in a good light. Don’t get me wrong – I could quite happily kill him sometimes but fortunately we know each other well and can generally sort shit out (the day after, sometimes 2 or 3, haha).
I’ll get back to that in another post but firstly in case you have just stumbled on this post and know very little about Sri Lanka – *ONE WORD OF NOTE* – do not let this put you off coming here for a fantastic holiday, even if you are a single female travelling alone. The country will welcome you with open arms but I hope this post may make just that little bit wiser about how you go about your day-to-day holiday adventures.
Unemployment is a big problem in this country, not because it is absurdly high, but because there are no social security measures in place to aid these people. A problem the Government needs to address – but that is for another post as well. So if you have no job, you have NOTHING. Lots of people get small unreliable work in the agricultural sector which is weather dependant and where they get paid not by the hour, or day, or month…NO but by what they actually bring to their SUV-driving boss in his posh house. If the weather is shit, they go home with nothing to feed their kids. Add to that fishermen and masons (brickies) who are usually self-employed and don’t have the correct HR systems in place to safe-guard them should their work dry up or if they are unable to work because of illness or disabilities.
Back to the Tourist sector; all along the coast from Colombo to Matara the young generation has grown up with tourists, even during the war and in the aftermath of the tsunami (different types of tourists, yes, but they still had money to spend). They see tourists as “work” – whether from teaching them how to surf and taking them on proper tours to commission greedy boys that will demand 10% or 20% of whatever the tourist buys in certain shops. I haven’t actually got a problem with these commission “guides”. Why? Because they have no alternative employment, no decent education to speak of BUT yet they speak 4 or 5 languages enough to actually take these holiday-makers to the best markets, the best spice shops, the best gem and jewellery shops AND the best beaches, best local temples, lagoons and waterfalls etc. These guys put in their days work too, usually on foot in the sweltering heat. YES, they will pocket some money on top of the market price of goods but the shop keepers are in on all this and if a lone tourist enters the shop alone and chooses an item which is not priced, the shop will make a 100% mark-up anyway. Most of these “guides” are from poor fishing communities and help their folks, wives or if single, they will buy the arrack for all the others in the evening. They are not evil. If you don’t want their help, tell them to fuck off. They understand and leave you alone. Many have met Europeans who have helped them and their families to build houses and live a better life, some get married and move abroad – surely in my view this is progress for Sri Lanka.
You can of course get ripped off BIG STYLE, but this is usually down to the stupidity of the tourist. Look at Hikkaduwa for example…you go to Mambo’s for a beach party during the season. If you are a young backpacker you may want to get some drugs to enliven your your evening (I am not casting judgements here…been there, done that, luckily I had fun and good friends, including the Mambo boys), BUT sometimes you may get ripped off. Do your research guys, ask around, what is the going price etc. Don’t just get steaming on Arrack and Bacardi at the bar and then decide to score 2 E’s. You’re wasted, you have a pocket full of cash. Any drug dealer in the world will think you are easy prey. BE SMART. Keep your head – I agree it’s not always easy when dancing barefoot on the beach with Techno blasting and you are beyond caring but you wouldn’t lose your head at home so don’t here. The Sri Lankans will respect you more for it.
There are so many bad reviews on the internet about the so-called “beach boys” and “commission guides” in Sri Lanka. Yes it happens, but you can also make them your friends and then these “beach boys” and “commission guides” will look after you and ensure your holiday is safe and memorable. Yes they make some money, but considering they give you the time and advice, surely they deserve it. Add to that the fact that you will see parts of this wonderful country which big tour agencies do not visit and very often you will be invited to their family home for rice and curry – local style. Nothing is better than that plus you will have a friend for life. Respect and be respected.
BE SAVVY, STAY SAFE! And enjoy the paradise that is Sri Lanka! Who knows you might even find true love, whether for the country, a beach dog, a gorgeous smart shy Sri Lankan girl, a clever funny intelligent Colombo guy or a delicious looking cheeky beach boy. Enjoy and love but mainly respect them in their country: Sri Lanka. Your life will never be the same.
So, I’ve had my first (but certainly hopefully not my last) taste of Thailand, well the Bangkok suburbs to be exact. 3 nights and 2 days of a new country and culture hardly makes me an expert but as I mostly live in Sri Lanka these days, I thought it would be interesting to look at some similarities and differences in culture between the 2 mainly Buddhist countries. These are just my observations and I do not claim to know anything more, especially being a Suddhi (female) or Farang as foreigners are respectively called in Sri Lanka and Thailand.
5 Cultural Similarities
Religion – both countries mainly practice Theravada Buddhism ; “The core teaching of the Theravada Buddhism is to see oneself, not with love or hate, but for it is; or in other words, to not see ourselves subjectively but objectively as if it is merely elements or part of the great flow of nature which in combine lacks the existence of a separate or a permanent “self.” This is evident everywhere in both countries in the number of temples, Buddha statues and small shrines everywhere (outside houses, shops, street stalls etc.). The burning of incense at dawn and dusk unites both countries in those sweet smells.
Drinking culture amongst men – it seems no drinking session in either Sri Lanka or Thailand is complete without bites (an accompanying snack). The actual food is very different but the overall concept is so very familiar. The setting can be anywhere…by the side of the street or the river. All that is required is a bottle or two of spirits (arrack in Sri Lanka and Thai whisky in Bangkok), a bottle or two of mixers (usually coke), some food, some plastic cups, some plastic chairs and some good company!
Women rule the roost – in Thailand as well as in Sri Lanka women are NOT the weaker sex. They often work (whether in an office, as a tea plucker, rice paddy field worker, stall holder or a management position for the more educated), they run the household and look after their close (children and husbands) and sometimes wider families (parents, uncles, aunts, cousins).
Smiles are respected, rudeness is not – I suspect this is part of the Buddhist mentality. A smile will help you get what you want, any rudeness, anger and especially threats will hinder this. Both Thais and Sri Lankans find it enormously embarrassing to lose face in an argument thus they find it better to avoid the issue by being generally polite and kind to others. Even during my short trip to Bangkok I noticed that if I smiled whilst ordering food the service was better than when I simply ordered on my first night without even looking at the person who was serving me (I was tired but not an excuse not to smile!!)
Immigration staff are rude and crap in both countries – fact. See number 4. above for how to minimise your irritation whilst arriving in the country of your choice. Sri Lanka is marginally better now with the online visa application facility. In Bangkok I waited 45 mins to get into Thailand and over an hour (!!) to get out 3 days later.
5 Cultural Differences
Food – I can’t begin to explain how different the food is in Sri Lanka and Thailand. I love both but the tastes are wildly different. A green chicken curry in Bangkok will be nothing like a chicken curry in Colombo. Thai food has more subtle spices….some claim it is hot but I still find Sri Lankan food wins the chilli stakes hands down. This is not just about the tastes – also the type of food; PORK is everywhere in Thailand, on barbeques as satay, in sausage form, even in noodles (wontons). In Sri Lanka it is rare amongst Buddhists, Muslims and Tamils. Sri Lankan chefs can learn a lot from the Thai salads in particular.
Prices – I was lead to believe that Bangkok was one of the cheapest capital cities in the world. INCORRECT. Yes beer (alcohol in general), cigarettes and street food are cheap but transport is comparable to Sri Lanka and clothes about 25%-50% more expensive. I only went to Bangkok so I imagine it is even cheaper out of the cities but generally clothes, rent and land cost a lot more in Thailand than in Sri Lanka.
Religion – both countries mainly practice Theravada Buddhism ; see point 1. above. Although sharing the same beliefs, the two countries respect and pray to Buddha in different ways. In Sri Lanka strict Buddhists do not eat pork or beef. In Thailand they have no such qualms. The history of Buddhism is also quite different in both countries. The temples and Buddha statues are also different in the way they look and the rituals are different.
Kingdom vs. Presidency – In Thailand the King or Queen is revered in the same way as Buddha. People will not stand on a coin depicting the King’s face. They will stop whatever they are doing and stand to pay their respects when the national anthem is played (I heard a funny escalator story about this 😉 ). Sri Lanka has Mahinda Rajapaksa – the President. Many adore him, however I feel quite safe to say that many also loathe him and would be quite happy to bury a one rupee coin depicting his face into the dirt with their foot.
Tuk tuks – these three-wheelers are fast disappearing from the streets of Bangkok 😦 – in Colombo the numbers continue to grow, perhaps because we in Sri Lanka do not have an efficient public transport system like the Thais. The SkyTrain, buses, trains all run efficiently and to schedule. Add to that the fact that they are super clean and cheap. Who needs a tuk tuk?
I love most Sri Lankan foods, especially curries. I have yet to dislike a vegetable curry here, even beetroot which I hated as a child.
Below, I’ve listed five of the simple foods that I could happily eat all day, every day!
1. Pol roti (coconut roti…like crispy flatbreads) – it’s delicious when fresh and I can eat unlimited amounts of the small ones with lunu miris (a very spicy onion and chilli chutney), pol sambol (see below) or just butter
2. Pol sambol – a grated coconut side dish which is a staple here in Sri Lanka. It is made with coconut, red chilli flakes, sliced green chilli, finely chopped onions, lime juice and salt. I even have this on sandwiches which makes my Sri Lankan friends laugh because it considered a poor mans dish to consume it this way. I think this tops my list – I can eat it straight out of the bowl, with pol roti, bread, rice, curry and even on pizza.
3. Dhal – quintessentially Sri Lankan, just as pol sambol is. It can be eaten with fresh bread for breakfast, with rice and curry for lunch and poured over your take-away paratha roti at night.
4. Egg hoppers – simply delicious when cooked fresh with a sprinkle of black pepper. A crispy pancake with a fried egg in the middle. In my opinion best eaten half-boiled as they call it here (soft boiled)…then crack the crispy edges and dip into the egg yolk. Hmm. Simple but so special. I will blog more on the virtues of hoppers soon.
5. Pumpkin curry(aka Wattakka curry) – one of my favourites, it’s so tasty, not too spicy and super healthy. I love all veggie curries but this one is at the top of my list.
These are the one’s that I find horrid:
Animal Body Parts — I don’t mind eating meat, but I draw the line at body parts. Sucking the marrow out of a bone, chomping on a fish head, rolling fish eyes around in your mouth before that disgusting bite which releases all the goo, chewing on offal etc. Yuk! I find it even more troubling that I’m usually offered these delicacies as a treat. Fortunately, my partner has come to know how I feel and he happily grabs the offending items off my plate, before I even get a chance to poke at it in disgust or our hosts notice!
Curd — For one who loves cheese and normal yoghurt this troubles me sometimes. The smell of curd makes me want to vomit. I’m quite repulsed by the way Sri Lankans love gulping it down after a spicy meal. I think it’s the sourness…like milk gone off which induces a gag reflex in me.
Dried fish (aka Maldive fish) – Sri Lankans love using dried fish to add flavour to curries (usually small sardine like fish) and sometimes even as a main ingredient in the curries (chunks of dried tuna). Ewww. It is an overpowering taste. Can’t stand the smell or taste.
Sri Lankan wedding cake – I honestly do not care how well or tastefully it is offered (you always get a little parcel to take home in a cute packaging design). Mine are always deposited into my handbag and given to the children I know at the soonest opportunity. Sugary gooey mess usually with marzipan icing. Absolutely disgusting.
Malu paan (malu = fish, paan = bread) – a short eat (snack) staple and favourite of school children. Fish left-overs cooked with spices and potato and put into triangular sweetish usually very chewy bread. Why? Has an island nation has no better ways to use its abundance of fish? Give me a fish cutlet any day.
A blog about freelance translation as a digital nomad, travel, food & drink and all things Sri Lankan and Dutch.