Last Post

Whilst I was posting yesterday’s ramblings, Purmina asked if I’d like a piece of bread, to which I said “Yes, a little bit would be nice”. Out came an omelette and three large slices of buttered bread! What did I say about difficulty sticking to a diet?

Anyway, barring any quick Facebook posts, it looks like this will be the last Sri Lanka blog.

A close look at the map and consultation with a few knowledgeable locals confirms that I’ve misunderstood – rather as I suspected – about the supposed railway link to the airport. It’ll be bus from the station for me. Nevertheless, I should have plenty of time.

Today’s lunch with Rick was good: after that, he had to go out to the plot of land he and Kris have bought near Unawatuna and on which they plan to build a house. There’s a boundary wall up at present, power will be going in soon, plans are in development and it looks as though they’ve chosen a really nice spot: a mini-peninsula surrounded on two or three sides by paddy fields. Rick admits there may be a mosquito problem, but it’s a lovely location.

We travelled to lunch and then to the plot of land by scooter: this time I got to wear a helmet. A combination of Rick’s skilled driving, the helmet and the beers meant I wasn’t scared at all.

I suppose I ought to do some reflective stuff.

On and off over the last three months, I wondered if I could come up with one word that sums up SL. Of course, that’s silly: it does the island, its people and its culture a disservice and reminds me of the “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” whose entry for Earth was “Harmless”, expanded in a subsequent edition to “Mostly harmless”. Nevertheless, caveats aside, it’s maybe a worthwhile exercise and I’ve come up with “gaudy”.

My Kindle-based Oxford Dictionary of English defines “gaudy” as “extravagantly bright or showy, typically so as to be tasteless”. We’ll need to modify that. I want the word not just to cover colour, but all five senses. At the same time, I want to point out that “taste” is a matter of, well, taste and I mean no criticism by the use of the word “gaudy”: I just can’t think of a better one.

Birds and flowers, adverts and bread vans, smells and tastes, street-sounds and birdcalls are all raised by several notches compared with the UK and women wear bright, almost garish, saris often with large striking patterns. As I write this, a bunch of monks are chanting their socks off* in a temple nearby and – right on cue – they’ve subsided as the drumming builds up. Rain isn’t the grim Presbyterian stuff we get in Scotland: it’s warm and has an exuberant character. I suspect “exuberant” would be a word of criticism in many parts of Scotland. Smells are certainly stronger: sometimes for the better, generally not: sewers, polluted waterways, exhaust fumes, burning rubbish etc. are all worse than back home, but cooking smells are stronger with spices and the heady smell of incense frequently appears unexpected. I’m not a complete convert to curry, but I’d have to admit it has oodles more flavour than many of our bland UK dishes, especially the speedy-lunch equivalents from fast food shops, where the addition of chilli sauce etc. is to mask what are basically third rate ingredients poorly cooked in the first place. It’s more difficult to apply “gaudy” to touch, but perhaps I’d get away with commenting that Sri Lankans seem to have a smaller “personal bubble”: in the UK we veer away from physical contact on buses, trains, in the streets etc.: here that doesn’t seem to be the norm. Tinned sardines have more personal space than your average SL bus passenger, which probably explains why so many of them seem willing to climb Sri Pada. And, if you see two Scottish lads holding hands, then they’re probably “making a statement”: out here they’d just be friends. So that leaves sound: the buses echo to the grinding of brakes, coughing of engines, constant blowing of horns and those are just the external sounds. Inside there’s “music” playing and your companion on the aisle side of the two seater bench is quite likely to lean across you, have a good hawk, and spit a gobbet of phlegm out the window. Even the phlegm may be brightly coloured with betel juice.

Some of that may sound negative – and some of it is – but the colour and vitality also appear in the personalities of the people I’ve met. I’m not going to name names, as that would be unfair and I’d accidentally leave folk out, but I’ve met smiles, generosity, kindness, helpfulness a dozen times a day, every day. Sure: tuk-tuk drivers touting for business, occasional chancers, shovers and pushers in queues (a concept that seems alien to Sri Lankans, particularly in connection with transport) will get your goat – they certainly got mine – but one to one, when the chips are down, you won’t find a friendlier, kinder, more helpful people than the folk in Sri Lanka.

If you’ve been reading this over the last three months, then thank you. I may do a bit more about hill-walking in Scotland once I get home and am allowed out again but in the meantime that’s it!

*I’ve never seen a Buddhist monk wearing socks: that must be the reason!



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