A Sri Lankan Style Guide

I made a big style statement today: I bought a pair of flip-flops.

Last year, after I got my foot bitten by a venomous – though far from lethal, to me at least – spider, Sera suggested I should get a pair of flip-flops to replace my all-terrain, world-conquering, expedition-tested, ergonomically-designed but spider harbouring sandals. I have now done so for LKR 250 – approximately £1.70. The stall holder insists they are 8s and the big 9 stamped on them is an American sizing: I can’t say I warm to the thong between my toes – would that make a good song lyric: “Down where I belong, I’m the thong between your toes”, or something?

Whilst musing on footwear, I should mention that I don’t find the ankle length khaki cotton socks of the SL policewomen gets my heart racing at all. I don’t suppose they’re meant to. Mind you the socks are just the finishing touch on a no-nonsense get up of style-vacuum midi-length, brown khaki skirt, Girl Guide Leader’s Shirt in light khaki and, generally atop severely restricted hair, a dark plum coloured beret that manages not to exude even the slightest hint of raffish charm. The male of the species is also dressed in pseudo-military garb: I must say, I prefer my police force not to look like soldiers, even relatively benign ones with moustaches.

Rick has tactfully hinted that there’s a problem with the dress code. It seems my t-shirts are too informal as they don’t have a collar. His short-sleeved polo shirts are OK as they have a collar and he sometimes takes PE classes. Short trousers seem to be fine. As I’m not enthusiastic about wearing a long-sleeved shirt – even rolled up – I’m limited to one short-sleeve one. That’s two days per week, then it’s back to a tee-shirt, but I’ll wear my zip-off trousers at half-length, a more conservative distance from the knee than the shorts. We’ll see how that plays out. Rick reckons it’s hard for him to push a dress code with the younger females in particular if he’s not consistent: I take his point.

That brings me on to laundry: I’m sure you’re keen to know. Poornima, Sera’s wife, has apparently been treated by him to a brand new, top-of-the range washing machine, which I’ve yet to see. The quid pro quo is that she does residents’ laundry. I don’t know if this service is included in the price or is an extra, but it’ll sure be an improvement on the nailbrush and all purpose soap in the kitchen sink last year.

It’s now apparently been settled that TGS will give me their contribution to my accommodation costs as cash. I’ll pay Sera monthly, probably with cash straight from the ATM, using the TGS money as daily spending.

Fedor was off today and Miss Nadeeshani asked if she could sit in while I was teaching Zahkar and Azry: we were looking at drawing regular shapes on the screen with the Scratch programming language, so her mathematical input was great. After doing squares and hexagons, one of the boys asked if you could do circles. Our method of drawing squares, hexagons etc. is: for each side, move forward and turn the appropriate angle, then do it again. So, my reply was, obviously, “So how many sides does a circle have?” Discussion ensued: we rejected “none” on the fairly obvious grounds that everything inside would fall out! Miss Nadeeshani and the boys came down on “one”, but we then saw that a four sided figure was “more like circle” than a triangle is, an octagon better still and a thirty sided figure almost indistinguishable on the monitor… Luckily the bell arrived before infinity! I’d be really interested to hear from any passing mathematicians with an argued case for, presumably, either unity or infinity. (Other numbers are available)

The bus route into town – but not, for some reason, the return – passes a shop which I have nick-named “Pimp My Tuk-tuk” but really has a more prosaic name involving “Auto” and “Modify”. It’s like a silver band suppliers, retro bedstead outlet and tubular bells shop rolled into one. Everything glints dustily in chrome plate: particularly prominent are the rather ornate tubular-bed-head-shaped grilles that some drivers put in between themselves and their passengers, but number plate enhancers and tubular go faster bits abound, all hanging down from the roof and hooks in the walls. Whilst there are lots of clapped-out ill-treated tuk-tuks there are also plenty of drivers willing to facilitate a thriving trade. I must try to get a photograph.

Lunch today – it’s an eating day – was curried seafood and rice. I enjoyed it. I’m determined to be a bit more adventurous in my eating this year and try more of the local dishes.

Moments after I got on the stationary bus at the stance for the ride home, an incident occurred that seems worth reporting: I can’t quite settle on my reaction to it. I had easily found a seat on the half-full waiting bus and the first I was aware of was a man passing me in the aisle, carrying his son of about 9 years. They reached the front seats (“Reserved for Clergy” in three languages) and he supported his son to stand on the seat facing down the bus. There was obviously something wrong with the boy: his posture was unusual, his arms positioned as if half-heartedly going into a boxing match, and he stared blankly forward. The man – I assume he was the father – spoke in Sinhala for some time – movingly to judge by other passengers’ reactions – and the boy stared disinterestedly, almost motionless, ahead. His head lolled a bit from side to side. The father showed some pictures, but I couldn’t see them clearly: I think they were intended as supporting evidence. Speech over, the father came down the aisle, carrying his son and collecting donations before heading for another bus. I think that must take a lot of courage, probably born out of desperation.

Anyway, I’m back at base, it’s about 5:30pm and the monks have been chanting for a few minutes. I must admit I like hearing it. My working week is over and I’ve no fixed plans for the weekend other than a possible trip to Unawatuna.

The monkeys are still tucking into the jack fruit. They are often around about 7am and again late afternoon. Needless to say, any time I happen to have my phone or camera, the fruit are deserted: at other times, there’ll be an adult, possibly with child, pensively sitting picking away at the huge fruit. I imagine them thinking “Oh for something exotic like a raspberry.”


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