Flora

It’s been a while since I last posted and I have a perfectly good excuse… gimme a minute to make one up.

Meanwhile, enjoy these pics from our visit to the Hakgala Gardens in Sri Lanka. The images are a bit disjointed because they’re from two different cameras. I was borrowing my cousin’s camera (on account of Fiona suggesting my one sucks), but it ran out of juice half way so I then borrowed my aunt’s camera.

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Things I learned Episode III: Revenge of the ekSith

We’re back in the States baby! And my apartment in New York was not destroyed by fire and brimstone despite the earthquake a while back, the plants are all dead (naturally), the milk has turned to yogurt and I now have a Verizon bill that’s close to a thousand dollars.

Other than that, everything is all Hunky Dory. I actually got back before Thanksgiving because I wanted to avoid all the fuss of the holiday travel. This is the first chance I got after catching up on to a boat load of work.

It’s very easy to get love handles

I’m actually shocked at how quickly I went from dry twig to a whopping 127Lbs all because of craving Sri Lankan cuisine for 16 years. I was considered “underweight” for most of my life by Western standards for my height (I’m 5′-5″), so technically this is an “improvement” of sorts. Maybe now I can stop shopping at kids’ section for clothes… Oh wait, I don’t shop.

On the down side, now I really look like a hairy 16-year-old girl at a distance… minus boobs.

I’ve had a couple of Customer Service jobs and customers were generally convinced they were speaking to a girl over the phone. Maybe I should start smoking and grow a full beard again (I shaved mine after 9/11 to avoid unnecessary attention).

Spicy Sphincter Syndrome

Speaking of Sri Lankan cuisine, I’ve been lulled into a false sense of confidence in my tolerance for spicy food due to the lack of any appreciable heat in Western cuisine and watered down Indian food (catering to Westerners).

It’s been a very long time since I felt the need to tumble an ice cube on my tongue after a taste test and even longer since I had to suffer in the toilet after an afternoon splurge (TMI?)

Rampant software piracy

This one sorta caught me off guard. I expected a bit of torrent activity here and there in Sri Lanka, especially since most people don’t have the cash to throw around right after buying a new PC, but my God!

It’s even more surprising that certain computer stores implicitly encourage customers to buy more horsepower than spend money on the software. It makes more business sense for them to sell more iron anyway, so I guess it’s overlooked by management. The average private computer in Sri Lanka is almost guaranteed to contain a pirated version of Windows (if it’s a PC) and definitely at least one of the MS Office apps also downloaded from somewhere. This would also explain why I was fixing computer issues at the houses (tech support on my vacation… heh) I was visiting since Windows Update has been turned off and the majority were infected with rootkits and backdoors.

The good news is that more and more young people are switching their home PCs to Linux and free software alternatives.

I got dumped… again… by the same woman!

And “we should see other people” is just another way of saying “I’m seeing people other than you” so why not just say it? Can’t say I didn’t see this coming and it was not being immediately available for txt and calls for several months that really pushed this over the edge.

I was still checking email though and Skype was still an option, but I guess some prefer avoiding eye contact for fear of arousing baser instincts, especially when feigning fidelity. This on-again off-again is pretty well off now. In fact the switch has been pulled out of the wall this time.

I’m feeling an odd combination of mild sadness and relief.

Door men and security guards

I can understand the need for a guard at the bank and even the jewelery stores, but even supermarkets have door men — many of whom are women — and security guards. I’m very pleased at the sophistication since the supermarkets now also have very helpful clerks at checkout and even in the isles.

This is very far cry from anything in the U.S. unless you’re visiting some high-end stores.

What’s more pleasantly surprising is the number of women being employed as security guards and clerks these days. Sri Lanka has had traditional gender biases as many other South Asian countries, but looks like they’ve made great strides in the past few years to change that. I hope they’re getting the same pay and treatment as their male counterparts.

I’m American

I’m a little torn as to whether I should be happy or sad — perhaps some combination thereof. Something about me was giving off a tourist vibe and it’s not features or skin color (nor my fanny pack, cowboy hat and shorts). I can’t put my finger on what it was exactly, but toward the end of my stay, it started to bother me.

Don’t get me wrong; I grew up in the U.S. and I’m very proud to call it home, but the thought that when I’m home, I don’t even have to open my mouth for someone else to start speaking to me in English is a little unnerving. This is a change from how I initially felt being a stealthy native.

Verizon still sucks

Never get a phone without a sim option and never, ever, agree to accept a new phone just for international use. You will be charged equipment fees regardless of what’s promised even after sending the new phones back. Suffice it to say that I’m sans-cell for a little while at least which is oddly comforting. I guess I’ll be sticking to Skype for a while.

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So there go the details that I wanted to share. There were lots of other stuff that I can’t post here (I’m not into Facebook for a reason). I may get back to my old schedule for posting once I get caught up with more work.

Things I learned Part II

This is the continuation of my trip back to Sri Lanka and the re-exploration of the delights therein.

Hand-phone = Cellphone

Which makes perfect sense, actually, but It feels very unusual to say it. Cell towers aren’t referred to as such and are called telecom towers instead. Hence, no cellphones. But it is comforting to know that high-speed connection claims are equally rubbish for the most part as they are in the States.

E.G. I’m using Dialog as my ISP with their mobile broadband USB dongle. I was promised 3G speeds island-wide with very few dead spots, but at present it’s 72K down and 12K up.

Sri Lankans won the Battle of Iwo Jima in 1945

I had forgotten my headphones back in the U.S. and had to buy a new pair. The clerk gave me a 1,000 Rupee note as part of my change that I didn’t examine until I was at a grocery store that evening. Imagine my surprise when I came across this…

Does not compute...

For those of you who don’t understand the implications, here’s a photo taken by Joe Rosenthal on February 23rd, 1945 on Iwo Jima during World War II.

A cleaned up version of entry ID 520748 taken from the U.S. National Archives at Archives.gov. The location is Mount Suribachi in Iwo Jima

I can accept that the vast majority of Sri Lankans won’t understand the significance of the photo, but I refuse to believe that no one at the Sri Lankan mint knew of  Rosenthal and the photo and what it means to the U.S.

Sri Lanka has a long history military victories and any one of them could have easily served as an artistic backdrop for the obverse of the note. Yet the reason they chose to take a 66-year-old photograph depicting a victory for another country in another war as inspiration is beyond me. I understand the whole nation is happy the civil war is over, but come on Sri Lanka… Be original!

Rain feels like getting hit by 1000 marbles/second

I completely forgot this is the start of the monsoon and the biggest downpour in the U.S is no match to the rain here.  Thankfully, flooding isn’t a major concern where I’m staying, but it isn’t uncommon to see some streets inundated up to a few inches at least after a major spell of rain.

I could have sworn the raindrops are just a bit shy of 1/4 inch. Naturally, there seems to be no discernible pattern to when the rains will start as it could be bright and sunny one minute and torrential rains the next. Large storms can cross the entire country in a relatively short period considering it’s size is roughly that of West Virginia.

Elephant dung doesn’t smell as bad as I imagined…

… but I was spot on when it came to size.

We were visiting an elephant sanctuary close to the middle of the country (I’ve seen them up close when I was very young, but I don’t remember that trip) and I must say I was underwhelmed by my olfactory expectations.

This particular specimen was roughly the size of my head.

Also, elephants don’t seem to like being stared at and we were frequently the butt of their disdain.

Well, poo to you too, you pompus pachyderms!

I love being a stealthy native

I don’t look like the typical Sinhalese person in that I have more Indian features and a pretty strong American accent when I speak English. I used to view this as being mostly bad for the first week in Sri Lanka (especially since prices tend to rise by Rs. 100 to 200 when I’m around) until I discovered the perks of not being obviously identifiable.

Especially entertaining is when people talk about me… right in front of me.

I’m sure you can imagine the delicious scenarios that have come about as a result of this, but let me just say that one particularly obnoxious lady I came across just South of Colombo won’t be lifting her jaw off the floor any time soon. I just wish I had eyes on the back of my head for when I turned around to walk away.

Things I learned in OVER NINE THOUSAAAAND!!!!… miles

After having some time to reflect on the trip, the inevitable conclusions will follow. I’ve compiled the most relevant ones to our current situation and, all in all, I can safely say we would have done things differently.

Never fly coach or have more than two stops on long trips.

Even if it costs an arm and a leg, try to be as comfortable as possible for the duration. You can’t enjoy your stay if all you’ll remember is the flying experience. Why suffer more than you have to when travelling? After all, this isn’t the 1800’s; your wagon need not be cramped and full of crying babies.

We waited too long to book our flight and ended up with stopovers in Bahrain and France. All this did was just add more jet lag and aggravation as an 8000+ mile trip ended up being 9000+. Also, we booked the flight with Gulf Air, but they have a code share with American Airlines and AA coach is probably the worst. The Gulf Air Airbus 330, even in coach, was a far better experience since the AA 757 was more of a cross between a Greyhound bus and a carrier pigeon. The flight attendants on Gulf Air were also more pleasant and professional than the AA ones.

On our trip from France to Bahrain, Gulf Air was our carrier. We had a very thoughtful flight attendant who helped us store our acoustic guitar (yes, we took a guitar as a carry-on) in the front so we’ll have more leg room.

Turbulence is Awesome!

In small doses, it does wonders to quiet loud people, spoiled, screaming, children and annoying people who want to talk to you when you just want to take a nap. While flying toward France, our plane shook quite a few times and it was more effective than a sleeping pill on me.

French Women Suck

This isn’t just my opinion as I have empirical observations behind the statement. And it pains me to say this as one of my favorite actresses, Audrey Tautou, happens to be French. Practically every native French women we came into direct contact with had some sort of weird attitude that’s a bit hard to explain. Think a combination of “I’m holier than thou” with “The world revolves around me” and “I don’t care, just ‘cuz“.

On the first flight from New York to France, we were sitting next to an older French woman who had a peculiar habit of tearing out the pages and images from the in-flight magazines. She had already destroyed hers when my magazine fell down as I got up to use the restroom and when I came back, I found a page torn from it as well. My mom had asked why she had done it and all she got was a smile and no explanation…

In front of us was a young French couple with two small children, one of which had a bad stomach ache. I only saw the dad carrying and consoling the child up and down the aisle, while the mom put her headphones on to drown out the crying.

Behind me was another crying child with a French family who was kicking the back of my seat repeatedly through most of the flight. The father was trying to console the child and keep him from kicking, but that did little to make the mother move an inch. In fact, she thought it was the cutest thing ever.

When the stomping demon seed finally fell asleep, I too was ready to take a nap, however the paper shredder next to us insisted she swap seats with my mom so she can read. Our lovely AA 757 didn’t have a working light at her seat and after she swapped seats, all she did was turn the light on and off repeatedly as she herself fell asleep and awoke to read. And, of course, she then shredded my mom’s in-flight magazine which she left in the seat pocket.

After disembarking at Charles de Gaulle, we were directed by the rudest lady I’ve come across in a long time. The French female security guard checking luggage was also rude to an Indian couple directly behind us on their stopover for no discernible reason.

At the cafe in the Duty Free section, the French woman behind the counter was extremely rude to my mom when she had a question about using Dollars vs. Euros while the French man was helpful. Interestingly another woman who also worked at the cafe was very nice and friendly, but her parents were from the Caribbean.

Likewise, another French woman who helped us navigate Charles de Gaulle, by far the most confusing airport I’ve ever been through, turned out to be Australian by birth.

If these were isolated cases, It wouldn’t be as bad, but… On our flight from France to Bahrain, we were behind the only two French women in an otherwise packed section full of Arabs, Asians and a Portuguese couple. The two women decided to slam their seats backward with no regard for the two of us behind and were repeatedly readjusting their seats as we were trying to eat.

The flight attendant had to come over and repeat the message to return the seat to the upright position for one of the women and, after the plane was on final approach (when the fasten seatbelts lights came on), this was how she was seated until turbulence from the lowering landing gear shook the plane :

Classy, eh?

So we either had the incredible misfortune of being herded through a gauntlet of Les Douches on this trip or French women really do suck.

Force your relatives to say what they need while you’re still at the Duty Free

I don’t know why this is exactly, but my family is incredibly shy when it comes to asking for things. At the Sri Lankan DF, they were selling all sorts of electrical appliances and we needed a new microwave and washing machine. We didn’t learn about this until after we came home.

I’m sure they thought they didn’t want to inconvenience us or cost us more money, but that’s exactly what happened later by not buying needed appliances before we left the airport. So modesty is only admirable when appropriate.

Next time, I’m going to make them take pictures of the interior of their homes and send to us so we can decide for ourselves what they need.

Don’t put off going home thinking you’ll have more time later.

Make the time you need because going home after too long is in some ways worse than not going at all.

Case in point, I now realise that it’s incredibly difficult to near impossible for me to read Singhalese signs even though my spoken Singhalese isn’t that bad. But if I ever get lost, I’ll have great difficulty explaining where I need to go and I’m practically tied to my GPS. If I went back when I was younger, it wouldn’t have been as difficult to re-learn Singhalese, although I would have still been faced with the consequences of an ongoing civil war which, thankfully, ended in 2009.

Never drive in Sri Lanka

More than half of my life was spent in the U.S. and the traffic culture shock was almost too much to take.  Especially significant was the magnificent driving we have here in Colombo which is a cross between playing chicken and Russian Roulette… with buses. The buses don’t really have a schedule to speak of, only a route number, and they drive with the same constitution as a motorbike rider.

Cars, likewise, have their own set of rules and seem to fluctuate with the presence of traffic cops. The traffic police is ever-present in Colombo, however only mitigate slow traffic and manage troublesome intersections. Driving on the right (standard in Sri Lanka) seems to be optional for someone who really, really, really, wants overtake as double lines don’t mean much if the right lane is crowded.

On our trip from the airport to our home, I could literally count on one hand the number of times I saw a turn signal, no one wears seatbelts, bikes often double as family sedans and helmets aren’t always present for children. I’ve been told that this situation will change soon and traffic laws will be enforced strictly, but I ain’t holding my breath.

I can safely say that driving here is worse than India and Greece combined for both motorists and pedestrians.

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I hope I can learn from all this on our next trip home.

Oh, and that spider came back to our bathroom…

OK, I know we live close to you guys, but dude seriously... GTFO!