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Shaun and Trina are Sweating

Join us as we eat curry, go on adventures and fight the evil travellers' diarrhea.

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Sri Lankan Sweat

Sri Lanka the sequel

The train ride to Galle was still cheap, slow and a great place to eat vadais and take in the ocean view.
The train ride to Galle was still cheap, slow and a great place to eat vadais and take in the ocean view.

It’s been 3 years since we left this quirky little island nation. A lot has happened in those 3 years. In our lives, we’ve moved back to Canada and then to Malaysia. In Sri Lanka,  post-war growth has continued and in January 2015, the seemingly impossible happened, the longstanding president Mahinda Rajapaksa was defeated in a peaceful, democratic and monumental election.

In our recent week long visit, change was noticeable. Yet things have remained the same, like we never left, like it has remained frozen in time. How do I even begin to describe it all? Well, I’ll attempt as best as I can.

  • People still stare. The Sri Lankan ability to unabashedly gawk, ogle, peer, and gape is parallel to none. Since I love people watching,  I quickly defaulted back to embracing this license to stare. * Note: Creepy stares also still exist and fortunately in my week visit I didn’t encounter many, but these stares are still not cool Sri Lanka – not cool.*
  • Although not everyone felt the need to comment on my weight with the obligatory “You’ve gone up a bit” or “You’ve gone down a bit”, I did have one memorable encounter. Trying to save face for his friend and thinking he was paying me a compliment, a Sri Lankan I just met told me with a huge smile on his face that his friend didn’t recognise me because I’d gotten very fat. Who knew that “fat beyond recognition” could be a compliment!
  • Infrastructure has improved yet the traffic is just as chaotic. More cars means widening the paved roads, more traffic lights, and a few more “expressways”. However, there are still people, bikes, cows, elephants, water buffalo, tuk-tuks, etc. on the roads and the newest highway in the South has had it’s share of problems including elephants breaking through the barriers, and farmers drying their rice and grazing their cattle on the road.
  • Prices have risen and tourism seems to be booming. Luxury items are heavily taxed so this is felt when you are a tourist. Most of this is to recoup high amounts of debt incurred post-war in projects such as an airport, a convention centre, a highway and a hospital all in the South that remain empty and unused. But I can live with this because the price of a rice packet and a sweaty ride on the 174 bus have remained affordable.
  • Business appears to be booming. Government laws are more transparent in their operations, but people are suspicious of the transparency. Ironically, people aren’t sure how to operate in a world with less bribery and under the table dealings. In the words of a local businessman we met, “You need a bit of corruption for things to run smoothly, but not too much – around 10% corruption is perfect.”
  • The food remains delicious. Some of the hotels we stayed at were dumbing down the spice a bit, until they saw us eating with our hands and heard us commenting about the lack of spice making it less delicious.  The chef at one guest house went out of his way to make my favourite dish of string hoppers, dahl curry and extra spicy coconut sambol and brought it to us the next morning. He was delighted when he could see for his own eyes that we really could handle the spice.
  • Most importantly the friendly faces and visits we had with old friends made us truly feel like we were back at home.

The visit made me realise just how special this place and it’s people will always be to us. We are so lucky to have formed lasting friendships and now that we live only a 3 hour flight away can truly leave saying “Gihin ennam!” (the Sinhalese phrase for goodbye that literally translates as “I will go and come”).

Trina

Sri Lanka – the final days

I've loved the chance to teach at such a wonderful school with children from over 40 different countries. I'm going to miss this place!
I’ve loved the chance to teach at such a wonderful school with children from over 40 different countries. I’m going to miss this place!

When you’ve been living in a country as amazingly vibrant as this one for over two years, the final days before your departure are filled with emotions. It’s so hard to know how to spend your last weeks living and working here and just impossible to get everything in – let alone document it in an amazing blog entry. But I will try to capture the last couple of weeks events in a few words and photos and hopefully you’ll get the idea.

So here is a list of the things I’ve been doing complete with photos.

. I’ve also written and performed a farewell rap for the staff to the tune of Will Smith’s “Fresh Prince of Bel-Air“. While it pales in comparison to Jo Coomb’s rendition of “My Favourite Things“, I’d like to think it is a close second.

Now this is a story all about how

My life got flipped, turned upside down

And I’d like to take a minute to say thank ya

‘Cause I’ve loved being a sudu noona   in Sri Lanka.

In Regina, Saskatchewan born and raised

Teaching in schools is where I spent most of my days

Chilling out, maxing, relaxing all cool

And standardizing assessments inside the school

When it dawned on me life was getting lazy

It was time to do something wild and crazy

Put in one little form and were told we could go

To a mental hospital just outside Colombo.

Time went by; more than two years in a flurry,

I’ve sweat, I’ve learned and I’ve been stuffed full of curry

If anything I could say life here has been surreal

Like a psychedelic dream it sometimes does feel.

Thank goodness for the friends and help I’ve had

The Sri Lankan people have been really rad

Time to move back to the land of ice and snow

Please stay in touch, I’ll miss you – AIYO*!

  • * sudu noona – white woman
  • *Aiyo! – an expression which essentially means an exclamatory “Oh dear!”

Habits I must break before going home

This is the only time I've seen a proper line in Sri Lanka and it is for free ice cream during Vesak. I'm going to have to break my habit of pushing to get my spot in the queue.
This is the only time I’ve seen a proper line in Sri Lanka and it is for free ice cream during Vesak. I’m going to have to break my habit of pushing to get my spot in the queue.

There are many, many things I’m going to miss about Sri Lanka. I’ll of course miss the people I’ve met, the great kids I teach, the ocean and the random ridiculously funny moments that can only happen when you’re living in a country so vastly different from your own. At the same time, I know that Sri Lanka will always be a part of me. Lately I’ve become conscious of my own “Sri Lankan” habits that could be detrimental to me when I go home. Here are a few examples.

  • Avoidance of problems – I’m naturally an non- confrontational person. When conflict arises, my impulse is to retreat and hope it goes away like a turtle goes into it’s shell or a two year old closes his/her eyes and thinks things will disappear. Obviously this method of conflict resolution isn’t generally effective. However, put me in a cultural where most people feel exactly the same way and it is an incredibly good strategy. Sri Lankans hate conflict and generally if you ignore unpleasant email requests, or issues they will not confront you and the problem WILL go away. I’ve experienced times when waiters don’t understand what you are asking for and they simply walk away or people at a sales desk don’t want to take your complaint so they shut the service window on you. I’m going to miss that!
  • Staring – You will have recalled that Shaun and I have consistently complained about the intense stares we get regularly. This can be particularly annoying for me when a male’s stare is accompanied by an open mouth and a bit of drool as he looks me up and down. Creeps aside – most Sri Lankans are generally just curious and naturally stare at all people – not just foreigners. While it can be uncomfortable to be on the receiving end of a stare, I’ve learned that it is quite entertaining to be the starer. You learn so much about people and see so many humourous moments simply by sitting back and people watching. I’ve always enjoyed “people watching” but here you can blatantly stare and no one takes offense. It’s a behaviour psychologists dream.
  • Random interrogation – When I first meet people, I’m no longer afraid to ask all sorts of questions that would be offensive in the west. I find this really cut to the point much more quickly. Within two minutes, I will know a person’s religion, age, marital status, number of children, profession and educational background.
  • Complete lack of fashion sense – I have a dress that is fushia and lime green. I’m starting to think the Sri Lankan cricketer style mullet on guys is cute. Need I say more?
  • Using the head bobble- Is it a yes? Is it a no? Is it a seizure? Nothing will confuse a fellow Canadian more that seeing this white gal respond to conversation a quick head bobble. For more on the art of the head bobble, see the clip below on the art of the Sri Lankan head bobble.

Vesak Celebrations in Photos

Vesak is my favourtie holiday in Sri Lanka. I love the lights. I love the energy. I love the free food. But I could do without the epic Buddhist musical montage looping next door. I feel as though I'm in a video game.
Vesak is my favourtie holiday in Sri Lanka. I love the lights. I love the energy. I love the free food. But I could do without the epic Buddhist musical montage looping next door. I feel as though I’m trapped in a video game.

Vesak is a Buddhist holiday that celebrates the Buddha’s birth, death and enlightenment all of which happened on full moon days. The most special of these full moon (poya) days happens in May. Vesak is celebrated in many Buddhist countries. In Colombo, it means the following  :

  • a three day weekend (Friday off)
  • the government recommending that employers give an extra day of holidays on Thursday so people can prepare for Vesak
  • no alcohol or meat for sale
  • fantastic light displays and lanterns
  • a huge influx of people from the countryside to Colombo, which means I get even more stares and strange comments
  • gaggles of young men walking through the streets arm in arm
  • people are actually out well after dark
  • dansalas offering everything from tea to ice cream to rice and curry for free (if you are willing to line up)
  • annoying noise makers
  • strange Halloween like masks and horror houses (this is a commercialized attempt to make money out of the holiday)
  • even stranger conversations such as this one my friend Thomas and I had with a food vendor

Sri Lankan Food Vendor (SLFV): Where are you from?

Thomas: West Africa (He’s really a Londoner, but his family is from Sierra Leone. Because he is black this just confuses everyone so he says West Africa to cut to the chase.)

SLFV: Ghana is very bad.

Thomas: Oh?? . . . .

SLFV: I was ripped off by a black man in Singapore. Lost 32,000 USD.

Thomas: (not knowing what to say) That sucks.

SLFV: (to me) Where are you from?

Me: Canada.

SLFV: (smiling) Canada is a very good country. People are very friendly. I like it very much. I tried to get into Canada but they would not grant me a visa. Do you think you can help me?

Me: It’s not quite that simple.

SLFV: What to do? You know these days I have diabetes. I used to have biceps that were 19 inches. Now I’m just fat.

Me: Uh-huh. . .

* * *

Without further ado, here are some pictures so that you can get into the Vesak spirit wherever you are in the world.

Trina

Let Dogs Mind Their Business – A Sinhalese Folk Tale

This Sinhalese folk tale translated in English really caught my attention at the store today. After reading it, many things in Sri Lanka make more sense.

With only three weeks until my departure from Sri Lanka, I thought I’d do some general people watching in my favourite Colombo spots and detour into some shops for  air conditioned reprieve from the heat. In my shopping ventures, I stumbled upon a fantastic series of Sinhalese Folk Tales translated into English. This one in particular made me laugh out loud. I love that the stories we tell our children from generation to generation can explain so much about a culture.  So just before I go to bed tonight after a wonderful day of people watching, gift shopping, live theatre and a great dinner with wonderful company, I’m sharing this story with all of you.

Click on the pictures below to read the whole story.

Hope you enjoy.

Trina

You might be an aunty if . . .

Now I’m not talking about the standard definition of being an aunt in the west which is a title automatically earned when your sibling has a child. I’m talking about the type of Aunty (pronounced AWnty )  that exists in SouthEast Asia. The type of Aunty that involves a lot of work and dedication. Aunties are adept at spying and gossip and I believe if traditional policing forces enlisted a special “auntie division” horrific cases of abduction such as those recently in the news would never happen. An auntie has your back.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with the intensity of a Sri Lankan auntie, I’ve provided a list. You might be an auntie if. . .

  • You ask random people personal questions and give them unsolicited advice. This is especially pertinent to college, marriage and children.
  • You use the phrases “those days” and frequently contrast them to “these days” in a nostalgic fashion.
  • You have the undeniable urge to tuck in shirts.
  • You are know the exact record of your neighbours comings and goings.
  • You’ve mastered the art of peeking from behind a curtain.
  • You have the other aunties in the community on speed dial in case of an emergency such as the sighting of some young people “gallivanting” or “carrying on.”
  • Your hobby is judging!
    Ever since I was called a young, old person (another Sri Lankan compliment),  I’ve decided to embrace my inner “auntie”. So all you people under 30 out there look out – “I don’t know you and you don’t know me, but I can judge you cause I’m your auntie.”
    Love,
    Aunty Trina

Compliments- Sri Lankan style

This is a very talented young Sri Lankan band that plays some great Stevie Wonder covers. Some of the strange compliments were given to me whilst cutting rug to their tunes.
This is a very talented young Sri Lankan band that plays some great Stevie Wonder covers. Some of the strange compliments were given to me whilst cutting rug to their tunes.

Here they are –  some word for word compliments (I think), that I’ve received here in the last month or so.

“We will be sorry to see you go. You are someone we don’t mind working with too much.” –  a colleague

“You are not as fat as you were last year.” – lady at the gym

“Are you going out again tonight? You really don’t worry much about your household do you?” – landlord’s family

“Are you Sri Lankan? (pause for my response) Ah, I sensed there was something exotic about you.” (my white skin maybe???) – random jogger

“You are very humble like all foreign women. I like that.” – guy who talked to me for all of 30 seconds

“You truly do sweat a lot. That’s awesome!” – a friend cycling behind me in a fitness class, who has now conceded that I sweat more than she does

“Your curries are good.  .  . (look of apprehension) This one is just missing some salt, that one needs more sugar and your pol sambol needs more chili and lime. The carrots are perfect.” – Sri Lankan Aunty (BTW, the carrots were simply boiled with margarine added. I’m glad I didn’t mess those up).

“You’re 32? No way! I thought you couldn’t be older than 31.” – student

Enjoy the sunshine Saskatchewan! I’m actually enjoying the three days of rain here in Sri Lanka as it is cooling things down. It’s just not cool that my roof is leaking and during last night’s rain storm, I woke up to water dripping on my head. Oh well, rain or sweat, what’s the difference?

Trina

Life without Shaun in Sri Lanka

My work friends have been great at making sure I get out and have some fun while Shaun is away. This particular night, I must thank Sonalee for keeping me out dancing until an ungodly hour!
My work friends have been great at making sure I get out and have some fun while Shaun is away. This particular night, I must thank Sonalee for keeping me out dancing until some ungodly hour!

Many people keep asking me how things have been since Shaun has left this tropical island. So here are some things I’ve noticed in Shaun’s absence .

  • The gin lasts longer.
  • The leftovers I intended to take for lunch are still there.
  • I am able to use his expired gym membership.
  • I have cereal for supper more frequently.
  • I am reading the “classics”.
  • Scrabble against the computer sucks.
  • The laundry isn’t done as quickly, but I am actually capable of doing it.
  • I have discovered Youtube mixes. Awesome!
  • I often have the song “Ladies Night” by Cool and the Gang running through my head – weird.
  • I can more easily be convinced that something “isn’t really expensive”.
  • There is no one around to blame for things like missing your flight home from Thailand because of a misread itinerary.

 

It could be the few gin ‘n’  juices I’ve be sipping on just like Snoop Dogg tonight (tomorrow is yet another Sri Lankan holiday) or the jazz music I’m listening to , but I feel the need to get a little sappy. The reality is that I miss my life partner and even though I don’t particularly look forward to the snow and the cold that Regina will inevitably bring, I know that no matter where we live we will always face it together with a sense of humour.

Trina

“A very tale that redefines the essence of love . . . ” Sri Lankan Movie Trailer

Check out this gem. I can’t wait to see the whole thing.

Happy Monday!

Trina

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