Sri Lanka Map
Site Index
Contact
Random
Our Travel Books
Advertising / Press

Friend-Friends and Other Observations

Add to Flipboard Magazine.

Great Books To Read Before Visiting Sri Lanka

Confusing slang, seat-snatching monks, bizarre Spanish phrases, indecipherable head bobbles… all just part of learning to live with a new culture! These are some of our favorite quirks and misunderstandings from three months in Sri Lanka.

Sri Lanka Flag
Friend-Friends

“You and you, you are brothers, no?” No, we’re not brothers. “Ah, you are friends?” Yes, that’s right! “But you are Germany and you are USA?” Yes. “Strange. You are friends for much time?” Yes, almost ten years now. “Ah.”

“AH!” Sudden understanding floods her eyes, which now take on a slightly mischievous glint. “I see. You are friend-friends.” Haha, yes. That’s exactly right. We’re friend-friends.

We’ve heard the term three separate times now, arrived at in exactly the same roundabout way, and always delivered with the same knowing, conspiratorial tone. “Friend-friends”. I suppose I like it better than “life partners”.

Calling Rosa Parks

Sri Lanka’s ubiquitous orange-robed Buddhist monks play an important role in the island’s cultural, political and social life. But they’re not always as peaceful as you might expect — the monks are the most virulently nationalistic faction in Sri Lanka, and directly responsible for much of the ethnic strife that’s long plagued the island.

Still, they’re highly venerated members of Sri Lankan society. So much so, that they’re given priority seating on any bus. The first two seats, right behind the driver, are reserved for clergy. Anyone seated there will immediately stand up when a monk boards the bus. We’ve been dumbfounded by this obligatory show of reverence ever since our arrival. Once, I saw a hobbled old man stand up for a child monk of around fifteen years. Without a thought, the kid sat down with that beatific expression of holy serenity, while the bent old man grasped in vain for the overhead bar.

Note to any Sri Lankan monks visiting the USA: Don’t try this in America! Expecting someone to relinquish their bus seat, because (according to your beliefs) they’re supposed to respect you… yeah, we don’t go for that.

Packing Light

We’ve taken loads of local transport during our months in Sri Lanka. Long-distance buses and trains which are almost always full with people traveling between cities over five hours apart. But always, always we are the only ones with any sort of luggage. It’s absolutely baffling. Nobody brings anything larger than a half-full rucksack … and if so, it’s just a bag of onions or coconuts.

Once, after we had traveled from Jaffna to Trincomalee, the woman seated in front of me asked for help with her burlap sack of onions. She disembarked and signaled that she wanted me to hoist the sack out the bus door and onto the top of her head. After feeling the weight of that giant sack — at least 30 kilos — I said “nope”. No way was I going to be responsible for breaking this old lady’s neck! But she was adamant, and I had to concede that her neck did look curiously powerful. So, I gathered my strength and swung the sack out the bus door, [plop] onto the top of her head. And off she trotted.

Hello?

If you’re white, walking down the streets of any Sri Lankan city can be a real hassle. “Hello! Sir? Tuk-tuk sir? Hello? Where are you going?” The barrage of questions is relentless and you can either ignore them, or respond politely ad nauseum. But eventually, you’re going to get frustrated.

So it’s unfortunate that “Hello?” is the standard telephone greeting here. More than once, I’ve heard a pointed “Hello?” behind me on the street, and spun around with a frustrated sigh, “What?! What do you want?! Leave me al… oh. You’re just answering your cell phone. Sorry! Please, proceed”.

Disculpen!

Yes, the word “sorry” is one we’ve had to learn in every country! “Entschuldigung” in Germany, “scusa” in Italy, and: “disculpen” in Spain. I was surprised to hear that last word frequently here in Sri Lanka. Little kids would spot us on the street and run up with palms outstretched, then bizarrely shout out “Disculpen!” What?! “Bon-bons? Money? The foreign coin? Disculpen?”

It took us at least three weeks to realize that the greedy brats weren’t just suddenly being polite in Spanish. That would be cute and unexpected. What they actually want is “the school pen”.

The Head Bobble

“Could I have a bottle of water?” Head-bobble. “Oh, you don’t have any water?” Head-bobble. “You do?” Head-bobble. “Ah, you’re already trying to hand me the water?” Head-bobble. “Okay, thank you! Goodbye!” Head-bobble.

Oh, the Sri Lanka head bobble. This confounded me for at least a week after our arrival. It means “yes”, or “I agree”, or “I understand what you’re saying”. They do it in India, too, and it’s basically used to convey positivity. But to us, it looks like “no” — though it’s not really a shake of the head. More, a swivel from side to side.

We’ve gotten accustomed to it, and Jürgen has actually caught me bobbling my own head when talking with people. I can’t help it; I’m a sponge.

Our Travel eBooks

, , , , , , , , , ,
April 30, 2012 at 11:50 am Comments (7)

Fun in the Sun at Keerimalai

Add to Flipboard Magazine.

Hotels in Jaffna

Set on the northern coast of the Jaffna Peninsula is one of the more entertaining places of worship we’ve ever visited. The Keerimalai Kovil, which overlooks the Palk Strait separating Sri Lanka from India, doubles as a popular pool and hang-out zone for people taking a break from their regular lives. My church’s attempts to combine fun and worship were like, Amy Grant Dance Party. Hindus have us beat.

Keerimalai-Tank-Pool

The large sacred pool is a part of the temple grounds, and the faithful can either tranquilly submerge themselves in its blessed water, or (more likely), get their friends to hoist them into the air for an attempted back flip. Or, sneak up on some unsuspecting victim and body slam him into the water. Or, jump into the water from the walls. Cannonballs, diving, splashing and a lot of laughing. And a total disregard of signs reminding people to remain quiet and respectful.

We were just spectators at the pool, much to the dismay of the kids urging us to jump in. After talking to a few people eager to show off their English, we walked down along the coast and sat for awhile looking out over the ocean. Keerimalai has an incredible setting, and we could have stayed here for hours.

Inland, across the road, the main temple of Keermalai was lying in wait. Like approximately 99.4% of the buildings in Jaffna, the temple was under construction, but it was open for business. A ceremony was already underway when we ventured inside and we watched the proceedings for awhile, underneath the curious, distrustful gaze of a little girl.

The temple and pool, let alone the spectacular seaside setting, provide more than enough reason to venture the extreme northern coast of the peninsula. A bus connects Keerimalai to Jaffna, albeit on a round-about route which makes no sense on the map and requires at least an hour each way.

Location of Keerimalai on our Map
Please Subscribe To Our RSS Feed

Artist Sri Lanka
Showing Off
Smile of Sri Lanka
Sri Lankans
Splash
Sri Lankan Boy
Swimming Sri Lanka
Swimming-Canala-Jaffna
Sri Lanka Fashion
Elephant God
Weird Hindu God
Jaffna Travel Guide
Hidden Hindu
Hindu Relict
Hinduism in Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka Blog
Keerimalai
Hindu Blog
Colors of Sri Lanka
VVIP
, , , , , , , ,
March 31, 2012 at 6:44 am Comments (2)
Friend-Friends and Other Observations
Confusing slang, seat-snatching monks, bizarre Spanish phrases, indecipherable head bobbles... all just part of learning to live with a new culture! These are some of our favorite quirks and misunderstandings from three months in Sri Lanka.
For 91 Days