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Inquisitive, Curious Sri Lanka

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Want to quickly gather together a massive group of Sri Lankans? Get into a car wreck. Want to play Twenty Questions with a Sri Lankan? Walk down the street. There isn’t a culture on Earth more nosy or curious than Sri Lanka’s. At least, I hope not!

Sri Lankan Spectators

This really only applies to Sri Lankan men. Women basically leave you alone… but the guys! They want to know everything about you, and they’re not afraid to ask. “Where are you from? What is your name? Why are you here? You like Sri Lanka? How long you stay? What is your hotel? You want a banana? Why not? Why don’t you want a banana? What are you looking for? Where are you going?”

The questions come rapid fire, one after the other, and I’ve gotten so used to the drill that I spurt out my answers without even thinking. USA. Mike. Vacation. Yes. Three Months. A guesthouse. No. I just don’t. I don’t know I just don’t. Nothing. Just walking.

Sometimes, when I’ve been forced to run the Sri Lankan Interrogation Gauntlet multiple times within a span of minutes, I’ll protect my sanity by getting surreal: Japan. Hiroshi. Spying. Meh. Forever. Your House. No. I’m allergic. All us Japanese are allergic to bananas. A pot of gold. Probably hell.

Often, these questions are the prelude to a scam, but you can never be sure until you’ve completed the course and the final question is “You have foreign coins?” or, “You want a massage?” Most of the time, your inquisitor is just genuinely curious about you, so you keep shining your toothiest Western smile and respond as cheerfully as possible. Until he starts talking about a “special price for jeep safari”.

The curiosity extends to all aspects of Sri Lankan life. If there’s been a car accident, or an argument has broken out between a shop owner and a policeman, the neighborhood comes a-runnin’. Action! Within minutes, a gossiping gaggle of gawkers has bunched together on the sidewalk. Frustrating, since it prevents our own rubbernecking. We’ll kind of stand around on the outside of the group, trying to figure out what’s going on, until one of the guys notices us and starts in with the questions… “Where are you from?”

The curiosity of the people was off-putting at first, but we’re becoming used to it. I’ve even started to feel a little hurt when I meet a Sri Lankan who doesn’t pepper me with questions. What, I’m not interesting enough for you? Aren’t you dying to know why I don’t want your bananas?!

Travel Insurance For Sri Lanka

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March 31, 2012 at 8:40 am Comments (3)

After One Month in Sri Lanka

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Our first month in Sri Lanka is already done?! It seems just yesterday that we were taking our first tuk tuk ride through Colombo’s busy streets. But when I think about all the things we’ve seen and done, it’s amazing that we’ve only been here a month. Sri Lanka is the kind of place where amazing experiences come fast and furious. Here are our impressions of life in Sri Lanka, after one month.

Most Memorable

Mike: The baby elephant approached and then held its trunk towards me. He squeezed my hand, then pulled me close to his body, apparently wanting a hug. I was happy to comply, and it’s a moment I’ll never forget.

Jürgen: Waking up the first morning in Kandy and our house being surrounded by over 30 monkeys. I was in heaven.
Favorite Food

Mike: Sri Lanka so far hasn’t offered a lot of culinary variety, but I don’t ever see myself getting sick of kottu: a piece of roti bread, chopped up and mixed together with spices, vegetables, egg and meat. Best eaten with the hand, of course!

Jürgen: I also would say kottu but you can’t beat the fresh juice of a king coconut. Delicious, and better than any energy drink. And you can eat the coconut flesh, afterwards.
Most Surprising

Mike: I had read that only 10% of the population here speaks English, so imagine my surprise (and relief) to discover that the number is much, much higher. It may not always be fluent, but the great majority of people we’ve met speak enough to carry on a conversation.

Jürgen: How friendly people are here, and how much attention I draw. At times I feel like a superstar. People are genuinely curious and they always want to know where you’re from, and where you’re going.
Most Disappointing

Mike: The unending touts. You can’t go two minutes without some other schemer trying to trick you out of your money. It’s all very easy to see through, so it’s not like we’re in constant danger of being fooled, but their tenacity and frequency are unbearable. And it makes you sometimes react with frustration towards normal Sri Lankans who perhaps really do just want to chat.

Jürgen: Sri Lanka’s touristic offerings are really not geared toward the solo traveler. The whole infrastructure is set up to wring money out of giant tour groups on buses. We’d love for our site to help change that!
Funniest / Weirdest

Mike: Everyone we walk past has a comment. Usually, it’s just “Bye!” (which they often use in place of “Hello”), or “Buddy!”, but sometimes the comments are stranger. “Money!” is a favorite among kids (who’ve learned from their government what foreigners are good for). “Can have you phone number?” I was asked the other day, completely randomly, by two girls. And of course, the constant “What is your country?” I’ve been getting progressively more surreal. “Denmark”, “Brazil” and “Japan” are just some of the places I’ve claimed to hail from. (The worrying thing is that these answers are always accepted without question).

Jürgen: This tout in Kandy, he calls himself The Professor. He’s got about three teeth. We walked past him every day, but he always forgot our faces and tried the same scheme over and over. “Today, there’s a special Kandyan Dance! Come with me, I get you seats!” Still, I kind of miss him and wonder how he’s doing.
How Expensive? From 1 (cheap) to 10 (expensive)

Mike: Impossible to judge with one number. 3 for normal life — eating like locals do, taking the bus, all very cheap. But 8 for anything tourism-related — shockingly expensive parks and inflated fees for foreigners; expensive restaurants marketed towards westerners, etc. Advice: live like a local! I guess it averages to a “5”.

Jürgen: I’m shocked how expensive the attractions are for foreigners. These are making a huge dent in our budget for Sri Lanka. Accommodation is over the top as well. But everything else is very cheap. So I give it a 6.
People from Sri Lanka are…

Mike: … always up for a chat. Very open, and willing to have their photos taken. And everyone always seems to have a smile on their face.

Jürgen: … friendly, happy, helpful and curious.
Sri Lanka in Three Words

Mike: Monkeys, Elephants, Cobras

Jürgen: Adventurous, Surprising, Buddhist

Our opinions of Sri Lanka would evolve over the next couple months. We became more comfortable with the heat and local way of life, but also more frustrated with the pushy behavior of touts, and wearied by the food. But one thing remained certain throughout: these three months were among the most exciting of our lives!

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March 3, 2012 at 10:59 am Comments (5)

The Multi-Cultural Chaos of Colombo

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Although the official capital of Sri Lanka is the nearby satellite city of Sri Jayawardenapura Kotte, Colombo is definitely the island’s top dog. Boasting by far the largest concentration of people, industry and commerce, Colombo is a noisy, dirty, and vibrantly alive city; an ethnic melting pot both invigorating and exhausting.

Colombo 2011

Thanks to its natural harbor, Colombo has been an area of trade ever since ships first sailed the Indian Ocean, but didn’t become a city of any importance until the arrival of the Portuguese. But it’s made up for lost time. With a current metro population of over five million, Colombo is a vast urban sprawl which stretches for miles up and down the coast. The words “Sri Lanka” usually conjure serene images of tea plantations, rain forests and pristine nature, so landing in Colombo is a startling wake-up call to the busy modern life of the island.

We immediately fell into the rhythm of the city. Not difficult, since Colombo is fun. There’s the insane bazaar of the Pettah, the strangely militarized Fort District, the gorgeous temples around Beira Lake and Slave Island, tuk-tuks clamoring for business every two meters, historic hotels, excellent restaurants and a buoyant urban vibe which owes a lot to the city’s fantastic mixing of cultures.

On our first full day in Colombo, we visited a Hindu Temple, a Mosque, a Christian church, and a Buddhist temple. We got into conversations with practitioners of all these various faiths. Sinhalese, Tamil, Muslim… it didn’t matter: everyone was eager to talk with us, to find out where we’re from and what we’re doing. And they were especially interested to learn our impressions their country. A fail-proof way to elicit a huge Sri Lankan grin, is to gush about how wonderful Sri Lanka is. They’re very proud of their country… and their hectic capital city.

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Monk Colombo
Mosque in Colombo
Cultures in Colombo
Mosque Sri Lanka
Reading The Koran
Musrlim Sri Lanka
Main Street Sri Lanka
Old City Hall Colombo
White Church of Sri Lanka
Teens in Sri Lanka
Multi Kulty Sri Lanka
Shiva Sri Lanka
Hindu Temple in Sri Lanka
Buddhism in Sri Lanka
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February 7, 2012 at 11:16 am Comment (1)
Inquisitive, Curious Sri Lanka Want to quickly gather together a massive group of Sri Lankans? Get into a car wreck. Want to play Twenty Questions with a Sri Lankan? Walk down the street. There isn't a culture on Earth more nosy or curious than Sri Lanka's. At least, I hope not!
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