Wednesday, July 28, 2004

No time for anything

Sri Lanka has no concept of Time as the West understands it.

They take a very carefree attitude towards time. Srilankans don't get annoyed at you for being late because there is no such thing as late. People are quite happy for you to arrive when you arrive. This has its advantages. Stress is virtually non-existant. People don't get worked up if you don't turn up. You can take things easy, do things at your own pace - even slower if you so wish. But it also has its disadvantages. It takes longer to get things done. Efficient business is difficult to operate (just ask Pampi!) You have to be extremely flexible - plans can change at any moment. But I found that if you're cool with that and are happy to just let things happen the way they happen then it can be an extremely refreshing contrast to the Western notion of time.

Dodgy logic
  • A Srilankan takes twice as long to go shopping as a Brit
  • A Srilankan takes twice as long to get ready to go out as a Brit
  • A Srilankan takes twice as long to make tea as a Brit
  • A Srilankan takes twice as long to wash as a Brit...
    But a SriLankan still accomplishes everything a Brit does
    Deduction - A Srilankan lives for twice as long as a Brit

Ok so that logic is a bit messed up, but I like the deduction cause it implies that you can improve the quality of your life a little by slowing down a bit. A valuable lesson for us Brits to learn methinks.

Sunday, July 25, 2004

Sri Lankan driving

Sri Lankan drivers are excellent fun. They beep horns if they wanna overtake or if someone gets in the way. They slam brakes hard, drive really close and quite happily stop oncoming traffic in order to turn right. Its a me-first driving culture. Anyone used to giving way on the roads won't be able to get anywhere! In fact, drivers have to be so alert and have eyes everywhere that it is said that if you come from Sri Lanka you can drive anywhere in the world. But with virtually non-existant driving conventions I'd think twice before overtaking one!

No one seems to take offense at the apparent rudeness of forcing someone to stop so that you can get ahead of them. Does this reveal something about Sri Lankan culture and ettiquette? Maybe the rest of these entries will help to discover that.

Tip of the year: watch out for mobile speed guns! In a country where traffic lights illuminate just a few junctions in the capital you wouldn't have thought that anyone bothered with speed cameras. But don't be deceived. Think of a lovely mud hut village in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by forests for miles, with horse and cart, oxen, pedal bikes etc and up pops a policeman with a speed gun. I'm not joking! But at just over 瞿1 a fine (200 rupes), you can afford to forget this tip!

Elephant Orphanage

This shot is of the Pinnawala Elephant Orphange in Sri Lanka. It was a remarkable experience to get up close and be able to touch these beasts! An amazing part of God's creation - big, strong, heavy, yet these were tame, gentle, and accustomed to humans.

People say an elephant never forgets - but actually that's not entirely true. They never forget you if you've done something nasty to it. They bear a *big* grudge, but otherwise forget all the nice things you do. Doh!

Monday, July 19, 2004

Fishing for culture

Fishing is a way of life amongst some of the poorer people in Colombo. I visited a shanty town where the main trade means fishermen go out in the evening and come back at dawn.

Sunday, July 18, 2004

Supermarket DJ

So one day I was going shopping in Colombo and found it rather amusing when I bumped into a DJ who entertained me as I walked around. smart stuff - I guess its supposed to make you buy more things, not sure it worked for me though!

Culture that sucks you in

Sri Lankan and English culture are as contrasting as black is to white.

In Sri Lanka, time is an approximation. Plans are always flexible. Nothing is set in stone until it becomes engraved in history. This culture is absorbing, it sucks you in. Western influences telling you that time is of the essence are soon forgotten as you are transported into a macro-world where deadline induced stress ceases to exist. A job is done when its done. There is little reference to time.

This philosophy is foreign to me, I'm used to being under pressure: work deadlines, places to be, people to see. Yet here all these things still happen, just without the pressure (unless you happen to be called Priyani!)

Why is this? Do they not have clocks? Yes, but the whole culture is people orientated rather than results focussed. That's the major difference. Building good relationships is far more important than making money. Building a good relationship takes time whilst making money eats it away. Now you see where their priorities lie. It actually makes a lot of sense.

It was an incredible experience to be transported into this country, culture, philosophy, way of life, to sit back, relax and let Sri Lankan culture engage me in its own time and way. That's the most exciting way to encounter a culture - to let it take you by the hand and lead you through its many surprises.

Saturday, July 17, 2004

Sri Lanka: First Impressions

This summer i went to Sri Lanka with a mate from uni. I kept a rather extensive diary and I've posted some of the more interesting entries up here along with some photos to provide some cultural insights.

Upon arrival in Colombo we were hit by the beautifully humid, slightly damp but warm Sri Lanka air. It was in sharp contrast to the cooly air conditioned plane and instantly brought back memories of my arrival in Abidjan, Ivory Coast 4 years earlier. There's a certain taste and smell to the tropical air that appeals to me.