First Day In ‘Paradise’
By Dr Harold Gunatillake
This article is appropriate to be read by those expatriates the world over, aspiring and dreaming to return to their motherland, at least on a trial basis, to give it a go, thinking of those cherished by-gone memories, most of us experienced in our youth and after.
This may be perused by those happily settled in other countries, never to return types, but they will be wasting their precious time in reading this article, as inevitably will make wrong prejudiced impressions, perhaps due to some bitter feelings of some past episodes.
It may not be beneficial for those intending to visit ‘The Paradise’ on a holiday, as they would return over-fed, enjoying the extravagant hospitalities of well-wishes, friends and relatives, over-feeding with the traditional unhealthy starchy food, such as Fried Rice, Pittus, Indi-Appans, Godhas, Nasi-Goreng, and among others, not tasted perhaps since they left the ‘sinking ship’, in the sixties.
One would hear the holiday-makers say, “We had a ball, enjoyed thoroughly meeting old friends, relations, and found people being so friendly”. Those respective lavish hosts would not have indicated the struggle they go through, battling so hard to make ends meet, in this so called ‘paradise Isle’.
You need to live in the country to feel the impulse of the people, assess the cost of living, the merits and hardships of daily living, and whether compatible with your lifestyle, if you wish to plan in the future to settle in the paradise for an easy going lifestyle. Having a ball on a package tour does not give any impressions of the local conditions when it comes to the ‘nitty gritty’ of survival.
Then, there are the 5-star hotel types holidaying on package tours, spending their time in air-conditioned environments, relaxing in beach hotels, sightseeing the ruins, and invariably a trip to Yala to see the wild elephants and the spotted tigers. They return home quite satisfied with their sojourn, praising the paradise to the hilt, and contemplating on the next tour to the island.
We departed Sydney airport at 4.10 pm on a Friday and reached Singapore after 8 hours. At the customer counter in Kingsford Smith airport in Sydney, we were told that there was no QF 31 flight scheduled on that day, our itinerated flight, and another plane had been substituted – QF 1, and we were told that our names may not be listed on that plane. That lovely lady in well clad uniform gave us the fright of Moses before even we began our destination. She mumbled so, and fortunately was having been confirmed on this new flight. This is when you thank the Lord, if you believe in him.
I must say that the QF flight was very comfortable with no bad experiences, and parts of the plane never fell off, as did happen on this airline in the recent past. We were transit in Changi Airport for two hours, and then got into EK 349, the worst flight I have got into in my life. The explanation is simple.
Most airlines schedule the oldest ramshackle little planes on flights to Colombo, from or to Kuala Lumpur, or Bangkok, Singapore and Hong Kong. The services on these flights are presumably substandard, may be that would be the way third world countries are treated. From those respective cities mentioned the international flights to first world countries are of a different efficiency plus, plus, class.
We landed in Katunayaka Airport at 2 am. You always get the impression that ‘Bandaranaike airport’ is the most congenial and convenient, well planned airport out of most airports you visit. There is no rush at this airport; everybody walks at his own slow speed, and the distances to walk is just approximately 200 yards and no further to the first Immigration check point. One could hear the soft Sinhala music in your tired ears as you walk through and the ambience with dim lights is pleasing. You look around; any staff member on duty, seems to be doing nothing, will offer you a welcome smile. Even, the odd soldier seen in uniform smiles and welcomes you.
Immigration boys in white uniform give the visitor a welcome smile even during those early tiring hours and the paper work is done quickly to exit fast, and the loud sound emanating from the stamping of your passport makes you feel that the worst barrier is over.
At the custom barrier, if you are the dual type the officers don’t even bother to look at you, even though you may be carrying loads of dutiable and other goods.
One thing that bothers me is that you walk through the liquor section to exit to your baggage collection, reflecting a wrong impression among the religious sort of people, mainly being a Buddhist country where Lord Buddha encouraged people to abstain from alcohol, whenever possible. I wonder what goes through the minds of the Buddhist clergy when they pass through this ‘alcohol not free zone’. My wife even with the tiring, long journey through space becomes so active in purchasing ad lib quota of alcohol, even though she is a TT, no other airport will permit.
Returning to your destination home from the airport is well organised for you, if you do not have private transport, even during early sleepy hours of the morning.
For your comfort at the first stall on your right as you enter the public visitors area, you could book your air-conditioned van or any other mode of transport just for Rs. 3,000 (AUD 25) to the city and other outstations, may be a bit more.
You would notice the calmness and the few vehicles on Negombo – Colombo road at this hour. Police do an excellent job by nabbing the reckless drivers and other shady characters.
You reach home or your apartment about 4 o’clock in the morning, and make and attempt to get some sleep till sun-rise.
The heat is unbearable, after being used to the colder and less humid climates in Australia.
We get up in the morning, drowsy and exhausted like a drunkard due to lack of sleep, and then the first day in Paradise begins.
Living in Wellawatte is an advantage, driving down to Colpetty on Marine Drive takes less than 10 minutes. Our favourite super-market is at Crescat. First hour parking is free, and you purchase all the provisions that are required to last at least two weeks. This includes most of the imported foods you enjoy in Australia, a few cans of local beer, and a full smaller size trolley load will cost you Rs. 8,000 (AUD 70). This is when you begin to appreciate the value of the Aussie dollar (Rs 130 B.R.), in the paradise, as no way you could purchase a trolley load of provisions, not even half a load down under for that bill. After relaxing with a refreshing cup of tea, you drive to the fish market. Again, we are lucky in Wellawatte, as there is an excellent fish market in front of Roxy Cinema, nearing the Dehiwala Bridge.
Our bill on the purchases was as follows:
Large Prawns 1.02 Kg
Seer Head 1.11 K.g Rs.357.76
Paraw 0.626Kg Rs.569.00
Seer Fish-Sliced 1.02 Kg Rs.1,418.64
Seer Fish Cut
Cubes 1.062Kg Rs. 1,465.56
Total Amount Rs. 4627.62 (AUD 40)
Then, we went the same evening to Wellawatte New Market to purchase more fresh vegetables. The market has been opened a few months back costing the government Rs. 40 million. The market is in the ground floor. Vehicular parking is on 4 levels, charges Rs. 40 per hour, parking fees. The market is clean, spacious, no flies, and stray dogs. The ceiling is very high, quite cool inside, with fans working full blast, and the sea breeze keeping the premises cool even on one of the hottest days we visited.
The whole lot of vegetables seen in the picture were purchased for Rs. 700, equivalent to about six Aussie Dollars. Sri Lankan grown vegetables are much smaller than the ones available in Australian markets. Also the Sri Lankan vegetables seem to be more organic, as less fertilizer is used in the plots.
Thus ends our first day in Paradise, quite exhausted.
Savour the tantalising Sri Lankan cuisine as you venture out on to the streets. Get hit by the spicy chili coupled with the devilled seafood. Given below are some of the more exciting locations where authentic preparations of sea food can be enjoyed at an affordable cost.
Galle Face Green in Colombo 03
The Usvetakehiyawa Beach in Wattala
Green Path in Colombo 07
Winding streets of Slave Island Colombo 02
Inside the historic Galle Fort
Along the beach front of Unawatuna