25th  August  2002, Volume 9, Issue 06

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Go to heaven while you are alive

By Ranee Mohamed

She hands me a large turquoise towel and says  softly "Please remove your clothes." A little while later she is walking on her palms on my back as I lie on a soft mattress on the floor. All I can see are silk cushions and three white Araliya flowers nestling near bottles of fragrant oils from Shirley Price.

It is my first visit to a spa and this Balinese massage makes me wish that it is not the last.

 You'd imagine that The Sanctuary  spa is in some island far away. But Jawatte road is by no means an island.  Busy traffic whizz by and almost opposite is the Department of Registration of Persons which issues identity cards by the hundreds everyday. But people who come to The Sanctuary ironically lose their own identity as they are sunk in luxury, pampered with comfort and care.

The  Sanctuary spa which opened its jacuzzis, saunas and steam baths to customers is the brainchild of Johann Peries of The Cutting Station fame. The Cutting Station is a salon that caters to an upmarket clientele and is situated next to The  Sanctuary spa. Peries works as a director  there.

From race track to spa

But behind the scenes remains K. Omprasadham  who is the chairman. A successful businessman and an electrical engineer by profession, Omprasadham is the deputy chairman of Speed Development Lanka Pvt Limited. And from his racetrack profession, Omprasadham has changed highways to a slower outlook on life. "In this place, you can get lost. You can forget your troubles and let yourself be pampered" he says calmly.

Strangely the Sanctuary's concept seems to work in conformity with Omprasadham's very nature. Soft spoken, serene and kind, he walks, talks and gestures very softly and gently. It blends beautifully with his Sanctuary.

His wife Veronica joins us. She brings us gourmet cuisine from Keith Sparr, the  chef of the  Sanctuary spa. Bringing in fresh melon, pineapple and papaya juices she also orders generously from the Spa's menu. Chicken liver on toast and cheese sandwiches make their way to the comfortable lounge meant for customers to relax and have lunch in between treatments. Not only is Veronica an excellent host, but has been a customer at spas worldwide. She seems to know this subject inside out.

"My wife knows all about spas, but I don't think I know that much," says Omprasadham modestly.

The Sanctuary's menu does not consist of health food. But foods that are good for one's health and well being. Hence, most of the wholesome foods like tuna mayonnaise, smoked chicken and salads are delicious. Served to customers who have been massaged with fragrant oils and soaked in salts and vibrating waters, the meals are really the icing on the cake.

A different world

The Sanctuary's telephone no. 501269 starts to ring now and then. But even the rings are muffled. The staff here speak softly and tip toe around all over the place as if there were babies asleep here.. The spacious salons consisting of several rooms, with inviting beds are lit with candles. "We limit the artificial light here and we use candles in our salons because it relieves stress and is very soothing," explains Omprasadham.

The staff here remind one of Florence Nightingale. They walk around gently with candles in clay containers, whispering and soothing tired bodies.

There are special rooms with bathtubs for mud-treatment. And the kind of mud used here are not what society generally uses to sling at one another. This mud is soothing, curative and regenerative.

Aromatherapy treatments range from therapies aimed at curing aches and pains, reducing cellulite, stimulating circulation, eliminating fatigue, combatting jetlag, helping one to rest and reducing stress. There are also aromatherapy baths and aromatherapy facials.The flower petal bath sounds fascinating, letting one soak in the outside in a tub of water floating with fresh, coloured petals. 

"This is a hideaway. Anybody can come here even during the lunch break and get pampered for an hour and perhaps have lunch too," suggests Omprasadham.

But the real treat will come in the form of a day or a half day spent here when The Sanctuary will let their therapists decide what you really need.

Of all the treatments, the Balinese massage with florally-fragrant oils, done by Yatrien from Bali, Indonesia deserves the bouquet. Yatrien's expert hands can give the massage 'hard' 'medium' or 'soft' - anyway you like it.

One would expect this kind of place to be expensive. But therapies range from Rs.500 to Rs.3,500 and is affordable and deserved by everyone in our society today. Even housewives ought to seriously consider visiting The Sanctuary, for it is a refuge for the body and soul.

Outside, pools made to nature's recipes ripple and on the sides are waterfalls meant for customers to sit under. The stones that adorn the borders of the pools are from Java and coloured in sky blue and cream. Long lounging chairs and cream coloured stones from Indonesia heighten the sense of comfort and luxury surrounding this natural pool. "We hope to start yoga sessions here in the evenings," Peries discloses.

Greenery, water, natural food and human kindness are all put together under one roof to make this Spa a true heaven. Many of us lead stressful lives. So obsessed are we with work and our commitments that we forget our commitment to ourselves - to be well and happy, so that we will be able to do things better for a longer period in this lifetime.

It is time we opened our eyes to places like The Sanctuary: and close our eyes the moment we enter there.


The invisible empires

By Shehara Samarasinghe

Are you tired of always spending your well-deserved holidays and hard-earned money in the same places? Why not visit the charming Principality of Freedonia for a change? Or explore the sights and wonders of the Republic of Lomar? Perhaps you could do a round trip of the Kingdom of Talossa - I hear it's lovely this time of year! Despite the alluring prospects of travelling to some exotic location, prospective travellers should be warned: local travel agencies probably do not offer any special deals to these destinations, in fact, they are not likely to know of their existence. However, this is not a bad reflection on the quality of their services because the Principality of Freedonia, the Republic of Lomar and the Kingdom of Talossa are three of the growing number of micronations which exist, for the most part, only online.

Empires that cannot be found on any map are rising up in cyberspace and challenging the current definition of a nation. Hundreds of new communities - ranging from purely internet-based societies to those that have both territory and wealth - now claim to be sovereign states. Many are little more than games, simulations at best, which provide adolescents of all ages with a forum to play 'government'. Others aspire to greater things and have their own constitution, government, flags, passports, currency, stamps - even their own language and culture. Whilst some are content to stay unplottable on the geographical map, a few micronations are campaigning for international recognition as cyberspace redefines civilisation and defies the chief historical prerequisite for nationhood: the concept of physical territory.

Micronations

Could the world accept a micronation whose sovereign territory is a URL? "I don't think the world is ready for virtual nations just yet", says Farhan Haq, a spokesperson for the United Nations Headquarters in New York, but admits that it is foolish not to recognise that cyberspace, as boundless as the universe and equally as unexplored, has wide-ranging implications for the notions of power and community. There has never been a non-territorial sovereign state but the Vatican, for example, derives its authority from its 'spiritual territory' rather than from the spot of land it actually possesses in Rome. As Prince John I of the Principality of Freedonia puts it: "the idea of creating a new nation based on some high principles is not really any more ridiculous today than, say, in 1776 when the American founding fathers decided to do just that and form a new government and a new nation based on the political philosophy of their time".

Freedonia is one of the larger and more ambitious micronations. It has almost 200 cyber-citizens and is a constitutional monarchy that can be traced to the prince's college dormitory - officially the embassy of Freedonia. The micronation is working towards territorial nationhood and has explored the possibilities of a floating platform, an artificial island and a ship. It was created with the idea of a capitalist paradise in mind (small wonder, Prince John is studying finance) and wants to "practice a system of government that would be welcoming to corporations and manufacturing concerns of the world."

But what would attract big businesses to Freedonia? With an abundance of states in the world, most of which, unfortunately, practice capitalism, the prime reason for creating a new state is to evade certain laws. Thus Freedonia, if recognised, could become a sort of tax haven. This is one of the premises on which the Freedom Ship International is based. Still no more than an idea, this 'country' is simply a big boat - a modern, luxurious boat that is nearly a mile long and 25 stories high and was designed to promote an unprecedented lifestyle: a sea-based, mobile, residential, commercial and resort community. The Freedom Ship would spend most of its time in international waters and citizens would be able to purchase duty free items from the on-board mall. Instead of paying taxes, citizens simply have to pay a flat monthly fee.

Smokescreens

A high proportion of micronations have tax evasion and the bending of their birth nations' rules at heart. The Freedom Ship would also contain medical facilities that women living in countries where abortion is illegal could utilise. In this sense, micronations are being used as valid forms of protest, calling to legalise things like abortion or marijuana. They are also used in a less noble manner as smokescreens, behind which one can break the law. However, before you decide to turn your own bedroom into a sovereign state and indulge in all manner of dubious dealings, beware: it may be easy to create a new nation - one can proclaim pretty much anything to be pretty much anything else on the internet - but in order to transcend fantasy, other nations, most importantly your own, will have to recognise you as being.

King Robert I turned his bedroom into a separate state in 1979 but outside the Kingdom of Talossa, he remains simply Robert Ben Madison, a high school debate coach from Wisconsin. He has written declarations of sovereignty to the US State Department several times but has received no answer, and although he deems this to be de facto recognition of his kingdom, it is clear that were he to break any rules or stop paying taxes to the American government, that is, then America would most definitely invade and most likely seize Talossa. His fellow Talossans, so King Robert says, might be "as independent as we possibly can be without breaking any laws, but of course in the big picture, that means we are not very independent at all!"

So why bother? Micronations that openly profess they break the rules of their 'host nations' only survive if their operation is too small to be significant and even then they could effectively be shut down anytime. On the other hand, micronations attempting to form alternative communities are unlikely to be internationally, or even nationally (by which, again, the host nation is meant) accepted. Is there any future for the myriad of micronations, or should they remember that they are but social experiments, political playgrounds on which new theories can be tested?

Utopian conditions

The mass proliferation of micronations is the response to a pressing need: many people today are questioning the values of the society in which they live. They bemoan the loss of a real community and feel alienated as bureaucracy grows. How many people living in democracies truly believe they play a role in the government of the country? And how much choice do people have in shaping and determining the nature of government? Just as a country without a king was unacceptable a few centuries ago, countries are only 'cool' if they conform to the standard democratic, republican, capitalist concept.

The suggestion box for 'feasible socio-economic and political structures' is at present rather starved. More and more, Western capitalism is seen as the only way, not least because it has a knack to crush alternative societies, who simply cannot keep up in terms of pure profit, but also because of the tendency to regard poverty as failure - nothing more than the inability to compete in what is deemed to be a fair and open system. Alternative forms of societies, such as nomadic and tribal cultures are labelled primitive and the great Communist experiment is seen as only possible in utopian conditions. In fact, Cold War propaganda has survived long enough to make the most ardent communist and even some socialists, feel like idealists. Of course the USSR had problems - the government was corrupt, the people were deprived and terrible crimes against humanity were perpetrated but one must remember that this list includes nothing that has not been done, and often done better, by capitalist societies. It is only natural that people, who realise the glaring gap between their ideals and reality, will attempt to develop new lifestyles and political structures.

Yearning for a new type of nation can be reduced, in spirit, to wanting to change the world - how much easier it is to try and create your own state than attempting to change ones that already exist! In reality, this may actually be the only way forward. Current states generally provide freedom in one form: 'freedom from'. Citizens are guaranteed freedom from being harmed in accordance with the international definitions of human rights.

However, genuine freedom combines both 'freedom from' and 'freedom to'. In capitalist societies, freedom is considered to be a product of property - it amounts to the citizen's body and material property rights being protected from invasion or aggression. This definition of freedom has inherent flaws. In such a society one cannot legitimately do anything with or on another person's property if the owner prohibits it (this includes the government and its property) and thus, an individual's only guaranteed freedom is determined by the amount of property that he or she owns. A person with no property has no guaranteed freedom beyond the freedom not to be physically harmed, as their body is their only property and it becomes clear that some people are more free than others because freedom is equated with property.

Asylum seekers

It is to protest against this system that many micronations have been formed. The Republic of Lomar, for instance, is an altruistic, humanitarian micronation. Administered by a handful of young, hi-tech professionals, it claims to be the world's largest micronation with 4,000 cyber citizens in 80 countries who believe in the motto "empowering our citizens and partner states through knowledge, technology and development". Lomar has issued its own passports to refugees who were finding it difficult to gain legitimate asylum and is also selling stamps to raise money for the Tibetan government in exile. Chancellor Laurent Cleenewerck, one of the founders and a dual citizen of Lomar and France, believes that "this is an unstoppable phenomenon. Cyberspace is evolving into something that is beyond the national concept.the whole concept of Lomar is that the sense of being a citizen of something - the right to participate in government - should not be restricted to where you are. Society is much more fluid than before and we can move beyond national boundaries at this point in history. The Republic of Lomar was legally incorporated in 1998 as a non-profit organisation in America and unlike Freedonia, it seeks recognition strictly as a non-territorial organisation. Which is a shame because I was planning to spend my holidays there - it sounds like a lovely place!

 

 

 

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