Well, actually, maybe that should read ‘The president came to town on my birthday’… The difference a preposition makes in the English language! 🙂

The Road Development Authority here in Sri Lanka, with a generous loan from the Chinese government, has been redoing the road along the Kalpitiya Peninsula – from Palavi to Kalpitiya, about a 40 km stretch. And it has finally been finished! The official opening was the 23rd February – my birthday. And the president was in town to officiate the opening and we somehow managed to get VIP tickets to the event! What an event to add to my special day! Ha!

After showing our VIP invitations, and a thorough frisk and search by the security officers, we were seated on the special white chairs at the front of the giant marquee that had been set up in the market area in the local town Norochchalai. I had put on my ‘conservative’ dress for the event – covering my shoulders and my knees. But was still getting a few stares – partly because I was the only obviously ‘white’ person there!  1000s from nearby villages were there to have a chance to see the president – but only a few had received VIP invitations for the white seats!

As he arrived with his entourage, and a huge media contingent (this was a big PR opportunity!),  the noise and excitement from the crowd mounted, and we were asked to move closer to the front. And then came the speeches. Whilst I did not understand most of them, I certainly felt the fervour that was being created by the various speakers as they extolled the great work the president is doing in Sri Lanka.

A representative from the Chinese consulate spoke on behalf of the Chinese government. His speech went between Mandarin and English. And every time he spoke English all the cameras zoomed around to focus on me! It was quite hilarious although I had to keep my poised and interested face on for those shots! Apparently we even made it to the 6 o’clock news!

Then it was the president’s turn to speak and the crowd became very passionate and began to surge forward through the makeshift barrier into the VIP area. He even finished his speech with some Tamil – the language spoken widely in this area of Sri Lanka. As he finished, and we stood up to leave as well, the crowd finally broke through and there was a rush to get closer to the president. I was caught for a moment in the crush until his security staff held back the crowd and we were given safe passage out of the throng!

The road was closed to traffic as the entourage continued further north. So we walked back into town. What a little adventure to add to my birthday! 🙂

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Ah, the joys of the postal service here in Sri Lanka! I do love it really! The paperwork, the bureaucracy, the non-existent queuing system…

Every transaction is handled manually – nothing is computerised – with hand written ledger books, and copious amounts of carbon paper for all the required copies.

Even at our little branch in Norochchalai, if the doors to the offices behind the main counter are open I love looking at all the piles of paperwork and imagining how long they’ve been there and old they are! And wondering what happens to it all?!

photoAnd of course, no transaction is simple. Whilst postage certainly is not expensive – it’s less than 20 cents to send a postcard anywhere in the world, and a letter to Australia costs about 70 cents – it is made a little more complicated because of all the combinations of stamps required to make that 85 rupee! I sent a birthday card to my brother-in-law recently and the envelope ended up being more than half covered! Somehow I think the address was still visible.

And then, if they don’t have enough change, you get more stamps back! For next time?!photo-3

There is no queuing system. One clerk can be dealing with several customers at once, and your personal space can feel a little compromised. You finally get to the ‘front’ of the queue and think you have the clerk’s attention for your five letters – but for every one action she does for you she deals with someone else who is reaching over and around you, or leaning over the counter in front of you. Fortunately most of the time it works without too much drama!

If you want to send anything registered – well, that will double the time you’re at the post office as you deal with several clerks and more paperwork!

And then once you get all the stamps for your letters, you have to keep them in the correct combinations and take them back to the other counter to paste them all on the envelopes! Sticky fingers…

photo-2The other day I had to pick up a parcel that had been sent from Australia. Sometimes they just get delivered, other times no, you have to go to the central office and pick them up paying any applicable fees and import duties and taxes, etc. How this is decided I’m still not sure about.

Jude, the trusty tuk-tuk driver, picked me up and took me to the main office in Colombo. He has done this before and knew the order of all the counters we had to go to and helped with any translation that was needed.  We were one of the first ones there that morning – hopefully a good sign, hopefully this would mean we wouldn’t be there that long! First, to the clerk who was still straightening out yesterday’s carbon paper ready for the triplicate copies needed. That lot of paperwork done and then passed on to the next clerk. ID recorded, and my signature on every page. Then asked to sit and wait. Finally number 7 was called and to a new counter. I had to wait for them to locate my package, and then they opened it in front of me. Upon seeing the contents someone then somehow decided on the taxes and fees associated with the contents. They resealed the package in front of me – but it was still not mine! Onto the next counter… And I had to wait whilst she finished ruling up her ledger book and organizing her pens and rulers and pencils for the day. I paid the fees and still had to wait as I could see the parcel sitting on the floor behind her. But it was not her job to give it to me. We had to wait until some ‘underling’ was available to pick it up and then give it me – with the clerk who I had just dealt with checking all paperwork again! And then finally it was mine!! All quite comical really!

As a system it somehow manages to work quite well and certainly keeps a lot of people employed – including the carbon paper manufacturing company!

ImageProxy.mvcBali!

I arrived back a few days ago, and even though this time I arrived at the new international terminal, it was still the same as I left the air conditioning – straight into the sights, smells, heat, and noise that can only be Bali!

Into a taxi and another way that you know you’re back in Bali – the questions! ‘Where are you from?’, ‘Where are you going?’, ‘Are you married/do you have a boyfriend?’, and if you happen to say yes to that one, then the inevitable ‘Do you have children? How many?’seminyak sunset-1

And one thing to know about Balinese culture, and more generally Indonesian culture, is that for these questions (and many others) even if you want to say ‘No!’, the polite answer is ‘Not yet – belum.’ As there’s always a chance!!

seminyak -4These questions are not prying and are not considered too personal – it’s just a way of placing you, of working out how you fit in a culture that is very family and community oriented. Although the one about children is a big one! Having several children, and particularly boys, is such an important part of Balinese culture, a way for things to continue.

Elizabeth Gilbert, and whatever you think of her, or ‘the’ book, describes the ‘questioning’ well:galungan penjor-1

“When you are walking down the road in Bali and you pass a stranger, the very first question he or she will ask you is, “Where are you going?” The second question is, “Where are you coming from?” To a Westerner, this can seem like a rather invasive inquiry from a perfect stranger, but they’re just trying to get an orientation on you, trying to insert you into the grid for the purposes of security and comfort. If you tell them that you don’t know where you’re going, or that you’re just wandering about randomly, you might instigate a bit of distress in the heart of your new Balinese friend. It’s far better to pick some kind of specific direction – anywhere – just so everybody feels better.galungan-6

The third question a Balinese will almost certainly ask you is, “Are you married?” Again, it’s a positioning and orienting inquiry. It’s necessary for them to know this, to make sure that you are completely in order in your life. They really want you to say yes. it’s such a relief to them when you say yes. If you’re single, it’s better not to say so directly. And I really recommend that you not mention your divorce at all, if you happen to have had one. It just makes the Balinese so worried. The only thing your solitude proves to them is your perilous dislocation from the grid. If you are a single woman traveling through Bali and somebody asks you, “Are you married?” the best possible answer is: “Not yet.” This is a polite way of saying, “No,” while indicating your optimistic intentions to get that taken care of just as soon as you can.

Even if you are eighty years old, or a lesbian, or a strident feminist, or a nun, or an eighty-year-old strident feminist lesbian nun who has never been married and never intends to get married, the politest possible answer is still: “Not yet.”

― Elizabeth GilbertEat, Pray, Love

http://www.goodreads.com/quotes/748041-when-you-are-walking-down-the-road-in-bali-and

seminyak beach-4As many of you know, I’ve been to Bali many times. Almost too many times to count now! For many years I avoided it – thinking it was full of Australians that projected an image that I didn’t want to be associated with! And don’t worry – there is that element! But Bali is so much more!

This time, I’m just here for a few days staying in the bustling ‘Australian enclave’ of Seminyak. For a bit of shopping, some great food, and the opportunity to hang out in a place I know well, where I feel very comfortable, where I can get around on the back of a motorbike, where I have enough Indonesian still to be taken seriously and not considered a naive tourist! But I’ve done Bali in many other ways too – Lavina and the north coast for a totally different perspective; Ubud and the hills for markets, and temples, and cooler temperatures; …

1st galungan-5Staying in Seminyak, you could easily be in any touristy Asian city. But scratch the surface and the real Bali is still there…

The old lady preparing the offerings that are used daily for the little temples dotted in front of businesses and residences; the old galungan-7man working the rice padi one block behind the bustling street; the car full of boys and men all dressed in traditional sarongs heading to a ceremony; the penjor that line the streets – not just for the sake of the tourists but to commemorate the recent Galungan festival; the kakilimas selling street food in front of the 5 star restaurant; and of course, the questions that get asked as soon as you start chatting to a local!

Thanks again Bali for being what I needed when I needed it!

tourist-2I’ve never lived here.

I’ve never spent more than a few days at a time here.

I’ve done the touristy thing.

I’ve done the off the beaten track thing.

I’ve had days where I’ve done nothing more than explore different neighbourhoods and find great places to eat – and these are my favourite days!ImageProxy.mvc

I’ve been at least once or twice a year for the last 12 years.

I don’t know the next time I will be here.

market-1It’s not a perfect city. It’s not all about the stereotypes and expectations often associated with Paris. There is great fashion, amazing food, beautiful art and culture, good shopping and aloof locals! There’s also the grittiness that comes with any big city, the beggars, the high costs of accommodation, the 1000s of others that are also visiting the city, and the sometimes-aloof locals!

I’ve recently spent three days here with a good friend of mine and realised how much I enjoy spending time in Paris! We’re photography buddies and without too much planning, we’re happy to spend our days in the same way – walking everywhere, exploring neighbourhoods rather than queuing for the ‘must see’ sights, and enjoying good coffee, great food, and the occasional glass of wine!paris lunch-1

This time we bought treasures at Marches du Puce, Pt Clignancourt; explored the sprawling Cimetiere du Pere-Lachaise; wandered the Quartier Latin; rediscovered the back streets of Montmatre – keeping away from the crowds and the touts around Sacre Coeur; and took far too many food photos!cemetary-1

I don’t normally write reviews about restaurants – but here are a few favourite places from this trip!

Le Petit Vatel (5 Rue Lobineau, Paris 75006) – behind the Marche Saint-Germain – with enough room for 16 people at a real squeeze! This tiny restaurant with only a blackboard menu has become a favourite – the staff are helpful if you struggle with French and the small menu provides a range of options for diners. I’ve always taken their suggestions for wine and never been disappointed. The terrine maison is a favourite – try and leave room for dessert.

market-2Le Coutume Café (47 Rue de Babylone, Paris 75007) – fairly new on the scene – this café is different than the vast majority of Parisian cafes – it takes coffee very seriously! Importing a range of beans which are then roasted and served as well as sold by the kilogram. Simple meals and snacks are also available.

market-3Cinq Mars (51 Rue de Verneuil, Paris, 75007) – a great little restaurant not far from the Musee D’Orsay but tucked away in a side street – definitely off the tourist track! With dim lighting, original architectural features, and an extensive wine list, this is a great place for dinner. Just be warned – when you order some dishes, such as the terrine, and the chocolate mousse – the whole bowl is brought to you – and you serve yourself! The first time I came here I wasn’t going to order the chocolate mousse – it seems such a cliché – but it is so good! Made with dark chocolate, and creamier, heavier than many mousses, it was difficult not to keep going back to the large bowl for more! NB not many vegetarian options on the menu.

chocolate mousse-1Le Grand Cremiere (8 Rue Gregoire de Tours, Paris 75006)– a new discovery this trip.  An old ‘cremerie’ store that has been converted into a restaurant. We popped in for their prix fixe lunch special – a choice of 3 delicious savoury tarts, salad and a glass of wine (of course!).  With the charming owner serving us we stayed on for a second glass of wine and dessert! Many original features have been restored and industrial touches added to this retro but very French restaurant! Next time I will come back for dinner.

e3408cf03d1e11e3ba9922000a1f9c9a_8Café de la Nouvelle Mairie (19 Rue des Fosses Saint-Jacques, Paris 75005) – a café tucked behind the Pantheon, only open Monday to Friday. During the mornings it does a great coffee and basics for breakfast. It fills up at a lunch with nearby students and workers – a limited menu but all hearty and delicious. In the evenings it evolves into a popular wine bar.

Bar du Marche (75 Rue de Seine, Paris 75006)– a favourite with locals, expats and tourists that’s been there forever! On a busy market street, paris treasures-3not far from the Odeon metro stop. With lots of outdoor seating ready to watch the world go by! Or sit inside and be served by the charming waiters in their red or blue overalls! Always good for a hot or cold drink, they also do great salads – I love the Salad Nicoise!

A little nonsense now and then is relished by the wisest men

Roald Dahl

 
central park-1
driving licence

driving licence

So it was time to get a Sri Lankan driving licence. And on paper it all sounded so simple – take your current driving licence, and your passport with your visa to the Department of Motor Traffic, and with an exchange of paperwork, a temporary or lifelong licence will be issued.

Well, I should have known, that as with any bureaucratic process nothing is that easy or quick! Yes, Carolyn, just think about how long a visit to the post office can take; or how long you waited at the department of immigration to extend your visa!

So, I tried to get through the process this morning…

Jude, the tuk-tuk driver, picked me up at 8.30. I didn’t realise quite where we were going or how long it would take to get there! By the time we got there, and parked in the midst of all the buses, cars, and tuk-tuks with giant ‘L’ plates on them, we had to make our way through the 100s waiting for their driving tests.  But we were there for a different purpose so we wouldn’t get caught up with that?

Mmm… apparently not. We all had to go for a medical check up, so I had to join the end of the queue. With only 1 doctor who was already running late.

We heard about a clinic 15 minutes back closer to the Colombo. So off we went in the tuk-tuk again. Of course, for this particular medical check, you can’t go to any doctor or clinic – they have to be approved by the Department of Motor Traffic. So there aren’t many around! We finally found it. I was very unceremoniously whisked in to be weighed and measured, and then sent to the counter to pay for this part of the process, and wait for the next step. By the time we left there, we had been going for over 2 hours and were no closer to getting a licence!

At that stage, I gave up on the process for the day – if we had gone back to the Department of Motor Traffic, I’d still be waiting there now! And I had appointments and other things scheduled for the day.

So Jude and I have a plan – now that we know the process, know where everything is, and have found out the opening times, we will start extra early when I am next in Colombo to conquer the Sri Lankan driving licence process once and for all!

 

 

I’ve had Ayurvedic treatments before – you know the type of thing – you’re travelling in India and end up with an Ayurvdedic massage in a place set up for tourists – all very nice, and slightly ‘Westernised’..

I have occasional back problems, and I relish a regular deep tissue/remedial massage, so the other day I visited the local Ayurvedic clinic in a little, very ‘untouristy’ town in Sri Lanka.  And what an adventure that turned out to be!!

Everyone in town goes there for any medical need. Sitting in the outdoor waiting area, I was an unexpected sight for all those coming and going for treatments and to pick up their oils and herb packs. The doctor was busy going from room to room, then back to the dispensary to instruct his assistant on what potions and lotions to prepare.

Eventually, with some unknown signal, it was my turn and I was taken across the courtyard. Down to my knickers only, I lay on hard table, with a small towel, that looked like it had been there for at least several patients before me! And then the treatment began.

At one stage I think (I’m not sure!) there were 3 people working on me. One assistant applying very liberal doses of oil all over my back and legs, the doctor working on the problem areas on my lower back, and another assistant pressing a hot poultice pack of herbs over my shoulders and back. Every so often he would disappear and return with a very hot, new pack to continue pressing. And in between, the other assistant would slosh another half bottle full of oil all over me! Not the most relaxing but not horrible either – I could feel the heat and the herbs radiating through me.

Eventually we all had enough of that, and I was moved very unceremoniously to the nearby steamer. Dripping with oil, I stepped across the room to the wooden box  –  not my favourite thing, it seems too much like a coffin for me! But all part of the treatment. So lying on my back on the slats, the lid was closed, leaving just my head sticking out. The same towel wrapped around my neck to keep all the steam in.  A range of herbs were heated releasing the steam and aroma through the slats – and I could feel the oil and sweat just pouring off me! 10 minutes later it was time to turn onto my stomach – and the heat felt even more intense! 5 minutes into that side, feeling slightly overcooked, I had had enough and had to ask to be released! Just not a sensation I enjoy!

Once released, I was assisted to stand up and the doctor brought in the next part of the treatment – a refreshing orange Fanta! To get some sugar and fluids back into my body! Then the assistant dabbed baby tonic all over me – which stung like aftershave on my red bare skin! They laughed at the slat marks that were left all over my body! The tonic, surprisingly, helped disperse any remaining oil – I had been worried about sliding down the car seats as I left!

Dressed, I met with doctor again in the dispensary to receive my diagnosis – I am ‘blocked’ across my shoulders and my lower back. I took the plastic bag with my personalised oil concoction, along with instructions to rub it onto the affected areas twice daily and to come back next week for a follow up treatment.

So let’s see what happens next week!