It’s been two weeks since I arrived in Sri Lanka. We had a tough start, but it is slowly growing on me. Many days have been an agony for me, due to the humidity and mosquito bites, but it has been quite interesting so far. I’ve jotted down a few things I’ve felt in Sri Lanka during the time.
I didn’t ask anybody why, but Sri Lankans (who I’ve met so far) have been pretty keen on saving electricity. Either the electricity is expensive to use, or they just are interested in saving energy, I thought. One of our guesthouse owners specially asked us when we checked in not to leave any light or fan on when we went out. They cared about the electricity so much, they didn’t even turn on their soda refrigerator (that is for sale). I don’t know how they made the sale. The Wi-Fi router was hooked up to the power switch located under the TV, and I’ve noticed that they turned that off whenever we were out. I’m all for at saving energy, but asking my guesthouse host to turn on the Wi-Fi every morning and afternoon were not so pleasant (they didn’t let me do it).
The meal times during the first couple days in Colombo was tough on us. We couldn’t really find a place to eat. Because we moved on from Malaysia and Singapore, the lack of food option was a big shock. There was one explanation; people don’t really eat out. Eating out is a common culture in Malaysia and Singapore, women and men, old and young. I assumed people of Sri Lanka are different. We eventually found a few more place to eat in Colombo when we went back, and we enjoyed it, but the choices were not so various.
The best way to travel independently in Sri Lanka is by train. The Sri Lanka Railway website offers precise schedule and booking system. The train runs along the west coast of the island from north to south, through Colombo and Galle, and others go to east and north. The commuter train stops at smaller villages, and express goes fast; Colombo to Galle takes 2.5 hr. Metered Taxi, tuk-tuk, starts at 50Rs for the first kilometer and goes up by 40 Rs for the next kilometers. The bus is also cheap, it is good for traveling to the places where trains don’t reach. I thought public transportation (especially train) would be hard to use (maybe because of all the horror stories from Indian train, and the scenes from Slumdog Millionaire) but I didn’t have any big problems so far.
I got so many warnings about traveling in Sri Lanka (and India). People would want to cheat on me with the price of everything, don’t talk to the strangers who offer help, and even people recommend me to get a pepper spray. The most colorful warning I got was ‘be prepare to see male genitals.’ I’m glad to report that it never happened, so far.
Because of all the warning, I shut off everyone as soon as I landed here. No one looked helpful, they just looked like wanted my money. That’s why I was having a hard time first few days in a new country. Shutting everyone off requires some energy.
I realized I was wasting my own energy on something that didn’t happen yet. Being careful about the price is what I normally do in any country. That’s the basic rule of traveling. I just need to be prepared but don’t have to be on guard all the time. People were pretty nice to us so far. I’ve never met anyone who was explicitly lying (except a couple of tuk-tuk driver, and a guesthouse owner who said their room was 8,000Rs (USD 63), on the right next street of mine, which I paid 1,500Rs for the room).
Sri Lankans (and Indians, I’ve heard) communicate with the unique gesture with their head. Instead of nodding head front and back as ‘yes’, and side to side as ‘no’, they tilt their head fast, left and right. I’m looking right at their eyes, but I can’t figure out what they exactly mean. When I asked my guesthouse host to turn on the internet, she always tilts her head fast, smiling, looking down, and turned the switch on. It I didn’t know any better, I interpreted the gesture as ‘I don’t want to, but I’ll do it’. I still didn’t fully figure out, but at least I’m getting better at reading their face.
“Hello!” (very loud)
“Where are you from!”
People randomly shout when I walk down the street. It’s the most common question we get anywhere we go ‘Where are you from?’. Here in Sri Lanka, I must look quite exotic in their eyes. Babies often stared at me with stunning eyes (which is so adorable). Because some of their friends of families are working in Korea, they already know something about my home country. I haven’t got this much attention during my travels, it almost feels so odd (in a good way).
If Korea has pigeons, Sri Lanka has crows. I’ve never seen this many crows at one sight. It’s a bad sign to see crows in Korea because they usually are around dead, not living. Here in Sri Lanka, crows are just everywhere. They eat most of the everything human can eat: chilly pepper, food scraps, fruit, bread, and many things out of the garbage can. Their beak looks so ferocious to be a common bird like pigeons, but I haven’t seen them being violent yet. When the train stops at the station, they beg like seagulls near the boat. It’s such an interesting creature. Get used to their raucous voice when you are planning to travel Sri Lanka!
I was really surprised to see the prices of accommodation. The main reason why I decided to come to Sri Lanka now is because I wanted to see the country, but also I thought it would be cheap to live and concentrate on my writing. The other things are cheap alright. Transportation is minimal (2.5hr train ride for 2nd class is 185 Rs – USD 1.50), cheap foods and fruits can be found many places, but not the rooms. For two of us, we paid 1,500 Rs (USD 12) to 2,400 Rs (USD 19), the cheapest ones in the area. Considering I can get a full meal for under 300 Rs (USD 2.40) including a drink, the price for the room is quite steep.