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.

Keen at saving electricity

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).

Don’t really eat out

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.

Transportation is easy to figure out

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.

Tailor made Sri Lanka shirts
Tailor made Sri Lanka shirts

Not many people scammed (or flashed) me 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).

The line between yes and no is vague

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.

They are very interested to know where I’m from

“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).

Crows are like pigeons of Sri Lanka
Crows are like pigeons of Sri Lanka

Crows are like pigeons of Sri Lanka

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!

Accommodation is the most expensive spending

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.

9 thoughts on “The First Impressions of Sri Lanka”

  1. Ha ha, I am glad nobody has flashed their genitals at you yet. 😉 That is so weird, I heard about this happening in India too. Very strange. Why would anyone do that? Do they honestly think that you would go with them after they have flashed you? Some men… 🙂

  2. Either I’m in one of those crazy moods or this post just made me laugh so much!!! Living in Dubai is EXACTLY ( sort of) the first impressions you had too! { not sure if that sentence made any sense} But yeh the nodding of the head, the staring, hilarious! love ya!

  3. Fascinating look into your first impressions of Sri Lanka and it’s unique culture. Sounds like a great place. Your comment on not being able to totally interpret their body language really resonated with me. It’s so true how language is more than just spoken. Your mentioning blocking them out before arrival was also very interesting. Do you mean blocking out their energy, or blocking out the need to openly acknowledge and engage with them? Sorry to hear about the food options. It would be hard to go anywhere after Malaysia.

  4. It’s always nice to read about how others see a country. Although I’m a Canadian, my family moved from Sri Lanka many decades ago. So I’ve been visiting here like every 4 years or so and currently live in Kandy temporarily. Still, I’m more used to how things work in the western world than here. The nodding was confusing at first but the tilting nod means Okay (like agreeing to do something). For a question like “do you like fish” you could get a usually yes/no nod.

    Electricity here is so darn expensive as it is and to top that it was increased by further 40% just last month. Bill increases exponentially so the more you use the unit rate goes higher. So they’re probably more worried about the bill. We currently pay about LKR4,000 ($32) per month and expecting it to go up to about LKR7,000 ($55).

    Tuk tuk drivers are notorious for trying to scam you. Not just for foreigners but locals too who looks rich. Luckily for me my husband deals with them (although they try to scam him thinking he’s living abroad but he knows how to talk to them). Some shop owners are the same. So we usually go to places where prices are marked. Only one time we had to stay at a guest house because that place didn’t have any close by hotels but my hubby somehow got the price down by talking to them. Maybe it won’t work for non-Sri Lankans.

    I’m surprised you couldn’t find any places to eat out in Colombo. There’s a saying here that there are more Chinese food joints in Sri Lanka than in China. People, especially the ones in Colombo, eat out all the time (or at least my bubby and his many circles does). There’s a food joint in every corner but I suggest you go to a place that looks clean.

    It’s always best to stay and go to reputed places rather than shady looking places. Majority of people here are helpful and friendly (although some stare at you like they’ve seen an alien). And you’re right, they’re very interested in knowing where you’re from and all the personal details. That’s just how they try to connect.

    It would have been nice if I stumbled upon your post earlier so we could have met when you were in Kandy 🙂

  5. I ran across your interesting article googling “crows in Sri Lanka” trying to compare them to the gray-black crow I saw in Israel. I was born in Colombo because my Dad was there on business. I never became a Sri Lankan citizen. Parents had British passports, I am an American citizen now. Parents eventually became Canadians. When I was a kid, my brothers and I used to make bonfires with the huge amount of leaves that fell off a very large Jackfruit tree. We thought the fire and smoke was fun but our Sri Lankan neighbor named Boteju didn’t like the smoke wafting through his house so a few times he got mad, yelled at us then raised his sarong and flashed us kids his genitals. LOL. We thought it was hilarious. As for the crows, yes there are more crows in Sri Lanka along the beaches than seagulls. In fact I don’t remember seeing any gulls anywhere in their beaches, odd. I did see pigeons though, but yeah the crows were way too many! Now on my many visits to Vancouver, Canada, I notice a fair amount of crows which always brings back memories of Sri Lanka and makes me wonder if the increasing Indian populace in Vancouver has any correlation to increasing crow population. Here in the States crows are a rarity.

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