Sri Lankan Shopping

The son dropped me off at the hairdressers last week and asked me to call him if I needed a lift home.  I nodded and said I would call him if I needed a lift.

I was let loose for the first time on my own and I had my credit card in my wallet!  I appreciate said son was only looking after my interests and I didn’t really need anything but some women were made for shopping and I am one of them.

It reminded me of the first time I visited my aunt and uncle in Canada.  My Glaswegian uncle was determined I would not spend any money at all.  It was the time of travellers cheques and in one store I was on the point of signing the cheque when he came running up, saying, ‘What on earth are you buying a duvet for – you can get those at home!’   I didn’t know why I was buying a duvet except that it was patterned and different and I was actually buying two, not one, for the boys’ single beds. I was desperate to buy something – anything.  I had been in British Columbia for two weeks and had bought absolutely nothing.   Uncle pushed the duvets over the counter,  tore my travellers cheque to shreds in front me and the bemused assistant.  I followed him embarrassedly out of the store.

He wouldn’t even let me buy any presents to take home.  ‘They don’t need anything.  You’re here on holiday not the family!’  I ended up fibbing about the time of my return flight so I would have time to stock up on gifts for the family in the departure lounge shops.

He too was looking after my interests.

The hairdresser was ready and waiting for me the next morning.  I had to have my hair cut as my fringe was blinkering my vision and I had asked for a cut and blow dry.  The hairdresser began by trimming my unwashed hair?   But maybe this was how they did things here.    She snipped slowly, taking section by section and when we both agreed that was enough, we headed to the single wash basin.  This was a shock as my hair was washed in stone cold water.   I exaggerate!  The cold water is not actually cold with the temperatures here.  It is always lukewarm.   But I don’t believe you can wash your hair properly without hot water.

I got over that as there was no point in asking for hot water if there wasn’t any.  The hairdresser partially dried my hair, then wrapped it turban style in a towel and we headed through the dividing wall to a section of the salon behind a frosted glass panel.  The pedicure was begun with my feet soaking in a very basic portable foot spa much like I have at home – I think everyone has one. I won mine in a raffle.

The foot spa was partially filled with cold water which she carefully topped up with water from a kettle until it was warm enough and added some liquid soap.  The pedicure was fine and I chose pink instead of blue nail polish and we returned through to the other part of the salon where she finished off by blow drying my hair.

She printed out my bill, €13 in total, and indicated I needed to pay in the men’s hairdressers on the floor below.   ‘Come back again soon!’ she called as I descended the steep stairs.

The son had told me where there was an affordable clothes shop so I made my way there.  It was above a bank and a uniformed man opened the glass street door and I went up the stairs to the first floor.  It was more than a clothes shop because it sold just everything from household equipment, linens, children’s toys and clothing for all the family.

I wanted to look at everything because I was on my own for the first time in a store and I could take as long as I liked.   I wasn’t on my own for long as much like bees around a honeypot, not that I am a honeypot, but you get what I mean, there were assistants in each department asking, ‘Can I help madam?’

They all smiled and they were very nice and very helpful or they would have been if we had understood each other.   The range of clothing was tremendous and some were obviously overs for UK stores as I recognised some of the brand tags, although many had been cut off.

I am neither small nor petite, well I am fat, but the lovely girl in the nightwear department tried to convince me that if I stretched the nightdress it would fit over my well endowed bits.  Who wants a nightdress that requires stretching to fit?

Then the very polite and helpful young man in the separates department kept bringing me tops or trousers to try.   Some were truly awful and others not my taste at all.

A pint-sized middle aged assistant came from out of nowhere, spoke to the lad and the lass, took one look at me and the bits of me that are larger than I would like and returned seconds later with an armful of tops which were perfect size-wise at least.  He took some persuading when I wouldn’t add the orange one or lime green one to the basket but altogether I kept three from him.  Mainly to appease the young lad who followed me like a shadow, I bought a white top which has shrunk in today’s wash and two pairs of thin trousers, one batik which, happily, has not shrunk.

The son very kindly collected me and we went supermarket shopping – another experience altogether.


Path Finder

I ventured out on my own steam for the first time last week.  The others were crashed out after a journey to visit a sick relative who had been admitted to a hospital up country.

It was the day there was to be no builders and they weren’t gone half an hour when the plumbers arrived.

The Pelawatta house is in a very nice area and quite close to a busy main intersection, although you can’t hear the traffic from the house.  If  you cross over the intersection and walk about a mile in one direction you reach the parliament grounds.  They are spacious and flat and ideal for walking.

Turn right at the intersection traffic lights and you have every kind of shop you can imagine.   I can’t remember ever living where I was so close to the shops before or had such a variety on the doorstep.

I have a reputation for shopping and when Maureen and I were on our great tour in 1999 we managed to shop at every stop on our six-week itinerary, even in the outback where there was nothing to see at first glance.   Like bloodhounds seeking their prey, we could home in on any shop in the vicinity.  In fact, we had shopped so much by the time we reached Sydney we had to dump a lot of the clothes we had brought out from the UK in aid of a dog and cat animal rescue group my school friend was running.  I had seen Sally only briefly once in the thirty-six years since we were mad teenagers together in Edinburgh, but had corresponded regularly over the years.

Animals were her first love and her home housed one beautiful dog and an incalculable number of cats.  Maureen and I tried surreptitiously to count the cats and reached the late teens but were never sure if we had missed any or counted the same cat twice.  Today Sally lives in the country at the back of the Blue Mountains with an even greater number of animals including horses, most rescued, some removed from people she believed were cruel to them and that she could do a better job!

With everyone asleep, last week I made the decision to find my way out of the garden estate and to the shops.   The estate is a rabbit-warren of houses, no two are identical and they are all close together.  This house is detached but neighbours in any direction are only a yard or so away.  Saying that you would never know as there is far less noise, if any, than there was in Ja Ela.

The houses are mainly gated and garages are alongside the gates.  I went along our little lane and turned right.  When we drive in we drive up a steep hill turn right and then drive down to access our driveway.  I thought it would be too steep for me to manage.

It was around 5 pm and with dusk approaching I turned right and right again. The roads are narrow with passing places for vehicles and the surface of the roads in some cases are perfectly finished and in others, of compacted red sand, or loose gravel and I came across some traffic bumps to slow down passing cars.

There was a right turn leading to a fairly steep hill which I tried to avoid and went straight ahead but discovered it was a dead end leading into someone’s home.  So I retraced my steps and tackled the steep hill.  It was only yards long and as I got to the top and turned left, to my dismay two dogs came barking towards me.

I froze but to my relief a lovely lady, the owner of one of the dogs, came out of her bottle green door and called her dog back.   The other dog ran off.  The lady had long dark hair and wore a deep purple kaftan.  ‘He’s only saying hello,’ she explained.   I returned a tentative ‘hello’ apologetically and went on my way without looking back.

At the end of this road I turned left and had reached a main road which led on to the large intersection.    The traffic was increasing on the road as well as on the pavement.  Men and boys in neat shirts and trousers, many holding rolled-up umbrellas, were purposefully walking in the opposite direction to me.

There are military bases in the direction they were heading so maybe the teenage boys were the sons of officers at the base.

I passed the Dialog phone shop where you can add credit to your mobile, a café selling butter cakes and breads, then a vegetable shop.  The dialog and vegetable shop were open to the street although I expect they must have some kind of shutter when they close up for the night.

A man was selling something cooked at the corner of the road and people bought paper pokes of the food and ate it with their fingers as they continued on their way home.  I couldn’t see what they were eating and didn’t want to ask in case I was expected to buy.

I needed my hair cut and a pedicure but passed by the first hairdressers as they advertise full bridal packages, facials and specialise in traditional wedding head dresses.

Only a few yards further up the road there’s a men’s hairdressers on the ground floor and a ladies’ salon to its left, up a steep flight of stairs.   The stairs are tiled and there is no handrail but I got there and at the top opened a glass door and dropped down a step to an immaculate salon.  There was only one wash basin and there were two customers, one with a hair colour applied and her hair pasted stiff in the air.  The other customer was seated in a chair in front of a large mirror and the only hairdresser I could see was styling her hair.

The hairdresser has lovely dark eyes and her black hair was neatly woven into a plait which hung down her back.  She was dressed in a black top and trousers and smiled warmly and pleasantly as she enquired how could she help me.  I explained and we agreed I would return the following morning at 9 am.    I descended warily down the white tiled stairs holding on to the wall.

I wanted to cross the road to the supermarket but the traffic was wild and furious.   I looked round at the traffic lights and wondered where the pedestrian walking sign was but in the growing darkness  couldn’t find it.

I decided I had ventured far enough on my own for one day and would see how far I could get the next day after the hairdressers.



American Standard


We went to American Standard today for some bathroom accessories.   All the bathrooms in this house are fitted wth American Standard fittings, equipment and accessories.  I don’t know whether it is the heat getting to me or if I have been too long out in the sun, but I really am in love with American Standard!

From the perfectly rounded and angled towel rails, w.c.’s with self closing toilet seat lids, to the neat toilet roll holders, and even the beautiful vanity light above my bathroom mirror, I love American Standard.  Everything is ergonomic and even the rail on my glass shower door is beautiful.   I just love American Standard.

The American Standard shower controls are easy to use although the plumber has to come back as he connected the hot water to the cold tap and the cold to the hot in the large umbrella rain shower head but all the other water connections are correct.

A uniformed parking man directed us to the last parking space in front of the American Standard glass-fronted store this morning.   The doors were opened for us by another uniformed man and one of the sales girls, who had served the son before, came immediately forward to help him again.

This is the difference here as there are so many people working in the shops there are always plenty of people to help you.  Sometimes there can be too many people helping you but that’s a story for another day.

I wandered about the shop in an ‘I’m in love with bathrooms daze.’   There were deep curved wash hand basins,  free-standing tubs,  walk-in shower cubicles and gleaming stainless steel taps of every description.

Better still their products feature an EverClean surface, a technology which ‘prevents mold, mildew or bacteria and keeps surfaces cleaner for longer.’   They even have a self-cleaning toilet bowl.  I wish that had been around when all the lads were at home.

The son made his choice of purchase and he sat down in a comfortable armchair in front of the desk the sales girl now sat behind.   Unless you are in one of the supermarkets it’s never a case of paying your money and taking the goods.

I am getting accustomed as to how long anything takes to get done here.   So I sat on one of the large sofas towards the front of the shop and watched the tv screen which extolled the virtues of American Standard wares.   (That’s how I learned about the EverClean surfaces.)

Eventually son has finished the financial side of the transaction and has a receipted docket in his hand, but we are not quite there yet.    He joins me on the sofas and we wait another while.  The sales girl comes towards us and informs us that the purchases are ready for collection.

We exit the store and son hands over the docket to the three warehouse men (yes three men) who have his purchases.   The purchases are in sealed boxes, so each one is carefully unboxed, inspected equally carefully by one of the warehouse men and by the son, before it is as carefully re-wrapped and repacked in its cardboard box.  The uniformed parking man is supervising this operation too in between directing cars into vacant parking spaces off the busy road.

With the goods secured in the car boot, the uniformed man stops the oncoming traffic so we can reverse then sit alongside the road until there is a gap in the traffic and we are on our way again.


I mentioned the traffic lights in a previous blog.  Here you can just about see the seconds counting down directly in front of the red Mitsubishi truck and to the left in red the numbers counting down for the pedestrian crossing.  They turn to green and count down the seconds you have to cross.

The Pelawatta House


It’s been some days since we have had the builders here.   Last Saturday was a Buddhist Poya day so some stayed working until 9 pm on the Friday night so they could travel to their home – most probably in the country and spend time with their families.

Two of the regular workers who have mainly been painting arrived on Saturday and went from room to room with a measuring tape and an eight foot curtain pole.  I couldn’t figure out what they were doing – but they are two of the nicest workers who have been here.

Turns out they were measuring the walls and the areas they had painted so they could get paid for same.

A family medical emergency left me in the house on my own on Tuesday but I was not worried as no workers were expected.  Within half an hour of the others leaving the doorbell rang and there were two men with a van.   I had to phone the son who was driving and passed his phone to his father-in-law and then it was passed back to the son who told me it was okay as they were plumbers come to check the work in the bathrooms.

They fixed the leak in son’s bathroom and my bathroom was fine, but the in-laws had locked their door and I had no key.  Access was solved in a scary manner as there is a full length glass door which leads to their balcony.   Why it is half way up the staircase I don’t know but as soon as I suggested it one after another the men balanced one foot on the opposite side of the staircase and made the leap on to the flat area in front of the glass door.  I had visions of the demise of the second plumber who was quite elderly with a smattering of white hair, and he wobbled a bit but all ended well as they checked the bathroom and exited the same way and headed off in one piece.

When they rang the doorbell I was baking scones and had one tray about ready to come out of the oven and another dozen or more cut ready to go in.    I had bought Atta flour which I thought was the equivalent of plain flour but when I tasted one of the first batch after the plumbers had gone, the scones were really disgusting.  I found I couldn’t light the oven for the second batch so ended up binning the lot.   How was I going to find out which flour to use?  I had used the cake flour for the birthday cake and that turned out okay but just okay.

It explains the state of my brain as it took me a couple of hours in which I had thought of asking for help on facebook, the local radio station here which plays 60s, 70s and 80s music.  Eventually I worked  out that the best person to advise me would be the daughter-in-law – now back in the UK.  My email was replied to quickly and it turns out that Atta flour is for rottis, or chipatis etc and should be rolled out thinly.  Definitely not a flour for scones.  I was advised that cake flour is the equivalent of plain flour and needs baking powder added if  you need the flour to rise.

I have been wearing Dunne’s knee length pyjama bottoms as shorts here.  In fact I have been to the supermarket several times in the blue and white striped pj bottoms.   I don’t think anyone will know they are pyjama bottoms and no one knows me here anyway.  The pyjama bottoms are too thick to wear to bed.

Last night we unwrapped the two large sofas, covered in a soft grey material.   We have three large leather sofas here but the climate in Colombo is too hot for leather. The leather sofas and chairs  will be more useful in the Haputele house where the temperature is around 25C at most.

So we are progressing.  The dust is almost at zilch, we have a full size fridge up and running, not the new main fridge with the inbuilt water filter, that has still to be connected.   We have an outside cooker and an inside beautiful stove, and the washing machine and tumble drier are in constant use.  And we have comfortable fabric covered sofas to sit on!

And I have been out on my own in the neighbourhood!


I got two months, Part 3

Our visit to the passport office proved to be the first time I have felt cold since I arrived in Sri Lanka.  The air conditioning in the room must have been less than 25 degrees as that’s the temperature I usually keep my bedroom at.  It’s cool but comfortable but the temperature in the visa room was so low I felt cold even in a fairly thick cotton top and trousers.

Although everything I was wearing was cotton I kept slipping down in the stainless steel chairs.  You know that feeling that one moment you are sitting upright and before you know it you are almost horizontal and you have to hoist yourself upright again.

Eventually and it was eventually the uniformed official came through with bundles of paperwork and passports in his hands and called out the numbers.  It was like a free for all at the January sales in Oxford Street, London, as he was crowded, everyone jockeying for position.   I just sat back and the son joined the scrum and at long last I had a passport stamped with permission to stay here until 17 December.

One of the UK visa applicants we spoke to during our morning sojourn in the visa room, explained he had enquired before travelling how long he could stay.  He had been told six months and duly booked his expensive return ticket within the six month period.  He had been told, like myself on arrival at the visa office, he could only have another two months and was upset and annoyed that he might have to book a ticket out of the country and then apply to come back.

He enquired during the morning of various people and officials but was given a different story each time.  Someone told him he could stay 150 days confirming what I had been told at Heathrow, another that he was only allowed this current two month extension to his visa and has to leave the country, and yet another said he could come back and apply for another two months’ visa extension.

He wants to buy a property here but is not allowed.  Only Sri Lankan nationals can buy properties except in specific circumstances.  There are high rise flats being built all over the place and non-nationals may buy one of these flats, supposing they have the funds to do so but they must buy one say, over the eleventh floor.   There is 100% tax on a non-national owning a property here – or so one of our fellow visa applicants told us.

There are distinct economic advantages to Sri Lankans only being allowed to own property here.  There would be no overseas property investors, no holiday homes pushing the price of property out of the reach of locals and there is going to be no property boom and bust.

I loved the idea when we went to the Elephant Orphanage of one queue for non-nationals where we as visitors paid a higher entry charge and the locals paid a discounted entry fee.

That most basic of necessities, a toilet, is an adventure in most foreign countries.  I couldn’t understand when we visited Malaysia in 1999 why the toilet at a museum we were visiting was awash with water.

When I first came to this country every toilet I used seemed to be awash with water.   There is a hose fixed on the wall beside the toilet and what you are supposed to do is wash the toilet down after each use.   And that’s the reason every toilet looks as if there has been a flood.    Most don’t have toilet rolls, soap or a means of drying your hands.  And so it was in the public  toilets in the beautiful new passport building as I waded with my open toe sandals through water hoping that it was all clean water.

By the time we had secured the passport it was almost lunch time and as we exited the lift on the ground floor, there were so many people in this building I wondered if there was a concert or a special event.  There were literally hundreds of people everywhere and I tried to crane my head over one crowd as I thought that they were watching something but the huge semi-circle of people were all focused on a group of officials behind some office desks.

I wish I knew why they were all there.













I got two months Part 2

When we returned to the visa application room to wait to be called to pay, it was if we had entered a different planet.  The room was now thronged with people of every nationality you could imagine.  I so wanted to take a photo of the rows and rows of people but thought better of it as this was a government building and I am trying not to embarrass the son and get myself arrested for doing something stupid.

There were white robed muslims wearing white crocheted skull caps, a koofi, kufi or koofi; head shaven, orange robed Buddhist monks; and one of the most beautiful women I have ever seen.  She had a tiny frame, and her long thick luxurious hair was worn in the one thick long plait.  Her hair was a light auburn in colour but her huge eyes were kohl black with sweeping lashes and her lustrous magnificently shaped lips painted a beautiful shade of red (I thought immediately of Marion Creedon Hegarty’s workshop where she instilled in us the importance of highlighting what was best about ourselves and always to wear lipstick.)  This woman was beautifully groomed and I think she was more Arab than Sri Lankan or Indian, although some of these women are really stunning.   Her husband seemed to me to be an Arab and their little boy, about three, was just gorgeous.

The child ran, as all little boys do, racing about the crowded room, chased by a Chinese girl.  She was so sweet with thin pigtails bouncing out from each side of her head.  She wore shorts and a white top with a string of differently coloured tropical birds in applique designs framing the rounded neckline.  Her face was more oval-shaped than the little boy’s and whether they spoke the same language or not, they spoke the language of childhood.  Children don’t see colour or difference and theirs was the language of fun and play as they wheeled around between chairs and legs and brought a moment of joy to all who shared in their pleasure.

There were women in full burka wheeling pushchairs around.   One little boy pushed his little brother’s pushchair up and down then tipped the front in the air and banged it down on the floor time and again.  The smaller boy laughed delightedly with each bounce.

There were the inevitable back packers and groups of people travelling together, some of whom had their tour guide translate the procedures for them.  There were also some people on their own or perhaps a couple who had employed a translator to see them through the process.   The son and I, well mostly the son, managed to get ourselves through the system without asking for any translator or help.

There were people in wheelchairs, a couple of stressed out Americans, he calling to the counter every five minutes asking if their paperwork had come through.  His wife followed him looking anxious and maybe they did have a deadline to meet but that is not how this country works as everything just takes a very long time.

There were the hippy type girls, one in particular who had a pigeon feather sticking vertically straight out of her head.  She had tattoos, piercings, beaded bracelets around her wrists and ankles, and huge hooped silver earrings in the middle of which was the outline of a tropical bird.  (My friend Mona would have loved these earrings.)  What is it about pigtails these days?  Everyone seems to have one.   This hippy type girl had short unruly hair which looked as if someone had taken a knife and fork to cut it, but a long perfectly plaited pigtail hung down her back behind her right ear.

There were cheerful lads with dreadlocks and you just knew they were out to have fun, a very serious Chinese man who wanted application forms for his two sons, a Sri Lankan mother and daughter who were just ahead of us in the photographer’s queue, who looked anxious and doleful the whole day through.  I wondered what they were so worried about.  They both held the same demeanour, long sad faces getting more frustrated as the waiting went on.

Obviously we got chatting to others during the hours we were there.  A lady approaching her half century, taking time out to leave the husband at home and visit her friends now that her children had grown up and gone.  She was a freelance translator and could do her job from anywhere in the world.   A pastor and his wife, both Sri Lankan but both working in Greenwich, London, for the past thirteen years, she at a Somerfield checkout and he preaching the Gospel.   They were spending the winter in the warmth of Colombo.

Then there was the early retiree who had decamped from his London government desk job and his daily commute from the Sussex coast, with his Sri Lankan wife.  His hoped-for pension had been drastically devalued but the offer of redundancy now or the department closing in three months – well there was no choice really and the redundancy too tempting to refuse.  He has lost stones in weight since living here, misses his beer but not much else.  He had a great disposition and was like a breath of fresh air in this sea of humanity we found ourselves.  His wife of 12 years was beautiful and gracious and they are hoping to build on land they have bought here.  The land is in his wife’s name and more of that later.

Apart from the two Americans, who wasted so much energy trotting anxiously back and forth to the payment desk, the hundreds who were in the visa room chatted amiably and shared news and travel plans and experiences.  No matter what you did this was not going to happen any quicker and people just sat back and enjoyed each other’s company.

There was even a coffee dock which also had tea and soft drinks, where the man made me a sweetened Nescafe in a small paper cup which cost the equivalent of 25 cents.  There was a machine too with chocolate biscuits and snacks.

Every so often a uniformed official would come through with a bundle of passports and application forms and call out a series of numbers   We were V11 but there was no rhyme or reason or order as to how the numbers were called out.

However, people do not queue in this country.  When the official came through lots of people jumped up off their seats to gather around him and when their number was called moved as quickly as they could to the payment desk where three officials sat behind a glass screened area.  There was a gap where you could shove your almost 8,000 rupees, passport and paperwork through.  You received a printed square receipt and then moved to wait over on the left hand side of the room for the return of your passport.  That is the passport you have just handed back with the almost 8,000 rupees and your completed and approved application form.  But the system is such that they cannot give you the passport there and then.  It has to be taken elsewhere and you must wait until they decide to return it once more.


I got two months (Part 1)

Monday’s early morning start was to the passport office where I needed to renew my Sri Lankan visa.   I had applied on-line for a visa before travelling here, which is a pre-requisite before entering the country.  I paid approximately 30 euros for the month-long visa.  You cannot apply for a longer period on-line.

When I was in Heathrow on Saturday 17th September and called to the Sri Lanka check-in desk to pick up my ticket for the flight to Colombo, without my asking the Sri Lankan airlines guy said, ‘You can stay 150 days on that visa.’   Well I knew the visa was for only one month and thought maybe I could extend it for another 120 days – but as I am learning nothing is what it seems and much is lost in translation.

Parking was the first problem at the passport office in Battaramuller.    There are a host of newly built government buildings and uniformed police on duty at the entrance to the car parks.  They wouldn’t allow us park where we  wanted to and sent us on a huge loop heading across a river.  There were parking places adjacent to some houses near the banks of the river and some residents waved to us to park on their property which we would have had to pay for of course.

But we followed the car park diversion signs and reached a government parking space not too far from the building we needed.  Pelawatta is in the Battaramuller district so we walked into the building just after 8.30 am.

There is a wide motorway being built to one side of the row of newly constructed government buildings which will mean easier travelling for all those working there and for the visiting public such as ourselves.   Such was the density of traffic, turning right off the main road would simply never have happened but for the uniformed policeman directing the traffic, so the new roads will hopefully reduce the congestion.

The son had extended his visa at another passport office, down town, and was dreading the cramped conditions.  However the new government building in Battaramuller is state of the art with huge palatial entrance halls, marble tiled floors gleaming in the early morning light and a bank of eight pristine lifts to take you to any of the nineteen floors.

Beautiful girls wearing equally beautiful saris, smilingly directed us to the lifts, the fourth floor and the huge visa room.   Again the floors were gleaming as were the banks of stainless steel chairs – rows and rows of them.

First stop was to request an application form.  A very pleasant man who had good English asked me how many months I wanted the visa for.  I replied, ‘Three months please.’  To which he responded, ‘You can only have two months!’

I don’t know what it is about three months.  Is it because it is a straight fraction of a year, or are we just comfortable with the number three or does everyone want to stay in this wonderful country for another three months?   During the next three hours we were in the process, each person I overhead being asked how long they would like the visa for, asked for three months and were told they could only have two!   Why didn’t he start out by saying you can only have up to a two month visa?

However, my very pleasant man assured me that a visa for two months cost the same as a visa for one month but that was not quite accurate either because my month visa purchased on line was 30 euros and the two month visa eventually cost the equivalent of 40 euros.   Has the euro gone down that much in the last couple of months?

I had to have a passport photograph taken and again another nice young man was busy with lights and photographic umbrellas, taking the photographs with a Nikon digital camera.   The strong glare of the lights was not very flattering as like most people my age the face seems to drop through the force of gravity overnight, but who cares.  With only two people ahead of us in the queue, my passport photographs were taken quite quickly and the digital card slotted into a machine.

While we waited for the prints to be churned out, we looked around the huge room with its banks of vacant stainless steel chairs and the son commented, ‘They must be expecting a rush.’  I handed over 200 rupees (about 1 euro) and received a neat white envelope with four passport photographs which I would rather not own up to being a likeness of myself.

Once the visa extension application was completed and the tiny photograph attached and checked by the very pleasant man we were given a ticket and directed along the corridor to another room.  Our number was V11 and we joined others waiting on the uniform stainless steel chairs facing boxed-off offices.  These had frosted glass doors and windows so we could not see who was working in them. There were probably sixty or so of the stainless steel chairs in this room, all facing the same direction.  There was a government employee in the standard uniform of cream shirt and dark beige trousers, neat collar and a security badge hanging around his neck who would call the next number.  Next in line would stand beside the frosted door and wait patiently until the uniformed man opened the door.

I thought we were going to be ejected as the uniformed man had asked us to stand by the door to the left.  He walked to the door on the right and called someone else to stand outside the door to the right and wait.

As he did so our door opened and the previous applicant exited so the son and I entered and sat down at a desk in front of a woman in a sari.   She was typing in details on the computer in front of her and looked surprised and none too happy when we sat down.   The uniformed man came into the room as his guard duty had obviously gone awry.  We had entered the room before he gave us permission.

When she had finished typing, we handed over my completed application form, photograph and passport which the lady examined and within two minutes indicated all was in order and we could leave and wait at the payments office back at the main visa application room.

More in the next blog.



The Monsoon

I don’t know if the Monsoon season is upon us but rain is thundering down as I write.  So far any rain here, and there has been precious little of it in the past month, has fallen at night time.

The thunder has been quite strong the last couple of nights and when it rains it is as if the gods are emptying the heavens.   Whether this is the actual Monsoon or just the start of it I really don’t know.

It was a very comfortable 35 degrees this afternoon when we went to the supermarket in search of candles for the birthday cake.   The daughter-in-law’s niece and I were sharing our birthday lunch.

I’d made one of my chocolate cakes which turned out okay but not the same as if I were making it at home…. different ingredients, different kitchen utensils …… but it worked out okay in the end and better than I thought it would.   And the only candles we could get had Christmas figures attached to them.  They don’t celebrate Christmas here – so what’s that all about?


To my horror as the candles were lit and we were singing happy birthday to the lovely 12 year old, the candle grease melted to form a watery congealing pool at the base of both candles.  The Christmas figures were melting before our eyes faster than a snowman would in the tropics!

I am fascinated by the different flowers here and these large yellow flowers were on what looked like an evergreen growing over the wall bounding the property where the birthday lunch was held


Later, when we were doing a U-turn at a fork in the road so we could take the three girls shopping, I spotted this beautiful display of Bougainville.  bougainville

(The son said he deserved a medal because he had five women with him in the car and was brave enough or foolhardy enough to take all of us shopping!)

U-turns are common place here, even on really busy main roads and you swing right and wait for space to slot in between the oncoming vehicles.  The son’s car is so large more often than not the U-turn can’t be completed in a single turn and he has to reverse into the path of the oncoming traffic.

Zebra crossings are just there for decoration as rarely does anyone stop at them.  Sadly a young mother and her child were run over by a bus on one yesterday.   The mother did not survive.   Buses seem to be a law unto themselves.  They bulldoze at a rate of knots through the lanes and the most sensible thing is to give way to them whether you have the right of way or not.

There are gaily painted and decorated bicycles which you can stop and can buy a lottery ticket from the cyclist.  There is not enough profit for them to afford to sell the tickets from a motorcycle or tuk tuk.   A ticket sale of 200 rupees gives the cyclist a commission of 20 rupees.  1,000 rupees is the equivalent approximately of five euros.

I spotted a baby – about eight months – wedged between its parents aboard a motorbike.  The parents both had helmets on but the smiling little chap was as happy as can be enjoying all the traffic.

(It reminded me of the time I received a panic phone call at work from youngest son’s nursery school teacher to report my eldest son, abut 16 at the time, had collected the child as arranged but had wedged my precious baby between himself and his best friend and driven them down the main road from Streatham Hill, London, aboard his motor scooter.  My child too had enjoyed the experience of being driven home in this manner which was, I found out, quite a regular occurrence.)

People walk along the railway lines here just as you see in the Indian films.   And people walk everywhere here mainly holding umbrellas.  They use umbrellas for shade from the sun and tonight they were using them as shelter from the rain as we were driving home in the dark.  Some vehicles had their lights on and others just didn’t.

We passed a cyclist holding an umbrella aloft in his right hand and steering with his left. The other day, whilst stopped at traffic lights, a vehicle crossed ahead of us.  I couldn’t get the camera out of the handbag in time but the vehicle had two wheels between an engine, about the size of the engine for a ride-on mower and then the driver was steering the engine with two long straight blue handles whilst sitting on a makeshift trailer.

There’s also a little man we have seen on several occasions along the same stretch of road.  He runs at half pace, in the middle of the road, pushing ahead of him a fairly big wooden cart laden with goods.  He weaves in and out of the cars, buses and lorries and successfully manoeuvres over a busy main crossroads.

Today a tuk tuk came flying towards us on completely the wrong side of the road, against the two lanes of traffic, and cut across a gap to slot into the two lanes that were heading in the same direction as him.

I am exaggerate saying ‘flying’ as I am told they have a top speed of 30kmph.

Tomorrow we head to the passport office to renew my visa and if I am not allowed to stay  will be heading home on Tuesday!








Broken down tuk tuks and Chocolate cake

Yesterday’s almost Red Letter Day in Pelawatta was in the end to have a happy ending, although all three happenings to make for my personal RLD occurred by the time I was dropping with tiredness.

Indika, he of metal doors and windows fame, did turn up – very late at almost 9 pm.   Most here are awake at 5 am so our ‘working’ day has shifted slightly.   I didn’t see him but the son reported he arrived in a tuk tuk with said missing windows.  He was full of apologies saying his own tuk tuk had broken down.  The windows lay stacked beneath the curved staircase leading off what will be the sitting room overnight and we wondered how long they would stay there undisturbed.

Indika promised he would return this morning and he did, around 10 am which is very early for him as he regularly appears around 5 pm.  But he was all smiles and is at the moment up in the attic room drilling away.  Some of his workers arrived before him, armed with toolboxes and a sense of purpose.  They knew what they had to get on with and get on with it they did.

The washing machine too was plumbed in last night although we couldn’t use it as they made some sort of concrete gulley and drain channel which was soaking wet when Gate Late explained how the drainage system would work.   The washing machine is now working away on its second load and the new Beko condenser drier is working perfectly too.   There is no space outside for a washing line and with the workmen still painting, surfaces being levelled and tiles being cut, it is more economical to use the drier which seems mad in these temperatures but at least everything hardly needs an iron.

The others have made the trip to Ja Ela to meet the lorry which will bring the last load of furniture and boxes down here.  They will go back once a week to sweep the leaves, feed the fish, birds etc until the property is refurbished and put on the market.

So I am here on my own today but there are workmen everywhere as the final thrust is on to complete as much as they can.  One of the young workmen concerns me.   He has worked mainly outside and wraps his head up turban style in a thick cloth, protecting himself from the sun.  He sometimes also winds a clean piece of white linen around his mouth against the dust.

Everything, at least on this refurbishment is done laboriously.  There is no such thing for instance as a bag of sand ready to use.  My headcloth workman slowly sieves every bit of sand from a pile that has arrived from somewhere and been deposited in a heap on the drive in front of the garage.  Whether it is to be mixed with cement or used as a foundation for the small round pebbles in the courtyard every scoop is painstakingly sieved.  (The small round pebbles are a temporary measure until the black and grey linked block arrive and are laid.)

My headcloth man is at times in another world.  He will lean on the top of the handle of his shovel and stare intently into nothingness.  At times he crouches on the ground amidst raking the small round grey pebbles and he stops mid-task and as if frozen in time remains motionless.

He works long hours and my instinct is he is sick.  He is very thin but most people here are slim and thin.  Carrying excess weight is not comfortable in this heat.  The son agrees the headcloth man is probably sick.

One of the other workers concerns the son because this man is always tired.  He works hard here all day and then sets off to drive a tuk tuk as darkness falls.

Other workmen lay flat on the paved area under the porch canopy and sleep flat on the ground during their lunch break.    Most smile a friendly smile when they first see me and I smile back – it’s the most common language isn’t it.

I am halfway through making one of my chocolate cakes.  The daughter-in-law’s niece was 12 yesterday, (her gift from her parents was a white mobile phone) and we are having a combined birthday lunch on Sunday with the rest of the family.   Tiara is a rower and her dream would be to meet Gary and Paul O’Donovan, West Cork’s Silver Olympians.  Their fame has truly stretched far and wide!

I bought all the ingredients at one of the many local supermarkets and have baked the first half of the cake using what was labelled as ‘cake flour’.  I naturally thought this was self-raising flour so different from the ‘plain flour’ which was the ‘cake flour’s’ next door neighbour on the shelf.

By the looks of the cooling first half of the cake the ‘cake flour’ too has no raising agent so I should have added some baking powder.   A thick layer of chocolate butter icing will cover up my mistake.  I really need to learn Sinhala.






Almost a Red Letter Day in Sri Lanka

Today almost worked out to be a red letter day here in Pelawatta. We were promised that wifi would be connected, the electrics for the washing machine were to be connected and Indika was bringing the three missing window!    So much to hope for on one day.

The Sri Lankan telecom lads turned up yesterday – after numerous phone calls (most of which were unanswered), daily treks to various offices and family here intervening (for that read pleading) on our behalf to have some kind of wifi installed.

We were promised that we were first job yesterday and we all rose early and waited with bated breath but 8 am, then 9 am passed by and another visit to the telecom office promised we were next job on the list.  And fair enough they did come along but nearer midday than as promised.  But at least they came.

The lads who arrived were wearing black Polo shirts so I thought it was the termite team back again.  The Sri Lankan telecom lads have the same green piping but around the collars and sleeves of their shirts and have different logo.

They came and inspected where the connection has to come in.  Never mind that the sockets to feed the fibre had all been put in the wrong place and wires connected which were now not needed – a mere detail – we were getting wfi!

It turned out that yesterday was not to be THE DAY as they had no router and promised to be back tomorrow with one!

It took another phone call this morning and the telecom men arrived again, armed with a router this time.  Not the same team as yesterday as today’s duo were dressed in pale beige trousers and light coloured shirts.

They did log in the incorrect password but son corralled them before they drove off so all is well as they phoned through the correct password before they headed for the hills again.   We have wifi at long last and I for one feel as if I am in touch with the outside world again.

There’s a central tv area on the large landing outside the three main bedrooms and that is where the main wifi comes in.   The landing area has space for a three seater leather sofa and the tv is very large which sits on a wooden multi drawer unit.

There will be another two televisions on this floor, one each in two of the bedrooms and there may have to be a third installed in the third bedroom at a later stage.

There will be no tv in the main lounge area on the ground floor as that will be a people space but there is scope for a small tv on one of the walls in the fairly spacious kitchen area – the yet to have design finalised and quote approved kitchen – so it is some way off yet.

We have a working fridge which is a huge step up from the ‘just about the size of a cool box portable fridge’ we have been working out of since last Saturday.  So life is getting that bit easier.

To make this a true Red Letter Day we needed two more thing to happen and we would feel as if we were not just camping out in the midst of this busy city.

The washing machine has yet to be connected up and the electrician arrived unexpectedly this morning.  I had been told he was sick and would not be here until Friday and someone else told me he had a big job to complete in Kandy – or was that the plumber?  Anyway Milton arrived and set to work.

I was in my bedroom mid-morning when I heard the doorbell ring repeatedly and shot downstairs thinking we had visitors.  (Last thing you would exactly wish for at the moment).

Milton had connected the door bell!   What about the washing machine I asked?  But translation is difficult and I really have to learn Sinhala or at least make an attempt.

I brought very few clothes out here, having the vision that I was going to have everything made for me when I got here.  (What on earth was I thinking of?)  That too has not worked out as planned and I had to send a big bundle of clothing and bedding to the launderette last Thursday.   For launderette don’t think it’s like Dot Cotton’s launderette on EastEnders.   They call it launderette here but you hand the clothing and linen over and they laboriously hand write and list everything and number it, giving you a copy.   I didn’t get my change of clothing until Wednesday when I really really was down to the last thing to wear!

If Indika arrived with the yet to be fitted especially manufactured  three windows that would truly make for a perfect day – that is if the washing machine was connected too.  Indika confirmed on the telephone that he was about an hour away but that was getting on for four hours ago now so we live in hope of seeing him another day.  He is terribly nice and his standard of work is excellent which is probably why he is in such high demand.   But the windows need to be in place especially in the attic room which is open to the elements and we are told to expect the Monsoon to arrive in the next week or so.  Luckily for us and others without windows, it is late this year.