Here now two weeks in this, my third visit, to this country. The first time I came in 2011 the amount of armed police and armed army officials was disconcerting. On a journey to Haputele, with myself as a ‘white’ front seat passenger, we were stopped several times on the five hour car journey north and eastwards and sometimes within yards of being stopped. The others in the car were Sri Lankan nationals.
Two years ago when I came out for three weeks for my son’s wedding, it was a completely different experience as there was a huge dilution of the armed police and military. They were in evidence near the parliament buildings but we were not stopped once when we made the same journey to Haputele even though we were two ‘whites’ in the car, the son and myself.
On our journey to visit the magical Elephant Orphanage, (what an awe-inspiring experience that was), we discovered road building on a huge scale. It was explained to us that Chinese money was helping the country to develop. Great swathes of roads are dissecting the countryside making access easier for the every increasing numbers travelling.
At the hotel we were staying in for the wedding celebrations in Negombo I was helping lift the covers off the breakfast display so another guest could help himself when we got chatting. He was a fellow Scot and explained he was employed by the British Government to train the trainers. After the war had ended there were so many young men in the military and police who needed trained into other work. What a sensible thing to do.
Two years ago the lady who came in to clean on a daily basis to help the bride’s mother, was paid £2.50 a day and today’s rate for the same work is £5.00 a day.
K-zone is as big, bright, sleek and swish as any upmarket shopping mall in Canada or the US. Two years ago when we first shopped there it was practically empty with few people shopping and many of the available-to-lease units empty. Some are empty today but it’s a completely different shopping experience now as our quick trip there yesterday morning saw a busy supermarket and others waiting for the electrical stores to open and there are now clothing stores and beauticians and other shops. There are stalls set up in the centre walkways selling clothing and haberdashery items too.
There is still a uniformed man to direct you to a parking slot and another to open the huge glass doors. Inside all is shaded, cool and comfortable from the 30+ degrees outside at 10 am. Whole families are shopping together. Lovely to see an elderly grandma smiling proudly as she carried her latest grandchild, only a few weeks old, together with her son, daughter-in-law and other smaller children skipping and dancing around her, all shopping together.
In the supermarket there is someone to weigh and price the fruit you have selected and bagged. There is one person at the till and there was a beautiful slim and delicate girl in a cerise sari who packed our shopping for us.
There are plastic bags everywhere as there have been on my previous visits, but the country is changing as there is a special offer on bags for life.
Another change is the lack of labour. Gate Late the builder says that it is so difficult to get workmen the country is talking about importing workers. Like all countries that become more affluent, and there is extreme poverty here too, locals can choose what they want to do and who would want to work at heavy building work in 30 degrees and more.
It is much easier to become a tuk tuk driver and choose your hours and days to work. But that too is changing as legislation is being brought in that they must be registered and there are rules being imposed they must follow.
The most disconcerting change is the offer of discounts on purchases if you sign up to a credit card – the offer even being advertised in the supermarket. At the furniture store we would have had a ten percent discount if we had an American Express card and these offers are in every store for other banks and lending institutions.
That does worry me, as debt is the road to ruin. Coincidentally, as I was finishing Laura’s Dennis the Menace jumper last week, I listened to a US audio book on the Nineteenth-century entrepreneur P.T. Barnum, of Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey circus fame. He was much more than a master showman but an economic genius and would that his advice was drummed into everyone of us. What a different world it would be.