-Where are you from?
-We are from Vietnam.
-Vietnam? Viet Cong, yeah? Are they still there?
What? Are you kidding me? It’s already mind-blowing that every single Sri Lankan we talked to knows about Ho Chi Minh. But how can a concierge in a small hotel in Colombo know about ‘Viet Cong’? This is so beyond me, seriously.
Actually, there are so many things in Sri Lanka that are beyond me.
Like how such a compact landmass in the middle of the ocean can pack so many World Heritage sites. And if you are wondering how many exactly, the answer is 8, which means Sri Lanka is co-ranked #32 in the world in terms of the number of World Heritage Sites, above Egypt, Norway, Tanzania and ~ 120 other countries. The best thing is that they are so geographically close to each other, you can easily cover most, if not all, of them in one trip.
Or like how deaf the guy invented Kottu must have been. Seriously, NEVER ever go to a Sri Lankan restaurant serving Kottu if you want to have a romantic quiet candle lit dinner, or even a good chat with your friends. Just in case you’re wondering what the hell I’m talking about, Kottu is a flaky flatbread dish that looks like noodles after being chopped and stir-fried with vegetables, curry spices, and other stuff like eggs, chicken or fish. Chefs make it by banging their two blunt metal blades onto hot griddles for a good while. I was so stressed listening to that eardrum-torturing clattering sound for a whole evening at Kandy Garden Café that walking along the road afterwards felt so heavenly peaceful.
Or like how dominant a family can be. Meet the now ex-President Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, who also held the posts of Minister of Defense and Urban Development, Minister of Finance and Planning, Minister of Law and Order, and Minister of Highways, Ports, and Shipping while he was still in office. It is difficult to believe that this seemingly unassailable man lost the election to his own ex-aide and Minister of Health given how much more resources his party spent in the run up to the election. His images were literally all over the country like a virus – along the road, down small alleyways, on TV, above grocery stores, at bus stops, on the windscreen of safari jeeps, even at the entrance gate of the Horton Plain National Park. I wonder what Sri Lankan people are doing now with thousands of his posters, and tons of blue ribbons used to decorate his party’s election meetings. I also wonder what destiny (the new government) has in place for his Chairman of Youth Organization and Parliament member son #1, his Director of Sri Lankan Airlines cum Director of Sri Lanka Telecom son #2, his Co-owner of Carlton Sports Network son #3, his Secretary of the Ministry of Defense and Urban Development brother #1, his Minister of Economic Development brother #2, his Speaker of the Parliament brother #3, his CEO of Sky Networks nephew, his Sri Lankan Ambassador to Russia and USA cousins, his Director of state-controlled DFCC Bank brother-in-law, and God knows how many other key positions in the government, state owned companies, and large medial/telecom and financial enterprises are being held by his relatives and acquaintances. I mean if even his astrologer could become Director of the National Savings Bank, nothing seems impossible to this family, well, nothing except Rajapaksa winning the election again this year. Such a tragedy (for the astrologer, he picked the auspicious election day)!
Or like how Bob Marley and Che Guevara became superheroes of the tuk tuk fraternity. You can see their colorful portraits painted on the exterior of almost all passing tuk tuks. Also printed neatly on these vehicles are a myriad of tuk tuk philosophical teachings and morsels of wisdom, which are sometimes incomprehensible, often insightful, and always amusing to watch for. Here are some examples of ‘tuktukosophy’ that I collected from our 10 day trip:
-Win without boasting, lose without excuse
-Che Guevara, freedom of creative mind
-Honesty is the best policy
-Che Guevara wants you to rebel
-Single? No, I’m just in a relationship with freedom
-Love is trash, girls need cash
-The things you wish for a lot will make you end up in pain
-Great minds think alike
-Assumption is the mother of all screw-ups
-Don’t gain the world and lose you soul
-Sorry girls, memory full
-Politics is a mad dog, it will bite you
-Who flies not high falls not low
-I may not be perfect but I’m always me
So there you have it, Sri Lanka’s cup of tea #1, full of unexpected surprises :))
In our funny guide’s words, everything in Sigiriya has ‘naturally collapsed’. These 18 ‘topless ladies’ painted on the rocks are just remnants of a massive fresco of 500 damsels that used to decorate the rock wall all the way to the King’s castle at the top.
Not far from Sigiriya is the Dambulla Cave Template. This place is simply amazing. Imagine the ceiling of a whole cave decorated in brilliant colors while the ground is lined with numerous Buddha statues.