Sri Lanka: Last stop Colombo

14 – 15 June 2014

Before we left for Colombo, we found ourselves inside a local hospital. Yep- weird huh? Since the local bank that we tried to rob yesterday afternoon ran out of money, we had to get some money for the next day or two in Colombo before our departure. The local tuk tuk driver said: “No problem” so we ended up inside the office of a doctor who is also a part-time money exchanger. Sri Lankans are honest people. He could have easily cheated us but he didn’t and went with the highest exchange rate. It was a great moment. He needed USD and we the rupee. During the exchange, Fishe (a doctor) and I did a quick tour of the local hospital.

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We left the historically rich Central Province and spent a good couple of hours on the bus back to Colombo. It was during the long drive that both of us realized that we did the trip wrong. Instead of leaving Kandy last since it was the last Kingdom of Sri Lanka, we went to see it first. Oh well! We sort of “travelled back in time” and despite the lack of chronological order and thorough planning in our itinerary, we walked away being more impressed than ever. I’d rather end it at a Kingdom most well known for Buddhism, literature, irrigation and the concept of education and health care rather than a Kingdom that was lost due to  idiotic decisions made by a King who didn’t know how to treat his advisors and squandered much needed budget away on an artificial lake.

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My two Doctors: Lovely Sanjith and Fishe

After an hour of delay, we eventually arrived in Colombo (population=  5.6 million ppl). As a financial centre, it is a hub for trade and development and naturally the largest city in Sri Lanka. Fishe’s friend Sanjith, also a Doctor, drove us around and gave us a very informative tour of the city. We went by Colombo University and saw some residential blocks and 5 star hotels under construction, all signs of developments as well as increased foreign investments in the next few years. Is it beneficial or detrimental? A balance is needed.

IMG-20140614-00304I saw McDonalds (boo! big thumbs down!) Not surprising though since Colombo, being the Capital is already heavily commercialized and modern. Maybe I didn’t give it enough time but Central Province will always be my favorite.IMG-20140614-00309Since Fishe and I are both tea addicts, Sanjith took us to THE best store to grab Ceylon Tea. Ceylon Tea (94112587814) at 574 Galle Road, Colombo www.pureceylontea.com / www.ceylontea.com.pl offers all sort of tea at affordable prices. We kind of went nuts!

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We headed out early in the morning for our 11am flight. We looked out one last time at the West Coast of Sri Lanka. We could see the Portuguese, Dutch, Indian, Roman and Chinese traders rushing back and forth. Ok- Time to go.

Rant and Brief Modern History of Sri Lanka

Obama stated that America will never leave SE Asia/Asia. Ha! Why am I not surprised? My beloved Asia has always been ruled by foreign power. The once rich historical kingdoms and mighty dynasties reduced to meer colonies and a playground to those who think they are much more superior is a sad yet important history lesson for all. History repeats itself and there will always be dumb leaders and policymakers who destroy the country.

Sri Lanka did not escape from being colonized. It was partially occupied by the Portuguese in the 16th century then by the Dutch in the 17th century. Fearing that Sri Lanka will fall under French rule, Great Britain occupied the coastal areas with ease in 1796. Sri Lanka was renamed Ceylon. Kings tried their best to fend off British invasion but around the early 1800’s, the entire area was under the British East India Company. Kandy, as the last Capital of Sri Lanka and yes with that King was wasted money building an artificial lake fell on 14th February 1815. This ended Sri Lanka’s Independence. The Brits kept the locals under control and maintained control despite several unsuccessful rebellions. During that time, the Brits began introducing a liberal political culture through establishing various councils. Coffee thrived during that time but after a leaf disease broke out in plantations in 1869. The British abandoned coffee and cultivated tea as well as rubber, sugar and other commodities. Ceylon became independent in 1948 and as the country became a republic in 1972, the name was changed to Sri Lanka.

Internal issues and minority grievances led to strong Tamil militancy in the north (Jaffna). In 1983, ethnic tension developed into battles between the government and the Tamil Tigers. The death of 13 soldiers ended in anti-Tamil race riots across the country. It was not until 2002 that the government signed a ceasefire agreement with the Tamil Tigers. However, after unsuccessful rounds of peace talk, they resumed fighting in 2006. In 2009 the Armed Forces defeated the Tamil Tigers and the entire country has since been under control by the government. So after 26 years of conflict and the death of 60,000 to 100,000 people, things are peaceful now. Hopefully, it’ll stay that way.

Random Observations and Facts

  • Around 21 million people live in Sri Lanka
  • 70% of the citizens are Buddhist, 13% are Hindus and 10% are Muslims
  • The constitution require citizens to “protect and foster the Buddha Sasana”
  • Ceylon tea is considered to be the cleanest tea in the world
  • The world’s second largest exporter of tea
  • Poverty dropped from 15.2% to 7.6% (around 2007)
  • 90% of homes have electricity, 87.3% have access to safe drinking water
  • Although you might think of Sri Lanka as a developing country with an emerging economy, figures such as life expectancy, and infant mortality are on par with developed countries. Their health care system is “pro-poor”.
  • Education is for free all the way up to the tertiary level. Importance attached to education is reflected in the country’s high literacy rate (92.5%)
  • The people are friendly, charitable and kind towards others. We didn’t witness any fights or bickering. Watching locals help one another and giving up seats on the bus made me realize that China has much to learn from her neighbors.
  • 2550 years of continuous written history and due to its location, it was invaded at least 8 times by neighboring dynasties
  • The leading exporter of cinnamon in the ancient world
  • Had close ties with Roman empire and China. Roman coins have been found in Sri Lanka and Chinese admiral Zheng He made his mark through the Galle Trilingual Inscription. It’s a stone tablet written in Chinese, Tamil and Persian which commemorated his second visit to the country. Zheng He force landed at Galle in 1409 and the local King tried to capture him so a fight broke out. Zheng captured the King but later released him.

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Potential Challenges facing the country (Almost all the countries face similar challenges so why not learn from one another?)

  • Wildlife and habitats facing challenges from poaching to habitat lost and urbanization.
  • The country suffered greatly from the 2004 Tsunami. Natural disaster lingers.
  • The coast is seeing degradation from pollution and mining activities.
  • Freshwater resources polluted by waste disposal, sewage run off and industrial wastes. Environmental concerns from land deforestation to soil erosion to industrial pollution.
  • Economic implications of a demographic transition and shift in the country with focuses on employment and productivity.
  • Low fertility rate/ by 2041, one in four citizens will be a senior
  • More people working does indeed stimulate economic growth however, there are labour challenges. High unemployment + gender equality.
  • High growth increase sustainability? Address labour market tightening? Continue with fiscal consolidation? Public debt management? Inflation control? Diversify export products and markets? Effective use of trade agreements? Set up an attractive business environment but balance foreign investment in certain projects with own country’s interests?  Infrastructure development?
  • Social protection adequate? Low income families supported?
  • Potential for civil unrest will be a serious setback for economic development. The government is currently recruiting more Tamil speaking police officers and public servants. Such integration is a positive steps to national cohesion.
  • Sri Lanka’s economic growth is 8%. The danger for all is that euphoria could cloud the weak aspects of the economy and thus, result in complacency.
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Sri Lanka’s Economy (Internet)

Thank you Fishe for the adventure and for your great photos.

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