Nuwara Eliya 3
Trip Start Feb 25, 2010
16Trip End Apr 23, 2010
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Where I stayed
As I was leaving the hotel this morning, I turned right back around to go back to my room to get my waterproof jacket as the sky was overcast and looking like it would rain. An employee of the hotel told me that I didn't need my jacket as it would not rain until the afternoon. Still, I went back for my jacket because there was no benefit to me for taking his advice - and no cost to him for being wrong.
Friends from the school had told me about a fancy private club up on a hill overlooking the town so, after catching up on my blog and e-mails, I decided to walk up and try to find it. On the way there I encountered a woman who, upon seeing me, put out her hand and asked me for money. I really wonder what goes through people's heads to think that there are people who go around handing out money like that? On the other hand, I guess it doesn't cost anything for her to ask
Anyway, when I got to the top of the hill, I saw a gorgeous mansion that I took to be the famous Hill Club. It was guarded by a lone soldier in a nice little guard house. I asked him what the building was and he said, "General's house". It was probably the most beautiful house that I've seen in Sri Lanka. In my next life, I want to be a Sri Lankan general. Sweet!
The Hill Club was right next door - in a more modest facility. Being a club, it was necessary to become a member in order to enter. I asked if I could have a look at the lunch menu and the menu had to be brought to me at the reception since I was not a member. (Temporary membership could be purchased for 90 cents US, however.) I glanced at the menu and one dish jumped out at me: Louisiana Barbecued Chicken! I told the guy at the reception that, although we eat barbecued chicken in Louisiana, it really is not a specialty of ours and that there really is no such dish as "Louisiana Barbecue Chicken". I don't think he really cared about the opinion of a lowly non-member like myself.
So instead of the Louisiana chicken for lunch ($7), I went back to the hotel where I had had the Sri Lankan chicken for lunch a few days ago (for $2)
Speaking of which, I get the feeling that I'm making myself unpopular with a lot of the local vendors. By insisting on being treated fairly, I think they feel that I am cheating THEM - out of their right to cheat me! How dare I expect to pay the real price for things?! My favorite fruit vendor, Mohammed, is almost always down at the mosque (or so they tell me) whenever I show up at his stand. So one of the less honest vendors has to serve me. I thought we had an agreement for them not to cheat me, but it's in their blood to at least try. Today I asked for five bananas from a big bunch of very nice big bananas. So he starts pulling bananas off the bunch, and the first one he pulls off is a small, ugly, crooked one. I just shook my head and told him that I was not having that one. He complied with my request but, like I said, I'm sure he feels like I'm cheating him. It gets very tiring having to go through this every day. Where is Mohammed when you need him?
Back to the room for a nap and a read before eating my "lunch packet"
The things that I have learned about this town from staying here for over a week gave me an idea. (Most foreign tourists stay for only one night and as a result I see them all making the same mistakes as each other and as I made when I first arrived.) So I got the idea that someone (me, perhaps?) should do a travel guide, NOT written and researched by the guide book company's staff, but rather one compiled by a travel book company - but written by a variety of contributors who have spent time in various places about which the guide book company wished to publish a travel guide.
It could work like this: The guide book publisher could announce that they intended to publish a guide book about, say, Sri Lanka, including a list of 20 or 30 or however many destinations. People, either foreign or local, with intimate knowledge of one or more of those destinations, would do a write-up, based on an outline provided by the publisher (including transport, accommodation, food, sights, etc.) They would not be paid for their work but if theirs was chosen, they would get a free copy of the final work. Sound fair? Then let's get started
As I write this, I can now say that the hotel guy was right about it not raining in the morning but raining in the afternoon. It started raining at 15:00 and now, at 16:30, it's still coming down relentlessly.
Which brings up another matter: I was wondering what it would take to get me to move on from Nuwara Eliya. I mean, what was to stop me from spending the entire rest of my vacation here? I also want(ed) to visit two more places on this trip: Haputale and Ella. But I am reluctant to move on from a place where I have everything to a place where I don't know what it will be like. Alas, I think I got the answer to my question today: If it keeps on raining like it is doing now, I will be tempted to move on. We'll see what the coming days bring.
Related to this: Also as I was leaving the hotel this morning, the hotel manager told me that April is "The Season" in Nuwara Eliya. I asked him what that meant
I think I'll go out now and let the rain wash all of the dust from my shoes - and replace it with mud.
Today is another rent payment day for me. Every three days I have to pay my bill at the hotel. It's a good policy, I think, to reduce the risk of someone staying for a long time and then being unable to pay his bill at the end. And at 18 bucks a night that must happen often.
The time is really flying by, though. It seems like it was just yesterday that I paid the last bill. Hey, wait a minute . . .
I went to the school first thing this (glorious, sunny but cool again) morning to talk to the teachers there about the "course" that I'll teach next week about Personal Finance
It is my understanding that if I wanted to, I would be able to come back and live and teach here again in the future, full time. I wouldn't mind the lack of a salary for the job, but I don't think I could deal with the six months of non-stop rain that people have told/warned me about. If the weather would be cool and sunny all the time, then I'd be over in a flash.
I don't know why I didn't think of this before, but I got an idea about what to do with all of the books that I finish reading on this trip. I certainly don't want to carry them back to Bangkok, so I was thinking of giving them to fellow travelers along the way. But today I had a better idea: I'll donate them to the lovely local library that I mentioned before. That way the books can be shared with more people. I do the same thing in Bangkok with a local English language library there. By now I have given them hundreds of books that I have already read. I rarely read a given book twice - and if I really want to read any of my books again, I know where to find them: in that library
There is very little that gives me more joy than to accomplish a list of tasks that I have set out for myself, so I set off this morning, list in hand, to "get things done".
My first stop was the public library, where I dropped off two of the books that I have already finished reading. Actually there is another one that I finished, but I am not quite ready to hand it over to the library just yet as I want to quote some things from the book in my blog. And besides, I can win more "points" from the library by dropping off the books one by one rather than all in one pile, right?
My next stop was the bank, where I changed a couple hundred bucks into Sri Lankan rupees. I asked, mostly out of simple curiosity as well as to pass the time, what the requirements are for foreigners to open a bank account in Sri Lanka. The young fellow waiting on me took this to mean that I was planning on doing some big time investing in Sri Lanka, so he asked me for my e-mail address, no doubt to put me in touch with some lucrative opportunities
My next stop was the school, where I refined and then printed out the notes of my "Personal Financial Management" lecture that I'm going to present at the school next Tuesday and Wednesday. (Monday, the Full Moon day, is a national holiday. Actually, every full moon day - every month - is a national holiday.) I wonder if any other country in the world celebrates Full Moon Day like that? (This also killed off my plan to go fishing on Monday. The good thing was that it was a holiday and so I would have been able to find someone to take me fishing. But apparently, it is not allowed to do any killing on that holy day - and catching fish constitutes killing them.) I would even be willing to throw them back in. I just want to go fishing!
At the market stall of the guy who cheated me, I bought some tomatoes - but only because Cheater Guy wasn't there. I first agreed the price (the guy quoted me 20 rupees for 250 grams. What kind of way is that to quote a price? Why not just say 80 rupees per friggin' kilo?) Well, I know why they do it that way: It's to make the number seem low - presumably to low IQ customers
I also made a major breakthrough in my eating by finding some good, locally produced whole wheat bread, believe it or not! I was having dinner at the Grand Hotel the night before last, and with my salad came some whole wheat bread. After I finished eating, I went to the reception and asked if I could buy some of that bread - by the loaf. The hotel's Food and Beverage manager was called in and he arranged that I could order my bread a day or two in advance and pick it up at the hotel's bakery outlet at the nearby Indian restaurant. I know, it's complicated, but I will go to great lengths to get edible bread. Anyway, today I picked up my first loaf - a nice, big, heavy one-pounder - for just over a dollar. They felt like they were overcharging me, and I felt like they were undercharging me. So it was a win-win situation. It also means that if I come here in the future, I won't have to lug my bread with me from Bangkok
Now if only I can find a good gym that I can use, I'll be set. With my new personal relationship with the Food and Beverage manager at the Grand Hotel, perhaps I'll be able to convince him to use his influence to get the hotel to let me use the gym there. I'd be willing to pay five dollars a pop for a workout.
I'm also looking for some kind of cream to relieve the blisters on my feet - caused by my new shoes. I went to several pharmacies, but none of them seemed to have what I was looking for. I'll try again tomorrow. It's amazing, though, that one little blister on one little (on in this case, big) toe can cause so much pain to the whole body. It really affects my ability to walk. And besides reading, walking is what I do!
For the first time since I've been here, it was pouring down rain when I went out for my dinner. But, with my waterproof shoes and jacket, neither rain nor sleet nor whatever else won't stop the postman - will stop me from my appointed dinner at the Indian restaurant
Meanwhile, back at the room, by the time I went to sleep, I finished my fourth - or was it my fifth - book of the trip: Balzac's "Pere Goriot". It wasn't as good as his last book that I read, "Cousin Bette". There was, however, a famous quote of his that I had heard some time ago. I didn't know where this quote came from, but it turns out it was from this book. It was, however, a misquote. The quote that I had heard, and the popular version of it, was "Behind every great fortune there lies a great crime.", or something to that effect. I of course disagreed with that. But the actual quote in the book is materially different from that. It says, "At the bottom of every great fortune without apparent source, there's always some crime - a crime overlooked because it's been carried out respectably." Well, there's a big difference between the two quotes. The "without apparent source" makes all the difference in the world. Who can argue with that?
Normally I would not comment on my breakfast, except for the fact that today it had two new ingredients: My new whole wheat bread, and the tomatoes. The bread was simply good. The tomatoes were out of this world. Possibly even the best I've ever eaten in my life. So different from the tomatoes one gets in the "developed" countries, where tomatoes are bred for their ability to be transported long distances and still end up resembling tomatoes. Taste is definitely no longer a part of the equation in American and European store-bought tomatoes. I regret that I didn't discover them sooner. Wow! A true delight.
Today was the first time since being in NE that I have had lunch in my hotel. This was for a couple of reasons: First, when I stopped by the place where I usually get my take away lunch, they said I would have to wait for a half an hour. I was hungry and I didn't feel like waiting. So I went back to my hotel and noticed that today is a day on which they have their buffet lunch. They seldom do a buffet; only when there is a group of people at the hotel, usually for a conference of some sort. (The hotel has conference and wedding facilities to take advantage of the fact that Sri Lankans like to come to NE for those purposes.)
While I was eating, I got into a conversation with a Sri Lankan man (a certain Mr. Fonseca) who was sitting at the table next to mine. It turns out that, in spite of his youthful (he's in his mid-40s) and athletic look, he's a businessman - and apparently one of Sri Lanka's more successful ones. He's involved in lots of businesses, but his main line is veterinary pharmaceuticals. (He's a chemist by training.) He's in NE at the moment to help out a good friend of his, the Agriculture Minister, with his re-election campaign.
He explained to me a lot about the local people and business culture. For example, he said the the Sinhalese, of which he is one, are basically lazy - most of whom having no ambition beyond getting a secure job with the government. The Tamils, on the other hand, are much harder working - perhaps as a result of their Indian heritage. So, he said, if you area person with ANY ambition and entrepreneurial drive in Sri Lanka, it is fairly easy to get rich. All you have to do is learn to master and work with the lazy people.
Mr. Fonseca has a list of rules for business success and he is happy to share them with people. In fact, he has been on national TV recently, giving motivational talks to the Sri Lanka people. He considers himself to be a real rebel, saying that "you have to break the rules to accomplish things because if you do things the old way, you will get the same old results." In short, he's a real dynamic and charismatic person.
In the evening he invited me for a drink in the hotel bar with himself and his wife. While I was having one scotch and soda too many, we talked about business ideas and during our conversation, he/we came up with a possible revolutionary idea for a food product that could be exported from Sri Lanka to the rest of the world. We'll do more research on the idea and see if it has any potential.
He also invited me to come down to Colombo to stay in one of his empty apartments for a couple of days, where I can also have the service of a maid to look after me. Anybody who likes me that much has to be okay!
We then went to the Indian restaurant for dinner, and just as we were arriving, a group of somehow familiar looking faces was approaching from the direction of the Grand Hotel. So, partially influenced by the quantity of scotch that I had just consumed, I engaged them in conversation. It turns out that they were Thais from Bangkok. I spoke to them in Thai, somewhat to their surprise - then explained that I also live in Bangkok and am here just to avoid Thailand's hot season. To my disappointment, they told me that they had spoken with someone in Bangkok today and were told that it is actually cool there now. I had also called a friend in Bangkok today and she told me the same thing. I thought I had misunderstood her, but it does seem to be the case. If it is true, then the impossible has happened. I used to always say that Thailand can be hot in the cool season but it can't be cool in the hot season. I guess I'll have to modify that by adding, "at least while I'm there."