Nuwara Eliya 5

Trip Start Feb 25, 2010
Trip End Apr 23, 2010

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Monday, April 5, 2010

02 April

A bit of reflection on yesterday's encounter with the gardener revealed several things:

First of all, I now know why he asked if he could have my jacket when I leave NE.  Before I came here, I did some research about this place on the internet and I discovered that it can get cold, wet and windy here.  So I asked on the Lonely Planet website whether I should bring my own rain jacket.  I was advised not to because rain jackets can be easily bought for a low price at the jacket market in NE.  Since most people visiting Sri Lanka only stay in NE for a short time, this advice would have made sense for most people because, since a jacket is not needed anywhere else in Sri Lanka, it would normally be an inconvenience to carry one around the island just to use it in NE for one or two days of a longer trip.  So I was advised to just buy a cheap one here - and then give it to a local when I leave.  And therein lies the catch:  The locals have learned that foreigners are advised to buy jackets here and then give them away to some needy local upon leaving.  So locals have taken to "claiming" jackets off of foreigners who are seen wearing them around town during their visit.  I am an exception to this norm because:  I came here - with my own (expensive) jacket - for which I searched half of the world for the perfect one for my needs (light enough to wear in hot countries; a hood that extends far enough to keep my face dry when it rains so that I don't have to carry an umbrella; one that is green and therefore matches with my green travel pants, green travel shirts, green travel socks and green travel underwear).  This is not the sort of jacket that one simply gives away.

So it is in this context that the gardener asked me if he could have my jacket.  Fair enough.  That being said, I see now that his entire interaction with me prior to asking for my jacket was just a ruse to try to ingratiate himself with me so that he could eventually ask me for the jacket.  That disappoints me.  And furthermore, this is yet another example of the sort of thing that causes locals to think of (white) foreigners as walking charities.  The charitability of many foreign tourists evolves into an expectation - and eventually a demand by the locals for free goods and services.

And speaking of that, just this afternoon, as I was walking through downtown NE, I saw a foreign woman handing out dollar bills to the beggars.  What else could I do but stand in line and try to get one for myself?  While I don't expect anybody to give me anything, I'm not too proud to take free money.  Seriously, though:  What the heck was she thinking?  Would she do that in her own country?

A few minutes later I saw another foreign woman giving some coins to the same beggars.  They gave the money back to her - and asked for dollars.  They had been spoiled.  A dollar is about a third of a day's pay for an educated person in these parts.  So if tourists are giving beggars more than people can make for working, what incentive does anyone have to work?  Presumably you worked for your money.  Why shouldn't they do the same?  This handing out of free money is making beggars of the people.  If you feel like you must give them something (because of some guilt you for some reason feel), then give them something to eat.  If they are really destitute, they should be happy to have food.  I suspect that in most cases, it's more a situation of begging being more lucrative than working.

Related to this:  As I said earlier, I'm pretty sure that governments in general, and in this part of the world in particular, want to keep their "subjects" dumb and uneducated because that makes them easier to govern.  Well, I just realized that they also intentionally keep them poor as well - because that way they can get free money from sucker rich western donor countries.  It's a lot easier for a corrupt government of a poor country to steal money from donor funds than it is to set up a tax system and collect taxes from its own subjects.

As an example of the case of deliberate impoverishment, a foreigner whom I met here wanted to adopt a local child from an orphanage.  He wasn't allowed to do so, because the government here gets money from foreign donors to take care of the orphans.  And they get paid by the head.  The money that goes to the orphanage is MUCH less than the money that the government collects from western donors.  So why should the Sri Lankan government place orphans with loving families when they can make money out of keeping them miserable, hungry and poor?  (I forgot who said it, but this saying applies here:  "Foreign aid is poor people in rich countries giving money to rich people in poor countries.")

Okay, that was my rant for today.  Now back to life in paradise:  With the turning of the calendar from March to April, it was like a switch being flipped.  The cold, rainy patch seems to be behind us - replaced once again by sunshine and perfect temperatures.  Presumably this is the weather that makes April "The Season" in NE.

Speaking of which, as I was leaving my hotel yesterday morning, the receptionist informed me that, as of yesterday, my room rate would be going up to the high season rate.  I asked why they hadn't told me before and they said that they assumed that I already knew.  And I assumed that my rate wouldn't go up because they didn't say anything about  it.  I had been quite fearful about this because my guidebook says that rates skyrocket during the high season - to double, triple and even five times the normal rates.  I was relieved to find that my rate will be going up only 20% - from about 17 1/2 bucks a night to 21.  Still within the range of acceptability.  Nonetheless, I pretended that I was shocked and disappointed by this increase.  One should never let a seller know that the item we are buying is too cheap.

Just before lunch I swung by the school to see the students auditioning for their upcoming talent show.  They all had the same talent:  Dancing.  One of the girls did an exotic,  Middle-Eastern style dance of sorts, altogether rather sensual.  The head mistress of the school told her in no uncertain terms that the dance was inappropriate as there would be young men in the audience who would certainly become overly excited by that sort of dancing.  I personally found it rather modest and entertaining.  But then again, I'm a dirty old man, so I don't guess I'm the right person to ask about such things.

After that I finally got around to checking out some apartments that I had seen on our hike last Sunday.  One beautiful building that looked like a big apartment complex turned out to be the home of some rich singer and his extended family.  The place next door was an apartment complex under construction and I was given a brochure and shown around the place by one of the salesmen for the project.  For what they are asking for these apartments here in the middle of Sri Lanka, it is possible to buy a similar place in the middle of Bangkok.  I think their prices are rather unrealistic.  On the other hand, if they can find people to pay those prices, good for them.  But it won't be me.

The reason I'm looking at apartments here is that I think that Sri Lanka has potential as a retirement destination.  It has enough going for it that I would at least consider it as a place to live.  It's much cheaper than Thailand (except for real estate ownership), the weather is much cooler - at least up here in the hills.  And the people are friendly (when they're not trying to cheat me or beg from me).  And not inconsequential is the fact that it's essentially English speaking.  I don't know yet what the regulations are for long-stay visas, though.  I'll investigate that when I return to Bangkok.  Somehow, though, I don't think they'd make it easy for me to stay.

I just started the eighth of the nine books I brought with me on this trip: "Jude the Obscure" by Thomas Hardy. In it, he just made a brilliant description of the less than attractive romantic interest of the main character: "She whom he addressed was a fine dark-eyed girl, not exactly handsome, but capable of passing as such at a distance . . ." Ha! I think I know that girl.  The farther away I am, the prettier she looks!

03 April

Ha! So they are capable of feeling shame!  When I went to pay my rent today, they neglected to charge me for my laundry.  So I mentioned it to them.  I was told there would be no charge - since they had used my detergent - after not having done a very good job in the first place. I was surprised and impressed with their act of contrition.

Upon leaving the hotel for my morning stroll into town, the hotel manager asked me why I only hang around town and don't go anywhere, to which I replied, "I'm already there!  This is where I want to be."  Why should I feel the need to go and see and do other things when I'm perfectly content being where I am? (I suspect he is somewhat motivated by the desire to sell me a tour, though.)

He also found it strange that I am content to just walk.  What he doesn't realize is that having a pleasant walk in the cool, beautiful nature is something that is simply impossible in Bangkok.  Bangkok is just too hot - even for a short walk - except inside of air-conditioned shopping malls.  So I'll continue to enjoy my walks from the hotel to the town and around and back - for as long as I'm here.

You're probably getting tired of hearing this, but the weather today was the nicest it's been since I've been here.  One of those perfect days that you hope would never end:  cool and sunny.  After doing my daily business (internet café to check stock prices, send e-mails and update my blog; a bit of shopping; etc.), I spent hours in the gorgeous Victoria Park in the center of town.  Upon paying my entrance fee of double to quadruple what the locals pay, I told the lady behind the ticket window that I hope she has to pay double for everything should she ever go to America.  In fact, this gave me a business idea:  I'd like to open a business simply for the purpose of overcharging foreigners.

And speaking of that, I have found a new place to get overcharged:  the pharmacy.  I went looking for some cream for my aching, blistered toes.  The cream I was presented by the pharmacy was quoted at a price of 350 rupees.  I didn't buy it at the time, not because of the price, but because I wasn't sure about its efficacy.  Since I couldn't find anything better, I went back the next day and bought it - from a different sales person who didn't realize he was supposed to cheat me - for 100 rupees.  The price was even on the item.  Actually I noticed that some of the items have the price and some don't.  When a foreigner comes in, they pick up one without a price - and let their imagination run wild.  I've been back to that shop a couple more times for different things and now I ask the proprietor every time if he's cheating me again like he always tries to do.  Ha.  Let's see if I can teach HIM the meaning of shame too.

04 April - Easter Sunday

Last night, just as I was leaving the Indian restaurant after my dinner, a young American chap entered the full restaurant and, since I was about to leave, I offered him a seat at my table.  While I was waiting for my bill, we got into a conversation.  Originally from Chicago, he's in Sri Lanka on a short holiday from his job in Bangalore, India.  Like me, he finds pleasure in the fact that it is possible to go outside without sweating like a pig.  During our brief conversation, he mentioned how much he dislikes having to pay so much more than the locals for entering parks in Sri Lanka.  I was wondering how he knew about this since he had only just arrived in NE where, as I have mentioned, foreigners have to pay double to enter the local municipal park.  As it turns out, he wasn't referring to this park, but rather, to the more famous Botanical Gardens near Kandy, where foreigners have to pay 600(!) rupees to enter, exactly a whopping 30 times what locals have to pay.  Ha.  I didn't even visit that park while I was in Kandy, but I wish I had known about their extortionate price differential as I would have gone there expressly NOT to pay it - and NOT to enter their park - and to tell them why.  In regards to the policy of overcharging foreigners, Sri Lanka is starting to make Thailand look foreigner-friendly.  These prices, remember, are set by the same government that gets millions of dollars in FOREIGN aid every year.  We should get in for free. On a red carpet.

Many of you know my feelings about the concept of tipping.  In most case, especially in the US, it is nothing more than a way for restaurant owners to shift the burden of staff compensation directly onto their customers, and it comes with a thinly veiled threat of "pay up, or else".  If it is a mandatory charge, as it essentially is, then it should be included in the price of the meal.  And besides, just taking an order and bringing the food to the table is not "service".  It is the food delivery mechanism at a restaurant.

Anyway, in spite of my general aversion to tipping, a few days ago I tipped the guy at the reception of my hotel 500 rupees, which is probably more than a day's pay for him. He had been going out of his way to help me with my room, my laundry, etc., for weeks - so I wanted to show him my appreciation.  The smile on his face after I gave him the tip suggested that he was very pleased.  My point:  I don't mind tipping (a) when it is completely up to me rather than when the tip is extorted under a thinly veiled threat of violence; and (b) when someone goes beyond the call of duty to help a customer.

And the point of this little story is that he must have bragged to the other employees of the hotel about his tip because since then, everybody has been EXTREMELY friendly to me at the hotel.  One chap now always shakes my hand when I pass him in the hallway - and, the last two times I saw him, he complimented me on my hat.  (Okay, in this case he might just covet my hat, like the gardener coveted my rain jacket!)  But I sure am getting a lot of service and smiles out of my four and a half dollar tip!  Heh.

It being Sunday, which is Market Fair Day (as the girl at the reception of my hotel called it), I went down to this market that I discovered by accident two weeks ago to look for some edibles.  The tomatoes there were half the price of what I pay at the city market during the week, so I loaded up with a full kilo of them.  The seller kept trying to slip bad ones into my bag, and I kept taking them out.  I would have been willing to pay 50 or 60 rupees a kilo for the good ones rather than the 40 that he was charging for a mixture of good and bad.  So this got me to thinking about what I would do if I were a market stall guy:  I would divide my tomatoes into two piles:  Grade A and Grade B.  I would sell the Grade A ones for 60 rupees a kilo and the Grade B ones at 20 rupees a kilo.  And I would put a sign in front of both piles of tomatoes advertising this fact.  There are some people who would gladly have the less than perfect (actually there was nothing wrong with them other than that they were as yet unripe) tomatoes for half price.  Also, places that don't openly display their prices are selling at different prices to different customers.  And guess who is paying more?  You and me, my pale faced friend!

Speaking of which, in my hotel room there is a very nice plastic bowl that is perfect for washing one small article of clothing at a time.  I find this very good because washing one thing at a time allows for a concentrated effort, resulting in a very clean item.  According to the instructions on the package of Tide detergent that I bought, I should let the item soak for a half an hour.  So I have developed a routine for this:  While I'm having my shower, my socks soak, and after my shower I give them a good rubbing and they're clean.  I hang them to dry (in front of the heater) and put my underwear to soak while I'm having breakfast.  And so on, until everything gets washed while I'm doing my morning routine.

Anyway, the point of all this is that I wanted to buy a plastic bowl like the one in my hotel room to use for washing clothes on the rest of this trip as well as on future trips.  (I already have a portable ten liter canvas wash basin that I carry for this purpose, but I find that a small bowl is even better for undergarments.)  And a small bowl is very easy to carry because it is hollow and other things can be put inside of it.  And finally, this bowl, when not full of dirty underwear, can also be used for eating such things as cereal.  (Okay, I might have to give some more thought to this last point.)  Now how's that for a multi-purpose tool?

So, as I was bowl shopping, I stopped in a store on the main drag in NE town - a dealer in cheap plastic crap.  They didn't have a bowl quite like the one I was looking for, but I asked the price anyway out of curiosity, and I was quoted a little more than double the (probably already inflated) price for the same bowl that I had seen down at the Sunday Fair earlier.  I thanked the guy and I started to exit the store - but I was blocked by the fat guy who had been standing outside.  They were not going to let me out without consummating the deal so I ended up having to give fattie a shove in order to get out of the place.  In the future I'll be buying my cheap plastic crap elsewhere, thank you very much.

After this incident, I returned to my hotel bowlless and asked the girl from the reception if I could perhaps buy this particular bowl from the hotel.  I tried to explain my wishes to her in a roundabout way by saying, "Well, if you can't sell me this bowl, I suppose I could buy one in Bangkok . . ."  She was supposed to say, "No, just go ahead and take this one.  It only cost 30 cents and you've been our guest for 3 weeks . . ."  But, well, she didn't take my hint, instead agreeing with me that such a bowl would be best purchased in Bangkok upon my return home.  I thought these people were supposed to be good at taking hints, preferring that method of communication over our direct, blunt western way of coming right out and saying what we mean.  Now I think I know what's happening:  They only understand when it is to their benefit.  Anyway, there goes HER 500 rupee tip!

05 April

I guess I'm a glutton for punishment because, in spite of my recent experience with my hotel's laundry service, I decided (actually I didn't have much choice) to use them again.  Well, once again, my pants came back just as dirty as they were when I handed them over.  I just do not believe that these pants were every anywhere near water and detergent.  I think they just put them out in the rain and then ironed them.  Next time I'll bring my full laundry kit, which I left at home because I assumed that doing laundry here would be cheap and easy, as it is in India and Thailand, for example.

I hadn't really paid much attention to it before, but I just noticed that I've been having exactly the same thing for breakfast, the same thing for lunch, and the same thing for dinner - for the past two or so weeks that I've been in NE.  Breakfast consists of whole wheat bread; some spreadable, processed Austrian cheese; two bananas; a handful of tomatoes; an avocado or two; and my vitamin tablets.  Lunch is the takeaway lunch packet from the Glendower Hotel, consisting of spicy chicken; rice; cooked green vegetables; and again a few of the delicious tomatoes.  And dinner is the daal and a piece of naan bread down at the Grand Indian restaurant.  And believe it or not, after two weeks of this routine, I'm not at all tired of / bored with it.  When I find things that I like, I like to stick with them.

Unfortunately, then, tomorrow my routine will be thrown into disarray as I will be moving on from NE.    It was never my intention to stay here for so long.  But since I have everything I need here (except a gym), I lingered here a bit longer than I had planned.  But now it's time to move on and face the harsh world again.

Tomorrow I'll leave for Haputale, which is more rural than NE, slightly less cool due to it's slightly lower elevation; and without many of the amenities of a bigger town like NE.  I just hope that the possibly more beautiful surroundings make it a worthwhile trade-off.  But, well, you never know until you give it a try.

I am not yet sure how I will get to Haputale.  There is a very scenic train ride, but the lady at the reception of my hotel (after I gave her her 500 rupee tip) volunteered to call the train station and ask about the train schedule.  Everyone else I had spoken to, including the guy at the tourist information desk, as well as the other foreigners in town, have told me that there is a 9:30 a.m. train.  My hotel lady claims to have called and found out that this train is no longer running.  I don't really believe her, but why take a chance?  If it's not running, then the next train is in the afternoon (again, her quoted times are much different than what I've heard everywhere else.  Maybe I should have given her a bigger tip?)

If the train station would be in NE, I could simply go there and if the train showed up, I could hop on it.  But the train station is not directly in NE.  It's in another town called Nanu Oya, a 15 minute bus ride away.  So that somewhat increases the inconvenience of having possibly incorrect information.  Conclusion:  I have just talked myself into taking the bus.  This will require a transfer at the town of Welimada.  As a compromise, in order to enjoy the beautiful scenery along the railway line, I'll take the train back to Colombo when my trip is over and I have to go to the airport.

Regarding the buses:  From my one experience with them so far, I can say that Sri Lanka's bus system seems to be comprehensive, cheap, and easy to use.  Service is also frequent so that it is not necessary to hang around the bus stations for a long time between transfers.  That's the good part.  The bad part is that they pack the passengers on like sardines.  If you're not one of the first ones on the bus, you'll definitely be standing.  With someone else in your face.  So I'll just try to make sure that I'm the first one on the bus when I go tomorrow.  If I don't have a seat, I'll just wait for the next bus.

I stopped by the school one last time to say goodbye to the friends that I made there, and in just a few short hours I'll be saying goodbye to Nuwara Eliya.  I had a really wonderful stay here, and I expect that I'll be back again someday - perhaps more than once.
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art on

Sounds perfectly idylllic.

Paul on

The problem with that crowded bus situation is that even if you get a seat, you may not have someone else in your face, but rather someone else's ass in your face. Usually not a pleasant experience except in some limited cases.

paul on

Hey Randy, I'm glad we have you out there, a voice in the wilderness, letting those locals know that someone is on to their money tricks. In all seriousness, as usual, you make excellent observations about the deviousness of individuals, fat cats behind the scenes, and governments when it comes to the money situation. Never stop making these points, they need to be made and hardly anybody else makes them.

steve in Houston on

Great blog. The woman handing out free dollar bills is analogous to a government handing out freebies. Why should you work if you can get it for free? The problem I have with that is the beggar provides no goods or services whereas the worker provides either a good or service. The world can function if (most) everyone is a worker, but cannot if (most) everyone is a beggar. Someone has to be productive, otherwise we'd all have nothing!

steve in Houston on

The weather you describe in NE reminds me of weather I encountered in Hawaii. As you know, Hawaii is a mountain sticking out of the ocean. It was the Big Island at a place named Parker Ranch. It was near the top of the mountain and it rained from late afternoon all thru early evening. And it was downright chilly too! I suspect this part of Sri Lanka is similar.

Arrthy on

Oh My!! .. This is great ! How I encountered this website is way beyond me...

I was born an raised in NE ... then migrated to Canada when I was 9 .. My dad still lives there (parents have been separated for more then 16 yrs) ..
Your blog was an interesting read. I am being tempted to pay a visit. I discussed your blog with my mother; she told me that everything you mentioned about the locals can't be more true. Please keep righting I love reading about my native place.
PS: My mom owns the house that my dad is staying at, if you are in need of a place to stay .. let me know. I am sure I can make some arrangements.

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