2012年9月14日 星期五

The Moonstone of Sri Lanka- In memory of Fawzia Braine

When we toured Polonnaruva Fawzia repeatedly drew my attention to the Sandakada pahana, " Look, this is the Moonstone " she pointed to the slab on the entrance to the Audience Hall, then again at the Vatadage. Fawzia died in Jan 2012. When I was informed of her passing, out of nowhere the image of the Moonstone leapt into my mind.

Sandakada pahana, or the Moonstone, is a unique feature of the Sinhalese architecture of ancient Sri Lanka .It is an elaborately carved semi-circular stone slab, usually placed at the bottom of staircases and entrances .

A half lotus was carved in the centre, which was enclosed by several concentric bands. The first band is decorated with a procession of swans, symbolising the distinction between good and evil, the second band has an intricate foliage design known as liyavel , which symbolises worldly desires.The third band has carvings of four animals : elephants, lions, horses and bulls, following each other in a sangsara, which translates as "continuous flowing" and, in Buddhism, refers to the cycle of birth, decay, disease and death, which can only be escaped through enlightenment. This concept was derived from the Hindu belief of reincarnation. The fourth and outermost band contains a carving of flames .

The lotus depicts the final achievement of Nirvana .

The national emblem of Sri Lanka is a gold lion holding a kastane sword in its right forepaw, the sword has been changed to a cross as a sign of respect for Fawzia's new found religion .

In memory of Fawzia Braine

Fawzia Braine's Sri Lanka

All planes from Hong Kong to Sri Lanka land at midnight. I emailed Frawzia: "It's probably easier if I check into a nearby hotel and meet up with you the next day. " She'd have none of it. " No ! We'll pick you up at the airport. We're used to these midnight pick-ups ! " The Braine's house was 45 minutes' drive from Colombo, it was built by George's grandfather on land the family owned. Fawzia put me in the master bedroom. " But where're you and George going to sleep ? " I protested. " Don't worry, we've another room." And No, Fawzia was adamant, I could not use the other room.

All classic Braine hospitality.

I awoke the next day to a house filled with laughing Sri Lankans, who were bantering jokes around the breakfast table which was weighted down with an enormous amount of local foods. Fawzia's nieces, Indeewaree who's studying in the US, and Sheherazan and her family who hailed from Belgium, were to go with us on the tour. Henry was the driver Fawzia used before and liked. Good cheers and good food of the first morning turned out to be the harbinger of what was to come, for my travel companions proved to be truly wonderful people, and local food was a prominent feature .

Our first port of call was to be Kandy . " We've a home there too," Fawzia said " so we've a place to stay for the stop-over ". Kandy's the second largest city and an ancient highland capital of Sri Lanka . It's 115 Km ( 73 miles) from Colombo but the normal 3 hour journey was longer for us because of the multiple stops, as I wanted to take pictures of the local markets and roadside stores. I visit market places wherever I go because nowhere else can one get a better sense of how life really is with the locals.
We picked up some food at the Keells Supermarket. Compared with HKsupermarkets Keells looked a bit shabby, unbelievably it's in fact the leading supermarket chain in Sri Lanka for the last 20 years and has 49 outlets throughout the country. John Keells Holdings was founded in 1870 by Edwin and George John as a broking firm, but subsequently diversified its operations into Tour and Shipping, Consumer Goods, Financial Services,Information Technology, Property Development,Transportation and Plantations; today it's Sri Lanka's largest listed company and accounts for more than 14% of the Sri Lankan Stock market.
Kandy city, a UNESCO world heritage site , lies at an elvation of 465 metres ( 1,526 ft ) above sea level in the midst of lush green fields and mountains, and is one of the most scenic cities in Sri Lanka. In fact the name Kandy came from an anglicised version of the Sinhalese "Kanda Uda Rata", meaning "Land on the mountain". Movie fans of Indiana Jones would have seen Kandy already without even realization it as much of the 1984 film "Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom" was shot in Kandy. The Braine house was on a hillslope next door to a variety of wild animals including a porcupine, this we were certain because of the spines he left on the steps. I went off to explore the neighbourhood while the others rested. Coming in July, we just missed the Poson Festival which is celebrated on the day of the full moon in June, the day Buddhism arrived in Sri Lanka from India in 246 BC. The only evidence left of the festival were the colorful lanterns hung outside the houses. Sri Lanka has the longest continuous history of Buddhism of any Buddhist nation, and 70% of the population are buddhists.
However, all is not lost as Sri Lanka abounds in festivals . Not 10 minutes away from the Braine house I found a Hindu Temple busy preparing its resident idol for a parade later in the day. The priests were happy for me to take a picture of their handy work, as did some kids who suddenly materiarised from nowhere.
My wanderings next took me to a bend in the road opposite a green valley, where I came upon two old men and a puppy who lived in a nearby shed which doubled as a shop, from which they etched out a living selling sodas and biscuits to non- existent passer-by. Although after the Civil War ended in May 2009 the Sri Lankan economy has grown by an average of 5% annually and Sri Lanka now has the highest per capita income in South Asia, on top of which its stock market has done so well it's been rated as one of the 3 best performers in the world, about 14% of the population still live on less than US$ 1.25 per day. Jesus was right: " The poor will always be with us "
Fawzia thought it'd be interesting for me to visit the Tea Museum, which was set up by the Sri Lanka Tea Board in 2001. A tea plant was brought to Sri Lanka by the British from China in 1824, but not until 1867 was commercial planting first started by Englishman James Taylor in Kandy, and Sri Lankan economy was irretrievably transformed from a traditional to a plantation economy. The 32 years of British rule in Kandy was exploitative and harsh. Common land of the peasantry was expropriated, and Kandyan peasants were forced to work in abominable conditions on the new plantations.Despite pressure exerted by the colonials the Kandyans refused plantation work, which forced the British to bring in up to 100,000 Tamils from southern India to work as indentured labourers. Following independence in 1948, nearly 50% of these so called "Indian Tamils" were repatriated. They are to be distinguished from the native Tamil population that has resided in Sri Lanka since the 2nd century BC.

The Tea Museum was closed but as a Union Representative I was more interested in the tea workers than the mechanism of tea-manufacturing. Sri Lanka is the world's fourth biggest tea producer after China, India and Kenya. Today, directly and indirectly, one and a half million Sri Lankans (out of a population of 21 million ) are employed in the tea industry .Christian Aid reported that the living quarters for most of the tea-pickers are the same dilapidated, ancient row houses built for them long ago by the British; male and female workers are housed together with no regard to privacy, which places the females at a higher risk for sexual harrassment. There's no electricity or plumbing. Tea maybe Sri Lanka's biggest cash crops,but because of severely low wages, poverty levels on plantations are not only consistently higher than the national average, but has been increasing significantly in the last thirty years while overall poverty in Sri Lanka has declined. This led to an industrial action in 2006, after which wages were increased somewhat.

The tea plantation is structured in a social hierarchy and the women, who represent 75%-85% of the work force, are at the lowest strata. The female Indian Tamil workers being particularly at risk from discrimination and victimization .Young girls typically follow their mothers, grandmothers and older sisters on the plantations, and the women are also expected to perform most of the domestic duties . The minimum working age is 12 . On the plantation, men are typically employed to cut down trees or operate machinery, and although they work much less hours, are paid more than the women. The daily target of 15 to 20 kg (33 to 44 lb) weight of tea leaves picked might fetch just $ 2 US for the women. To add insult to injury, given the social stratification, the pay had to be collected by a husband or father! Happily the tide of change is coming. The plight of the tea pickers has aroused attention across the country, and 85 neighborhood women's right groups have been formed to educate these women on issues of gender, leadership and prevention of violence against women. WUSC ( World University Service of Canada ), funded by the Canadian International Development Agency, together with local community-based development organizations, has set up workshops and training programs to help youngsters who want to gain new skills and further education, in a bid to break the inter-generational cycle of economic dependence on tea plantation .
The traditional Kanyan Dance at the Kandyan Cultural Center Hall is a must-see for foreign tourists .The Dance was initially performed by Indian shamans as an exorcism ritual to cure King Vijaya of a recurring nightmare in which a leopard pointed its tongue at him .The illness was believed to be a curse his first wife placed on him through black magic . After the Dance the illness vanished, so the Dance was taken up by all Kandyans ; over time it has evolved into one of the most potent cultural features of Kandy.
The Tooth Temple ( Dalada Maligawa ) houses the Tooth Relic of Buddha, and is one of the holiest places of worship and pilgrimage for Buddhists around the world. Legend has it after Buddha died and was cremated in the 5th century BC, one of his disciples took a tooth from the pyre, the revered canine was subsequently smuggled to Sri Lanka in the hair of a princess from south India. Since ancient times, the relic has played an important role in local politics because it is believed that whoever holds the relic holds the governance of the country. Over the centuries kingdoms rose and fell and Sri Lanka was taken in turn by the Portuguese, the Dutch, and the British, and now the Tooth has come to be regarded as the symbol of Sri Lankan freedom
and independence. Sri Lanka's premiers and presidents traditionally deliver their post- election speeches from its balcony.The famous Kandy annual procession known as Esala Perahera falls in the months of July/August, hence there were even more pilgrims at the Temple than usual. To enter the Temple we had to pass through a security check point, this was necessary because in 1998 Tamil Tigers drove a truck bomb to the Temple and caused considerable damage. Temple etiquettee also requires clothing must cover the legs and shoulders. Leaving our shoes at the entrance, we joined the long queue of devotees, all bearing gifts and flowers, to enter the relic chamber, the Temple's holy of holies. It was a long wait for a fleeting glimpse of the
gold reliquary wherein the Tooth lies (no mortal eyes are allowed to see the actual dentistry) before being SHOO- ed off by the monks to make way for others, fortunately a game of peek-a-boo with the little Indian baby and chit-chats with the mother, who were behind me in the line relieved the tedium .
national flower 'Nympheae Stelleta' the blue lily, a Buddhist symbol of virtue, discipline and purity
True Buddhist pilgrims to the Temple wear all white
Next door to the Temple is the the Royal Palace of Kandy, it is now the National Museum Kandy and holds an extensive collection of artifacts from both the Kandy Kingdom and the British colonial rule . Unfortunately it too was closed the day we visited, and as it started to rain, we ran for cover and unwittingly stumbled into the British Garrison Cemetery .
The British Garrison Cemetery was a short walk uphill behind the National Museum, on a 3/4 acre plot of land . It was established in 1817 for the British army burials but soon started to "admit" all sorts of colonialists - civil servants , plantation owners, doctors, priests and railwaymen - and their families. There are 195 graves and around 500 burials. It was closed by Governor's Proclamation in the mid-1870's, but relatives of those already in the cemetery did continue to be buried there until 1951- Annie Fritz, a British spinster, was the last to be laid to rest there.The graveyard is supported by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, but now has very few visitors .We met the caretaker Charles Carmichael, in the small museum adjoining the graveyard. He's a Sri Lankan with Scottish and Indian ancestry, and was only too happy to share his extensive knowledge of the buried, most of them died young from tropical diseases such as malaria and cholera, heat stroke, and wild elephant attacks, many shortly after arriving in Sri Lanka.
We dined at the Avanhala Restaurant right by the Kandy Lake. Sri Lankan food might not be much to look at, but tastes surprisingly good. "The restaurant provides knives and forks, but I'm going to eat with my fingers "Fawzia announced. " Me too !" I echoed . Fawzia observed me closely for a while, and when food didn't drip down my chin or drop all over the table, she nodded her head. I passed the test.
herbal tea with jaggery
Lion Beer, my favourite item on the menu
Kandy Lake, smack in the centre of town, is an ornamental lake built by the last Kandyan king Sri Wickrama Rajasinghe in 1807, using forced labor on land that was originally paddy fields. It stands as an indictment of the excesses of the Kandyan monarchy at a time when the kingdom was under serious threat from the British invaders. When a hundred of his courtiers advised against building the lake, he had them tied to stakes which were impaled on the reservoir bund and drowned slowly, as the waters of the lake rose. He kept his concubines in the Summer House on the artificial island in the centre of the lake, rumour has it that the island's connected to the palace by a secret tunnel.
Fawzia took us on a tour of the Kandy University where she and George met when they were both students there. Her nieces had a field day teasing her about the courtship" Did Auntie Linda ( her name to her nieces ) and Uncle George held hands walking up THAT lane ? WOoo...." It couldn't have been an easy union though, because Fawzia's a Muslim Malay and George a Catholic Burgher. Malays had been in Sri Lanka since the 13th century, later on more were brought over from Malaysia and Indonesia by the Dutch and the British to serve in the army . The Sri Lankan Malays are among the strongest adherents of Islam in an adopted country, unlike the South African Malays who underwent a religious crisis during the 18th and 19th centuries . The Burghers on the other hand are Eurasian descendents of marriages between European colonists (mostly Portuguese, Dutch or British) and local women.The religious hurdles and family oppositions Fawzia and George have had to face over their marriage had to be substantial, and the success of their life together is a fine testimony of the strength of commitment they hold for each other.
The Sri Lankan education system dictates 9 years of compulsory schooling and Primary to Tertiary education is free since 1945, which results in a literacy rate of 92% and 83% of the population have had Secondary Education. Fawzia explained while students from well to do families have to pay board and lodgings and stationary fees in universities, students from poor families not only are exempted from payment, they can even apply for living allowance during their years of studies . Medical care is also free of charge, the Health Service even covers treatment unavailable in Sri Lanka, e.g.when another niece of Fawzia's needed a kidney transplant, the Sri Lankan Government paid for her operation in south India in full." Where does the government get all the money ?" I asked because very few locals pay taxes on accord of the low earnings . For once Fawzia had no ready answer.

I love shopping, but Fawzia turned out to be an even more manic shopper than I. She told me she used to hide all her shoppings in boxes in the garage, but one day the Salvation Army people came and George gave all her precious boxes to them, thinking they were old clothes! We went first to the Kandyan Art Association which was a government-sponsored center for traditional hand made arts and crafts, but it was not much fun as the prices were fixed.Then we went to the City Centre to hunt for saris and earrings. Fawzia haggled expertly for a bargain, while I looked on in awe. Sadly bargaining is a skill I've never mastered." You know that famous girls school in Kandy?" She asked the store-assistant attending on us "I used to teach there so you must give me a good bargain, I could have taught your daughters "The store assistant was very impressed and spread the information to the rest of the staff, by the time we left the word circulating round the shop was: Fawzia not only taught in the school but was in fact the Headmistress, and not just any headmistress but the best Headmistress the school ever had! Needless to say we got a very good price for the saris we bought. Sri Lanka is most famous for its gems, befitting its fame as the"Jewel Box of the Indian Ocean "Every jeweler I met tempted me with:" The blue sapphire on Princess Diana's engagement ring came from Sri Lanka " All of them were to be disappointed, not only was I no princess I was so cheap I found US$ 300 for a pair of silver earrings too pricey! " That's as much a secondary school teacher makes in a month here "Fawzia said, and I exclaimed "I'm glad then I didn't get them, I hate to think I'd be wearing a whole month's wage of some teacher on my head "Fawzia tried to educate me on the traditional Kandyan (osaria) style of sari wrap, which is considered the national dress of Sinhalese women and is the uniform of the air hostesses of Sri Lankan Airlines, but had to give up because of my limited imagination. Luckily a mannequin came to the rescue.
From Kandy we proceeded to the 500 million years old Jathika Namal Uyana, Asia's largest ironwood forest and Rose Quartz Mountain. It's been a sanctuary for Buddhist monks since the 8th century, but has only been brought to the attention of the world 15 years ago by a Buddhist monk venerable Wanawasi Rahula Thero, it has since been declared a National Heritage site. It was quite a climb to the top of the mountain, presided by the statue of a sitting Buddha .
The ironwood is the national tree of Sri Lanka . The whole tree is said to have medicinal values : the tree itself can stop bleeding,cure salivary/stomach/sweating problems; the seeds can cure skin/ fevers/cough/ vomiting/nerve/heart/sexual and mental problems ; the flower can treat piles; the leaves can reverse snake bites as well as treat undiagnosed diseases.We could be the first people to discover another use of the tree: a swing.
The resort we stayed in en-route was another of the Braine investment, and it had a pool! I almost drowned from laughing when I saw Fawzia in the pool: she had a piece of string 2 feet long , one end tied to her waist and the other end to a round buoy while she attempted to swim." I used to be a very good swimmer when I was in high school" she explained "then I forgot how to."She felt safer knowing there's a buoy 2 feet away.It's incredible the things one learns about each other in a trip." What does Fawzia mean in Malay?"I asked." Fawzia's not a Malay name,it's Arabic, meaning 'victorious'. I was named after the Princess Fawzia Fuad of Egypt whom my mother admired hugely. She's a very progressive modern woman. She married the Crown Prince of Iran in 1939 and became the Queen of Iran, but they didn't get on so a few years later she divorced him and married somebody else" I'd bet nobody in the Chinese University Women's Association(CUWO) of which we're both members knew that! It's a fact travelling brings out the best and the worst in people, and travelling in a small group we're in each other's hair almost all our waking hours, it's well-nigh impossible to hide one's true nature, and after Fawzia walked in on me in a shower ( one of those sparse Asian bathrooms with a faucet placed almost directly above the toilet bowl and no curtain), sanctimonious polite niceties seemed all the more superfluous.
Before the Safari I was put to work .The boy in charge of sweeping the grounds was stung by a wasp, which caused his head to swell up like a balloon and one of his eyes was closed to a slit. The lady boss was very worried"Please help him . He came from a very poor family in the hills, it's the first time he's away from home and I promised his mother to look after him. He's only been with us a few weeks, poor child!"This neighbourly village mentality which has been long lost in most other parts of the world appears to live on in Sri Lanka, the genuine concern and easy friendliness of the locals are endearing and touching. Thanks to the wonder of modern medicine and the healing power of youth, by the time we left the resort the boy's face got back to near normal .
Fawzia organised the Safari with the same gusto she organised everything else in the trip. Sri Lanka's home to several wild elephant herds, but the elephant population is now estimated at just over 4000 as compared to 12,000 a hundred years ago, a result of rapid human over-population and two decades of ethnic war. Human-elephant conflict is dramatically on the rise as humans take over land used by the animals as corridors, and wild elephants break into villages at night and destroy cultivation. Every year dozens of people die from elephant attack and about 200 wild elephants are shot or poisoned by farmers.
The Golden Temple of Dambulla, situated in the central part of the country, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site (1991) . It dates back to the 1st century BC, the Cave monastery is still functional and the rock temples house a collection of 153 statues of Buddha, 3 statues of Sri Lankan kings and 4 statues of gods and goddesses. The ceilings and walls are covered with 1,500 exquisite murals depicting the life and times of the Buddha .
Dambulla is Sri Lanka's most popular historic sites, and there were hordes of school children all over the place. Dambulla Temple and many other major Buddhist temples in Sri Lanka are now operating as tourist attraction centers charging entrance fee, contrary to the traditional Buddhism practice of free offerings .
Sri Lanka has the longest continuous history of Buddhism of any Buddhist nation . When Sri Lanka fell to the Portuguese then the Dutch, Roman Catholicism was brought in and resulted in a slight decline in Buddhism. The British later introduced Protestant religion and Buddhism was further threatened. In the late 19th century, the Buddhist monk Migettuwatte Gunananda Thera, alarmed by how Buddhists in Colombo were discriminated by the Christians, began to give a series of speeches defending Buddhism against the preachings of the Christian missionaries, in what came to be known as the Panadura debates. This was the start of a national Buddhist revival movement which re-instated Buddhisn its supreme position in Sri Lanka. For 2600 years Buddhism co-existed with other religion because of it's main theme of "Avihimsa"- non-violence. That is the reason why Hindu Kovils are allowed to be situated inside the Buddhist temples . Politicization of Buddhism in Sri Lanka changed all this. Sri Lankan Buddhist monks saw how Buddhism was replaced by Hinduism in India and were determined the same would not happen in Sri Lanka. They re-invented the scripture and wrote the Mahavamsa, which claimed that the Buddha had visited Sri Lanka 3 times and had declared it "dhammadipa"( the island of righteousness)- the Buddhist Promised Land where Sinhalese should rule, and since Sinhalese and Buddhism are one, Buddhism is therefore part of Sri Lankan nationalistic identity. On the 5 June 1956, when the 'Sinhala Only bill' was introduced in Parliament by Prime Minister Bandaranaike, who rode to victory on the back of Eksath Bhikku Peramuna (party of nationalist Buddhist monks headed by Mapitigama Buddharakkitha, the corrupted High Priest), the seed of sectarian disharmony was sown. On 26 September 1959 Bandaranaike was assassinated by a Buddhist monk named Somarama Thero, by the order of Buddharakita over a soured business deal. Buddharakita was jailed for life and Somarama Thero was hanged. Interestingly a few days before his execution Somarama became a Christian because he'd rather go to purgatory than face being reborned again into this world .

All is not well in Paradise .

Throughout the 27 year civil war, hardline monks had argued vociferously against self-determination for the Tamils in the north, and had pushed for bloody military campaigns to crush the Tamil Tigers . Sectarian violence between Buddhists, Tamils and Muslims continues beyond the cease-fire of 2009. As recent as April 2012, a mob of some 2,000 Sinhalese, led by a group of Buddhist monks, stormed a mosque in Dambulla hurling petrol bombs. The contested mosque is the closest place of worship the 500 Muslims living in the Dambulla area have. Since the Jathika Hela Urumaya, a Buddhist political party, was formed in 2004 to promote "anti-conversion"legislation in an effort to prevent conversion of Sri Lankans to Christianity, a series of violent attacks on Christian churches erupted nationwide.Catholic churches had been vandalised, statues smashed and Bibles burnt. Sri Lankan Protestants, especially the evangelicals, had been a particular target of persecution. Pastors and their families as well as church workers had been beaten, their houses set fire to, some even murdered by gunshot , for allegedly committed "conversions". The Ministry of Religious Affairs stipulated in Sept 2011 that places of worship 'must be sanctioned by prior approval of the Ministry', and some existing churches are therefore 'illegal' and must close because they do not have state approval.
We stopped for a snack at the P&S (Perera & Sons) diner, which was next door to the Gunners Club."You must try their cakes," Fawzia said"they're the best in the country"Indeed P&S has been making cakes for over 100 years. The twist here is Srilankans like their pastry not with sweet but hot spicy filling. We tried the Fish Bun and curry puff, and they were brilliant! The Gunners Club's run by the Army, it had a swimming pool and also offered lodgings."So the Club's basically a hotel " I asked the dapper Captain. After the cease-fire the Army started to do a lot more community work, though they still continue with the physical training. He took me on a short tour of the target practice grounds, then showed me the new basket-ball court they'd built as well as the adjacent big square (which used to be piles of rubble), at one end they were in the process of putting up a gigantic screen, and getting the place ready for a free open-air film show the coming week for all the villagers in the vicinity."How often do you get to go home and see your family?"I asked."Once a month," he smiled ruefully" but this is Army life "
soldier on guard
Sigiriya Rock fortress and city was built in the 5th century by the king Kasyapa, who grabbed the throne by walling-up his father alive in a fit of patricide, and sending his half-brother Mogallana, the rightful heir to the throne, into exile to India. Fearful of retribution from Mogallana, he put his Palace atop a great rock (Lion's rock), 200 metres above a forested plain; to this day the intricate engineering and irrigation skills and complex urban planning at the base of the rock is still evident. Unfortunately all Kasyapa's scheming came to nothing, Mogallana launched an attack and won the battle, Kasyapa committed suicide . Mogallana moved the throne to Anuradhapura and Sigiriya fell into disuse .It was rediscovered in the 19th century, and subsequently designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1982 .
The stairway leading up to the Palace is guarded by the paws of a colossal brickwork lion, which gave the rock its name. Midway up the stairway are the paintings of the Sigiriya Damsels, the only secular art depicting skimpily clad court beauties from the early Sinhalese kingdoms; further along is the Mirror Wall, bearing hundreds of graffiti some dated back to the 8th century.
There's little left of the Palace except for a rock-cut throne and a large pool, probably a reservoir, cut out of the rock .
We visited the Polonnartuva Visitor Information Centre and Museum, which was built with the help of the Dutch government and houses a huge collection of archaeological finds , before venturing into the complex proper . The whole place was swarmed with school children as always, it's easy to believe field trips are the mainstay of schooling in Sri Lanka !
It was lunch time, but in order to save time, we got some take-away and were going to have a picnic lunch under the trees , but big black ants helped us change our minds quickly. Fortunately there were rows of empty bungalows nearby with shady porches , and after negotiating a permission from the care-taker, we ate our food there in front of an audience of 2 dogs, 3 cats and 4 kittens, all pitifully thin, who scrutinized our every mouthful."What are the rooms for?"I asked Fawzia"These are cheap lodgings for pilgrims from poor villages, but the really poor don't have to pay at all. The whole place's run on donations"Even the poor are required to pay their respects to the deities, and this is how they do it.
Polonnartuva was the second most ancient of Sri Lanka's kingdoms, and the centre of epic battles between the southern Indian kings and Sinhalese kings from the 10th to the 13th century AD. Polonnartuva is declared a UNESCOWorld heritage Site.
King Parakramabahu (1153-1186 A. D) ruled for 33 years and was arguably one of the most revered monarchs in Sri Lankan history. He was a renaissance king. During his reign he reorganised the army, reformed Buddhist practices, transformed the royal court, encouraged the arts, constructed extensive irrigation systems, built the 2500 hectare Parakrama Samudra (the Sea of Parakrama), and constructed the magnificent city of Polonnartuva. He built numerous monasteries, temples, hospitals, palaces, parks, bathing pools and Buddhist statues, all set within a rectangle of city walls surrounded by moats. The problem was the vast construction projects and relentless warfare with India and Mynmar exacted a heavy toll on the populace and the treasury,
even trade with China and the Middle East could not cover the expenditure, and taxes had to be raised .
The ruins of Polonnartuva were so numerous and the grounds so big, we soon found ourselves lost.We spotted a young Sri Lankan tour guide walking towards us with his lone European client, and Fawzia asked him in Sinhala for directions. The guy brushed us off in distain.Fawzia was furious and started chasing after him."What has the youth of this country come to? This is Sri Lanka! People don't turn their back on others, and the young always show respect to the elders!" " Maybe it's because we're not paying clients...."Indee tried to smooth things over."That shouldn't make any difference, Sri Lankans are always supposed to be civil to each other, and always have time to help each other"she fumed and the teacher in her came to the fore."This is the result of the the bad education in recent years!"
The Royal Palace was originally a massive wood and stone building seven storeys in height. It was named Vijayotpaya or Vijayantha Prasada (Palace of God Sakra), as an indication that the King and God were equal. The Palace was said to have a thousand chambers, but was destroyed by fire, now all that remains are the lower walls. Crevices and sockets on the thick brick walls were to take in large wooden beams. Around the palace, ruins of many buildings are seen which may have been used as places for rituals and entertainment, and as rooms for palace aides and storage.
The Vatadage, a circular Temple of the Tooth Relic planned and executed in the 12th century, has 4 entrances to the north, south, east and west, all leading to a central dagoba (shrine) which houses four seated Buddha images. The 4 entrances are adorned with magnificent stone carvings: moonstones flanked by Nagaraja (Cobra king) figures with seven hooded cobra head guardstones. The Nagaraja figures were there to prevent evil spirits from entering the premises, while the moonstones- elaborate semi-circular welcome stepstones - represent the spiritual journey from samsara, the endless cycle of death and rebirth, to Nirvana, the ultimate escape from suffering. These were unique decorative features of Sinhalese architecture.The Vatadage is depicted on modern Sri Lankan currency .
The Audience Hall was used by the kings of Polonnaruwa to hear petitions from the nobles of the kingdom and to meet emissaries from foreign rulers. Finely sculpted stone lions seated at the top of the steps leading into the hall were symbols of royal power, as were the elephants which form a frieze around the lower part of the outer wall .
The elegant Lotus Pond was built in 12th century. This was made like a eight petaled lotus with four tiers and it is believed to be part of the Jetavanaramaya Monastery. The pond might had been used by monks for bathing.Fawzia and I were both besotted with the pond, as evidenced by the pictures .
Rankoth Vehera (Stupa with a golden pinnacle) was built by King Nishankamalla. This 55 meter( 180 feet) high stupa is the tallest and largest in Polonnaruwa, and at the time, the largest brick structure in the world. Four "Vahalkada"s are around this Stupa and there are remains of the sangawasa shrine rooms (Where the bikkus lived) towards the north and south sides of the stupa.
Gal Vihara ( Cave of the Spirits of Knowledge ) is a rock temple famous for its 4 rock-cut Buddha statues: a 7m (23ft) high standing figure, a 14m (46ft) long reclining Buddha, and 2 smaller Buddha images that have been carved out of a single granite rock face. They are considered masterpieces of Sri Lankan Buddhist sculpture and Gal Vihara is one of the most important Buddhist shrines .
From the World Heritage Sites we headed to the Nilaveli Beach at Trincomalee, on the east coast. On the way , Fawzia stopped for some Buffalo curd (Dahi in hindi), a traditional dairy product prepared from buffalo milk. It's usually packaged in clay pots, which are sealed by wrapping a piece of paper over the pot and allowing it to stand for 12 hours.
Trincomalee is a seaport on the north-eastern coast of Sri Lanka and was formerly a naval station. It has one of the deepest natural harbours in the world, and because of its strategic location, the port was much coveted and changed hands no less than 7 times since the 17th century. Like the rest of the North and East, Trincomalee has been heavily affected by the civil war.The Tamil Tigers had a small but effective navy it used in suicide missions and to supply weapons to its fighters. Since the beginning of the war the Tigers had been sinking ships at Trincomalee and bombing the habour. Although the Tigers were supposedly expelled from Trincomalee in 2006, in 2008 they still managed to sink a Sri Lankan naval logistic supply vessel in a powerful pre-dawn underwater explosion. Until recently the area has been under military lockdown, now Trincomalee is opened again to tourism, more importantly the fishing restrictions are eased somewhat. Fishing is at the heart of the economic and cultural life here, the bounty of fish, crabs and prawns used to bring in tens of millions of dollars in earning. At this time the fishermen are only allowed to fish in 12-hour shifts and use only small outboard motors, which limit the size of their catch, but some previously restricted coastal areas are now open, giving hope that things will gradually return to normal.
In Trincomalee the Tamil and Muslim population outnumbers the Sinhalese .The nearer we got to Trincomalee the more military bunkers I noted on the side of the road. They differed in size and construction, some were made of concrete, others of mud, wood and sheet metal, but most were still in active use, evidenced by the soldiers lurking nearby. There's a local election going on and slogans were pinned up on every post and party insignias painted on the rooftops of houses. The quality of the roads deteriorated noticeably."All the political parties promise to re-build the roads and improve housing, of course nothing's done after the election"Indee said."I really feel sorry for the Indian Tamils, they've suffered the most during the war."After high school Indee had no idea what she wanted to do, so she joined a NGO as a volunteer to document the experiences of Tamil in Jaffna during the civil war. She recounted a story of a Tamil girl who was about 14 at the height of the conflict, whose parents were so afraid she'd be kidnapped by the Tigers, they'd wrap her up in a sheet and bury her under the ground everyday, with just a straw which stuck through the earth in her mouth to breath with. Every evening they'd dig her up again, only to repeat the same burial the next day.
The Sri Lankan civil war was one of the bloodiest and longest-running in the world, the root of which can be traced back to British colonial policies.The Sinhalese arrived in Sri Lanka in the 6th century BC, probably from north India. They speak Sinhala, an Indo-European language derivative of Sanskrit, and consistitute 74% of the population of Sri Lanka.. The Sri Lankan Tamils arrived from south India in the second millennia, while the Indian Tamils ( 5% of the population ) were brought over by the British in the 18th century, both of them speak an ancient classical language 4,000 years old. Sri Lankan Tamils make up 14% of the population and are concentrated in the North and East provinces of the country. The Tamil received preferential treatment under the British, they spoke better English and were better educated because of the missionary schools set up in Tamil areas in the north, so they were heavily represented in the civil service and the professionals, e.g. doctors and lawyers, but still there was little tension between the Tamils and the Sinhalese because they'd a common enemy. In 1919, Sinhalese and Tamil politicians united to form the Ceylon National Congress under the leadership of Arunachalam, a Tamil, to press the British for more constitutional reforms.The British adopted the "divide and rule"tactic and insisted on the concept of "communal representation". They created the Colombo town seat in 1920, which either ethnic group can ascend but not together. In 1936, English was replaced by both Sinhala and Tamil as the official language.Things took a turn after independence from the British in 1948, propelled by the nationalist Buddhist party, the ruling Sinhalese party instituted affirmative actions in favor of the Sinhalese, and the "Sinhala Only Act"was passed in 1956, making Sinhala the sole official language of Sri Lanka. The Act forced large number of Tamils who had little Sinhala to resign from the civil service. The so called Citizenship Act which denied citizenship to the Indian Tamils and their descendants, made the Tamils felt increasingly marginalised and politically disenfranchised. An attempy to make Buddhism the national religion to the exclusion of Hinduism and Islam in 1970, and even the design of the national flag, all led the Tamils to believe they must create a separate nation-state for themselves.
The lion in the national flag is derived from the banner of the last Sinhalese Kingdom, it represents the Sinhalese majority as well as being the symbol of their fight against British colonialism. The single strip of orange on the left part of the flag represents the Tamil population. Not surprisingly, this is seen by many Tamils as the proof of their marginalisation .
Documents referring to a seperate Tamil Eelam in the North and East of the island appeared in the 1960s, many separatist groups were formed, among them the Tamil New Tigers, so named because the Tiger was the emblem of the 1st Millennium Chola Empire of south India. This was the forerunner of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE, formed in 1976). These movements were manned by youths who were the product of the post- II World War population explosion, most of them unemployed and not well educated, who believed revolution was the solution to their problems. Against a background of communal unrests in many cities in Sri Lanka, LTTE rose to its pre-eminence position by crushing all other separatist parties and moderate Tamil political parties. In 1983, LTTE orchestrated a guerrilla-style ambush on the Four Four Bravo patrol at the Modgal village in Jaffna, killing 15 soldiers. This incident sparked the Black July Riots, which in turn launched the civil war. In 1987 government troops pushed the LTTE to Jaffna, and LTTE carried out their first suicide bombing by driving a truck laden with explosives into an army camp. LTTE was credited with inventing suicide bomb as a weapon of war and pioneered the use of suicide belts; in total they carried out 378 suicide attacks, more than any other terrorist group in the world, and these attacks became a trademark of LTTE and a characteristic of Sri Lankan civil war.
The Sri Lankan civil war had drawn in other countries directly (India) or indirectly (USA, Pakistan, China). India became involved in the conflict since the early 1980s for 3 reasons : to project India as the regional power; to pacify its own Tamil population in Tamil Nadu; and to punish Sri Lanka for moving towards the US and the West in a bid to escape India's influence. From 1983 to 1987 the Indian government through the Indian Intelligence Agency RAW (Research Analysis Wing) provided arms, military training and monetary support to the Tamil militant groups, and when the LTTE was under siege in Jaffna in 1987, the Indian Air Force airdropped 25 tons of food parcels and medicine in support. Relationship soured when armed Tamil groups in India posed a threat to the Indian government, a crackdown ensued and the Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi signed the Indo-Sri Lanka Peace accord with Sri Lankan President Jayewardenein, cutting off Indian support to LTTE. India even agreed to deploy a peacekeeping force (IPKE) to supervise the disarming of Tamil. The accord collapsed almost immediately as IPKF tried to demobilize the LTTE by force, and became embroiled in full-scale conflict with them. Sri Lankan national sentiment opposed negotiations with the LTTE as well as the continued Indian presence in Sri Lanka, so IPKF was pulled out of Sri Lanka in 1990. After LTTE assassinated Rajiv Gandhi using a female suicide bomber (ironically an insurgent trained in the RAW camp) in 1991, support for LTTE dwindled in India and India remained an outside observer of the conflict since.
LTTE used terror tactics to ethnically cleanse the Sinhalese and Muslim population away from the North and East of the island. In 1990, the LTTE vacated some 80,000 Muslims from their homes in the northern provinces, most were given as little as 2 hours to leave, and made to walk on foot through the jungle to reach government controlled areas with just the shirts on their backs. They might be the lucky ones, other villages were bombed and the villages massacred. In 1993 LTTE assassinated Sri Lankan President Ranasinghe Premagdasa, making it the only terrorist organisation to assassinate two world leaders. Atrocities were committed by both LTTE and the government troops including massacres and disappearance of civilians, abductions and child recruitment, mass murders,mass burial of school children, and political killings. Burning bodies along roadsides became a common sight in the North and East. In 1996 LTTE carried out one of their deadliest suicide bomb attacks at the Central Bank in Colombo, followed by the Sri Lanka World Trade Centre bombing in 1997, and the Temple of the Tooth bombing in Kandy in 1998. That heralded the beginning when world opinion was swayed to brand LTTE a terrorist group .
The Sri Lankan government policy of "war for peace", i.e. to step up military actions to full force for a quick victory failed. In 1999 President Chandrika Kumaratunga lost an eye in an assassination attempt by LTTE in a pre-election rally, and in 2001, suicide bombing of Bandaranaike International Airport crippled the Sri Lankan economy and severly diminished the government coffers. The September11th Attack unexpectedly turned out to be a windfall for Sri Lanka as in 2002 the US offered it direct monetary assistance as part of the War on Terror. In the meantime as a terrorist group LTTE found their fund raising greatly hampered, so it consented to a series of ceasefire talks brokered by Norway, until Norway gave up in despair in 2005 . Throughout the period of peace talk the fighting never stopped, LTTE continued to levy taxes in the North, smuggled in arms and ammunition, recruit child soldiers, killing rival Tamil groups and government intelligence agents, even succeeded in setting up vital bases around the Tricomalee Harbour and the East Province. However in 2004 fortune started to dip for LTTE. Colonel Karuna, the Commander of the entire Eastern Region and one of Prabhakaran's trusted lieutenants, broke away with thousands of fighters and created a deep chasm in LTTE .
In 2004 Sri Lanka was hit by the tsunami, violence in the North decreased temporarily as the squabble shifted to how to distribute the Aid Money. The war could have lingered much longer but for the turning point which came in 2005 when Sri Lankan Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar, a Tamil highly respected by foreign diplomates, was assassinated by a LTTE sniper at his home. Kadirgamar had been highly critical of the LTTE. From that instance on LTTE lost all sympathy from the international community. In 2006 international condemnation against the LTTE skyrocketed following the attempted assassination of the commander of the Sri Lanka Army Lieutenant General Sarath Fonseka by a pregnant LTTE Black Tiger suicide bomber, and led to the European Union freezing all LTTE assets in its 27 member nations. Within months LTTE tried to assassinate Gotabya Rajapaksa, the president's brother and spearhead of Colombo's War against Tigers. All these provocations resulted in a hardened Sri Lanka ready to go for the kill. When LTTE closed the sluice gates of the Mavil Aru reservoir and cut the water supply to 15,000 villagers in government controlled areas, the Sri Lankan government launched a full scale aeral and ground attack, this time the international community stayed silent .
LTTE was a formitable foe. It was the world's only insurgent group with light aircrafts, and the Sea Tigers, the largest wing of LTTE, possessed heavily armed gunboats, radar-evading stealth boats, troop carriers and ocean going supply vessels, possibly also mini-submarines. Their attempt at building submarines only failed when their base in Thailand was discovered.By 2006 the Tigers controlled nearly 1/3 of the country, violence escalated and spill-overed to volunteers.17 workers of the International French charity Action Against Hunger (ACF) were found executed by gunshot in Muthur. They were found lying face down on the floor of their office, still wearing their T-shirts indicating they were international humanitarian workers. In 2007, 6 Sinhalese Tsunami aid workers were murdered in Batticaloa. Both LTTE and the military pointed accusing fingers at each other. The appalling Human Rights record led the US to end military aid in 2007. China leapt into the breach and became the island's biggest donor with nearly one billion dollars in aid, besides giving tens of millions of dollars' worth of sophisticated weapons and making a free gift of six F7 fighter jets to Sri Lanka Air force. The Sri Lankan military budget rose by 40%, and the army size increased by 70%. China also encouraged Pakistan to sell more arms to Sri Lanka and to train its pilots to fly the new planes. Crucially China stopped the UN Security Council from prodding into Sri Lankan affairs. Thanks to China's diplomacy, after nearly 500 years of being under the thumb of the West, Sri Lanka can afford to ignore the criticisms from the US and Europe. Sri Lankan foreign Secretary, Palitha Kohona, told NY Times in 2008 "Asians don't go around teaching each other how to behave. There are ways we deal with each other- perhaps a quiet word, but not wagging the finger "
The 2 years leading up to the final defeat of LTTE was marked by increased brutality against civilians, particularly in the last few months. Indiscriminate artillery attacks on the 'no-fire zone' in which 350,000 civilians were trapped, and repeated shelling of hospitals, led to heavy attrition rate. The human cost of the civil was enormous with an estimated 80,000-100,000 people killed during its course, more than one million have been displaced internally, and tens of thousands have fled the country, many to India, others immigrated or went as asylum seekers to the West . Some 200,000 to 300,000 now live in Canada, 180,000 in the UK, 60,000 in Germany, 47,000 in Switzerland and 40,000 in Australia, with sizeable populations also in France, the Netherlands, the US, Italy, Malaysia, Denmark, New Zealand and Norway. Frawzia and George left for Oman during that time and from there to the US. Hong Kong stood to gain from the conflict for in the 1980s many highly qualitied Sri Lankan medical doctors and academics came to work in HK. Many stayed on, today there's even a Association of Sri Lankans in Hong Kong. The total economic cost of the war is estimated at US$200 billion , not counting the lose of talents and manpower .

We checked into the Nilaveli Beach Hotel which has its own private beach. Nilaveli beach is considered one of the purest white sand beaches in Asia but the tourist beach was practically empty. Tourism's obviously still not arrived in any big way.
After lunch while the others rested I took off by myself in a three-wheeler.The Lonely Planet warns solo woman about taking three-wheelers at night but this was daytime. The Tamil driver didn't have much English, and I'd no idea where I wanted to go."Just drive me where you yourself want to go"I said . He took me to the local beach where he was to meet his sister, wife and daughter; they had arranged to go to the Hot Springs after he got off work. Turned out I was his last customer for the day. The local beach in contrast was crowded with people, and filled with make-shift stores selling dried fish and plastic toys and trinkets from China. The driver's sister Tharika spoke better English. She used to work as a clerk but had recently lost her job. Unemployment rate is much higher in the Tamil areas, as is the birth rate, while economic growth's much lower: a worrying combination.
Family of 3 wheeler driver, on their way to the Hot Wells
I decided to walk back to the hotel and had some interesting encounters .
We visited the Pillaiyar Kovil temple, there was a ceremony going on and I got drew into it."How much time do we have for this temple?" I asked Fawzia, noticing we were the only two that went into the temple, all others stayed in the car because of the heat."Stay as long as you like" She said. I'm afraid I took her word for it. The ceremony was a sort of cleansing ritual, the Shiva and Parvati statues were washed in turn with water, saffron and milk, then some paste was burnt in a fire to ashes, which were distributed to the waiting devotees who reverently smeared the ashes on their foreheads. The whole precedure took quite awhile, and I was grateful none of our poor long- suffering company in the car complained."It's very refreshing seeing Sri Lanka through a foreigner's eye," Frawzia remarked to me later,"I took all the places we'd been to and all these rituals for granted for I grew up around it, but because you take such an interest in everything, through your eyes I see familiar things in a different way.Even how you take so many pictures of the children and chat with the students, that's made me see the local kids in a new way too"Little did she know the effect was reciprocal.
Above Fort Frederick was the Swami Rock, and atop the cliff, tottering right on the edge of the Indian Ocean, was the Koneswaram Kovil, a major centre of pilgrimage. This temple was re-built on the site of the ancient Thirukonamalai Macchakeswaram temple from the 3rd century BE. It was called the Temple of a Thousand Columns by the Portuguese, who demolished it in 1624. Some of the artefacts from the original temple were kept in the Lisbon Museum including the stone inscription by Kulakottan. It has an emblem including two fish and is engraved with a prophesy stating that, after the 16th century, westerners with different eye colours will rule the country for 500 years and, but at the end of it, rule will revert back to Vadugus. The present temple was rebuilt 450 years later fueled by myths which associate the temple with the popular Indian epic the Ramayana, and its legendary hero-king Rama. In 1950 workers of the Urban Council when digging a public well discovered three statues all of which were found up side down, believed to be from the old temple.
The path leading up to the temple was lined with stalls selling offerings and plastic Chinese figurines of the God of Fortune and Wealth.
Next to Koneswaram Temple is Lovers' Leap, a favourite suicide spot with a sheer 100 meters drop to the ocean crashing against the rocks below. Nearby was a ornate pillar, commemorating the legend of a tragic love story: an old Dutch official's daughter threw herself off the cliff when her forbidden lover had to sail back to Europe, never to see her again, hence the name Lovers' Leap. The more prosaic explanation is the pillar was erected as a lamppost to guide deep sea fishermen to shore in the dark.The mythic story behind the cleft in the cliff is that King Ravana wanted to remove the temple of Koneswaram when his mother fell ill. As he was heaving the rock God Siva made him drop his sword, which hit the rock and created the cleft- called Ravana Vettu-meaning Ravana's Cleft.
Fort Frederick was built by the Portuguese in 1623 and captured in 1639 by the Dutch. When the British took over in 1803 it was re-named Fort Frederick to honor the Fredrick Duke of York. It's still a working military base, and bizarrely, a breeding ground for deers. We saw a lot of soldiers on the grounds selling tickets to passers-by, and Fawzia went up to investigate. Apparently it was some sort of fund raiser for destitute retired soldiers.
The Kanniya Hot wells is located 7 km away from Trincomalee town. They're reputed to be one of the 7 wonders of Sri Lanka. There are seven wells of different temperatures and all are built in a square shape. The wells are only 3-4 feet deep. The legend of the wells goes back to King Ravana again: the sword dropping King struck the ground (deliberatedly this time) with his sword in 7 spots and hot water sprouted from the earth, forming the wells. The water is supposed to cure some skin deceases as well as Rhumatoid Arthritis. The wells are run by the neighbouring Mari Amman Kovil. There were lots of bathers including quite a number of babies."The trademark Sri Lankan Smile starts training early. Sri Lankan babies are taught to smile before they're taught to speak" Fawzia commented, because everytime I directed my camera on a baby the parents would oblingingly coax him/her, pointing to the camera," Smile, smile !"
Fawzia decided while we were in Tricomalee we should have lots and lots of sea food. The driver knew a Tamil family style eating place by the shore and a Tamil sea food lunch was arranged. The owner was a tall and lean old man who spoke surprisingly good English."I used to work in a bank, but I'm now retired " he explained, then proceeded to tell us the story of his family."The morning the Tsumemi came I was still in bed, Agira here was only 4,"he pointed to his granddaughter,"she ran to my house shouting 'grandfather run, grandfather run!' so I took her by the hand and we ran"The death toll could have been worse but many people were in town cerebrating the holidays."You know she's not really my granddaughter"the old man sighed "We were in fact neighbours, but since birth she's called me 'grandfather' as a term of endearment. Her father was a fisherman, he was at sea when the Tsumem hit and he never returned. Her mother's an orphan, after her husband died she had nobody so I adopted her as my daughter, and arranged for her to be married again to a farmer a couple of years later. Now we're all one family." He himself had 2 sons but both of them were working away from Tricomalee.
The devastating 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami left about 35,000 Sri Lankans dead, 20,000 injuried and displaced a further half million, mostly along the eastern coast. Sri Lanka was suddenly flushed with Aid money, some of it's still unaccounted for today. We passed by some tsunami houses donated by Japanese Cement."They got a lot of business deals from the government later because of this donation"Indee said. Good deed does have its reward!
Thankfully the exhausting 160 miles drive back to Colombo was broken by frequent stops."We must have some fresh fruit juice at the Juiceez, you can't have come to Sri Lanka and not tasted the fruit juice"The Juiceez outlets (now over 13) are managed by CIC Agri Businesses (Private) Limited which is a subsidiary of CIC, which encompasses all the agriculture related businesses in Sri Lanka. It's the only SEED to SHELF Agriculture company in Sri Lanka that manages over 10,000 Acres of it's own Farm land, and works directly with over 20,000 rural farmers. All the fruits and vegetables on sale in the shop came directly from their farms. I bought some bitter melon seeds for my cousin Irene in the US, though I've no idea if they'd grow.
However, I was more interested in the shanty stores by the roadside . I poked my nose into one of the stores, which was in fact a shop cum home. I was invited in by the young couple who owned it and visited their home, which was the back half of the shack and separated from the shop in front by a curtain. The husband also drove a 3 wheeler to supplement the income, they were newly weds and looked incredibly happy together .
The tedium of the drive was further dispelled by stimulating discussions on politics and ponderings of "questions the average tourists never ask"." I know where the Government gets its money from," Fawzia said out of the blue"Remember you asked how the Government can afford all the welfare programs ? I gave it a lot of thoughts. Gems and minerals!" Apparently not knowing the answer bugged her for days, and now finally she's vindicated."I want to know the answer too," she said,"I'm glad you asked all these questions, none of them'd ever cross my mind" Lucky for me Fawzia had a curiosity as big as mine.

On the last day Fawzia took me round Columbo. We went to the famous Khan Clock Tower which was built in the early 20th century by a Parsi family from Bombay. Today it's a landmark of Columbo. We then visited the historical building of the Cargills, a Sri Lankan corporate established in 1844 as a general warehouse, import and wholesale business. Today it's the largest retailer in all categories of the food industry in Sri Lanka .
We passed by the Galle Face Green, and Fawzia said, pointing to the land opposite,"The Government's said to have sold the choicest plot of land in central Colombo to the Chinese, it's a real scandal! How can you sell prime land to foreigners?"Alas things're never as it looks on the surface. The land in question is owned by the defence ministry, it has been cleared for development and subdivided into 3 plots.The money raised is to be used to build a posh new military headquarters and ministry. The adjointing plot to the Chinese plot has already been sold to the Hong Kong-based Shangri-La group, the transaction raised no outraged patriotic objection, but the deal with the Chinese is scraped after some believe to be politically motivated pressure from the India-leaning opposition party .

The Chinese from ancient times already knew about Sri Lanka .The earliest visitor from China to Sri Lanka was Faxian, a 5th-century Buddhist pilgrim from Shanxi who travelled overland from his home through Nepal and India before coming to Abhayagiri Dagaba, where he stayed from 410 to 414. In the 17 century the Dutch brought Chinese labourers from Jakarta and later the British brought the Malayan Chinese workers to the island. Independent economic migrants from Hubei arrived in the late 1920s, who mainly worked in dentistry. Shandong migrants came in the 1940s, most of them entered the textile and hospitality industries. Because of the Sino-Japanese War and then the political unrest in China, these migrants stayed on, and the Chinese community once numbered in the thousands. The relationship between the sri Lankans and the Chinese had not always been cordial. Sri Lankan children would chant demeaning rhymes about Chinese door-to-door salesmen, while parents would scare their children that Chinese boggyman would kidnap them if they misbehaved and Chinese children might sometimes suffer racial taunts from their classmates. The hostility escalated somewhat during the Sino-Indian War of 1962, so the Chinese left for Europe and North America.Today the descendants of early Chinese migrants in Sri Lanka number only around 200, but many were stateless until the "Grant of Citizenship to Persons of Chinese Origin"Act was passed into law in 2008 .
In the late 1990s and early 2000s, with the easing of immigration regulations, a new wave of Chinese migrants came to do business in Sri Lanka, braving the violence of the civil war. They opened Chinese restaurants, traditional Chinese medicine shops, accountancy firms and even operated shrimp farms. After the civil war, Sri Lanka has attracted rich Hong Kong as well as mainland Chinese in investment in vacation homes. 2010 figures from Sri Lanka's Department of Immigration and Emigration recorded a total of 7,844 Chinese workers resided in Sri Lanka on employment visas, typically of one year's validity, most of them brought in by Chinese companies who have been contracted to do projects in Sri Lanka. However, the influx of Chinese workers has caused tension not only among the Sri Lanka workers but with India. On the cultural front the Sri Lankan government has long offered scholarships for Chinese students to study in Sri Lanka, and the Chinese government has also been sending Chinese language professors to teach at various universities in Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka's first Confucius Institute for the teaching of Chinese as a second language was opened at the University of Kelaniya in May 2007.
On the national level, Sri Lanka has a deep-rooted relationship with China, one that is regared as all weather and time tested. Sri Lanka was among the first countries to recognize People's Republic of China. China was instrumental in helping Sri Lanka to wipe out the LTTE, supported Sri Lanka at the UN security council, in return Sri Lanka supported China to gain an Observer Status in SARRC (South Asian Association for Regional Corporation). China is the largest trading partner of Sri Lanka within the Asian region, and the largest aid donor for post war reconstruction. China started investment in Sri Lanka in the 1970s when most countries were reluctant to invest because of the war. Today there's no large or small infrastructure projects in Sri Lanka that's not funded through Chinese loans - express highways, oil refinery, coal-fired power station, international airpory and container port, bridges, water supply schemes, even performing arts theatre.Signing of the China Sri Lanka Investment Promotion Agreement and Tourism Promotion Agreement in 2000 brought the 2 countries even closer. There's increased cooperation in information technology and communication, and of course China and Sri Lanka also have a close military relation.
All this buddy-buddy cosiness has put India in a jitters. In particular the Hambantota port, an important trans-shipment hub in the President's home constituency, has prompted India to open a Consulate in Hambantota to keep an eye on Chinese activities. India maintains the economic reason China financed 80% of the US 1.5 billion Hambantota project is to include Sri Lanka in its epithet "String of Pearls"strategy, whereby a chain of deep sea ports built with China Aid links maritime nations along the Indian Ocean coast, so as to enhence China's access to the Indian Ocean and ensure security of the sea lane taken by supply tankers carrying 80% of China's oil. Friendship with Sri Lanka would secure China's presence in the Indian Ocean because of its strategic position, and threatens the regional supremacy of India. To retrieve grounds lost, India also started pumping in financial aid to Sri Lanka, but most of the Indian investment's in Tamil areas. Sri Lanka has so far managed a masterful balancing act between two mighty neighbours, but the picture is further muddied by Pakistan and the US. Sri Lanka, India and Pakistan have always had a complicated triangle relationship, India is Sri Lanka's most important foreign player while Pakistan is Sri Lanka's second largest doner of military aid after China.
It's an indisputable fact US doesn't care who it hurts as long as it suits its agenda. In order to counteract the growing Chinese presence in the Indian Ocean, the US has been eagerly promoting the Indian role in the area, at the same time uses its power to exert pressure on Sri Lanka to bring it to heel . The US tabled UNHCR Resolution was an example of the tactic the US typically uses in dealing with problematic regimes: first identify weaknesses in the regime which can be exploited, then stir up international and multilateral pressure on these weaknesses (the stick), only give occassional concessions (the carrot) if the regime bends to Washington's wishes.Under American tutelage India threw in its lot with the US and voted for the Resolution, in total disregard to how the already intensely fraught relationship between the Sri Lankan government and its restive Tamil minority might be affected. There's no further proof that neither Tamil welfare nor the future security of Sri Lanka feature in the "US policy in Sri Lanka"than that in Nov, 2011, the US State Department snubbed a Tamil National Alliance delegation because though it represents Tamil interest, it's in the Sri Lankan Parliament; and yet in Feb 2012, the US key man for Sri Lanka, assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs, Robert Blake, met with the "Tamils for Obama" a political group lobbying for an independent Tamil state in Sri Lanka, the exact trigger that led to the civil war. They gave him a copy of a Referendom modeled on the one that led to the creation of South Suden, which he dutifully passed on to Secretary of State Clinton. All this led the newspaper Lanka Standard to speculate that the US might be orchetrating an "Arab Spring" type of uprising in Columbo as punishment for the Lankan dalliance with China. Another cause of US displeasure with Sri Lanka is Sri Lanka purchases over 90% of its oil from Iran. Sri Lanka is easy to itimidate because it relies on a waiver granted by the US in order to continue its imports without suffering sanctions to its banking system .
The name "Sri Lanka"means "the Blessed" but this tear drop shaped island is full of troubles. A beautiful country and relatively unspoilt by modern development, Sri Lankan is an ideal tourist destination. In 2010 New York Times placed Sri Lanka Number 1 in 31 places to go. Unfortunately one of the negative effects of mass tourism is sex tourism- there're over 47,000 women sex workers in the country, but in Sri Lanka child prostitution is the bigger problem, more so even than Thailand or the Phillipines. Child sex is advertised in magazines, web sites and chat rooms, so much so Sri Lanka has been dubbed a "paedophiles' pleasure centre". Boys are more vulnerable than girls. Hope for the Nations, a non-profit organization working in Asia,estimates that as many as 30,000 boys, most between the ages of 8 and 15 years, are engaged in Sri Lanka's sex trade. They are known as "beach boys"because they often work in beach areas. Sri Lanka's so synonymous with paedophiles that Sir Arthur Clarke, the authour of 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), was accused of being a paedophile by the UK tabloid The Daily Mirror simply because he chose to live in the country. Although there's universal free education, there're more than 100,000 child vagrants in Sri Lanka below the age of 16. Many work like slaves in tea kiosks, small restaurants and as domestic servants under pathetic conditions. Some children are used by organised gangs to transport and sell drugs and contraband goods, some are used to beg on the streets. Almost none of these children go to school. Inspite of strong economic growth, unemployment rate is high, 20% for young people overall and almost 30% if you're female. Human as well as drug trafficking's rampant and crime rate is high, e.g. firearms homicide rate in Sri Lanka is 20 times higher than that of the UK, though violent crime directed at foreigners is uncommon. Crimes affecting visitors are usually petty crimes like thefts of personal belongings and pick-pocketing, scams and credit card fraud. Yet against all these horrendous statistics, the Sri Lankan people I met were among the gentlest and most friendly people I've come across in my travels.
My own personal experience of the island is unavoidably coloured by what I've come to know of one Sri Lankan and her family. The whole trip was Fawzia's brainchild to the most minute detail. Whenever she's gone missing I'd ask Indee"Where's your aunt? "and the answer always was"Oh, she's making plans with so and so for this afternoon/ tomorrow"We'd be sleeping and she'd still be organising transport or making orders for the meals - she's always the first one up and the last one to go to bed. She was so eager to show off her country and tried to pack as much varied aspects of the country as possible in a short trip for me to savour. But irrespective of the wondrous archeological sites or white beaches I visited the sense of the country I was to carry away was gained through the daily interactions with my travel companions, three generations of Sri Lankans still holding fast to old world values where family ties're strong, honor's paid to elders, education's revered, traditions respected, friendships valued ; and striving to be decent human beings counted for something. If they're typical of Sri Lankans the people, then there's much hope for the country still.

Fawzia would have made an excellent tourism ambassador for her country. It was easy to see the love she had for her country and the compassion for her fellow countrymen; she's enthusiastic and seemingly to have boundless energy, a vibrant dynamite that would be a wonderful feel-good image for any country. She wanted to be in on everything. At the Nilaveli Beach Hotel one evening, everyone from our group disappeared into their rooms after dinner. Indee and I were bored silly. A band was playing music and a few people were dancing at the patio. I said to Indee"Come on, let's join the dance"Indee opened her eyes wide as saucers"Do you dance?" "Well, not really,"I had to confess,"but it beats sitting here feeding the mosquitos" Fawzia spotted us at the dance floor and jumped right in, and caught for herself the most attractive dance partner. "All my brothers and sisters love music and dance,"she said"We've regular family gatherings, we'll prepare lots of food, my brother would bring his guitar and we'll all sing and dance and eat.We have the best time "Her capacity of bountiful joy in all the good things life offers was exactly what her friends in CUWO would remember, and then of course the "Fawzia Smile". Indeed when I looked back on the trip, out of the multitudinous images I collected the most vivid and enduring was that of the smiling faces of Fawzia and George at the airport the first midnight.
After my visit to this beautiful yet troubled country it dawned on me "smile" is the emblem of courage for a people who lives on a tear drop .