Nuwara Eliya 4

Trip Start Feb 25, 2010
1
9
16
Trip End Apr 23, 2010


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Thursday, April 1, 2010

28 March

I met with one of the teachers and about 60 of the students at the school at 8:30 for a hike to the top of a nearby mountain.  I was not feeling my best due to the somewhat excessive consumption of alcohol last night - something that I'm not used to and something that I would never have done on my own.  Anyway, no choice now but to march on.

The hike took a lot longer than I had expected, taking about four hours to reach the top.  The first hour or so was on more or less paved roads through the town, but the rest was through at times very rough/slippery territory.  I fell a few times and was grateful that I wasn't wearing clean clothes because it got pretty messy at times.

We were rewarded at the top with a very nice panorama of NE and the surrounding countryside.  I also had the opportunity to talk to the less shy of the students during the course of the walk.  And, like Mr. Fonseca told me, none of the ones that I spoke to seem to have any ambition beyond simply getting a job.  Getting a job is a first step for a young person in school, but it shouldn't be the final ambition - at least not for all of them.  Then again, who am I to talk.  I was never an entrepreneur, having spent my career either employed by others or unemployed.

By the time we finished the hike at 14:00, I was so exhausted that I could hardly walk home.  Knowing that I would not have the strength to go out to dinner, I stopped by the restaurant for my usual take away lunch, which I planned to eat for dinner.  For lunch, which I ate on the mountaintop, I had a couple of sandwiches and some fruit that I had brought with me.  (Being hungry by my nature, I am seldom without food of some description.)

After napping for a couple of hours, I read some more, finishing yet another book, this one Malcolm Gladwell's "Outliers", a different look at what makes people successful. He makes a good case for the importance of being born in the right place at the right time. And had I been born just four years earlier, of rich parents, and been among the few people with access to a computer, I might have been another Bill Gates. As it I, though, I'll have to be content with being Bangkok  Randy, roaming the world in search of adventure.

Speaking of adventure and roaming, I was watching TV briefly the other day here at my hotel and there was a program on the National Geographic Channel about food in Istanbul. There were lots of scenes of the city, no doubt intended to prod me into following up on my idea to live there, as I mentioned a few days ago, inspired by Paul Theroux's latest book, which I recently finished reading.

In the evening I met with Mr. Fonseca and his wife in the hotel bar for a couple of hours of philosophizing, this time without the alcohol. (I try to avoid making the same mistake two days in a row!)  Mrs. Fonseca will be going back to Colombo tomorrow, leaving her husband here.  He told me that he would call me tomorrow evening and we would meet up for dinner.

29 March

The days are starting to blur together so much that I have already forgotten what I did on this day even though I'm writing this just one day later.  So I'll talk more generally about what's happening here, starting with the weather:

Again, from what people have told me, this is supposed to be a nice time of the year for the weather.  However, lately, no matter how perfect the days have been starting, it doesn't take long for the black clouds to roll in and bring rain - in varying amounts - but usually quite a lot.  Often for hours on end.  Still, even though I prefer sunshine, the rain doesn't really bother me because it doesn't hinder my two main activities of walking and reading - and particularly the reading, for which rain is actually an encouragement.

As I mentioned, today is a holiday, Full Moon Day - which only comes once a month.  I didn't notice any kind of "celebration" for it.  All I noticed was that the bar in my hotel was closed.  Maybe that's why I didn't see any celebrating. 

I was expecting a dinner call from Mr. Fonseca this evening, but I didn't hear from him.  Being a man myself - and knowing how men think - especially in this part of the world - here is what I suspect happened:  Last night he made his declaration to join me for dinner today in the presence of his wife - so that he would have an alibi - for his real intentions.  And, if he's anything like me, he spent the evening with someone of a fairer gender than mine.  I can't say that I blame him.  We men are biologically programmed to do such things.  (He could have at least called and thanked me for being his alibi!)

Frankly, though, I preferred being alone as it allowed me to continue my reading.  I tell you, I'm turning into a one man reading machine.  There's really no reason why I shouldn't be able to read as much while I'm at home.  But, well, somehow I find diversions there.  Somehow.  I won't bother saying that I'll change and try to read as much there as I do here because I've tried it before - without success.  A lot of my time at home goes into (mindlessly) watching the stock market.  Much time is also spent on shopping for and preparing food, etc., whereas when I'm here, I can't cook so all meals have to be bought ready-made.  That saves cooking time as well as washing up, etc.

30 March

Woke up feeling a bit of trepidation about having agreed to teach those classes at the school today (two classes today and two tomorrow).

The topic of my "lecture" was which steps one needs to take in order to become financially successful in life.  It's not that I want to use myself as an example because there are many ways to get from young and poor to older and less poor.  So I tried to provide a generally applicable, rational path for these young people to follow.  Essentially it consisted of:  Education - Job - Saving - Investment.  The investment part could be in the stock market (my chosen path); in real estate (a common path to wealth accumulation, exemplified by my friend Tony); and through an own business (the way chosen by my friend Gregory), which itself can take many forms.  Of particular potential in this part of the country would be something having to do with tourism, providing either accommodation, food, transport, or other services to tourists.

Anyway, I guess to people like us, this all seems a bit obvious.  But apparently, to people who aspire to a lifetime of security through a government job, it was useful to hear about another possible path.  It is difficult for me to judge whether I had or will have any impact on these people's lives, but I don't think that anything I told them could hurt them.  It was probably the best advice they'll ever get for free, though.  Ha.  And besides, it did allow me to have something of a different experience from what one normally does on a vacation - something to break up all the reading that I'm doing.

By the way, if you are interested in learning more about this school, the Beacon Hill Academy in Nuwara Eliya, you can have a look at their website here.  And should you wish to make a donation to this very worthwhile undertaking (they are funded mostly through private donations from abroad), just follow the instructions at this link.  I'm sure that any assistance you could provide would be very much appreciated.  And I can personally guarantee that administrators of this school know how to extract the maximum value out of any resources entrusted to them.

On my way home from school after teaching, there was an old woman (perhaps 70 years old) standing in the shortcut path that I use to get to my hotel from the place where I buy my lunch.  As soon as I got along side her, she pulled her sweater down to reveal her arm.  At first I didn't know what was happening, thinking that I might be witnessing a strip tease.  (Older women here do seem to go for me, as we have already seen.)  Then I saw that her arm had a large bump on it and I realized that this is what she wanted to show me - and not for entertainment purposes.  Her next gesture was to hold out her hand, as one does when asking for money.  So she wanted me to give her money, presumably to pay to have her bump fixed - or just as compensation for her pain and suffering.  What the heck?  I'm thinking about having a T-shirt made up, saying "I am here on vacation.  I am not here to solve your medical or financial problems.  See your government for that, and if they won't help, elect a different one."  I realize that she must have been desperate to have done that, but at the same time, it's not really realistic to expect total strangers to solve your problems.  The world just doesn't work that way.

Ah, now that reminds me of something that I saw on that blur of a day yesterday:  There was a convoy of vehicles driving around the town - campaigning for the upcoming parliamentary election.  I guess they were unable to afford or find megaphones, so they just hired a bunch of local rowdies, put them on the back of trucks, and had them go around shouting, "Vote for Number 3", while holding up three fingers - presumably for the deaf.  No mention was made of the platform of candidate number 3.  "Democracy" at its crudest.

31 March

The day got off to a bit of a bad start after I had a closer look at my recently washed pants and found that they were at least as dirty as they were when I handed them over for washing.  It seemed as if they had dipped them in water and ironed them because they were still covered with the dried mud from my hike on Sunday.  So I sent them back for re-washing.  I attempted to shame the hotel staff by giving them some of my (Tide) detergent to use.  I expected them to say, "Oh, sir, thank you very much, but we of course have our own detergent.  After all, we wash the hotel's towels and sheets every day.  Do you think we do that without detergent, you silly old fart?"  But no - they totally missed my attempt to shame them - and readily accepted the last of my personal stash of detergent.  Actually I've been washing my underwear by myself in my room since everything came back gray after the first time I let them wash my clothes.

Which brings up the second thing that went wrong this morning:  Since I've been washing my undergarments in my room, I have to dry them in my room as well.  In my early days here when the sun was shining every day, that was no problem.  But lately, with daily downpours, my clothes just didn't get dry.  Being the creative problem solver that I am, I started using the space heater in my room to accelerate the drying of my clothes.  Well, this heater, even though it worked, had a broken plug - which made it a bit of a hazard.  Showing a bit of initiative, the room boy, when he cleaned my room, removed this functioning but faulty heater and replaced it with a brand new one.  So far so good.  Except that the brand new one didn't work - as I discovered - after strategically placing my wet underwear in front of it. 

After my first complaint about my still dirty pants, I was reluctant to complain about the heater as I don't want to be branded as the guy who is never satisfied.  But, my character got the better of me and I complained anyway.

In the afternoon I had my second bout of teaching, two back to back sessions from 12:45 until about 14:15.  The good part was that my talk managed to pretty much exactly fill the allotted time.  The bad part was that I felt like I was talking to bumps on a log.  Nobody asked any questions.  Nobody seemed to care that I was giving up my playtime to stand in front of a class and give them, free of charge, the benefit of my life's experience.  That in itself was an experience for me, though.  The real lesson was learned by ME:  Most young people just don't much care about what old(er) farts have to say.  I half expected that after class, the students would give me a standing ovation and rush up to shake my hand and thank me for changing their lives.  The reality was that it was just another boring class for them to suffer through on the way to collecting their certificate at the end of the school year.

Today, no old lady showed me her sore arm on the way home.


01 April

As I've come to expect, the day started off brilliantly sunny and pleasant.  The entire gardening crew were out planting flowers, cutting grass and generally making the hotel's garden look presentable for the imminent "Season" - which officially starts today.  Since they know that I have a camera, the gardeners asked me to take their picture among their handiwork.  They also wanted to give me their address so that I could send them the pictures after I got back home and had them developed.  But we are in the digital age, so I planned to go into town and have the photos printed out immediately and present them to the gardeners this very day.

As soon as I arrived in town, though, I saw that today would be different.  Roads were blocked off; policemen were redirecting traffic.  Preparations were being made for a parade!  I asked an authoritative looking man what was going on and he told me that this is a parade to celebrate the beginning of the April Season in Nuwara Eliya.  Groups of students from some 35 local schools were dressed up in their finest costumes and, after having spent the last two months rehearsing, today was their big day.  The attached pictures show what I saw.

After the parade I had the picture of the gardeners printed - one copy for each of them - and presented them with their photos when I got back to the hotel.  You'd think it was the first time they'd ever seen pictures of themselves.  Or perhaps they were just looking for an excuse to stop working for awhile.  Ha.  Anyway, they seemed genuinely pleased to see a picture of themselves in their lovely garden on such a fine day.

I have now set a tentative date for my departure from NE:  I'll leave on 06 April for Haputale, a small town a couple of hours up the tracks from here.  It's supposed to be more peaceful than NE and have very nice scenery.  Last night I called one of the guest houses from my guide book and made a reservation there.  It is, after all, the high season, and I don't want to end up sleeping in my third choice place.

On my way out of the hotel to come to the internet cafe, the gardener called me over.  I thought he was going to thank me for the photo that I took of him and his colleagues and printed out for them.  As it turns out, I was being too optimistic about human nature.  Instead, he asked me if he could have my rain jacket when I leave town.  That jacket cost me nearly a hundred bucks - and I should hand it over to him because he likes it?  Well, I like it too!  What the heck do people think?  I would have preferred it if he had shown me his sore arm instead.
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Comments

Rob on

Hey Randy, you're developing a writing style and adding humor, which makes your story even more entertaining. Excellent!

bangkokrandy
bangkokrandy on

Well, thanks Rob, although I must say that I don't feel like my writing has changed one bit since my first blog. In fact, my first one is still my favorite.

mod on

nice to see Pictures

Steve (weed) on

If Mr. Fonseca was using you as an alibi, I hope Mrs Fonseca didn't read your blog! Regarding your lecture to the students. Yes, it was a learning experience for you and not them. From my experience, middle-schoolers on up are only waiting for their school day to end. You were just a boring guy they had to listen to. If you really want to see some appreciation, read to 1st graders. Kids that young really love adults to read, talk, and tell stories to them.

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