Thursday, September 8, 2011

Have we REALLY been in Sri Lanka for an entire month????

I can't believe it's been four weeks already since we landed here in Sri much has happened in that time, it feels like we've been here for a year!  My intentions to post regularly flew out the window with everything we've been focusing on-I guess it's a little more challenging settling in a new country than I initially imagined it would be.

Since it has been so long between posts, I figured it was time update the look of my blog-I hope you like the new background-I think it's pretty cool!  To keep this from becoming a monster post, I'm thinking an unconventional approach will work much better than a day to day, play by play-now, where to begin....

First, let's talk about the feel of this place.  In my opinion, food is the number one way to get a true feel of a place.  Now, I know this blog seems to be more of a food blog than anything else so I won't go on ad nauseum about each and every Sri Lankan dish.  Instead, let's look at it from the 30,000 foot level.  

The food in general-fantastic!  I never thought I would be able to give up meat (and I haven't so don't worry), but it would be SO easy to be vegetarian here.  The vegetarian dishes are incredible and very complex with all of the incredible spices that have been so sought after since the beginning of time.  A typical Sri Lankan meal usually consists of rice and four or five small curries (much different curries than you are probably thinking of).  Only one of these curries is a meat curry-usually chicken or fish.  The rest are vegetables-incredible vegetables.  

You can't talk about food in Sri Lanka without mentioning short eats.  These basically consist of small pastry crusts filled with curried meats, veggies, eggs, chicken sausage, chocolate and anything else you can imagine.  You can find short eats everywhere, but we like to go to places like Fab, Sponge and Green Cabin to get ours.  Oh, and if you are getting some short eats, you have to get an iced coffee to go along with-YUM!
Enjoying some short eats and an iced coffee at Sponge
The one thing about Sri Lankan food is that you can only find the best in an actual Sri Lankan home.  Very few restaurants carry the stuff, and those that do cannot come close to the home cooked version.  The restaurants in general are decent, but I personally enjoy the home cooking and would recommend you make friends with as many Sri Lankans as possible if you are coming here for an extended period of time; you not only meet some great people, but will eat VERY well.
Sri Lankan food at the Curry Leaf
Tons of curries and rice at an alms giving ceremony
One last note about the food scene here-wine is almost non existent.  Initially, I thought this was going to be a major problem (I do love my wine), but it has proved to not be the struggle I first imagined.  Import tax on alcohol is incredibly high so the wines that do make it into the country are usually of the Boone's Farm variety (and expensive Boone's Farm at that!).
No wine???  Looks like I'm switching to the hard stuff!
Speaking of import tax, it is very high on many items here.  Because taxing imports is a major source of revenue for the government, things not made in Sri Lanka tend to be extremely expensive.  There is no sales tax on many items you can buy here-but if you want to purchase something that was not made in this country, you are going to pay through the nose.  This is a bit unfortunate because it means that many of the items that are needed for daily use are extremely expensive for most Sri Lankans.  To give you an idea of what I'm talking about, a ream of copy paper costs about $7 US!  

You may be thinking, "Well that is a bit expensive, but it's still only seven dollars, what's the big deal?"  Well, the big deal is that the earning capacity for the average Sri Lankan is no where near what we are used to in the US.  If you are working a service job (driver, maid, etc), you can expect to make around RS 15,000 a month (that's about $135 a month depending on the exchange rate).  If you are making $135 a month, a $7 ream of paper gets very expensive very quickly.

Imports on common items may seem outrageous, but the cost of things produced in the country is incredibly easy on the pocket.  Food is incredibly cheap and abundant-you can get a great lunch for about $1.50 US.  
Veggies everywhere!
One of about 8 billion varieties of coconuts
Since we've been trying to outfit our home before out personal items arrive, we've been pleasantly surprised at the low cost of many house hold items, especially custom made furniture.  We are getting two incredible custom made armoires for RS 25,000 each (about $228 a piece).  The armories are made from old railway ties and the craftsmanship is so good, you would expect to pay a few thousand dollars for pieces like this in the US.
Amazing handcrafted furniture
The funny thing with the way the economy works around here, is that it will present opportunities you didn't expect.  For example, I am taking guitar lessons because it's such a great deal and I've always wanted to learn how to play guitar.  I've been talking about taking guitar lessons for years now, but the thought of paying $20, $30, $40 or even $50 a lesson in addition to a few hundred for a good guitar has always drove me to spend my money on other things.  A few weeks ago, we stopped at the music school directly across the street from the home we are staying in to check on their rates.  Guitar lessons....three dollars!  I can take four lessons for RS 1,500 (about $13 US) it looks like I'm finally going to learn guitar.
The next guitar hero!
Education is another opportunity here.  I've never seen so many private schools in my life.  Everyone in this country is trying to get educated, and many are doing so to go abroad in the hopes of making a better living for their families.  Since the VA (Veteran's Administration) will allow me to use my post 9/11 GI bill benefits for international education opportunities, I've found a design institute here that I may apply to.  If I end up going through with this, it will be the first time in my life I've taken a program  that I am actually interested in!  Check it out:

Let's talk about opportunity here-it is wide open.  The country is emerging from a 30 year civil war and the opportunities are abundant, especially for highly qualified westerners.  People in business here are so willing to work with westerners because, although the Sri Lankan population is extremely well educated, most lack direct business experience.  This opens the door for highly qualified foreigners who have the contacts and know how to grow business.  It makes your brain go into overdrive just thinking about the business possibilities in this extremely business friendly country, especially in the areas of import/export, tourism and real estate development.

Well, enough rambling about daily life here-let me catch you all up on what Shari and I have been doing for the last few weeks.  First, we have been spending time with Shari's parents.  This is the main reason we moved here and it is fantastic for her folks to have quality time with their daughter, especially considering all of the health issues the family has been dealing with this year.

We've been getting our home ready for our personal item shipment.  Our container actually arrived in country today.  It will take a few days to offload and clear, so we are hoping to have our stuff delivered by the end of this week or beginning of next.  In anticipation, we've been looking for curtains, rugs and other items to make our castle into a home.  We also have to get Internet and TV hooked up and I've recently purchased a device that will allow me to watch all of my college football games live from here...Shari is sooooo excited!
Check it out at:

It seems as if we are always visiting and meeting people.  We've taken a few trips, but nothing major until we get the house settled.  A few weeks ago, we drove down to Shari's father's hometown to help him with some land issues.  The town, called Matara, is located about 160 km (about 103 miles) from Colombo, but it took us four hours to get there!  Between the crazy driving (people here love to pass on blind curves right when a 10 ton bus going 50 mph is coming the other way), deer like pedestrians (they love to jump out in front of your car right before you overtake them) and crossing livestock (cows here are not afraid of traffic), I was worried we wouldn't make it there at all!  Even the dogs here take naps in the middle of the street!
Hello Mr. Cow....
HUGE Buddhist temple in Kalutara on the way to Matara
Matara is know for its fishermen
Marlin on the back of a bicycle????
Gorgeous hotel on the trip back from Matara
While in Matara, we met up with a Sri Lankan named AJ now living in Kansas City.  AJ was back in his home country trying to get some eco projects off the ground (wind, solar, etc) and wanted to look at one of Shari's father's pieces of land.  AJ introduced me to a developer here in Colombo named Saliya who invited me down to a lake front property to look at an 8 acre piece of land he and his partners want to turn into a resort.  The land was incredible-I think it's a home run!
Gorgeous House
Beautiful interior garden
Incredible lake view
These monkeys were all over the place
Very tranquil
We also went down to Beruwela with Ihsan to break fast with some of his employees at their family home called the Raaj Mahal (see:  The family rents the home out to visitors and it is incredible.  This is where we found the fantastic armoires for our home.  Ihsan's cousin made all of the furniture for a few of the guestrooms-his work in amazing!
The patio at Raaj Mahal
Sunset from the backyard
Dinner on the patio with Ihsan's employees
Recently, I went to my first two Buddhist temples with Shari and our hosts the Balapatabendis.  The occasion was to honor family members passing in a ceremony called "Dana" (pronounced DAH-NEH. It means alms giving).  It was incredible to see the temples, monks and devoted Buddhists praying and meditating-it was a deeply spiritual experience.
Buddhist statues at the temple
Courtyard at the temple
Crazy picture Shari took of me at the temple-have I reached enlightenment or am I just a super white boy?
Burning offerings at the temple
Room where followers pray
Shari took this-I just thought this was a great picture!
Last week, we had to vacate our home here because of a termite issue.  The owner of the property put the entire family up in the Hilton Residence for four nights while the house was fumigated and, luckily for us, we were upgraded to the 33d floor penthouse after it was found that our air conditioning was not working.  Check out the views.....
Nighttime view from our balcony
View of the pool from 33 floors up
Daytime view from our balcony
That about sums up the last four weeks (although I'm sure I missed alot).  It's almost time for my guitar lesson, so I am off for a shower-time to become a rock star!  See more pictures of our first month in Sri Lanka at: and stay tuned for another post in the very near future.  Until then..............

1 comment:

  1. kevin!!!!! it's jen spencer! wow! your new adventure looks amazing! how are you? give Shari my love! miss ya!