My Dad is Hairy...

My dad is in the hospital. My wife wants to visit him and wants my daughter to take down the details. (For those who don’t know, I’m out of the country and my daughter has a mixed accent.)

“Paap, so what’s grandpa’s full name?”
“Its H. B. Wijesekera, H as in Harry and B as in Bravo…”

Then I hear her shout at the background:

“I got it… Grandpa’s name is Hairy Bravo Wijee-si-keyra..!”


This one is for our Minister(s) of Education

BTW, why have I been quiet for a while? Too much to say, really. Until I gather my thoughts and find my way to creep back in to the Lankanosphere, enjoy the video and give it a thought. ;)


Turning Knots into Bows...

Spending quite a bit of time in Saudi Arabia where the entire country shuts down for prayer five times a day, I often wondered how religious they are compared to us – the Sri Lankans who take the religion quite liberally. Buddhism is a philosophy which has no strict rules of religious observations, and we also tend to visit each others places of worship without thinking much about betraying our own God.

Which led to some interesting research and I was quite flabbergasted to discover that we Sri Lankans are the World’s Second or the Third Religious nation, depending on the source.

Below are some other factors that make us think of the brighter side and give us some hope in the middle of the chaos we live in...

Religiosity Index measures is the measure of the importance of the religion for respondents and their self-reported attendance of religious services. For religions in which attendance at services is limited, care must be used in interpreting the data.
Optimism Index measures a respondent’s positive attitude for the future. Specifically, respondents are asked whether certain aspects of their life are getting better or getting worse.

Community Basics Index measures satisfaction with aspects of everyday life in a community, including education, environment, healthcare, housing and infrastructure.

National Institutions Index measures confidence in key national institutions prominent in leading a country: the military, the judicial system, the national government and the honesty of elections.

Unemployment (% of total labour force). Shorter bars, the better. For once, we are doing really well, thanks to the global economic crisis!

This entry records the cumulative total of all government borrowings less repayments that are denominated in a country’s home currency. Public debt should not be confused with external debt, which reflects the foreign currency liabilities of both the private and public sector and must be financed out of foreign exchange earnings.

Sources: Gallup WorldView 2009 and CIA Factbook.


And you thought Colombo was Hot!

Colombo, as hot and sticky as it may feel, was still somewhere around 84° F around this time...


Random Ad: Pedigree Dogs

A mundane task becomes amazing to watch, thanks to the technology. ;)

Credits: TBWA Toronto/Pedigree


The Season of Hope

I have stopped watching the news. There is nothing much on tv on Sri Lanka anymore. The war is over, an occasional finger-pointing hits the news and fades away like a ship sailing in the night. Unnoticed.

There is a lot of war-news. Bombs going off in Iraq, Pakistan, Afghanistan and in Russia. There is a lot of civilian casualty that Amnesty International or the Human Rights Watch is not interested in. The video footage of US Forces firing at Reuters reporters has leaked out after three years, but we hear no French or British voices wanting to take them to the UN Human Rights Council for the war crimes they commit in foreign lands.

I’d say f-off to those hypocrites.

I’d say f-off to those who think that my country deserves to be labelled as a failed state. And to you Ranil, Mangala, Sarath and the lot who think that Sri Lanka has problems and the West is the answer, the saviour and the solution.

The war is over. For the first time in almost three decades, we are able to celebrate the Sinhala Hindu New Year without worrying about a bus bomb or an artillery fire. This year, there will be millions of homes celebrating the new year in whatever way they could afford. Grand or not, there will be a pot of milk-rice boiling in every kitchen, come mid April.

For the first time in thirty years, “Sinhala Hindu” new year has a meaning. For the first time in a generation, the Sinhalese and the Tamils are able to celebrate their traditions with a smile in their faces.

Happy New Year and happy holidays everyone, may your life be filled with love, laughter, happiness and prosperity – always.


Thousand Rupees, Hundred Mistakes.

I came back from my previous holiday and handed over a new thousand rupee note to one of my buddies as a souvenir. “Maan, this tourist note looks so real, it’s even got a silver strip..!” he exclaimed, while thanking me for remembering him.

I couldn’t help but laugh out loud. (I had similar thoughts when I first got hold of the new note, I wasn’t sure if the note was genuine and legitimate. Besides, I was changing some dollars at a dodgy place in Welawatte.)

I told him that the note was not a ‘tourist souvenir’ but a real currency note. He honestly couldn't believe that we had such bad designs mass produced.

Currency notes are like stamps. Some people collect them, cherish them, save them and show them off occasionally. In their vast collections, these notes represent a nation and the level of intelligence of the natives. It’s like the Olympics of the currency notes and this time we have sent an imbecile to run the marathon for us.

The new note looks as if the designer had absolutely no understanding of the colour wheel, or any idea of complimentary/contrasting colours. There are floating objects all over the place, the colour combination looks like puke that comes out of an eighth grader at the Big Match. The designer has no sense of design, and he has no clue of scale or proportion. It is virtually impossible to find a human being with no imagination, how original is it to portray the raising of the flag this way? If the intention behind the design was to encourage someone sitting in a small print shop in Weeraketiya to produce counterfeits, the Central Bank has done a wonderful job.

Enough bashing the new note, Indi’s post here has done a good job of it, already.

We have produced some fabulous notes in the past – the flora and fauna collection with the salmon-pink two rupee note being one of my favourites. We have also been progressive and innovative in our design – the plastic Rs 200 note even had the denomination imprinted in Braille.

So I took this ugly note to a beauty treatment, a quick 5 minute in Photoshop – only to manipulate the colours and make something decent out of it. I added a few touches like the shadow beneath the floating soldiers and fixed the sheath of rice and the pot (pun-kalasa) inside the outline of Sri Lanka. It was very clear to me that this could have been improved a hundred times, if there were people of some intelligence taking care of the business. Easily.

Here’s glimpse of my favourite Sri Lankan currency collection from 1979:


bX-gc7okd..? Oh, Blogger!

Well, I have been receiving this error code that prevents me from comments moderation. It seems that some of the comments you post get eaten by Heffalumps and Woozles at random. They ate a few, including Dandaleon’s comment this morning. Or, they just disappear in to comment heaven. Aaargh#$%%@!!

Hopefully, Blogger should fix this problem soon.

Oh by the way, how is Wordpress..? ;) Wondering if the grass is greener on the other side...


I’m half Buddhist.

“Pap, I’m half Buddhist” declares my son. There’s nothing surprising about this opening statement from a 12 year old, but then he continues to claim that his other half is Christian. I would’ve expected him to announce that he is half-Muslim – considering that his birth mother is of that faith. I certainly didn’t expect this.

When we moved to Colombo five years ago, he learnt the ABC’s of Buddhism. He used to go to the temple with my sister, he was fascinated by the little rituals. He loved to light the oil lamps and joss sticks, he liked arranging the flowers on the offering table at the temple and he loved to sit around the Bo tree scribbling in the sand, watching people chanting aloud. An occasional firefly or a bug would draw his attention and distract him, but he was a well behaved kid once set foot in the temple premises.

Then he moved to Dubai to live with the mother and came back an atheist a year later.

So I wondered how did he become a Christian, out of the blue.

Apparently, every evening he follows his boarding-school mates to the Chapel where he gets a chance to pray. He says he likes to kneel down and ask God for all his wishes to come true.

And he loves the fact that he gets blessed at the end of the service. “Paap, the father keeps his hand on my head and says ‘God Bless You my son, Rafael!’ and it makes me feel good...” he says in a cheerful voice over the telephone as I enquire about his new-found life in the boarding school.

As long as the religion teaches morals and provides him with guidance in life, as long as it gives him hope and instils faith in him, I wouldn’t care too much about the label it carries.

When it comes to one’s faith, does the label really matter? Either way, I’m just glad that my son is in safe hands. ;)


How an entire Country gave birth to an Elephant

She is a healthy one year old female ‘celebrity.’ She was born to a Thai mother, on the 17th of May last year at 8.45, weighing 80 kilos and was on her feet after 20 minutes of her birth.

Belgium’s favourite baby elephant Kai Mook (Pearl in English) was famous from the moment the country saw the first ultra-sound scan. When her mother became pregnant, the Antwerp Zoological Gardens decided to leverage the pregnancy to drive more visitors to the zoo. So they decided to share the news with everyone, got them interested and engaged in the story, making the whole of Belgium feel as if they were involved in the pregnancy.

“So just like any proud future parent, the zoo decided to show everyone the very first ultrasound. The scan was projected onto prominent buildings, along with a URL directing people to a central website, www.baby-olifant.be. On the site, the zoo not only invited people to suggest names for the baby elephant but also kept it updated with developments during the pregnancy. Daily news was posted onto the site, along with information about the mother and baby and a calendar countdown.

“The content was spread via social media with photos on Flickr and videos on YouTube. A tool was created to allow people to create a customized Facebook profile picture that featured their face with an elephant's trunk entering the frame and the message ”I’m also waiting for baby K.”

“When the labor started, interested parties were notified by SMS and invited to watch the birth live. Never before had so many Belgians watched a live event together online. More importantly, Antwerp Zoo welcomed 300,000 more visitors (200,000 paying) in 2009 than it did in 2008.” reports AdAge MediaWorks on the success of the communication campaign.

While ‘advertising’ in Sri Lanka is pretty much confined to traditional media, the rest of the world has moved on to ‘communication.’ It’s not one-way messaging on television, newspapers and radio anymore.

‘Advertising’ has evolved into consumer engagement – two-way communication. The world has moved on from traditional advertising to brand activation, digital marketing and beyond. Now with augmented reality, one could experience true-to-life 3D holographic rendition of any product right in their own hands, at their own leisure, creating an amazing brand experience.

At the same time, on this side of the Indian Ocean, we are led by agencies that are incapable of maintaining their own online presence (for example, JWT Colombo as not updated their blog in over 7 months!), let alone providing any brand with any sort of ground-breaking digital communication solutions.

We have a long way to go, don’t we?


Corruption: An Appeal to the Sri Lankan Media

I googled “Sri Lanka Corruption” today and found out that most of the articles written on the web about corruption in Sri Lanka comes out of our own writing and our own newspapers. Not at all surprising, just as expected, one would say. Thereafter, one might find the international NGO’s, writing about corruption in our paradise isle completing the list.

For example, check out the Transparency International’s site where they list the 2009 Corruption Perception Index (CPI) and we rank at 97, while USA ranks at 19, UK at 17, Australia at 8, France at 24, India at 84 and Saudi Arabia at 63.

According to World Audit Organisation 2009 report, we rank at 76, while USA ranks at 16, UK at 14, Australia at 8, France at 18, India at 64 and Saudi Arabia at 46. World Audit compiles their evaluations based on data coming from NGO’s such as Freedom House, Transparency International, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and The International Commission of Jurists etc.

According to Gallup Poll – often referred to as the most reliable source of public opinion – corruption index in the above countries paint a totally different picture. According to the poll, Sri Lanka’s corruption index is 54.4%, while USA scores a higher corruption rate at 63.4%, UK 48.1%, Australia 36%, France 49.6%, India 77.2% and Saudi Arabia scores the lowest corruption at 34.3%. Lower percentages are better.

Now comes the truth. People in India and the USA think that their countries are more corrupt than ours, while people in the UK and France think that their countries are (almost) as corrupt as Sri Lanka.

And occasionally, these countries even withhold aid, claiming that WE are a corrupt nation!

Who would you trust? The NGO’s or the most trusted source of public opinion? Please check out the chart below and you will see the gap between the NGO data and public opinion for the countries that usually fund the NGOs. Compare that to the data of Sri Lanka or Saudi Arabia where the public opinion reflects NGO data.

Wouldn’t the American politicians invading Iraq for the control of oil business qualify for corruption? How would Bush+Cheney Business Enterprise that ran Halliburton and Blackwater etc escape the NGO corruption rankings? How would USA remain at the top when the level of corruption in the US is monumental..?

The truth is that we wash our dirty linen in public while the West doesn’t. NGO’s need to keep their funds pouring-in; they are either run by, or controlled by the West. They paint a bleak picture of developing nations as the most corrupt countries in the world, while conveniently ignoring the billions of dollars that change hands under their own tables, in their air-conditioned comfort. A traffic cop taking a couple of dollars instead of issuing a ticket makes it to their list, while high profile incidents such as the former British Transport Secretary who charged 5,000 pounds a day (=Rs 845,000.00) escapes the list. That would be equal to 1,690 traffic cops taking a bribe of 500 rupees each, a day. Not only that, 5,000 pounds is a teeny weeny amount compared to the millions and millions of dollars that change hands in the West everyday.

I’m not going to waste my time writing about NGO’s and how they manipulate facts for their own advantage. We’ve witnessed their antics as the Wanni region came out of the jungle.

Post war Sri Lanka is entering a new era. There is much hope and there are huge expectations. In our journey to recovery, our image plays a major role. I have written about what it means to maintain an image of a country – so let me finish this with a humble request to those who contribute to the mainstream media and citizen journalism.

Please, please don’t tarnish our image. Look beyond Sri Lanka, do a bit of research and follow independent, most reliable and trusted sources and look at our country from an international perspective. Sri Lanka is not as bad as you think. What you write goes out there in to the oblivion and it gets printed in an NGO report as “reliable information coming from Sri Lanka” – just like Amnesty International has “Sri Lanka Experts” when they don’t even have an office anywhere in the country. It doesn’t help when Minoli Frenandes says that “there are no independent reporters allowed in the frontline” when her Al Jazeera crew reports exclusively from the frontline.

Please don’t feed those who are going to rip us apart.

Please be responsible. Focus on the positive side of our beautiful island, the image of Sri Lanka – our little paradise – is in your hands.


Advertising: Logic vs Magic


I felt like sh*t last evening, going home. I was drained, I wished I were sipping a beer somewhere on a beach. Like my home, in Sri Lanka.

Instead, I was driving along the Malek Road, depressed, and feeling dejected.

This morning, I was itching to write what I felt inside.

So I did.

Having been part of the team that worked on (X) Brand Campaign, I think I have the right to express what I felt.

For me, last night was an eye opener.

As an agency, we have reached a milestone.

We are beginning to see Science overtake Art.
We see Logic overtake Magic.
And Quantity overtake Quality.

Last night, there was no Passion evident.
Last night, we have lost Inspiration.

We have become slaves to the system.
We have become the robots of the 21st century that turn out “artwork” – not great advertising.
If I had an iota of a hope of producing something award winning at (X agency), it went down the gutter last night.

I do not know about you guys, but I am a man of integrity and pride.
Yes, pride, not price.
I take pride in what I do.
We create art. We create brands.
We are not growing potatoes.
We sell advertising. Not popcorn.

This agency needs to learn to treat itself with self-respect and dignity.
We need to learn to respect our work, and more importantly, the people behind the work.

Once we learn to respect our work and take pride in our work, we will be able to walk in to a meeting with confidence and sell some great advertising.

But that, begins here.

Learning to treat individuals with dignity and respect starts in front of the mirror.
Learning to treat their work with respect, starts within the agency.

We are not a production line. We are human.
We are humans that are running out of steam.
We are humans of integrity, we are slaves to none.

Creativity cannot be mass-produced, it needs to be inspired.

Going back, the most troubling questions that linger in my mind are:
Is it Science, or Art?
Is it Magic, or Logic?
Is it Quality, or Quantity?
Are we human, or just a production line?

The answer would define the future of the agency.

And when will we begin to believe in our work?

When will we begin to see a genuine smile on a face?

Yes, we are striving towards change: change for the better.
Yes, we are all supportive of the change.

But it should not be at the cost of a single smile. ;)

* * * *

This is a note I sent this morning, after sitting through an internal meeting that demonstrated how disjointed an advertising agency could be. Like every business, we are also aggressive and bullish, but in the process we were making two major blunders: too much marketing knowledge and theories were killing the passion in creativity, and quantity over quality was driving people insane.
And we were forgetting to appreciate the foot soldiers for their commitment and sacrifices they make in their everyday life for the betterment of the agency.



My son gets some homework in English Writing.

The task is to write a dialogue.

The scene is home, his room is supposedly (supposed to be?) messy. The mother wants everything back in it’s place and the room tidied.

You know kids, they could never keep a tidy room. And the teacher thought this would be a good exercise, the perfect setting for a good, 10 minute dialogue.

And Rafael does his homework:

Mother: “Rafael... will you please tidy the room, NOW!”
Rafael: “Ok.”

He gets 2 out of 10!


Did You Know?

Early this year, we were looking for an English Medium boarding school for my son. We found boarding schools. We found English medium schools. But there are no English Medium boarding schools in Sri Lanka.

In other words, if your child does not speak either Sinhala or Tamil, he cannot study in any government or private school in Sri Lanka. He would only be able to study in an “international” school – the kind that operates under business licences and not monitored or regulated by the ministry of education.

So why would schools such as Royal, St. Thomas’, St Joseph’s, Trinity or Museaus claim they have an “English” medium when half the subjects are taught in one of the native languages? What would someone who doesn’t speak Sinhala or Tamil do – go back to where they came from?

They say that the quality of a country’s workforce is a direct reflection of the standard of education. Ours, is in shambles. We boast of very high literacy rate, but send our kids overseas for higher education. As a country, we spend too much money in “purchasing knowledge” from the US, UK, Australia and Singapore (now India, Malaysia) etc, when, as a whole, we could have built fabulous universities with that money, right here, in our own land so that more and more generations could have reaped the results.

Our aging education module needs desperate change. It is the 21st century, yet we still don’t breed certain skill sets that are needed for today’s world. For example, the advertising industry needs creative professionals – but none of the universities actually produce them. I would love to hire a few art directors or graphic designers for our network overseas, but unfortunately, the Sri Lankans are not on par with the rest of the world.

Planners, stylists, animators and touch-point marketers etc will never come out of our universities. Jobs we do today should have been in our education system 10 years ago, not 10 year later.

Like this video claims, the top 10 in-demand jobs in 2010 did not exist in 2004.

The radio took 38 years to reach an audience of 50 million, while Facebook did it in 2 years.

The number of internet devices in 1984 was 1,000. In 1992 it was a million and in 2008 it was a billion. Increased by a million times in just 24 years. When the world is moving at such speed, why are we stuck in yesteryear?

How will Sri Lanka cope when 2030 dawns..? Are we future ready..?


Top 100 Global Brands of 2009 and their Slogans

2009 was a terrible year, the year of the financial crisis. Only one third of the top 100 brands of 2008 managed to post a positive growth, while some slipped off the list completely. The biggest performers of the year were Google (25% growth in 2009), Amazon.com (22%) and Zara (14%) and the biggest losers were UBS (-50%), Citigroup (-49%) and Harley Davidson (-43%).

Coca-Cola remains the world’s biggest brand for yet another year – they have been so for the last 10 years and more. Japan’s top brand Toyota slipped a few notches and Apple jumped a few positions higher. Only the financial sector and automotive sector fell, while everything else – including luxury goods recorded an overall growth.

Rank, Brand, Brand Value in US$ Millions, Country of Origin, Growth, 2008 Rank and Most Common Slogan

1Coca-Cola68,734US3%(1)Live on the Coke Side of Life
2IBM60,211US2%(2)Solutions for a Small Planet
3Microsoft56,647US-4%(3)Your Potential. Our Passion.
4GE47,777US-10%(4)Imagination at Work
5Nokia34,864Finland-3%(5)Connecting People
6McDonalds32,275US4%(8)I’m Lovin’ It
8Toyota31,330Japan-8%(6)Moving Forward
9Intel30,636US-2%(7)Leap Ahead
10Disney28,447US-3%(9)Where Dreams Come True
12Mercedes-Benz23,867Germany-7%(11)The Future of the Automobile
13Gillette22,841US4%(14)The Best a Man Can Get
14Cisco22,030US3%(17)Welcome to the Human Network*
15BMW21,671Germany-7%(13)The Ultimate Driving Machine*
16Louis Vuitton21,120France-2%(16)The Spirit of Travel
17Marlboro19,010US-11%(18)Welcome to the Marlboro Country
18Honda17,803Japan-7%(20)The Power of Dreams
19Samsung17,518S. Korea-1%(21)Everyone’s Invited
20Apple15,433US12%(24)Think Different
21H&M15,375Sweden11%(22)Fashion Available for Everybody
22American Express14,971US-32%(15)Do More
23Pepsi13,706US3%(26)The Choice of the New Generation
24Oracle13,699US-1%(23)Can’t Break It. Can’t Break In.
25Nescafé13,317Switzerland2%(28)Awaken Your Senses
26Nike13,179US4%(29)Just Do It
27SAP12,106Germany-1%(27)The Best-run e-businesses Run SAP
28IKEA12,004Sweden10%(35)Make a House a Home
29Sony11,953Japan-12%(25)It’s a Sony
30Budweiser11,833US3%(33)The King of Beers
31UPS11,594US-8%(30)Deliver More
32HSBC10,510UK-20%(27)The World’s Local Bank
33Canon10,441Japan-4%(36)Image Anywhere
34Kellogg’s10,428US7%(39)They’re Great!
35Dell10,291US-12%(32)Purely You
36Citi10,254US-49%(19)The Citi Never Sleeps
37JPMorgan9,550US-11%(37)Your Choice. Your Chase.
38Goldman Sachs9,428US-10%(38)Our Client’s Interest Always Comes First
39Nintendo9,210Japan5%(40)Who Are You?
40Thompson Reuters8,434UK1%(44)For People in the Know
41Gucci8,182Italy-1%(45)Quality is Remembered Long After the Price is Forgotten
42Philips8,121Netherlands-2%(43)Sense and Simplicity
43Amazon.com7,858US22%(58)A Real Company in a Virtual World
44L’Oreal7,748France3%(51)Because You Are Worth It
45Accenture7,710Bermuda-3%(47)High Performance, Delivered.
46eBay7,350US-8%(46)The Power of All of Us
47Siemens7,308Germany-8%(47)Be Inspired
48Heinz7,244US9%(56)57 Varieties
49Ford7,005US-11%(49)Ford. Drive One.
50Zara6,780Spain14%(62)We Have a Dream
51Wrigley’s6,731US10%(61)Double Your Pleasure
52Colgate6,550US2%(57)The Colgate Ring of Confidence
53AXA6,525France-7%(55)Be Life Confident
54MTV6,523US-9%(52)Think MTV
55Volkswagen6,484Germany-8(53)Das Auto
56Xerox6,431US1%(59)The Digital Document Company
57Morgan Stanley6,399US-26%(42)One Client At a Time
58Nestlé6,319Switzerland13%(63)Good Food. Good Life.
59Chanel6,040France-5%(60)Share the Fantasy
60Danone5,960France10%(66)A Little Everyday Goes a Long Long Way
61KFC5,722US3%(64)Finger Lickin’ Good
62Adidas5,397Germany6%(70)Impossible is Nothing
63BlackBerry5,138Canada7%(73)Life on Blackberry
64Yahoo!5,111US-7%(65)Do You Yahoo!?
65Audi5,010Germany-7%(67)Vorsprung Durch Technik
66Caterpillar5,004US-5%(68)Earthmoving Solutions for Today’s Challenges
67Avon4,917US-7%(69)Let’s Talk
68Rolex4,609Switzerland-7%(71)Perpetual Spirit
69Hyundai4,604S. Korea-5%(72)Drive Your Way
71Kleenex4,404US-5%(74)It’s Time to Let It Out
72UBS4,370US-50%(41)You & Us
73Harley Davidson4,337US-43%(50)The Legend Rolls On...
74Porsche4,234Germany-8%(75)There is No Substitute
75Panasonic4,225Japan-1%(78)Just Slightly Ahead of Our Time
76Tiffany & Co.4,000US-5%(80)America’s House of Design Since 1837
77Cartier3,698France-6%(79)The Jeweller of Kings
78GAP3,922US-10%(77)For every Generation, there is a GAP
79Pizza Hut3,876US-5%(81)Great Pizzas. Great Times.
80Johnson & Johnson3,847US7%(92)The Family Company
81Allianz3,831France-5%(82)Financial Solutions from A to Z
82Moët & Chandon3,754France-5%(83)Be Fabulous*
83BP3,716UK-5%(84)Beyond Petroleum
84Smirnoff3,698UK3%(89)There’s Vodka. Then There’s Smirnoff.
85Duracell3,563US-3%(88)Lasts Longer, Much Longer.
86NIVEA3,557Germany5%(98)Beauty Is...
88Ferrari3,527Italy0%(93)Art and Emotion
92Shell3,228Netherlands-7%(97)You Can Be Sure of Shell
93Burger King3,223USNew
Have it Your Way
94VISA3,170US-5%(100)Life Takes Visa
96Lexus3,158Japan-12%(90)Pursuit of Perfection
99Polo Ralph Lauren3,094USNew
Get Involved. Volunteer. Exceed.
Why Settle When You Can Select

Source: Interbrand
* Some brand positionings or slogans may vary from market to market. For example, BMW is moving towards “Joy” and it is no longer the “Ultimate Driving Machine.”


Of Traffic and Get Well Soon’s...

Yes, this goes to Sach - the guy with “the worst cold a man has ever endured in the history of mankind” over there, in Japan. Sach, get well soon.

More than that, this goes to my good friend and former neighbour who now lies unconscious in a hospital bed in Medina, in an induced coma. He was travelling to Medina last Friday with three of his friends when a tyre blew in his vehicle, sending it rolling across the centre barrier to the oncoming traffic. Apparently, the tumbling vehicle rolled over five times and sent my friend D flying out of the window in the process, landing him on the asphalt hitting his head on the pavement.

Apparently, his skull is fractured, and there are some serious concerns that the doctors are not so sure of, yet. His parents have flown in from Lebanon and I cannot even go see him since the road to Medina is only open to Muslims.

I pray, and hope, that he recovers. Soon.


Saudi Arabia boasts of some of the worst drivers in the world. Looking at statistics in Saudi Arabia:
  • more than 6,400 deaths every year from car accidents, which means, every 82 minutes one person dies of a road accident
  • over 50,000 deaths, 300,000 injuries and losses of over 100 billion Saudi Riyal (= 26.6 billion US$) from car accidents in the past 10 years. Compare that to only 200 casualties from terrorist activities..!
  • 4.3 million car accidents causing 86,000 deaths and 611,000 injuries in the past 19 years.
More over,
  • 85% of accidents are caused by drivers violating to traffic rules
  • 7% of injuries end with complete or partial disability
  • and majority of hospital beds (up to 80% in some hospitals) are occupied by road accident victims, not people suffering from various medical conditions and illnesses.
Saudi traffic rules are supposed to be strict, but at the same time, they are somewhat weird. For example, the passenger in the front seat could be penalised for mistakes of the driver – for not advising him to abide by the law. Wearing the seat belt is a must, but only for the front seat occupants. And if a woman is seated at the front, the Police will never issue a ticket for her for not wearing the seat belt: women sometimes do not exist in the eyes of the ‘system.’

Using mobile phones while driving is ‘supposed to be’ prohibited, but no one cares. Not even the cops.

There are no female drivers in Saudi Arabia, women are not allowed to drive.

The eldest son of the family could get the driving licence at 16 under special permission in order to support the family if he has lost his father.

You can pretty much park anywhere during prayer time, just like the pavement opposite Odel.


A New Chapter

Monday was the d-day.

My son was beginning his life in a boarding school. The books bought, bags packed, long lists completed and every clothing item clearly marked with his initials. Stitching three initials each on six pairs of white socks was only the beginning of an arduous three days for his grandma, but she was glad to help with the heap of clothes that lay in front of her.

“You will be locked out of the dormitories from three-thirty to five-thirty everyday. It would be up to you to sit in a corner and bury your head in grief, or make the best – get involved in any game or sport of your choice...” said the Warden, focusing his attention on the bemused child at the interview. There was a sparkle in Rafael’s eyes and I could see that he has taken an immediate liking to the idea of “compulsory playtime.” The little fella couldn’t believe that there are schools that encourage young boys to spend their time in the playgrounds, not only in libraries and study rooms.

At the end of the interview, he was smiling like a Cheshire cat and I knew he was going to like the place. One, there was a farm in the school. Two, there was a swimming pool. And there were many other reasons.

A week after the interview, with a heavy heart, my wife leaves him at the new school. He gives her a big hug and waves good bye. Not a tear in his eyes, he was ready to take on a new adventure in life.

24 hours pass-by, as we wait eagerly to hear from the new kid in school. He was supposed to call us back during his playtime Tuesday evening.

But there is no news and my wife begins to panic. She is worried if Rafael has slept well, if the old mattress was comfortable enough, or the food was good enough for his liking. She wants to know how he managed to wake up at 5.00 in the morning, when he is used to take a 5 minute nap on the bathroom carpet after waking up at 6.30 in the morning.

Finally, as the playtime ends, kids go back to their dorms and there is no news. My wife calls the school. “Oh, we have seen him with the boys. For a new kid, he seems to have loads of friends...” is the reply.

That, puts an end to our worries.

We leave a message with the school for him to call us back.

The next day, Rafael returns the call. He is bombarded with a barrage of questions on food, studies, living conditions etc., but every reply ends with the same sentence:
“...its all fine, I have to go, my friends are waiting...”
“...its all great, I have to go, my friends are waiting...”
“...its all okay, I have to go, my friends are waiting...”

Looks like the young man is going to be just fine.


The Sale of Chicken Murder

Spent 10 hectic days in Paradise.
Drove to the Immigration direct from the airport, literally, only to be disappointed by the fact that they were having a “half-day” in lieu of Milad-Un-Nabi, the next day. On top of that, being the last day of election nominations, Friday was a disaster in my calendar. Saturday the proper holiday, followed by the Poya (full moon) holiday the next day, I couldn’t have timed my trip any better..! Three days out of my precious 10 days in Paradise, gone without much achievement.
To top things off, I get stopped by the cops in a little alley-way near Paradise Gallery. They were bored stiff and randomly checking vehicles – and I have the uncanny ability to get picked more often than not. While pulling out the wallet I realise that I have forgotten my Silly Lankan driving licence in Saudi. Managed to negotiate a deal and escaped with a small “spot-fine.”
Went to the nearest police station like the good citizen I am, and shared my predicament. Told them that I must drive out of town – even though my wife could drive I have to take turns I said – and sought their advise on how to go about without the licence in possession. The ever helpful traffic police officer gave me a ticket that enabled me to drive for 14 days..! Upon my return, I gave him a thousand rupees to pay the fine (well, I was leaving the country the next day, weren’t I..?) and he obliged with much hesitance.
I like the way things happen in Paradise.
Had to drive to Nuwara Eliya on Monday morning but discovered a little “miss” in the car. Sunday bloody Sunday... Luckily, there were the “mobile unit” that could diagnose the problem, but the stores were closed and I had to postpone the trip by another day. Which meant, leaving Colombo at wee hours in the morning and return the same night, but the drive was quite pleasurable.
Back to the immigration. No luck with my son’s residency, he needs to get a new passport. Let him be an alien in my country, I thought.
Aah, PG Wodehouse is back at Makeen.
While I was looking for the Alchemist, my son buys a book titled “1,000 most disgusting facts” for his birthday. And another equally off-putting book on puke, pee and poo or something like that. He loves the slimy, scaly creatures such as geckos, frogs and snakes – and I wonder what he would grow up to be one day.
Ask for a gin n tonic aboard Emirates on the way back. The good man serves a cup-full-of-gin to his fellow countryman. A drink that was more like a gin n gin; and I wanted to tell him that my eyes were red due to lack of sleep, not alcohol.
Back in Jeddah. In a new abode. Just got the internet connection sorted, so here I am.
And let me leave you with a taste of the Middle East, found in my inbox upon my return. ;)


In Retrospect...

So I am stepping in to my fifth year of blogging in a few days. Not a milestone, but just a moment to make a pause, take a look, and admire the journey so far.

Sometimes it helps to find a moment to appreciate the simple things in life.

I am blessed to be here. It feels like a friendship-circle, except, I haven’t met any of my fellow bloggers in real life. They sound like a bunch of really nice people, I’m sure they are. And yes, that includes you too.

Sabby wrote a pensive post on leaving the island and I commented saying that she would find some comfort right here, in the Lankanosphere. I know that, because I do. Without realising, everyone of you who write from home, or about home, keep us so close to home. A random picture, a little story, stuff on tuk-tuks or rice and curry, or even a post on a silly dog, keeps my memories of home alive. And for that, I thank you.

Life overseas wasn’t like that before kottu was born. Nineties were lonely here.

Having lived only three of the last twenty years in paradise, I know I have missed out a lot. I’ve missed out on the kind of stuff that Sach cleverly puts in to words in one of his recent posts.

I miss Sri Lanka. I miss the chaos, I miss the madness.

Most of all, I miss the “islander attitude” towards life and its wonderful people.

Sometimes we get caught in the rat-race, keep climbing the corporate ladder trying to beat our own shadow. We forget the simple joys in life: like drinking a kurumba by the roadside.

At 23, I held 24% shares of one of the most successful SMB’s in the island. I was lucky. But I walked out of that business empty handed, after signing a set of documents handing over everything for free.

I was relieved. I was happy that I had nothing to lose.

That afternoon, the mug of beer at the Echelon Pub tasted the best. With that beer, I landed my next job.

Ten years later, I was the head of creative in an international agency in Dubai. We ran regional brands for the Middle East and North Africa region.

When I was contemplating of leaving, my CEO offered me a blank piece of paper with his signature to list-down whatever I wished for, if I were to stay with them till my retirement. He was ready to offer me anything, even if I wanted a house in the south of France.

I gently pushed back the Mont Blanc and the paper to the other side of the big mahogany table. As he lit his next fine cigar, I told him that I wanted only three things in my life the day I would turn 55. A roof above my head, food on the table, and my grand-kids running around the house. I also told him that the first two wouldn’t be a problem, and the third would be just a matter of time.

A couple of months after that conversation, fate had me left with two kids – and no woman by my side. Life ahead of me was very clear at that moment: there’s absolutely nothing else that I would cherish more than my two kids. They were just three and five, but their entire life was in my hands.

So I walked out of the corporate world, moved back to Sri Lanka, and raised my kids as a single dad in Colombo. The change drove me crazy. It irritated me to know that I couldn’t do my grocery shopping at 1 O’clock in the morning.

But, that was the best period of my life. Life in Sri Lanka was magical, and beautiful.

Unfortunately, I had to leave the island again. C’est la vie.

Today, I work to live, not live to work. I’m happy. I have a wonderful woman by my side, and I’m in love.

I help people. Because I will never forget how horrible it is to feel helpless.

I travel. And I have realised that discovering the cultural wheel is far better than climbing the corporate ladder.

Come to think of it, the three years I spent in Sri Lanka has made me realise how wonderful, and magical, every little thing in life is. Hearing a bird chirp, or walking in the rain, sipping a beer while watching the Buba sunset, waking up to a good cup of tea in the hill country... or a simple rice and curry meal. Yes, you lot take all those for granted, but there are some of us who miss all those everyday joys in life.

You have absolutely no idea what you are missing, until you leave home that we call Sri Lanka.


The Lung Ching Episode

Inspired by a good pot of Pu Erh tea a few weeks ago and followed by Sigma Delta’s suggestion, I embarked on a journey to discover the teas of the world at teayana – the tea lounge in Jeddah. I have tried a few teas on the menu since, including a rare variety: the Lung Ching or the Dragon Well teas.

As the story goes, a Chinese village was facing a severe drought in 250 AD and a Tao monk advised the villagers to pray to the dragon living in a nearby well to end the dry spell. The villagers obliged, the rains followed – and the village of “Lung Ching” or “Dragon Well” entered the history of tea. A monastery bearing that name stills stands next to the well to this day.

During the Qing dynasty, Emperor Qian Long had the opportunity to taste Lung Ching tea at the Wugong Temple and he was so impressed that he had eighteen of the tea trees at the temple designated as Imperial Tea, reserved for the Emperor himself.

Lung Ching is amongst the rare, connoisseur green teas on offer at teayana. Other exotic teas in the menu include the Japanese Gyokuro, Chinese Hunan Oolong, Zheijang Yin Luo No, Tai Mu along, Formosa Jade Oolong from Taiwan and teayana’s own Jasmine Pearl tea.

“This is China’s most famous tea and simply the best of the Lung Ching variety. It has more than a thousand years of recorded history and was mentioned in the first ever tea book (Cha Ching) by Lu Yu during the Tang Dynasty.

The exquisite, fat but narrow emerald green tea leaves have a shiny appearance after being carefully hand fried in a large wok. The tea leaves easily sink to the bottom of the cup during infusion and a pleasant aroma arises which is refreshingly light with a hint of fruit and nut combined. The aftertaste is almost instantaneous, filling your mouth with a sweetness reminiscent of grape fruit. It may be enjoyed plain from morning to late afternoon and is best without milk.”

reads The Book of Tea at teayana.

Overwhelmed by the stories, recommendations and an undeniable charm of the stories, I order a pot of Lung Ching.

The tea arrives with a mini-hourglass that would indicate the perfect brewing time. I watch the fine grains of coloured sand seep through like a tiny waterfall, as the hot water in the pot slowly begins to turn to the colour of the morning sun.

After three minutes, I am ready to taste the exotic, light golden colour tea brewed from “fried” tea leaves. Never in my wildest dreams that I imagined tea would be brewed from ‘fried’ leaves!

The last few grains of sand seep through the narrow neck in the hour-glass as I eagerly wait to taste the tea. I resist myself from snatching a sachet of sugar on impulse, sometimes it’s hard to let go of the nasty habits of drinking tea Sri Lankan style.

I hold the cup with both hands and enjoy the warmth for a moment. As I take a deep breath, the Lung Ching fragrance titillates my senses. The aroma is gentle and inviting. I take the first sip and let it penetrate my taste buds. I love the first sip, and struggle to find words to describe the taste.


Yes, Lung Ching tastes like green tea with a hint of grass. But, in a very good way.

Camellia sinensis or the tea plant grows taller than 10 meters (33ft) typically, if left untrimmed. The No 1 “King Tree” found in the mountainous region of Pu Erh, China, is 2,700 years old, 25.6 metres (85 ft) tall, with a root diameter of 1.2 m (4 ft). These ancient tea trees are protected and the leaves are not allowed to be picked. Sri Lanka’s tallest tea tree can be found in Dambetenna Estate, Haputale and it is around 18 metres (60 ft) in height.


360° View: Sri Lanka, Lebanon and Saudi Arabia

Amaya Lake. Sometime in 2007. End of the break, time to leave.

Watching the Sunrise, somewhere in the Lebanese mountains. 2009. My good pal Fadi caught in the frame.

Saudi Arabia, 2008. Watching the sunset from a mountain top.

2006. Kaudulla, Sri Lanka. Elephant watching has just begun. Mahesh and Ranga with Arham – the amateur film crew. ;) I have combined the frames to create a huge image – almost 16 meters in length @ 72dpi.

270° View from a mountain top, somewhere in Buttala jungle, Sri Lanka. 2006.

Combining frames to create a single image kinda takes away the WOW factor, me thinks. And yes, these were shot without a tripod, hence the zig-zag look.


Sri Lanka Parliament: The revolution will not be televised.

Right or wrong, it is important to have an opinion. That’s one of the reasons why I admire people like Castro, Gaddafi and Putin – or even Obama to some extent. But not the lot that sound like Blairs and Browns.

One’s opinions and beliefs may not necessarily agree with someone else’s, but having an opinion and sticking to one’s beliefs are of paramount importance. This sets apart a leader, and a follower.

I was thinking. Yes, sometimes I do that. Why does the entire Sri Lankan populace seem to harp the same tune in unison – most often than not? Today, it would be the arrest of Fonseka, for example.

The biggest mantra in the last few elections has been “abolishing the Executive Presidency” and everyone seems to get so gung-ho about it. But, hang on a second, is that the biggest problem in our parliamentary system today?


In my humble opinion, the biggest problem we have with our “elected representatives of the people” is the A-C-C-O-U-N-T-A-B-I-L-I-T-Y.

Or, the lack of it, rather.

We appoint the MP’s and give them responsibilities. But no one seems to monitor or evaluate their performance. True, the whole country – even the private sector – is not used to setting annual objectives and conducting evaluations on progress or performance, but then why is that everyone ganging-up on the President to criticise everything he does – be it right or wrong for the country? Who is holding the opposition responsible for their failure to keep the government in it’s rightful place? Why does media give us their opinion, not the facts (we know which is on whose side, don’t we?) so that you and I can make-up our own minds and form our own opinion?

Leave that aside.

Who is holding the hundreds of MP’s responsible or accountable for what they do, or don’t?

Accountability is what we need. That is what would clean-up the country, not a retired military man with a big mouth.

One solution would be to dissolve the Provincial Councils and revert to the electorate system where there is one solitary MP for each constituency.

An MP for every electorate, who will be responsible and accountable for the development of his area. If he doesn’t deliver his promises, voters have the ability and the power to throw him out, like we used to do in the 70’s.

The good old way would bring back a lean and mean Parliament, backed by a Civil Service that runs the administration of the country. The grama seveka’s, DRO’s, AGA’s, GA’s... they were part of an effective mechanism, which was much better than the current – politically appointed – provincial council system.

That would also bring back one responsible minister for education, not a handful. It would take the many different ministries responsible for healthcare under one roof, to make up one ministry.

And it would pave the way to downsize or minimize the Cabinet and let the MP’s do the work, instead of the talk.

I’d say, go back to the system of one constituency for every MP. Either dissolve, negate or relegate the Provincial Councils. The powers conferred upon the Executive President doesn’t mean much if the power of the parliament is back in the hands of the people.

What say you?

*The Revolution Will Not Be Televised is a poem and song by Gil Scott-Heron.


Toyota and the Sticky Pedal: Should We be Scared?

Toyota, the biggest Japanese and the 5th largest global brand of 2009, is full of bad news. Due to safety reasons, they are recalling 2.3 million cars in the US alone. Sales of eight of its top selling name-plates have been frozen, and a sticky-accelerator problem is making a huge dent in Toyota’s income. The problem was initially suspected to be limited to the cars assembled in North America, but Peugeot and Citroën announced that they would be recalling certain models built in the Czech Republic in a plant jointly operated with Toyota. This, was making everyone around the globe a bit more worried.

Toyota Prius in the meantime is also facing a recall. The World’s leading hybrid is reported to have a problem with its brakes. The Japanese Government confirmed this week five new accidents related to Prius’ brake problems. According to Tokyo Shimbun and Fuji Television network unconfirmed reports indicate that the Transport Ministry has received around 80 complaints while Toyota has received over 100 complaints separately since the crisis began. Toyota has not announced a recall on Prius yet, but they launched investigations into possible brake problems in two other hybrids, including the luxury Lexus.

So, what is the real issue?

According to Toyota:

The first recall, “Floor Mat Entrapment,” regards the potential for an unsecured or incompatible driver’s floor mat to interfere with the accelerator pedal and cause it to get stuck in the wide-open position.

The second recall, “Pedal,” is being conducted because there is a possibility that certain accelerator pedal mechanisms may mechanically stick in a partially depressed position or return slowly to the idle position.

What are the models that are likely face this issue?

Currently, Toyota is recalling these models in the US due to the sticky pedal issue:
• Certain 2009-2010 RAV4
• Certain 2009-2010 Corolla
• 2009-2010 Matrix
• 2005-2010 Avalon
• Certain 2007-2010 Camry
• Certain 2010 Highlander
• 2007-2010 Tundra
• 2008-2010 Sequoia

However, Camry, RAV4, Corolla and Highlander vehicles with Vehicle Identification Numbers (VIN) that begin with “J” are not affected by the accelerator pedal recall.

What is Toyota doing to address the situation?

They are sending letters to the current owners to schedule an appointment with their dealer.
The dealerships have extended their hours – some working 24x7 – to fix this issue as quickly as possible.
Toyota has halted production of the listed models this week until the cars on the road are fixed.
They have mobilised their entire workforce of 172,000 employees in North America in their effort to maximise quality.
As part of the recall campaign, new car sales of vehicles subject to the pedal recall have been temporarily suspended until the problem is remedied.

How dangerous is this problem?

Should we be very, very, scared? Nope, I don’t think so. There are reports of people losing lives due to runaway Toyota’s, which, is a serious issue. But however, one of the main reasons for the sticky pedal has been identified as wear and tear – so most new car owners have the chance to replace the part at the nearest dealership before anything could ever happen.

How does it affect Toyota owners in Sri Lanka?

Well, so far, the faulty accelerator unit is only found in the Toyota’s assembled in North America, even though there is a chance that some European plants may have received the same parts in their assembly lines.

The cars that come from Asia are said to be safe, but, however, there are unconfirmed reports of certain Asian models having issues in the UK. Toyota Prius is having issues in Japan, but then, we don’t have any hybrids in Sri Lanka either.

Since most of the models identified are not available in Sri Lanka, and since the Corolla’s and RAV4’s come here are of Asian origin, there is very little chance that Toyota’s in Sri Lanka are affected by this issue.

In case, if my Toyota decides to run away, what should I do?

Follow the Toyota way, found here. Some US dealerships are advising Toyota owners to practice this procedure in empty parking lots, just in case.

UPDATE: 8th Feb

Saudi Arabia’s Consumer Protection Association (CPA) on Sunday (yesterday) urged authorities to force Japanese carmaker Toyota’s local agent Abdul Latif Jameel Co (ALJ) to recall and check for defaults in cars it sold locally.

An official at ALJ said the company would invite within two weeks owners of Toyota Sequoia and Avalon models – both of which are produced in the United States – to get their cars checked.

CPA’s call, made in a statement sent to media, is the first by a consumer protection group in the Gulf Arab region – where Saudi Arabia is the biggest auto market – after Toyota recalled some 8 million cars worldwide on safety glitches.

However, Toyota's distributor in the United Arab Emirates, Al-Futtaim Motors, said the two models would be recalled in the Gulf country in a service campaign similar to the one in the United States.


The State of Education

And they run a school. And there are parents who spend their life-long savings to send their kids to this joint. The sad part is, none of the private schools or educational institutes in the country are monitored or governed by the Ministry of Education, they operate under a general business licence.

Would you choose, or trust, this “Institute of Higher Education” to prepare you for an overseas university? You wouldn’t. And I wouldn’t. But unfortunately, there are many ignorant Sri Lankans who do.


In Dependence

Well, Sri Lanka, congratulations on your 62nd Year of Independence..!

Today, we celebrate our freedom. Freedom that prevents our little island from progress. Senseless freedom that gives an individual the right to pursue legal action to prevent a highway from being built to benefit an entire region, if not the whole country, but takes away the right to park one’s car in front of the country’s main railway station to pick-up a travelling passenger.

Today, we celebrate the victory of democracy. The kind of victory that bestows power upon parliamentarians like WJM Lokubandara who has deprived the people of Haputale of any development since 1977. The kind of people’s power that makes kings out of fools such as the well-learned doctor Mervin. Today, in the name of independence, we celebrate the kind of stupidity that sends clergymen to the parliament, and not to the village temple.

Today we celebrate the unity. The kind of unity that separates the Tamil, the Sinhala, the Muslim and the Anglo-asian by distinctly differentiating them in the very poster that’s supposed to unify them under one flag. The kind of unity that is evident everywhere – starting from the racially and religiously biased school system where a six-year-old is deprived of education of his choice, just because he doesn’t belong to a certain race or a religion. Hindu College for the Hindu’s, Zahira for the Muslims, St. Thomas’ for the Christians and Ananda for the Buddhists., and the list goes on. For our good luck, these are supposed to be amongst the greatest schools in the country that breed the leaders of the next generation...

Today, we celebrate sovereignty of the land. We celebrate the victory over our own brotherhood, we celebrate the death of our own men, women and children. We celebrate the fact the we are independent of our own evil, but wasn’t this island sovereign all along until we decided to divide it into pieces?

Today, we celebrate the freedom of expression. The freedom to wash our dirty linen in public, the freedom that strips our nation naked in front of an international audience. The freedom where Al Jazeera and BBC could report from the front-line claiming that “no media is allowed to witness the war” while closing their ears to the deafening sounds of gunfire. Today we celebrate the kind of freedom that makes us look so f*cked-up, that the corrupt parliaments of the US or the UK begin to look very honourable.

Today we celebrate the development. And the progress. We celebrate the fact that we have built three flyovers and dug a single tunnel in the last half-a-century of infrastructure development. We celebrate the fact the we still live in the dark ages, when we could’ve been an example to the West, just like Lee Kuan Yew once predicted.

Today we celebrate the defeat of terrorism, when the half of the terrorists who burnt down bus depots and destroyed public property are sitting at the parliament in their gel-combed-heads, having never surrendered the stolen wealth or the weapons they accumulated by terrorising an entire nation.

Today we celebrate the economic freedom and the ability to live in a free-market. The ability to eat Australian apples and Pakistani mangoes on the roadside in Ramboda and the ability to serve bottled water imported from the United Arab Emirates at the Colombo International Airport. We celebrate the fact that Nawala is no longer synonymous with pineapples, Kalutara with Mangosteens or Bibile with oranges.

Today we celebrate our pride. We celebrate the fact the we are the country of house-maids, we are the nation that murders their minority and we are the country where asylum seekers and illegal immigrants come from. With much pomp and pageantry, we celebrate the fact that we are no longer known for our blue sapphires, exotic beaches or world-class tea.

A little more than half a century down the line, we have managed to totally screw up this beautiful country, right royally.

Well... here’s to that, and here’s to whatever we are celebrating.



So, who voted for whom?

It was one of the early Presidential Elections. I had bicycled over to my buddy’s place in Sea View Avenue and we were going to hangout with our clique on the Election Day. Colombo wasn’t as exciting as it is now, but at least we had planned a good Chinese lunch and a chilled beer at the Chinese Lotus Hotel – which stood where the Carnival Ice Cream is today.

First things first: we had to vote. It was my first time, but I wasn’t even interested. Hanging out with buddies was more important to me than standing in a long queue, and therefore, I had left my vote in the capable hands of an unknown fellow countryman who would vote on my behalf towards to end of the day. Well, that is the norm with us – the Sri Lankans.

My friend on the other hand, was a responsible citizen who insisted on casting his vote duty-fully – so I had no choice but to drag myself along to the Methodist College polling centre.

Since I was making my way over there, I decided to take my buddy’s brother’s ticket with me in any case. The good fella was studying overseas and I managed to cast his ballot – adding one more Colombo vote for the former President R. Premadasa.

Walking out, we were faced with a big hullabaloo. Apparently, someone’s vote has already been cast, even before that someone arrived at the polling booth. And that someone was none other than Pieter Keuneman – a key figure of Lanka Sama Samaja (Communist) Party. Steal the votes from the one’s who don’t show-up just before wrapping-up for the day, don’t steal a party leader’s vote first thing in the morning.

The gangsters from the Colpetty shanty town were “running” the polling booth that day. And obviously, they did not pay much attention to the names when picking which votes they would cast on on their own. Even if they did, they must have thought that Pieter Keuneman was a foreigner or something, the name never clicked with the communist labour class of the country.

Even though we were quite inquisitive and wanted to see some action, it wasn’t such a bright idea to hang around the place or be part of the action.

Pieter Keuneman lost his vote to the mob. Wasn’t his fault.

Sarath Fonseka loses his vote due to sheer negligence or stupidity. How could someone run the affairs of a country when he is incapable of running his own? I hope those who voted for him saw something in him that we didn’t. Honestly.


Monday Morning Treat for the Boys

Source: worktobejudged.com

Came across this in my email. Have no idea who should be credited for the film, hence the weblink above. Enjoy – watch the whole film. ;)


Pu Erh: Tea. Friday Morning.

Friday morning the city of Jeddah looks deserted. I cross the road almost blindly, there is nothing but six lanes of emptiness where streams of bumper to bumper traffic congregated and congested at 1.00 in the morning. January. Friday. Morning. Three things that make walking irresistible in a place where walking is impossible, any other time. This morning is too beautiful to waste inside an air-conditioned automobile.

I meet up with my friend at Teayana, the tea-lounge and café. Coming from the Paradise Isle of Ceylon, I thought I knew my tea until I flipped through their elaborate menu. More than 125 types of distinctly different teas, from over 25 different countries and over a thousand tea gardens. Almost everything from Green or Herbal, to Black or White. Blended, unblended, flavoured and not.

If there was paradise for tea-connoisseurs, this was it.

To my horror, I discover only two varieties from Ceylon. In a bouquet of exotic teas that had even more exotic names, I spot “Nuwara Eliya” after much effort. Surely we should have had more than two varieties, I thought to myself, and spent next 15 minutes trying to prove myself in vain. It seems that the much sought-after teas from Ceylon have failed to move with the times – just like their name. Ceylon, and Ceylon Tea: soon to be nothing but distant memories.

With a long sigh, I settle for a Moroccan Mint tea. And a zatar with labneh on the side.

We chat about life at large. We talk about the impending elections, the future of Sri Lanka and our role in shaping-up the world. We talk about building libraries around the country and how to help our people in need.

We talk about marketing. Or rather the lack of it, when it comes to selling our paradise to the world, tea being one of them.

Later, much later, I decide to try some unique tea and decide to flavour a vintage variety: Pu Erh. (pron. = purée).

Vintage. Like wine.

Older, the better.

Pu Erh is the only tea that improves in flavour and value with age and it takes around 30 years to reach maturity. Until then, the teas are stored in breathable, usually unglazed, clay canisters – leaving them to oxidise and ferment slowly. Once matured, they are stored in sealed containers similar to any other tea. Apparently, some of these Pu Erh teas are coming from the days of the last Chinese Dynasty and a small, compact brick or a cake could easily fetch a few thousands dollars, if they are genuine. Finding such specimens are said to be very rare though.

Since I haven’t made my million$ and billion$ yet, I try the commercial variety that is sold at the lounge: Pu Erh – 10 to 20 years old. Full-bodied, heavy tea that tastes like a fine whiskey. Only lighter, and smoother. My taste buds remind me of the flavour of roasted tobacco and the warm sunshine in Paradise back home.

Sipping that and looking out of the window at McDonalds across the street, I marvel at the power of branding. Then I momentarily wonder where Ceylon Tea would be, if we don’t revive the industry, rejuvenate the market and reclaim our former glory.


From Beijing to Dubai in 55 Frames

At 10.25am, we were heading towards the Plateau of Tibet. “Distance to Dubai: 2,790 miles” read the little touch-screen. I look out of the window and see the snow-capped mountains just below my feet. It feels like 800 feet above ground-level. We were flying north of the Himalayas, 36,000 feet above. Sache to the left and Almaty to the right, we were cruising through the middle.

The scene outside the window was magical. Snow covered mountains and clear skies; nothing else but the shades of blues and the whites.

Jammu and Kashmir lay further south on the map.

The terrain below is impossible and impassable. It looked like as if it had rained mountains. Mountain peaks as far as the eye could see. The view had been like this for a couple of hours, only the size and the colour of the mountain-tops changed.

A scene from Ice Age flashed before my eyes and I tried not to think of the unthinkable. Surviving a fall of a few hundred meters and being frozen to death is not my style. I don’t think I would make a good exhibit in some Discovery Museum in 2375 AD, either.

I hate the cold. I recall my memory and find consolation in the fact that no aircraft fell to its death in this region since the World War II.

I grin to myself and look at the time. We still have four hours to the destination. We are going to cruise above the clouds for a few more hours. We would take a left further ahead to fly over Pakistan, cross over to Iran and descend over Bandar Abbas to head towards the big city.

Nine hours of scenic beauty is what I’m going to enjoy this time. A few movies, two meals, and capture the view from the window with my mobile every so often – so I could put them together, quietly.