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Entries about culture shock

Desiderata

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Nuwara Eliya, Sri Lanka
Sunday, 10 February 2019

Normally when I am angry or frustrated, a good night's sleep will cure what ails me. Not this morning. I awoke at a quarter past eight after a deep seven and a half hours' sleep and I was just as ropable as I was last night. I could have still strangled those dreadful station employees with their obsequious smiles at Bandarawela with my bare hands.

I was anxious, shivering, had a stomach ache, was afraid to leave my room. I know the symptoms well - culture shock has finally hit. I have had it two times before but on those occasions I suffered these symptoms on the very evening I arrived in Seoul and Brussels. This time, culture shock has taken eleven days to cripple me. I must be getting more resilient.

I sat in my hotel room. Unknown to me, the street in central Nuwara Eliya on which Sapu's Mountain Breeze is located is used as a street market during daylight hours. It's like Colombo's Pettah in miniature. Various costermongers would yell what they were selling. There was someone out of my window who kept yelling something like "yadi-yadi-yadi-yadi-yadi-yadi-yellow!" It got rather annoying rather quickly and made my culture shock even worse.

At about ten I left my room and was served breakfast. The three men who appear to run this place seem like quite decent people though their English is rather poor. They are Tamils - the Hill Country is very ethnically mixed; within a few minutes' walk of my guest house is a mosque, a church and a Buddha statue. The people who run this place are Sri Lankan but they do have mannerisms that are different to the majority Sinhalese ethnic group. They have that Indian habit of wagging their head from side to side to indicate that they are listening to you, and they smile a lot just for the sake of it. They don't seem as serious and reserved as many of the Sri Lankans I have met so far.

I managed to find the courage to leave the hotel at lunchtime. I repeated to myself the lines from the famous Desiderata prayer:

Beyond a wholesome discipline
Be gentle with yourself

I promised myself that I would take things gently and that I would try to be gentle with others.

It was tough. I was instantly assailed by the crowds, the smells, the noises, the garish colours of the street market outside. Moving was very difficult. I found myself stuck in a crowd next to a malodorous fish stall that made me want to vomit. I needed to get away from that piscatorial stench but I literally could not move.

After I had extracted myself from that market, I found myself on the main street. There was a Cargill's supermarket. I needed to top up on toiletries. I was intending to do some hiking so I stocked up on drinks and snacks. I also needed ziplock sandwich bags. My passport was destroyed by getting wet in the rain when I visited South Korea five years ago and since then I diligently protect my passport by sealing it in a ziplock sandwich bag. But sandwich bags start to split apart after spending lengthy periods of times in clothes pockets and I had run out of sandwich bags I brought from Australia. I showed a Cargill's employee a photo of a ziplock bag on my phone and she said she had never seen anything like that. Another employee said that a shop across the road that was like a two-dollar shop might have some, but they didn't have them either.

I craved Western food. I guess this is part of culture shock. I saw a Pizza Hut in the distance. As I walked up there a white woman called out to me. She didn't know me but she had seen me climb Little Adam's Peak, she had even spoke to me to ask how high the mountain was and I showed her on my iPhone's compass app, and she had also seen me on other occasions walking around Ella. It is funny how all of us travellers have ended up on the same loop and how we keep running into each other as we travel around the loop. The vast majority of us have chosen to go anticlockwise from Colombo too. I didn't intend to follow the same ant trail as everyone else but it just so happens that the premier sights in Sri Lanka are conveniently located on a circle around the southern half of the island.

Natasha was a Latvian living in England and she seemed to be suffering a little bit of culture shock too. She said that she felt like an alien. She had fallen in with a Russian bloke also travelling on the ant trail, Oleg, and he soon joined us. People sometimes criticise travellers for just socialising with each other and not doing more to socialise with the locals. I respond to this by saying that of course people want to associate with people with whom they have things in common. I have things in common with Natalie, with Jason, with the Austrians in Yala, with Natasha. I have very little in common with most locals. The cultures are far too different, the levels of economic and social development are too different, there is too little common ground.

All three of us were starving so we went our separate ways to find something to eat. I went to Pizza Hut. As I was waiting for my order I looked at Twitter. I had posted a lengthy thread with photos and videos of yesterday's train trips earlier that morning; it was a condensed version of the blog entry previous to the one you are reading now. Like in the blog entry, I expressed my gratitude that I was from the West, and some leftie black-bloc moron from a German-speaking country accused me of being a patronising colonialist "like a real civilised Western person".

Blah. Without Western civilisation there would be no scientific method, no Enlightenment, no rationalism, no liberalism, no socialism, no trade unionism, no welfare state and none of the amazing intellectual advances of the past three centuries that have made it possible for such imbeciles to sit on their comfortable Western backsides and accuse some stranger on the Internet of being some sort of racist imperialist. P.J. O'Rourke was right when he wrote that we do ourselves a disservice when we fail to defend Western civilisation and that it is the only civilisation that has ever tried to obtain for every citizen life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. It is not a coincidence that the only countries where the common person has a secure, prosperous life either belong to Western civilisation or have adapted features of Western civilisation to their own. It is possible to have left-wing socialist convictions and still be grateful for all the things Western civilisation has given us while acknowledging the shameful aspects of the history of that civilisation. But I guess such nuance is well beyond the meagre mental abilities of black-bloc zealots and other extremists on both the left and the right.

I paid the Rs. 1,176 bill with a Rs. 1,000 and a Rs. 500 note, and was told that they would only be able to give me two hundred in change.

"No, 1,500 minus 1,176 is 324. You will give me 324 rupees in change. Or would you rather I pay by card?"

"No, we only take cash." I did get my full change from the waiter who obviously was not happy. I don't know how to get around this change problem. Maybe whenever I withdraw money at an ATM I need to go into the bank and break the larger denominations into Rs. 100 notes. My wallet will end up thicker than the Sydney White Pages.

There is a small national park on the edge of town, Galway's Land National Park. I decided to walk the three kilometres out there. I found myself in a rough neighbourhood where I saw my first poverty in Sri Lanka. I don't mean the poverty of the tuk-tuk touts or the skinny old labourers in Pettah but real poverty, grinding poverty, heartbreaking poverty, the poverty you see on the television ads for World Vision child sponsorships. There was a whole family living in a rusty unlit shack about the size of a shipping container with the whites of a little girl's pair of eyes peering brightly out of the darkness. A little further on a group of boys aged about nine saw me and starting running after me. "Hello! Stay and come, sir! Stay and come! Money! Hello, sir! Money!" Houses that looked half-finished stood cheek by jowl with expanses of shacks and hovels. How on earth people can jusitfy to themselves such an evil state of affairs is beyond me. And conservatives in the West want to abolish all foreign aid to underdeveloped countries. I suppose the people here ought to pull themselves up by their own bootstraps while those bootstraps are being snatched away from them.

I followed the Google Maps directions to Galway's Land and found myself on Old Railway Road in a wealthy neighbourhood of neat two-storey homes with driveways and high fences. It was a very steep road. Nuwara Eliya is a hilly town and is nineteen hundred metres above sea level, even higher than Charlotte Pass, the highest ski resort in Australia. Walking on such steep roads at such a high altitude is very tough work for someone who lives thirteen metres above sea level.

I rounded a hairpin bend only to be greeted by a closed gate across the road. Google Maps was telling porkies. A helpful resident in one of the large family homes came out of his house and pointed me in the right direction.

I walked through a neighbourhood with Australian and European trees; tall, stringy eucalypts, erect pines and drooping yews. It reminded me of a Bizarro version of the Blue Mountains. Imagine if Blackheath had swarms of tuk-tuks. I soon arrived at Galway's Land National Park. It was ten to five and the park closed at six. But it is tiny, only twenty-nine hectares.

I paid the Rs. 2,070 park entrance fee for foreigners. Sixteen Australian dollars seems very expensive for such a tiny park. I paid it anyway. I had to sign a cash receipt and a Permit To Enter And Remain Within A National Park, a large sheet of white paper, a bit bigger than A3, with closely typed bureaucratic regulations and conditions. The park ranger completed forms in triplicate with carbon paper and entered all my personal details on a giant ledger. All so one person can enter a national park. Australians who complain about red tape in our Public Service have seen nothing.

Galway's Land is a small knob of virgin montane rainforest almost completely surrounded by the Nuwara Eliya urban area. I had hoped that coming here would help with the culture shock. There are two signed walking routes inside the park, both loops, and I spent forty minutes in there. It was lovely to stroll through the mossy trunks and cool, moist air while listening to the frogs and birds. The weather in Nuwara Eliya is magnificent, like Sydney in winter. Days in the high teens, nights in the high single digits, with such clean air. It is such a refreshing change from the pestilential humidity of the lowlands. It was even nicer strolling through Galway's Land with its shade and pleasant rainforest smell and utter solitude.

I didn't want to leave. I gave serious consideration to staying in the park overnight. I had my rain jacket, I had my phone and power bank, I had plenty of snacks and fruit amd water, there were park benches for me to sleep on and I could use the spongy side of my daypack as a pillow. Anything to avoid going back into that madhouse out there. But my permit was only for the tenth of February. The park rangers, scarcely run off their feet with hordes of visitors, would notice that I had not left and would call search and rescue to find me. Perhaps I would be fined for exceeding the length of my permit. It was with reluctance that I left.

I caught a tuk-tuk back into town. Later on I went to fetch some dinner, "short eats", just fried or baked snacks like samosas and pakoras that cost fifty rupees each. On my way back I found that my street was crawling with street dogs. All the detritus from the now-gone market stalls had obviously attracted the mutts. Some were quite aggressive. A strange thing about street dogs in Nuwara Eliya - the cold high-altitude climate has created a breed of street dog with shaggy fur. The lowland street dogs have fur about as short as a bull terrier's.

So I walked back to the main street, told a tuk-tuk driver that he was about to earn the easiest one hundred rupees of his life, and he drove me one block back to my guest house and a thrilling night of watching the BBC World News channel.

St Xavier’s Church and Pidurutalagala

St Xavier’s Church and Pidurutalagala

Nuwara Eliya street market and Pidurutalagala

Nuwara Eliya street market and Pidurutalagala

Cargill’s supermarket

Cargill’s supermarket

Australian cheese in Sri Lanka

Australian cheese in Sri Lanka

Nuwara Eliya

Nuwara Eliya

Galway’s Land National Park

Galway’s Land National Park

Australian hoop pine in Galway’s Land National Park

Australian hoop pine in Galway’s Land National Park

Edward VII post box (1901-1910)

Edward VII post box (1901-1910)

Canned cheese - as disgusting as it sounds

Canned cheese - as disgusting as it sounds

Posted by urbanreverie 23:42 Archived in Sri Lanka Tagged rainforest sri_lanka culture_shock nuwara_eliya Comments (0)

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