A Different World
Ten minutes in the country and I couldn’t get over how different Sri Lanka was from India. Why would I even compare the two, you might ask. Well, Sri Lanka and India have close ties, the people superficially look the same, and the countries are neighbors. In fact, the flight from Trivandrum in southern India to Sri Lanka’s capital Colombo only takes 45 minutes. You have to understand that a 20-kilometer bus ride in India takes about this much time. So it was natural for me to assume (and maybe a little ignorant) that Sri Lanka was only an extension of India’s southern states Kerala and Tamil Nadu.
Clearly, I was mistaken. The first difference I noticed was how clean Colombo was – relatively speaking, of course. This is, after all, a third world capital of several million people. When we came in on a bus from the airport, I was surprised that I didn’t see any heaps of burning trash (a common sight in India), instead, I saw artificial lakes, and road dividers made of shrubs and flowers – generally speaking, a cleaned-up version of urban sprawl. This, I bet, is a direct consequence of Sri Lanka’s smaller population density, which brings me to my next point.
There are a lot fewer people surrounding me at any given moment. This means, less hassle from rickshaw drivers, less noise, and less traffic congestion. It almost brought tears to my eyes when I noticed a car stopping at a pedestrian crossing to let an elderly lady walk over the road. In India, pedestrian crossings are nothing but a farce. They have no meaning other than target practice for unscrupulous drivers.
What’s very obvious in this country is that women are more visible. Unlike India, this is not just a man’s world. Women work in shops, run information desks, they are part of the police force, – by and large, they seem more integrated into every-day life. To my surprise, they seem very westernized, many wearing western clothes rather than traditional clothing.
One difference I could do without is the much higher cost of traveling in Sri Lanka. In preparation for this trip, we foolishly believed the prices quoted in our 2006 guidebook. As it turns out, food and lodging are suddenly 50 to 100 percent more expensive. Ouch! When we ask people why, the answer is always the same: inflation. At first, I didn’t buy it, but when I noticed a bank ad in the local newspaper quoting interest rates of 22 percent for long-term deposits, I became more sympathetic. Still, doubling prices for hotels and meals within a 2-year period doesn’t seem justified. We’ll just have to think twice before buying a second or third lassi.
But, there are some less than fortunate similarities. Sri Lanka, too, has a double pricing system especially when it comes to fees for historical sites or national parks. Often we have to pay 20 to 30 times the local price. But that’s not all. We get overcharged on local buses, in trains, taking rickshaws, and even for our first beef burger in over a year at a McDonald’s restaurant. (They didn’t teach them that at McDonald’s Univerisity.) But after their ears stop ringing from Tony’s tirade on honest business practices, they might think twice about McPrice-Gouging.
Despite the high costs and questionable pricing for foreigners, it looks like Sri Lanka should be an interesting change and more of a cultural diversion from India than we had expected. We’ll be sure to share more of our discoveries with you here on the blog.