A Few “Whys” as We Say Goodbye

As our time here in Sri Lanka comes to an end, I must say I am still completely baffled by this country. Even after a month here, we walk through the streets in awe of how much more “together” this tiny war-torn nation seems to be compared to India. Every day, we ask ourselves why?

After thirty years of war, ethnic tension, religious extremists butting heads, massacres, bombings, corruption… shouldn’t this place be a wreck? Why are there so many package tourists taking their holidays here? Why does everything run with relative efficiency? Why are there so many perfectly organized grocery stores? For South Asia, this place is downright affluent.

Why?

When they made a mistake at the train station and I started yelling like I would in India, why did the station master run to my assistance and immediately solve the problem? How is that possible? Almost everybody can read, and a huge portion of the population can speak passable English. So what if the word “hotel” means restaurant, these people are going way out of their way to accommodate us.

And now that the war here is slowly coming to an end, how successful can this country become with its educated population, extensive tea and coffee plantations, beach tourism, and booming stock market, reportedly one of the world’s most successful in 2008. (And that was one hell of a bad year.)

True, as the war here winds down, the Tamil Tigers are scattering and there is a constant fear of suicide bombings. This place is clearly not perfect as you can see in the morning papers. But the military conducts its searches with an efficiency that India can only dream of. And even as bombs go off, most of the population speaks of the atrocities with reflection and asks us not to judge the Tamils for the actions of a small number of extremists. This is not a third-world country, it’s something more.

But there IS one insidious third-world habit Sri Lanka excels at, that nasty double-pricing system and constant price gouging of foreigners! Taxis, motor-rickshaws, buses, restaurants, hotels, and the monuments – don’t get me started on that again. Why, Sri Lanka, why?

But, hey, at least they smile with appreciation and pat you on the back with Buddhist kindness as they rip you off. Why can’t India learn to cheat you with kindness?

8 responses to “A Few “Whys” as We Say Goodbye”

  1. avatar nuhrhammer says:

    Perhaps ‘for south Asia’ the people of Sri Lanka are affluent, but not so by your own standards. How many people living hand-to-mouth did you see every day? How many more if you hadn’t been in tourist areas? It makes perfect moral sense to me for visitors who can afford to fly around the world and enjoy a month lounging under the palm trees and visiting ancient cultural sites to pay for that according to their own norms.
    And there’s always bargaining. Did you try it? In many cultures it’s expected. The seller starts at his highest price, often ridiculously high. If you object, make a counter-offer. In haggling you will find that equilibrated price – what it’s worth to you vs what it’s worth to the seller.

    I’m glad you enjoyed the trip otherwise. The pictures have been nice; thanks for sharing.

  2. avatar greeneyes says:

    Love this article and the varied perspectives

  3. avatar Tony says:

    In response to nuhrhammer above:

    We often got out of tourist areas in Sri Lanka and usually ate in small local restaurants, which were just as devoted to price gouging as the tourist restaurants, although on a smaller scale.

    Quite often we would watch a Sri Lankan pay for something in a store and try to buy the same thing for the same price. Although we knew the local price, store owners would refuse to sell the product to us and send us away.

    I’m sure most Sri Lankans are very unaware of how serious this problem is in their country, but it is very officially institutionalized in monuments and national parks.

    In the case of national parks, the prices have become so exorbitant that many foreigners are now deciding not to visit places such as Yala. We also met many tourists who refused to go to Sigiriya. Very interesting.

    Of course, Sri Lanka is not as prosperous as most Western nations, but most people seem to have very decent lives. And public education is light years ahead of most of India, which was the country I was comparing Sri Lanka to. Living hand to mouth takes on a much truer meaning back in India.

    I hope you understood the intention of what I wrote. I think most Westerners would be stunned at how successful Sri Lanka actually is.

  4. avatar Prajna says:

    Superb writing.

    I have visited Sri Lanka and I am an Indian.
    What you have written perfectly mirrors my thoughts.
    We do have a LOT to learn from Sri Lanka.
    There are a lot of troubles there, for one, there was the tsunami just before I visited. The way they have refurbished the place in a short span of time, took my breath away.
    Appreciate them.

  5. avatar Indunil says:

    Hey Tony,

    Even though most of the Sri Lankans are not like that i apologize you behalf of them for double pricing..
    But believe me.. if you go to a village you will see how helpful Sri Lankans are. They are more than happy to go out of their way to help someone..

  6. avatar Chika says:

    Tony,

    Thanks a lot for your lovely comments about our country. its very balanced. I totally agree with you on that ripping off part and I apologize on behalf of my people. Glad you enjoyed your stay and hope you’ll visit us again soon enough 🙂

  7. avatar Kasun says:

    If i were you i would makesome good friends over there who could do the bargaining for you and if you go with your sri lankan friend friend they cant increase the prices.And go to mid ranged restaurants who would at least give you a bill of what you bought.They have fixed prices on food. Otherwise you would have to bargain.

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