Monday, 28 July 2014

Walking ATM in Sri Lanka

Have you ever seen a walking ATM?  Just go take a look in the mirror!  We are in Sri Lanka and as one gentleman aptly put it, tourists are seen as walking ATM's by most of the locals trying to survive in this cash strapped country. 

Although there is a lot of natural beauty here, there is also a lot of human struggle.   And although the people know how to work hard, many have also figured out how to milk the angles out of every situation.  And we tourists are milking time, plain and simple!  

Colombo, the starting point of our trip, is the worst place for rip off artists and smiling scammers.  

Most Tuk Tuk drivers will bleed us dry if we aren't prepared to negotiate price, or walk away, every time we go out into the street.  It pays to know exactly where we are going and how many kilometers it is to the destination (thank goodness for Google Maps!), then we negotiate price on a 'rupees/per kilometer rate (anywhere from 40-60 rupees is a good rate).  Once the drivers have us in the back seat they begin a constant speil on tours they can take us on and deals they can organise.  

Hubster was working his way into a right angry mood with one guy who picked us up and, instead of taking us directly to a beach, did a detour, complete with constant jabbering about all the good shopping he could show us, to a souvenir shop. 
When on arrival at said shop Mr Tuk Tuk saw the mean look in Hubsters eye and heard the angry tone in his voice (and when someone is trying to rip him off for at least the third time that morning Hubster can get riled up real fast) he stopped talking about 'shopping and exhibitions' and even reduced his rate en route to inteded beach destination.  

Anyone who approaches with a smiling 'hello, would you like some help' attitude is a scam artist.  If we are tired of being nice (and there are so many fake people in Colombo we can get very tired of being nice quite quickly), we end up being very attitudinal (ie, not very nice). 

With all the approaches by smiling con artists it's easy to think there isn't an honest Sri Lankan in the Colombo region and that everyone is on the take.  Everyone.  

Which is sad for a lot of reasons, but from a tourist point of view, an industry the government is working hard to build up,  it's bloody tiresome and can really put a real damper on the holiday.  (Unless, of course, you love the whole 'negotiation' type of thing).

The thing is, we don't mind tipping a bit extra for good service.  But we don't like being ripped off, we don't like being taken for lengthy rides we didn't ask for and we intensely dislike being scammed. 

I could really like Sri Lanka. 
I could. 
A week into our trip I'm not sure if I do because we aren't angry, walking ATM's - there is more to us than that, and I'm hoping there is more to the Sri Lankan people than we've seen so far!

Ka kite

Tuesday, 15 July 2014

Out Of Saudi For Normal Life

Riding Townsville with the dog

Hey all, my blog has been a bit quiet recently for a couple of reasons, the main one being I've been out of the country for almost a month now.  I left before the start of Ramadan thinking it prudent to get out before the expat rush put pressure on the number of outgoing flights available (I didn't want to miss out on a flight now did I).  I spent a day or so in Dubai, then headed off to the sunny winter in Townsville Australia.

Baby Chino's with the grandkids

Wouldn't you know it, I arrived just before the beginning of school holidays (that was great planning on my part, of course), so have spent the best part of my time here spoiling the grandchildren, just a little, while their parents are at work.  In between my child minding stints I've been looking after the dog because one of my daughters headed off to Borneo for a couple of weeks, I've been cycling around Townsville which is an extremely cycle friendly city, and I've been undertaking a couple of projects - building a kennel and upgrading a couple of bicycles.

One of the bikes mid repair job.

I bought two cheap as chips bikes off the local buy and sell site Gumtree for $60AUD each.  They have been well utilised by their previous owners (two Uni students from Europe), but are still in fairly good knick and came complete with lights (back and front), helmets and chain locks and baskets.  I figured while riding one I could give the other a bit of a clean up, and vice versa.  To be functional they only needed a spot of oil and they would get me about the place, but for an even better ride I've decided to replace the tyres on one of them as they are a bit worn and give both chainrings and chains a wash and oiling.  One also needs the crank looked at.   A quick and easy project really.  I figured paying this price was cheaper than renting a bike for a month (which is what I've done on previous visits), and at the end of my stay I'd leave the bikes for the daughters to use and when Hubster and I come back for another visit, the bikes will still be here.

The Kennel.  Love the paint job.  It says "Go QLD".
The kids had State Of Origin fever.
The kennel I decided to build because the dog has no outdoor housing.  He is not an indoor dog and, though in evenings he gets put in an area downstairs, during the day if no-one is home when the weather turns bad he has to try and find a dry spot out of the rain beneath the stairs.   To buy a dog kennel is kind of pricy, so instead I decided to use the palings from an old fence to make the kennel.  It hasn't rained yet so we can't test it!

The moral of this story is that, since being away, I've not spent a great deal of time in front of my computer.  In Riyadh, the computer is almost an escape from the hassles and hoops I have to jump through to do basic everyday stuff - even walking to the local shops.   It's just as well I'm busy because if I did want to spend more time on the net, it would be an expensive exercise.  Neither of the daughters have WiFi at home (they both use their phones for internet use), so to get my internet fix I've had to buy a prepaid WiFi device.   (Naturally I forgot to bring the device that we bought on a previous visit here.  Obviously I was far too excited to be going on holiday to think about that, wasnt I!)

Yes, for the past month I've been out of Saudi Arabia, in Townsville, Australia and I'm feeling free as a bird.   I cycle most days.   I have a car at my disposal so can drive whenever I want, where ever I want.  The days are spent with the kids and the evenings with the family and together we have been to the beach, been fishing at the river,  walked the dog, cheered on the girls basketball team,  cheered on the mens basketball team (go Lello!), been roller blading and to the movies, and spent an evening watching women play touch rugby and generally enjoying a fabulously normal life!

Ka Kite,

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