During my time at Southampton General Hospital we always had a junior doctor from Sri Lanka in training. Some of them worked with me and many became friends.
After retirement my wife and I decided to go and live in another culture for a while; Sri Lanka was the obvious choice. What was it like? What happened to us? What are the differences compared with Chandler’s Ford? Here are a series of blog posts for anyone interested.
The Sri Lankan Highway Code
From Colombo Bandaranaike Airport to Kandy is about 100km. You can do it in 3 1/2 hours on a good day. During the drive I began to work out how the Sri Lankan Highway Code might look if there was one.
• The roads are for everyone. Dogs, Cows, Elephant, Hand Carts, Bullock drays, Crocodiles of Schoolchildren, Street Vendors, Processions, all Motorised Vehicles including the ubiquitous Trishaw or tuk-tuk. Sometimes political rallies or demonstrations with fireworks. They are fireworks I think; or could they be gunshots?
• All road users are equal except buses. Buses are large, have time tables to keep and are often run by a company owned by a politician who might have a word with a police officer eager to prosecute a driver for a traffic offence.
• Also not equal to the rest of us are large 4x4s containing politicians or their families.
• Drive on the left, mostly. Except on Lighthouse Road, Kandy where everyone drives on the right.
• Accidents happen but life must go on and the wreckage is quickly shifted from the carriageway.
• Road surfaces are poor. During the 30-year civil war, re-surfacing was not a priority. Surfaces are now being ‘re-carpeted’ especially when a local election is due. Our road is being re-carpeted now.
• Learn to love diesel fumes. You can be in a traffic jam with a bus exhaust just inches from your ankle. Matters have improved in the last 3 years since exhaust emission tests were introduced.
• If the road is blocked by stationary traffic, use the verge or shop front.
• There are traffic lights in Kandy but they are switched off as no one told Kandians what they were for.
• Policemen on point duty do their best but when everything stops they go to the side for a chat with a friend until it gets going again.
• Then there are Traffic Police who have quotas of speeding fines to fill.
• To cross the road, use a crossing. It is best to cross in the proximity of a monk; they don’t get knocked down. Alternatively there is some safety in numbers.
• Footpaths; what are they? The quickest and safest way to walk is along the railway track.
• Parking meters are a complication too far.
• Taxi meters on cars and tuk-tuks are always broken. “It broke this morning, Sir.”
• A reliable tuk-tuk driver is essential. When you get one, look after him.
• There is no road rage. Really there isn’t.
We arrived safely. Bernard, our reliable friend, with his less reliable van, got us to Kandy before dark. The air conditioning broke after an hour so Bernard bought us a king coconut (Cocos nicifera) to make up for it. The vendor also had a large red pyramid of Rambutans (Nephelium lappaceum). We parted with 100 rupees for a large bag full (50p).
Ira, the cook, stood beaming at the door when we arrived. “Madam, you look thin. I will cook you some nice curries.” Madam is a tad over her ideal weight but does indeed look thin compared to Ira.
There was just enough daylight left to admire the garden. A profusion of hibiscus and bougainvillea with oleander and a bright orange mimosa lined the drive. The king coconut had fruit at the top so do not walk underneath. There is breadfruit, mango, banana and tamarind all flourishing in different stages of ripeness.
The goddess of sleep had missed us during our journey across Europe, Arabia and Asia but she soon had us enfolded in her arms; whoever she is in this part of the world.
Post Series: Dispatches from Sri Lanka, by Mike Sedgwick:
- Dispatches From Sri Lanka
- Kandy Lake vs Chandler’s Ford Lakes
- Self-Employment In Sri Lanka
- Sri Lankan Wedding
- Sri Lankan Food
- There’s Some Corner Of A Foreign Field
- The Cultural Triangle of Sri Lanka
- This Is the Record Of John
- Tuk-tuk: My Transport Of Delight
- Life On The Road
- Commonwealth Games In Kandy
- A Temple For A Tooth?
- Dawn Train Down The Mountain To Colombo
- Traditional And Modern Medicine in Sri Lanka
- Ancient Vedda Tribe Becoming Extinct