Monday, April 25, 2011

Livin' La Vida in the Tea Country!

I’ve been looking forward to this trip for months now because it is our official honeymoon trip!  Although hubby always says that everyday is a honeymoon – and I agree sans the work and the housework!  Because of a rave review from a gourmand like Gourmet Chick, I said to myself I don’t think we can go wrong heading off to Tea Trails.

The drive was not exactly smooth, it’s a zig zag road through the mountains from Colombo and a few rough patches but leaving around 7am got us there right before lunch.  Although it was pretty rough, it was scenic!  Going through mountains and mountains of tea plantation is a treat in itself. 


The Ceylon Tea Trails is a group of 4 planter’s bungalows set quite apart from each other in the Bogawantalawa valley.  We stayed at Tienstin, the farthest of the lot.  It was such a homey escape – no check-in counters or even a concierge desk.  Just like entering your home.  A butler led us to the sitting room before showing us our room.  The colonial interiors was kept – as if the was still the good old days when the original planters were still living there.      

There were no menus rather the chef would discuss the day’s menu.  Which is always a gastronomic delight!  You get the beverage of your choice with the meal – and even house Chilean wine!  All you want.  Talk about the sweet life!

A variety of activities are offered including the tea experience.  Unfortunately the factory was closed for the Auvurudu (Sinhala and Tamil New Year) but we took the tea experience of our own.  At the back of the bungalow is a real, working tea plantation.  We walked through the 4km trail – with a trail map and water provided.  The view was stunning.   

Back at the bungalow, we were served Traditional High Tea – with your choice of tea, sweets and sandwich.  Armed with a book, the cool breeze from the rain and the love of my life – utter contentment.

We only spent 3 days in the bungalow but how I wish it were longer.  It was a fantastic break and for a control freak like me, a re-orientation to the “sweetness of doing nothing.”   

And this is what I call livin’ la vida Lanka!

Thursday, April 14, 2011

List La Vida Lanka: Must Experience!

This time I would like to share with you what are my must-do’s in Sri Lanka to have the full cultural experience!  We left off with Number 8 in places and to add to up 22 (to know why, check out List La Vida Lanka), we continue with Number 9:

Number 9: Ride A Bajaj 
The Bajaj or the trishaw (their version of the tricycle) is the main mode of transportation for locals.  There is also the bus but I am not THAT adventurous! 

Number 10: Learn 22 Useful Sinhala Phrases, Write Them In Sinhala Script (just for kicks!) and Use It!
One of the most important lessons I’ve learned living in a different country is that you MUST know their language. No need to be fluent but a few key phrases, questions, etc. will help you go a long way!

Number 11: Watch a Live Cricket Match
I know I missed the opportunity of all opportunities (the ICC World Cup) but there are other key games.  I am particularly keen on the Roy-Tho match: think Ateneo vs La Salle Basketball Rivalry.  I hope hubby comes along as it will definitely be a looooong 3 days (Test match runs for 3 full days!).

Photo Courtesy of Thomas Bucher via
Number 12: Ride A Train
Trains fascinate me.  Especially those that run on scenic routes.  And Sri Lanka offers just that.

Photo courtesy of
Number 13: Have My Own Saree
I love how Sri Lankans (and even Indians and other South Asian countries) wear their saree’s from everyday to formal.  I wish we could do the same for our baro’t saya, Maria Clara or other Filipiniana.  Our boys do it (Polo Barong, Barong for Formal Occasions).  For us ladies, unless it specificially says in the invite that Filipiniana is the attire, we don’t.  How sad.  But I digress.

Number 14: Attend A Sri Lankan Wedding or A Traditional Celebration
Now this one is really up to chance of getting invited.  But hey, I’m shouting it out to the universe!  Give me an opportunity please?

Number 15: Read a Sri Lankan Literature (in English)
I love reading and I believe a country’s literature is a window to it’s soul.  But of course, I have my limitations.  Only in English please?

Number 16: Own A Local Artwork (Original)
I love art! For one I think it was influenced growing up in a house full of paintings and “artistic” pottery (you know, ones that are actually made and signed by real artists?).  Another is because I can only appreciate and not exactly create.  Haha!

Number 17: Buy A Gem!
Aside from tea and cinnamon, Sri Lanka is also known for its Gems.  And being a woman, who can say no to Gems?

17 on the list!  5 more to go!

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

List La Vida Lanka: Must-Go Places!

To kick off the newest series in Livin’ La Vida Lanka (List La Vida Lanka), let me share with you my list for the first category: Must-Go Places!

I took my first trip to Sri Lanka in 2009 for a conference for work.  The civil war just ended and the prospect of traveling to the different parts of the country seemed tempting.  Little did I know that I would actually have 22 months of possibilities for not only just going to one part of Sri Lanka but to all if I wanted to.  So here is my list of Must-Go Places!

Photo Courtesy of
Number 1: Tea Country
What is living in Sri Lanka without going to the heart of the famous Ceylon Tea? Taking a trip to tea plantations and even living in a Tea Planter’s Bungalow are musts!

Number 2: Kandy
The place where Julia Child and Paul Child fell in love.  But really people come here for the Sacred Tooth Relic (of Buddha, none the less!).

Number 3: Ancient Cities
To get to the root of Sri Lanka’s history, one must take a trip to the former royal capital of Polonnaruwa and Anuradhapura; cave shrines in Dambulla and a paranoid King’s palace in Sigiriya.

Number 4: Galle
One of the major and still standing 17th century Dutch fort is in Galle. In as much as Galle was severely affected by the tsunami in 2004, many still marvel at the beauty of the seaside city.

Number 5: Jaffna
The seat of the Civil War.  The place has just been opened and it symbolizes a window of opportunity for the country.  H, a classmate in Sinhala class was awestruck by this city because it was just so different from the rest of Sri Lanka.

Number 6: Trincomalee
Also in the “just opened” area of the East Coast, Trinco boasts of glorious beaches and the serenity of being in a place that is almost undiscovered.

Number 7: Cinnamon Plantation
Sri Lanka is not only known for it’s Tea but also for it’s Cinnamon.  Did you know that 90% of the world’s cinnamon actually comes from La Lanka?  Well, just saw that from a local HSBC ad.  And I thought, why not? 

Number 8: Bawa Pilgrimage
When I came here to Sri Lanka, I discovered their beautiful architecture.  It was stunning to be within the confines of such great art.  One of the premier architects is Geoffrey Bawa.  And my goal is to set foot on most (if not all) of his works (that are open to the public of course!).

So that 8 out of 22 on my list!  Watch out for the rest of the 14.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

New Year La Vida Lanka!

For most of the world, January 1 marks the start of the new year so it is quite strange to wish someone a Happy New Year in the midst of April.  Yet, it is the new year for Sinhalas and Tamils (or what is colloquially referred to as Auvurudu, pronounced as aw-roo-doo).

Wishing you peace, happiness
and good health for the
New Year! (

A lot of Sri Lankans connect Auvurudu with Buddhism however I am told that it is not strictly a religious tradition.  For one, astrology is the main foundation for the event.

Determining the date when the year ends and the new year begins is written in the stars.  When the sun has moved from the Zodiac Pisces to Aries, a new year has dawned.     

Astrologers also mark not only the date but the exact time as well when the new year breaks.  And it is not necessarily adjacent to when it ended.  An “auspicious time” is determined for when the year ends.  Once that has passed, all activity is usually stopped, work is halted and no cooking must be done as it is believed that work is fruitless during the time that the sun moves towards its new position.  This lasts for around 8 hours.  During this mysterious time, Sinhalas and Tamils also wish to fortify themselves by praying, doing religious activities and visiting temples. 

Another “auspicious time” is written in the stars and that is the one that marks the new year.  To usher in the new year, instead of lighting firecrackers, they light their fire to cook kiribat (milk rice) from a brand new claypot.  The milk is then allowed to overflow symbolizing a prosperous new year.

Of course the new year is a time to celebrate with family and friends.  Just like how we Catholics celebrate Christmas and most of the world, the Gregorian New Year.  It is a time to make amends in the symbol of offering betel leaves.  Gifts are also exchanged. 
Photo from

So where will Mr. and Mrs. O be during the “most auspicious time of the year?”  I guess we will also be celebrating a beginning of our own.  While most newly married couples have the luxury of taking their honeymoon trip right after the wedding, our “official” honeymoon trip will only take place during the Sinhala and Tamil New Year.  Official because, as hubby says, everyday is our honeymoon.  Okay, okay but you know what I mean?  Official honeymoon is when we’re actually on vacation!  But I digress.

And I guess our trip also came at an awesome time in the place we now call home.  It is a time of reflection, prayer, togetherness, forgiveness, love, family, happiness and prosperity.  And that’s how you really want to usher in the start of wedded bliss.

So, even if we're in the midst of April, I wish you all a Happy New Year (Suba Aluth Avruddak Vewa)!       

Thank you S for the wonderful resource: 
Festival of New Beginnings: Sri Lankan New Year (2010)
Swarna Wickremeratne

Sunday, April 10, 2011

List La Vida Lanka: The Introduction

I like lists.  Use it wisely and it can do you wonders.  We all know how to do lists helps you not get overwhelmed.  It’s like the mere act of writing what needs to get done makes it get done.

Every year, particularly on my birthday, I make my list so my year will be focused on achieving key things I’ve set out to do.

The most powerful list I’ve made is my Ideal Man list.  It was a practical advice from my Spiritual Director.  In order to attract the right kind of man (even “the one”) in my life, he asked me to write down the traits, characteristics and everything about this man – both the nice to have and the non-negotiables.  Hubby fulfills that list to the hilt!
Now, as I reflect on my 6 months in Sri Lanka (yes it’s been half a year since year already!) I embark on yet another list.  This idea actually started during one of my Sinhala classes.  The lesson for the day was to ask each other have you been, ate or drank…?  In Sinhala, it’s “Gihilla tiyenavada [name of the place]?” or “Kiwwa tiyenavada [name of the food]?” Or “Biwwa tiyenavada [name of the drink]?”  In the process of answering my classmates’ questions, I realized that I haven’t done much to immerse myself in Sri Lankan culture.  Yes I’ve started learning the language (taking Advanced classes to boot), have formed friendships with Sri Lankans, work with Sri Lankans but somehow, after going through this exercise I realized I haven’t experienced much that is truly Lankan.  I have a classmate who answered almost yes to all the questions!  And she has been in Sri Lanka for the same amount of time that I am!  And so, while harnessing the power of lists, I decided to actually purposefully set out to immerse myself in the Sri Lankan culture.

So for a series of posts aptly titled List La Vida Lanka, I will share with you my ultimate Sri Lanka list.  This contains things to experience, things to eat or drink and places to see to have the definitive Sri Lankan experience.  All in all these add up to 22 for the 22 months that we call Sri Lanka our home.  Aside from sharing with you the list, I invite you to be part of the journey as I not only “tick” each off my list but as I become a little bit “Lankan” with each accomplished task.  And hopefully these will inspire you to take the journey yourself to this beautiful teardrop-shaped island in the heart of South Asia.             

Monday, April 4, 2011

The Cricket World Cup Effect

After almost 3 months of Cricket fever, the ICC World Cup 2011 ended with a bang last April 2.  Our Indian brethren claimed the cup – although I’m not very happy about that.  Not because India won but because Sri Lanka lost :-(
The Finals: Sri Lanka vs India

I was in the Philippines during the time of the semis and finals and being in a non-Cricket playing country I couldn’t get hold of a game on TV.  So early morning of the 3rd, I woke up and immediately and nervously Googled what the outcome may be.  My heart sank when I saw the results.  I hoped I was dreaming but CNN confirmed the awful truth.  Then it hit me, I have changed.  I have become a tad bit more Lankan.

See, Cricket is a religion in Sri Lanka.  Women talk about Cricket like how Filipino boys would fight over their favorite NBA team.  Our driver thanks me like I just gave him a month’s bonus whenever I allow him to listen to the Cricket channel on the radio.  And there are around 3 Cricket channels, on LOCAL TV!

Throughout the Cricket season, it would be ongoing topic during lunch and pre-dinner drinks.  I surprised myself how interested I got and how I got myself into these conversations.  The effect was so strong that I woke up in the middle of the night, talked in my sleep and asked my husband who won in that day’s game.  That wasn’t even a Sri Lanka game mind you. 

It is amazing what 6 months of living in Sri Lanka did to me, thanks to 3 months of Cricket Fever.  From knowing nothing about Cricket except it is a game that would go days on end, I got involved in discussions, got myself updated even from far away, rooting for the Lions, actually getting affected if we won or lost and even using the word “we” when referring to the Lanka team.  6 short months and I have been Cricket-ized la vida Lanka.      

Woes Of Being An OFW

During my last trip to Manila, hubby and I have become officially OFWs (Overseas Filipino Workers).  Months before I wouldn’t have imagined that a trip to POEA (Philippine Overseas Employment Agency) would be part of the itinerary.  We literally spent the day there, having ourselves registered and getting our departure clearance.  Apparently, all Pinoys need to get registered with them (duh!) no matter if you’re a corporate expat or otherwise and you need to be issued a clearance EVERYTIME you leave for work from the home land.  I understand that controls must be in place to ensure that departing OFWs have the legal documentation, heck it’s also for their own protection.  However the hassle, more so the discrimination is unbearable.  Hassle because for each trip and every trip back home you need to get the clearance documents.  There are drop in and delivery options or you can choose to spend the day in POEA.  You can also get a multiple exit clearance if you are one of the lucky ones who get to go back every so often within the course of a year. 

After getting your clearance from POEA, you have to get it cleared (again!) once you reach the airport and line up in the OFW Exemption line (which is longer than if you’re paying the Terminal Fee).  All the hassle, plus the POEA charges a huge sum mind you (around 6000 grand good for 2 years!).  All the hassle and what do you get in return?  Long lines and crappy (not to mention bitchy) service.  The airport clearance lady was a hormonal biatch but in fairness model employees exists such as the man who processed our papers in POEA.  He had the right disposition, respectful and efficient.  When you think about it, the combined contribution of all OFWs is significant enough to make or break our GNP and this is how we get treated?  

My complaints may seem shallow but it should not be dismissed easily.  Going back to the Philippines, all we want is to experience how it is to truly feel home sweet home.  We do not need special treatment, but at least a more efficient and respectful service fit for our so-called “Bagong Bayani.” 
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