A Description of India — August 19, 1780

This poem featured in Hicky’s Bengal Gazette in 1780 (Published in Calcutta). Aptly named a Description of India, it is written from the nostalgic perspective of a Brit coming to India and missing home. Hicky likely wrote it himself as no name is ascribed to the poem.

Every week the Bengal Gazette published a poem on the final page (called the Poet’s Corner) of that’s week’s edition. These poems were quite popular in English speaking Calcutta society.

The most interesting bits can be found in stanzas 1-5. 

            A Description of India

WHILE faithful memory Love
          to trace
Each clime society and Place
   Where we have been before
Whether on Britain’s happier Coast
Which every charm of life can boast
   Or soft Italia’s shore
     What unrepented Sins of mins
Or stranger Destiny of Time
    Doom’d us to linger here
Where broiling Suns and scorching
And overwhelming Floods combined
    Alternate mark the Year.
Where Musick (different from the
That varble from Italian Throats)
    With ceaseless din assails—
Where Crows by Day, and Frogs by
Incessant Foes of calm delight
   Croak their discordant Lays
Where Insects settle on your meat
Where Scorpions crawle beneath your
     And deadly Snakes infest:
Musquetos ceaseless teazing sound
And Jackalls direful howls confound
    destroy your balmy rest.
Where naked Savages in Rows
Present their Offerings to your Nose
    Wherev’er you chance to pass
For here the Priviledge they claim
Freely to iquat devoid of shame
   And boldly sport an A—
If such the picture just and true
This envied Country holds to view
    Mercy on those who stay
Thy lovlier banks bright Thames af-
Riches beyond a Nabobs hoard
     Health and content display.
Thy lovely Banks and Silver stream
By Day my wish by night my Dream
     Once might I visit more
By every Power above I swear
Never to draw this noxious Air
    Let me be rich or Poor.
Let those whom avarice has taught
To stisle every liberal thought
     Selling, alike or sold
Let such their ease and Peace resign
Nay health itself to cross the Line
     And stick at naught for Gold.
Let such return’d affect to feel
An Interest for the Public wels
      And loud in senate Bawl
And when their Bags are like to burst
By an Exchequer summons curst
     May they refund it all.
 For you my Friend with spirit bleak
Such selfish Doctrines to detest
     I breath one ardent prayer
May you the calls of Duty ober

Speed to a Milder happier shore
     To Albions cliff[ILL]
There as in social converse gay
The hours glide unperceived away
     We laugh and Pity those
Who seek for wealth yet blind to ease
Tempt hidden Rocks and dang’rous seas
    And fly from true Repose.

“Embrace the Pace”

Apologies for the bit of a delay in posting anything. Had a run in with some food poisoning. Good news is that I’ve narrowed down the suspect list to two culprits: Those momos from the hygenically-leaving-something-to-be-desired-stall or that Blackcurrant ice cream.

That said, things have progressed well from the Indian side of my research. I had a meeting with the teacher at the American Institute of Indian Studies, where I’ll be taking Bangla classes for 6 months, starting next Tuesday.

I anticipate I will have less interesting things to say in the near future as I move into a routine of heading to intensive Bangla classes M-F.

Two more limiting factors are that 1. we reached out internet cap here, so our ISP has dropped our speeds (for instance, I can’t check facebook—it’s too intensive). I’ll need the internet for transferring newspaper pdfs, and since the American center wifi doesn’t really exist, and good cybercafes are hard to come by, that leaves me in a bit of a pickle. Also, Airtel has a monopoly at Hiland park, which I painfully found out yesterday. Hey, I’m happy to have internet at all. 2. My phone service was discontinued because of some type of “problem.” After some frustration I realized I had to go to the main office in person to resume service. Alec doesn’t even have service yet because his signatures didn’t match up. There’s nothing we can do about these issues other than to “embrace the pace” of Indian bureaucracy. (Thank you program director Adam Grotsky, If I recall correctly, for these words)

Aside from my resource acquisition at Indian libraries and archives, which has gone well so far, I’m in search of access to a few international databases, specifically, adam mathews digital, which has a fantastic and transcribed database of 18th century papers, making searches and research much much easier. So if you are at UTexas Austin, Cambridge, Leeds, or Oxford, please send me an email!

Today I go to the Center for Studies in Social Sciences to meet a few professors I have been in contact with, and to check out their library. Tomorrow I go to Calcutta Walks, what seems a like a neat organization that offers historical and cultural walks around the city, and who I hope to partner with and design my own walk for them based on early newspaper in the city!

Adventures at the National Library

If you follow the steps, it all seems to work out.


  1. Two passport sized photos
  2. Application form duly filled out, signed AND stamped by your institution (Fulbright)
  3. Official joining letter from affiliating University in India.

Daily routing once you have membership entering the library:

  • Entering the Library grounds? Sign in.
  • Entering the Library building? Sign and bag check.
  • Entering a room? Sign in.
  • Viewing a material once you enter a room? Sign in and fill out form.
  • Photocopies of material? Fill out form, get materials, pay for it at the cash counter, which is open some very strange hours
  • Bringing a Laptop?  No big deal right? Wrong.

Each department (Reading Room, Rare Books, Microfilm etc) that you wish to bring your laptop in, you have to write a formal letter to the Director General of the Library for permission. Four letters later, after much signing and dating: success!

Cameras? Out of the question.

Luckily, with Desh and a very helpful Library staff (once you cleared the bureaucratic hurdles), things went fairly smoothly. I was able to go down to the Rare Books section, enter the through the two very impressive steel bank vaults and see the original copies of Hicky’s Gazette along with other cool items.

The Microfilm department staff (called the Reprography department, or some sort of strange name) have been great, and very efficient so far at making hard copies, though they do not have the equipment to scan documents. I’m currently working on digitizing the missing sections from Hicky’s Gazette myself.

The Library has the only microfilmed copies of Hyde legal Notebooks, which span some 20 odd years of his legal career at the Supreme Court in Calcutta, from the 1770s to the 1790s and compose the only legal records available from that time in West Bengal. (Hicky’s libel cases feature in his notebooks).

The Library also has an old newspaper section on Esplanade, whose collection dates to around 1830-1840, with the newspaper, Friend of India being the first. It’s housed in a dubious old government building. But once you enter, it has the musty old smell and look that I’ve grown accustomed to.

All in all, a bureaucratic, but certainly pleasant experience.

The University of Political Graffiti

“Without Revolutionary Theory, there can be no Revolutionary Movement”—Lenin (At Jadavpur University)

Imagine if the first-noticed aspect of your University, after the entrance gate, was not your science facilities, school logo, or quaint green quads, but large RED and BLACK graffiti extorting students to follow the direction of Lenin, Marx and Engels. Imagine if every academic and administrative building was covered in graffiti.

Never have I seen so much political graffiti on buildings as I have visiting Jadavpur University today.

Some Indian Universities, in my limited knowledge, can become exceedingly political, especially the students. When I studied abroad three years ago at the University of Hyderabad, debate on the issue of creating a new state/province in India, Telangana was raging on campus, (as it had been for over thirty years at Hyderabad’s other university, Osmania, and will likely continue)

Universities can be the hotbed of politics. Indian Universities certainly so.

(Telangana is an exceedingly complex issue, better discussed elsewhere from my blog. It’s an issue that people are incendiary-ly passionate about, to the point of committing suicide over splitting Telangana from Andhra Pradesh)

Jadavpur has a long history of radicalism, and a reputation that proceeds it, according to my facilitator, Desh.

Politics aside, I am excited to meet the Faculty of the University soon as I came by when they were absent today.

I wrote this post because I was struck by how much, outwardly, Jadavpur differed from an American University, and thought to share my observations.

It’s a strange world.

A Quick Primer to Using White Privilege, Or How I Met the Director of The Victoria Memorial

We had no plan in mind when we arrived at the Victoria Memorial.

Desh, our facilitator, Alec (fellow Fulbrighter) and I proceeded to the ticket booth upon arriving at the Victoria Memorial, which sells entrance to the magnificent British Raj era building and its gardens at Rs. 150 for foreigners and Rs. 10 for Indians.

Desh took the lead, thank goodness, telling the security guards in Bangla, “They are Fulbright researchers here to do research at the Memorial. Please let us in.”

“Do you have an appointment?” the guards asked.

“We’ve been in contact Dr. J.S. (the Director of the Memorial). You can call him and check”

We had no appointment. But what we do have is white skin, Fulbright research visas, official documents with plenty of stampy-stampies on them, a good facilitator, and a sense of bravado to get you through almost anywhere.

The security guard called S.’s office saying Fulbright researchers are here. S. was a Fulbrighters himself to the U.S. I think that helped us through.

The guards waved us through free of charge. At the building’s entrance, a member of the staff greeted us, bringing us through a service elevator to the second floor, taking us past signs clearly saying, “Admission Prohibited” and asked us to wait while he gets the Director. 

“Do you have an appointment?” he says in Bangla after a moment’s hesitation.

Desh replies, “Yes, we’ve been emailing”

A minute later, we’re ushered in to the director’s office, and make introductions. After a moment of pleasantries, the Director asked, “Have we been in contact?”

A second of awkward silence before I replied, “I’ve been emailing your department.” (True enough, I had been trying to email the director for the last year, but he had changed their email address, unbeknownst to me.)

The most productive meeting in years followed, where I learned that two weeks ago he initiated a project to digitize the records I was looking for, Hyde’s Legal Notebooks, outsourcing the work to Jadavpur University (one of my affiliates). The records are unfortunately off bounds during the process, but there is another copy on microfilm at the national library. 

He guaranteed that I would have access to any of the “brittle pages” not available at the National Library once they had been digitized (they won’t be open to the public, but rather as an on-request service for scholars. He also gave me the contact details of the department leading the charge on digitization, as well as a number of relevant scholars in Calcutta and the US. 

Pretty cool stuff!!!

The Maid and the Planetarium

Today I’ve been exhausted. I think it is the sinus pressure combined with adjusting to the heat combined with immersion in Bangla.
I am a hot, sweaty mess.
Mike’s maid speaks Bangla almost exclusively and she enjoys giving mike a hard time by only speaking to him in Bangla. Getting used to a maid who cooks and cleans your things is another issue entirely. The maid/owner dynamic is a power dynamic, in which the owner of the apartment effectively has all the power, and the maid none. It reminds me of 1970s prison experiments where, when certain people are put in power, they can easily exploit the people under them. I’m sure verbal/physical and sexual abuse is rampant in the sector. 
It makes me uncomfortable that someone cleans the apartment I’m in, cooks, washes dishes, does laundry, etc. All for $60-80 a month. I don’t know how to react, or if it is morally acceptable to have a maid. Mike’s maid is Meetu, and he does give her employment, which as a single mom after she separated from her husband (a bum, apparently) I can imagine the money she earns is incredibly important. She is a huge time saver, her food is delicious and she is proud of her work and especially cooking. Moreover, if we live here, she will be a huge boon for me learning Bangla and immersing better in the culture. What do you think?
I just woke from an afternoon nap because it began to thunder and rain heavily, but I can barely keep my eyes open—in part because of sinus pressure from my head cold. 
Earlier Alec and I went exploring the neighborhood around the Hiland park apartment complex to try and find a place that would give us a sim card. Through comparison shopping we found that reliance has the best deals for Calcutta, but the only corner store that sells reliance sims cannot sell them today (It’s Indian Independence Day—a big deal). We were tempted to go downtown to watch the celebrations, but didn’t. It was too early, and too crazy.
Just because I am sort of blown away by the amenities at Hiland park, here’s a list. I will try and not let it influence housing decisions:

1. cable tv
2. internet, increasible to 175gb cap, and fast for kolkata
3. 12th floor, about 5 balconies
4. 4 bed, 4 bath. 
5. AC in the bedrooms. Hot water showers (obviously, currently irrelevant)
6. big common room, big eating area
7. 2 squash courts, basketball net, tennis court, ping pong tables, gym
8. right next to a mall with a “Big Bazaar” store—the Indian equivalent of a Walmart, and a 2 screen movie theater.
9. Decent location in the city to get around. By that, I mean there is no good location in Kolkata I know of in terms of transit.
Lastly, last night we visited Birla Planetarium, as well as the Anglican Cathedral, and a swank hotel called The Park. Birla hosted a starshow (I can’ think of the name). The women hosting yelled repeatedly that she would stop the show if anyone talked or used their cellphones, which she did, yelling at a man using his cell and a woman whose baby started crying.
Love old aunties who mean business.

Of Jews and News

Surprising: people, certainly the Indians I’ve met, seem genuinely interested in my project. (good sign). Every time I mention it when asked, their eyes light up, and they relate some information, such as ‘I know people at this newspaper,’ or that they really love newspapers. Someone even mentioned an arcane detail about printing presses in Chennai circa 1700.

Perhaps this is one of my insecurities about my project, which I fell into by inertia. Why would anyone really care about newspapers from two centuries ago? It’s one of the aspects that I had the most difficulty justifying in my proposal, too. 

While my project is something I find personal interest in. I don’t want to spend my whole life working on historical newspapers. Frankly, sometimes I just don’t care about the issues two hundred years ago. It’s hard to find real fascinating stories, stories that will keep you for a career, general statements about how history teaches us about the present aside. My project is not one that is going to have an impact in bettering the world in some small way. It might earn me prestige via the Fulbright name. It certainly won’t earn me much money. Does that bother me? 

Possibly, but not in the ways you might think. I want to do more and have a more global impact, not be cloistered up in the ivory tower of historical abstraction and irrelevance.  

But, I think that unless you are in a select few highly influential positions (governmental agencies, business leaders etc) you have to narrow your focus to accomplish goals that contribute to humanity. I could be researching food distribution to the needy, ways to alleviate poverty, but I can’t feel bad that I am not using my privilege in such ways. I am, however, pursuing my interests in other ways that are more genuine (I hope) to my personality. That must count for something. Does that make sense? I fully developed my thoughts on the matter, and probably never will, you let me know if you have thoughts.

I went running around New Delhi. And god! it is nice! I forgot how much new delhi is not like the rest of the country. With it’s wide avenues, greenery and, drumroll please, clean sidewalks! Running was actually nice. no one harassed me, and there were no diesel fumes or any pollution! Of course, I have the privileged as a man to do this without harassment.

That aside, the Oberoi continues to impress with fanatical attention to detail and service. The cleaner seemed genuinely upset to not being able to vacuum my room since I was in it, implying, it seemed, that he was afraid I would be offended that he had not finished all of his cleaning by the time I arrived (at midday).

The was some large European dude who was clearly upset about something in the lobby and kept yelling at the staff and making a real scene. I couldn’t figure out what was happening other than, I figure, sometimes you just can’t please people who are so rich. 

Our third day in Kolkata, AB and I will be having someone “facilitate” for us, and help us find housing—obviously after we look at M’s place. It’s good to have options, especially considering Sheela and my possible commutes.

Like study abroad, people want to sit with each other, or keep cloistered up, (I am guilty of this, too.) when we really should be ambassadors. The head of the commission’s motto for our experience is, “Regret Minimization” which I think is a wonderful and important because we will want to have taken this experience to the fullest and will also want to look back this same way. Everyone has the same idea, I’m sure, but some are possibly more nervous than others. 

So, I made it a point to sit with three Fulbright administrators at dinner. They are at local offices: One in Mumbai, one in Chennai, and in Kolkata. They were genuinely interested in learning about Fulbrighters’ experiences in Sri Lanka and how that commission handled some of the harassment issues Fulbrighters faced (especially the horror stories with “VIP”/Immune Sri Lankan men, and the maliciously corrupt police force there)

Then we had a conversation very similar to what I wrote about in my blog yesterday. About Jews in different communities in India and the world, the loss felt by the their dispersion, me personally (at what point will my children’s children stop being jewish, for instance) and globally, the loss of Jewish communities around the world. This came up because one of the administrators mention that a Fulbrighter’s family is affiliated with one of the Kolkatan synagogue(s?).

From Turkey to India

It was an eventful two weeks in Turkey, and I will certainly miss the ease of travel, intellectually curious and friendly people, and all around pleasantness of travel there.

In sum, our journey took us from Istanbul to Edirne, to Ankara, Cappadocia, back to Istanbul to see Sheela off on her flight to the US, and an overnight trip to the city of Bursa.

We saw amazing sights. The greats mosques of Bursa, Edirne and Istanbul, the capitols, respectively, of the Ottoman Empire. These all had looming domes, exquisite calligraphy, and architecture to easily rival the great cathedrals of medieval Europe.

Of all, Edirne contained perhaps the most hidden of gems: an Ottoman Era Medical College. Its advanced medical facilities, built in the 15th century surpassed anything in christian Europe at the time, or elsewhere in the world, for my knowledge. Among its treatments, it experimented in musical therapy and in treating the psychologically unstable, rather than chaining them to a wall—which made it truly revolutionary for its time.

Situated across the river from town, where the wheat fields mix with green grass, the elaborate stone Medical College turned museum is a testament to humanity’s progress. Sadly, it floundered centuries after it’s construction, mirroring the path of the ever more intestate Ottoman Empire. Where it once attempted treatment for the insane, by the 19th century it chained them to walls and fed them only bread and water. Its other disciplines, like surgery, suffered similar degradations over time.

In Edirne, among other sights like a few great mosques, we also saw the historic synagogue, the largest in the Balkans, undergoing restoration.

Bursa is a city that does not easily give up its gems, or at least is hard to find reliable information about them. The city is famous for the mountain, Uludag, that it crawls up and around. We went to the cable car to take what we had heard was a stunning journey up the 2,500 meter mountain. But it had been closed since 2012, despite this fact not being represented in any of the travelguides (Lonelyplanet, tripadvisor and wikitravel).

Instead, all we found was a lonely security guard who had set up a rather comfortable chair watching T.V, and guarding an empty station.

But we did find a very interesting tomb of one of the Sultans.

In my never ending quest, which was at first inspired by Sheela three years ago in India, to visit all of the Synagogues in all of the cities I’ve traveled to . In reality, it is not really synagogues I am visiting—they are the shells of their former selves, their communities gone. Now all they are, are just buildings, reliant on the vagaries (so far, mostly benevolent) of local and federal governments, sometimes with Israel’s aid, as in the case of the Kerala synagogues, to maintain them.

What is the purpose of a building if the people who made it special are no longer existent? Is there any spiritual connection I feel to shared experiences Jews in these withered locations? Maybe I enjoy, in some manner, the sadness I feel when I see Jewish communities the world over, all gone, and likely never, ever to be rebuilt.

I don’t know, but I do know that it is an era of history that will not be seen again. The distinct communities of Jews worldwide are gone, replaced by ethnic and cultural diffusion in the US, and concentration in Israel. This is what in part made Jews so unique. They were stateless, reviled often, forming small communities in cities across the world, and using their connections in other cities for trading. What will be the shared experience of Jews now? Will its future be in nationalism (a la Israel)? I feel the irony here is too much to bear. I see the particular European ethnic nation state as the enemy of Judaism. Ideas of nationalism (such as movements for a unified Germany for Germans for instance, or France, or Italy…) spawned ideas about racial superiority. Without first having knowledge of nationa

lism you cannot have thoughts of fascism.

Of these communities, I have a remarkable story. In Bursa, Mindy and I went hunting for the main synagogue in the city as well as a series of fish restaurants for dinner, all owned by brothers, on the same street (Sakarya Cd).

We went to what google maps told us was Sakarya Cd but found that it was devoid of restaurants at all, let alone synagogues. Locals we asked had never heard of either fish restaurants or synagogues.

That night, downtrodden and recovering from a stomach bug, I came across a website showing another Sakarya Cd. Before leaving the next day Mindy and I did find both the restuarants and synagogue (Gudesh Synagogue). While I was peering into the peep hole of the unmarked building, trying to figure out if it was what I though, and old man beckoned me over to his.

He pointed, saying “Synagogue.”

I asked if he spoke English. He said, “Spanish and Turkish”

Instantly I knew that he was a Jew, one of those who the Spanish had forced out in the 14th/15th centuries and who the Ottomans had welcomed. These communities which had been in present day Greece and Turkey, had spoken spanish in the five centuries since their expulsion.

With hand gestures and minimal english and spanish, Mindy, him and I communicated. We learned that there were only 60 members (elsewhere online it says 140 members left) of the community left, that the second synagogue had been closed, that all the young had gone to Istanbul, Israel or Medina (?). I’m uncertain about the last city, because Medina, Saudi Arabia seems and odd place for Jews to go.

When we returned to Istanbul, another old man (not a jew this time) saw me staring off into the distance. He helpfully pointed out that I was looking at the largest synagogue in Istanbul. I was staring in its direction looking at graffiti, but hadn’t even noticed it, so well hidden it was!

Cappadocia is other worldly. Vast rockly towers of volcanic remnants create something that looks like its out of a starwars set—in fact Starwars had wanted to film here! (but the Turkish gov rejected the proposal so it was forced to build a set in Tunisia). We had an excellent time staying in Goreme. I cannot highly recommend traveling here enough. We met a former Fulbrighter here, as well as our hotel owner, who told Mindy that everything he had was hers, and that as long as she did the typey typey emailing business of the hotel, they could get married and live happily ever after.

In addition to fairy chimneys in Cappadocia are numerous churches carved in to the roc, some with biblical creatures drawn on them, including a few that look oddly like dinosaurs—so Sheela and I had fun making T-Rex claws.

Because Cappadocia was a christian area under the romans (before Constantine) it came under persecution. The people built their creatives hideaways, one of which is a 7 story enormous underground city, complete with a multiple living chambers, a mortuary, a church, jail (sort of), wells and airflow shafts. They stopped digging when cracks begin to form on the 7th level.

Ankara is to D.C. as Istanbul is to NYC. The cities share an uncanny symmetry. Istanbul like New york is the cultural capitol, and where all the magic and banking etc happen. It can be dirty at times, with both crowded alleys, and expensive shops and feels multicultural (of course, given the city’s history). Ankara has planned neighborhoods and wide avenues filled with, you guessed it, Government offices.

And that, in sum, was my experience in Turkey. I had an amazing time with Sheela and Mindy, who make for great traveling partners (including all the bother bother bother). I will miss them both, but hopefully I will see Sheela soon!


Now, a short taste of India!

Me at the Oberoi hotel: “Hi, I’m looking for an ATM.

Sir, the ATM is at the car park. It is one km away.

Sure, how would I walk there?

Sir, I would not recommend walking; there are many beggars. Take a car.

From door to door I have not had better service. At every moment from the airport to my room, a member of the Oberoi hotel has been there to guide me. Essentially it has been an entirely thought free process-but that’s what money can buy you! Also relaxing is that staff are not encouraged to take tips, which takes the anxiety out of wondering whether or not I should tip the guy carrying my bags.

How was your flight, sir? asked the receptionist

It was ok.

By that you mean it was not good, she said with a smile.

I’ve been sick, so it wasn’t pleasant.

Sorry to hear that. Would you like us to call the doctor?

Uh…Sure. That would be great (Wow, I’m thinking—of course they would have a doctor on staff).

45 minutes later a very professional doctor shows up at my room, prescribes medication and takes his leave. Two or three minutes later, with alacrity considering the hotel actually doesn’t have a pharmacy, the medicine arrives at my room.

Incredible efficiency!

The Oberoi for all its grandness, posh and extreme splendor, certainly makes it difficult to walk anywhere, choosing to take the stairs, for instance, sets of the alarm siren. Security guards look quizzically at bodies in motion. But, not having to walk is the whole point, right!?

Singled for Questioning

I just had two police officers from customs come up to me in the Newark Airport and say they had important questions to ask of me. They started, “are you andrew?”

I am currently on my way to meet Sheela and my mother (a day later) in Istanbul, as we travel around Turkey for two weeks before I head to Delhi for the beginning of my Fulbright experience in Calcutta.
They wanted to know what I was planning on doing in Turkey, if I was going to visit syria, if I had plans to travel in the region and what I was doing afterwards. I asked them how they found me/ knew it was me and they just said, “we know a lot. we get a call to go to a gate and check this guy out, that guy out, and we go”

Now they are standing in the corner on their cell phones looking at me

They wrote everything I said down. That I was going to Turkey for a vacation with my mother and girlfriend, that Sheela was on a flight to Istanbul right now and my mother was home, that I was traveling with $20 only. That I was a Fulbright research going to Calcutta to study the early press in India and the Bengal Renaissance


(Meanwhile there is a girl vomiting a couple seats away from me)

It might be because I missed my flight yesterday, or that I have only a one way flight to istanbul and then onward flights through the middle east to Delhi, or that I have electronic communication with a 51% chance of being with people outside the US?

But I wonder the number of people they ask like me and level of information they collect on people like me (and of course, levels of discriminatory profiling, etc). So far, I don’t see any infringements on my personal liberty but it is certainly disturbing, but who knows what else is going on that I don’t know? Makes me paranoid, and I certainly have not had anything like that happen to me before.

The way they came out of the blue from my side and asked what I was doing. I wonder if I had given them different answers, what would have happened. Although I’m not going, isn’t it my right, no matter how suicidal, to go to Syria, (should I be allowed into the country)? Let’s say I was a journalist—would customs allow me to leave?

If not, then I would consider that an infringement on my liberties, and I wonder if they’ve told others similar things.

Maybe they would…wait for it, classify me as a terrorist. Well, now I know I must be on some sort of watchlist and that’s creepy enough.

Whew! On to Byzantium and then to India!

Brunch Baruuuuunch!

June 1-2 was my going away weekend.

Most of the Fulbrightors were sick.

Nevertheless, we managed to conquer the Cinnamon Grand Buffet. So good!

And with 73 pieces of sushi eaten, amid some other delectables, I managed to destroy their profit margin, I’m sure.

Ella and Last Days in Sri Lanka

It’s nearing my last days in Sri Lanka, and while I know should begin to reflect on my experience in Sri Lanka, I find it a bit difficult to do now.

That said, I’m sitting in my favorite coffee shop in Colombo. Not that I have a particularly affinity for coffee shops. In fact, in the US I don’t really patronize them. But in Sri Lanka—who can ask for more than AC and fast internet? Nothing my pampered bum likes better.

A few days ago Sheela, Nina (I’ll affectionately refer to her as Sheela’s uncannily similar compatriot) and I went to Ella, a lovely British hill station in Sri Lanka. The town caters almost entirely to foreign tourists, not to Sri Lankans, though I don’t know why considering Nuwara Eliya is popular with s grou.

While in Ella, we climbed little Adam’s Peak—a small rise at which end the Hill Country drops of precipitously about a 500-1000 meters into the Sri Lankan hill country—almost like Horton Plains. The peak is covered with tall grass which sways heavily in the quick breeze. There is a little lower extension of the mountain that offer stunning views, after a short scramble up and down a valley between the two hill tops. It’s quiet, calm, and an all around beautiful place to sit and reflect.

As Sheela was sick, Nina and I took a walk on the railroad in the next afternoon. Quiet and peaceful.

Afterwards, I had an Auyervedic massage—nothing to write home about other than I was really anxious I would have a creepy Sri Lankan man massage my body with oil. It was man, but fortunately he was not creepy.

Overall, it was a good time in Ella, staying at Sun Top Inn with good food and not doing too much.

As we departed, we had the joy to stand outside of the immaculate train station and watch a group of school children and their teacher play a game of blindfold hug-tag. The teacher. On a warm (but not too warm sunny day) I couldn’t think of anything better than to stand and enjoy the peace and calm of Ella.

Last Week At Borderlands

Next week is my last week at Borderlands.

Did I mention that I’m excited? I am.

In other news, I really like Tambili –that’s the coconut used to make coconut water. Vendors sell it for 40 Rs. A coconut, which easily gets you about a soda can or more worth of juice. Fantastic. It’s the same thing that they sell for I think $4+ at health conscious stores in the US. The vendor will open yours with a machete in front of you. Awesome. I’ll miss that.

I’ll also miss hoppers, especially milk hoppers. Don’t know where I’ll find them in the US.

Living on the ocean front is another thing I’ll miss. Especially with rent for a 4th floor apartment of $120 a month.

The Not Trip to Knuckles & War Heroes Weekend

Last weekend we had planned a trip to hike the Knuckles range, a mountain range in Sri Lanka in the shape of a human set of knuckles. It never happened.

After a gridlock inducing mind numbing journey that should have been 10 minutes but was instead 1 hr to get to the train station, we bought our train tickets in anticipation of a fantastic weekend of hiking.

After waiting half an hour for our train, we stepped on to find crowded standing room only, no lights, and no fans. We weren’t quite in the mood to make the 4 hour schlep so instead just gave up. (It was much easier). Knuckles will be one more thing in Sri Lanka that won’t be worth effort of me seeing.

Last weekend was a bit hellish mostly due to the fact it was the 4 year anniversary of the end of the Sri Lankan civil war. The government proclaimed it “War Heroes” weekend and organized a massive parade on Galle Face Green.

A few days before I had gone running up Marine Drive. It made for one of the more interesting runs of my life, as first navy numerous patrol boats moved by going north, followed by squadrons of military jets and helicopters and finally a mock paraded even including paratroopers landing on galle face green (an impressive feat).

Apparently one of those patrol boat capsized and one of the sailors died. From my earlier experiences with the Sri Lankan navy on Mannar, where their drain plug on their skiff came undone and water started flooding the space where the engine was (a converted lawn mower engine), and the skipper started whittling the wooden plug down so he could jam it back in the hole, I don’t have much faith in the Sri lankan navy.

Galle face green was totally blocked to all access. I had the curious satisfaction of helping a lost tourist navigate her way to the train station. It’s neat to be able to help someone, especially in a friendly manner. Many times when you ask for directions here you have to be wary of who you are asking because they may have unsavory intent.

Well, I’m sure the actual parade didn’t disappoint, but I was in no hurry to see it.

A Letter I Wrote to My Grandparents Last Week

I am currently sitting in a cafe adjacent to a mosque in central Colombo, Sri lanka. The cafe is run by a Korean man and his English wife. Colombo is a majority Buddhist city with a sizeable Hindu/Tamil minority. It has a decent number of East-Asian expats and more bad Chinese restaurants than I care to count. Thought I’d share that strange note on globalization.

I recently have been accepted as a Fulbright researcher to work on the Early Press in India and the Bengal Renaissance. This is a very prestigious fellowship. My grant will start in August. I am also waiting for an additional research grant, called a Critical Language Enhancement Award (the US State Department thinks of the oddest names) to study Bangla, which would extend my time in Kolkata, India to about 15 months.

I’m thrilled to start. I specifically intend to conduct research into trials surrounding James Augustus Hicky, founder and editor of the short lived Bengal Gazette, 1780-1782, the first newspaper in Asia. He was brought to court multiple times on charges of libel (some by the then Governor-General Warren Hastings). Along with being a colorful character, he was also known for accusing the Governor General of having stolen the wife of another man (a Russian count) and of nepotism, of accusing the chief justice of India of judicial murder and corruption, and of accusing the head of the protestant mission of stealing money from the orphan’s children fund.

Most of these accusations were actually true, but no matter the truth of certain charges, it’s a bit hard to plead your case when you’ve attacked the troika of most powerful men in India.

In recent weeks, I have done a bit of traveling around Sri Lanka. Last weekend Sheela, a few friends and I traveled to the small village of Mediwachiya in north central Sri Lanka, where one of the Fulbright researchers is working on a type of kidney disease prevalent in the region. We also went to Mullaitivu, where the Sri Lankan civil war ended. It’s a harrowing and surreal place, made more surreal and unnerving by the fact that busloads of grinning Singhalese (the ethnic group that won the civil war) travel to see where the war ended as a holiday. I oon intend to co-publish a post in a Sri Lankan news outlet about my time in Mullaitivu, anonymously of course, since journalism is quite dangerous here.

Sheela has become increasingly disillusioned with her project. Sri Lankan cinema, simply put, is awful. Low production values, relatively depressing plots, all with a surprising amount of sexual violence thrown in does not make for fun research. Consider that the country has recently overcome a thirty year civil war, which combined with strong tones of sexual repression, has badly damaged the Sri Lankan psyche. (Though, see if you can watch the movie, Machan. It’s about the Sri Lankajn handball team, who after playing a tournament in Germany, disappear. Not only is it a true story—the entire Sri Lankan handball team managed to escape as undocumented immigrants in Europe—but some of the crew of the movie did the same thing, escaping into Europe.)

Life goes well, and I am wrapping up my last month in Sri Lanka. Work at the white water rafting cum adventure sports company, Borderlands Sri Lanka, is increasingly frustrating. I have been working here since November. Currently I am working on developing a new website for the company. But since I am paid Sri Lankan wages (I don’t even want to tell you how low that is), and have received no incentives from Borderlands’s detached and incompetent management to do better work, I feel little compunction to care about the company, which has given me a mercenary attitude. While work is rewarding, I am increasingly excited to leave and move on to something closer to my ideal career path. I don’t know if that means academia (History per se) or otherwise, but it certainly is not doing sales and marketing for an adventure sports company. I’d prefer some career path that is intellectually stimulating. Barring that, I’d like something that pays well. Borderlands is neither.

I leave for Washington D.C. In June to attend the Fulbright Pre-Departure Conference and will be traveling back up to Connecticut thereafter, before I leave to India in August. I hope to visit you this summer, perhaps in July.

How about that airport now, El Presidente?

How about that airport now, El Presidente?

Update of Life in General

It’s been too long since I’ve written on my blog. I apologize. Too many things, which are not really excuses, have got in the way.

Since I don’t know where else to start, I’m going to bullet point my life for the last few months.

1. I was going to write a blog post on this same topic two weeks ago. As I was hitting post on tumblr, my hard drive crashed, giving me the blue screen of death. I had to get a new hard drive for my laptop, which has convinced me that I need a new computer.

2. At the end of February, I got Typhoid, which effectively knocked me out for a month. It was pretty horrible. Cyclical fevers, once every five days. The fever usually came in the afternoon, on feb 23, 28, and mar 5. Same symptoms each time—fever, weakness, loss of appetite and headache. The first time Probably contracted in Sri Lanka since I left to India on the 24th and had the first symptoms on the 23rd. Luckily I was with a doctor: Sheela’s mother, during all of this, and had good care at he hospital. After the treatment I felt nauseous for weeks.

3. Had food poisoning too, while I had Typoid, from some fruit custard in Hyderabad. Projectile vomit everywhere on the street. Luckily, I had just got off the back of the policeman’s motorcycle from whom I had been hitching a ride (hitchhiking is accepted as a form of transport in India).

4. In the meantime, I’ve been back at work at Borderlands, which is incredibly ineffectual. Something new is always going wrong with the company and the office. For instance, yesterday we ran out of drinking water, which baffles me. How do you run out of water in an office? The water company refuses to come and give us water. Our phone lines also don’t work, and each telephone company says its the other company’s fault so we go in circles going nowhere. Additionally, we apparently had a server at one point, but that no longer works—it would have been helpful to have a server to share files. The managing director of the company is constantly distracted or never in the office. Nevertheless, we have new webdesigners so we will hopefully have a new website! (If our managing director’s design sense from the 1980s doesn’t get in the way of it.)

5. I GOT A FULBRIGHT! … to research the Early Press in India and the Bengal Renaissance! I’m incredibly thrilled. I have a pre-departure orientation in June (12-16th) in D.C. and I leave for Calcutta in late July/early August. My grant will last for at least 9 months, and I am awaiting news on a Critical Language Enhancement Award, which will allow me to study Bangla for an additional three months in Kolkata. In total, my grant will last from August 2013 – August 2014. Fulbright will be the culmination of my research at the British Library and at Rochester into British Colonial Newspapers.

6. Fulbright U.S. State department is paying for my flight back to the US from Sri Lanka. Hell yeah!

7. My friends are still getting harassed. The latest involves our teacher friends in Matara, as well as some Jesuit priest trainee who thinks it is acceptable to text one my friends love messages and threaten suicide if she doesn’t love him back, and to do so despite repeatedly being told to BACK off.

8. End of May I’m done with Borderlands. YES!

9. Travel & plans. Sheela and I have been doing more traveling. We went down the Matara again to visit J and A, and we went up to Negobo where we had an aborted plan to rent a scooter. Negombo is a hell hole. Avoid at all costs. We also traveled to Trnco and spent an enjoyable weekend with lots of friends at S and S’s place. Snorkeling among the coral and fish at pidgeon island is something I’m not likely to forget—especially the sunburns. The bus ride on the way back was unreal—elephants munching on greens on the side of the road at dusk. Great stuff. This weekend Sheela and I (likely also a few friends) will be visiting K in Mediwachiya. We’ll likely also travel to Mullativu, where the war ended. While I don’t condone war tourism, I do think visiting this area will give me a different sense of life in Sri Lanka and is important to better understand Sri Lanka. Week after that, we plan on going to Jaffna, the Tamil cultural hub of the north. In June, when N comes we’ll be going to Ella and Sigiriya.

10. There’s much much more. But I’ll reserve all for new blog posts. In the meantime, I’ll be praying for cold and monsoons.

May Day Manipulation

Today I passed a banner printed in stark black and red on a white background. On the poster were the words in the succession: NGO, UNP, JVP, LTTE.

It didn’t take knowledge of Sinhala to know what the sign said. The sign’s writing equated foreign non governmental organization, the opposition party, the UNP, to two militarist organizations: the JVP, a violent marxist rebellion in the 1980s that the military brutally repressed, and the LTTE (the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam).

The banner was a stark reminder that I live in a country with family despotism masquerading as a democracy. By El Presidente’s right, he has achieved what no other South Asian political dynasty has achieved: total control. The government of this “socialist republic” sponsored these rallies as part of a patriotic-nationalist movement centered around the Sinhala majority and xenophobia of others: Muslims, Tamils, Foreigners included.

The signs next to them featured massive heads of MR (El Presidente).

Next to the banner were crowds in blue shirts preparing a May Day march.

NGOs are seen as a foreign institutions encroaching Sri Lankan autonomoy. You can see the hostility. In fact, we have witnessed it first hand with certain ministers, for instance, forbidding research if it might involve an NGO..

You can see it in the crowds wearing blue shirts chanting Sinhala nationalist slogans walking down the street.

You can see it in the ministers that make our friends’ lives difficult.

You can see it in the harassment we encounter daily, even from the most powerful and dangerous in society.

You can hear it in the stories of severed heads floating down rivers and bags of body organs landing on beaches.

But, you don’t need to see the hostility to feel it.

Still in Shock

Still can’t believe that I got Fulbright and will be spending 10 months – 1 year in Kolkata! Who’d have thunk that I’d be paid to conduct my own research in an independent setting. Awesome!

My Day From Hell

Background: One of our managing director’s friends is coming to visit Sri Lanka. He’s dumping a load of much needed money for B—-s, which will help pay for a new boat (and also which will be paid into our managing director’s personal account). We had been going back and forth arranging a hotel for whale watching in the south, at Weligama for weeks.

Saturday, Feb 16, our managing director’s friend emails us, says one of his friends (hereafter referred to as “client”) is traveling to Sri Lanka, and “Can we come up with an inexpensive plan for him from for Feb 22 – 27?  Ideally he could do 2 days at B—-s and some other cultural stuff that isn’t too costly.” our managing director says yes we can.

Our Sales and Marketing manager and I go about making an itinerary. Finally, on Monday we reach an agreement with our managing director’s friend. I send the invoices out. Yesterday (Thursday) our managing director’s friend’s payment has still not arrived. Without payment, I can’t make travel arrangements. I email our managing director’s friend a reminder—he pays it promptly. I rush to make arrangements. With our Sales and Marketing manager’s incredibly helpful contacts (Thanks!), we get a hotel (G—-a) booked, a driver, and time at B—-s. We call the driver, I—-a to come in to the office later that day. our managing director gives him a briefing and they sign an agreement that the driver will take the client from Feb 22-27, and will have everything paid for except meals.

6:50am. I—-a calls me to say he cannot find our client at the airport.

7:02am. I—-a calls me again, says he found our client. Starts driving the five hours to Dambulla to see ancient cave sculptures.

I feel sick. Bike to work, no breakfast.

11am I—-a calls me asks for G—-a Hotel’s contact info.

I—-a calls again, tells me that G—-a hotel had made our booking for next month, and has no rooms.

I call G—-a in a panic, explaining that our client is coming in an hour. I email booking made clearly for this month. Ask, what can we do?.

Hotel rep says if we make payment immediately, we might be able to get a room.

I call our managing director.

He says we can make visa payment immediately.

I call G—-a.

They say they cannot accept credit cards. Cash only, and they can only accommodate our client for 1 night, not 3.

I call I—-a. Ask if he knows any other hotels.

He suggests K—-a Hotel, says a friend runs it.

Fourth time on toilet today. Food poisoning? Queasy and nauseous.

I talk to our managing director, saying we have an alternate hotel. What to do?

our managing director says go for it.

I call I—-a. Ask for contact details of hotel / bank details.

He gives me his details, saying we can pay him—it’s easier.

I ask our managing director if this is ok.

our managing director says get hotel’s bank details instead.

I call I—-a. Ask again for hotel’s contact details.

I—-a gives me contact details

I call K—-a hotel. Get bank details. Price drops by $20 per night from previous quote.

I call G—-a hotel. No answer. Write them an email saying we’ve cancelled.

I create a “payment voucher” for K—-a hotel for three nights.

Everything seems sorted!

I—-a calls me. Tells me that the client does not want to do our itinerary. Has seen “too many Buddhas.”

I put I—-a on the phone with our managing director, let them figure things out. 2:00pm Haven’t eaten anything yet today. No breakfast. Go to kade to get a parotha.

Feel sick after parotha. Come back. our managing director is on phone with client. We (mostly him) rush to make a new plan. Client is to spend 1 night at K—-a hotel, then go to B—-s Camp.

Our managing director changes his mind, wants to know if I—-a is ok with taking client on a safari tonight. I point out that the Safari is likely to be more expensive, we will need to ask our driver to pay the cost for our client, who says he has no money—not good business practice to ask a driver to front money.

I call I—-a, ask if it is ok.

I—-a says ok. We can pay him at trip’s conclusion.

Now the plan is the client will go to Safari tonight, spend one night at K—-a Hotel, then drive tomorrow to B—-s and stay 4 nights.

I ask our accountant if she made payment to K—-a hotel for 3 nights, as per the prior invoice. Thank god she hasn’t! I amend invoice for our accountant for K—-a Hotel, 1 night only now. Everything seems sorted!

Our managing director asks if we can ask our driver if he is ok finishing his job tomorrow after dropping our client at B—-s. We have already made a contract saying his employment is for another five days—so I’m not sure how ethical this is.

I call I—-a if this is ok. Thank god, again, he says this is ok. He will quote a new price tomorrow.

Left unresolved:

  • What will happen to I—-a’s payment?

  • Without a driver, how will our client make it to Whale Watching after our B—-s camp? our managing director left this one vague, saying he could meet our client halfway in Colombo and drive the rest of the way. I leave unsaid that this means our client will have to take a bus to Colombo. (Oh heavens no!). Figure our managing director has it covered.

End. Now I have to write an article for a magazine. My last day before vacation to India!

To The Breakers

One of my favorite things in Colombo is to walk out the half block to the ocean, sit or stand upon the rocks that act as breakers, and view the sunset, made all the more vibrant beautiful by those pollution particles in the air. The sun drops from the sky in a matter of minutes, turning a bright day into night without second thought.

On the rocks, facing due West, is to the right the harbor of Colombo. In the distance you can see the line of ships making their way to the port, lights flickering in the distance, just above to blue horizon. To the left is a small military installment (a shack, really) and beyond that, Wellawatte beach—the haunt of umbrella couples: young couples illicitly kissing or just sitting underneath an umbrella, often, I’ve read, too poor for anything else.

Every hour or so, a train rickets by, blowing its horn loudly to announce its passage.I’m also under the suspicion that these breakers are where people go to light up, which would explain the smoke that certainly does not smell like cigarettes.

From the balcony where I sit typing this message, I see the ocean and all of the apartment blocks of Colombo to my right (north), their tropical tin, clay or, concrete roofs, as resplendent as the blue sea. Life is easy, the breeze is nice—but damn, as soon as you’re in the sun—murderously hot.

Business in Sri Lanka

I think I get it. Or, at least I’m done fighting.

I’ve moved on to a mix of passive resistance and giving up. Two stories to elucidate my point:

Story One

Since I arrived at this company, I’ve been working on the website, along with our web designer. Events have not moved as fast as I would like. Content wise, most of the core element are near completion, but in terms of design it’s a ways off.

For the last three weeks, we’ve been unable to FTP to our new site. For the last three weeks, we’ve been constantly frustrated and working at 1/10 our efficiency, and we’d even sent in over five different requests for support to our webhost, none of which were answered.

I had just made plans to go to the webhost’s office in person, when a coworker asked, “Have you been trying to change the password for cpanel?”

Yes, I explained. I had been trying to figure out which email we had our login information under, so I could go to our webhost in person and explain our problem. We hadn’t been able to FTP for weeks.

The problem was that our webhost had changed our password for FTP weeks ago. Our webhost had only emailed my coworker the new password. But, my coworker explained, “I can’t give the password to you, because, you understand, we can’t give it to everyone in the office,” he said patronizingly.

“I don’t need it, but our web designer needs it. Why didn’t you email it to her when you got the email? We haven’t been able to do anything for weeks!”

“Well, now you have it,” he said.

No admission of sorry, no, “I didn’t realize that not having this information would make your life harder.” My blood was boiling, and I left the office. To my coworker’s credit, he had gotten married. However, he had been in the office when he received the email and is in a management position here.

There are a couple things wrong with the above.

First, my coworker did not forward the crucial email for our jobs, even though we were working on the website and likely knew we needed the new password.

Second, the webhost, when we sent in help tickets, ignored all of them, and instead called my coworker only, not informing of us any of the details.

Story Two

Last week, we needed a poster made for the office, to give to a school group. I had designed the poster, and finished it on Tuesday. I gave the poster to my coworker (a different one than above) and told him we needed it printed urgently.

I asked him on Wednesday how the printing was going. He said he would do it Thursday.

I asked him on Thursday how the printing was going. I got a response indicating he was working on it.

I asked him on Friday if he had printed it. He said that he hadn’t been able to print it for the past week because it was too pixilated. Why didn’t you tell me it was too pixilated? I could have fixed it! If I had known that the image was too pixilated, I could have immediately avoided all the problems and wasted time. But culture here dictates that you cannot disappoint someone asking for help. For instance, if you ask for directions and someone doesn’t know, they’ll just point you in a random direction, rather than saying the don’t know.

We needed it delivered later the same day! quickly remade the poster and gave it back to him. He said he thought it was ok if he could print it on Saturday. I said, “no.” I need it now, we need to deliver it to the school by 4pm!

He went to go eat lunch.

He came back and I told him we needed it now, or, “my head was off.”

In order to help a “machan” (brother) out, he drove to the printing office. But, then called me and told me he forgot the file.

I emailed it to him.

He then called and said he couldn’t reach the phone number of the schoolmaster we were delivering it to and had forgotten the backup number.

I texted him the backup number, and cycled off to the school, where I waited for him to deliver the poster.

I called and asked where he was. He said he was lost. 5:30 he showed up, quite the sight on his scooter with a life size poster between his legs


(Saying the word, “hurry” is a criminal offense.)

Today in the life of…

I went on a walk today, which is a totally normal event in the ccourse of my life. I rather like walks. They’re pleasant after the end of a long day.

My walks must also be pleasant to a significant portion of Colombo’s male population. Six people said hi (not all were in a strange manner), a couple young men gave a few strange leers, and groups of teens made lewd sucking sounds with their mouths or shouts to get my attention..

Someone once said (I think this was indi.ca) about Sri Lankan men that they grew up and live in a family. Then comes that awkward age between puberty and marriage. In this time they have the internet, and of course, time to harass people. In all, I’m a bit perplexed. I think I’m about to begin a spreadsheet documenting all the strange attention I receive.

Luckily no one said “Wowwww!” this time.

El Presidente’s visit

El Presidente is going to Trinco (a Tamil city in the North) this weekend to celebrate Tropico’s National Day. This is to celebrate Tropico’s nationhood, (by the way, the four year anniversary of the end of Tropico’s brutal 30 year civil war is coming up in May). Not all might be thrilled at the prospect of celebrating Nation Day, especially the Tamils, the community from whom Tamil Tigers (LTTE) drew its supporters. The LTTE were notoriously anti Tropico-nation.

El Presidente is busing supporters for his weekend to Trinco. Sean reports that he’s never seen so many Klingon speakers in Trinco. Trinco is a city with mostly Tamil residents, who due to some, you might say, questionable human rights policies during the war and thereafter, may not be the biggest fans of El Presidente.

Moreoever, El Presidente’s upcoming visit to Trinco means that the city’s infrastructure is getting a much needed boost. Hey, at least they’re paving the roads now. Now, about that harbor…

(Using acronyms to CMA [cover my ass])

Mail and 11 Things

1. Sheela and I made a list of all the people we should mail post cards to a couple days ago. I think my count was 90 people. Time to start. 

2. It’s hot. Hot, humid, sunny. 90+ deg. 85% + humidity. Every day. I would like a day of snow, please.

3. I learned to never but grease on a bike chain. Yesterday, the derailleur on my bike bent like a piece of licorice. Apparently, I was the laughing stock of the bike shop yesterday. which is a little difficult if the bike shops don’t sell chain oil. So I’ve ended up trying to decide whether to use diesel engine oil or coconut oil. 

4. Serious about doing research into preventing death/aging. Living forever would make things much easier.

5. Work is certainly relaxed. I think one of the employees comes in only once a week though he is full time. Island life…

6. My favorite cheap restaurant is called “Muslim Hotel” Fantastic curries

7. I will never understand huge portions of rice here, proportion to curries. So much rice, so little curry! I do my best to befuddle Sri Lankans by never taking rice with my dishes.

8. I recommend never shipping anything valuable to Sri Lanka. You have to go to the main post office to receive your packages. Customs will open your mail in front of you, and charge you incredible rates for importing goods, esp technology. Also potentially humiliating depending on what you have shipped to you.

9. Long live El Presidente. Ahem.

10. So very excited that I have been recommended for a Fulbright research grant to India. Cannot wait until April when I should hear back if I become a Fulbright Researher. Arghhhhhhhhhhhh!

11. Sri Lanka is incredibly diverse. Where else in the world can you go to a British Hill Station, enjoy great tea and 40 deg weather at 6 deg north of the Equator while being only 5 hours away from Colombo and the Coast? Or see the beautiful beaches of the South, the Dutch Forts, the national parks and elephants, the stunning ancient cities with the Buddha carvings, stone buildings and massive stupas and the intriguing north, recently over from a devastating 30 year war.

Yogurt like Jello

I had a very strange realization today. Sri Lankan yoghurt reminds me of jello. Not that that’s a bad thing. It’s just a little more wobbly than I’m used to.

There’s curd here, as well, which is just buffalo milk that’s been curdled. Curd and treacle (a syrup much like maple syrup) is almost like a national desert.

In news that doesn’t involve gelatin, I’m excited to head up to Trincomalee this weekend to visit Sean and Sarah, where she’s been doing much of her research work and where Sean has been teaching English and being the representative white person in the region.