Tuesday, May 24, 2011

3 seconds of fame

While eating lunch at the local shopping centre the other day (yes there is a very modern shopping centre that looks extremely out of place amongst the rubble and makeshift houses) I almost choked on my chapatti when I looked up at the television and saw my face staring right back at me!
I had completely forgotten that a couple of months back I had agreed to take part in the latest LPU television commercial. I had agreed to do it putting it down to another experience that wouldn’t come about otherwise. On the day of the filming I was an absolute mess. The day prior, my grandmother and uni friend had both passed away and I was still in shock and a blubbering mess. When I received the call that I needed to be on set at 10am I politely asked if I could be excused due to my current state and I was shocked when they told me that unless I was dead I still needed to be there. I tried arguing the point but I had signed a contract and they had measured me for my costume (which was just a t-shirt that anyone could have worn). Of course the real reason they would not let me back out was due to the fact that I was the only western female at the uni and the whole campaign was based around how ‘international’ the university is.
Dutifully I turned up on time for my hair and make-up and was told I would just need to wait 10 minutes. In India this translates to “You could be waiting for hours” and seven hours later sitting in a tiny smoked filled make-up truck someone came in to brush my hair and put powder over my face. At one point I attempted to leave the truck and I was physically grabbed by the back of my shirt and literally yanked back in by a creepy little man who had the job of ‘supervising’ me. When I was finally filmed for my part, I was taught a native Indian dance move and was surrounded by Indian women in their traditional dress. Interestingly, my small part on the big screen is a close up of my face and I am unsure of why I had to go through the torture of learning the dance steps.
I have worked in advertising and I am fully aware that things in commercials are not always what they seem, so when I saw the ad for the first time I wasn’t that surprised to see a gleaming well-equipped university that looks nothing like the one I attend. I can only hope it is what the university is aspiring to and that one day in the very near future it will actually look like it does on the ad.

The basket ball courts

Barbed wire surrounds everything at the uni - at least I'm safe!

My education block (the blue perplex was a recently knocked out window by protesting students)

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Final Examinations

Final exams are finally here and my first taste of sitting the three hour exam of five essay questions, five short answer and 5 long answer questions proved to be rather frustrating and a little interesting. Initially when I turned up to my exam, the examiner had not received note of me sitting the exam and I could have predicted this. Earlier I had been to visit the head of department to advise that I had not been given notice of where I should sit my exams (despite all my classmates having received the email). After being shuffled from one person to the next and eventually back to the original person I had spoken with, I was given the details of my exam. This information, not surprisingly, was not passed on to anyone beyond me and seemed to cause much confusion in the exam room. Nevertheless I was allocated a seat and sat down with various other students in the steaming hot examination room. While waiting for the exam to start I watched on, amused, as the people surrounding me furiously scribbled notes on the desks, the back of the chairs and up their arms while under the inattentive eyes of the examiners.
I was surprised to be interrupted 10 minutes into my exam to be told I needed to move seats for no apparent reason and again surprised when I was interrupted several more times with questions from the examiner still trying to work out who I was or why I was there. My surprise however turned to frustration when another man came into the exam room and asked that I leave with him so the university could sort out who I was and why I was sitting an exam. Having been here for five months I knew better than to ask for extra time due to the inconvenience and I dutifully followed the man from person to person until after some time it was decided that I was in fact a student (Yes, I have student ID on me!).
During the exam, the level of cheating was unbelievable and so obvious that I am shocked the examiners did not pick up on it. Despite the rule of not being able to have a phone on you during the exam this didn’t stop people having phones sitting at the front of the classroom. Several times when people were stuck on a question they simply got up walked to the front of the room, retrieved their phone and stood just outside the door to ‘phone a friend’!It was like being on an episode of ‘Who wants to be a millionaire’. The man next to me despite sitting a different exam to me spent as much time looking at my answers as he did turning around and asking out loud what the answers were from the women behind. Eventually I informed him that my answers on social change were not in any way going to help his maths examination, but he didn’t seem to mind. All this took place while the examiners drank chai and chatted to each other and the many visitors that dropped by during the exam. In this particular exam two windows were broken somewhere nearby and the shattering noise seemed be noticed by no one but me.
More than half the questions were directly related to India’s economy and problems and how sociological practices and so forth can affect or improve these things. I have been informed previously that I am supposed to ‘appeal’questions that directly refer to India because they are common knowledge that comes from being an Indian and are not taught in the curriculum. I know better than to ask for a new exam and know that even if I did it would never eventuate. I am not going to appeal half the exam and besides I feel that 5 months living and breathing India qualifies me to know just a tad about what is going on the country.
It will be interesting to see what eventuates from the next exam. Bring it on!

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Bye Sri Lanka

As the setting sun melts into the horizon, bows down to make room for the moon and closes its eyes on the day, our last day in Sri Lanka, we sit silently sucking in the salty ocean breeze hoping the scent will linger in our nostrils long enough to see us through the next six months. Tomorrow that scent will be replaced by a heady elixir of exotic spices, cow dung, incense and urine - a now familiar smell that still sits uneasily on my skin, in my hair and through my clothes. The sound of waves dancing in the ocean will be replaced by the chaotic hustle and bustle of horns and the sounds that only a billion people crammed into one small country can make. I am nauseated by the thought of returning to India but excited all the same. Just like the country itself, my emotions about the next leg of our adventure conflict and contradict each other. Tomorrow we will return to India where I will prepare for and sit my final exams before travelling the country.

For the past week or so, Brent and I have hopped from one golden sand beach to the next including Mirissa, Unawatuna and Hikkadua. Being off-season, the beaches are near empty but it’s hard to see why as the days are still long and hot and the rain is yet to arrive. The exotic coconut lined beaches are frequented by men with baby monkeys on their backs, pythons slung round their necks and cobras in their bags trying to coax unassuming tourists into having a pat or cuddle (for a small fee of course!) This drives me crazy as I am sure the monkeys have been stolen from their mothers and the cobras have had their fangs pulled out as one tout is all too happy to let it strike him over and over again. We don’t pat the animals (although a few years back I would have been just another na├»ve tourist) and I glare at the men every time they stalk past us. On several occasions I am graced by the presence of a couple of sea turtles while swimming in the ocean and during our stay on Hikkadua beach, a regular school of reef sharks lurk in the shallow waters just outside our room.
Sri Lanka truly is a magical place to visit. Rolling carpets of tea leaves one minute and rows of coconut palms in tropical paradise the next. Now that the war in Sri Lanka is well and truly out of sight and the majority of the tsunami damage has been rebuilt, I think tourism in the country will boom. It may just be the next Thailand or Bali!

another beautiful Sri Lankan sunset

Monday, May 2, 2011

Surfers town Arugam Bay

Brent and I have spent the last five days or so on the East Coast of Sri Lanka in a sleepy little surfers town known as Arugam Bay. The moon shape beach is renowned for its point break and is often regarded as the best surf spot in the country. Being off season, Brent is in heaven surfing from dusk to dawn while only having to share his waves with a few locals and a handful of tourists. Unfortunately he learnt the hard way on his first day that the surf sits on top of a sharp and nasty reef and as a result has earned his far share of reef cuts and grazes.

While Brent surfs his days away I am trying in vain to study for my exams but am more often than not distracted by the vast array of wildlife that combs the beach, monkeys, snakes, goats, cows, lizards, birds and the obligatory stray dogs and cats. Upon driving into the town we even spotted a few wild elephants and Brent has been lucky enough to spot a few turtles in the surf. Further inland crocodiles lurk in mangroves but the locals charge a hefty price to visit them. Our little beach hut isn't without its own small menagerie of insects and creepy crawlies and I seem to be sharing my crackers with a mysterious creature that takes his share noisily in the night. I was also surprised to find myself sharing a bed with a centipede as long as a lizard!

Despite the quiet lazy days, nights are frustratingly noisy. The dozens of seemingly harmless stray dogs that bask silently in the sun by day turn gremlin like and ferocious by night as they attack each other in futile and brutal dog fights. The local do not seem to hear a thing!

Another thing worth mentioning about the town and Sri Lanka in general is the incredibly delicious food. The food is distinct and complex and often requires ordering in advance. Despite the staple being rice and curry it is unlike the cuisine of its Indian neighbours and I am surprised it has not taken off in the West. When we think of curry in Australia we tend to associate it with curry powder or Indian curry but the curry here could not be further from that taste. A vegetable curry generally means a bowl of rice with 3 to 8 separate bowls of different vegetables all prepared in their own unique way. I cannot tell you the names of what I have been eating but my favourites have included the most delectable eggplant curry, an insatiable beetroot dish and a butternut squash curry that was to die for.

On one such occassion we were told to visit the little old man who runs the library by a young family of hippies. They insisted the man was a genius in the kitchen. True to their word this yoda like yogi with a greying beard almost to his navel works magic in his little kitchen. His restaurant consists of an 8 seater dinning room table and his library is an impressive collection of his own books which he allows tourists to book swap and buy. Food needs to booked a day in advance here and there is no menu, he simply cooks what is fresh and seasonal into an intricate mix of mouth watering curries. While we ate at his home, browsed his bookshelf and pried into his impressive travels the old man knocked back a family of five keen to try his magic because he needed time to prepare. He informed us while he rubbed his temples that chopping and grating all those vegetables took much concentration!

Tomorrow we will leave this sleepy surf town for another. Lets see where the bus takes us. 
The damage after hitting the reef

Brent's first surf in almost five months

Brent riding the waves of Arugam