January 2011

This morning we planned to sleep in, but I was up at 6:45 anyway and snuck out to have a cup of tea and watch the waves roll in from the balcony overlooking the sea. I’ve slept in plenty in my life. I haven’t sipped a morning cup of tea reading the Sri Lankan Daily News with the Indian Ocean at my feet that often. Pam joined me for breakfast, and what with the view and the near endless buffet, it was nearly 10:30 before we felt inclined to move on.

First on the list was the National History Museum, a sprawling colonial structure that once housed the British governor. Now it is stocked with the relics of Sri Lanka’s pre-colonial past, a civilization that spans fifteen centuries and is filled with the peaceful development of trade and agriculture. Much emphasis was given to religion, with a particular fondness for female deities that seemed to be unusually well and firmly endowed. Apparently gravity has no effect on celestial physique.

After a good look around we went for a stroll in the neighbouring park that featured numerous couples sporting with their consorts. Apparently the attraction for the female form endures to the present. Both the park and the museum show evidence of the war in the shabby deterioration of façade and grounds. But renovations are underway to restore what obviously was once quite pleasant and attractive. Our presence as tourists was noted and welcomed.

We went on to Pettah Market, a veritable warren of narrow, dank alleys crammed with vegetables and spices. Here we were greeted as curiosities, many simply wanting to say hello and ask where we were from. Clearly tourism is still a novelty in some parts of the city. We progressed to the craft and trinket part of the market where we bought a much needed electrical adaptor for the computer. They use the same three prong arrangement familiar in South-East Asia, but in this part of the world the prongs are all round, unlike the rectangular ones we are used to.

With the rain threatening to turn the dirt pavement into mud, we caught a Baby Taxi back to the hotel where we had parked our luggage. A final goodbye to the ancient hotel greeter, something of an iconic figure in Colombo, and we were on our way to the train station. We had read much about the fabled rail passage to Kandy, and were not disappointed. The train was old and decrepit, but we never doubted its reliability. It pulled its way steadily up the ascending hills, rocking gently past rice paddies of emerald green and hills wreathed in smoky clouds. The views were stunning, terraced slopes and swooping valleys around every corner.

We pulled into Kandy at dusk, and were met by the owner of the lodge where we will stay for the next three days. He and his wife run Freedom Lodge, just on the edge of town. We were too late for dinner at the lodge, but a short Tuk-Tuk ride took us into town for a lovely meal overlooking the main street. We are looking forward to exploring the city in the morning.

After a shaky 3 a.m. start that involved a breakdown on a freeway in the middle of nowhere, we did make it to the airport in plenty of time to catch our flight to Colombo, Sri Lanka. Formerly known as Ceylon, Sri Lanka is a beautiful island in the Indian Ocean just off the southern tip of India. The people are a very lovely blend of Singhalese and Tamil who love their bright colours and spicy foods. Although the locals complain of the traffic and the congestion, it is relatively serene compared the bustle of Kuala Lumpur or the congestion of Bali.

We took ten thousand rupees out of the ATM – sounds excessive unless you know that this is only 100 dollars – and caught a taxi into town, stopping to buy a SIM card for our travel phone on the way. SIMs are relatively expensive here, nine dollars, as the economy has yet to fully recover from 26 years of civil war. The driver was sweet, with excellent English and wonderful credentials, judging from his guest book, but we opted against keeping a driver for the duration. The fifty dollars a day was pretty reasonable, but paying for his accommodation was added expense and hassle. We decided to go ahead with Plan A, which was to take the train to Kandy.

The driver dropped us off at Galle Face Hotel, a building that predates Canadian Confederation by three years (snap quiz!) and was the choice of authors such as Anton Chekov in 1890. It owns a gorgeous piece of real estate overlooking the Indian Ocean, and with its sprawling colonnades and spacious winding staircases is a testimony to the faded elegance of the British Raj in its heyday. Our room is cavernous, with what must be twelve foot ceilings, and the wide wooden plank floor large enough for ballroom dancing.

A quick phone call put us in touch with cousin Ros’ friend Becky who lives just outside of town. She and her daughter Annalee were good enough to meet us at the hotel and take us for a bit of a tour of the city, ending up at a restaurant/craft centre called Barefoot. I was disappointed that the Chicken Tikka Masala was only moderately spicy, as I had read that Sri Lankan curry was famous for its heat. Becky thought the recipe had been tamed for tourists. The fabrics and the art at Barefoot were fabulous, but I rarely buy the crafts and settled for a book on the Buddha to help me to clarify some lessons I am writing for an upcoming workshop. A short hop brought us back to the hotel for a wee kip.

In the late afternoon we ambled along the waterfront outside the hotel. This area features a large tract of undeveloped land, first cleared by the Dutch in order to provide an unimpeded line of sight for their cannons in the adjacent fort that once defended the city. These days the land serves as a parade ground for the Sri Lankan military, although I read in this morning’s paper that the area has just been sold for 125 million U.S. to Shangri La, a Japanese hotelier, who plans on putting a seven star resort on the site. The locals will miss it, as the land is a popular spot for kite-flying and picnic suppers. We finished our stroll back to the hotel where we watched the sun gently subside into the ocean from a waterside table. It was a nearly perfect first day.

New Year celebrations are not what they used to be when we were younger. These days they tend to be more reflective than celebratory, a function not only of the physical limitations of age, but a recognition that there is still a whole pile of things left to do, and an increasingly limited amount of time to do them in.

This coming year is no exception. I won’t bore you with our To Do list for the year, but when we talked it through on New Year’s Eve, as is our custom, it looked pretty daunting. It also looked pretty fun, at least most of it did. There is a wedding coming up and the birth of a new grandkid; some ministry endeavors in Cambodia and some interesting travel opportunities. It all looks pretty good; we are just going to need to stay strong and healthy to get through it all.

Both of us continue to be amazed that the Lord finds so much for us to do at our age. Pam met with two members of her TWR team in Singapore, and came away with further increased responsibilities and opportunities as a result. My own responsibilities at school continue to grow as I have now become the veteran on staff after just three years and a leader in the recruitment of students for our program, a position that may involve some travel in the near future. We have long ago given up the idea that this part if our life would lead us to a gentle semi-retirement. Instead we seem to be busier than ever.

However, none of this would be possible without our kids, and that is the purpose of this post. We are here and able to stay here because are kids are doing such a fantastic job of looking after themselves back in Canada. Now you might say that because they have all reached or are approaching 30 that this goes without saying. Okay, perhaps. But how many 30-somethings do you know that are not still relying on their parents for some level of emotional or financial support. Not many in our experience. How many are conducting their lives in a way that does not provoke some level of parental anxiety or concern. Even fewer.

Our kids are not perfect. That ended when they became teenagers! But they are all doing extremely well, and we thank God for that. They are meeting their challenges, they are making responsible decisions and they are mastering the consequences for those decisions. Of course we miss them, particularly at this time of year. But we are able to get on with our lives because they are getting on with theirs. They enable our ministry just by the way they conduct themselves. This gives us great comfort and even motivation in what we are doing on this side of the world. Our kids are a blessing and an inspiration to us; we wish them a very happy and successful new year.

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