Foreign perceptions

Colombo skyscrapers in the distance
Colombo skyscrapers in the distance

From Fort Railway Station we wind our way between dilapidated shacks, concrete villas, over rivers and canals, before following the coast south. Powerful waves hit the shore to our right and Colombo unravels slowly to our left as the train clatters to Mount Lavinia. Here we alight and stroll back north along the beach.

Makeshift cricket games take place along the shore, often a piece of driftwood and a couple of water bottles discarded by the surf suffice for bat and stumps. Vessels sit on the horizon, distant silhouettes against the bright sea. We walk towards Dehiwela. Mount Lavinia’s beachside cafes and restaurants make way for ramshackle small houses and huts. Far away Colombo’s skyscrapers shimmer in the haze, a reminder of contrasting local fortunes.

It is hot today. Three westerners struggle against the heat and the sand underfoot, fending off occasional approaches from vendors and getting eyed up by skinny locals. The scene, familiar around the world, offers an opportunity to reflect on many differences, both visible and invisible; differences in attire, culture, stature, status. It’ll be interesting to reflect in two years’ time on whether foreign perceptions can be understood from either viewpoint – maybe, at the very least, they can be better  understood. Here’s a fun example: Mahatta means fat in Sinhala. It’s not rude to call or describe someone as fat; on the contrary, it’s a compliment and equates to wealth and affluence.

Just one example of many.


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