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A close friend asked me recently what ‘home’ meant to me. It’s not that we often delve into the philosophical during our frequent conversations together; she needed some information for a project she was working on and was interested in getting the perspectives of her friends and family. I was flipping through the answers she got from various other people and, in comparison to their one-liners, my own responses were rather long-winded. While this is laughingly typical of me (I have never quite mastered the art of being concise), I have a vague feeling that my answers to her questions were rather confused and convoluted. Weeks later, I still keep coming back to that question of what ‘home’ is and what it means to me – especially from my changed perspective as a fly-by visitor to the country I grew up in – a country I’m not sure I’ll ever truly return to again, except for periodic visits like this one.

It could have been because I lived a few of my formative years in Sydney that my bonds to Sri Lanka never felt terribly strong or permanent. I don’t remember much of my time here pre-Sydney. I was under 5 and have vague but happy memories of going to nursery and playing in my grandmother’s vast home and garden. Memories that old (or new, depending on how you look at it) are tied more to people, family and immediate environments rather than a country and sense of national identity. As children, I don’t think we ever dream there is a world outside the playgrounds we make for ourselves – except of course in the fancies of our imagination. For me anyway, anyone who wasn’t a fellow pint-sized sibling, or protective parent or grandparent, or stooping, loving Sumana, or sari-wrapped teacher, was either faceless or quickly forgotten. Continue reading Home

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Thoughts: Stuck in Transit, Bangkok

Friday, 28 May 2010
10.16 pm – Beijing, China
9.16 pm – Bangkok, Thailand
7.46 pm – Colombo, Sri Lanka

Strange how just a few days in a new city can make you feel like you’ve been there for at least a month. Maybe being alone has something to do with it. You need to familiarize yourself with the place faster – learn where to eat, where to shop and what to see. Work out a route and routine for yourself each day. After just a day or two, you lapse into the pattern and all it takes is another couple of days to make you feel like you’ve been doing it forever.

My last day in Beijing, and it started to rain.

I looked out of my tear streaked taxi window through half closed eyes and felt glad to be going home. From one wet, exotic country to another. The taxi moved sluggishly through badly managed traffic. The fantastically smooth, wide roads, the sophisticated traffic-light system, the cables for electric buses – the infrastructure seemed flawless. But the air still looked and felt polluted with smoky rain; cars honked and confusedly veered every which way to avoid one another; drivers regularly ignored the traffic lights, especially at pedestrian crossings, cooly trying to drive through even with crowds of people trying to get to the other side of the street.

It felt sort of like being a part of a lie. Continue reading Thoughts: Stuck in Transit, Bangkok

Thoughts: Getting lost in Beijing, China.

Thursday, 27 May 2010
11.07 pm, Beijing


I’ve got House on in the background. It’s hilarious, true, but I’ve never warmed to the show. Then again, give me the DVDs and some free time, I’ll probably be hooked on it in no time.

It’s just past 11 pm and I’m in Beijing, wondering what on earth to do with my restlessness and insomnia. I’m in a hotel – I love hotels, especially when everything’s paid for and I have unlimited internet. Still, I’m getting slightly stir crazy. I spent most of today indoors because it was rainy and gloomy. The few times I did pop out, it drizzled all over me, which I hate.

This city is confusing. I kind of love it. I kind of hate it. I love it because it’s new and for that reason, exciting, fun to explore and observe. I hate it because even though I’ve been here long enough to feel familiar with my little part of it, I still haven’t really warmed to it. I feel sort of like a comfortable alien. Funnily, that’s what they call foreigners on the arrival card: “Aliens”. As in, “Aliens must keep their passports with them at all times”.

House is acting gay. Funny. Damn, I think I’m liking it.

Beijing is vast. It really is. Everything about it is huge… Well. Except the people. But even they are not as small statured as I thought they would be. It is as if they are trying to catch up with their environment. You travel the city on massive wide open roads that are pock marked with fancy cars and lined with monumental buildings. Alleyways hide smaller shops and ugly apartment blocks, but on the main roads, there are only these immense, impressive structures. Some of them are post-modernistic masterpieces; yet others look British and colonial; and yet others are just big. Continue reading Thoughts: Getting lost in Beijing, China.

Packing.

Vintage Luggage Parmiters Antiques Southsea, by Geishaboy

I’ve been dawdling over my packing the last few days. Knowing it has to be done but loitering over it anyway – indecisively putting clothes in and taking them out again; making patterns on my bed with lipsticks and blush brushes.

I like packing. I hate order in life but like finding order in little things. A well-packed suitcase is a thing of wonder. Pressed and ironed clothes make geometric designs in the case, all the while maintaining a smooth, flat surface. Then comes that tricky layer in the middle where the bulky, shapeless items go: shoes, handbags, that perfume he gave me, the cream I just bought, still in it’s box. I stuff under wear and scarves to fill in the cracks. And perhaps the most trickiest to pack: bras. I wish I was a small-breasted girl who didn’t need them, but alas, I am not and I do.

Yes, I like packing – but it stresses me out. I don’t stress easy but this always gets me. I’m not sure why. Maybe it’s because packing is kind of like predicting the future – or at least taking a stab at it. You pack according to what you think you’ll be doing. But no one really knows, do they? I have a rough idea – I’ll be seeing my sisters, my friends, my aunt in her house by the beach. But what about those delicious unknowns in between? How to plan for those? How to pack for those? Continue reading Packing.

Tomorrow When the War Began

May 18, 2009

I was watching ‘My Fair Lady’ when the war ended.

My phone disturbed the enjoyment of the old classic – one I’d grown up watching since the age of at least 5 – with its constant buzzing in of alerts.

Updates. Breaking News. All saying the same thing. Someone’s been killed. The names are different; the triumphant proclamations of death the same. Almost mechanically I forward the texts to my mother downstairs, knowing she’ll probably appreciate them more.

Then the final and most important of them all – the leader, dead, shot. The mass murderer, the simultaneous bearer and destroyer of the hopes of an entire community. The embodiment of one side of this 26 year war. The villain, the psychopath, the almost ghost-like elusive figure of terror. Dead. From ghost to human to carrion.

Strange how the death of one could spell the end of 26 years of terror. Strange, but true.

I read the words and could not comprehend them.

My brain told me to rejoice but the crackers outside only made me jump, uncomfortable in my own skin.

The war was over. Over. Over. Over. No matter how many times I said it over in my head – or even out loud – it just seemed… unbelievable. Unfathomable. This war has been in my life as long as my parents. So strange to think of it that way. Obviously not to compare the two but just to think about the length of time – my lifetime. It started 2 years before I was born. So I have simply lived with it all my life. And over that time 70,000 people have been killed, or so I’ve been told. Who knows the real numbers? Who can quantify it, really? There’s certainly no way to qualify the lives that have been lost, on both sides. At least – I hear myself tell others – at least the death toll stops there.

And what did I feel? Strangely, nothing much. Continue reading Tomorrow When the War Began

Impressions of a night.

Feathers. Hundreds of them coating the road, lit by evening traffic. Whipped, wrenched and tossed around by fast-passing cars, flying up to disappear momentarily against the dark sky before settling into the spotlight again. At once yellow, at once red – headlights follow their jerky prime-time dance. Beautiful until you think about how they got there. Road kill. But there’s no sign of the ugly death.

Just the feathers – hundreds of them coating the road, lit by evening traffic.

*

She never usually watches the road, but she does today as she flees towards her destination in her trishaw bubble. The rush of road beneath her makes her feel weirdly like she was a sewing machine needle, watching yards of fabric race beneath and beyond her.

A bump in the road. A catch in the cloth. She tries to stop, go back, correct the mistake, the extra stitch, but she can’t. The needle rushes past, heedless that it’s pricked her and she’s bleeding.

Confused metaphors fly through her mind, whipping with the wind. She tries in vain to hold her loose hair in place and finally gives up, letting the flagellating strands slash against her neck, face and gloss-coated lips. Continue reading Impressions of a night.