The Travels of a Journalist-ABOUT BOWERS, BOATS AND BUDDIES:Yankee Doodles’ Adventures in Sri Lanka (PART 7A)
Posted on September 30th, 2010

By Shelton A. Gunaratne ©2010
Professor of mass communications emeritus, Minnesota State University Moorhead

 When the Yankee Doodles””‚the Bowerses””‚joined us””‚the Gunaratnes””‚on a tour of Sri Lanka in July 2000, they did not come riding on ponies or wearing feathered caps. Rather, they wanted to go riding on elephants, the tamed behemoths they had seen in pictures of the world-famous Kandy Perahera. They also wanted to pursue their fascination with monkeys, following Bowers’ encounter with a Penang monkey, which refused to be insulted by a touring Yankee Doodle, just three years ago. This was the second Asian collaborative tour of the Bowers-Gunaratne alliance. Being a native son of Sri Lanka with deep village roots, I was able to ensure that they would reap the benefits of my cultural ties with the island.

Rats at the GFH

The main reason to visit Sri Lanka in 2000 was to promote the release of my book The Handbook of Media in Asia  (published by SAGE) earlier in the year. Chanuka Wattegama, who was affiliated with the Wijeya Newspapers, collaborated with me to write the chapter on Sri Lanka. I thought it was the right time to visit my home country to promote the book with the assistance of Wattegama. The secondary purpose was to introduce my original habitat to the Bowerses (Jim and Kathleen), who proved to be excellent travel companions when we toured Penang.

I landed in the Katunayake Airport on a Friday (21 July) at 2 a.m. My older sister Rani’s son, Niraj Kariyawasam, picked me up at the airport and took me to his home on Mahasen Mawatha, Kurunegala (pop. 28,400), some 80-84 km to the northeast, the capital of Wayamba (northwestern) Province.

Marriage to Neranjana had shifted Niraj’s residence from Happawana (in the South) to his wife’s domain (in the Wayamba). Moreover, my mother, then 87 and an Australian citizen, was visiting the Kariyawasams at the time. They were awaiting my arrival to exchange greetings over an awkwardly timed meal.

I slept the rest of the day to get through the jet lag. In the early evening, Bowers telephoned me from Galle Face Hotel to inform that he and Kathleen had arrived in Colombo. I decided to walk to the Kurunegala city to establish my bearings before the sunset. This initial exploration drew my attention to the 325-meter elephant rock (etha-gala) after which Kurunegala was so named. (Kurune is an elephant with tusks.) Eight very noticeable large rocks encircle and dominate the city. The names of six of these rocks””‚ibba (tortoise), ada (eel), elu (goat), kuruminiya (beetle) wandura (monkey) and etha (elephant)””‚come from the animals they supposedly resemble.

Coconut plantations and rubber estates surround the city, which also has a man-made lake and a clock tower. I stopped by at the city’s only supermarket to buy some groceries for my hosts.

After breakfast Saturday (22 July) morning, Niraj and I left Kurunegala about 9 a.m. and arrived at the once famous Galle Face Hotel (GFC) in Colombo before noon. Although the distance between the two cities was about 100 km, which a driver on an autobahn could probably cover in one hour, Sri Lankan drivers have to fight their way through traffic snarls caused by bullock carts, bicycles, railway crossings and jaywalkers even on the island’s arterial roads like A6 and A1.

We rented a standard room at the GFC for $70 to stay overnight and do the book-promotional work at the hotel during the rest of the day. Originally built by four British entrepreneurs in 1864, the GFC is one the oldest hotels east of Suez. We met the Bowerses at the hotel’s swimming pool. Having stayed at the Raffles in Singapore, the Bowerses could hardly wait to move out of the GFC. Rats had scared Kathleen in their hotel room overnight. However, we decided to attend to our immediate gastronomical needs at the GFC’s Garden Restaurant.  The lunch perhaps reminded the Bowerses of the food they ate at the Curry House in Minneapolis. No complaints about the food.

After lunch, Niraj took the Bowerses on a sightseeing tour of Galle Road all the way to Mount Lavinia, where they found the amenities of the Mount Lavinia Hotel to be much more pleasing. They decided to stay put with me at the GFC for another night so I could carry on my promotional work the rest of the day.

I spent the entire afternoon at the GFC expecting at least a couple of feature writers from Lake House, Wijeya or Upali newspapers to interview me on the mass media of Asia””‚a subject that pertained to their own profession.  But none turned up despite the efforts of Wattegama to remind the relevant editors about the event. The only person who interviewed me in some depth was Nalaka Gunawardena representing the Television Trust for the Environment. Another broadcast journalist who expressed intense interest

had a lame excuse for his failure to appear.

So I spent the afternoon enjoying High Tea in the GFC veranda with my co-author Wattegama, whom I met for the first time; D.C. Ranatunga, my former news editor at the Dinamina; and a few others.

A Taste of Oberoi

In the evening, Niraj and I joined Bowers to explore the nearby five-star Hotel Oberoi complex, where we thoroughly enjoyed the old automobile exhibition. We ate dinner at the France Deli Restaurant and walked along the Galle Face Green promenade.

Sunday (22 July) morning, the Bowerses joined Niraj and me to eat breakfast at the Oberoi. Because the media in Sri Lanka had decided to ignore my book on the media in Asia, we checked out of the GFH at noon. 

Loving Lovina

Then, we transported the Bowerses to the Mount Lavinia Hotel, which has a rich history going back to the time of the British Gov. Thomas Maitland (1805-1811) who had a romantic affair with a Burgher dancer named Lovina. Eventually, Maitland’s mansion evolved in to a colonial-style hotel by the romantic Mount Lavinia Beach. This 275-room four-star hotel attracts thousands of sybaritic Europeans who are enamored by the colonial splendor it evokes.

After they checked in, the Bowerses treated us to a lavish lunch at The Terrace restaurant, where both the white-skinned and the dark-skinned earthlings flaunted their natural assets to the extent their skimpy swimwear allowed. Leaving the Bowerses to wallow in conspicuous consumption for the next few days at Sri Lanka’s premier colonial-style beach hotel, Niraj and I took off to visit a paternal cousin of mine, Grace Gunaratne, who lived in Park Avenue, Colombo. Never married, even as she was on the verge of entering the sixth decade of her existence, she was now devoting more of her time to Buddhist religious activities. Several monks were using her home as a retreat during our visit.

Next, Niraj and I paid a visit to the Venerable P. Sumanatissa at the Gangaramaya Temple (on Hunupitiya Lake Road). He was a resident Buddhist monk at the Mahindarama Temple in Penang in the mid-’70s. During my sojourn in Malaysia, he and I engaged in many informal debates at the temple. He was recovering from injuries to his feet inflicted by a hit-and-run driver. Thereafter, Niraj drove me back to Kurunegala, where we reached at 7.30 p.m.

Yoke-Sim Arrives

My children, Carmel and Junius, remained in Minnesota while Yoke-Sim joined me on this excursion to Sri Lanka with the Bowerses. However, Yoke-Sim decided to stop over in Kuala Lumpur to visit her mother and other siblings before visiting Sri Lanka. This is the reason for Yoke-Sim’s conspicuous absence as a character in the story so far.

It was Monday (24 July) night that Yoke-Sim landed at the Katunayake Airport from Singapore on Sri Lankan Air flight 303.

Although Niraj and I left Kurunegala about 9 p.m., we could not get to the airport terminal until after 10.30 because of the delays at various military checkpoints. Yoke-Sim had already arrived and waiting for us in the lounge by the time we reached the terminal. We left the airport about 11 p.m.  Neranjana and my mother were waiting at their Kurunegala home to welcome Yoke-Sim with yet another post-midnight meal.

In the last week of July, the Bowerses checked out of Mount Lavinia Hotel and arrived in Kurunegala to join us on our planned (a) tour of the Hill Country, (b) stay in the luxury resort of Kandalama, and (c) participation in a Sri Lankan wedding.

The tariff for the 110 km cab drive from Mount Lavinia to Kurunegala probably made their taxi-driver a happy man for the rest of the day. We had reserved a hotel room in the Kurunegala city for the Bowerses to stay overnight.

The next morning, the Bowerses paid $10 to the cab driver who drove the short distance from their Kurunegala hotel to our home on Mahasen Mawatha.  Although one might accuse both cabdrivers of “ripping off” a couple of Ugly Americans, one might also look at it as an act of Yankee Doodle generosity.  

On Sunday (30 July), Yoke-Sim and I attended the homecoming reception for Thilak (the son of Ukkun Mama, whose family now occupies our ancestral home in Pathegama where I was born) and his bride Niranjala at a hotel in Kurunegala. The Bowerses also were present at the ceremony to witness the customs associated with a typical Sinhalese wedding. I introduced my childhood playmate Ithaali Mama””‚the younger brother of Ukkun Mama””‚to Bowers as we hobnobbed with the gathering of relatives for Happawana.

About 3 p.m., Yoke-Sim, mother, Niraj and I left Kurunegala for Happawana. The next day, we took mother to consult with an eye surgeon.

Yoke-Sim and I returned to the United States in the first week of August. The Bowerses left for the Maldives the same day. We met at the Katunayake Airport.
(Next: Elephant Rides and Randy Monkeys Still Talk of Minnetonka Yankees)

Figure 1: Travel Map of the 2000 Excursion of Sri Lanka. A=Happawana; B=Mount Lavinia-Colombo; C=Cadju-gama (Pasyala); D=Katunayake; E=Kurunegala; F=Kandalama (Dambulla); G=Sigiriya; H=Peradeniya (Kandy); I=Hakgala (Nuwara Eliya). The Bowerses skipped the A-B route. 

 Picture 1: Mount Lavinia Hotel by night“”‚a colonial legacy.(Photo by Hansueli Krapf. Wikimedia Commons)

 

 Picture 2: East meets West in the capital of Northwest. The Bowerses (center) met with Niraj Kariyawasam (second from left), and his wife Neranjana (second from right) at a local wedding reception in Kurunegala in late July 2000. On the far right is Neranjana’s mother, whose older sister is on the far left.

 

Picture 3: Exploring Sri Lanka’s Hill Country. On the way to Nuwara Eliya, in the vicinity of Ramboda, two tea-pickers agreed to pose with Yoke-Sim for a fee. Kathleen Jordan (right) waits her turn. Similar tea plantations appear all along the winding hilly road.  (July 2000)

 

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