We are standing in the dark at the base of a giant golden Buddha at 4:30am. The Buddha is framed by mountains and a wooden pagoda. I’m wearing six layers of lightweight cotton, unprepared for the near-freezing temperatures we will endure for the coming hour. Shaking, I find myself trying not to wonder why I thought staying at a temple in the mountains was a good idea.
So far, I sure do love Seoul, South Korea, a city of 10 million people that feels more like a small town. It’s friendly and clean and calm. People talk to us like they will meet us again somewhere, like the grocery store or a PTA meeting.
Negombo is a beach town on the Indian Ocean, 25 miles north of Colombo. It’s gritty and the electricity goes out for hours at a time but the people are friendly and the salty breeze off the the ocean softens the harsh tropical heat. I arrived on Monday evening after a six-hour ride through the mountains that almost killed me, car sickness-wise. Tuesday morning, I walked a few blocks to Cafe Enviro to reintroduce my stomach to something more substantial than water. I sat down directly in front of a large whirring fan. A few minutes later, my host, Hiru, brought me an icy lime-mint-ginger drink. It was heavenly.
I love visiting cities, even Colombo, but most have become so “globalized” in the last 30 years, I feel like I learn more about the people and their traditions by getting out of town. So I signed up with G Adventures for a road trip through Sri Lanka’s interior. We set out last week from Colombo to visit some of the country’s most important temples, ancient kingdoms and wild animals.
As others predicted, I am so far not so crazy about Colombo. Maybe that’s what I get for being snarky about Singapore with its immaculate, walkable streets and perfect manners and sense of order. Colombo is the UnSingapore, dirty and chaotic and unfashionable.
I am still in Singapore and I still have a little jet lag so last night at 3am, I started reading the news. And I noticed something by accident — the photos on top of the headlines seemed to be all white men. This surprised me partly because the news feed on my phone, Flipboard, only sends me articles from what are generally considered to be left-leaning news organizations, like the NYT, The Nation, CNN, MSNBC, and The Atlantic.
So I did a little survey. I flipped through the first 50 articles and counted how many photos showed only white men. And guess what?
In 1993, Wired magazine published an article that was banned by the government of Singapore, as the article might have predicted. “Disneyland with the Death Penalty” by novelist William Gibson, went after Singapore with biting wit, describing its prevailing philosophy as “be happy or I’ll kill you.” https://www.wired.com/1993/04/gibson-2/