From the standpoint of South Korea’s niceness, this week has been pretty typical. Monday stands out because it began with an 80-year old man walking us ten blocks toward our destination to a police station — where two police officers took us the rest of the way in their police car. (Really, that was so cool). Our coffee house hostesses took photos of us and then thanked us profusely while giggling. On my subway ride back to our hotel, a young man gave me his seat next to a group of women who shared their popcorn with me.
I am in love with Korea’s alphabet. And Koreans love it so much, “Hangeul” has its own fabulous museum in Seoul and its own national holiday on October 9. Why all the fuss? Koreans treasure their alphabet because it was created to promote what we today call democracy.
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.