Talking Location With author Pauline Schokman – SRI LANKA

21st March 2019

#TalkingLocationWith….. Pauline Schokman, author of  “A Different Kind of MadnessTravelling Home to Sri Lanka – A Trip Down Memory Lane 

I step through the door of the airplane, it hits me immediately, my body feels electric. Just the other side of the tarmac there are palm trees. The air is warm and filled with moisture, with the smell of pungent fruit. The night is alive with the buzz of insects.

“Aybowan. Welcome to Sri Lanka.” The airline steward smiles. I’m on the tarmac moving with a surge of brightly clad bodies, the lilting cadence of the Sinhalese language surrounds me. I have been in the tropics before and caught echoes of it, but this is the real thing.

Night time in Colombo is wonderful, the noise and tumult. I see some boys playing cricket down a side street, they must be nine or ten years old, it’s nearly midnight. I want to stop the taxi and walk the streets, to taste the night, but I need a rest badly, I head for my hotel instead.

Galle Face Hotel

In the morning the daytime bustle of Colombo intrigues me. It’s different, noisier, more crowded than I remember. The bullock carts are gone but the language of honking horns remains. The beautiful old buildings in the Fort, at the centre of the city, wear a faded air. They vie for attention with the new tall towers of the modern hotels and commercial buildings. I wander through the boutiques of The Old Dutch Hospital, savour the wonderful fabrics at Barefoot, then head for lunch at The Gallery Café at Paradise Road, housed in the old offices of the renowned architect Geoffrey Bawa. In the late afternoon I’m at Galle Face Green, it’s far narrower, they have widened the road, but children still fly kites here by the harbour’s edge. The Galle Face Hotel still stands; I sit at a table on its terrace restaurant, sip a cold pina colada and watch the waves crash on the shore at sunset.

The next day I visit my old home. The houses all around are stately and beautiful in their lush tropical gardens. The heavy canopy of flamboyant trees that line the streets make the place a cool respite after the bustle of the city centre. I feel such a surge of anticipation as my cab turns the corner, but the house and its wonderful gardens are gone. There’s a block of flats there instead. I am filled with sadness. I visit the centuries-old Dutch church where generations of my family were married; I relish the rich wooden pews, the cool stillness of the place. It is a Protestant church now and still in use. The priest and his attendant are Sinhalese and helpful, they find the record of my baptism for me in a large ledger, I take a photo.

Bentota Beach

I leave Colombo and head out to tour the island. I start by heading south to Bentota Beach, with its golden sands and palm lined beaches, to soak up the ambiance and relax for a day. I see more of Geoffrey Bawa’s genius in a visit to his country home, Lunaganga, where I eat delicious curries on a patio overlooking the river. I visit the Portuguese City of Galle with its ancient walls and ramparts, and the wildlife reserve at Yala, by the sea. Then it’s time to head upcountry to the tea plantations and cooler climes, I find I need that cardigan I packed. It rains most of the time I’m there, and all I get are fleeting views of mist shrouded hills covered in lush green vegetation and tea bushes. I visit a tea factory and the Hill Club and Grand Hotel, where the British used to play.

Sigiriya

Next on to Sigiriya, to climb the mighty rock fortress. I start early to try and beat the crowds, but the heat is already searing and the climb up the rusty staircases seems precarious. Half way up I stop to view the gallery of rock paintings; ancient bare-breasted courtesans. I reach the top and stand amongst the ruins of this ancient capital, the view out to the plains is breathtaking. That evening I go on an elephant safari at Minneriya, there are herds of elephants, mothers with their babies by the river. Finally, it’s back to Colombo to catch my flight to Melbourne.

It’s been amazing, but I look European and I’m taken for a tourist, the Sinhalese words I once knew are long forgotten. It’s been hard to tell anyone that I’ve come home.

Thank you so much to Pauline for sharing such fond memories of Sri Lanka. You can buy her book through TripFiction.

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  1. User: David Nugara

    Posted on: 29/03/2019 at 7:54 am

    Pauline Schokman’s article invoked recent memories for me as in May 2018, I also visited Sri Lanka after a absence of nearly 40 years, with my immediate family.

    It was also a rediscovery of my birthplace much has changed, But Sri Lanka has many aspects to it that it can share with the world its different places offering new experiences, animal wildlife to beautiful beaches and historical monuments and for me family history.
    Thank you for sharing David Nugara

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