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In February 2023 we joined an organised tour to Sri Lanka. 

Sri Lanka 01

 

Sri Lanka 02

 

Beginning in the capital Colombo, on the west coast, our bus travelled anticlockwise, in a loop, initially along the coast; then up into the highlands; then north, as far as Sigiriya; before returning southwest to Colombo.

I was surprised by Colombo. I was expecting it to be more like Mumbai or perhaps Kochi in southern India, yet it is noticeably more developed, clean, and tidy. Some might say 'lacking in colour'.

Sri Lanka 03

 

Sri Lanka is a leading economy in its region, when measured by most economic and social indicators, on a per capita basis.

It has a population of 22 million. So, it's small by comparison. Yet, on a per capita basis, its level of development is just behind Indonesia.

In development, it leads India and the Philippines; and is well ahead of Pakistan, Bangladesh and Myanmar (in dreadful disarray). This is despite a relatively recent civil war (until 2009), the Covid Pandemic and some perhaps dubious presidential economic decisions?

Of course, it's put into the shade by Thailand, Malaysia, Hong Kong and Singapore (that is developmentally ahead of most or Europe).

As you will see in the pictures that follow, the infrastructure is extensive and well maintained and countryside is generally well-kept, if a little in need of some TLC here and there.

Sri Lanka 05

 

We spent the first day in Colombo, with its modern buildings and Buddhist Temple, complete with a lock of hair from the Buddha. Sri Lanka is Buddhist country and, as our later guide didn’t tire of telling us, Buddhism is an atheistic philosophy of being, not a religion. So, he told us, when people need to pray for divine intersession in their lives, they have to turn to a religion with a God or Gods. He, for example, is a Roman Catholic and a Buddhist. I’m not sure what the Pope or the Inquisition might say about this. But many people here are both Buddhist and Hindu, hence Ganesh in a Buddhist temple.

Sri Lanka 04In the centre is a Sacred Hair Relic of the Supremely Enlightened Buddha said to possess miraculous powers

 

Below is Independence Memorial Hall, a national monument in Colombo built to commemorate of the independence of Ceylon from British rule on 4 February 1948, when full governing responsibility passed to the Ceylonese-elected (unicameral) legislature.

Partial local rule by a Congress had existed since 1919, followed by the Legislative Council of Ceylon. Then, in 1931, the State Council of Ceylon was established with universal adult franchise.

 

Sri Lanka 06

Therein lay the seeds of troubles to come, because of the strong ethnic, religious and language differences between the Singhalese and Tamil populations. The universal franchise meant that the minority Tamils were out-ruled on every point of difference and there was no 'house of review' to protect regional interests. After independence, these tensions escalated, not helped by Indian intervention on behalf of the Tamils who wanted an independent state.

After independence nationalism prevailed (what have the British done for us?). In 1965 popularist S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike was elected prime minister. When he was assassinated three years later, his wife, Sirimavo Bandaranaike took his place, becoming the world's first female prime minister. Between them they actively strove to erase British influence and promoted the Buddhist religion and Sinhalese language and culture.

In addition to nationalizing various economic enterprises and imposing land reform, Bandaranaike's government enforced a law making Sinhalese the sole official language, further alienating many in the country’s large Tamil minority.

In 1972 following a Marxist insurrection, Bandaranaike introduced a new constitution creating an executive presidency and making Ceylon into a republic, renamed Sri Lanka.

But the new Republic fell victim to economic stagnation. As a result, Bandaranaike lost power in 1977.

None of this improved ethnic tensions. As a result, between 1983 and 2009 all-out civil war erupted, aimed at establishing an independent Tamil State, with the infamous ‘Tamil Tigers’ becoming terrorist bombers. 

 

Sri Lanka 07

Meanwhile, both Bandaranaike's son and daughter were politically influential.

In 1994. Chandrika, her daughter won the presidential election, becoming the country’s first female president. Chandrika promptly appointed her mother, Sirimavo, to serve as prime minister in her new government. Together they mounted a major military campaign against Tamil separatists. It was not for another fifteen years, and in other hands, that peace was restored. 

Yet it's not clear that it's fully resolved Tamil grievances.

 

From here, on day two, we headed south, down the coast stopping at a turtle hatchery where thousands of turtles of several different species are given a leg-up on life before, in most cases, being eaten by predators, including humans.

Sri Lanka 08

 

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Travel

Canada and the United States - Part1

 

 

In July and August 2023 Wendy and I travelled to the United States again after a six-year gap. Back in 2007 we visited the east coast and west coast and in 2017 we visited 'the middle bits', travelling down from Chicago via Memphis to New Orleans then west across Texas, New Mexico, Nevada and California on our way home.

So, this time we went north from Los Angeles to Seattle, Washington, and then into Canada. From Vancouver we travelled by car, over the Rockies, then flew east to Toronto where we hired a car to travel to Ottawa and Montreal. Our next flight was all the way down to Miami, Florida, then to Fort Lauderdale, where we joined a western Caribbean cruise.  At the end of the cruise, we flew all the way back up to Boston.

Seems crazy but that was the most economical option.  From Boston we hired another car to drive, down the coast, to New York. After New York we flew to Salt Lake City then on to Los Angeles, before returning to OZ.

As usual, save for a couple of hotels and the cars, Wendy did all the booking.

Breakfast in the Qantas lounge on our way to Seattle
Wendy likes to use two devices at once

Read more: Canada and the United States - Part1

Fiction, Recollections & News

A Secret Agent

 If you have an e-book reader, a version of this story is available for download, below.

 

Chapter 1

 

 - news flash -

Body in River

Monday

 

The body of a man was found floating in the Iguazú river this morning by a tourist boat. Mary (name withheld) said it was terrible. "We were just approaching the falls when the body appeared bobbing in the foam directly in front of us. We almost ran over it. The driver swerved and circled back and the crew pulled him in. The poor man must have fallen - or perhaps he jumped?"

The body was discovered near the Brazilian side but was taken back to Argentina. Police are investigating and have not yet released details of the man's identity...

 

Iguazú Herald

 

Everywhere we look there's falling water. Down the track to the right is a lookout. Over the other side of the gorge is Brazil, where the cliff faces are covered by maybe a kilometre of falling curtains of white, windswept water. Here and there the curtains hang in gaps or are pushed aside by clumps of trees and bushes, like stagehands peeking out into a theatre before the performance.  

Read more: A Secret Agent

Opinions and Philosophy

The race for a SARS-CoV-2 vaccine

 

 

 

 

As we all now know (unless we've been living under a rock) the only way of defeating a pandemic is to achieve 'herd immunity' for the community at large; while strictly quarantining the most vulnerable.

Herd immunity can be achieved by most people in a community catching a virus and suffering the consequences or by vaccination.

It's over two centuries since Edward Jenner used cowpox to 'vaccinate' (from 'vacca' - Latin for cow) against smallpox. Since then medical science has been developing ways to pre-warn our immune systems of potentially harmful viruses using 'vaccines'.

In the last fifty years herd immunity has successfully been achieved against many viruses using vaccination and the race is on to achieve the same against SARS-CoV-2 (Covid-19).

Developing; manufacturing; and distributing a vaccine is at the leading edge of our scientific capabilities and knowledge and is a highly skilled; technologically advanced; and expensive undertaking. Yet the rewards are potentially great, when the economic and societal consequences of the current pandemic are dire and governments around the world are desperate for a solution. 

So elite researchers on every continent have joined the race with 51 vaccines now in clinical trials on humans and at least 75 in preclinical trials on animals.

Read more: The race for a SARS-CoV-2 vaccine

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