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Is already underway. As we speak hundreds upon hundreds of unsuspecting Sinhala shoppers are being innocently handed colorfully wrapped pieces of candy. Pieces of candy which, when consumed, will abruptly abort the fetuses of any Sinhala women unfortunate enough to be pregnant at the time and destroy  the kidneys (and all other organs) of any Sinhala kids unfortunate enough to try it.

And why is No limit on this despicable rampage to annihilate its biggest market? Well it seems that its all a part a wider Muslim agenda to secure dominance in the island. This is not the first time the clothing chain has exhibited such impertinence. Sometime back they had the gall to actually give Sinhalese customers (who keep them fed and yes, even clothed) free calendars callously (unbelievably!) printed in certain areas with actual Arabic script. Sacrilege! These people are obviously capable of and bent upon mass murder.

The secret ingredient (which is printed boldly right there on the wrapper, the devils!) that causes all this carnage is Malic Acid E296. Now don’t be fooled by the fact that nowhere in the internet does it indicate that Malic Acid E296 is bad for human consumption. The internet is also owned by the Muslims. This is all just a part of their grand, diabolical scheme to kill every non-Muslim in the world.

So what must patriotic Sinhalese do in this festive season? Why, stop digging the graves of your own race of course! Buy clothes from Sinhala business, its for the good of your children, the good of your unborn fetuses and the good of your country and race. Yes come give US all your money instead of those Muslim traitors. At least this way it stays within the family. Who cares if the actual clothes are imported from Pakistan?

*saw this pic doing the rounds on FB, I’m just having a laugh. Whoever created it had a pretty low estimate of the average intelligence level of your standard Sri Lankan Facebooker. But more scarily, judging by the exposure its getting, was that estimate correct?

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what it should have looked like

So my car wouldn’t start. again. And this time there was no Indi, Roel, Salmaan and Viyan to push it, only a tired old security guard who though he gave his 100 percent failed to ignite my engine, bless him.

Some lazy ass who walked by suggested i call Exide battery service. he gave me the number as well, he was very helpful. Anything to avoid hard labor. Now i’m not too big on these newfangled gimmikery, a man should be able to start his own car without outside help, but i was getting late for an appointment and this was no time for old fashioned machismo.

So i called it and spoke to a lady who took down my details and promised help in ten minutes.

About an hour later a three wheeler with a tiny cab where the back seat should have been and “BATTMOBILE” in big letters written on the side rolls up. The driver gets out and tells me to open the lid. He is no nonsense, no preamble. He fixes some gauge like thing and asks me to start the motor, nothing happens. I do this again twice, he then nods. reaches into the back and pulls out this supermassive battery that looks like it used to power a Nazi armored tank before going into retirement.

He lifts it up and sets it down in one smooth motion. fixes two cruel looking pincers to the nodes of my battery, and asks me to turn the key. Black Dragon (that’s the tentative name of my Maruti Zen) fires up right away. Battman gives a satisfied smirk. Tells me i better replace my battery soon.

He makes as if to get into his awesome vehicle and move off into the night. I’m like, hold on, i haven’t paid you yet. He gives a bashful grin and says no charge mister, but you can give me something if you like. I slip him a little something and he nods in thanks. Starts up the Battmobile with a rumble and disappears into the dark. Who was that man?

I think Exide is onto something here. You spread the word only to people who are most likely to buy your product in the near future, and you develop a great relationship with nearly all of them in the process, before they even think of buying. This is what industry insiders call really cool marketing.

Something i saw today got me thinking of Colombo, and does Colombo even have a ‘counter culture’ movement? Does Colombo have meme’s? Do we get taken up with random shizz that don’t mean anything in particular? Of course we do, various teledrama phrases spring to mind like ‘I know the law putha’ anyone remember that? Could that chap be Colombo’s Giant?

I think there is mass scale sick to deathness with political BS. Its always been there sure, but with the war over poor people are expecting to get richer, this is clearly not happening. I think people need to be woken up, the economics of their situation be made aware to them. I’m not saying the government isn’t trying, but it isn’t trying hard enough. Corruption is there, cronyism is there, Hambantotism is also there.

Andre the Giant Has a Posse was a poster/street art campaign that was started by Shepard Fairy. Was watching Exit through the Gift Shop and finally found the bloody meaning behind the Andre the Giant posters. My earlier suspicions were confirmed, it doesn’t really mean anything.

But it doesn’t have to actually. The fat face with the look of a man trying to size you up for dinner with the word OBEY written in big think lettters is nothing short of Orweillian. The concept behind it is really interesting. Fairy (far as i know that IS his real, not figurative, name) borrowed the picture off some tabloid and stuck the OBEY motif to it and then stuck it on several walls in an around LA. This took for some inexplicaple reason and soon thousands of people were sticker bombing the US with Andre.

To quote Shepard Fairy from the movie

“Even though the Andre the Giant sticker was just an inside joke and i was just having fun, i liked the idea of.. the more stickers that are out there the more important it seems, the more important it seems, the more people wanna know what it is, the more they ask each other and it gains real power from perceived power’.

An A the G movement site has this to say

The Giant project isn’t a sales pitch, it’s an experiment in phenomenology, prodding the collective psyche with something inexplicable, creating an illusion of a secret society…What Fairey hoped to get across was that Giant uses the same propaganda techniques that try to sell you cigarettes, movies and presidents.

Funnily enough, Fairy did use the same skill set to sell a president. And people bought it too. The Obama posters were probably some of the coolest pieces of election campaigning i’d ever seen, but like a lot of people now i think Obama was just same same, with marginally different skin tone.

So why get worked up over nothing? Its a psychological blip. Something constantly in your face that you don’t know the meaning of, that you’re driven by curiosity to get to the bottom of it sort of like one of those itches under the skin your nails can’t get at. Hopefully in the process you end up becoming a little more aware of your surroundings.

“Once you examine it, there’s nothing left but the aesthetics of a process. If people realize, ‘I was manipulated by that,’ then maybe, like the domino effect, they’ll say, ‘What else am I being manipulated by, that I’m not questioning?’”

The message is in the medium. All this is a very novel, surrealistic approach to social activism. You don’t point and shoot, you just sort of create a jarring affect and hope it leads to something.

…say, ‘Question Authority,’ or ‘Stop Racism.’ You just get a pat on the back from the people who agree with you already, and the people who don’t agree with you don’t even think about it. So for me it’s just about creating an individual dialogue process that can expand into people trying to interpret it, and asking someone else, and then there’s two people talking about it. Something just going on that people can’t pigeonhole along with everything else.”

Obey the Giant is a meme that came out of a counter culture movement. The anti corporate, anti commercial, anti paid advertising one. It slowly morphed into a subset of corporate culture anyway vis a vis the Obama posters and Fairy’s ‘Black Market’ graphic design firm.

There may be something there in Colombo for a potential sticker bombing campaign. But i’m thought bouncing I suppose. As the three wheel dudes know; Life is rainbow.

Nizam at Pottuvil Point

Arugam Bay is a happy town. Or should I say a hippy town? Surfers roam the streets and frequent small hotels run by locals. Everyone knows everyone else. Arugam Bay has remained largely unnoticed throughout the war. Now though, commercialization has begun to erode the idyllic charm of this once sleepy beach side town. The affects are still small, but the unmistakable smell of money is beginning to mix in with the heady tinge of brine in the air.

Sri Lankan airlines has started a flight there to coincide with the Surfing competition it is sponsoring, to be held at the end of the month. A flight costs Rs 13500 both ways, somewhat more than your standard budget airline fair to India. Though a bit on the expensive side, the flight cuts the travel time to the Bay by several hours. It takes only fifty minutes from take off at Kelaniya to landing at Arugam Bay.

The inaugural flight was on Wednesday (17) and I was one of three people on it. One of the others was a tourism operator simply going to check the flight out and the other a tourist. The plane can probably take about 20 people. And it got me thinking that perhaps Sri Lankan should re-think its marketing strategies and pricing mixes when it comes to their Air Taxis. Maybe if they reduced the price by a few thousand, mark it just above what it would cost in fuel to drive there. I’m sure they’d be able to bring in more passengers as a result. I of course traveled on company dosh.

On an aside, Sri Lankan has focused largely so far only on international tourists to market their domestic flights, I think they’re ignoring an increasingly wealthy emerging middle class looking to spend some disposable income on a good holiday.

As for the Bay itself, the locals are beginning to smell the opportunity. I went there two years ago, just after the war finished and in the preceding time there has been some heavy construction. Prices have also seen an upward shift, but not too much. The crowds that are drawn by Arugam Bay’s surfing opportunities are your typical backpackers, meaning that they are always looking to travel on a budget. They can stay put from anything between two weeks to six months in one place so expensive hotels aren’t really their most favorite thing.

Arugam Bay is not a resort town. It’s a place where you go and do stuff. Bringing in massive hotels with enclosed beaches that encourage visitors to spend their whole time within those walls will be a travesty of epic proportions. There’s just too much stuff to do here. You can cycle down to Panama. If you’re feeling more adventurous you can go all the way down to Kudumbigala, a monastery on the Eastern edge of Yala that was closed up during the war. Catch the Sunrise at Pottuvil point and check out dozens of postcard quality beaches. Run the risk of elephants chasing on you on the deserted roads after six p.m.  Safari rides to Kumana are also an option.

Then there’s the surfing. Surfing remains largely untried by Sri Lankans, but not for people in Arugam Bay. Exposure to international, award winning surfers have left some locals with some serious skills. Lessons are available if you want to grab some. Arugam Bay has some ideal surf spots just for beginners and local instructors are more than helpful in teaching you the ropes. Surfing is a tough sport, and requires stamina and balance, just look at a surfer and you’ll understand. But it’s also heaps of fun. I was tumbling off the board more often than i managed to stand on it, but Nizam is a patient teacher and says after one hour i got the basics and should be able to take it up from here alone insha Allah.

The local economy thrives on tourism, since the operations are small in relation to each other, the money trickles down everywhere. From small surf shops to tiny supermarkets to tuk tuk stalls, restaurants and budget hotels, they all get a share of the pie. Invasion of large corporations and big hotels can only destroy this fragile structure and disenfranchise the locals, reducing them to street hawkers, massage peddlers and beach boys. While scale economies can bring in massive revenues and commercialized tourism promotions can increase visits, the risk that this will reduce Arugam Bay’s culture and lifestyle are high. Money always has its drawbacks.

I know some may disagree; they may perceive the generic Sri Lankan buldoze-it-all-and-replace-with-luxury tourism model fits any place. But it pays to have diversity, just look at Thailand, its got its posh beach resorts for the rich and lazy as well as the edgy, remote places for the cheap and adventurous.

Arugam Bay is small and beautiful. It’s not a social cesspit, there are no sex-shows or pimps. The healthy local community involvement acts as moral policing. It’d be nice to try and keep it this way.

Today i mucked about manning market. I got a rubber slipper full of dead vegetable mixed with mud for it. An official from the traders association objected to my taking pictures but what the hell right, its not like their secretly using the market as a base to pilfer uranium while they sell vegetables for a cover right?

Most of the traders are friendly when you’re not standing still. Stand still here for a second and five people yell, hiss and poke at you to move. Even when they think you’re buying stuff. They get friendly or hostile when they find you’re from a newspaper, depending on what you want from them.

The naatami’s carry sacks of vegetables for a living. They pretty much make up the logistics network here. They get around 15 rupees per sack, and the stronger ones make about Rs 1000 a day.

They have a hard time walking about the mucky earth. The traders don’t exactly make it easy for them by throwing rotting vegetables in their paths to trip them over.

Its a cacophony of noise, movement, smells and colors. It all dies down at about 9 a.mm. i’m told. Probably one of the most happening places in Colombo when it’s open though.

More pics here

-Cheaper than the cheapest

Just a while ago, i walked into Keells, to buy some milk. Being dark, sweaty and sandy from the beach, and wearing a worn pair of beach shorts and a rust stained (don’t ask) t-shirt i was in no way expecting to be treated like royalty.

So i walk up to the counter (grab a deviously placed bar of chocolate while there) to find a dude loading 100g packs of virtually everything on to it. I mean, his basket was brimming with stuff. The counter girls were having a nice old chat and i’m thinking meh, this is gonna take a while. But just to try my luck i venture an ‘is the next counter open?’ in the general direction of the twittering sales girls and much to my surprise, one of them breaks off in mid chatter, smiles widely and says ‘of course sir! i’m sorry i didn’t notice you!’

So i’m feeling all important and go over to the counter where she continues to smile widely and generally give the impression of greatly appreciating my presence. She politely (and unnecessarily) asks me to place my things on the counter. She is smiling so widely that i almost have trouble making out what she is saying.

Anyway she swipes my carton of milk and my measly little bar of chocolate and puts them in a bag and directs that 100 watt smile at me again and says thank you! In the meanwhile, i am noticing those little service cards with smiley faces and sad faces on them that customers can use to indicate their feelings about the service received. So i decide to do her a good turn for al the smiling and making me feel important so i (who had never done this before) politely asked her, pointing at the smiley faced card, ‘can i swipe this?’

She looks at me. In the eyes. Her smile falters, then freezes at somewhere around 90 watts. ‘ Er, i’m sorry sir you can’t swipe that if you only buy two items’.

😦 – was pretty much my internal reaction. Of course, with much manliness i managed to conceal my emotions and grin and say ‘ah!’ awkwardly and swagger out the door and drive off. But absurdly, a part of me was hoping that no one had thought i was hitting on her.

Am i too cheap to appreciate good things damnit? I too, am a human being. I too feel. I too hurt when you prick me. I too, have loved. Keells might offer the cheapest prices but it also made me feel pretty cheap in the process.

But after a few milliseconds of such self derogatory thought, my trusty ego took over and did what t does best, found a way to trash Keells for its unforgivable act. It hardly makes sense to categorize the service given to customers by the amount they buy. In addition to making them feel cheap, like yours truly, they are also letting go of valuable feedback. Isn’t service offered simply service offered? I mean what if she had glared at me and treated me like dirt? Don’t i get to swipe the sad face to show how much i was hurt?

...Tea

‘The world is looking for health benefits’ he tells me while dragging  his fifth cigarette. He says he drinks ten to twelve cups of white tea in the morning.

White tea is an anti-carcinogenic, anti-oxidant and apparently slows down the aging process. It is sold at USD 1500 a kilo by retailers worldwide and from what i hear, its quite addictive.

Handungoda planatations, pretty much the only tea plantation in Sri Lanka that grows white tea is situated off Galle in the town of Koggala. Inside its like a different world. There are hills and lots of trees. From the bungalow all you can see its greenery. It seem like someplace closer to the hills that just a mile from the coast ‘as the crow flies’ (but what if it had to take a car?)

White tea is famous for its anti aging properties, and Handungoda is making a killing out of it. Costs involve basically nothing. Tea pluckers pluck the tea stalks dressed like surgeons (i’ll get to why later), dry it in the shade, dry it in under a fan and then dry it under the sun. Ans presto, you have tea worth its weight in cheap gold.

No Hands

Pluckers dress like surgeons in order to avoid touching the tea. All this comes from an ancient Chinese tradition dating back to the 6th century AD when the Chinese would cut tea stalks with golden scissors in begloved hands and drop the cut stalk into golden bowls. And then present it to the emperor.

Of course, a modern business wouldn’t engage in such tomfoolery if there wasn’t any actual benefit in not touching the tea. And as Herman Guneratne discovered when he went to France and met an old perfumer (details are unclear if this meeting took place as some chance encounter in a dark alleyway in the rue de paris) who imparted to him that knowledge that the sweat of the plucker invariably transfers itself to the item. The perfumer showed him several jasmines picked from around the world and challenged him to mix them up and see if he couldn’t tell you which Jasmine was from where.

Apparently he identifies smells from around the world based on the kind of food that the plucker consumes. You exhume what you consume and after that ‘it all gets very logical’.

Marketing Sparketing

After Herman bumped into this bit of insight, things fell into place in hi head, and he was off making what would soon become the best white tea in the world. A chance analysis also confirmed that it possessed over 10% of antioxidants (the highest found in any beverage) and this soon became Handungoda Tea’s unique selling point.

Nothing special is needed to get this going. According to Herman himself, almost any plantation could get down to doing this. But they don’t have the motivation and the knowledge (he says they possess the bush in their plantations but do not know what it is – probably very frustrating if you’re a wannabe white tea grower). Sri Lankan growers do not have the savvy for innovative product development and branding. We are sitting on a goldmine of a tea industry but don’t see its potential according to him.

He says there is huge potential for innovative planters to make enormous killings. He makes more out of 10 kilos of white tea (his current monthly production) than the whole of the rest of his plantation combined.

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