Sri Lankings. Do all roads lead to Beijing?

Got back from a trip to Sri Lanka with a pal who works for a mining company in West Africa. We saw this captivating little nation through very different eyes, but found many of the same things, and learned a few too. Travelling helps that. I’m not one for listing travelling as a hobby- don’t travel for travel’s sake -it will not guarantee you will be more interesting. Travel to learn things that will better you and who you go with, to see stuff, that doesn’t have to go on Facebook. But I think I learned things on this trip, and now I’m blogging about them.

Sri Lanka Graphic Montage

Dubai takes perspective and stuffs it in the padding of a champagne-sipping Ukrainian model’s bra. But for every Terstosterphoney, overpaid sleazebollock gyrating with a 21 year old while the wife is at home, there’s  a talented, discerning individual here because of the economy. I’ve found a heap of them I care about very much. The greasy hormonoids across chandeliered neon rooms were things I expected, but I’m still getting sucked into the vortex.

My maid only comes once a week, I don’t have an SUV, I have to share my five residence swimming pools with other plebs, it’s at least 6 minutes walk to the nearest decent bit of beach, I don’t go on enough boats, and I’ve not had a decent rare fillet steak in at least a month. Poor me.

This time last year, the deflated mattress in Brooklyn next to the crusty cat’s bum wasn’t so bad, nor the collapsable ceiling, aggressive Haitians in the stairwell and immortal bed bugs (justified by staying with my soul mate, rocking up a Brooklyn-shaped talent-fest as I write this, Theresa Caffrey).

In New York, London, Birmingham or Edinburgh, millions commute at least an hour every day, to share eight hours in a collection of allocated spaces with people we don’t always like or understand. Most of us spend two thirds of each day justifying ourselves through emails, invoices, estimates, documents that will possibly help in compiling other documents, gchat, texting, Facebook when nobody’s looking…  Then we go back, to the train, bus or expressway for an hour home-bound, to the bar, or to the sofa, for American impact-drama and dinner with a label that tells us it’s healthy, authentic or 30% off.

In Dubai, lower that productivity by 30%, reduce commute-time by 70%, increase job security by 40% and sunshine by 80%, and lower inspiration and gigs by 60%. Add a smattering of food imported from opposite parts of the planet, accepted in-grained racism in all directions, and the most beautiful hotels you’ve ever seen, and you’ve got your gig.

Dubai doesn’t give a household-pet-monkey about infrastructure but they’ve got the basics to justify the Sensational-Destination bits. Africa, based on the experiences of my friend and my sister’s time there setting up this brilliant community-based travel company, doesn’t do infrastucture either – you know, roads, power, supplies, that kind of shit, but – Dubai has money, Africa has resources. So does Sri Lanka.

Sri Lanka, child in car

And Sri Lanka has work ethic – not work like sitting at a desk making spread sheets, work like making things, growing things, refining things, carving, welding, weaving, making things. And not just because people need to pay the bills, or feed mouths. Cycling 8 miles at 3am with a cart of bananas is to put the children through higher education, to get your son his engineering degree, to get him to work abroad where his skills will be needed by people who don’t study engineering anymore, like Europe, or Australia, or the Middle East, or the USA, where we study Marketing, English Literature, Media Studies, Philosophy, Religion or Fine Art. Sri Lankans are bright, proud, and things are moving fast.

And they have China, as Africa has too. The new expressways and tinted vans with Mandarin on make it quietly visible. Every Sri Lankan will say that “China is our big friend”. And when China makes a highway that reduces an 7 hour trip to 2 hours, what’s wrong with that? So why do I have a dodgy feeling about it?

Sri Lanka was flagged up and traded up by the Dutch 450 years ago, extorted and exported to buggery by the British, and now it’s China’s turn to buy up the Pineapples, Rubber, Tea, Cashews and more. They’re not visibly implanting a religion or dictator, or enforcing communism, and Catholics, Buddhists and Muslims live together with a distinct sense of Sri Lankan culture and pride, whether in their appearance, homes, or  auto-embellishments, you can’t tell what kind of god someone believes in unless you ask him. But China’s quiet helping hand will have a vested interest that will arise if trouble does. Which hopefully may not be soon.

Despite some very sludgy Tamil-shaped goings-on in recent years, Sri Lanka is the authentic, multi-cultural island of bright, earnest, hard-working friendliness that Singapore markets itself as, (instead of the weird plastic anti-soul themepark Singapore is).

I don’t know. I know ‘Neo Colonialism’ is a buzzword that describes something very real, and steadily raping African and Asian resources and nations. I know the gold in Dubai’s Gold Souk comes from a sinister chain of very unsavoury people, that starts with a young mother with a pick axe and baby on her back in an un-reinforced ditch in an unofficial mine in the Ivory Coast, who along with thousands of others has to run for her life when it rains.

I know that Sri Lankans sell to where the markets are, that they govern themselves, that post-Tsunami they’re hard-working, resilient people in a very beautiful country, and I hope they stay that way. It’s a lovely country in the middle of some big changes, but it has the resources, the people, and the strength to hold its own.

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Keep Young and Beautiful

Try this. This is a delightful piece of copy for womens’ cosmetics over 100 years ago. While the vocabulary may have changed, the sentiment has not.

Antique cosmetic copy

  • If you want to be prettier, try this.
  • Pretty and clever people use this.
  • It’s really clever.
  • There’s no way you could make it yourself out of cheaper things or stuff in the garden.

Three differences between this and our modern day beauty-fuel:

  • There is no Faux-Sciencey nonsense – eg Pro-Marine Collagen Organic lifting Serum, 24 hour hydro booster molecular oxi Q10 pro-retinol etc.

(For a serious debunking of all these Bollockisms about cosmetics and other delightful crappages of our times, please, please read Ben Goldacre’s brilliant Bad Science, which explains that if your skin could actually absorb fish DNA, you would have scales. DNA is what makes and keeps you what you are, despite many imaginative science fiction flicks. We should be very pleased our DNA cannot absorb or replicate other DNAs by simply rubbing it in, and no, the Clinique lady in Debenhams should not be wearing a bloody Labcoat. The Edwardians didn’t go that far).

  • Three Flowers Face Powder also doesn’t include our lovely present-day buzzwords either, these words that mean so much: replenish, revitalize, enhance, hydrating. radiance comfort, defense (American spelling) extracts, regenerate,  nourishing, youth-surge, visibly-lifting… you get the gist.
  • This copy is accompanied by a cartoon, as opposed to a photoshopped flawless 20 year old.

I spent five days last month sitting next to a talented designer photoshopping the crap out of a 24-year-old’s face for a product aimed at ladies in their 40s.

And here’s the killer. This kind of advertising is at least 120 years old. And the corresponding vitriol and indignation, that’s nothing new either. But if we’re all so savvy, aware, and won’t be sold to, when it comes to picking up something off a shelf, you’re more likely to pick up the product with the pretty lady on it. Or the funky graphics for a funky price if there’s more in your wallet that day.

We can still be manipulated, but it’s lovely when we’re not, and just appreciate things because we genuinely know they’re great. In that category I can put Monster Munch, Rescued Dogs, the Game of Thrones books, Baby Oil, Hugs, Spaghetti Bolognaise, orgasms, Emeli Sande and a pint in the Golden Rule in Ambleside. Nobody told me why. They just are.