Thursday, September 21, 2017

Short Social Fiction: Adventures of Tupi 12

"Wow, where did the lake come from?" Tupi shouted as he looked out the window. The view was simply breadth taking. The tranquility of the lake and beauty of nature was all around the hotel. It was as though the hotel was carved into a rock and covered in greenery.

Tupi walk around and viewed the sunrise. He felt invigorated and went for breakfast where he met Jenny. "Its getting late, you need to hurry up with breakfast and we need to leave soon." Jenny said.

Tupi was shocked. Its barely 6:30am and it was late? Tupi hurried with his breakfast and was ready to check out at 7am. The drive out was beautiful. It was pitch black the night before and Tupi did not see anything at all.

The drive was very scenic and within 30 minutes the van arrived at the Dambulla Cave Temple. "Doing all the touristy bits and then a long ride towards Jaffna." Jenny said and Tupi hiked up towards the cave temples

Tupi saw some monkeys which followed him along the way and was bored as Tupi ignored them. It was quite a hike, and Tupi managed to reach the top.

The caves had many Buddha statues inside with the oldest ones more than 1,000 years old. There were 5 caves and the largest sleeping Buddha was 14m tall.

The view from the top of the hill was nice and Tupi was impressed he made it up so easily. He felt refreshed and after a drink of water, Tupi headed down and the journey continued.

It was late morning before Tupi visited Anuradhapura, Tupi had never been to an ancient ruin and this place simple blew his mind. It was quite vast and the van took Tupi slowly around to view the Stupa and the other ruin sites. It was a great archaeological find and Tupi took out his camera and captured some of the memorable sites.

The van then took everyone out of the ruins into the city around it where they had lunch and proceeded to Jaffna.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Short Social Fiction: Adventures of Tupi 11

The drive to Jaffna was surprisingly nice, besides some traffic getting out of Colombo, everything else was relatively smooth. "Wow, that was not so bad..." Tupi said as the driver drove into Kandy.

"Usually, this will take longer, the traffic was lighter today." The driver said and he pulled to the side of the road.

"That golden roof building is the temple of the Buddha's tooth relic." Jenny said. "Sri Dalada Maligawa."

"That is a big temple..." Tupi said as he stepped out of the van. "That lake is nice too..."

"We have a Buddha's tooth temple in Singapore as well." Tupi said. "Well, I guess Buddha has lots of teeth."

"You can't come to Sri Lanka without coming here." Jenny said. "This is Kandy, and this temple is kinda a touristy thing to visit. You have about 30 mins, then we need to go to the hotel and have dinner."


It was a rush to walk through the temple and museums nearby in 30 mins, but Tupi was not really interested in being a tourist, but would rather just take some photos to say he was here. Tupi took slightly longer than 30 mins and eventually returned to the van again.

"There is a lot to see, lots of worshipers in the way..." Tupi said as he returned to the van and the van drove off. On the route, Tupi felt really tired and took a short nap.


"We're here!" Jenny said and Tupi opened his eyes and it was another very nice hotel.

"Kandalama Lake Resort?" Tupi muttered and looked around. It was a very beautiful hotel and they checked into the nice luxurious rooms.

"You must be tired from all that travel." Jenny said. "Well, we are having dinner here, and you can rest for the night. We will leave early tomorrow for a stop at Dambulla before another long ride to the orphanage."

Tupi nodded and was still amazed at how nice this hotel was.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Short Social Fiction: Adventures of Tupi 10

"Wow, I am going to Colombo!" Tupi exclaimed quietly. "Hurrah!" The airport was a little chaotic. It was a small airport where the arrival and departure was on the same level. A van was waiting for him outside and there was another driver in the van and the quickly left the airport and went on the highway.

"This highway looks pretty nice and new." Tupi said.

"Yes, this is almost 4 years old now machan." The driver said proudly. "Makes traveling fast. 30 mins to Colombo."

"Colombo is a a city not hard to miss, once you hit traffic, you've arrived." The driver said as they approached the toll booth.

Minutes later, there was traffic ahead. "See machan? Colombo is ahead."


Soon Tupi arrived at the Galle Face hotel and Jenny was there to meet him. "Ayubowan!" Jenny greeted Tupi and they went into the hotel to have lunch. "This is a very nice hotel..." Tupi said. "Looks like an old colonial building that is well maintained."

"Lets try some Sri Lankan food." Jenny said. "This are egg hoppers"

Egg hoppers look like a "crepe like bowl" with a soft boiled egg inside. A pinch of salt and pepper to add flavor.

"How do you eat this?" Tupi asked and a few other curries and dahl were placed on the table.

"With your hands... put some pol sambol and dahl then smush it." Jenny said and demonstrated it.

"What's this?" Tupi pointed to a disc made of rice noodles.

"String hoppers." Jenny said.

"This is nothing like the other hoppers." Tupi said. "Its not cooked in the pan thing, nor is it crispy..."

Jenny shrugged and they continued to enjoy the good meal. There was some other curries and sauces that went with the hoppers and Tupi tried them all. "Sri Lankan food is quite spicy..." Tupi said. "and everything you put these curries and sambol on is called a hopper..."


After lunch, tea was served and the tea tasted amazing. "wow, this is one of the best tea I've tried..." Tupi said.

"This is Sri Lanka." Jenny said. "If there is one thing they can do well, its tea."

The view from the restaurant was spectacular. They moved from the restaurant to the seating outside to enjoy the view of the sea. The sound of the breaking waves and the light sea breeze while sitting in the shade was very enjoyable and relaxing. "This... this you don't get in Singapore." Tupi said as he sipped his tea. "I like Sri Lanka already."

It was a long lunch and after that, the group went into the van and they started driving out of Colombo before the traffic gets worse.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Short Social Fiction: Adventures of Tupi 9

Getting a free lift to the airport from a friend flying off on an earlier flight, Tupi arrived at the airport, about 3 hours before the flight but there was already a crowd at the ticketing counter. Strangely, there was only one flight out to Sri Lanka Airlines and everyone seemed to be early and eagerly waiting for the counter to open. Tupi decided to have breakfast and continue his research on places to visit.

An hour later, the line just opened and Tupi decided to sit nearby and chill. The line moved pretty fast and it seemed like everyone in like actually stood for more than 1 hour and waited for the line to open. After 30 mins when the crowd has cleared, Tupi brought his luggage and checked in.

"Window seats please." Tupi said and checking in his luggage was a breeze.

Tupi loved wandering around Changi Airport and checked out the little nooks and corners which always seemed to change every time he flies. Tupi walked passed his gate and saw the crowd waiting outside. "Wow, these people love to queue up more than Singaporeans..." Tupi chuckled.

Looking at the planes taking off and the browsing books in the bookstore, Tupi looked at his phone for the time and it was 50 minutes to his flight and Tupi proceeded to the gate and the gate has just opened and the crowd is slowly moving in. Tupi decided to use the restrooms as the crowd moves through the security gates.

Tupi returned and the line moved slowly. Tupi patiently moved through the line and now saw the crowd waiting at the entrance to the gates. "Wow, these people are impatient." Tupi thought to himself and saw the air hostess having a hard time getting the passengers to move aside and not crowd the boarding area.

As expected, things got worse. 30 minutes before departure, many passengers gathered and crowded near the entrance when the announcement was made that boarding was going to start. The air hostess tried to get the passengers to move aside to allow passengers from first and business class to enter, but the crowd seemed to ignore all instructions no matter what languages were spoken. No one seemed to even give way when a passenger on a wheelchair was allowed to board.

"Hey, move aside..." Tupi said and told some of the passengers near the boarding area to move but like the hostess, he was ignored. "This will not end well..." Tupi muttered as chaos continued. When first class and the passenger in the wheelchair boarded, the airlines requested the passengers sitting in the rear of the plane to board, however, the crowd seemed to charge through the boarding area like there was no tomorrow.

Tupi could not bother, he took out his phone and checked Facebook. "Hmmm. Should I check in at the airport?.. Take a selfie? Take a photo of the boarding pass?" Tupi muttered and instead he just checked the Facebook feeds. The chaos continued for the next 15 minutes before everyone boarded and Tupi strolled on the flight. "Ah, much better." Tupi said.

Sadly, Tupi found his seat taken and informed the passenger in his seat. "Hi, I think this is my seat." The man pointed at 2 seats behind, but the seat was also taken. "Look, I'm seating here, 11A" The man said. "I'm 13B, but my wife here..." Tupi looked at 13B and there was another passenger.

Tupi signaled the air hostess to come and she requested him to move and he seemed a little unhappy, but Tupi insisted as it was his first time going to Sri Lanka and he wanted to see it from the sky. The seat change started another nightmare as there was more than 10 passengers not seating in their seats.

After everyone has taken their seats, the plane started to moved, but as there was a slight delay, now the flight had a further delay as the runway was packed. "Oh great...." Tupi grumbled.


The plane finally took off. The flight was otherwise uneventful and Tupi decided to take a nap and not have any meals.

Tupi was woken up when the plane landed. "Damn it!" Tupi said as he looked out of the window to see Bandaranaike International Airport. Then the other passengers taking off their seatbelts and trying to get their bags while the plane was still moving. "Oh boy..." Tupi said and the air steward tried to get some of the passengers to sit down, but only some did. Then as the plane approached the terminal, it slowed down abruptly and a luggage fell on another passenger and the passengers started to quarrel.

The crowd started to move towards the front of the plane as the plane stopped and everyone crowded near the door and rushed out. The line stopped moving again and then became very slow. As Tupi exited the plane, he saw the passengers outside blocking the passage as they waited for their friends to come out. "Oh god... Why did you rush out to block at the exit?" Tupi asked a tall dark man and stared at him. The man ignored Tupi and Tupi quickly moved into the terminal.

"Oops, I think I did not take the immigration form... And wait... Do I need a visa?" Tupi said and quickly searched Google."Thank you Singtel for my international roaming plan to work... much better than the MRT.... Ok, no Visa needed, but I need to fill up an immigration form."

Tupi looked around. The airport was rather small and clean. "oh, over there.." Tupi said as he spotted some tables with some forms on top and took one and filled it up. Tupi then queued at the immigration area and went through without any problems. "Well, this was pretty good so far."

Tupi walked towards baggage claims and found his flight number and the belt. Tupi waited and decided to go to the restrooms again, and when he was back, he waited some more. "25 minutes, and nothing yet." Tupi said and saw the crowd moving in front of him to wait for their baggage. "Oh man, them again."

Tupi continued to wait. It was also starting to get hot and sweaty. Tupi walked around and there was nothing else to see. "Damn it..." Tupi grumbled and found a seat. Another 15 minutes went by and finally, the first luggage came out. It took another 15 minutes before Tupi's luggage came out and he grabbed it and exited the area. "This make me appreciate the Singapore airport so much."

Tupi texted Jenny and she has arranged for a driver to pick Tupi up. Tupi apologized that he was late due to the luggage, but Jenny informed him that it was expected and the driver was waiting. Tupi looked around and saw a short man with a sign that said "Tupi" on it and waved at him. Tupi thought he was easy to spot as he would be the only Capybara in the airport.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Short Social Fiction: Adventures of Tupi 8

It took some time for Tupi to pack and clean up the house just to leave again just as Tupi was getting used to his bed again. In the 2 days of preparation, Tupi share about his intention to travel again and many of his friends supported him and even donated some stationary and toys for him to bring to the orphanage. Then Tupi received a phone call from Ramasamy, an Indian friend who happened to be working in Sri Lanka.

"Hey, heard you are coming to Sri Lanka, lets catch up!" Ramasamy said on the phone. "I may be able to take some time off to join you as well."

"Wow, sounds great, how's it going?" Tupi asked. "It would be great to have you up there, I'm going to Jaffna..."

"I've not been to Jaffna, and I'm sure it will be great!" Ramasamy replied. "Let me know the dates and lets plan."

The conversation went on for a few more minutes and Tupi planned with Ramasamy on the dates to meet in Jaffna. Tupi then received several other phone calls from friends to catch up but he did not have much time to do so. After that Tupi was even more excited to go to Sri Lanka. He felt that he was on a mission with some donated gifts filling a whole luggage, Tupi took a cab to the airport. He even chatted with the Cab driver about his upcoming trip and his spirits was high.

Tupi continued to research Jaffna and other information on Sri Lanka. It was his first time there and he did not know what to expect.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Short Social Fiction: Adventures of Tupi 7

"Sri Lanka?" Tupi said on the phone as he called one of his classmates, Jenny. "Well, umm... Orphanage, sounds really exciting." Tupi got off the phone and spent the next few hours on Google, searching information on the war orphans in Jaffna. There seemed to be a big effort in supporting the war orphans and there are a lot of new Orphanages opening up.

"Seems like a big problem they are having there, perhaps I can be of help." Tupi said, and the more he read, the more he felt compelled to go and help. "Maybe I can volunteer and do more this time."

"Hi Jenny, Tupi here, I'd like to come help out at the Orphanage. I've not been to Sri Lanka before, don't really know what to expect, but I do have some time to come over and see how I can help out. I can come teach English, and read to the kids, kids love me."

Tupi chatted with Jenny for a while. Tupi did not want to overspend, but he could pay for lodgings at the orphanage, and apparently, they do have rooms for guests to stay. The orphanage seemed to located in a very accessible area in the city and transportation there, visiting other areas should not be a problem at all. Tupi looked on Google Maps on the location of all the orphanages around, and all of them seemed to be in the city and town area. He thought to himself, "Wow, real estate must be cheap there, seems like all the orphanages are in prime location."

Tupi spent the next few hours doing more research and he received an email on the best dates to visit the orphanage and he booked his tickets. Tupi smiled as this is another new adventure he is going to have, looking at his laundry which he just finished, he sighed. "Well, I don't think I have time to iron you before packing and going again." Tupi said, shaking his head and looking at his cactus plant, "Well, at least you can survive without me being around..."

Tupi looked at the clock and it was 3am in the morning. "Wow, time flies...." Tupi said and quickly turned off his computer and prepared for bed. The flight is in 2 days, and there was much to do in the meantime.

Think before you donate to disasters.

In the wake of floods, hurricanes and other recent disasters, many people with the best intentions will flood to donate to the survivors. Some will like posts on Facebook and share the news, others will donate blankets, clothes and other items. The government disaster response teams will provide food, shelter and clean water. There will also be other smaller groups that may be interested in going down to volunteer and bring aid to the survivors.

In reality, not all aid is equal. In some scenarios, the canned food and bottled water given to survivors create a second disaster of waste management. Even the biggest NGOs on the field are unable to distribute clothing, toys and blankets well, and once soiled, it may breed bacteria and cause health problems.

Following any disaster, waste management is a big issue. Although it is important to support the survivors, rushing to donate old clothes and other non-essential items may not be a good idea as most NGOs don’t have the capacity to manage these non-essential logistics. It will be left aside and get damage and in time, create more problems.

On the case of bottled water, this is the worst thing to send. It does not make sense at all, both financially and logistically. Sending 100,000 liters of water a day for 40,000 people can cost up to $300,000 and for large NGOs to purify the same amount of water, will cost $300 and there will be no plastic waste.

Donating to large international NGOs usually mean that a lot of foreign relief aid will be imported into the affected countries. Most disasters, even the large scale ones are rather isolated. Floods and earthquake areas rarely extend over 10km, and there will be local businesses which are open for business post disasters, but they will be excluded from relief by the international NGOs. The businesses in the foreign countries will be the ones who benefit from the disaster.

In the long run, these aids do affect the local economies adversely and your well intentioned donations will cause harm to the financial eco-system. What’s worse, some international organizations are managed off site in another country and bureaucracy may cause massive waste and inefficiencies.

So what can you do?
There are always many innovative locals with solutions on hand. During Hurricane Sandy, a group Occupy Relief Sandy hacked the Amazon Wedding Registry to create a disaster registry. People with needs can get the things they need, like diapers, milk formula, detergents and flashlights, and nothing goes to waste.  Local groups usually buy locally and donating to them will benefit the local eco-system.

Instead of donating immediately, you can hold back donations and think about visiting the disaster areas when things are more stabilized to spend tourism money which goes directly into the local eco-system. Buying local products from the affected area is one of the most important things to do to help recovery as the economic recovery is usually ignored by most organizations.

Contact friends / alumni / colleagues in the disaster areas. Their local knowledge and by the fact they are right there in the disaster area, will know which is the most effective way of supporting the survivors. Every disaster is different and getting ground knowledge on the ever changing disaster is the most effective way to provide the right kind of support needed.

The people in the disaster areas are not victims, and do not need your pity. They are survivors and despite the great disaster, they still prevail. They did not ask for your help and do not expect gratitude. A doctor is still a doctor, and disasters destroy infrastructure but local capacity remains. We need to engage survivors and support them in the recovery. Disasters create survivors and it is our collective responsibility that we do not create a system which turns them into refugees.

-- Robin Low