COLUMN: My Thanksgiving trip to Sri Lanka

Day One
November 24
Colombo, Sri Lanka

Sitting at a table in front of a large French window in Colombo, Sri Lanka, it is only when the waiter passes me the Long Black (black coffee) that I return from my thoughts. I start to write this journal to conclude my five day Galle volunteer trip. Nobody understands why I flew half across the Earth from America to Sri Lanka during the Thanksgiving break.

In fact, I did a lot of good things such as helping some school teachers with disabled preschool students.

When traveling through Sri Lanka, the railways and train cars were packed with people with each stop.

When traveling through Sri Lanka, the railways and train cars were packed with people with each stop.

Half an hour previously, I jumped off a train at the Colombo Fort Railway Station. My Galle trip ended. The Galle-Colombo railway sits southwest to the Indian Ocean. It is, at its nearest, only five meters away from the ocean. At this side, visitors could see the fantastic sunset. Acknowledged as one of the world’s most beautiful railways, it inspires the sea train in the Japanese master Miyazaki Hayao’s comic work Spirited Away (one famous Japanese cartoon).

The Galle Railway Station was already packed at 6 a.m. Most passengers had briefcases for work, but there was neither a foreigner nor a tourist. It seemed like I was the only foreign one here. Visitors could not see the magnificence of the sunset when the sun splutters on the waters of the Indian Ocean; its rays like red wine which reflects on this drop of tear on the train that departs at dawn.

I was stupefied after I got into the train. The carriage was fully packed without an open seat. I was obliged to stand by the door. They move fast as if they were trained.

I was totally shocked when I got on the train. People everywhere. No vacancy at all. I had to stand near the door. Then, I planned to place my 28-inch suitcase against the nearest chair back as my seat. It is supposed to guarantee me a comfortable way throughout the next two and half an hours. Wheels, however, made the suitcase move out of place easily. Out of fear to fall off the train, I firmly held the suitcase for the rest of the time.

As the only foreigner in this carriage, it made me a special eye-catcher to natives on this trip to the capital.  The carriage grew crowded as the train stopped on more platforms for more passengers. From time to time, nearly every passenger gave me an occasional glance and smiled at me, and their faces never turn back. I, always a restrained person, being introverted in nature, I started to act shyly.

As more and more people got on the train, it became even more crowded. I was gradually irritated by this. People inside the compartment started to rub against my body. I was infuriated by this behavior, but I had to keep silent. 

However, their behavior became more annoying and I was pushed to the middle of the compartment. I felt like a hot dog being wrapped by two pieces of bread and I had no choice but let those people move me. Everyone has a bottom line, and I’m never a person with good temper, so I decided to fight back. 

Suddenly, I stood up to put my suitcase between the handrail and my left leg, and I propped up the suitcase with my knee to make sure that I won’t fall in my combat with enemies. I held that steel handrail with two hands and exerted my strength to start fighting. What is even more annoying is that they still smiled at me. My anger wanted to kick them all out of this train.

Yunxi captures the sunrise on the Unawatuna beach.

Yunxi captures the sunrise on the Unawatuna beach.

Yet, Sri Lankans are actually quite nice. The first morning arriving in Galle impressed me the most. The jet lag woke me up 4 o’clock in the morning. After being idle for a while with nothing to do, I decided to set off for Unawatuna Beach, to shoot sunrise photos on the beach with the antique camera my mom lent me.

That dawn, the seawater was blue like a moonstone and was gently touching the banana-shaped Unawatuna shore. Just when I was absorbed in such charm, a lad came straight to me. He was only in a sport suit and shorts. The dry black hair and bronze skin told me easily that he is certainly a local fisherman.

But with empty hands, I reckoned he must be a canteen staff going out to drum up the business or a tea vendor. Everything went the way I expected it to be. When the chap walked over to me, I pretended that I was too engrossed in the photograph to notice.

Then in typical Indian English with curry-taste (scoff of Indian English), he greeted me.

“Hi, are you Chinese,” came to my ears.

“Yes,” I briefly replied. We shook hands. Then he turned around, facing the sea and pulling out his phone and took photos. I continued my pretending, wondering when will he start to sell his fish.

A few uncomfortable minutes later, he ran the BeautyCam and slowly came closer. He raised the phone slowly at a 45-degree angle the classic selfie way over his head, saying something I didn’t quite catch. But apparently, he wanted a photo with me. Flattered. 

While I may have an attractive face, it was absolutely the first time I have met such a devoted and complaisant person. Overwhelmed by his unexpected request, I just made a perfunctory “peace” sign and smiled. He then just walked away.

In his next diary post, Keith Zhu will write about his trip to the Elephant Orphanage in the city of Pinnawala. Stay tuned as he shares his scary experience in Colombo. Zhu will also share some Sri Lanka students’ pictures and their stories.