The Sunday TimesPlus

9th February 1997



Will the honeymoon end?

By Dr. Sanjiva Wijesinha

With the British due to hand Hong Kong back to China this year, the million dollar question as 1997 dawns here is whether the freewheeling colony will continue to enjoy the lifestyle and produce the wealth to which it has become accustomed.

A hundred years ago, most of the present colony was barren rock- a "plutonic island of uninviting sterility, apparently capable only of supporting the lowest forms of organisms" according to a 1893 writer- but today the British Overseas Territory of Hong Kong is a sophisticated financial hub, being the fourth largest banking centre in the world, with the second largest stock market in all Asia and over 400 banking institutions. Due to become a Special Administrative Region of the People's Republic of China on June 30th this year, Hong Kong's greatest claim to fame during the past decade is that it works - far more successfully than either London or Beijing! Pundits have long given up trying to explain how such a small and crowded place, crammed almost to bursting with six million people living on just over a thousand square kilometres, so loosely regulated and so consistently under threat, has somehow become so efficient, so rich and so powerful.

I learned from Ivor David, a long-standing Hong Kong hand, that in old paintings of the harbour, one can easily spot the edifice of St. John's Cathedral rising majestically above the plebeian warehouse on the waterfront.

The church was built by the British on much the same plan as those solid British churches (like the Anglican cathedral in Mutwal), erected as a familiar image of home to reassure the colonisers rather than to impress the colonised. Today Hong Kong's cathedral is more difficult to find. If you take the trouble, however, as I did, to search very carefully, you will locate the church tucked away behind some skyscraping monsters of glass and steel, dwarfed by buildings like the gigantic Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank and even taller than the Bank of China across the road. Once upon a time the cathedral stood solid and stately as the emblem of all that the righteous British Empire stood for - but today, as a symbol perhaps of the fact that mammon rather than religion has the greatest influence here, it has been submerged by the more mercenary- minded institutions that dominate this territory.

Perhaps Hong Kong has succeeded because the trading acumen of the shopkeeping Britishers was able to marry with the energy, the entrepreneurial spirit and the amazing work ethos of the refugee Chinese. The consummation of this marriage was conveniently presided over by colonial administrators who exercised a lax kind of authority over myriads of people with whom they could not (or would not) interact socially. Will the honeymoon end with Hong Kong reverting to Communist Chinese rule in five months time? Nobody can be sure - the only certainty I can find when talking with folk here at this moment in time is the uncertainty. For the present, however, Hong Kong remains a living example of what human beings can do if, their ambitions unleashed and their actions virtually unregulated by politicians and petty bureaucrats, they harness their talents and set out ruthlessly and single-mindedly to manufacture their fortunes. Of course, in the process, Hong Kong's Churches and Temples have been quietly relegated into obscurity.

Guharamaya:a cave of stone age man

This is a reprint of an article originally published in 1937. The writer, D.T. Devendra , was an eminent archaeologist, writer and teacher.

About four miles to the north of Rambukkana, in the heart of a village on the plain beside a plantation of jak, is a curious structure of stone, like the table of some giant of the good old days. It is called by local folk, Maliyadeva Guharamaya, the dwelling of the last great Initiate of Buddhism in our island.

There is no history connected with this structure, for, it belongs to a period before history ever came to be written.

The building, if it can be styled is known as a dolman, a word probably derived from Cornish and meaning stone hole.

The dolmen at Padavigampola is the only known example in Ceylon of structural work by Stone Age man.

Stone edifices like dolmens and those at Stonehenge were once associated with the sun-worship and human sacrifices of the Druids.

Scholars are of opinion that they were chambers for the dead or (and) temples of a primitive cult. The dead were held in awe and worshipped, consequently they were housed magnificently in contrast with the living who were satisfied with caves and crude rock shelters.

The tribal chieftain of Neolithic man, the probable author of dolmens and other megalithic structures, was buried in these chambers of stone, and earth heaped over the pile. There were also huge mounds of earth and rubble known as 'barrows' which contained stone 'boxes' within them.

The origin of these monuments has not been discovered. Chains of dolmens exist, chiefly along the coast, from India to Egypt, from Asia Minor along the Mediterranean littoral (both African and European), up the Atlantic, across the North Sea in the Scandinavian countries, and, in special, Denmark by the Baltic, the source of amber supply.

The islets of the Mediterranean, particularly Malta abound in these relics.

It is contended that a race of Asian sea-traders who colonised in the Mediterranean spread their art of erecting these lithic monuments amongst the people with whom they came into contact. Monuments of antiquity such as dolmens, megaliths, cromlechs, menhirs, are connected with sea-trade and ore deposits, of gold, copper, tin, besides amber. Hence some scientists call the traders megalith-builders. These monuments have not been discovered in the heart of Europe, in Germany (central) and Austria, for instance, and this negative evidence led them to associate them with sea-borne traffic.

The Azilian period of the early hunter and nomad is said to have ended eight to nine thousand years ago. Then came Neo-lithic man whose 'advanced civilisation' with polished stone implements, hatchets, saws, hafted axes, adzes, etc., enabled him to put up crude settlements, grow wild crops and throw up protecting palisades. Crops necessitated the recording of seasons. Hence the Stonehenge which was a chronometer in addition to its 'religious' significance, such buildings are attributed to this new Stone Age of 'improved' stone instruments.

The dolmen at Padavigampola has only three sides. The door is nowhere to be seen. Each side is one solid block of gneiss roughly fashioned into rectangular shape.

The left wall and the roof, which latter is an enormous slab, have cracked right across on account of a soft vein in the hard rock.

The heaviest slab by far is the roof. It is of the same thickness as the walls. This block weighs thrice as much as a wall. It is interesting to speculate how men using stone tools were able to lift into position this mass of granite weighing several tons. The roof inclines about 10 degrees to the right.

A slab smaller in dimensions than either wall serves as the back door of the dolmen. It is not long enough to fit right across the two major walls.

Consequently, it leaves a space of 2 feet from the back end of the right hand wall. It too seems to have been bigger originally.

Probably a crack loosened one portion and this has evidently been removed later, possibly by the recluse inmate who used the opening as an exit.

The whole structure seems to have been closed up, almost airtight, with one slab in front and another behind. In this manner it would have been a sealed box and a fit receptacle for the sacred dead.

Grooves of over a foot in breadth are cut at either end of each wall so that two slabs could be fitted into position to seal the whole effectively.

Padavigampola is nearly 40 miles from the seacoast. How comes it, then that this monument has been set up at such a distance? The answer is furnished in these words of a famous anthropologist, Professor Childe:

"But it must be remembered that most of these tombs, and especially those in the hinterlands, were not built by the visitors themselves, but by natives who had assimilated the idea rather imperfectly and were trying with increasing ill-success to copy the models that they had seen.

These latter were far too preoccupied with their cult and the labours it involved to make any real progress in the more practical arts.

Lankans go Thai in Male

A classy new restaurant that is packed every day for lunch and dinner is news, especially when it is run by a Sri Lankan in a city not known for good food. The restaurant is called Thai Wok and it opened in May last year in Male', the tiny island capital of the Maldives.

The restaurant was the idea of three Sri Lankan brothers, Lalith, Siran and Charith de Alwis. In partnership with Maldivian entrepreneur, Ismail Hilamy, they have opened the Thai Wok on Male's main waterfront boulevard.

While the major resort islands in the Maldives are renowned for their cuisine, Male' is known more for its tea shops than quality Oriental cuisine. Yet as proof that Male's residents appreciate good food, the Thai Wok has been fully booked since it opened.

The restaurant can seat 32 in two sections, the more private backroom being popular with the island's top echelon. The prices, however, are not in the top bracket; it seems incredible that a good meal in Male' actually costs less than its equivalent in Colombo. Service charge is only five percent, and there is no sales tax.

"Our prices make us attractive to the middle class," said Charith de Alwis, who manages the restaurant. "Office employees drop in for lunch and we also see executives and a lot of the expatriates based in Male'."

One of the most popular items with all customers is the Tom Yam soup, a hot and sour lemon grass soup with seafood, served in a steamboat. Enough for two or three, it costs approximately SL Rs 161. Many customers have only the soup for lunch, returning for dinner later.

Red fish curry and green chicken curry are popular with Maldivians, while Europeans like the sweet and sour seafood, Thai style. Since the restaurant is in the Maldives, fish is a speciality, with steamed reef fish being a favourite. Lobster, crab, cuttle fish and prawns are available in plenty.

familyOne of the secrets of the success of Thai Wok is Charith's wife, Priya, who comes from Thailand and manages the kitchen. The cook is her uncle. Charith describes it as a family business. He himself had no restaurant experience (he was a marine engineer) before opening the Thai Wok but he has always been interested in cooking. Now, following the enthusiastic reception of Thai Wok by Maldivians and visitors, he is considering opening a similar restaurant in Colombo.(RE)

Lankan style wedding packages

for tourists Saying 'I do' in Paradise isle

The tourists' appreciation of the local customs involving marriage is a well known fact. Tourists who would wish to honeymoon on the golden shores of the country would opt to marry here in a simple but exotic wedding ceremony, which would doubtless be the something to talk about back home and tell the kids about in the years to come.

Wedding bells did not ring out for Ivana and Roberto when they entered into marriage last December. Instead of the traditional church wedding, with lots of lace, satin and roses, the Italian couple opted for bullock cart, sweet smelling jasmines and araliya, saree and exotic jewellery in an idyllic seaside setting. Ivana and Roberto were married at the Ranweli Hotel Waikkal recently in the traditional Sinhala marriage ceremony while on holiday in the island.

Marriage in paradise is a popular dream-come-true for tourists who come to Sri Lanka to while away the long cold winter months. Highly appreciative of the customs and pageantry of the Sinhala wedding ceremony, the tourists come on a holiday package which includes all necessary arrangements for their wedding. This includes registration, poruwa ceremony, jaya mangala gatha, the costumes for the couple and the jewellery and various other bonuses like Kandyan dancers, river cruise in the evening with wine and music.

All these are sold as a wedding package in Western countries by various tour operators. There are some 28 wedding bookings at Ranweli for the winter season this year which concludes in April.

"Sometimes the relatives and family accompany the couple but most often they travel alone," Vimal Dissanayake, Manger of Ranweli Holiday Resort said.

The tourists' appreciation of the local customs involving marriage is a well known fact. Tourists who would wish to honeymoon on the golden shores of the country would opt to marry here in a simple but exotic wedding ceremony, which would doubtless be the something to talk about back home and tell the kids about in the years to come. The bride's costume is a silk saree draped in the Kandyan osari style with all the accompanying jewellery including the nalal-pati, traditionally designed ear rings, the seven chains and bangles. The groom dons cream silk national dress and a poruwa (dais) of woven coconut leaves provides the backdrop as the ceremony is performed. A tall brass oil lamp decorated with jasmine and frangipani stands ready to be lit by the couple. They are escorted to the location by Kandyan dancers and ride a bull driven 'gamang karaththe' (cart) together after the ceremony.

A sunset river cruise and dinner with lobster and wine certainly adds a grand finale to the wedding day. All the while the sea breaks endlessly over the surf and birds take wing to their night dwelling. Not surprisingly, the wedding packages are proving a big draw.

All the necessary arrangements are done by the hotel and the tourists have only to book themselves in for the wedding/ holiday package and fly over.

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