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16th January 2000
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Chopping salmon in Alaska!

By Aditha Dissanayake
While I'm idling away my time trying to read Homer's 'Iliad', scanning the cartoons and my horoscope in the daily papers and day-dreaming of travelling around the world, a call comes from Naveen, my 'America-returned' cousin. He is my contemporary. The one who was sent to an American university to get an American degree. Now he is working as somebody's somebody at Silicon Valley Inc, in 'D.C'. ('Washington' to us). He would be coming to see me in the evening, he says, before hanging up.

When I see him I stare in disbelief. Naveen has lost weight and his hair has begun to thin. "There is nothing to eat out there," he says opening his palms and shrugging his shoulders in the typical American 'nonchalant' manner. (It takes me time to realize what he means when he says 'eat' is stuffing himself with rice and 'polos' and 'mallung'.)

In the sitting room, the smell of Cypress leaves of the now dying X'mas tree hangs in the air. The single light bulb casts dull shadows. The yellow walls reflect a golden warmth. Outside, the noise of the traffic on the Colombo-Kandy road never ceases. Seated on the carpet, hugging a cushion and absent-mindedly stroking the ears of the dozing Crissy, I listen open-mouthed to Naveen's tales; about the country whch holds the reins of the world. 

For, in what other way than with bulging eyes and a gaping mouth could I listen, when he describes how he had spent two summer vacations slaying salmon on a ship in Alaska. In Alaska! Working eighteen-hours a day to earn enough to pay his debts. "Money was the only motivator," he says with a shudder. His day would begin at two in the afternoon when he would chop the heads of salmon for three hours. Then would come the lunch break. Then back to work. All in all he would be given four meals, and the rate he would be paid would increase as the hours increased. But what had been most daunting had been the sunlight. For in Alaska, in the summer, the sun never sets. There was no night! There was no difference between ten clock in the morning and ten o'clock in the night. 

Naveen swears he is not lying when he says he once had no money and had been starving. He says he had avoided walking past restaurants, scared he would break the glass and grab a pizza in the showcase.

Now he lives in a house which he shares with a friend, five blocks away from Chesapeake Bay. Chesapeake! With what interest I had read the novel James Michener had written about that wonderful bay on the Choptank river! I stare at Naveen with envy. Having seen through the thousand-two hundred paged tomb of a book, the fish, the herons and the geese that flowed into the Chesapeake, I cannot believe I am now looking at someone who actually lives five blocks from it all. 

Chatting with Naveen is tiring because he speaks in pounds and inches. He buys twenty pounds of rice for so-so many dollars, he says. I have to struggle to convert this into kilos. But luckily for me he has no accent. He speaks Sinhala the way he's always done. He does not point to objects around him and pretend he has forgotten the Sinhala words for them. 

When he mentions places like Dallas, Seattle, and talks about Chryslers and Dodges, I think of Sidney Sheldon and Dynasty.When he talks about New England my mind goes back to the days of Nathaniel Hawthorne, to his book 'The Scarlet Letter' and to the doctrines of the Quakers and the Puritans. It is hard to fathom America by listening to him. When I ask, "Do you get Karavala (dried fish), over there?" he nods his head and says, "Yes. In shops run by Indians." 

Naveen is a bag of paradoxes. He has nothing but praise for Sri Lanka, but cannot think of any other home than America. Who can blame him? What decent man with a good brain would chuck a job at Silicon Valley Inc. to become an executive in Sri Lanka?

But he is brutally honest about life in the States. 

"I'm a nobody out there in America. Life is tough. But when I come here everybody looks up to me with envy and treats me as if I am a god because I have returned from the States." 

Shivani shines for Sri Lanka

By Ayesha R. Rafiq
Shivani Wedanayake nee VasagamIf you happen to see, the most beautiful girl in the world, Tell her I love her.

And this year around Sri Lankan heads will turn and hearts may be broken when they realise that one of the five most beautiful women in the world is a Sri Lankan... and she's married.

Handling a career is hard enough these days, with so many wannabes in every field, and with competition so intense, at the end of the day you are truly exhausted. A family added to this, then, must be a near impossible task, having to come home to people who need your time and love even more than your career. 

Keeping healthy and trim and looking gorgeous into the bargain, is a superhuman task you would agree, and that is why all those beautiful and successful 'Mrs.' out there deserve their chance at recognition, to stand up and tell the world, 'Hey, we can still do all those things too, the world is our oyster,' says Mrs. Shivani Wedanayake nee Vasagam the fourth runner-up at the Mrs. World contest held in Jerusalem last month.

And it's not hard to see what the judges saw in Shivani. Exuding confidence as though she has a glass of it every morning, Shivani is a woman of the world who knows where she's going and exactly how to get there. 

A director of the computer company Web Syndicate which she owns together with her husband, Shivani gave up a career as a fulltime model to concentrate her energies on the company. But she's a woman with a mission and if there's ever a chance to prove herself, Shivani seems the sort who can handle the challenge.

But even being a professional model who has participated at both the Miss World and Miss Universe pageants, Shivani says the butterflies in her stomach could hardly be controlled when she did her thing on the catwalk in front of an audience of thousands.

Speaking about the pageant itself Shivani says it's an experience she'll never forget. 'The things I learned in three short weeks there, about different cultures and countries, people from all over the globe, and most of all how to hold your own amongst anyone and anything, to me are some of the more fulfilling experiences I gained through the pageant.' And when your roommate is someone you've never set eyes on before and who hardly speaks your language, you learn to start relying on yourself pretty soon, she says. She also points out that there's a lot of competition, some of it unhealthy, and a lot of politicking which goes on behind the scenes. You can either shout about it and let nothing change, or realise it's inevitable and just go ahead and do it anyway, which is what she chose to do.

The contest was divided into three categories; the interview, the swimsuit competition and the evening wear competition. Shivani emphasises that the interview was a piece of cake for her. 'I know I made an impression on most of the judges, and that was a small victory for me, my chance to prove that beauty is more than skin deep. That it goes beyond looks, to the heart and soul, to the depths of one's personality.' Most of the judges had concentrated on questions about the country of the participants and Shivani was asked questions such as the population and literacy rates of the country, in addition to general world news. 

And what do you know if you don't do the answer to the question? 'Bluff convincingly or simply say you don't know,' she laughs. And then remembers she was indeed in that position once." "At the Mrs. Sri Lanka contest in November last year, one of the judges asked me a question about the Equator. There was no way I was going to remember what I had learned in Grade 10. So I told him I didn't know the answer but was prepared with it for the Mrs. World. Funnily enough, Mrs. America was asked the same question." 

It's important that participants are up to date on both local and international affairs, because if you are going to be an ambassador for married women around the world, you have to be smart and sure of yourself and show people that you can carry your own anywhere, whether it's a discussion about beauty, culture or politics, Shivani explained. 

The swimsuit competition was the toughest part for Shivani. She was wondering whether the judges were looking at her vital statistics or how well she projected her poise. 'Let's face it, men will be men, and they're going to find it hard to look past your looks. Women on the other hand are looking for women whom they feel will be the best representative for their needs worldwide. Luckily, there were two men and three women on the panel, so that would have helped a lot too," she says. Among the judges was the wife of the Vice President of the Hilton chain and Rosy Senanayake, the first Mrs. World.

The location also added excitement to the pageant. Jerusalem is a beautiful place, says Shivani, and the atmosphere made the whole event seem somehow mystical. "We did a lot of sightseeing and visited the Red Sea, the place where Jesus was crucified and the Garden Tomb where he was buried. Words cannot describe how beautiful the city is. It is simply and absolutely beautiful."

Being an experienced professional model and having been placed 15th out of 82 participants at the Miss Universe in 1995, Shivani quickly points out the differences between the local and international pageants. 

Mrs. World is an extremely professional, very well choreographed event, says this fourth runner-up. 'Every single detail is taken care of, all the models are trained and rehearsed and the whole pageant is more gruelling and stressful. Besides, with so many different types of looks around you, it's nerve wracking trying to understand each judge's personal preferences. The local pageant on the other hand is very easy. You know you're among your own kind, people who look and talk and think more or less like you and you know what to expect." 

The disruption of the Mrs. World contest from 1989 to 1998 and of Mrs. Sri Lanka from 1989 to 1999 also meant that this felt like one of the first contests of its kind. 

The standard of professionalism and the standards demanded of each model are also much higher at the international pageant. 

Shivani had only one week to prepare herself for Mrs. World. "I wore the same dress I wore at the Mrs. Sri Lanka for the Mrs. World contest and one of the dresses I wore for the Miss Universe I wore for Mrs. World as well, of course with a lot of modifications, a la Chrishanthi Fernadopulle."

While being disappointed at not bagging the crown, she's still delighted that she was placed in the first five, the first time an Asian has come so far in 10 years. 

And now her most prized possession is her gold medal with her position inscribed on it which she was awarded as the fourth runner-up of the pageant. 

Mrs. America was judged Mrs. World 1999, while Mrs. Latvia, Cypress and Croatia were placed ahead of her in the pageant. "When the final 10 were announced, I could feel my heart pounding as the countries were being called up, and when Sri Lanka was finally called all I could do was scream with relief and excitement." 

As for all the talk about beauty pageants being shallow, while agreeing with it partly and saying that the structure of the pageants will have to change if they are to survive, such as scrapping the swimsuit competition, she also feels it gives women a platform to gain more recognition and use this to help people around the world. 

Shivani plans on actively using the recognition she gained to help the less fortunate. As a sponsor of nine year-old Kalpani, an orphan from the SOS village–who will get her support until she's 18 years old–Shivani hopes to draw more attention to similar deserving causes.

While Shivani rejoices in her personal victory, Sri Lanka too can rejoice in the knowledge one that we are slowly but surely coming into the limelight, letting the world know that the pearl of the Indian Ocean is indeed a rare one. 

Natalie goes solo

Natalie Appleton of the All Saints has just released a cover version of the Supremes' classic 'Reflections'. Natalie thus becomes the first member of the all girl group to branch out on a solo career. As a result the spotlight is now on the All Saints as a group and the solo intentions of the other members.

The UK Top 20 singleS chart has not been accommodating many new entries due to a lull in the release of new singles. Over the last two weeks the chart resembles the mid-eighties. The current 20 songs have just been shuffling positions.

Also affecting the chart is the credit squeeze that would have hit the CD buying public particularly with the extra expenditure this time on the so-called Millennium celebrations. Be that as it may, the status of the No: 1 song 'I Have a Dream/Seasons In The Sun' by Westlife remains unchanged. In fact the current No: 1 has occupied the top slot the longest since Cher's 'Believe' in late 1998. 'Believe' had a seven week run at the No: 1. Now Westlife's 'I Have a Dream/Seasons In The Sun' comes a close second with four consecutive weeks at the summit. According to information available, the double A side single has sold over 500,000 copies. 

The only newcomer to the UK singles chart Top 20 this week is the song 'When You Only Tell Me You Love Me When You're Drunk' by the Pet Shop Boys. The song with the long title is the third single from the duo of Neil Tenant and Chris Lowe to check into the chart since July 1999. The lead single from the current album was also a track with a long title 'I Don't Know What You Want. But I Can't Give It Any More'. Phew ! You tend to lose breath when you finish the first four words of the title. The Pet Shop Boys despite being seniors on the scene and having a rather monotonous stage performance continue to reach out to audiences. In this very lean week the Pet Shop Boys (take a deep breath) 'When You Only Tell Me You Love Me When You're Drunk', entered the chart at No: 8.

Puff Daddy has denied charges that he was involved in a shooting incident at a night club in New York last December. After he appeared before a magistrate Puff Daddy (Sean Cooms) voved to prove the charges were false. 

Meanwhile in another development Puff Daddy's lawyer dismissed rumours that the rapper and his girl friend Jennifer Lopez had split up. However there was no comment from Jennifer's lawyer. 

Mel B was the first Spice Girl to get married about 15 months ago. Now Mel a.k.a. Scary Spice has become the first to split up, leaving husband Jimmy Gulzar. Their troubles were widely reported in the press last week. Days after the break-up Mel B was photographed topless on a beach somewhere in Thailand with a male friend.

The quiet Englishman Lord Lloyd Webber has bought a chain of theatres at a cost of £ 87 million in the West End. His buy through his company Really Useful gives him control of the Paladium. The peer who has a string of hit musicals such as "Jesus Christ Superstar ", "Cats" and "Phantom of the Opera" now owns 1/3 of the theatres in London. He teamed up with the Nat West Bank to fight off competitors from the US. 

Nominations for the Grammy Awards were published last week. Carlos Santana received 10 nominations while TLC received six, Whitney Houston received four nominations while Lauryn Hill received five. Other stars who received nominations are Britney Spears, Ricky Martin, Cher, Christina Aguilera, Sting and Fat Boy Slim. 

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