Sunday, March 09, 2008

Sri Lanka Diary day one - in transit

On my last trip - to Hungary - I was congratulating myself on being a knowledgeable, ‘together’ traveler - and then I left my laptop at the security checkpoint in Budapest. Amazingly it was recovered and shipped to me by caring staff of Hungary’s Maalev airlines. But then it was destroyed by a company that has eclipsed my cell phone provider (the former Cingular) as the world’s most customer hostile and dysfunctional corporation, DHL express. ‘Never relax’ and 'never take anything for granted' are now my travel mantras.

Anyhow this trip is off to a good start. A service that has made my travel life pleasanter is ‘Priority Pass’ which, for a relatively modest fee, provides business class lounge access even when one is not traveling business class (which in my case is most of the time). Business class lounges provide free snacks - in Europe and Asia really good snacks - free booze and, most important, free internet hotspots. Thus, I was able to work at Dulles Airport while waiting for my London flight and can now do the same in London, while waiting to connect to Colombo. Apart from the comfort, the savings in internet charges alone make Priority Pass a good buy.

British Airways lands at Heathrow Terminal 4, which is also the departure point for Sri Lankan Airlines. this saves me a long bus ride and arduous security procedures - security was crisp and efficient, this morning. Having heard horror stories about BA from the summer, I anticipated the flight with some trepidation, but surprise! it was great. Service was as good as one could possibly expect on a crowded economy class flight. The fight left on time and arrived early. Perhaps there is even hope for my return carrier, United. After my last trip on United, I characterized the staff as ‘sullen and dispirited.’ A 'commenter' wrote back, ‘what would you expect given the vile way employees have been treated by United Airlines management.

I have been catching up on Sri Lanka news - I receive daily digests from several sources, but do not have time to read them daily when I am working in DC. The reports I read this morning were disturbing. They described an increasingly polarized society. Sinhalese were described as celebrating reports of military victories over the Liberation Tigers by government forces. These compensated for high inflation and draconian security procedures, the reporter said. Tamils were described as living in fear, with harassment and ‘disappearances’ mounting. They are increasingly reluctant to show their faces in public, the article said and are reluctant to speak out, fearing hostile responses from the Sinhalese community - or worse. Long ago, I learned to be cautious about relying on the picture of Sri Lanka that news reports provide. Tomorrow, I will have the opportunity to begin making up my own mind.

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