Tag Archives: Sri Lanka

Personal Post: Studies, a Job, and Moving to DC

Since I posted two weeks ago…

…I flew back to Atlanta from Sri Lanka, slept in a hotel, then flew to Philly where I spent the week staying at my Aunt and Uncles’ while experiencing one of the most engaging intellectual experiences of my life at the University of Pennsylvania.  It’s a bit hard to convey.  In short, I feel alive in a way that I have not been for five years—since college really.  I am such a nerd at heart.

I flew back to Atlanta, met up with Alicia who just flew in, and she got a job offer!  After negotiating with HR, we are now moving to DC.  Alicia and I drive up tomorrow, hitting up some friends along the way, and will get there Sunday.  We’ll apartment hunt and then I’ll fly down, get our stuff with my Dad’s help, and bring it on up and set up the place.  Meanwhile, I am trying to keep up with a full academic load.

In other news, if you haven’t already, check out Bill Clinton’s speech at the Democratic convention.  It was entertaining and enlightening—exactly my philosophy of communication.

Flat Tax is Progressive and Insufficient

Obviously, a flat tax based on a percentage of income is already a progressive tax.  Assuming a 10% flat tax, the Trumps making 30 million a year are paying 1,000 times the amount in taxes as the Browns making $30,000.  However, this is still insufficiently progressive and makes me think about a passage from the Bible.

38 As he taught, Jesus said, “Watch out for the teachers of the law. They like to walk around in flowing robes and be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, 39 and have the most important seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at banquets. 40 They devour widows’ houses (emphasis added) and for a show make lengthy prayers. These men will be punished most severely.”

41 Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. 42 But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a few cents.

43 Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others.44 They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.” (Mark 12:38-44, NIV)

What I take from this example is that the cent we might tax from the widow is worth more to her than $1,000 from the Browns, which is worth more to them than $10 million from the Trumps.   If we tax the widow, she starves.  If we tax the Browns making $30,000 a year very much at all, it makes it entirely likely that the daughter cannot take piano lessons, the son cannot go to college, they cannot afford to have a vacation that year, and perhaps the father cannot start a business.  For the Trumps at $30 million a year, even taxing them at a rate of %90 would not threaten their ability enjoy any of these opportunities, and they certainly would not starve.  They would still have $3 million a year; dad can start a business, son can attend the ivy league, and the daughter can take lessons from Vladimir Ashkenazy if they want.

I am also reminded of this dynamic as I live in Sri Lanka.  For example, a typical taxi fare in a Tuk Tuk is 50 rupees per kilometer, which is the same as $0.62 per mile.  A 15 minute trip can cost $1 and people can haggle for 10 minutes over 25 cents.  Clearly, not all 25 cents are equal.  It depends on where it comes from.

In the Great Leap Forward, Mao Tse Tung quite famously required his people to fill quotas for mining iron, with the result that many peasants simply had to bring in their pots, pans, and plows to be melted down.  Obviously, this is an extreme example, but the point remains: if our tax policy and economic system threatens the Browns’ opportunity for education, advancement, of building up savings, of pursuing dreams, we will certainly have more iron ore, but at great expense.

The deficit does not care who pays it—a dollar from the Browns is no better than from the Trumps.  Perhaps we should consider, among other important considerations, using the least costly money whenever possible.

From Alicia, With Cardamom

I am commandeering Jeremy’s blog today for a truly noble and upright purpose:

Sri Lankan Rice Pudding

Why rice pudding, you ask?  Well, when all you eat is rice every day for every meal, you will get around to it eventually.  By Sri Lankan, I in no way claim to know anything about making actual, traditional Sri Lankan food.  But trying to make rice pudding in Sri Lanka requires a fair bit of thinking around the typical lemon zest, cinnamon, nutmeg, and heavy cream routine.  Instead, all the ingredients are very local.  The result: best damn rice pudding I’ve ever tasted.  Enjoy.


3/4 cup rice (cup measurements are eyeballed using a drinking glass…)

4 cups milk

2-3 eggs (some recipes call for only yolks, in which case you’ll need more)

Some vanilla extract (no measuring spoons on hand…)

1-2 cups sugar/honey/kitul syrup (depending on your sweet tooth)

Zest of one lime (little, like a key lime)

Some whole cloves

Some whole cardamom pods

1 400ml (~14oz) can of heavy coconut milk (is there any other kind??  Actually, here they use it so much they have “light” coconut milk too 😀 )

1/2 cup sultanas/raisins (optional)


Mix the milk, rice, cardamom, cloves, and lime zest.  Bake for 30 minutes at 350 degrees (I’m working on a celsius oven, so, you know, take the times and heat with a grain of salt… or sugar).  Take out of the oven.  Mix up the eggs and add them, coconut milk, sweetener, vanilla extract, and raisins, if using, to the dish.  Bake 30 minutes at 350 degrees, take it out and stir it a bit, so the rice doesn’t fall to the bottom of the custard. You should also take out the chunky spices at this time.  Bake 30 more minutes at 350 or until it’s the consistency you would like and/or has a nice, golden skin.

Sri Lankan Adventures: Trincomalee

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Alicia got to Sri Lanka last weekend.  We were together for two days, and then she took a trip to the field while I stayed in Colombo for a bit.  We met up in Trincomalee, but only after I took an 8 hour night train.

Eventually my train pulled in, and after rushing around frantically, I was shown by a beetle-nut red-mouthed man my first class cabin. The description said that it would be air-conditioned.  This was a lie from the pit of hell, which makes sense I suppose when tickets for such a long train ride are only $6.  There were two bunks, with a shared bathroom (see the door on the right in pictures), with a hole for a toilet through which I could see the railroad ties.  Fortunately I did not have to share the room, but as I laid down a massive cockroach (they come in sizes) scuttled down the wall and over my pillow.  I tore off my sandal to kill it but it was too late, so, after staring out the window for a bit, I laid down on the oily sheets and tried to sleep with my roomate.

I woke up with calls for Trincomalee at 6:10AM.  Meandeared over to my hotel, and slept for a few hours before my wife joined me.  That day we went to the local fort, which has changed hands between the Dutch, Portuguese, British, and French maybe a dozen times.  Admiral Nelson called the Trincomalee harbor the best natural harbor in the world.  We also went to a hindu Temple.

We then took a walk along the beach, which as beautiful, but growling slum dogs kept popping out from behind beached fishing boats to push us into the ocean, where there were millions of sharp fishing bones in the sand, especially vertebrae that seemed like tiny invisible sea urchins, and they got into our sandals—a strangely stressful experience, but an interesting one.   These slums were right next to beach resorts.

We then made friends with a local man who could explain to us what foods were good to eat, I swam to a rock outcropping, and it was beautiful.  But those pictures are on another camera.

The next day, we went up North to Nilavelli, Sir Lanka’s most famous beach and was often visited before the war.  Now it is starting to come back.  After eating lunch on the beach, we took a trip over to Pigeon Island, which as beautiful and

Alicia and I on Pigeon Island

has, we are told, some of the best snorkelling in Sri Lanka.  It was Alicia’s first time snorkeling and it was a success.  We saw corals, sea urchins, dozens of different types of fish, but probably the highlight was the sharks.  We saw several blacktip sharks, one just over a meter long, that came right at us before veering off at the last second.  I was clutching Alicia so she would keep me safe!

Afterwards we took a bus home for $3.60 each.  It came up as I was buying some local treat, and the folks outside yelled at us “Colombo!  Come!  Colombo! Come!”  We jumped on board and were crammed together for 8 hours, perhaps 2 of which Alicia had a man leaning over her with his crotch more or less in her face, but besides that it was fairly good, though we were glad we brought ear plugs.  They like their Sri Lankan jams!

Now we are back in Colombo.

BTW, thanks for all the feedback all over facebook on my civil war post.  It has been very interesting reading.

Sri Lankan Church Bulletin Quotes Teddy Roosevelt

Today I went to the Grace Evangelical Church here in Wellewatte, a southern suburb of Colombo, Sri Lanka, and ran across a quote by Theodore Roosevelt that was printed in the bulletin.

“It is not the critic who counts, nor the man who points out how the strong man stumbled or where the doer of deeds could have done them better.  The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred with dust and sweat and blood…and who…if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.”

Right now I am meandering through a colossal audio series of 90 lectures on American history, and I am eager to get to Roosevelt.  The man was uber egotistical, great, and terrible, but besides the elitist desire exhibited in this quote to be set apart from lesser, more timid souls, I think he is right on the money.  I had a hard time paying attention to the sermon cause I was thinking about Teddy and failure.

More and more, I have come to feel comfort in failure because it is a sign that I am in the game.  Of course, we should never love failing, but we can take pride in it.  There is great dignity in having your business fail, a lover leave you, or receiving rejections from potential employers or schools.  All one can ever do is give it their best shot, and God and luck do the rest.  Instead, honor dies when our energy wans—when we remove ourselves from the “arena” of judgement so that we can pretend ourselves to be immeasurable.

Mostly unrelated to that: I find it interesting that so many great American politicians were never presidents, and were often more powerful figures than their contemporary presidents, and yet considered themselves to be failures because they did not become presidents: Alexander Hamilton, Henry Clay, John C. Calhoun, Daniel Webster, Stephen A. Douglass…ok, I’m only to the 1860s.  I was trying to think of great politicians in modern times who did not become presidents, and I could not, at least not anyone of the stature of these men.  Any ideas?

Comfortable Estrangement on my Birthday

I have not lived in a very foreign country since I left Taiwan nine years ago (England doesn’t count as “very foreign”).  But walking down the street yesterday in Dehiwala, Sri Lanka I felt that I was home.  I did not fit in, I was white, I was wearing weird clothes, and I walked down the street completely chillax as people stared at me a little more than normal.  Here I ask stupid questions.  I constantly try new things.  I do not know what I am doing.  This was my life for years, and, after 9 years, the rediscovered feeling of estrangement was comforting.

In America, nobody stares at me, at least not usually.  I usually know what is going on, but not as much as people think.  I don’t like asking dumb questions.  I don’t stick out, even though I sometimes feel like I do.  Here, even though Sri Lanka is very different than Taiwan, I feel the way that I look: I am a foreigner.  There is no pretending.

So I felt very much at peace yesterday, even though it was my birthday, and nobody knew it within about 1,000 miles, my wife was in Houston, Texas, scared she might not make it to Sri Lanka this summer, and we are both worried about how to pay for grad school, finding jobs, getting my book published, and I am sad that Elinor Ostrom died that morning.  (My online community was very lavish in birthday affection though.  Thanks!)

In my newfound comfort, I enjoyed going to Viharamahadevi Park (formerly Victoria Park).  It is a public park next to the National Museum in Sri Lanka. It is the oldest and largest park in Colombo and situated in front of the colonial-style Town Hall building.  A caretaker gave me an impromptu tour.  He then asked for money, and I gave him less than a dollar.  He was not pleased with me : )

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I also had some videos, but apparently I have to upgrade my wordpress account to post those :  (

Sex in Sri Lanka

According to local sources, extra-marital affairs, and PDA, is acceptable in Colombo, but not the rest of the country.  Homosexuality is not acceptable anywhere, though there are plenty of secret gays–at least that is what Anuhas tells me.  I thanked him for this information on behalf of my blog readers.

Unrelated to that, here’s some pics from a trip downtown the other day.

Musings in Sri Lanka

Naturally, I am not the type who likes travelling alone, but I also love doing my own thing.  So I suppose the only solutions is to have companions and be perpetually annoyed with them.

I woke up today at 4:45AM, which is fairly good for falling asleep at 6:15Pm.  I had spent the day buying toilet paper, exchanging money, etc.  I got to walk down to the beach, which is a block away.  I ate a lunch packet, which consisted of a bag of lightly seasoned rice and a bag of curry.  It was quite tasty.

I’ve been taking some pictures, but alas, Alicia has the camera cord with her.  So I have nothing to post.  Maybe I’ll take some with my ipod : (

I came across these two quotes right before I left, and they have been welcome companions on the journey so far.

Most men pursue pleasure with such breathless haste, that they hurry past it. –Kierkegaard

If we’d stop trying to be happy we could have a pretty good time. —Edith Wharton


50% of Cliftons Head to Sri Lanka

…the other 50% head to Texas.

Yesterday was my last day at Habitat for Humanity International HQ in Atlanta, GA.  Last night Alicia and I packed for Sri Lanka.  We’ve been camping out in our apartment for about 2 weeks on an inflatable bed, eating on folding porch chairs, washing the same dishes over and over, and making meals out of frozen edamamme we’ve had in the back of the freezer for possibly 2 years (Alicia is a genius with random foods). We went to the airport together, and now I am sitting here waiting to board for Chicago, Abu Dahbi, then Colombo, Sri Lanka while Alicia is somewhere else in the airport getting on a plane to Texas.

Alicia still does not have her VISA, but we expect it to likely get to DC at the end of next week.  She will then fly to DC, get her visa at the Sri Lankan embassy, and then fly to straight to Sri Lanka, with us only being apart for a 10 days.  Worst case scenario: Alicia’s visa never comes, I live in Sri Lanka for the summer, and she fullfills her internship requirement in Bolivia or somewhere…hmmm.  Please pray that Alicia gets her VISA soon.  We just had a very sad goodbye.  The emotion kinda surprised us both.

Otherwise, we are very excited.  We will be staying with a young lady named “Ha” in an apartment 2 minutes from the beach.  I will be chillin at the beach and exploring Colombo, Sri Lanka’s major city.  I’ll try to post some pics when I get there.

Cliftons Head to Sri Lanka!

My job with Habitat for Humanity International ends late May and at nearly the same time Alicia will be starting an internship with Oxfam in Sri Lanka.  Last summer she went to Rwanda without me, which was horrible, and stupid, and 10 weeks long.  So Alicia and I decided, “What the heck!  Let’s pack up our apartment, put it in storage, and both go!”  Afterwards, maybe we can get to Hong Kong and see my Dad, brother, sister-in-law, and nephews, maybe I will get a Masters in Positive Psych at Penn, maybe we can get jobs in Sri Lanka, maybe my book will get published, maybe we will sail…who knows.

So, for the past couple of weeks while this decision process has been more realized, I have been learning about Sri Lanka.

Sri Lanka is personally interesting to me because of three very strong similarities with Taiwan: they are both substantial islands off the coast of emerging superpowers, they both have booming economies (Sri Lanka had Asia’s fastest growing stock exchange in 2009 and 2010), and they both have a bit over 20 million people (Sri Lanka has 21, Taiwan 23).

They have plenty of differences.  Taiwan’s mountains are about 50% taller than Sri Lanka’s though Sri Lanka’s landmass is twice as large (12,966ft to 8,200ft and 36,000 to 66,000 square kilometers).

One of the big differences is that instead of tensions with its emerging super-power neighbor, Sri Lanka has struggled with ethnic strife internally for the past 30 years in a conflict which has killed about 90,000 people.   The conflict has been between the Tamils in the North and East concentrated around Jaffna and the Singhalese that cover the rest of the island.  The tactics which the Tamil Tigers or LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil-Eelam), a political party, has used has led to them becoming officially recognized as a terrorist organization by 32 countries, including the United States, India, Canada, Australia, and the EU nations.

After numerous ceasefires and resuming of the conflict, the war seems to have ended in 2009 when the LTTE admitted defeat after a coordinated strong offensive by the Sri Lankan government.  Today, a separate state for the Tamils on Sri Lanka looks unlikely.

I’m so excited to learn more about the conflict and the country!  We will be staying in Colombo, Sri Lanka’s biggest city.  Alicia will work during the week while I write and plan weekend trips. : )  I will probably spend some time with Habitat Sri Lanka too.  

In other news, I have been devouring more lecture series lately:

  • “Naval Battles that Changed History,” –There have been surprisingly few very important naval battles but they were nevertheless very very important.
  • “Fueling the Planet, the past, present, and future of energy “– Where I was told that carbon emissions are a big problem.  He seemed to think that wind power was especially promising.
  • “Wars that Made the Western World” — Professor Shutt is always solid.  He discussed the Persian Wars, the Peloponnesian Wars and the Punic wars, and I learned even more about Alcibiades, likely the best-looking, most conniving, most brilliant man ever.
  • And now I’m working through a history of the Papacy and another one on the Crusades.

I’m looking forward to sharing with my readers all this cool stuff I’m learning about and keeping you updated on our trip to Sri Lanka.   My posts will likely become more frequent now (1-2 times a week).  Thanks for reading!