Indian Bureaucracy And Derby Day

If you’re Sri Lankan, you will have almost as many days off work as a regular on Jeremy Kyle. Public holidays are plentiful, which can sometimes make certain things, such as applying for visas, a nightmare. This particular holiday is Sinhalese New year, when in Sinhalese astrology the Sun moves from the house of Pisces to the house of Aries, marking the end of the harvest season.

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It just so happens that this New Year fell on a very important day for myself, derby day between Newcastle and Sunderland. Football following over here is pretty much non existent due to the popularity of cricket. The faces of cricket players are everywhere, Kumar Sangakara seems to be like the Sri Lankan David Beckham, advertising everything, including suits, mobile phones, designer jockstraps and curry powder.

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Beach Cricket

So in order to watch the derby I had to make it to one of the most touristy resorts in Sri Lanka. A long, sleepless, moquito ridden overnight train from Trinco got us to Colombo Fort station at 4am. Just in time to catch the first train to Galle. Sinhalese New Year is all about families and rituals, hence Galle resembled a Ghost town. We eventually made it to a popular resort town down the road with a name that sounds like one of the songs from the Lion King, Unawatuna…

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In the words of Desmond Tutu’s chiropodist, De-feet is not so bad.

I’d watched live football the last time I was in Unawatuna so knew where to look. The bar was closed as it’s a Sunday. But now happens to be owned by a fellow Geordie who opened up just for me and the local Newcastle supporting community…all two of them. Beer, cottage pie, huge TV and a bunch of lads all with one thing in common, a burning hatred for 5under1and football club. However, you win some, you lose some, and the whole journey didn’t end with a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow…

In order to make it to Hambantota, the following day to apply for our Indian visas, we had to get up at 3am to avoid the aftermath of the holiday weekend traffic, the things you do to watch a game of football. Everywhere was still either closed, really busy or not running to scedule and anybody you asked why just replied ‘Happy New Year!’

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Not a great idea making the 0 permanent

Hambantota is, to put it simply, a bland Sri Lankan fishing town. I was amazed to learn that the town put in a bid to host the 2018 Commonwealth games, you’ve got more chance of Jarrow hosting the 2020 olympics…

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The main square of Hambantota ‘Commonwealth City’

I had purposefully checked all the Sri Lankan public holidays to be sure we would recieve our passports back in time. We arrived at the consulate early and were made to wait till exactly 9.30 to hand in the paperwork, even though we were the only people there. The security guard ran outside and told me to delete all the photos I’d taken while waiting, I guess they thought I could have been a Pakistani spy. After going through a lengthy security check and told to leave everything but our documents, we were finally allowed to literally step over a white line into the reception area. The visa officer came out with a stinking attitude quizzing us about why we were not applying in the U.K. He was probably annoyed with the fact that he actually had to do some work, and obviously us paying one hundred pounds each is not enough to justify him making a few calls to England. He told us he would not issue the six month visas we wanted, only three month short term visas, as we’re not applying in our home country. Also one day this week is an Indian public holiday, which I failed to check. Seen as it somehow takes a dozen Indians a week to glue a sticker into a passport, we will now receive them back a day later than expected. Whether we can make it to the airport in time for our flight that same afternoon, only time will tell. And that pretty much sums up the worst derby weekend of my life… Happy (Sinhalese) New Year!

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Not happy..the guard didn’t know the difference between ‘save’ and ‘delete’

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