Author Archives: Shanil Gunasekara

Prank – United States of America

Prank – United States of America

“A prank often played on my school trips is to put toothpaste on the penis of the first guy to fall asleep. This prank is common practice by all seniors and is something of a school tradition. It is more of a game than a prank; everyone knows that the first guy to fall asleep will be screwed. There is no guilt since everyone is aware of what they are in store for. The guy to lose will be in great pain, the toothpaste burns!”

Bada mentioned this prank to me when I was talking to him about my own school trip experiences. He feels that pranks are a fun activity, and loves participating in them. Most pranks he knows are traditionally passed down by leaving seniors. However, there are some who feel pranks are insensitive and are usually an excuse to pick on or bully an innocent individual. There have been some isolated cases where pranks have in fact resulted in harm to the individual that they were played on. While Bada hasn’t been a victim of a prank he feels that it is all in good spirit and usually no hard feelings are held; and as long as they aren’t malicious they should always remain a school tradition.

It is also important to notice that these pranks usually occur on senior school trips, at the end of the senior year, just before graduation. It must be acknowledged that the seniors are now in a liminal period, not quite done with school but nearly in college. It is when individuals are in a liminal period that they partake in pranks.

Senior trip pranks aren’t attributed to just American high schools, it is a universal practice and even I have partaken in senior pranks, although senior pranks in Sri Lanka aren’t as painful (the toothpaste is usually substituted by shaving cream) and do not involve male genitalia! There are many cases where pranks don’t necessarily target individuals but are rather some form of vandalism or disturbance of the peace. While I do enjoy the thrill it is sometimes insensitive to others so we always try to refrain from any permanent damage.

Proverb – Korean

Proverb – Korea

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After you lose the cow, you fix the stable.”

Bada describes this proverb as “doing something you’re supposed to do but too late.” It is reserved for those times when someone just tries to mend something too late. He would not use this proverb under normal circumstances, since situations do not often arise when it could be used effectively. But if a situation does arise, Bada says that he would use it. He learnt the proverb from his parents, who use it.

I have never heard this proverb before, or a proverb similar to it. However, I do feel it is wise. Often people tend to leave things off to the last moment and then moan over failure. When it comes to relationships, this would be an ideal proverb, don’t try to be nice to a girlfriend after she leaves you, be nice while you have her! I would not personally use it mainly because I don’t speak Korean and I don’t feel it is necessary to point out someone’s mistakes.

Fairytale – Korea

Fairytale – Korea

“Once upon a time there lived a lumberjack in the mountains. Every day he would climb up the mountain to cut tress and talk to the animals. So one day he comes across this doe, and in a really urgent voice it says “Hey lumberjacks please save me a hunter is chasing me!” and so he hides the doe in like some bush and moments later the hunter came and asked him “hey did u see a doe run by here”, the lumberjack pointed in the wrong direction.  After he saves the doe it comes out and says “Oh thanks” and the doe tells the lumberjack “Hey if you go to the top of this mountain there is a pond that nobody knows about and when there is full moon goddesses from the sky come down and bathe there.” The doe continues and says “when they arrive, hide one of their cloths (which they use to fly, something called wing cloth) and then the goddess who loses it can’t fly up anymore so she will be bound to live with you.” The doe also warns him sayings “hey there is one thing you need to do and that is not to mention the cloth until she has 3 kids!” So the lumberjack went to the top of the mountain and there was a pond and saw the goddesses coming down, so he did as instructed. So one goddess loses her cloth and cannot leave with the rest, now apparently she is the most attractive out of all of them. The others leave her to find the cloth and rejoin them later. The lumberjack then confronts her and gives her a pair of his clothes; eventually she decides to live with him and they have two kids together. But one day the cloth comes up in a conversation and the lumberjack grudgingly shows her the cloth. She immediately takes it and the two kids and leaves the lumberjack. This is the end and it is very very sad.”

Bada learnt this fairy tale at a young age in Korea from a book he read. Apparently, it is a very popular children’s fairy tale in Korea and most young children know of it. He wouldn’t usually relate the story to anyone, except maybe one day when he has kids of his own. One reason he remembered this story, although from the recitation it’s obvious that some things are forgotten (why did the lumberjack have to wait till the goddess had 3 kids to tell her?), was due to the sad ending. He said that he was extremely saddened by it at the time.

This was the first time I heard this tale and although it seems like a normal fairy tale I feel it addresses some important morals. For example, on a deep level, it is warning against keeping secrets in a relationship, some things should not be kept hidden. It also addresses that sometimes good deeds don’t always benefit the individual who helps. At first it looks as if the doe returned the favor to the lumberjack. But, although the lumberjack gets to marry a goddess and have kids with her, she eventually leaves him because she finds out that their meeting was based on deceit, one that the doe instigated.

While I don’t always analyze fairy tales this deeply, this specific tale carries heavier weight, it has a sad ending and I feel there is an important lesson to be learnt from it.

Ritual/Festival – Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Ritual/Festival – Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

“The Batu caves are a very beautiful and spiritual place. Before any of my major exams, such as my A-Levels, my family and I visit a Hindu temple in the cave to pray for good fortune. The caves are found on the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia and are a very popular tourist attraction. There is also a lot of flora and fauna in the area; you often see a lot of monkeys and bats, most of the caves are littered with their guano.  To get to the temple in the caves you have to walk up something like 200 steps. The annual Thaipusam festival though, is the reason you should visit the caves. Sometimes as many as a million pilgrims converge to the Hindu temple inside, most with huge things called ‘kavadi’ on their shoulders. Kavadi are decorated shoulder carriers that contain milk as offerings to the deity at the shrine. It is quite common to see individuals in a religious fervor, carrying these huge offerings up more than 200 steps. It is a sight to behold. ”

Verun reminisces the times when he had to make short trips to the Batu cave shrine before his exams for good luck. He explained that he partook in this ritual because he truly believed that it brought good fortune. He encourages people that plan to visit Malaysia to make it a point and visit the Batu caves, be it for spiritual enlightenment or just as an avid tourist. He feels that it “deserves to be seen by everybody,” and adds that “It’s free entrance and I think it’s really cool, the place is beautiful, you don’t have to be religious to appreciate it.”

Verun was born in America and saw the Batu caves for the first time at a very young age, he cannot recall exactly when, during a visit to Malaysia. He explained that although he was born in America, both his parents are Indian and he identifies himself as Malaysian, mainly because he has lived there since he was 5 until returning to the U.S. for college. He learnt the prayers and rituals performed at the shrine from his parents who are also Hindu.

While I have not been to the Batu Caves before I have been exposed to it a lot in the media, especially in religious documentaries. Apparently, the cave is one of the most popular Hindu shrines outside India and is dedicated to Lord Murunga.The Thaipusam festival Verun mentioned is the reason the Batu caves gets a lot of media attention.

The focal point of this piece of folklore is neither the Batu caves nor the Thaimpusam festival, but the act of praying at the shrine for good luck.  This is a ritual I can greatly relate to, my parents always take me to a temple to pray before any final exams or important events. However, praying at the Batu caves holds a higher significance to Verun due to its rich religious background, and the spiritual environment it is in. I personally believe it is a valuable and important ritual, although I am not religious, I do believe in spiritual cleansing and just clearing the mind before an important venture. I would recommend the same to everyone I know.

Annotation: for further reading on the Batu caves refer to  ‘Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei’ by Charles de Ledesma, Mark Lewis, Pauline Savage, 2003 on page 136.

Parade – Colombo, Sri Lanka

Parade – Colombo, Sri Lanka

The Navam Perahera (peh-ruh-ha-ruh) held in Colombo is a famous parade that takes place on the Full Moon Day of February. It was first organized by the Gangaramaya Temple in 1979 and is celebrated to this day. The parade consists of dancers and elephants that are richly adorned in lavish garments. The troupe of fire-dances, whip-dances, and Kandyan dancers perform traditional routines.

I first witnessed the Navam Perahera when I was in elementary school and the sheer size and colorfulness of the spectacle has not left my memory. The elephants were draped in colorful cloth, sometimes adorned with lights as the event usually occurred at dusk. The dancers wore red and white traditional Kandyan costumes. According to my parents it was inspired by the famous Esala Perahera held in Kandy every July/August since the start of the reign of the former Kandyan King Kirthi Sri Rajasinghe in AD 1747. That particular Perahera’s purpose was to enable the public to worship the Sacred Tooth Relic of the Buddha held at the Kandyan Temple. While the Esala Perahera holds much religious importance, the Navam Perahera is an attempt by the Gangaramaya temple to preserve an important piece of Sri Lanka’s heritage.

However, some feel that it is an excuse to attract more tourists to the temple, since it does not hold any significant religious importance. But they fail to realize that this custom is not followed anywhere outside Sri Lanka, even in foreign Sri Lankan communities.  Therefore, it is important to allow others to experience Sri Lankan cultural heritage and it is also an opportunity for locals who cannot travel to see the Esala Perahera to have a similar experience.

Personally, I feel it is a very important event since it enables those in the city of Colombo to experience an event that is otherwise held in Kandy, which is a 4 hour drive into hill country at the centre of the island. It is colorful and entertaining and rich in culture, there is no event similar to it anywhere else in the world and it is a must-see if ever visiting Sri Lanka.