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Furano – for lavender and melons




Sapporo, the capital of Hokkaido, Japan’s northern island, is a flat, sprawling city, surrounded by low hills. The downtown area, with classy department stores, high end dining, and tree lined boulevards, is lovely. But the outskirts are not attractive: mile after mile of car dealerships, used car lots, and pachinko (gambling) parlors.

Beyond the city, Hokkaido’s countryside is breathtaking. Forests, rolling hills, farms, salmon streams, fast flowing rivers, crystal clear lakes. The forests are rich in bear, deer, foxes, and smaller creatures. The beaches are clean, and although too cold for bathing most of the year, are deserted and ideal for beach combing. The surrounding seas supply plentiful fish and crustaceans, which the Japanese love to eat raw, steamed or grilled.

We were hunkered down in Sapporo for months, first by winter and then by Covid-19, and were impatient to travel. Infection numbers were down, our Covid fatigue needed a cure, and Furano was the obvious choice. I had been there three years ago and loved the place.

Hokkaido’s economy depends on farming, fisheries, and forestry, but Furano is best known for its lavender fields and melons. The flatness of the terrain is, in a mountainous island, quite astonishing. The hills can be seen all round in the far distance, but what lies in between is farm after farm, in near-perfect rectangles, swathes of gold (ripening wheat) and shades of green – rice, corn and onions. In between are the numerous greenhouses for the precious melon. Copses of trees dot the landscape. Irrigation channels spread the water from mountain streams throughout the agricultural fields.

Hokkaido agriculture was developed under American guidance, so the farm houses, the barns, and the silos have a distinctly American appearance. But, these are not humongous farms like in the USA, but much smaller ones, the farmer and his family living on site, in houses that add much colour to the landscape. In Japan, every aspect of farming – tilling, planting, weeding, spraying, harvesting – is mechanized, from two-wheeled tractors to tankers with extended arms that spray water onto the onion fields.

The Bed and Breakfast was in the midst of an onion field. During my walks, I saw fields basking in the glorious summer sunshine and the farmers going about their work diligently. The Japanese value aesthetics highly, and this extends to the farms, which are kept in near perfect order, to blend easily with the landscape and the neighbouring farms. The irrigation ditches are cleared of sludge, and the crystal clear water flows smoothly. I read that water distribution is harmonious and well regulated.

Furano is most famous for its lavender fields, which, on our last visit, were packed with tourists. This time, with the airport closed for international flights, only Japanese visitors were around. To enjoy them the most, one must spend time with the lavender, strolling among the fields, inhaling the scent deeply, or sit at a nearby bench and simply gaze, while butterflies flutter and bees go about their work. A cone of Japan’s heavenly soft-serve ice cream, lavender flavoured, of course, in hand, adds to a sense of calm that is precious during these troubled times.

Lavender is big business. Mainly used in the manufacture of perfume, lavender has also been applied to a mind boggling number of products, ranging from sachets of potpourri, to oil, soap, candles, pillows, hand cream, and tea. Lavender flavoured ice cream and wine are also big hits.

One evening, we had dinner at an izakaya, a type of small neighbourhood pub/eatery popular in Japan. Usually run by a husband and wife couple, or a chef and an assistant or two, they have a vast range of dishes on the meu, and a loyal clientele. One pushes the sliding door to a side, parts the half curtain to peer and step-in, to be greeted with “irasshaimase” meaning “welcome, please come in”. Robata, the izakaya in Furano where we ate, is a tiny, quirky place, where the chef owner is assisted by a younger man. A weird collection of artifacts hangs from the ceiling, and all around are bottles of liquor, masks from Noh drama, endless menu items with price tags, and coolers. Only the square seating area is in any order, chopsticks balanced on tiny, colourful plates, all social distanced. Traditional Japanese music (high pitched wailing, usually), sounds in the background. Everything is covered in a sheen of dust, but who cares: we came to eat and drink.

Upon being seated, wet towels are passed around, and small bowls of edamame (boiled soybeans in the pod) served. We take our time over ordering, because the menus are many and varied, but eventually go with the chef’s recommendations – cold draft beer, sashimi, cold tofu, grilled fish, and yakitori (grilled chicken on skewers). Izakayas are boisterous places, but tonight the mood is somber, Covid being not far from everyone’s mind. The chef keeps on a bantering with the customers (the only gaijin (foreigner), me, being a point of interest), soft cries of “kanpai” (cheers) are heard, and we savour the warm ambience. The bill is not itemized, instead rounded to the nearest thousand. We step out to a cool evening, the bright lanterns leading the way magically down a narrow lane.

Another day, away from Furano, we come across an old soba place in a rustic area. Soba is buckwheat noodle, served in a warm broth in winter and cold in summer, usually with tempura – vegetables, fish or meat battered and deep fried. Cold soba and vegetable tempura are among my favourite Japanese dishes. While waiting our turn to get in, another customer told us that the restaurant, Onada Soba, was the setting for a popular TV drama series in the early 1980s named “North Country”. When we entered, I wondered if anything had changed since then. The walls had hundreds, if not thousands, of business cards and boarding card stubs left by fans from all over Japan and elsewhere, some going back nearly 40 years. A coat of dust covered everything. An elderly man did all the cooking, helped by his wife who waited and washed up. The menu had only four items, and we ordered cold soba with onion tempura, and the waitress told us that two servings of tempura, not three, would be enough. When the meal arrived, I saw why. The tempura was a generous portion, fried to a golden sheen. With a generous serving of green tea, I enjoyed perhaps the best soba meal.

Now for the melons. The Japanese are fond of water melon, cantaloupes, and honey dew. Furano cantaloupes are highly prized, and are given as gifts. I’ve seen melons priced at US$50, but we didn’t have to pay that much for the sweetest melons. We gave one to our neighbour back in Sapporo, and, with a sparkle in her eyes, she ran to place it on her late husband’s alter before consuming it later.

We returned from Furano relaxed and rejuvenated, longing to go back in a few weeks. But, Covid had resurged in Japan, so we’ll have to wait.

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India and China opting to make positive impact in Ukraine



Ukrainian troops ride atop an armoured vehicle on a road in the eastern Donetsk region

In what could be considered the most thought provoking development to date in the global politics growing out of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, China and India have called on Russia and Ukraine to go for a negotiated solution to the crisis. Of particular importance is Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi’s pronouncement to the effect that the parties need to ‘keep the crisis from spilling over and affecting developing countries.’

Elaborating on this policy position, Wang Yi was quoted saying: ‘China supports all efforts conducive to a peaceful resolution of the Ukraine crisis. The fundamental solution is to address the legitimate security concerns of all parties and build a balanced, effective and sustainable security architecture.’

As pointed out by some commentators, this stance by China is indeed a far cry from the unconditional support extended to Russia by China in all matters of vital importance to the former. In other words, it is a comedown of sorts from the ‘all weather friendship’ that was seen as binding the countries.

As explicit as the Chinese Foreign Minister on this question was India’s Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar. He said: ‘As the Ukraine conflict continues to rage, we are often asked whose side we are on. Our answer, each time, is straight and honest – India is on the side of peace and will remain firmly there. We are on the side that calls for dialogue and diplomacy as the only way out.’

Hard ground realities and economic pressures that are extending well beyond the Eastern European theatre could be considered as compelling China and India to adopt this policy stance on the Ukraine crisis. It is plain to see, for instance, that the Russian invasion is meeting stubborn Ukrainian military resistance which is rendering the invasion a highly costly exercise for Moscow.

Despite the initiation of some desperate measures by the Putin regime, such as the partial mobilization of Russia’s citizenry for the war effort and the holding of ‘referendums’ in territory seized from Ukraine in an effort to legitimize Russia’s hold on it, the invasion could be considered as having all but stalled. On the other hand, the Ukrainian resistance seems to be having ample resolve and morale. Bolstered by recently supplied sophisticated Western weaponry, it has more than taken the fight back to the Russian invaders.

Evidently, then, Russia’s war effort is not going according to plan. However, the human costs, in particular, for both main sides to the conflict are prohibitive. Ukraine civilians are being subjected to a bloodletting that civilized sections the world over are recoiling from in horror. They could be said to be at the receiving end of state-inspired barbarism.

On the other hand, the majority of Russian civilians ought to be seeing themselves as nothing less than cannon fodder in Russian strongman Putin’s efforts to resurrect the defunct Soviet empire, now that they are being forcibly conscripted into an apparently futile war effort.

All this and more, ‘on the ground’, is clearly evident to both the friends and foes of Russia. They are likely to be of the view that the senseless war ought to be brought to a close.

On the other hand, to a greater or lesser degree, all countries are currently experiencing the adverse economic effects of the war. As is known, the Ukraine invasion is a principal cause for the worldwide rise in food and energy prices. If stagflation is fast spreading in the world and the more vulnerable sections among citizenries are sinking further into poverty and disempowerment it is, to a considerable extent, due to the Russian invasion of Ukraine and its ill effects.

China and India, two of the foremost economic powers of the South, ought to be fully alert to these realities. Among other things, they know for certain that there could be no economic growth for them and the world amid mounting material hardships and the steady impoverishment of people.

To re-state a fundamental axiom in classical economics, there could be no demand for goods and services if people lack the power to purchase, which comes from money in hand. And without the exercising of demand the production of goods and services comes to a grinding halt. That is, economies crumble. This is happening in the South right now.

The inference is inescapable from the foregoing that the invasion of Ukraine must end and that needs to be achieved by political means since a continuation of armed hostilities would only beget more war and its ill-consequences. Accordingly, China and India would prefer to have a negotiated solution to the Ukraine crisis.

A peek at recent growth trends in India and China would disclose the extent to which these economies have been dependent on the growing prosperity of their upper and middle classes to nourish their material fortunes. A report published in this newspaper on September 21, 2022 said, among other things, that by 2026, India’s dollar millionaires are expected to double. During the 2021- 2026 period China’s dollar millionaires are expected to grow by 97 per cent. It is these classes that have been keeping their economies ticking in recent decades by virtue of their growing purchasing power. Their purchasing power has steadily translated into a strong indigenous manufacturing base, among other things.

It does not follow from the foregoing that economic equity is a very strong point of India and China. That would necessitate a steady trickling down of wealth to the economically lower classes but we would certainly be having growth and that has been happening markedly in India and China.

Likewise, the prosperity of their neighbours as well as that of the rest of the world contributes positively towards the growth stories of India and China. While India and China have been interacting positively in the economic field over the decades on the basis of their increasing economic power and thereby gaining mutually, it will be to their advantage to ensure that their neighbours too advance towards economic wellbeing.

This accounts for the ready extension by India and China of economic assistance to Sri Lanka in its current woes. Indeed, India and China would extend their largesse to other countries in the region in their hour of need as well because the growth successes of these economic giants are predicated upon the prosperity of their neighbours, among other factors. In the absence of a degree of economic prosperity, these smaller neighbours could not expect to interact effectively in the economic sphere with India and China and gain significantly by it.

Accordingly, it will be in the national interest of India and China to call on Russia and Ukraine to go for a negotiated settlement. If the conflict is thus ended it will not only benefit India and China but the rest of the world as well, considering that the conflict is exerting widespread economic ill-effects.

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‘Use heart for every heart’



World Heart Day 2022

By Dr.Mohan Jayatilake
Consultant Cardiologist
Former President of Sri Lanka Heart Association

The theme of World Heart Day 2022 is “USE HEART FOR EVERY HEART”. The World Heart Federation has created this day to raise awareness about Cardiovascular Diseases (CVD).

Every year, on September 29th, people all over the world celebrate Heart Day as a way to draw attention to cardiovascular illnesses, their management as well as the worldwide toll they take on society. World Heart Day was created in the year 2000 to inform people around the globe that Heart diseases and Stroke are the world’s leading cause of death, claiming 17.9 million lives every year. According to WHO statistics, 82% of deaths occurring in low and middle-income countries are due to lack of resources.

Together with members of the World Heart Federation, we need to spread the news that at least 80% of premature deaths, from heart disease and stroke, could be avoided if the main risk factors, heavy smoking, unhealthy diet, reduced physical activity, and alcoholism, are controlled.

Increased high blood pressure, increased blood sugar levels, being obese, or overweight, are all side effects of living a bad lifestyle that may harm your heart.

The world was battling the Covid-19 pandemic for the last two years. Unfortunately, patients, with CVD, are more vulnerable and have become high risk groups. Heart patients are susceptible to get a more severe form of Covid-19 infection which could make matters worse.

National activities such as public talks, cardiovascular screening, walks, runs, concerts or sporting events are organised worldwide by members and partners of World Heart Federation.

Global leaders have recognised the urgency to give priority to prevention and control of heart diseases with other non-communicable diseases (NCD) which include cancer, diabetics and chronic lung diseases.

This year also, according to the theme, we ask people to take charge of their home’s heart health by taking steps to reduce the burden of the following risks:

Stop smoking

Stop smoking to improve your own and your children’s heart health.

Cigarette smokers are 2-4 times more prone to get heart disease and strokes, than non-smokers. Stopping smoking dramatically reduces the risk of heart disease, strokes and deaths.

A Few steps for successful cessation

Find your reason – strong motivation will help.

Line up support in advance – medical assistance

Lean on your loved ones

Find new ways to relax/unwind – stress can make a person fall back to smoking. Music, meditation, yoga or any other activity will help to alleviate stress.

Try and try again

– you only need to try again and again to achieve your target, even though you are unsuccessful in your first attempt.

Avoid alcohol and other triggers.

Physical exercise always helps to alleviate stress and avoid triggers of smoking.

Healthy diet at home

Unhealthy diet is at the root of many health issues, especially obesity, diabetics and CVD. Rapid urbanisation, changing lifestyles and easy accessibility of fast foods have made our dietary patterns unhealthy. Following are some healthy food patterns:

Limit saturated and trans fats

Limit salt

Limit sugar

Plenty of fruits and vegetables

At least five portions of fruits and vegetables per day should be a norm of your dietary habits. You should opt for low fat milk and dairy products.

Animal products, mainly beef, pork, poultry with skin, mutton, lard, butter, cheese carry a lot of saturated fat. Trans fats are contained in baked, processed and fried food items, certain margarines and spreads. In order to cut down saturated and trans fats, consume lean meats, poultry without skin, low fat dairy products, fish and nuts. Vegetable oils should be in moderation.

Regular Exercises

It is recommended that adults should do at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity or at least 75 minutes of high intensity physical activity per week.

Families should limit the amount of time spent in front of TV to less than two hours per day.

Exercise should be a regular part of your life. Due to the Covid pandemic, public exercise facilities are closed and most of the time movement of people is restricted. Therefore, home-based exercises were adopted to make exercises an enjoyable task.

Lose Weight

The world is now facing visible epidemic of obesity. It not only adversely affects your cardiovascular health, but also can affect your mental well-being.

The ways to lose weight effectively,

Do not skip meals – it will make you hungrier and go for more snacks.

Plenty of fruits and vegetables

Get active

– exercise burns off excess calories.

Use a smaller plate – eating smaller portions definitely reduces weight.

Do not ban foods

– you can enjoy an occasional treat otherwise you crave them more.

Cut down on alcohol

– it can make you gain weight.

Manage Stress

Psychological health and well-being can affect your cardiovascular health. Regular exercise, practising relaxation, being with your family and friends sometimes, adequate sleep, various hobbies, and maintaining positive attitudes towards life.

Know your numbers

Visit your doctor or healthcare professional.

Know your blood pressure which is one of the risk factors for CVD. Check regularly and take steps to control it including salt intake, exercises and medication.

Know your cholesterol – high cholesterol is another major risk factor for CVD. It should be checked regularly and controlled with dietary measures and medication.

Know your blood sugar – diabetics, conditions with high blood sugar levels multiply CVD risk. Diet control and medication required to control it.

Know your warning signs

Recognising symptoms of CVD can help you survive because earlier the treatment better the chances of survival.

Chest pain of tightening or burning in nature with pain radiating down the upper limbs or to the neck or back associated with sweating and nausea is the typical presentation of heart attacks. Sometimes heart burn or burning tummy pain could be due to a heart attack rather than gastritis or indigestion.

Sudden weakness of limbs, slurring of speech, mouth deviation or double vision could be due to a stroke. Knowing these symptoms and seeking medical assistance allow you to get treatment early and prevent complications which can be life threatening most of the time.

Take your medicine regularly and correctly

If you are already diagnosed with a heart disease or stroke, taking your medication, without fail, will reduce the chances of getting another attack of stroke or heart disease

Measures during pandemic

The Covid-19 pandemic has created havoc, globally. People with CVD fall into very high risk category.

Therefore it is important to,

Continue your medication uninterruptedly

Follow medical advice

Continue exercise and balance diet.

Maintain your social network and

Do not hesitate to take vaccination.

By doing the household steps, mentioned above, you and your family can reduce the burden of heart diseases.

Breastfeeding and lifelong health

Breastfeeding is the best form of nutrition for newborn and infants, according to WHO. Increasing public awareness is important. Infants who are breastfed tend to have lower cholesterol and blood pressure as well as lower rates of overweight and obesity all of which improve cardiac health.

Both undernourished and over nourished, early in life, can increase the risk for developing CVD. Evidence suggests that children who are undernourished while in the uterus and at childbirth bear a higher CVD risk later in life.

Maternal obesity during pregnancy has been associated with obesity in children which also increases the risk of developing CVD in life.

As always, our emphasis will be on improving heart health across all nations in adult male and female, as well as children.

By adopting lifestyle changes, people all over the world can have longer and better lives through the prevention and control of heart disease and strokes.

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Doctors…taking a break



When we think of doctors, what comes to mind is medicine, patients, etc., and that’s only natural as doctors are our saviours…when we are ill.

We would hardly associate doctors with entertainment, and that’s where most of us are wrong.

I’ve been to a couple of concerts where these men of medicine have excelled, on stage, as entertainers, and some of them, I would say, are super-duper.

Yes, the Annual Sri Lanka Medical Association Doctors’ Concert is a much-looked-forward to musical extravaganza where the doctors, and their families, are provided the unique opportunity to showcase their talents, in performing arts.

It is usually held on the final day of the Annual Scientific Congress of the Sri Lanka Medical Association (SLMA), and it’s all happening this Saturday, October 1st, at the Lotus Room of the BMICH.

Says Dr. B.J.C.Perera, Senior Consultant Paediatrician:

“It is a common belief that medical doctors are a sombre set of people who are mainly involved in looking after people with illnesses. True enough, they do perform that ever so immensely important task in society, and such a mission is by no means to be taken lightly, in view of its tremendous significance. Healing the sick is certainly a noble task and many of them are renowned performers, as well as experts in their own chosen specialties of the profession.

“However, it may come as a surprise to many that several of these medical men, and women, have other talents – musical, acting, drama, etc. There are very many extremely gifted performers of real class amongst our medical men, and women. In recognition of this, the SLMA has provided an opportunity for these artistic men, and women, to showcase their talents, and flair, in the performing arts, at the glittering SLMA Doctors’ Concert.

“This is a much-anticipated opportunity for members of the medical profession, and their family members, to put their hair down and forget medicine, at least for an evening. The Doctors’ Concert was started many years ago as a rather informal event and it has a most proud tradition of being staged annually, for quite a few decades, in the history of the SLMA.

“A dedicated band, consisting mainly of doctors, first played at the concert, in 2014. This was in the Committee Room 1, currently the Lotus Room, of the BMICH. They performed on a small stage done for them on a side.

“The continuing progress of the event was due to the untiring efforts of that absolute virtuoso in music, a drummer himself, Dr. Christo Fernando. He left no stone unturned to make the event a resounding success, from 2014 onwards.”

This Saturday, October 1st, we will not see doctors, in their usual uniforms (Coats and Scrubs), stethoscopes, or anything connected with medicine, but entertainment, at its best…on stage!

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