Today may have been the perfect Sunday – a day off in the “emerald of the Indian Ocean.” I must admit, I felt a little bit guilty taking a day off so early in my trip, but today was a sunday, there was nothing I could do about it, nothing was open!
A morning of waking up slow, uploading my photos to Flickr, writing a little and reading a lot. Eating jam and toast with the family with my favourite Sri Lankan milk-tea, with Tamil music from Bollywood softly accompanying, including my two new favourite songs “Ennamo Yeadho” and “Nenjil Nenjil” (which I totally downloaded from iTunes, although buying CD’s from here would have probably cost a tenth of the price … but which ones are legit?).
Being Sunday in Colombo, there is only one place to be, Galle Face beach: a quick hop in a trishaw and I was there, only to be greeted by literally hundreds of tractors, cranes, bulldozers and more, all on parade. I swear, there must have been at least a few hundred million dollars worth of heavy machinery there, all on parade, covered in Chinese and Sri Lankan flags, a “gift” from the Chinese government, but more on that later.
A stroll down the beautiful, Bondi Beach-esque causeway, past young Sri Lankan couples sneaking kisses under umbrellas, past teenage boys pushing each other into the waves in jeans and a T-shirt (no one seems to have swimmers here, the like the water, but their clothes seem fine), past ice cream vendors selling 10c cones, fruit vendors selling chilli guava, salted mango and other slightly familiar slightly different snacks, and past beach toy stalls selling wind toys and kites, flying dozens of them on display. Of course, being a youngish male tourist, I got stopped by police a few times, not for questioning, not because of suspicion, not even to ask for some bakshish, but just to chat, to practice their English. I was invited to drinks with a local police officer named Rajiv, but I chose to decline, he seemed just a bit too seedy (no offence Rajiv, I am just not brave enough!).
And, of course, I participated in a game of beach promenade cricket – the Sri Lankans seem to be a lot more skilful, or hydrophobic than Australians, since not one ball went into the ocean.
Then I got to the Galle Face Hotel, an English colonial gem, more than 150 years old, and, apparently “the oldest hotel west of the Suez”. A costumed bell-boy (actually, he was about 70 years old, so is bell-boy the correct term? Bell Sir? Bell Person?) greeted me at the entrance with a striped blue towel, asking for a room number as security for the towel, or proof or something that I stayed there. I balked a little, since I was a guest of the Sirida family in Kotehena, and not a guest of the $140+ a night hotel.
“Room 115” I bluffed, seeing a room 118 on the list and thinking it would be safe: if there was an 18, there must have been a 15.
I got my towel without so much as a sideways look from the Bell Sir, I think my bluff worked!
4 hours on the pool balcony passed, facing the Indian Ocean and absorbing the rays whilst chewing through “Building a Social Business” by Mohommed Yunus (review/summary to come), interspersed with reading articles from “Foreign Affairs” and “The New York Review of Books” for variety. The sun was baking me, and not a single word was said to anyone. Just the ocean, the sun and I, tied into the world of the book I was reading, ideas running through my mind (how could I best build my own social business? Would it be feasible in Sri Lanka? In Australia? Could I bring IT and Photography into it? How did it relate to the “Human Computing” article I read in “The Economist”?).
But then, my heart sank, a waiter walked up to me and asked:
“Sir, did you say you were in Room 119?” My horrible handwriting again.
“No, thats 115” I said, hoping he wasn’t on to me.
He walked back to his post, but I could see a glint of suspicion in his eyes, so I made sure that he saw that I paid in cash for the papaya and banana juice I had ordered – that he didn’t think I was defrauding the GFH. I think I got away with it, or, at least, I think he stopped caring.
Then, the magic hour, 4:00pm came: $6 for 3 coronas; at least 3 weddings on at any one time; and the sun’s magic and colourful descent begins. I chose a prime seat, ocean side, an unobstructed view, and close enough to the bar that the bartender wouldn’t forget me. Then I saw a bride resplendent in here wedding gear, right by the ocean, and I had to take a picture. I got up from my seat and snapped away, much to the surprise of the wedding photographers with their super-zoom cameras who thought I was trying to upstage them.
When I got back to my seat, however, I found it occupied by a German-Colombian couple and a German-Carribean (also Spanish-speaking) couple. But they let me sit with them, and keep taking my sunset photos for my planned animated GIF (to come! as soon as I learn how to make it!). Talking with them, I learned that they both worked in Sri Lanka, one as a radio engineer at Deutsche Welle Radio’s Trincomalee short-wave radio transmitting station, and the other with the German version of AusAid. We talked and talked about the politics of this country, and of all the little obstacles put up that make it difficult to work in this country. We talked about Sri Lanka’s increasing debt burden it gets by accepting these “gifts” from China – which it would have to pay for in years to come. We talked, and shared beers and stories, and now I have four new friends, who I hope to see again when I get back to Colombo, or when I get to Trincomalee.
The sun had set, the beers were where they were meant to be (we had drunk them) and now I was famished – so off to my favourite Appam restaurant at the end of Wellawata beach. An open air thing that is always full, and always filled with the sound of chattering soldiers, sodas popping open and metal scrapers on metal cook-tops – the sound of Kottu being made. Egg hoppers and plain hoppers with this ridiculously spicy salsa and mutton curry, which had more bone than mutton, and I was ready to go.
I exhausted hailed a trishaw and schlepped my way back to Kotehena and collapsed onto the bed, still in my clothes, feeling each spring in the bed, but not caring at all.
Good night, and what a busy day I have ahead of me (Mondays…).