Hedonism in the Big City
This is my first attempt at writing an entry from my computer at home and uploading it off disk at the internet café. With any luck the formatting won’t be insane.
After many errands and adventures enroute, Jill and I made it to Colombo on Wednesday. Notably I was met at the train in Kandy twenty minutes before it left by my mobile-phone agent (who is an assistant professor at Peradeniya; shows you how well they are paid) on a motorcycle with my new phone. He promptly zoomed off to get the connection chip for the phone and returned, as promised, ten minutes later and ten minutes before we departed, phone in hand. Of course the phone doesn’t work yet—that would be too easy!—but it’s nice to have it, look at it, whatever.
The trains here run very much on time, at least vis-à-vis departures. It’s one of the few left-over British things. Well, there’s a lot of left-over British things, but most of those have been adopted and changed to a remarkable degree, whereas the trains’ timeliness is nothing less than shocking in a country where, for example, “I will be back in my office after lunch” can mean “I will be back in my office the next day which is technically after lunch today”.
The train itself is pretty pleasant, especially in first class where they don’t sell “open” tickets and therefore there isn’t a whole passel of folks standing up in the aisles. When the train pulls into the station to load up (about an hour before it is leaving generally!) all the people in third class run, jump, and shove their way into the cars, because they are the least likely to get seats. Then you sit on the platform and wait and wait and buy little cups of Nescafe and packets of biscuits from the guy trundling a cart up and down the platform. It’s tiring, even though one is sitting down.
Colombo is generally tiring. The only way I can explain how expats and rich people live a jet-setting kind of life is that they have cars and drivers and always go from one clean, posh, air-conditioned place to another. When I am in Colombo I am generally hot, dirty, and wilting from the combination. I catch glimpses of myself in shiny surfaces and think, who is that frazzled girl?
This time Jill and I agreed that in the interests of getting-things-done efficiently and not feeling totally rushed all the time (ha), we would forgo the elaborate process of walking and taking buses to save money and just take trishaws whenever necessary. This proved expensive by Sri Lankan standards but cheap by the standards of, say, the New York City subway system. It’s sobering to think that for the price of a ride from Brooklyn to Manhattan you can get from Kandy to Colombo in first class. Trishaws are relatively expensive—Rs.150 for rides of a moderate length—but oh so handy.
We did many important errands, including going to the Fulbright Commission to get mah money. I never got my first month’s check, which means I’ve been making it on the settling-in allowance, which is less than a month’s pay, and I’ve spent less than half of it. We also ran into our pal Bill, who is a Senior Fulby English professor. He’s working in the middle of nowhere and has had a hard time so far—they keep asking him to teach a class with about half an hour’s notice, and stuff like that. He is incredibly good natured and funny and smart about it though, so I can see him being really happy once the bullshit gets sorted out.
We also went to the Embassy to check out the commissary store, where they sell all kinds of American foods and stuff that it’s hard to get here. The store is cute and vaguely pathetic—neat little rows of Jello and Tide, you know—but enticing at moments. They have Ghirardelli chocolate chips and four kinds of mustard (French’s, something else yellow, Grey Poupon in a squeeze bottle, Grey Poupon in a jar) and totally tax-free booze. 1-litre bottles of Tanqueray for $10. You have to pay to join the store, so Jill and I gave it a pass. We were going to be schlepping around all day anyway. Judy and Yvonne have joined already and promised to get me some Grey at some point…
The purpose of the Embassy trip was really to VOTE! It was anticlimactic but very bureaucratic; many little forms and envelopes to stick’n’seal and slips of paper. I hope desperately that the vote is far enough towards Kerry that they never even think of opening the absentee ballots (they don’t unless the volume of such ballots could possibly swing the state). We made it into the diplomatic pouch by about an hour. The consular section folks were extremely pleasant and chatty. You get this funny perspective on “Americans” when the only Americans you see are academics and diplomats; everyone is so friendly, and helpful, and interested in what you’re doing. The State Department certainly has the right people overseas…
After Business came Pleasure, which basically amounted to a lot of good old Colombo shopping. I made an appointment for a haircut at the poshest salon (or so I hear) in town: Fin(o)men-aL. I can’t really do it justice because the name is supposed to be covered with weird diacritical markings and the letters are not supposed to be in line with each other. Anyway before doing that we went from Crescat Boulevard (super posh mall) to Odel Unlimited (super posh old-school ‘department’ style store) and shopped in the cheap section. Odel is where you get the Banana Republic linen pants for $9, which I did. Their store is a wacky paradise of fancy stuff; a Lush store, a sushi bar, a Delifrance, handicrafts, eveningwear, designer labels, Western beauty products… and… a gelateria. Jill and I bought a monster takeout styrofoam container of gelato and, pleasure of pleasures, took it to the Embassy pool complex.
There we met Jeremy, who had finally purchased a floor lamp for his house and was lugging it around proudly. We swam and ate gelato from the container. We tried to feed some to the ambassador and his wife, who were there a'swimmin' as is their habit in the early evening. I went off for my (severe, artistic) haircut.
The haircut deserves a long entry all it's own but as I'm finishing this one up in the net-cafe itself I'll abstain for the moment. Suffice it to say that it was the most elaborate haircutting process ever and I have almost no hair anymore. I like it. After the haircut I met J&J for a fancy Indian dinner at our boss's favorite restaurant. Friday we dashed around, back to the Commission, to Barefoot (chichi fabric and housewares and clothing store) for shopping and falafel lunch, then off to the train...
...where we had not bought tickets for the express and so had to w-a-i-t in the heat and dirt for the next one. We finally got back to Kandy at 8:15 and I fell asleep in Jill's bed waiting for Judy and Yvonne to get home so I could go 'home' to their house. I dragged myself over there at 10 or so.
Saturday we slept late, made Bisquick pancakes, and spent the afternoon at Le Kandyan, a fancy hotel atop a mountain near Dangolla. Big buffet lunch, a quick swim as it was thunderstorming and we darted between bouts of rain, tea, relaxing with books, ogling the underdressed tourists. (And how!) What else could be more fun?
AND! Before I finish up--I have decided on an apartment. It's not all settled yet, but it will be tomorrow. It's 1-br, lovely with huge verandah and nice kitchen. All ye who are coming to visit, fear not; it is across the street from a nice cheap hotel and I am also getting a spare bed to stick in the living room. The kitchen and verandah more than make up for the non-having of a guest room. Besides, I'm going to move in February to a 2-br place. So come on down. (Up, if you're in Colombo.)
Oh, and my non-working cell phone is 077-311-5531. Country code is 94. Don't call until I say so. Then call. Often.