I’ve been in Colombo, Sri Lanka and its environs for the past week and although I haven’t had much time for touristry (I’m here for work), I have a few random things to report.
1. I first stayed in a little guest house near the institute where I’m working – very pretty but remote. No TV, telephone, hot water or closet. Thus ensued a humorous discussion with my English colleagues who thought I was having an issue with the lack of a bathroom (a.k.a. water closet) in my room, when my problem was really having to drape two weeks worth of clothes over a single chair! At the weekend, I moved to the Grand Oriental, which was originally built as a barracks for the English army when it occupied Sri Lanka (back then it was known as Ceylon). A bit down at heels but with a lovely view of the harbour and a fine closet complete with hangers.
2. Up the street from the hotel is the Dutch Hospital, which was used to house ailing soldiers back when the Dutch ruled Sri Lanka in East India Company days. Built in 1681, the hospital was restored last year and now houses a pretty little mall with a couple of restaurants (of which more later).
3. There are many many homeless dogs here and they are all pretty laid back. That is not to say that they are not scruffy because they are that in spades. But they don’t seem sick or starving or particularly fearful of the many crazy drivers on the road, which is more than I can say for myself. I am always amazed by off-leash dogs who understand the concept of the automobile, waiting quietly for cars to pass before they cross the street. If I tried that with my dogs, they would leap under the wheels of the first car that passed by in their eagerness to get home for supper.
When I was in Puglia a few weeks ago, I noticed many dogs there running free but appearing to live lives of purpose (as opposed to the Sri Lankan dogs, who mostly just hang around street corners checking out the ladies). For example, in a town called Sannicola we saw a big black and white dog trot by, looking neither left nor right, clearly on a mission. Between her teeth she held what could very well have been a plastic bag of mozzarella, which she was taking home to her owner from the local cheese shop. Or so I choose to believe. Since I didn’t manage to get Mozzarella Dog’s picture, I tried to do a dramatic recreation with Morgan holding a bag of cotton (as a substitute for expensive cheese) in his mouth. That went entirely as expected. There’s a little society in Colombo called Embark, which raises money to look after the homeless dogs by selling funny dog-themed tee-shirts. That might explain why they don’t look too badly off. I am the proud owner of a new tee-shirt that reads “License to bitch!” I’d take a picture of it but it’s hanging in my very fine closet and I don’t want to disturb.
4. Sri Lankans are very friendly and are always trying to talk to you on the street. Not is a smarmy stalkery way (not that I attract much of that kind of attention these days). More of a “I see you’re not from these parts. Let me welcome you to my fine country. And perhaps you’d like a ride to a tourist destination in my tuk tuk?” way. Tuk tuks are little motorized rickshaw things that go “tuk tuk tuk” as they putt down the street. Yesterday, a guy tried to convince me to go to a big Buddhist celebration at the temple, promising that I’d see 60 elephants. I didn’t bite but when another guy told me about the same celebration, I thought there might be something to it and I hopped a tuk tuk to check it out. It turned out the so-called celebration was at Gangaramaya Temple, the main place for Buddhist worship and learning in Colombo. I didn’t see 60 elephants — there was one, however — but there were worshippers, tourists, incense, candles, chanting, thousands of statues of Buddha (include one made of diamonds and one that could only be seen with a magnifying glass) and various legacies left to the temple by the faithful, including elephant tusks, cars and eyeglasses. Not sure if what I saw constituted a special celebration or just business as usual but nevertheless I’m glad I bothered.
I’ll leave you with one final thing to ponder: a poster that hangs in all of the bathrooms in the institute where I’m working.