Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Day 2 - Part 2

I've got blisters on the soles of my shoes... feet.  Walked all day in humid heat.  Asked a few people about the weather: no one seemed to know the temperature, but one guy did suggest that Colombo was heating up like the rest of our planet Fireball.  Felt like it.
Being a white tourist in most developing countries really sucks: even if I wore a sari and died my hair I would sign-post money and ignorance, and be a target for con-artists.  I got through most of the day without losing out - just got tired and lazy towards the end and was almost taken for a ride to poverty.
I haven't felt at all unsafe.  Streets are busy.  People smile readily.  I have on my daggy look with my ultra-cool 'you-can't-touch-me' face. And everyone looks too hot and relaxed to give a girl trouble.
The first street I walked down this morning must have been the safest street in all of Asia.  Every five metres was a uniformed guard, standing to attention, with a long and lethal looking weapon.  I figured my best defense was to smile at them.  Most smiled back shyly.
Streets are a crazy mess of tuk tuks, old diesel buses with people hanging out of them, flashy cars and motor bikes.  Pedestrian crossings are critical to survival, but only if you are prepared to step out boldly and stare down the oncoming bus driver.
I watched a lady, dressed in a bright orange sari, walk the entire length of Rauddhaloka Mawatha into oncoming traffic while talking on her mobile.  Cars tooted, dodged her and she kept walking.  I stayed on the 3m wide footpath.
I stopped by the BMICH - an impressive building.  The guard asked me if I wanted to go inside.  I asked what I would find inside.  He said "Nothing".  So we laughed and I moved on.
The Independence Memorial Hall had a small basement museum where I tried to learn Lankan history, but an insistent and self-appointed young male guide drove me out - not before I gave him a tip for his unsolicited trouble.  He was informative, if opportunistic.
Through the Cinnamon Gardens to the National Museum.  A group of gardeners (who were not doing a lot of gardening) were hitting mangoes from a tree.  They gave me one: hard, unripe yet smelling divine.  Easiest to take, thank, keep walking and find a nearby bin.
The museum was quiet, dilapidated, politically correct and filled with school children (girls all in white, each with two long dark braids).  All very colonial.
Lots of bougainvillea-type plants and palms.  Women sweeping.  Men driving tuk tuks or standing around.  Children in school.  Remarkably few tourists.  I think I saw no more than a dozen foreigners all day.
More walking.  Getting tired and hot.  Took a tuk tuk to Galle Face Green where I let my guard down with the charlatans.
Fifty elephants he promised.  I laughed telling him I didn't believe him.  He looked hurt and I compromised.  He was trying to sell me a trip to a temple to see 50 elephants.  I had wanted to go to the temple, even with no elephants I could take the ride.  Except that he didn't stop at the temple.  He wanted to take me to see the Buddhist ceremony.  I asked how far and firmly asked that he pull over soon and I would find the ceremony and walk back to the temple.  All with a smile of course.  Safest to flatter and keep the peace: "You are very kind and a very good driver, but I think I will get out here."
He let me out and told me to walk across the park to find the ceremony.  Having just come from the park I knew there was no ceremony - but happy to be out, even if I was nowhere near the temple.
Then he charged me 1300 rupee.
I told him I was a tourist, but not silly and that sounded too expensive ($13AUD - the price of my ten hour bus trip to Jaffna).  He insisted, but I wasn't going to be taken for a white-girl fool.  I handed him 200 rupee ($2), smiled sweetly, told him it was all I had, thanked him and took off.
Home time.
Magical swim in glorious pool.  The hotel is new.  Owned by an Indian fellow I have discovered.  Foreign investors moving in to build cheaply ahead of what I am sure will be a speedy increase in tourism.
Meanwhile, I am being lavished with earnest and attentive hospitality; enjoying the new unheated yet 28 degree outdoor pool; and wondering how I can avoid being a remnant of colonial times.
At dinner, (I was too tired to go further than the hotel rooftop) the other guests ran down stairs when it rained.  I found a perch near the kitchen and enjoyed my fried chill broccoli dish while chatting to the staff.  Best I could do to build bridges over the blatant inequities.
In our chat, he told me I looked 32 (good one) and that he was friends with lots of Tamils and there were no lingering ethnic tensions at the community level from war-time.
I'm still not quite sure of the time.  But today feels over.

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