Sunday, July 22, 2007

Shopping in the 80's

I completely killed my budget this weekend, but I had planned that. Basically one tuk ride in and out of the city center kills my daily budget, but as I don't do that everyday I can make the expense up. I don't think I'll be able to make up my extravagance this weekend.

So I went out Saturday to buy a bike. This seems like a simple task (I know a good deal about bicycles and I bought my bike in the U.S. in one trip to the shop), but not really. Bicycling isn't really the main form of travel in Colombo. Outside of Colombo this is how people get around, but being a fairly cosmopolitan city, bicycling is beneath most Colombans. So my choice of bikes here are heavy duty mountain bikes, or old clunky comfort cruisers. For those of you on the Sojourn with me, you already know how much I hate comfort bikes. I'm not really interested in riding a serious mountain bike into the city, so I'm at a loss. I did try a bike that was semi-hybrid like. We made it fit (I'm rather tall here) and I rode it down the alley. It was comfortable if loud, but I was absolutely not impressed with the brakes. The bikestore guy was incredulous, "these breaks work fine." See, I really believe in good brakes when riding in busy city traffic. I had to seriously press these breaks to stop and even then it was more of a skid (and I wasn't going fast at all). So I did not purchase a bike.

Later in the day, after I spent way, way too much on hand weights at Odels (more about that later), I randomly ran into Amitha (Australian expat) and she casually mentioned that Felicity (another Australian expat) was leaving in two weeks and she had a bike. So now I need to find Felicity to see if she would sell me her bike. Hopefully that works out as it would be much nicer to buy a bike that has been used (she rides to work everyday) and tested on the streets.

Anyway, as I reread what I just wrote I realize how boring that all sounds, but trust me, life is starting to get routine here. I have, however, successfully conquered the buses. The secret is to map out your route in the A-Z first, and then board a bus. I successfully bused from my house to Barefoot, which included a transfer. I successfully told the ticket sellers where I was going, I successfully exited the bus at the right stop. It was beautiful and the entire trip cost a total of 18 cents. A tuk would have been between $4-5, so mastering this system is absolutely necessary. I have to take advantage of it in the daytime, as it isn't safe at night (plus, really hard to see when you need to disembark).

So Barefoot is the CraftLink of Sri Lanka. Basically, the only place where you can purchase handicrafts and be sure they are truly fairtrade. Sewalanka sells a lot of stuff there. I figured I could find some things to brighten up my room and maybe catch lunch. I won't be eating here on a regular basis, but it is a nice treat every once in a while. I checked out just about everything they had to sell and settled on a little yellow rug for next to my bed and a wooden tray with an elephant painted on it to keep my drinks on while I sit and read in bed. I also invested in some books to help with my work, one on the birds of Sri Lanka (Rach, I'm now ready for your visit, I've already seen several listed in the book), one on identifying the various species of mangroves in Sri Lanka and one on trees species of Sri Lanka. I really wanted a copy of IUCN report on this park I'm supposed to go to next week, but they didn't have it. I may have to cut out of work early tomorrow to get it.

Lunch was lovely. Barefoot is located right on Galle Road (the main drag), but they have this lovely courtyard and you can't even hear the traffic there. I had a peanut butter smoothie and a falafel wrap.

Then I decided it was time to find a bike and various other objects. I've already explained my bike issues. I was told I could get handweights at Odels, and so I walked over to see. Odels is not on Galle, but it is past the park I discovered last week and thus I knew in general where it was. On the walk there I passed a few athletic shoe stores and looked in to see if they had weights. Reebok did, but not the right size and they were $20! I paid $12 in the U.S., so this seemed crazy. I stopped in a music store which had a polishing cloth for my flute, but it was $10! This is crazy -- I only make the equivalent of around $250 a month, how can these things cost so much.

I got to Odels and could see that prices weren't going to be any better. Basically, Odels is a very fancy shopping center. I went in anyway and found the only hand weights they had were exactly the weight I needed. I took this to mean I should just get them even thought they were $20. I looked at their yoga mats ($42) and balance ball ($55) and realized I wouldn't be purchasing these things. Thank god I didn't buy the yoga mat as Jodi later told me she could get one from her teacher for $15. I can live without the ball, so all is well.

Odels is where I found Amitha who told me of an 80's party that night. I've decided I need to get out more as I'm all alone in this big house in the burbs and will need to make more of an effort if I'm going to make friends. So I said I was game and she called to make sure it was o.k. to bring someone else. Apparently news of my arrival has made its way around the expat community--the person she called had heard of me. Anyway, once approved, we headed to a store called the "House of Fashion" to see if we could find anything to make us look 80's. The House of Fashion is a cheap department store where you can buy almost anything for a relatively cheap price. Of course, we didn't find anything as we are both a little larger than your average Sri Lankan. I did buy a towel.

Then I took the 120 bus home. This bus was extremely crowded. My buses in the morning had been practically empty and I had a seat. Now I was standing, with my large, very full bag hitting seated bus riders in the head and apologizing as I had absolutely no control over where I ended up as the bus was so full I had no personal space whatsoever. Three times people told me I could put my bag in the rack above the seated. Two problems with this: one, I don't believe my bag full of table tray, rug and hand weights, would fit and two, I didn't exactly want my bag away from me (it would have been about 4 ft away as there was a random audio speaker on the rack in front of me and several bags in the way). So I politely declined the offer by saying it would never fit and continued to hit the head of the person seated with my heavy bag. I decided at some point, if this was really irritating, he could always give me the seat. It has happened several times, people have gotten up to give the crazy large foreigner a seat. I do look ridiculous standing -- a good foot taller than everyone I am the giant white girl on the bus damning the others to having their heads hit with a heavy western bag and those standing doomed to have their faces in my armpit.

And I missed my stop. See I'm so tall that I can't see out the window when standing. I only missed it by one stop and it was a blessing in disguise as I was let out next to a fruit stall and thus treated myself to some rambutans.

I was supposed to met Amitha at the intersection near her house. I should have known this would be a challenge when my tuk driver had to ask where a fairly main road was. Luckily, I checked the A-Z before leaving so I knew and explained. We got to that road and I gave instructions for getting to the intersection. Clearly, this tuk driver was fine with dropping a sad looking foreign girl in the middle of a random intersection rather than asking someone on the street where Fife Road was. When I called Amitha she thought she knew where I was and told me to stand under the Kodak sign and she'd come meet me. Well, there are a lot of Kodak signs and I wasn't at the one she thought I was. I got another tuk to meet her as I did know where she was (thought I had no idea where I was). Turns out the original tuk driver just took me to the end of the road rather than finding Fife. The sad thing is is that I knew he was wrong (I had looked at a map and even had it with me) and yet, I got out of the tuk and allowed to be dropped off in the wrong place.

Anyway, eventually Ynys showed up and we went to Omar's (American working for the U.N.) house to meet others and head over to the party. Ynys had really taken this theme of the 1980's to heart and looked very much like an early Madonna, without the really big hair. Omar went with the goth look (though he smiled way too much for the look). Jodi also relished the dress up theme, and decided to try out an Olivia Newton John circa "Let's Get Physical" look with fluorescent pink hot pants, leg warmers (the legs cut off of leggings to make the hot pants and leg warmers and a sweat band for the head). The three of them had the best costumes.

When we got to the party, we stood outside for a few minutes waiting for all the taxis to get there so we could arrive together (we realized earlier that we were actually crashing this party as the invite had said bring "a" friend and we were 10 with a total of two invites). We saw several others arrive and no one was in costume. Once all the taxis arrived we went in and we were indeed the only ones in costume. We were at the correct party and it was indeed supposed to be a costume party.

Luckily our crazy costumes made the hosts very happy and it seemed it was completely overlooked we were party crashers. The party was thrown by a Swiss World Health Organization AIDS worker and an Australian UNEP worker. They were clearly high up in their offices as a number of bigwigs were at this party (I had no idea, but people pointed them out). The head of the UN mission in Sri Lanka was there. Clearly, this did something to the mood of the party. There were fancy appetizers passed out by cumberbuned waiters, an open bar and a band playing Sri Lankan music. Not what you expect from an 80's themed party.

Luckily the real party was just waiting for the bigwigs to leave. Around midnight the 80's music came on and we began to dance. At 2 a.m. the host made a little speech (the party was for his birthday) and insisted we stay and enjoy. And by 2:30 rumors began that really, the hosts wanted us to leave. So we called cabs, which can take forever here, and hoped the hosts understood this problem with cab calling. There were tuks at the ready, but since I have to go all the way to Boralesgamawu, I have to take a taxi at that time of night. Apparently, tuks can't be trusted late a night. Anyway, the taxi came and we left. Anthony, the security guard at my house, noted my arrival at 3 a.m. and I went to bed.

Today, I'm just hanging at home. That was enough excitement for one weekend. I promise a more interesting entry later in the week (I'm supposedly going to the buffer zone of Sinharaja Forest Reserve this week, so I may be off-line for a few days).

1 comment:

Jen k said...

I will relish the image of you showing up at a fancy UN-attended patry in 80s garb. Fantastic!