Thursday, August 03, 2006

A Sunday Stroll in the City of Colombo

LEISURE: The day started with an early-morning text message from my nangie, "Ruah akka, kohomada? Apita oya matakai." I rolled over in bed and text my little host sister back that I was doing fine and I was thinking of her and the family, too.

The relative lack of noise outside my Dematagoda flat reminded me that it was Irida (Sunday). I looked at the silky blue sky and thought of what I would do on a day like today in my hometown, New York City: a Sunday stroll.

I had a free day and with my usual busy schedule, this was not something I had done before in Colombo. Other than on Galle Face Green and Independence Square, was this a common Sunday pastime for local residents? I thought I would try it out and see.

But first, yoga. I stared out the window while practising my morning sequence of asanas.
Forty minutes later, I sat crossed-legged on my yoga mat for my daily morning meditation using the Transcendental Meditation technique I learned years ago. I concentrated on my mantra and wondered what the day would bring.

Travelling southwest towards Town Hall in the shade of my purple umbrella, I remembered a website about yoga classes in Colombo.

I flagged a three-wheeler and took it to Global Fitness Centre on Jawatta Avenue in Cinnamon Gardens.

I hoped to meet the lawyer turned yoga teacher I had read about. As a yoga teacher and graduate student myself, I felt I may relate to her and even make a new friend.

The teacher was not in town, but I was given a tour of the gym with modern equipment and A/C rooms including the well-lit yoga studio. I took a copy of the schedule and pencilled-in a yoga class to attend later in the week.

The sweet smell of rambutan fruit sold at roadside stands was irresistible all along the quiet and shady Reid Avenue. I bought a few to crack open and enjoyed the savory taste as I continued walking.

As I approached a junction, I noticed Laksala, the government handicraft store. I followed along the entryway lined with wood sculptures and flanked by two long reflecting pools.
Inside, the scent of leather and wood was soothing as I explored the aisles lined with beautifully crafted works (I purchased a small wooden Buddha).

Stepping back into the warmth of the day, I ventured back onto Bauddhaloka Mawatha, and not too long after, sought refuge from the heat in a small boutique clothing shop, Wild Flower.

They had lovely shoes, bags, jewellery and some interesting clothes, too. I spotted a pair of pinstriped men's trousers and was reminded of a conversation I had with my older brother on an internet phone call.

He had recently bought a new pair of trousers at Banana Republic, a well-known American store, which happened to have been made in Sri Lanka.

In the store, I reached for the pants to inspect the label and, to my surprise, saw they were from... Banana Republic, only the price was literally ten times less than what my brother paid in New York!

Continuing west, I reached Duplication Road and turned north. I walked several streets up and saw the Queens Cafe and Cricket Club.

I turned down Queens Road and found myself in front of the elegant Gallery Cafe. I walked through the parking lot to a charming entry way with a reflecting pool filled with large fish, and purple and yellow flowers, the whole scene soaked in sun peaking through the partially exposed roof.

I then perused the gift shop noting some similar items as the other craft stores at a somewhat higher cost. I decided to do something very typical of "New Yorkers": Eat by myself! I entered the impressive dining area and was seated in a booth.

I ordered the special, tuna steak with salsa verde, aubergine, tomato and mozzarella. It was not typical Sri Lankan food, but was extremely tasty nonetheless.

The room began to fill with locals, filling about 15 of the 120 or so tables. To my right, two Sri Lankan-looking women in their 20s sat down to eat and spoke in American accents about the wedding they were apparently visiting Sri Lanka for.

I chatted with a group of pilots and flight attendants for Etihad Airways at the next table about different flight paths and their plans for the limited 24 hours they had in Colombo.
Around 3 pm, I ventured back onto Duplication Road and visited Fashion Bug, and then Beverly Street.

The bags and shoes of Beverly Street were so magnificent - I am sure that if the store was transplanted to a busy street in New York, it would be sold out in a matter of hours.

Although the store was quite filled with people, the street was practically empty, as it had been most of the day. This allowed for three-wheelers speeding down the road to do U-turns to get next to me.

They wanted to be sure that when I didn't respond to their solicitous honking I indeed did not want a ride. They seemed shocked when I responded each time with "Isthuthi, mata epa. Mama awidinawa." "No thank you, I'm walking."

I continued walking towards Dharmapala Mawatha to turn east with hopes of making it to Odel's Juicebar. I couldn't resist stopping at Paradise Road.

This shop and cafe is a larger version of the Gallery Cafe store filled with a plethora of crafts and art. While the prices are on the high end for Sri Lanka, they were a fraction of what they would be in New York or other western cities.

Though my legs were beginning to feel somewhat numb, I was determined to make it down the road. Odel's Juicebar was crowded as I enjoyed a refreshing carrot and mango juice for 100 rupees.

I smiled and waved at the group of Etihad employees I had seen earlier. I also chatted with a classmate I ran into while getting juice, who had just spent the day at the museum with friends.
Soon, though, I excused myself to start the walk home. I only made it down a third of the way of Ward Place before I finally agreed to take one of the many three-wheelers honking and flagging me down.

I arrived at my front door and heard my roommate welcome me home as I walked in. I could see on the dining room table a pink envelope covered colourfully with the familiar words, "Ruah Akka." My 15-year-old host sister had sent a letter with a classmate who had come to Colombo!
I opened it to see drawings of flowers, stars and hearts surrounding Sinhala text. As best as I could, given my limited knowledge of the Sinhala alphabet, I examined the letter and envisioned her writing it all with a smile.

I noted to myself to ask for help from Manjula, my trusted classmate, friend and Sarvodaya worker.

I washed off the soot that covered my tired feet and returned to my yoga mat, where my day had begun. I opened my windows to listen to the sound of Buddhist priests saying the pirith prayers over loudspeakers of the pansala adjacent to my flat.

I watched the sky turn to hues of grey as I sat cross-legged with my spine upright. My mind slowly settled as thoughts of the day and streets yet to be explored came and went.


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