Shopping and Sri Lankan Luxury

January 12, 2008

Tom – Ranjan and his driver picked us up promptly at 8am, in fact he was early so just waited in the car.  His driver takes the bus (2-3 hrs. one way) to come to work, drives all day as needed, then takes the bus back home.  Ranjan is very considerate of this and tries so dismiss him by 3:30 which gives the driver about a 12 hour day.  We were supposed to drop Ranjan off at his store but we went inside and spent an hour talking with him.  His framing/art /gem shop is very interesting with great paintings from local artists.  The driver then took us to P & A and the House of Fashions for shopping.  Both are primarily clothing outlets.

Helen – I didn’t care too much for the first store but the House of Fashions was crazy and good.  It was like a giant three story Eddie Bauer Salvage store.  Merchandise was on racks instead of boxes but the people were pulling things off and trying clothes on in the aisles because there are no changing rooms here.  Just when you think that the last skirt that you wanted was taken, another armful was put on the rack.  Well, since I had experience, I fell right in pulling pants on under my skirt and trying blouses on over my dress.  There were brand names: bought $8 Prada sandals (were they related to my Prada sunglasses from Egypt??) a $3 Lands End shirt, $3 JCrew shirt, and two skirts for $7.  Tom bought shorts and a Land Ends bathing suit for $1.95 each.

We returned to pick up Ranjan and had a small lunch with him.  He bought hot chicken curry pastry puffs, which were delicious, from the lady on his street.  He swears they are the best in town.  After he closed shop, we went to the sidewalk art sale.   Since it had rained there were only a few dealers left but he bought two paintings and I bought one for Ruki to add to her collection and to remember us.

We are staying in the BEST guest house in the wealthy part of town (a Minister was assassinated on this street from a rooftop earlier this year but that was purposeful).  It is about 2 miles from the Fulbright office and 2.5 miles from the US Embassy.  The woman who owns the house is Ruki, probably in her early 70’s.  Her father was the doctor who invented the malaria pill.  She lived in a very large home filled with antiques (mostly Dutch) until she moved into her family home to take care of her mother. When her mother died she remained.


She has two servants, Irene the cook and housekeeper, and old uncle (not real uncle) who is her pensioned driver and yard person.  The house has two floors.  On the first floor there are three bedrooms with baths and a large open room separated by pillars that serves as two sitting areas and a dining room.  The downstairs kitchen is where most of the food is prepared.  There is a modern stove with four gas burners on the side and two electric burners in the middle; they have their bases covered.  But just in case, there is another two burner propane fueled stove on the counter and yet another outdoor wood cooking type grill.  There are two French doors that open to a little patio and also a small room for the uncle off the kitchen.  The maid uses one of the front bedrooms.  



The second floor is reached by concrete stairs with a landing midway in a very open hallway with windows on one side.  There is a very modern bathroom fully tiled with a shower stall, toilet, bidet (where I wash my feet), and sink.  Next to it is a TV room with a large flat screen HD TV and loads of DVD’s.  Our room is large with a wardrobe, two large dressers, and an antique Dutch desk.  It has two walls with glass casement windows with iron works (to keep the bugs out??), a double bed with a net which we sleep under and a large ceiling fan.  Most rooms also have an air conditioner but we have been comfortable without it.  The living room and dining room are combined but again separated by pillars with wonderful antique Dutch caned sofas and chairs.  One side chair has elephant heads craved in the front legs with the head at the top and the trunk leading to the foot of the front legs.  It is awesome.  The dining table seats ten and is teak.  Ruki’s bedroom is large, off the living room and has a private bath.  The kitchen is smaller with modern LG stainless steel side-by-side refrigerator, stove with oven, washing machine under the counter, and dishwasher.  Going out to the back is a covered porch area that overlooks the garden with four large caned chairs for relaxing and tea, a balcony for drying clothes and stairs to the first level.  Off the porch are two rooms, one a laundry room and one a store room.  Everywhere you look there is another wonderful antique: tables, lounges, chairs, couches, curio casements, spice boxes, rice boxes, trunks, paintings, desks, wardrobes and on and on…all Tom hears me say is “I want one, I want one!!”


I like having a maid !!  Breakfast first consisted of eggs, meat, toast, cereal, juice, coffee, and fresh fruit.  OK, this was way too much since I already brought five pounds back from Egypt; so after two days of this we asked if we could just have coffee, cereal, fruit, and toast.  One morning Irene said I will make you a native breakfast; it consisted of hoppers (rice dough squeezed through a ricer into little baskets which were then steamed.  These were served with delicious curried lentils and another curry made from tofu and potatoes.  It tasted like chicken and was delicious.  So here we go again…lunch at 8 in the morning.

Tea time is 4 pm, time to relax with a small snack and a chance to talk over the day’s events.

Ruki and I really hit it off and we watch Indian movies at night…so that I am more able to understand this culture.  One was called WATER and I cried.  Another was called FIRE and she said I cannot see EARTH because I am too emotional.


Some of the things that are different: you have to turn on the hot water switch about 10 minutes before you use it…that is on sunny days because it works on a solar system.  On cloudy days (we had several tepid showers) we were told to turn on another heater. You have to sleep under the net and still the bugs get in and get you because they are so small.  You walk inside with only slippers even though the floor areas are concrete and still take off your slippers when you walk on the few rugs and Orientals.

We are very comfortable but decided to move to the lower level after the first week because it was cheaper (from $35 to $20/day) and we had to stay another week at least.  The first floor bedroom is also a good size with its own bath.  This bath is not as modern, no tiles, a large tub with a shower above it, no bidet, and has its own hot water heater for the shower as well.  It also had the biggest cockroaches that I have seen in some time, 1” wide and about 3” long…scary buggers.  They scared even me!!  We got some spray and the next morning there were three barely alive and since then no more.


Tom – In the evening we took a Tuk Tuk to Majestic City which is like a mall in one three story building.  All shops are really small.  I bought a pair of slippers and we ate spaghetti and beef from a Mongolian fast food place – it was God awful!


Helen – I will not go there again!   The stores were small and crowded and dirty. No thanks!  Let’s get back to the Tuk-Tuks, these are really a riot.  They are about the size of a senior’s tricycle but in reality they are a motorcycle with an open cab on top of a three wheeled base.  The wheels are really small (like a wheelbarrow, maybe smaller).  The lower part of the cab is a hard body with a canvas top.  The steering is a T-stick with the clutch and brakes on the handlebars and the floor has a tiny gas pedal.  The driver sits in front on a small seat and behind him is a two seat bench though I have seen more than 6 piled in there.  The most important part is the HORN!!  Because this vehicle is so small, it darts in, out, and around other cars, buses, people, and whatever is in his way.  Everyone understands the various beeps, some say get out of my way, one says I am passing you, one says hi, one says bye…it’s all the same to me…a headache.  These taxies putt and stop, start and go, scare you to death and still get you to your destination intact. 

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