Friday, January 2, 2009

Christmas and New Year's Eve

My parents came to visit for Christmas and are still here. This is the first time all four of us have been in Sri Lanka at the same time since I was five. It has been interesting to watch my parents react to this place. They’ve visited over the last ten years or so but from the time we moved permanently to the States, there was about a 30 year gap before they ever returned, and while it’s clear that this is all familiar to them as “the homeland,” it’s also clear that this is not the same place they left. The traffic, congestion, and pace have increased dramatically, attitudes are different, and of course there’s this pesky war going on.

Christmas came and the parents and my brother went to my mom’s old Methodist Church in the morning while I slept in. Here's another this country is really pretty damn small–story: my mom told me that the lady who was sitting behind her in church had a really nice voice and she had enjoyed listening to her sing during the service, so when it was over, my mom turned around to tell her so. The lady thanked her and wished her a Merry Christmas, and then as my mom turned to go she said “aren’t you Mignon?” which happens to be my mother’s name, so a little startled, she said “yes” and the lady said “I’m… ” and said her name; she turned out to be the sister of one of my mom’s old school friend’s (who had happened to have dropped by for tea the day before); my mom didn’t recognize her, having seen her last about forty-five years ago, but the lady remembered my mom. This kind of thing happens ALL THE TIME here.

Lunch at Deepika's
We went to my cousin Deepika’s for lunch that afternoon, a very nice and low-key affair which included Simon and Neluka, whom my brother and I also know, their two girls, my aunt, and my cousin’s husband and their little girl; the kids spent the afternoon chasing my cousin’s yellow lab all around the garden. Deepi had ordered the entire meal from a hotel and it was quite good, a mix of Sri Lankan curries and a turkey. We spent a leisurely afternoon at her house and then headed home to rest up for our own guests who were coming for dinner. They arrived in the evening: my mom’s cousin Bryan, her other cousin Rando, Rando’s twin daughters who are eighteen and whose names I can never remember which hardly matters since I can’t tell them apart, Melanie from Nilan’s office and her husband Tenzing, my mom’s old school friend Rani and her other old school friend also named Rani (and the sister of the singing lady from church). Velu had made a turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy, stuffing, ham, fish, peas and carrots, and a few other dishes. The funny thing is, it’s the first time anyone in my family has served a traditional western Christmas dinner (although I guess it was more like Thanksgiving… some people have turkey again at Christmas – right?); we usually have rice and curry in California.

The next day we left for the beach. We took off from the house at about 1pm and made our way down the very busy Galle Road. Along the way, Cyril, my dad (a bit of a nutter) began, as is his habit, to read aloud the signs along the roadway. “Pizza Hut” he said, followed by “Litter World.. that’s strange… maybe it’s for cat litter…” he said (I have no explanation for the thought process that might have led him to that). “You can’t see the ‘G’ in front of that?” my mom asked. “Oh, ‘Glitter World’” he said. “Are you planning on reading all the street signs between here and the hotel?” I asked (it was about a three hour drive). “Manomi,” he replied, “I am an old man, it is my prerogative to annoy the young people.” A little while later my mom said, “there’s my grandfather’s house!” as we caught a brief glimpse of the De Alwis family home, a colonial estate and the only residential house left on the fully commercial Galle Road (the part that runs through Colombo anyway). My mom said she used to play there as a child, and that there were coffee trees in the back garden and all the cousins used to collect the coffee beans when they went over to play. I asked her if they were actually roasted and ground into coffee; she paused and said, “we gave the beans to the servants, eventually there’d be coffee.” One of my mom's cousins inherited the house and plans on moving into it from Ottowa where she lives now.

“Malay Curry Hut” Cyril said.

Eventually we got around to the bottom of the island to the Heritance Hotel in Ahungalla. It’s a nice place, a bit like the place in Negombo where I went with my cousin Shalini (Deepika’s sister; she went to Thailand for Christmas), although I think that place is actually a little nicer. Riyaz and Nisreen and their boys also joined us there as did Melanie and Tenzing, and while we shared a few meals, mostly everyone did their own thing at their own pace and just relaxed.

On the 27th we drove another hour around the south side of the island to our friends Cheryl and Jehan’s place. I’ve known them since I was around ten I think -- they used to live in San Francisco. Cheryl and Jehan have this awesome weekend place on the beach, and we spent the afternoon hanging out there and had yet another stupendous lunch with them. Then back to the hotel and back home on the 29th.

The sunset at Cheryl and Jehan's started out like this...

...and ended like this.

New Years Eve had us, Riyaz and Nisreen and Melanie and Tenzing at the Bay Leaf restaurant for dinner. December 31st is traditionally a big party-night in Colombo but we happened to have picked quite the dullest spot in town. There were lots of people dining there but for some reason there was absolutely nothing festive in the air. I didn’t actually mind, we had a nice table outside, had some drinks and didn’t get around to ordering dinner until almost 11pm, so we were still eating when the clock struck twelve. We clinked each other’s glasses, said “happy new year” to one another and went back to our dinners and conversations. I was home by 2 and on email being the first to wish a few friends at home Happy 2009.

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