Thursday, August 30, 2012

The Road to Galle

Fahim's daughter, Iman
party on the roof
I'm home now, trying desperately to catch up on my sleep but the last two days in Sri Lanka were really nice. The plan was to meet up with Riyaz and his two boys and head to the Lighthouse Hotel in Galle on Saturday morning at about 10. We were on the road at 2. First we stopped by Fahim's new house which is in progress, a veritable mansion in the works. Very open and airy, big rooms, lots of air-flow, with an indoor rock-garden-water-feature, and a party palace on the roof. 
The drive to Galle has changed dramatically since the last time I went there as there is now a "Southern Expressway" going to the south part of the island. It's incredible - a real highway, two lanes in each direction which people actually stay in, no dogs, cows, ox carts, or tuk-tuks, very little traffic, and speeds the same as any American highway. When I told my mom about it on the phone when I got home she said she couldn't even imagine such a thing in Sri Lanka. It cuts down the journey south by an hour.

lobby staircase
We got to Lighthouse in time for the rain, but that just meant it was a good time to take a nap. It's a nice hotel, not as shiny and new as the Beach or the Lagoon, but nice. It's kind of a landmark since it was designed by Goeffrey Bawa (1919-2003) who is Sri Lanka's most famous and acclaimed architect -- similar sensibilities to Frank Lloyd Wright: clean lines, open air, right angles, a minimum of clutter, and a lot of focus on bringing the natural surroundings in instead of keeping them out.

We went to dinner (yes, it was a buffet and I was getting nervous that my Sri Lankan buffets were coming to an end, so I made the most of it) and then Riyaz went to put the kids to bed and we were supposed to meet in the bar a little later. I just couldn't do it though, I got into bed to just relax for a minute and by the time he and Nilan were ready to go, I was ready to sleep.

The next day we hit breakfast late (my last buffet, I could have cried), went to the pool, played with the kids (Riyaz's kids, Rishard and Adam wanted to play "Middle Pig" which I realized was their version of Keep Away or Piggy in the Middle - at least that's what we used to call it. "Middle Pig" - that cracked me up!), and then had lunch (oh, that was my last buffet; I did cry), and packed up to go home. Unlike in Western hotels, getting a late check out (4pm) is the norm, so we had a pretty full last day. Then back on the expressway, back to Colombo, I dropped in next door to say good-bye to the relatives, and waited for my car to the airport to catch my very late (1:40am) flight to Bangkok, then Tokyo, then home. I think by the time I landed in Seattle I'd been awake for the better part of 40 hours.

And one last photo... this one is kind of cheating because it's a picture of a picture, but none of my food photos turned out particularly well on this trip, and with all my yammering about buffets...

So home now, laundry is mostly done, and I'm packing up for the next adventure which starts on Saturday - back to New York, this time for a month... no more buffets for a while, but the pepperoni slices will do me just fine.  

Friday, August 24, 2012

Bootleg Nation

I've bought fourteen DVDs in the past couple of days, all bootlegs, all about $2.00 each. There are at least five DVD stores in the nearby mall, all selling the same new releases (and by that I mean new in theaters - films that are six months from DVD release at home), classics, film festival offerings, blockbusters... everything is there. The shops look like regular stores but everything in them is an illegal copy, and they're good quality - not like when Kramer held a camera to his face at a screening of "Death Blow" in that one episode of Seinfeld ("Death Blow... when someone tries to blow you up, not because of who you are, but for different reasons altogether..."). There is no business model for the legal sale of DVDs here, and as far as I know, it's not possible to rent them - why would you given the sale price? Now that I've posted this, I hope customs doesn't decide to make an example out of me.

Tropic Thunder

Back porch of the hosue during the morning rain.

Actual Colonial Splendor

Nilan and I went out to dinner last night with some friends, first we went to the Dutch Hospital which was a... Dutch hospital about 300 years ago, and is now a series of restaurants and shops. After dinner we went to the Tintagel Hotel for dessert (coconut ice cream, chocolate sauce). The Tintagel used to be the home of the former president of Sri Lanka, S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike, he was assassinated on the front porch by a Buddhist monk in 1959; now it's a small, luxury, boutique hotel.

Thursday, August 23, 2012


The Galle Face Hotel - once an example of colonial splendor, now a bit shabby.
The lunch buffet, however, is still splendid, as is the view.

Dinner at the Gallery Cafe (managed to live with the a la carte menu).

Monday, August 20, 2012

Change of Venue

View from our [new] room; notice the ocean...
So, the Jetwing Lagoon Hotel was nice enough... but we didn't like it, or rather, we didn't like it as much as the Jetwing Beach Hotel, which we had all stayed at together last time I was here. So we switched. First we went down to breakfast where I hoped to have the modest type of morning meal I have at home (didn't happen), and after again stuffing myself with the local delicacies, we checked out and moved about 15 minutes down the road to the Beach Hotel. The family stays there fairly often so they were greeted like they owned the place. We watched a movie in my aunt and uncle's suite ("Unknown" - Liam Neeson thriller, very stressful) and Nilan drove up from Colombo to join us for lunch and guess what? I stuffed myself at the Sri Lankan buffet. After lunch, I took a quasi-nap and was sort of thankful that it was really too hot to do anything but nap anyway; made me feel less lame for letting the jet lag win.

mangosteen [bottom, right]  possibly the world's most perfect fruit
In the evening we went for a walk on the beach and then cleaned up before dinner (going to the beach here is really an exercise in killing time between meals). My aunt wanted to stay in and order from room service so Shalini, Uncle Bobby, and I went to the "fine dining" restaurant at the hotel. I wasn't very hungry (having stuffed myself at the lunch-buffet) but Shalini really wanted me to try this restaurant since it's one of her favorites so of course I went down with them. I'm a little skeptical when it comes to "fine dining" in Sri Lanka - the food I love here is the very peasant-y rice and curry, the more rustic the better, featuring a melange of spices and flavors that I could never duplicate - way too much trouble to even attempt it - at home (although I occasionally make the effort with varying results), and which the cooks here throw together effortlessly (it seems), measuring nothing and achieving sublime results. All that being said, the fine dining at the Beach Hotel was great. I had the special which was a small piece of sea bass and some giant prawns which had a spicy curry flavor, very bright and hot, tangy and tasty.

The three of us went for a stroll down the road after dinner - it was mostly small restaurants and a few shops. I swear I saw four men dressed like mariachis playing guitars in one of the restaurants we passed, but there is no Mexican cuisine as such in this country (Swiss, German, French, Thai, Indian, Italian, Pizza Hut, KFC, yes; Mexican, no) but the jet lag-tiredness was just kicking in and I couldn't swear in a court of law that that's what I saw. I went to bed shortly thereafter, probably for the best.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Jetwing and Jet Lag

Nilan's house
Thirty-four continuous hours of travel is hell whether or not you're flying business class (I was, thank god for frequent flyer miles) and I landed in Colombo loopy from the strain. Luckily it was the middle of the night local time, so once I got to Nilan's house, all I had to do was take a quick shower and go to bed. Dad showed up first thing in the morning for our appointment at the Bureau of Coconut Estate Affairs (I have no idea what the official name of the government office actually is, but the name given is as good as any). We had to submit some form regarding the sale of some land which he and I jointly own, which took place a few years ago, in order to facilitate the sale of another parcel of land. The amount of bureaucratic wrangling is slightly ridiculous for what will eventually amount to a pittance, but still one can't help wanting one's due when it comes to the inheritance of land; it's all very Downton Abbey. With coconuts.

After our meeting with the coconut police, I headed back home and my aunt, uncle, cousin Shalini, and I took off for a weekend at the beach - we went to the Jetwing Lagoon Hotel where we planned on spending two nights. Jetwing is a local hotel chain and we've all stayed at various properties in the past, but the Lagoon is somewhat new and none of us had been there before. We were all expecting a beach-front hotel but the property is actually on a giant lagoon (somehow we managed to not put that together, despite the name). The rooms were nice though, with giant outdoor bathrooms, and my aunt and uncle had a nice view of the lagoon from their upstairs suite. Unfortunately, the first thing Shalini and I observed while we were admiring the view was a crocodile swimming past quite close to the shore.
picture a crocodile paddling by
We went down to lunch which was a really nice Sri Lankan buffet (along with the requisite western/bland offerings for the European tourists, which I totally ignored) and I stuffed myself full of rice and curry, then we spent the day relaxing - napping, swimming, reading, and watching TV, before getting ready for dinner. Shals and I had changed and were chit-chatting while waiting for her parents and thought it would be nice to sit outside our room by the lagoon. There were some people out by the shore though and Shalini pointed out that if one of them fell in and the croc snapped them up, we might be obligated to intervene, so rather than risk having to wrestle a crocodile, we decided to finish our conversation inside.

My evening's entertainment was going to be taking a lovely bath in this lovely tub while enjoying the lovely night air, but after running the water for about 10 minutes and barely filling it a couple inches (deep tub/low water pressure), I ended up taking a quick shower and going to bed, I could hardly keep my eyes open anyway.

Monday, August 6, 2012

A Sound Thumping

No one expected the "good, old-fashioned beat-down" that the Seattle Sounders gave the L.A. Galaxy last night -- the usual suspects and I were happy enough just to be out on a spectacular summer evening at the spectacular Quest Field, so the trouncing by the home team was a bonus.

attendance was over 60,000

Becks is down there somewhere

shamefull, really...

view from the stadium