Cocktails by the seaside

The outdoor experience: The Gaulle Face Hotel, Colombo. Photo: Anjana Chandramouly.  

Experience life in the slow lane.

Truly Sri Lanka's famed serendipity isn't only in its wondrous landscapes but also in its people.

THE Sri Lankans have a unique way of putting across things. With the avian flu fear permeating nearly every corner of the globe, newspapers have columns on how the import of chicken had been temporarily stopped and various reassurances provided to the public. But nothing could be as effective as the huge paper poster on a prominent wall on Galle Road. A benign looking chicken, fat and grey, peers blearily out of the black and white poster with the catch line, "Please spare us". Any chick worth her coconut milk seasoning listening? Heritage hotel Colombo is a very usual city in many ways, battling crippling poverty on one hand but with areas like the Janadhipathi Mawatha where the World Trade Centre and the Bank of Ceylon provide a truly international feel on the other. The five star luxury hotels are clustered in and around this area. Most are old, recently given expensive face-lifts and doing quite well in the wake of the ceasefire. But none are as integral a part of the city's history as the Gaulle Face Hotel. Gaulle Face isn't just about the days gone by or its illustrious guests. Built two years before the introduction of the first railway engine in Sri Lanka, it is the only heritage hotel in the city that has fine dining by the sea. The outdoor dining experience is what draws tourists to this place. Luckily, the tsunami didn't quite wreck it. Balmy evenings with the warm ocean air smelling of salt mingling with the various smells of the cuisine and the gentle ripples of a deceptively calm ocean ever so close by gives the concept of cocktails by the sea a whole new meaning. Plain talk Advertising is often the key to decoding culture in different lands. While most ads cautioning against speed generally use simple metaphors to try to get people to slow down, the Lankans believe in absolute plain speaking. A hoarding has a caricature of a driver on his haunches outside his car being beaten vigorously on the head by a policeman wielding his sinister looking baton with the ease of a an opera conductor and the caption screaming out in bold red, "Speeding drivers are idiots". The car going towards the airport moved at a perceptibly leisurely pace after that. Wrong assumptionsAttending a Disaster Management Conference in Sri Lanka can come with its own set of assumptions. We are taken around Ratnapura, a landslide prone area whose last avalanche saw entire families buried under the walls of mud, which came crashing down from 750 feet above. A few survivors live around the Buddhist temple there and two of them come to meet us.I expect them to be cowed down if not defeated by the calamity. What astounds is the serene acceptance that lends such dignified grace to the process of survival. The eyes that have seen families get lost under the muddy deluge aren't dead. Curious expressions light up their faces and arms animatedly wave as they tell their story, tales of government licenses issued for land that wasn't safe and then the final tragedy. Their dead have been buried and some of their dreams too, but the will to make the most of what has been left behind are the foremost thoughts in their mind. Truly Sri Lanka's famed serendipity isn't in its wondrous landscapes but also in its people. Surviving shoppingShopping is a curious experience in Colombo. Indians beware. Though the Indian rupee is a little more than double the Sri Lankan rupee, don't expect to buy up the town. For no amount of money is too big to survive a spirited shopping expedition, especially if Barefoot Gallery in Colombo tops the list of must visits. Bright colours leap out at you from the shelves, toys exquisitely hand-stitched demand to be played with, the neat shelves with their tea cartons and coffee bags, stone floors work together to create an unforgettable ambience. They are expensive but then they claim to last a lifetime. PAROMITA PAIN