24th July – Was in KLIA by 10.00 a.m. for a 1.50 pm flight. Went there early for a business meeting and it was nice of Jenny G to travel there from Seremban for the rendezvous. It was a pleasant meeting which is a reminder that I should be doing this more often. Checking in was pleasant enough for me but the rudeness of one of the check-in staff towards a migrant worker really puts me off. Why do people treat people like lesser beings. Managed to check out my recently renewed passport for the first time. It all looked fine until I was hit with news of the flight delay. It was expected to be an hour which eventually became two hours.
Had John Twelve Hawks to accompany me with his aptly named novel, The Traveler. Was dozing off in the waiting lounge when they finally allowed us to embark on the plane which took off at 4.00 p.m. The fare for the Air Lanka UL 317 was indeed a rip off at RM 1,600 as the airline serves margarine instead of butter and Kandos chocolates. Tried the Sri Lankan 3 Coins canned beer which made my distaste for Air Lanka even more. 3 Coins canned beer would make a good recommendation for alcoholics trying to kick the habit.
The airport formalities at Colombo airport were a breeze. They seemed to have reorganized the outside of airport, putting a new car park and a sign in the car park read “No waiting. Loitering is a punishable by Law”. Boy, this is serious shit! The Sri Lankans has taken security paranoia to a new level.
During the 45 minutes ride from the airport to the hotel, we have to pass through countless army check points filled with army boys in green fatigue and armed to the teeth. When I say boys, they were boys probably in their late teens and early twenties. The senior boys and officers were all hidden behind the sand bags bunkers. There were also numerous police check points who appear to be verifying the checks made by the army boys. Without these frequent obstacle courses, the traveling time would probably be halved.
The city looked the same since I was here last August except that the security has been tightened especially near the prime minister’s residence. My hotel, Cinnamon Grand is sandwiched between the prime minister’s mansion, which looked more like a complex of buildings and the president’s palace, making it one of the most fortified location in the city. The area outside the PM’s place looked more like a war zone with watch towers, bunkers and heavy machine guns lining the street.
The security paranoia is so hyped that it is “punishable by law” to take pictures of public buildings. I also witnessed the army checking not only the boots of cars but also requiring the drivers to open up the bonnets for them to check the engines. Since the airport are screening for liquids, these guys should actually check the battery water. If I was driving, I would has asked them to.
The hotel looks like any 5 stars hotel in the developed world, large lobby, lots of glass, lots of Caucasians and Orientals running about. In this modern jungle, you tend to forget that there is a real jungle outside with plenty of “tigers” on the loose.
Had dinner in an excellent seafood restaurant called the Lagoon which was filled with locals. One could be forgiven to forget that technically, there is a war outside the hotel walls. Decided to try another local beer, the Lion Draught, thinking that anything would have been better than what I had in the plane. If the 3 Coins canned beer tasted like piss, then the Lion draft was like stale piss.
During dinner, I received a call from Terry back home and Terry asked “what the F*.* are you doing in Sri Lanka?” and like a standard moron, I answered “I am here to check out the bombs”.
Bad joke alright as I learnt the very next day.
25th July – “A Claymore mine bomb blast at Settikulam, North East of Sri Lanka killed 11 soldiers” screamed at me the minute, I checked out the papers in the morning.
It is back to reality after being so safely pampered at the Cinnamon Grand the day before. I regretted cracking the stupid joke and the attack makes the Hatyai bombings looked so amateurish. But in the city, life goes on. Everyone go about doing their stuff without any fuss.
It was a great catching up with old friends and had lunch in one my favourite hotel in Sri Lanka, the Mount Lavinia Hotel. For anyone wanting a cool place to stay with history, with ambience for romance and with class, check out Mount Lavinia Hotel. It has to be a must visit or must stay place in Sri Lanka. Lunch was in an old colonial dining room over looking the blue sea. The ceiling is 15 feet high and adorned with ancient fans and chandeliers. Very much like Raffles Hotel but that’s is a bit too made up and artificial. Mount Lavinia Hotel is the real deal.
The other hotel which is also absolutely a must is the Galle Face Hotel.
Thought that lunch would be the highlight of the trip but had dinner at equally interesting place called The Gallery. It is actually, made up of an Art Gallery with a fusion restaurant in a Courtyard style ambience at the back of the Gallery. Extremely cool place.
Food was expensive and forgettable. But the ambience was worth the visit. After my disappointment with two of the local beers, I decide to try the 3 Coins Draught. It was a pleasant surprise! It tasted much better than the 3 Coins canned beer. I rate it as decent but in my top 100. Decided to push my luck and tried 3 Coins Black Irish for my second drink for the night. It was supposed to be a dark beer or a stout but I would rank it worse then the 3 Coins canned beer. It was so bad that I settled for mineral water for the rest of the night.
26th July – The whole city was a buzzed with “Janarala” or a political procession organized by the opposition parties UNP and SLFP. An estimated 500,000 crowd was supposed to march through a planned 7 km route starting from Campbell Park, and then going pass Borella Town, Maradana Road, Symond’s Junction, Dean’s Road, Lipton’s Circus to the final destination Hyde Park. It was so appropriate that the procession will end in Hype Park where there will be speeches freely expressed against the government, just like Hyde park in London.?!
I just loved the names of places in Colombo, you find names like Elliot Place, Armour Street, Parliament Road, Paradise Road, Castle Lane, Sir Mohamed Macan, Riverdale Road or Havelock Road intermixing with the local tongue twisters like Ramanayake Mawatha, Sri Jayawardenapura Mawatha, Madiwela Road, Galpitahaboda Road, Hunupitiya Cross. There is even a road named Malay Road in Colombo. Sure beats the names back home.
I had two meetings in the morning outside the hotel but the second meeting was a rush as the person whom I was suppose to meet was too anxious to return home to avoid the possible problems from 500,000 crowd. I was promptly escorted back to my hotel by noon as my friend feared for the worse. I was actually excited and wanted to join the procession but my host will not have any of such nonsense. I did come across some of the procession participants on the way back to my hideout. They were absolutely docile and there were even monks amongst the participants. How can the crowd turn nasty when there are monks? Are they supposed to be peace loving. Anyway, half of the city closed early for the day and I ended up in the hotel watching TV. So much for the trip. Sigh!