Vesek lantern at Hilton
Vesak is a holiday that makes no sense from a hotel lobby. It’s just no booze and inexplicable traffic. I spent the weekend trying to get into this girl’s minibar and, at the same time, being glad that the people walking the median weren’t drunk. It’s funny how that one intoxication precept makes the other ones fall into place. I was unable to get into anything besides her minibar, and I didn’t kill anyone on the street. Arggghh (former). On the plus side, trying to impress a GKP bird sans alcohol is one way to see the city. Of course, what you see shuttling between the Hilton and Gallery is very different from what you see on the street. This I only discovered later.
There’s a Car (not van or motorbike) Circuit in Colombo – air-conditioned, expensive, and creature comfortable. It runs from Hotel Row to Crescat (not Majestic), Barefoot, Gallery, round the Wendt to Cinnamon Gardens and Colombo 7. Everything sorta has parking and you can spend the day entirely oblivious. On a national level, you can just drive between the various hotels and beaches and not have a clue as to life on the street. I, for example, have no idea what all the people living on Galle Road do. I’m just passing through. The Car Circuit is mostly secular, english speaking, westernized. Sometimes you’ll look around and it looks almost colonial, half sudha and the rest speaking English.
Then there’s the world of the Bus, where you actually walk in the heat which – despite being miserable – means you see a whole ‘nother range of sites and sounds. All the posters on the walls, the Nespray milkmaids posted in the kades, the archival magazines hawked on the sidewalk, and the occassional work-flustered bird in a orange sari that’s just unpolished and stunning. I love Fort and Pettah the most cause, despite being stressful, it’s so deeply and messily alive. Of course, I’d take the car anyday.
The two circuits even have two different currencies. My crumpled up twenties are about as useful as toilet paper at the nicer endroits, but try to pay for a ride on the 177 with a thousand and you’ll get worse than a blank stare. A 1000 bill is not legal tender on a bus, and even a 100 is pushing it. There is also the world of the Trishaw, which mediates between the two, and has its own currency. I’ve broken down the expected value of the different notes here,
Bus: 50 Rs is the most valuable. You can pay for a private bus or the cheaper public. I would actually trade 500 Rs for, like, eight 50s, their utility is that high.
Trishaw: 100 Rs
Car: 1000 Rs or Credit. Or Boyfriend
I digress, but there are really two different worlds, and you can see them the most clearly on Vesak. I am trying to get with this visiting Malaysian Tamil girl, which means I’m firmly in car territory. None of the signals are there but I’m bored and it’s fun going out with a beautiful girl now and then, yadda yadda. So we end up driving from posh hotel to posh place and I’m like ‘wtf is this traffic?’ Then you round a bend and you see a bunch of people on the back of a truck in a glass box, like the Popemobile. I tell the girl they’re mobile hookers and you can pick one but she just looks at me with an approving scowl. I don’t know, I’m just driving. Of course, the only places you can go are the hardcore Car Circuit ones, even Barefoot is closed.
On the way back I park the car at Barista’s and (semi-literally) run away from the parking attendant so we can walk around Galle Face Green. There are tonnes of people there and I have no idea why. They are also predominantly men. The girl wants neither a pony ride nor one of them fried shrimp cakes so I stick to my usual Coca-Cola addiction. We sit down on the ledge overlooking the water, which she tells me smells like cockroaches. This makes no sense. I ask her the Tamil word for cockroach and she tells me but I can’t remember now, nor could I remember two seconds after she told me. Apparently Malaysian Tamils don’t identify with any particular ‘Tamil Identity’ or any homeland here, but again I digress.
Galle Face Green has always baffled me cause there’s isn’t anything particular to do there. The beach is not especially swimmable and the ‘green’ is mostly brown. I do crave those fried things sometimes, but that’s about it. Mainly it’s a lot of men looking at like 15 women and each other. I dunno, I guess Vesak’s another excuse to stay out. What’s different is that the streets are full of vans busing people in to see… something. I still don’t get it, I’m just pissed cause I don’t think I’ve ever had an entirely sober hook-up and no amount of colored lights is going to fix that.
Anyways it’s later and the girl is on a flight home. I’m at Clancy’s Pub Quiz, sweating claymores, drinking coke. Everything looks hazy and I’m wondering if I’m that alcoholic, but no, the Vesak lanterns are draining all the power. Or as one paraya put it, ‘Fucking Pandols’. I dunno. We got our ass kicked on the Mythology round and lost. If I had the car I’d go home and watch One Tree Hill ( <3 ), but Amma is out campaigning for Mayor Cooray and I got to find a Trishaw. The guy on the Clancy's corner is fun to talk to but velly pricey, so I walk up Gregory's road instead. I have some hideously expensive new headphones and my iPod so it’s all good. There’s a small temple on Gregory’s and the street is full of homemade light displays. When I was driving I was like ‘wtf, why can’t I get to the gym’, but on the street it’s actually quite nice.
Vesak display on Gregory’s Road
The displays are all lit up and spinning and stuff and it’s kinda cool. What’s even nicer is all the people pulling up in vans, or kids out with their parents. There isn’t much traffic on Greg’s, it’s just people walking with their families and Achchis and Seeyas in all white. I’m too hypermediated to understand events or parades as a chance to ‘look at stuff’, but I do like seeing all the people out. I’ve seen crazier stuff in my life and on screen, but I’ve never seen a proper synthesic of a little kid watching spinning lights with his dad. I’m sober, sexless, and there’s no electricity left for my world, but sometimes life on the street isn’t so bad.