IDP kid with toy car from Pettah
Some of the best gifts I’ve given have been the cheapest. Colombo sucks for conventional shopping, but there is a lot of street stuff which is both awesome and cheap. For adults I usually go to the end of Darley Road, where they sell used books. There are some real gems. For kids House Of Fashion has good, cheap toys and random bits of awesome for adults. Also, if you wander around Tamil parts of town you can get these beautiful images of Hindu Gods, plus really good stickers. All of this stuff is sub Rs. 1000, but often more appreciated than a similar spend at Odel.
At the end of Darley Road (off Union Street) there are a bunch of used bookshops. It takes some digging, but there are some gems there. I once found a complete collection of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s work, a lovely illustrated Babar book (which the kids are not even allowed to touch yet) and a classic Michael Jackson fan magazine from his prime. They are a lot of old Ceylonese books, most of the classics, and a bunch of new and old magazines, ranging from Wallpaper to Vogue. What else, I also found a volume on Juche Art, printed by the government of North Korea, and a history of toilets. There is also a fair amount of dross, but the kids stuff especially is good.
Some of the older stuff can cost, if you ask they usually have boxes with the big Ceylon tomes and coffee table books. Most things are Rs. 200 max, and they negotiate.
In truth, I only really buy Christmas presents for kids. House of Fashion is a pilgrimage site for Indians on Duplication Road. There is never parking, I always park on a far street and walk there. It is known for being somewhat goday, as in provincial, but if you look around there are gems. In the kids section for example, they have these Reservoir Dogs action figures. I think they only have Harvey Keitel (Mr. White) left. For real kids, however, they also have a ton of Ben 10 stuff, and playing blocks and generic legos for quite cheap. I think it’s a bit better for the younger younger rather than the merely young. As an example, I found this ostrich on wheels. The toy legs are attached so they locomote endearingly when pushed.
If you want just normal plastic toys there’s a shop on the Kohuwela Road (Dutugemenu Street) with a ton. This is the road that goes from Stratford Ave to Kohuwela, this is on the left, about 400m past the checkpoint junction. There is almost too much plastic stuff, but I found some mini carom boards which were wooden and cheap. Pettah also has a bunch of cheap toys, mostly dross but some gems.
I’m not sure how to give directions, but if you basically walk around any Tamil part of town you’ll find shops selling these colorful, awesome images of Hindu Gods. Ganesh, Lakshmi, Kali, the lot. They also have images of the Buddha and usually statuettes of Christ and the saints. The stuff costs like Rs. 200 but is awesome and well wall worthy, as well as perhaps beneficial. One place I go is Sri Kathireseran Road, near Kotahena, though this is out of habit and chance. That is, you take the Port Road (called Abdul something or Beach Road in parts) till you get to a little crick where it curves in, near a church I think. I turn right and park up the street and just walk. There’s a temple nearby, and if you walk down Sri Kathireseran road there’s a shop selling these things on the corner.
Honestly, if you go to the Vavuniya bus stand or the center of town in any Tamil area you can find this stuff. I’m sure they have in Wellawatte, but I haven’t checked. Everybody likes a Ganesh, and a Lakshmi is always good to have around the house. I find that hipsters dig the ultra-violent Kali for kitsch effect. If you’re lucky there’s a guy in that neighborhood (and I suppose any) with amazing stickers. They have Mahinda, Tamil movie stars, Hindu Gods, Shiva, Ganesh and Kathirigama as kids, great stuff, dirt cheap.
Also, in my experience, no one objects to being garlanded. You can get a nice necklace of flowers from any of the guys on the corner, white, red, bit of betel. I think they have a religious significance but, er, yeah.
No woman, in my experience, is entirely unfazed by flowers. When I was in Montreal I used to pick them out of peoples gardens, but that is harder here. The cheapest and good qual is the devotional stuff. You can pick them up near the Gangarama temple (not the one in the Beira Lake, the one inland, Sri Jinaratna or something. As you go down what should be called Flower Road towards Slave Island it’s the first right as you enter the Beira stretch. Also, and this is far, but in Boralesgamuwa near Bellanwila you can always get good lotuses. It is an odd thing to give someone, but I rather like lotuses and you can make a nice (if bit wet) bouquet.
For actual post flowers I usually go to Shirohana, which actually can end up quite cheap if you’re smart. They have this enormous bouquets which to me communicate only ‘I display of thoughtlessness makes up for my prior thoughtlessness’. They give you just too much flowers, in my opinion, it’s damn awkward and it’s not like you can hide the thing behind your back. Instead I just go there and pick one nice flower and then a few things to go around it. An orchid for example. To be safe I stick to reds and whites, but nature is doing wonderful things with purple. You can get a nice concealable bouquet for like Rs. 500 or 600 rather than the gaudy explosions for over a thou.
For tourists and guests, there’s nothing wrong with a good Gara Yaka. These demon masks are awesome, pretty high quality and get impressively big for cheap. I still visit the old touristy handicraft shops even while I live here because they have some cool stuff. These shops include Lakmedura (?) at the Hunupitiya Junction, the uh, that road where the Daily Mirror office, the junction where the pathetic Vihara Maha Devi pony hangs out and contemplates suicide? Dharmapala Mawatha, that’s it. There’s also a government shop at Thumulla Junction.
One thing I also love is these puzzle boxes. They’re wooden blocks that look like books (or moon shaped). If you push the spine down, however, it slides, then you can pop it down and the cover slides off. You can hide all manner of things inside, though they aren’t the right size for money.
Of course, you can get anything in Pettah, though I find it a bit stressful. If you’re immediately going somewhere, they do have this achcharu (pickled stuff) sampler platter which is fantastic. I personally only eat the things I can identify, but there’s a great variety of pickled olives and berries and fruits and things. Odel (I know) also sells some good milk toffee, made by my aunt. Hers is the more expensive on, and the better. Like sugar crack my God. Besides that, Barefoot has all these things, but more expensive and of more consistent quality.
Also, and it’s a bit too late, but these Brando chaps in Hong Kong sell a bunch of cheap trinkety gadgets and ship to Sri Lanka for free (or cheap). I’ve gotten a USB voice recorder pen, wearable USB flash disk necklace, etc. They also have flying helicopters and stuff.