Friday, December 03, 2004

A Sojourn to Serendip

A Sojourn in Serendip

"You don't reach Serendib by plotting a course for it. You have to set out in good faith for elsewhere and lose your bearings ... serendipitously." - John Barth, The Last Voyage of Somebody the Sailor

I've been working non-stop since I arrived on the island of Serendip--that enchanted pearl of an island hanging like a pendant off the Indian mainland. After four days of continuous meetings, I finally have a chance to catch my breath and hopefully savour a bit of atmosphere of this quaint and charming city.

Most flights from South East Asia arrive here past midnight. When I landed at the airport, I was immediately reminded of our Terminal 2 in Subang airport--small, basic but functional and thankfully the immigration was also quite hassle-free.

As it was already 2am in the morning, the narrow road leading to the city was clear of traffic. I could see all along the way there were many one and two-storey shop-houses lining the road, which made me feel a bit like entering one of the small towns in Malaysia.

This is my first visit to the city of Colombo and before I came here, someone told me that Colombo is not much of a city--it is more like Seremban, which actually intrigued me because cities are becoming more and more alike as they become "developed"--like those kitschy coastal Chinese cities. But much to my delight, Colombo still has that small colonial town atmosphere.

However I do not think that it is due to good heritage planning that Colombo remains looking like Seremban or Penang 30 years ago (a more appropriate comparison, because Colombo has a beautiful harbour), the years of fighting between the Sri Lankan government and the Tamil Tigers is the main reason for this hiatus in development.

However the past few years of relative peace has been extremely good for the country. The few international class hotels in the city are getting fully booked again. The hotel where I have been staying at--not unlike those grand hotels of the Sukarno era such as Hotel Indonesia or Hotel Sahid Jaya--has probably seen more glorious days. Despite its crumbling condition, it is still bustling with visitors (businessmen from Singapore and India, tourists from Japan) and activities (weddings, conferences, cocktails and of course, the ubiquitous mainland Chinese hookers loitering in the lobby).

I couldn't blog for the whole week because of my hectic schedule which left me completely exhausted every evening; the two-hour time difference and the early morning arrival on Tuesday had also upsetted my biological clock. This project that I'm working on has turned out to be a rather demanding one. There'll be weeks of hardwork ahead after this trip.

I had originally planned for a slow and relaxing end to the year and didn't expect to take up another project until the next year but sometimes serendipity strikes, and suddenly I found myself on a flight to Colombo. It's probably a good thing though--I get the chance to learn something about Sri Lanka and its rich Sinhalese Buddhist culture before it too gets swept inevitably by the homogenizing tides of global capitalism.

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