With my new Chinese friends, who it turns out are leaving today, lonely I am not.
I met them over lunch at a small local joint. I was eating fish curry and dal and roti. When I was half through a Chinese couple joined me. They showed up in a group of six, but there wasn’t a table big enough. The prettiest girl, Casey, sat across from me and said hello. I was surprised by her forwardness; she was different. She told me about her hotel, Burmese Rest, showed me pictures, and said it was 300 rupees ($2) a night.
Compared to my Kandy hotel, which was 800 a night, a ten minute walk from town around the lake, where my room faced a side road of traffic and school girls who woke me that morning at 7, and there hung cutesy twenty year old posters of babies dressed up in the clothing of different professions and of monkeys sitting on toilets, yes, the garden was secluded and I enjoyed writing as the early morning drizzle broke into bright tropical sun, but with 500 rupee breakfast, you pretty much have to go to town every time you want to eat, and come on, $2 a night compared to $6– it’s a no-brainer. So before they had finished eating, I left, walked around the lake to the Pink House and told the old proprietress I wanted to check out. She tested me, “Two nights?” No, “Can I pay for one night?” Since most hotels have a 24 hour checkin policy. When it came time to pay she muttered the price and I said eight hundred? confirming what we’d agreed on yesterday. She chuckled, “I try to cheat you.” Yes you did, I thought. And that’s why I’m leaving. Nosy old bag wanted to know where I was going. Didn’t dare tell her the truth.
When I got to Burmese Rest, it was full. The monk (which is why it’s so cheap compared to the rest of Kandy, and Sri Lanka especially) told me to come back in a few hours, the boss was resting. I later came to find out that the boss just feels you out and determines if you’re worthy of staying. It seems he just doesn’t want to deal with tourists. A couple of rooms are clearly available but reserved for Burmese, and two plush teak chairs sit in the foyer with small signs that read, “Monks Only.”
Luckily, Casey, called beautiful by her boy friend in his awareness of how she uses her feminine charms to get what she wants, she helped me out and told the young monk that I would take her bed and she’d move into the other room with her girlfriend. When the boss woke from his nap, I told him the plan and he seemed okay. But I still didn’t want to test my luck– at any moment he could say, full, and I’d have to leave. Meanwhile, an Australian and a couple of Americans– Oregonians, Benders– came and were denied.
I sat on the veranda working on a story, watching the turtles eat lunch in the sand garden, and went back upstairs. Casey told me a single room is available. We walked downstairs where the boss and his helper were sawing a plank. She had her hands together in prayer form and asked real sweet if I could have the empty room. He made reluctant eye contact with me. I said, no rush, and he believed it. It took another hour before he came upstairs with a sheet and pillow, just after we’d finished talking about his power to deny. Casey told me that I was safe, that he wouldn’t kick me out since she’d bought him foot cream after he said he wanted nice feet. And my cozy little room has western exposure and a desk and chair and is far enough removed from the street so that traffic or school girls or cheating old women’s voices won’t wake me in the morning.
It’s an ideal writer’s space– which is really what I look for at this point in my travels, between having adventures and a good espresso, a quiet room where I can live on ten dollars a day and maybe meet foreigners so I don’t get too lonely.
But as I mentioned all my Chinese friends are leaving today, and pretty soon it will only be me and one girl, a pretty girl who just happened to meet this gang of Chinese, all of whom were originally traveling alone, at Burmese Rest. I first saw her stirring tea and milk. She lied to me and said she was from Tokyo. Her name is Haonan and she is different. She’s been here for two weeks already, just waiting for her Indian visa. She has the broader face and deeper brown skin of a Manchurian. She walks with her shoulders forward and a drag in her feet. But her inattempt to look sexy, makes her almost more desirable, as though she resents being pretty and needs to remind people when they look at her that she’s a human, not a beautiful girl. Sure she has thick long black hair, and so it follows that she walks like a man. Its a human logic, which if you spend enough time considering, is the way most people work.
As I was reading on the deck in the afternoon sun, she climbed over the railing like she was reaching for something ten feet below, on the roof. When I asked her what the hell she was doing she told me to go back to reading. It was then I noticed how her soft jeans tie at the ankle and the length of her legs. But downstairs, when I went for water and saw her squatting in the turtle field, I couldn’t stop. I was magnetized to her. I followed her to a chair. I watched her as she stood and went to the turtles again and it was like she was beckoning me with her entire body. I stood and she took a turtle and brought it to the sink and washed it. White flotsam was under the turtles body as she scrubbed its shell and she asked me if I knew what it was. “Shit,” she said, and I wasn’t sure if I’d heard her correctly. Her fingers moved around the pointed shell and she turned the turtle upside down to clean its belly. She saw the monk and feared him and directed me to stand closer to the sink, to block his view. “He would get mad,” she said. She finished with one turtle and went back for another and this one had shit stuck to the bottom of its shell. It wasn’t white shit either, and then he plopped a large brown turd into the sink and the water began to fill up because the white shit and brown shit were clogging the drain. “I don’t think that white stuff is shit,” I said. “It’s white.”
“Different foods, different shit,” and strangely, this sounded like the wisest thing I’d heard in a long while.
She replaced the turtle in its brown garden and took a broom end and dustpan and scraped the shit into the dust pan and threw it into the bin. Then she washed the rest of the shit down the drain. I followed her back to the seats which looked out at the peach tree and the turtles eating cubed watermelon rind. We talked. I tried to keep sexual tension high, which worked, at times, until she broke it by asking me a question. I wanted to go out to dinner with her, and when the rest of the Chinese gang came down she and I stayed seated. Finally though, I felt like it was a good enough date we’d shared. She was going to be here with me, alone, for the next few days waiting for her Indian visa. I had told her about the Indian crows, and she told me that in China crows are bad luck, and that when she went to the Indian embassy a crow shat on her and she knew that it was going to be a very bad experience. Then yesterday, she saw a crow shitting again, and she knew she wasn’t going to get her visa that day either. So she’ll probably be here a few more days and if the rest of the Chinese go away, it would provide the perfect opportunity for a love affair.
So I went to dinner feeling pretty great, and decided to splurge and get a watermelon juice. But they didn’t have watermelon, only avocado and woodapple and orange and I wondered what the woodapple juice tastes like, because I’d been given a woodapple when I arrived from the airport and it was a white lychee-like fruit with an edible nut inside each piece. It wasn’t exactly delicious, but then again, when I first tried an apple I didn’t exactly think it delicious either. So it came out with a scoop of ice cream on top, and wasn’t too bad, until the aftertaste. There were chunks of the seed in the juice and it was rich and heavy and after swallowing, the taste fermented bitterly in my throat and left me not wanting any more at all. But my Irish mother lectured in my ear, “Drink it. You ordered it. Drink it.” I gave it my best, and the mellow ice cream soothed the spicy fish gravy and chicken kottu, which is pretty good, except for the way that they prepare it is by chopping up chicken into the noodles with vegetables, which sounds delicious, right? except that you have to choose to either swallow or pick out the tiny chicken bones and gristle. But the “Sri Lankan music” as the waiter described the slapping of blades on grill, was rather pleasant, and overall the food was pretty good, with carrots and scallions and curry leaves, even though it seemed rather simple compared to Indian food with its variety of spices and use of different vegetables. I understood what Haonan meant when she said she wasn’t hungry because the food here isn’t derishus.
As I finished eating, my waiter sat nearby. He said he’d worked 12 hours and he had another two before going home and sleeping and starting it all again tomorrow. I tipped him 20 rupees, which he really appreciated, and which I shrugged over, feeling cheap, like I should have given him a hundred, which isn’t even a dollar, but you know, tough times all around.
It was also at dinner that I realized Sri Lankans are a lot like Eurotrash. What makes Eurotrash Eurotrash is that they are influenced by different spheres of culture. In Bulgaria, for example, their Soviet history is at odds with the materialism imposed on a newer, Western standard of living. The result is bad haircuts and studded jeans, graphic tees and oversized sunglasses– a lot like Guidos, actually. Who are also stuck between being preppy and being hard and ghetto. The result is a mix of fashions and styles that leave the user looking left a little back in time. As with Sri Lankans, they want to separate and distinguish themselves from Indians, and yet they’re a little too geographically remote to share much in common with Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia, the other South Asian sphere of influence.
After I digested this idea, I stood up and left, fit to burst, looking for a cigarette and settling for a toothpick. I walked into a men’s clothing store with Lacoste polos I couldn’t tell were real or fake hung for eight dollars, and the only reason I didn’t jump on them was because of the big alligator and “Lacoste Chemise” advertisement on the sleeve. I walked through the dark Kandy streets, feeling slightly unsafe, with big buses roaring past, and all the storefronts aluminum-gated, as though I were suddenly in a bad part of town, but all that dripped away as I entered my Burmese Rest and wondered whether or not the guy running this joint is totally racist. I expected Haonan to still be playing with the turtles but she wasn’t. When I went upstairs and saw a flash of white go into the shower’s fluorescence, I thought to make her wait and came upstairs instead of calling her name. But no sign of her. I realized that all the rooms were locked from the outside, which means she must have a secret passage, and when I heard creaks come from the doors at the back of the hall, I expected her to walk out, long legs tenuously sliding across the floor, but nothing, just the sounds of me typing alone, but not lonely on my keyboard in my new, much better Kandy guest house.