Wednesday, February 07, 2007

The Corundum Conundrum

Corundum is the crystal form of aluminium oxide, which can also take the form of bauxite, one of the earths most abundant minerals. So what's the conundrum and why am I boring (boom boom) on about minerals? Well, because, like carbon, which produces graphite and diamond amongst its varieties, the crystal form of Al2O3, corundum, is the gem, sapphire, which is mined in Sri Lanka. And, boy, have I been having fun shopping. I have been on commission from various people at home (can't say who, in case any partners get excited) to buy "big, flashy" stones. Actually, that clearly gives away who I am buying for, but never mind.

To the delight of a nice man in the Aida Gem store, I wandered past one day and then turned back and sauntered in. The reason I chose his shop rather, than any of the other three or four next to him, was that the other shopkeepers, on seeing my sweaty face, ruffled hair, mended plastice flip flops and tiedyed salwar kameez, with a curry stain down the front, slightly sneered. However, the lucky owner of Aida Gems, just smiled at me, so he got my custom. All 1400 quid of it on my now nearly melted credit card ( I expect rapid reimbursement). As his shop is located in the unfortunately named World Trade Centre, which has maximum security, surrounded by several army check points, only the most determined go there for necessity. If Sri Lankan Airlines hadn't been based in there I wouldn't have gone myself.

Apart from the joy of buying jewels and the relief of being the possessor of a passport containing a new 6 month Indian visa within its pages, I feel quite sad about my visit to Sri lanka, because it has been somewhat of an ordeal. Although, clearly, my anxiety about my visa has had its effect on the ability and degree to which could enjoy myself, there have been two main contributing factors to my changed opinion about Sri Lanka. I came here 10 years ago, and although I can remember precisely nothing about it apart from the women being absolutely tiny and needing help with their ENORMOUS suitcases off the carousel, I do have the impression that it was a beautiful place and I generally enjoyed my trip.

What I do not remember, is what total wankers the men are. Bloody hell, they are incredible. It is impossible to walk down the street without being jostled and stared at (with that noxious smirk which makes my blood boil), a mexican wave of Hell-ooooooo, madam's crescendoing as you pass. Forget about Cricket being a national sport, they could lead the world stage in Boob Cricket. You know the one. A single for a brush with any part of the body, a four for brushing it with your hand and a six if you manage to actually grab it. You're out if you get slapped. They all excel at this and I haven't managed to slap one yet. Glaring, unfortunately, as they scurry off out of reach, only makes the game more exciting. And there's no Umpire to appeal to. So far however, no-one has managed to score more than a single off me, I'm pleased to report. Even the many, many soldiers at the many, many checkpoints play this game. What on earth is one supposed to do when a youth (who looks about 3 1/2) carrying a loaded rifle makes suggestive comments at you. You really are at a disadvantage. I have perfected my Lady Bracknell look, which works on some but unfortunately, clearly turns others on. I shall be glad to get back to India where they tend to stare in astonishment rather than lechery.

The other bane of my brief Sri Lankan existence has been the auto drivers. Firstly, there are thousands and thousands of them. The rickshaws are quite fun because unlike India, they are all different colours, red, blue green, purple. The drivers however are not. Every single one, on passing anyone with less of a tan than a local, slows down and hoots, whilst leaning precariously out of the side yelling "Hello, madam. Taxi?" I feel like looking around and saying "Where? I can only see an umbrella on three wheels". But that would obviously take up too much effort, so my strategies are, variously, just ignoring them (not very effective), saying "No, thanks" (also not very effective) or waving imperiously, (marginally more effective, but makes you feel like a prat. The only consolation is that it really is impossible for them to attempt Boob Cricket in such an unstable vehicle, although, it might be fun to see them try.

I think to be fair, I need to come and spend some proper time here on a dedicated holiday to Sri Lanka, rather than a boring, inconvenient trip at a bad time to get something awkward done, so I can settle in and buy some serious gems, I mean, do some serious sightseeing, and see the beauty of this tiny island so beloved of Marco Polo. As it is, it seems extraordinary, that I can't wait to get back to the hurly burly of India with it's frantic horns, loony drivers, piles of rubbish, people pissing on the streets, hawking and spitting replacing BC as the national pastime, wandering cows and mangy, sore-ridden dogs for a bit of peace and quiet. I shall probably miss Sri Lanka hugely when I've left.

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