Monday, February 16, 2009

A Sarong Tale - Part 2

Continued from here......

These Sri Lankan hotels are weird with their breakfast rules. They display, with their rules about timekeeping, a lack of consistency that is most un Sri Lankan. Let's face it, by and large timekeeping isn't the strong point of many Sri Lankans.

We, or they, can be judged to be fine cricketers, damn good at producing tea and inventors of the best food in the world. Sri Lankans have the unenviable record of producing the best terrorists in the world and the enviable one of making some of the best garments in the best shops around the world.

Timekeeping isn't quite up there on the list.

Because of that I have often expected every Lankan hotel to exhibit, if that's what you do with the things, a very relaxed attitude about what time they stop serving breakfast. But no, that isn't the case.

Some hotels will say that breakfast is served until 10.30, but will take a very Sri Lankan approach to the policing of the issue. Which is to say that, although we say 10.30, if you turn up any time before dinner we'll serve breakfast to you. I like this approach.

Others take a very British approach. This is along the lines of "well we say 10.30 but we'll serve you up to 10.45, but you owe us one and we'll be quite shoddy when we serve you because, even though you're the customer, we're actually doing you one huge and massive favour." I'm not a fan of this mindset but it's one I am used to.

Then there's the French approach; we stop breakfast at 10.30, no exceptions. It's harsh but you know where you are with it and the waitresses are always sexy.

Lastly there's the German approach. This is when they say that breakfast goes on until 10.30 but they'd prefer it to finish even earlier. So, turn up at 10.29, and you're the enemy and will be treated as such. It probably works in hotels that have lots of Germans as they tend to eat at about 6 AM anyway so they can bung a towel on their deckchair early.

In my experience of Lankan hotels, which is relatively vast, I never can predict which policy the hotel will adopt. Of course this wouldn't be a problem in a European hotel where the breakfast might be croissant or two with some strong coffee, I can take or leave that. In a British hotel where I run the risk of losing out a full English breakfast it becomes a dilemna, one that can go either way depending on my mood.

But, a Sri Lankan hotel with string hoppers, hoppers, pol sambol and all the trimmings as its breakfast offering, well, need I say more? It's rare that I run the risk of missing out on these treats.

And that morning we were up a bit late. I jumped out of bed with my night hair and my un moisturised face. I did what all men do. I scratched my balls, hitched up the sarong and thought about breakfast, though I should add that all men scratch their own balls, not mine. There was only about 5 minutes before the bell tolled and I didn't know which country's breakfast approach was favoured by the Fortress.

There was only one thing for it. I grabbed a designer T shirt, brushed my teeth and tied my sarong as neatly as possible, for this was the occasion on which I'd wear a sarong in public, in front of white people no less, and eat breakfast. Only it wasn't that simple.

Before we'd stepped out I hit a hurdle. Pants. I thought. What was the procedure re pants?

I never really wear pants with a sarong, but that's in the comfort of my own bedroom or house. If a sarong falls down there's usually no stranger around to be startled or laugh and the sight of a Sri Lankan man hitching up and retying his sarong is something we're all familiar with.

The situation, like my image, was a delicate one. I pondered for some seconds.

This wearing a sarong to breakfast, unlike the willy that might have been unveiled to any number of white honeymooning couples as they whispered sweet nothings to each other over their egg hoppers with strawberry jam, was big. I had to pitch myself right.

You'll probably agree that there's nothing more cringeworthy than one of these tourists, who had never even heard of a sarong until hitting Lankan shores, deciding to buy one, usually from a beach boy who they then correspond with for many years, then wearing it all over the show and looking like some sort of pillock. Unless you're used to wearing the things you cannot walk properly in one. We, as chaps who have been wearing them for a lifetime, maybe more depending on your religious beliefs, know how to walk whilst sarong clad.

I wanted the waiters and the staff at the hotel to believe I was a proper Lankan, not one of the tourists going "native".

On the other hand, though it's not necessarily something I'm proud of, I didn't want the honeymooning Suddas to think I was a driver who had been invited to join breakfast with madam as he'd arrived a bit early. I believe Rudyard Kipling said it best with the immortal lines:

"If you can wear a sarong in public
And retain the common touch
But not look like a wanker
A bit too much.." (for TMS)

To get back to my point, the thing is that these tourists walk so badly when sarong clad because they're afraid of the sarong falling down. Now wearing a belt would have been too smart. I was going to rely on the power of my knot alone and my ability to walk in a natural and relaxed way without taking a big stride that might result in disaster.

But my confidence was not running on full. I decided that emergency pants were needed. I chose the pink striped Odel ones, figuring that's what the common Sri Lankan man, a fish seller or market trader (though not commodities) would wear under a sarong if he really needed to. This meant that, in the event of a fallout, my modesty would be saved and the breakfasting couples wouldn't be put off their sausage by the sight of my little chipolata. It might not have helped Otara's pants sales figures but I reckoned she'd be okay.

As we strolled to the dining area I was aware of waiters and staff looking at me with the "there goes another tourist in a sarong" look. I did my best to walk casually and to look as if this was an everyday thing for me. I suppose in a way it was. Eating in public is something I do almost every day and I'm relaxed about it, maybe even good at it, as long as there's no soup involved. Wearing a sarong I do every day as well, but in the company of family. Combining it all was the tricky bit but I think I managed the walk to breakfast with just the right swagger.

Then, when we arrived at the table area, I was could see the other breakfasters giving me a second glance. This is something I'm quite used to, what with my hot in a old sort of way looks. With the exception of one older couple who were, I think, Brazilian (not that I could tell from the lady's hairstyle) all the couples were European, in a white, we get all our meals and as much local alcohol as we can drink way.

As they looked at me I could see and hear their minds taking in the sarong at the breakfast table situation. As they took it in I attempted to appear casual and comfortable, neither of which I was really. I took my seat, then put it back and sat on it, ordered coffee and thought about the upcoming short stroll to the buffet area where my feast awaited.

Sitting down was one thing but there was a severe danger that I would get up from my chair and my sarong wouldn't, that a bit would get trapped under a leg or something and I'd be left standing there in the pink stripeys.

But, things were suprisingly drama free. I managed to get up and get some nosh without any problems. It would be inaccurate to say that I relaxed fully mentally. I enjoyed the company, the breakfast and the setting but this was with a backdrop of slight fear. Walking around was the toughest challenge, getting my stride just right, long enough to look normal, not like some geisha girl, short enough that the strength of my sarong's knot wasn't tested to its limits.

Eventually I made it back to the room. I then went through the rest of my getting ready routine, shortened to about an hour, perhaps two as I'd done some things before breakfast. Then we headed off to enjoy the rest of the day at the GLF.

I felt glad to savour the relative comfort and hassle free joy of my expensively tatty looking designer jeans, but I so enjoyed the sarong clad breakfast.

A couple of days later, when I flew back home, one of the tourist couples was on my flight. It was the slightly grungey looking pair, the girl with the armful of tattoos, you know them. Well I recognised them but they didn't recognised me. I found it quite amusing that they probably would have, had I worn my sarong instead of the very western attire I had radically chosen for the flight.

I'm an expert now.

There remains only one question.

Does Mahinda wear pants underneath his?


Anonymous said...

Well one of the best sarong tales!

themissingsandwich said...

And such a beautiful poem thrown in to boot, don't you think KS? ;)

cerno said...

That is one of the funniest things I have read in a long long long time :D

Thank you!

Think the only time I had to deal with Sri Lankan hotel breakfasts was on the Honeymoon. Thankfully they were doing the Sri Lankan interpretations.

Before that it was resthouse breakfast - at dawn before another day in the jungle.

Also read the read the pantaloon post.

I'm confident the scars will heal. Specially after the sarong post :D

now must search for brandy.

Rhythmic Diaspora said...

Thank you KS, TMS and Cerno. I am partuclarly proud of the poem, I feel it's one of my more deep and abstract works, with a rhythm reminiscent of some obscure Kraftwerk songs.