Magazine article Foreign Policy

Colombo, Sri Lanka: Arthur Wamanan on Where to Rub Shoulders with Hipsters and Eat Spicy Curries

Magazine article Foreign Policy

Colombo, Sri Lanka: Arthur Wamanan on Where to Rub Shoulders with Hipsters and Eat Spicy Curries

Article excerpt

COLOMBO HAS MORE than earned its reputation for chaos. Sri Lanka is not even a decade removed from a 25-year civil war, during which the capital endured frequent suicide bombings and security forces were ubiquitous, staging raids and blocking roads. Colombo is no longer threatened by mass violence, but its residents are anything but idle. Political leaders regularly organize demonstrations in public squares. Last summer, thousands of trade unionists protested government efforts to restrict their rights and students marched against the commercialization of education.

This developing metropolitan region, with a population of around 5.6 million, is one of extremes. Take the Central Bus Stand, which serves as the city's fast-beating heart--a hub for urbanites traversing Colombo's sprawling grid. Loud, grimy, and chaotic, the terminal teems with commuters and hawkers selling cigarettes, snacks, and bottled water. Yet just 10 minutes away is peaceful Viharamahadevi Park, Colombo's largest public green space. Originally named Victoria Park for England's revered monarch, the name was changed after the country became independent in the mid-20th century to honor the mother of an ancient Sri Lankan king. Today, the space is a haven for families seeking shade and joggers hugging the tree-lined perimeter.

"Some people don't like Colombo. They say that it's noisy and dusty," says fixer Arthur Wamanan. "All that is correct, but if you look closely you can find another side to the city--one with quiet streets, comfy cafes, and some great theaters."

Wamanan, 32, is a newspaper editor who has fixed for Time, Der Spiegel, and other international outlets. On a recent humid morning, he showed Foreign Policy all the commotion and comforts that Colombo


The NATIONAL ART GALLERY is the best place to see the work of local painters. My personal favorites are Cubist George Keyt and Senaka Senanayake, who is a bit more stylistically conventional. His works often depict a natural jungle setting, with lots of bold colors. Up-and-coming artists sometimes display their work in roadside stalls outside the museum. You'd think those items would be cheap, but one of the painters quoted me 20,000 rupees (about $135) for a piece. 106 ANANOA COOMARASWAMY MAWATHA


INDEPENDENCE SQUARE has become the unofficial capital for wedding photos. It's also a site for demonstrations. In March, guards kicked out a couple for sitting next to each other, which was allegedly indecent. Soon thereafter, an Occupy-style protest took place and the government canceled its contract with the guards' security firm. …

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