NEVER for a moment are you allowed to forget that Colombo is a city under siege. Fully armed soldiers peer from behind sandbagged bunkers in the middle-of-road junctions, others stop you to check your papers, Kalashnikovs at the ready. Guards, uniformed sometimes, but camouflaged in mufti most of the time, watch you with a hundred eyes as you enter hotels, walk by government installations, stop to look at anything for more than a minute. Women are asked to open their bags even while entering a restaurant or a shopping complex. Never has so long a shadow been cast by so short a man on so many people. It's shape has attracted to Sri Lanka the touristic epithet of The Pearl of the Indian Ocean. The same shape may justify a more timely description today: The Teardrop of the Indian Ocean.
But give it to the Sri Lankans - they still enjoy life. Traditionally, the Sinhalese spirit is made up of equal parts of joie de vivre and easygoing buoyancy. Fuelling this now, in urban Colombo, is a new middle class of affluence. They sustain, and are in turn sustained by, spanking new shopping arcades, food marts and watering holes of world class quality.