Marlene is off work for a week and a half on holidays. Her mother and three other out of town guests arrive on Wednesday, so she doesn’t have much free time. But today, we are going to Odel.
For those of you not in the know, and that’s just about everyone out there who’s reading this, Odel is a store geared towards the foreign shopper. It’s laid out in much the same way as an upscale North American department store. And it’s pretty big – three floors. And it’s got everything. Kids stuff – toys, clothes, you name it. Clothes, shoes, bags, luggage, jewellery. It’s got housewares – dishes, utensils, cutlery, baking and cooking stuff, sheets, towels. It’s got beauty stuff – fancy dancy soaps, lotions, and the like. And it’s got herbal tea. Only three choices, it’s true, but it has three choices.
Let me start back at the beginning.
Marlene asked me on Sunday if I’d ever been to Odels. Nope. What? You’ve got to be kidding me, she says. You’ve got to go there immediately, she says. So we arranged to go today.
I went to her place at 9:30, which is also the time she’d arranged her trishaw driver to pick us up. We, as in Marlene and her two daughters, Ysintha and Yliana (and once again, I put out the comment that I’m fairly certain I’m butchering the spellings of their names), and I, pile into the trishaw. It helps that her two daughters are young and skinny. And off to Odel’s we go.
First stop. Cafe Delifrance. The kids are hungry, Marlene would like to sit and shoot the breeze for a while, and I’m perfectly willing to do whatever. So they get cinnamon rolls, only they’re more like butterflies than rolls, and they weren’t called rolls either, but they give you a general idea of what I’m talking about. They also get something to drink and a couple of other things I don’t remember. Oh, Marlene ordered a sandwich. She pays and walks off. The staff brings the tray to the table, she tells me. Oh. This is something I’m not used to. Okay. I order a sausage roll – my first pork since arriving here since Fahim can’t eat it – that whole Muslim thing – and a soda. We sit down, we munch, we shoot the breeze.
I’ve mentioned previously that Marlene is a great talker. She’s not the least bit shy and we seem to have no problems at all finding things to say. A half hour or so rolls by and we decide to get on to the business end of shopping. We browse briefly on the bottom floor and proceed directly to the top floor where the women’s clothing is. They have one small section devoted to plus sizes. That is, not the skinny people sizes. We take a look at what they have, pick out a few things, try on a whole bunch, whittle it down, look some more, and so on and so forth.
The salesperson who was there trying to help us was a young Sri Lankan male who spoke very little English. Considering that this is a store designed to cater to foreigners, and a lot of the foreigners who are here, if not most, speak English as their first language or at least as the language they most commonly use, then wouldn’t it make sense to have staff who speak pretty good English? This guy, I swear, knew about four words, and none of them had anything to do with women’s clothing.
He kept trying to show me shorts or skirts that were way short, and I kept saying no, must be at least to the knees, and I’m pointing and gesturing at the same time. Same as with sleeveless tops or dresses, or ones that had massive amounts of cleavage visibility. Not for me, especially not in a country like this where a woman is so much better off being modest in dress than not.
Anyway, after all the trying on and whatever, I picked out two pairs of shorts and two shirts, all of them in fabric that was much lighter than existing clothes in my meagre wardrobe. All of them much more appropriate to the climate than said clothes. Yup.
Oh, this is probably where I should mention that the stuff sold in Odels is brand name stuff. It’s made here or in this region, and they sell it for much less than it would be sold for in the US or Canada, where it’s typically destined for. For example, one of the pair of shorts I bought is by Gloria Vanderbilt. Even I’ve heard of her. Not that I know much about her clothing line, but you get the drift. The shorts had two prices on them – one saying $34.50, the other saying 350 Rupees. 350 Rupees is worth close to $3.50 US, so they’re charging 1/10th the price. I spelled it all out for the mathematically challenged in the crowd.
Anyway, after I pick out these clothes and try them on, I go wandering downstairs. Another interesting thing about Odel’s is that you take the escalator up, but the only way down is a stairwell, so it’s like they’re herding you through the store, department by department. And if you’re on the second floor, the only way out is up to the third floor, and then down. Seems a little silly to me.
I check out the herbal teas, and they have chamomile ( already have it), mint, and rosehip and hibiscus. I pick up the mint and rosehip. Variety is the spice of life and all that. They have two sizes of packs, and being the anal retentive person that I am, I check the prices, and lo and behold, it’s actually cheaper per tea bag to buy the smaller packet, which I promptly do.
Did I get anything else? Let me see, two shirts, two shorts, two tea packets. Hmm. I don’t remember anything else. All told, it came to 1300 ish Rupees, or close to $13 USD.
On the way out, the two girls wanted ice cream, so we went to the ice cream shop on the outside of Odels, and of course, I got a cone as well. How can I resist?
And then we went home.
At the beginning of all this, I told Marlene that I needed to be home by 12:30 because that’s when Fahim gets home for lunch. Knowing that there was a distinct possibility I would be home either late or late enough that I wouldn’t get lunch done in time, I cooked in the morning before we went shopping.
As it turned out, we were late getting back – we didn’t leave Odel’s until about 12:25, and it’s about a 25 minute trishaw drive home. I SMSed Fahim to let him know, and he wasn’t surprised either.
Fahim also commented – a day or so ago when I told him about going to Odels – that much of the products sold there are overpriced for Sri Lanka. While I was there, I took a look at a wooden mortar and pestle which sold here for 350 Rupees. The exact same thing sells at the department store for 125 Rupees, and I already know that the department store – Arpico – is also sometimes overpriced compared to other local stores. He said that most of the local women do their shopping elsewhere for much cheaper, but he also has no idea where to go cuz after all, he’s just a guy and doesn’t know these things.
I mentioned this to Marlene, and she was well aware of this, but for her, it’s convenient to shop there because everything North American that she wants is available under one roof, so to her, it makes sense. But she also commented that some of the teachers at her school – foreigners, like us – have clothing made for them. They have a favorite dress and they take it to a dressmaker and have a half dozen dresses made based on that style. Variations, sure, but still. And here, it’s really really cheap to do that. It’s something I’m so going to consider doing. I need to find a decent dressmaker, but I have a feeling that all I have to do is say the word to Marlene and she’ll get names for me from her co-workers.