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I am not very familiar with Colombo restaurants, but some months back I was taken in rapid succession to a couple of them that I have been told were the regular haunt of the city’s bright young things. First a visiting British journalist took me to the Cricket Club, and then I was given lunch by a British company at the Paradise Gallery Café. I have no idea what dinner cost at the former, but I found that lunch for three at the latter, two courses each with a glass of wine for one lady and fruit juice for the other, came to nearly 10,000 rupees.

In terms of British standards this is nothing, and less than 20 pounds a head for excellent food in a beautiful location (Geoffrey Bawa’s former office) is superb value. However for people on Sri Lankan salaries, certainly those in the public sector, this is not readily affordable.

It was thus not surprising that the vast majority of guests in both places were foreigners. And perhaps it was not surprising too that several of them were those who would describe themselves as belonging to the international humanitarian community. The salaries commanded by these individuals, not only at senior level, but for fairly simple jobs, are massive by our standards. The argument is that they need to be compensated on an international scale, having obligations in their home countries too, but certainly, for the young ladies who pronounce so sanctimoniously on suffering, it is not a bad deal to dine and wine frequently at levels they could not dream of at home.

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Rajiva Wijesinha

May 2010
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