Friday, March 22, 2013

Sri Lanka: Kandy-land Adventure


I apologize for not posting for two weeks - I took on a crazypants teaching schedule, trying to save money before I make a change in August, and haven't had much time for blogging. I also worked my way through The Forty Days of Musa Dagh after reading a few other things on my list (Hiking Through History and The Oracle of Stamboul), and that took up a lot of my time.

What's more, I've been thinking more seriously of making jewelry to actually sell - although I haven't started yet, just planning what to make and what I'll need - if I decide to do it at all - is taking up time.

And sadly, blogging fell by the wayside.


I believe this is my last batch of Sri Lanka photos (I have to check and see if the Galle photos ever made it up, and later on I'll throw up a few Colombo shots), and I don't have too much to say beyond basic travelogue stuff. But I should note a few things about similarities between Sri Lanka and Taiwan.

I mean, there are the obvious things, like how they're both islands off a major landmass that is also one country, and both independent (although Taiwan is only de facto, Sri Lanka is de jure). They both have monkeys. They are both often overlooked in favor of their larger and more powerful neighbors.


But there's more.

Both have an ethnic minority of another race that has influence over the culture (Tamils in Sri Lanka, aborigines and Hakka here - some will argue that Hakka is not an ethnic minority. OK, you could say that, but they are a cultural and linguistic one).

They both are relatively small players in the world economy (Sri Lanka moreso than Taiwan) next to a major player, but both have higher per capita GDP statistics than their "big, rich" neighbor. Both are more prosperous when you consider individual standard of living than their neighbor. Both are easier to deal with as destinations than traveling in their neighbor (I love India, but Sri Lanka was an easier place to visit).


They both have some unfortunate politics worth discussing. I was not pleased that the LTTE lost the civil war - I was rooting for them to at least win concessions, autonomy or some sort of enforced legislation of equal treatment and opportunity. This is in part because I lived in Tamil Nadu in India and so have something of a connection to Tamil culture although I am not Tamil myself, and in part because they fought back against true discrimination. They didn't deserve to lose, and they're not doing much better now than they were when the war began.

And of course, Taiwan has to deal with all that China bullshit.


They both have monkeys!

But seriously, they both have cultural traditions that involve tiny shrines everywhere. Along the road in Sri Lanka, much like in Taiwan (but not China, in my observation), there are small Buddhist shrines (and a few Hindu ones too), that you can stop and pray at, or are there just to keep farms, fields or property safe and in god's grace. In Taiwan, of course, you'll see Earth God (土地公) shrines everywhere, and a few others (Matsu is popular) scattered around, too.


Their cultures are both too often considered the same or "close enough" to their larger, more well-known neighbors.


They are both influenced strongly not only by their Big Strong Neighbor, but also by other nearby islands - as is the case with island nations in proximity to other ones. Taiwan is deeply influenced by Japan by both proximity, cultural affinity (including post-WWII when Taiwan was one of the only - the only? - Asian nation to not despise or resent Japan) and colonization. Sri Lanka has flavors of Indonesia in its art, traditions, architecture and cooking - you see woodcarving that's more reminiscent of Bali, "tiki" style thatch roofs more commonly seen in Sumatra and Java, food that reminds me of Padang cuisine almost as much as it does Indian curry, greater use of coconut and an affinity for "sambol", which is basically spicy Indonesian sambal with coconut.

Even their art has lines - look at the legs of the carved dancer below - that remind me of Indonesian Hindu/Buddhist art more than Indian.

Some of their dances seem more Indonesian than Indian, but I am hardly an expert in Sri Lankan dance tradition.


Anyway, these photos were taken in Kandy, Sri Lanka's cultural capital (think of it as the Tainan of Sri Lanka, Galle as the Lugang of Sri Lanka, the southern beaches as the Kending of Sri Lanka, Ella/Nuwara Eliya as the Alishan of Sri Lanka...they could all almost be sister cities/sister destinations).


The afternoon we arrived, after a nauseating bus trip, we waited out a rainstorm (common in Kandy in the afternoon) and headed to the Temple of the Tooth (above), where it's said that they keep a tooth of the Buddha. I'm not sure if it's real - it's been absconded with, taken to India and brought back enough times that it could well be a fake - but the temple is lovely.


We went to a fun, but basic, tea museum the next day, taking a rickshaw up the mountain and walking down to enjoy the weather and scenery. And we saw this:



...and passed a Durga shrine. Durga, the embodiment of feminine creative energy and the Optimus Prime/Power Rangers Giant Robot of Hindu gods, carries weapons in her 18 arms and rides a tiger or lion. She killed the demon Mahisha when no other god could. Of course she is my favorite.



Jaya jaya hai, Mahishasura Mardhini!

We hired a rickshaw to take us to the three most well-known temples outside of Kandy (not a lot of public transit), which were all enjoyable, if firmly on the tourist circuit:












...and we saw a super touristy dance show, which was fun, but not as authentic as, say, a Taiwanese temple parade (I'd love to see such dances in an authentic setting, but all the cameras going off kind of ruined it. I'm not against taking photos - I take them, too - but it was downright rude, how people would stand in the audience or hold their cameras up high so those behind them not only couldn't see, but also could watch you take your terrible photos...because most tourists aren't good photographers).




Here's one of the shrines I mentioned:


And the beach we started out from, at Negombo (it was a less stressful option than staying in Colombo). Seems quiet - actually, it was stuffed with tourists.


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