SRI LANKA, part I: Buddhists, Muslims, and Christians, Oh My! (and Tamils, too; they’re Hindu)

Welcome to Sri Lanka, home of Thereavada Buddhism...

Welcome to Sri Lanka, home of Thereavada Buddhism…

Maybe the nicest part of the Indian sub-continent is not India at all, but that southern neighbor composed of erstwhile immigrants, coming from both north and south, back in times of erst, looking for liebensraum or maybe just a living room, or a kitchen, looking for turf or maybe just booty, and instead found bounty, like the latter-day Portuguese or maybe their nemeses doubly Dutch, twice removed, once by the Portuguese and then by the Brits, on one of their infamous booty-calls that turned out historic…

Wall paintings at Sigiriya, Sri Lanka

Wall paintings at Sigiriya, Sri Lanka

A stepping stone placed by Ganesha, it is said, perched cock-eyed cattywampus off India’s southern coast, like Taiwan to India’s China, an afterthought to continents, and just a stone’s throw across the old strait and narrow, lies the nation, Sri Lanka, by some accident of history and fate, geological and psychological, the migrations of peoples part of what it means to be human, part of what it means to be mortal part of what it means to be a creature of the dust on Planeta Tierra…

Temple of the Sacred Tooth in Kandy, sriLanka

Temple of the Sacred Tooth in Kandy, sriLanka

They all came from India, both north and south, but I don’t know but what I like it better than the mother country itself, a version of India that finally gets it right kinda sorta maybe more or less on a good day, without all the clutter and the cowsh*t, without all the badgering and the bullsh*t, a country with radio, sidewalks, grocery stores, ATM’s that work, and power that doesn’t go out, people eating with utensils (usually), and you can even drink the (tap) water, just like any civilized country in the world, and maybe more so than most…

Southeast Asia starts here: a Buddhist country, where people smile for no special reason, are friendly for no special cause, a certain passivity nice for a change, passivity without the passion, passivity without even the prostitution, not much anyway, hell of a concept I figure: passivity as a way of life, the cradle of Buddhism, old-school Theravada, from which it spread to all of Southeast Asia—food religion script and canonical language conquering hearts where warriors rarely succeeded in claiming turf…

Central Lake in Kandy, Sri Lanka

Central Lake in Kandy, Sri Lanka

Colombo is bigger, massive and sprawling, but Kandy is sweeter, perched up on one of the middle rungs of the highlands, centered around a lake of its own design, the better for good views, the better for the good news, that the civil war is long over, and the country is ripe for tourism, but the war never really ends here, between immigrant locals and southern Indian interlopers, bad for bizniz bad for bucks bad for banks…

And then there’s the accoms: I don’t usually fall in love with my room, more likely to take a cheap dig at my cheap digs, but this one’s the exception, ten dollars here worth a thousand to me elsewhere, for no other reason than esthetics, straight out of a Van Gogh painting, just waiting for a signature, straight out of the 1850’s and the Dutch incursions, straight out of a woodworker’s daydream, hardwood polished by decades and jackboots, walls of ship-lap clinker-built and whitewashed, anterooms from broad suites partitioned off for modern-day backpackers and flashpackers, characters wanted and welcomed at the Olde Empire…

Olde Empire Hotel in Kandy, Sri Lanka

Olde Empire Hotel in Kandy, Sri Lanka

European women firmly but gently fellate slim-line Gauloises Blondes cigs on the upstairs balcony with pooched-out lips—no tongues—careful not to smear lipstick and hardly even a hand-job lest a rogue nicotine stain find its way on to pearly white digits (what are long fingernails for, anyway?), while their men chew on Marlboros and pose for tourist photos in cowboy boots and Stetson hats and bad-guy bad-ass looks straight out of Universal City halfway to north Hollywood on the metro red line, hundred-dollar ticket good for a year…

Net-workers shoot up in the WiFi’d resto-bar down below, playing at FaceBook and drinking overpriced coffee, while men in skirts akin to kilts lungyis and sarongs do the bidding for not-so-rich foreign tourists in this enclave of accommodation, lost in space and time and the vicissitudes of trade-winds, old-fashioned backpackers with more books than bookings, maintaining the old ways, walk-in only, lost in this day and age of online everything and digital download dance moves just fill in the blanks and go… (to be continued)

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