Monthly Archives: September 2009

buduruwagala~buddhist rock carvings~southern sri lanka

WalawelaPretty, right? Such was the scenery en route to Buduruwagala. The elephant-shaped rock (below) has seven huge Buddhist figures carved into it.  We went with Samantha and the requisite guide. I’m not sure that the following info was explained as the guide was quite hard to understand, the midday heat was, well, hot, and cheeky Samantha was on the lookout for snakes. He eventually found one hanging in a tree.

Guides in Sri Lanka (okay, the planet over) tend to prefer local lore to current historical scholarship (especially the case at Sigiriya in the north).  I don’t mind this, as the history can be found in a book, and lore tells at least as much about people and their identity.

buduruwagala temple02Reading about Buduruwagala now, it doesn’t seem to be called a temple, but I’m quite sure that locals referred to it as a rock temple. It was  carved in the 10th Century, at the end of the period when Mahayana Buddhism was popular in Sri Lanka, as well as Theravadan Buddhism, which continues to thrive in the present day. These Mahayana carvings feature the Buddha, tall at center; Avalokiteshvara, in white at left; and Aryathara (Tara) and an attendant further to the left.

In the slideshow (part iii), there is a photo (before the incense box) of three more figures. On the right is Vajrapani holding a dorje, a thunderbolt which is a tantric symbol seldom seen in Sri Lanka (but common in Tibetan/Vajrayana Buddhism). Natha, the future Buddha, is in the center, and Vishnu is at the left.

Buduruwagala translates from Sinhala as “stone images of the Buddha.” At 51 feet it is the tallest rock carving of Buddha in Sri Lanka and arguably the world, after the loss of the Bamyan figures to the Taliban.

sri lanka photos, part iii

The third photo essay is finished! (Again, the controls are bottom right. > is play, <- is back, -> is forward.) There may be five essays instead of four, in all. It’s too pretty a country to edit down further. There’s no narration in this show. Instead, if you care, read the image titles. I’m going to try to post the main features along the way with a few stories, a bit at a time. It was mostly fun to edit them and recall just how gorgeous the trip was—almost seven months ago now.

After eleven nights at ashtangalanka, Samantha, the manager, took us to on Ella. He guides people fairly often and is good at it. He took us to the Buduruwagala Temple (Buddhist) and Ravana Falls en route (photos are in the slideshow). Samantha is quite frank and hilarious. He gave us his view of the history and dynamics at ashtangalanka, which Andrea and I enjoyed immensely. Samantha actually owns the land and Fred rents from him in an interesting relationship that is fairly common in Sri Lanka because the government taxes foreigners 100% of the property value if they buy land. The altnernative is what Fred has done with Samantha—he’s leased the land for 99 years, with a tax of 7%.

A bit on the Buduruwagala Temple tomorrow.

scancafe: “your images are being scanned”

slides scancafe

On Friday, 18 Sept, I received an email from scancafe informing that my images have been received at their imaging center in Bangalore. They’ve sent me emails about my order along the way: when I placed it (31 Aug), when it arrived in California (8 Sept), and when it got to India. (It seems that it took one more day to go from Cali to India than it did NYC to Cali. Nice job, UPS.)

While I ate dinner last night, I thought about all of my images in India. Will one person be assigned to scan all 5000+ negatives and slides? Or do they break them up and assign them to different people? If it’s one person (which seems more romantic as well as potentially more weird)—good word they will know me well by the end of this job. I cannot imagine. I wonder who this person is, where she sits, if she likes her job, if she’s eating dosa for lunch or dal and rice. Who she is. Okay, it could well be assigned to a whole room of people. Who knows. I was given an estimated date of Oct 26 for them to be finished and online. If it’s one person not working weekends, that’s over 200 images a day. Oi.

When I checked my email a few hours later, a new update from scancafe: “A technician has been assigned to your order and the process of manually scanning & repairing each of your images is underway.” Hmm.

I reminds me a bit of a play I saw last year, “There or Here.” A subplot involved an American woman frequently calling a helpline for assistance with her computer and getting to know the woman on the other end in India who helped her out.

ravana falls, sri lanka


It takes a long time to edit photos. Usually a few days for each of the batches that you see. Part three is done. I just have to put it into flash and tell the story. In the meantime, here’s a shot of guys taking a shower next to Ravana Ella, or Ravana Falls, in the hill country of Sri Lanka. I took this the day we left Tangalle for travels about the country.

Ravana Falls (also spelled Rawana) is so named because it’s said to be near the cave where Ravana, the evil “Lankan” of the Ramayana, hid Sita from Rama.

care for your introvert. NOW.

gallery-guyI have come to the shocking conclusion that I am an introvert, more or less. It explains why I don’t understand people walking about texting and messaging and chatting, chatting, chatting, all hooked up or into one gadget or another, why I’d rather sit at home reading on Saturday night, and why three real, true friends are enough—ideal even.

I’ve never really thought of it from this perspective before, partly because I’m not entirely introverted. Or perhaps I’ve let the status quo convince me to convince myself that ’cause I’d like not to be a wallflower, I’m not. (Though many would argue that introverts are not wallflowers.) Introverts get tons of bad press, because quite frankly, we make extroverts (the majority) a little nervous.

This came to me because I happened upon a book on introversion. Did I see it for sale on the street, or did I seek it out because all the social networking, which one must do for professional reasons, has me feeling out-of-sorts? I can’t recall. No, okay, I’m not such an introvert that I won’t do facebook, unlike my closest friends. But twitter? Ugh. Even using a cell phone is out of my comfort zone most of the time. Email is an introvert’s delight. I can read messages in quiet calm, think about them as long as I like, and reply when I’m in the mood. What bliss! It honestly didn’t occur to me, until I came across this book, that most people think I’m as out of whack as I think them mad to be thumbing a small gadget at all hours.

Over the last few weeks, I’ve been reposting here old bits I’d long ago originally posted in html so that they feed into the categories and all else on the site, which meant rereading my posts from the 2000 tour. Whoa. Oh course that was a disaster job for me. It’s not that I didn’t like the people or the travel, or even the job. It’s that I need time to myself, to process. And there was no free time. Less than time, even. I said that then, therefore knew that then, and I’ve been writing about it ever since (hence the time & values category), but even now, almost a decade later, I still push myself too far, out in the city from 8am–10pm trying to fit everything in. And I wonder why I get cranky.

Granted this is complicated by working a full time job that has nothing to do with my passions and everything to do with a small but steady paycheck with generous holidays and health insurance. When I add the yoga teaching, my own yoga practice, writing, photography, and life, there isn’t that much time left for relaxing with the the ones and things I love. Alas, I’m almost done with the training and I’ve cut my teaching schedule dramatically so that I can address this (which wasn’t my ideal choice, but the only viable option). I realize that in some professional circles it’s suicide to admit I like to sit back and reflect, but so be it. It’s true. I love people but dislike small talk with strangers. I dislike noisy parties, unless I know enough people there to have real conversations. I’m not interested in what my acquaintances think of my hair cut.

I realize that this admission is complicated by the last post, which was a conversation with a stranger on the street. Okay, like I said, I’m not a total introvert. I’m on assbook and all.

To back this up, I looked about the web for some references, as I’m not going to admit what book I’m reading. It’s far too pop-psych. Luckily an elegant piece from The Atlantic popped up, “Caring for Your Introvert.”

“Do you know someone who needs hours alone every day? Who loves quiet conversations about feelings or ideas, and can give a dynamite presentation to a big audience, but seems awkward in groups and maladroit at small talk? Who has to be dragged to parties and then needs the rest of the day to recuperate? Who growls or scowls or grunts or winces when accosted with pleasantries by people who are just trying to be nice?

If so, do you tell this person he is “too serious,” or ask if he is okay? Regard him as aloof, arrogant, rude? Redouble your efforts to draw him out?” If you answered yes to these questions, chances are that you have an introvert on your hands—and that you aren’t caring for him properly….If you are behind the curve on this important matter, be reassured that you are not alone. Introverts may be common, but they are also among the most misunderstood and aggrieved groups in America, possibly the world.”

It’s a great article. Read it. I want to make all my damn professors who forced us to work in groups (which usually means that everyone else chats about all sorts of topics other than that assigned while the introvert does all the work, but is spurned for not chatting enough).

I’m quite lucky that I’m by far the most extroverted person in my department at work. We get each other. (There are reasons I stay. Sigh.) The point here, is that introverts think differently. We love people. We just like to think about things and process them. We are easily stimulated, so too much stimulation is overwhelming and requires a break to refuel. Extroverts are energized by external stimulation. Introverts are energized by peace, quiet and reflection. So care for your introvert. Now.

new york custom & an (attempted) pickup

xerxbathroomI suppose any city that requires its citizens interact constantly (as opposed to being shielded inside cars) has its share of hilarious attempted pickup stories. Though I also suppose that these are numerous and uninteresting in bars the world over. I don’t know, I don’t frequent them. I remember once when I was a teen walking my mother’s dalmatian in the park, a guy with a dalmatian tried to convince me to give him my number so our dogs could play together because “dalmatians need dalmatians.” Good grief. Ever since, I’ve wanted to compile hilarious and creative pickup stories (success irrelevant. sorry, this is not a how-to), so if you’ve any good stories to share, comment below.

Yesterday, walking to the train after yoga, a guy asked me if I knew where a deli was. I raised an eyebrow, as there’s one on every block. He said, “I know we just passed one, but they don’t have phone cards. I need a phone card.” Even in the Skype age, I happen to know a lot about phone cards.

“Hmm.” I said, as we were on a stretch without delis. “Sixth Avenue will have some. If not, I know they’re sold in the train station.”

“The train station?” he laughed. “Where are you from?” he asked, with, I finally pinpointed, an Arabic accent.

I ignored his question and said, “The subway station. In the kiosk.”

“How do you know all this. Do you work in the subway?” he asked.

“Ah, no.” I replied.

“Where do you work? I am from Egypt. I work in hotels and design.”

“Hmmm.” I said. “Salaam Alaikum.”

“Wa Alaikum Salaam,” he laughed, “How do you know this?”

I shrugged.

“My people have something called Ramadan right now.” he explained.

“Already? So early this year!” I replied.

“How do you know these things? Where are you from that you know this?”

“I travel a lot.”

“Have you been to Egypt? What else do you know? You must know habiba, too”

I claimed I did not know habiba (babe, beloved, sweetheart, etc), hoping he wouldn’t translate. I explained I had been to Egypt, but had spent more time in non-Arabic speaking Muslim countries, like Iran, Central Asia, Pakistan.

“You’ve been to Pakistan? Did you dress like that?!”

“No,” I smiled. “It was too cold.”

I was wearing a not-that-revealing yoga tank and yoga pants, as I’d just been to yoga. It was 80º in New York. There were plenty wearing far less than I was, weirdo. This isn’t Cairo.

“I’ve just arrived in NY. I got here last week. Where have you been? You look like you have been at the beach.”

We were almost to the train station at this point. “I was at yoga,” I explained.

“At work?”

“At yoga.”

“Oh, yoga!” He threw his head back and laughed. “I thought you said work. Yoga! You New Yorkers have such strange customs!”

That made me smile. Yes, I suppose that we do. We passed a kiosk and I pointed it out to him as a place to get his phone card. He looked at it, then at me, then back at the kiosk. “Would you wait for me while I buy it?” he asked.


“Would you have a tea with me? My people are very generous and we have this custom…”

“Yes, I know,” I replied, “and I’m sorry to refuse your kindness, but it’s not possible.”

“Can I have some way to contact you?”

“Nope. Sorry. Not possible” I smiled, as I waved and departed down the steps of the subway station. Strange customs indeed.

sri lanka photos, part ii

silentbeach01This is the second round of the Sri Lanka photos.  Lots of beaches—best to be in a water mood when you view them. They begin at silent beach, which is a five minute walk from ashtangalanka. It’s the beach of the Amanwella resort, though we saw maybe one guest on this beach, and he was in sandals, walking. He didn’t swim. It was bizarre to swim in such a gorgeous place alone, with Andrea, or the other ashtangalankans, but never a crowd. This was the most beautiful beach I’ve ever visited, I think. It was deserted because there aren’t many tourists in Sri Lanka because of the war (which has since officially ended) and because it was the very end of the tourist season. I hadn’t swum in the ocean for years (since India, I think) and it was amazing. There was, at times, a strong current, and there were moments in the water when I considered that these beaches were hit by the 2004 tsunami. I felt very, very small.

andrea&puppiesMoving along, the house and dog belong to Ben and Katrina, neighbors of Fred who came to dinner several times. They’re an interesting British couple who spend part of the year here. Ben made Andrea a proper coffee (actually, Lalith the gardener made it), which pleased Andrea immensely. Then it’s back to Rocky Point, with some pics of me, Andrea, and two puppies in the cafe (at right). The puppies were strays adopted by Kathy Cooper, the ashtanga teacher.

These are followed by photos of the road in and out of ashtangalanka, which led to the path to the surf beach (where the cows were). We passed Samatha’s (the manager at AL) brother, who tried to convince Andrea to buy some jewelry. Alas, it was on to the beach. Andrea body surfed, while I took pics with my semi-dead-battery powered camera. It was fun.

To view the slideshow, follow the link and press the play button in the bottom right. The arrow keys take you forward and back, if you don’t like the pace of the show. This is the last of the ashtangalanka/beach photos. Next up: travels in the hill country.