Saturday, June 27, 2009

A Day Off

Today I was finally able to squeeze in a full night's sleep, a jog, and some pool-time. I actually find I get more done when I'm relaxed poolside, sipping a double gin-tonic under a bao tree than when I'm frazzled, hunched over my computer in grey cubicle. I'm sure most people feel that way, which leads me to wonder why more offices aren't under bao trees, but I digress. Probably lack of bao trees. Anyway, I was able to finish off one report and get a good start on another and still have an hour to swim before fun time.

Susan, my Sri Lankan colleague, had agreed to take me around Colombo for some shopping and sightseeing. We started out at a craft shop, then a gem store, then to a shopping center where I scored some seriously cheap clothes. Like many developing nations, Sri Lanka is heavily into the textile industry, sewing some of the top brands for the US markets. So, I was able to score a GAP skirt and a few Ann Taylor Loft blouses for less than fifteen USD - total.

After that, Susan surprised me by taking me to the Gangaramaya Buddhist Temple. There are several spread out parts of this compound, including the Seema Malaka (shrine) situated in nearby Beira Lake. The best part about the shrine were the signs up all over saying "Do Not Make Love Here" in Singalese. Apparently, it's a happening night spot!

Incidentally, we did go at night, when everything was lit up by torches and tea lights (we didn't see any amorous couples, though). According to my out-dated guidebook, the temple itself is a "strange hotch-potch of Buddhist arts and architecture from Sri Lanka, Thailand, China...with an unusually strong dash of Hindu influence thrown in." I'm not a religious scholar, but I can recognize my favorite Hindu god, Ganesh, when I see him (he's the one with the elephant head); and I saw him in the entryway. Beautiful, but strangely out of place, I thought.

Asking Susan about this, she succinctly stated, "Buddhism is open to all thoughts. It is a philosophy; not a religion."

The entryway opened up into a cavernous room with an enormous (thirty feet tall) orange Buddha. The walls were covered in elaborate paintings, carvings and mini-Buddha's. It was breathtaking. People were lighting incense, chanting and listening the loudspeakers, which were piping in a live "sermon" from another area of the temple.

From there, we walked into a courtyard dominating by a huge white dagoba, which basically looks like a white bell (click link for picture). Off to one side, stood a large boa tree tied low with strips of colored cloths. Susan mentioned that people believed that if they circled the tree, watering it, their prayers would be answered. I've had a few prayers of my own lately, so I grabbed a silver chalice and watered my heart out. Answers or not, I certainly felt better afterwards.

Lastly, in the back, behind the museum, the most breathtaking sight of the evening was the slope of rows upon rows of smiling buddhas, casting peaceful shadows far into the night. It was calming just to be there.

After sneaking a few more pictures in, Susan and I hopped back in the car where Raja (the driver) had purchased egg hoppers for all of us. Basically a crispy pancake with fried egg in the middle, it was super-delish (see previous post about me and fried food) and an excellent end to an excellent afternoon.

Tomorrow - the spa!

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