Category Archives: Sri Lanka
Subtitle: Yes Please!
I love me some temples. Give me a Hindu, Jain, Sikh, Buddhist, or Ba’hai temple, and I’m happy. They’re just so beautiful, and this part of the world is rife with them!
My first foray into the world of temples was just over a week into this adventure, when I crossed the border from Pakistan and headed to Amritsar, India to see the Golden Temple – the holiest place of the Sikh religion.
As you walk around the outskirts of the temple, there’s a building with rows of doors, each doorway leading to an alcove where a custodian (Sikhism doesn’t have priests) reads from the holy book, the Guru Granth Sahib. It’s like a holy version of Amsterdam’s Red Light District, I somewhat blasphemously thought.
As I travelled south, further into the heart of India, I began to experience the gorgeous architecture of Hindu temples. Some can be quite simple shrines to a god or goddess, while others are magnificent affairs, with towers reaching up to the heavens resplendent with images of gods, goddesses, demons, and monsters.
I’ve been told there are more than 300 million gods and goddesses in the Hindu religion, and that no one can recite them all. (I’m not sure if this is because it would take too long to actually name them all, or if there physically is no comprehensive list anywhere in the world.
Sometimes the sculpture reliefs adorning the temples can be a tad naughty! (I sadly never made it to the Khajuraho temples – that’s for next time – but I did still see a few examples.
And while I do love the temples, I have come across some wayward “priests” who seem to have forgotten the true meaning of their respective religions. For example, in Ranakpur Jain Temple, a priest came up to me while I was listening to the audioguide (which was coincidentally in the process of telling me how Jainism is about letting go of materialism, consumerism, etc) and asked if he could pray for me. I never say no to someone who wants to pray for me – unless they’re trying to pray away the gay, but that’s another story – so I said yes but then I had a thought. Perhaps it was my Catholic upbringing nagging at me with the memory of the historical practice of selling indulgences.
So before he started, I said, “Oh, but I don’t have any rupees.” He paused, and then gestured around to the other tourists nearby saying, “Well maybe your friends do…” Smelling a rat, I said, “No, none of us have any rupees.” And with that he turned around and walked away without a word.
Seriously?!? I thought. You’re a priest. You’re supposed to be doing God’s work, but you’ll only do it for money?
Another time, in Pushkar at one of the few temples devoted to the Hindu god Brahma, a supposed priest at the temple began guiding us around. We told him we had no money with us right at the start, repeatedly, but he just kept saying. “No problem, no problem.”
Of course, once he’d finished showing us around he proceeded to ask for money. But not just “a donation of our choosing” – more specifically like 500 ($10) or 1000 ($20) rupees. We said no – especially as he wanted us to give it to him personally and not put it in the designated donation boxes for the temple, which is what we were planning to do and told him we would do. So he started berating us, saying we were bad people, etc, etc. It was highly unpleasant and left a bad taste in my mouth. Again, is this what real religion is supposed to be about??
But it’s not all like that. While someone hanging around the temple who tries to enthusiastically show you around should be viewed with suspicion, there have been times I’ve struck up conversations with fellow visitors – both foreign and local – to the temple and had a lovely time exploring with them. And often swearing under our breathes as we run across the scorching hot tiled floors in our bare feet!! 🙂
But it’s almost always worth it!
On Saturday, I left Kandy and the hill country of Sri Lanka to embark on a tour of the ancient cities. After climbing up to see the giant Buddha in Kandy, and doing some more climbing in Dambulla, I arrived at Sigiriya – a UNESCO-listed World Heritage Site. A palace and ancient capital built on top of a giant rock, it’s one of the best examples of ancient urban planning, at least according to Wikipedia. Here’s a photo essay of my journey:
Subtitle: And other questions it’s apparently appropriate to ask within 5 minutes of meeting someone
This proposed book title could work for both India and Sri Lanka, and likely a lot of other countries I just haven’t experienced yet.
It’s taken some getting used to, the cultural differences here. Here’s an example of the type of questions I regularly get asked, basically the first or second thing someone says to me after “hello”:
Are you married?
How many children? (note – I was not asked IF I have children or if I was married. This was literally the first question, which kinda made me feel old…)
How many kgs? 70? (This is one I refused to answer by saying I don’t know, because I actually don’t know my weight in kg)
Where’s husband? (Ugh, like I need to be supervised while travelling)
Do you have a boyfriend? (I usually just say yes to this to get people off my back)
You travelling alone? (to which, for safety’s sake, I invent some friends I’m about to meet up with)
This is usually the regular sequence of events:
“You how old?” or “What age?”
Followed alternately by “Oh…….” And an implication that that is too old to not be married and there’s something wrong with me. Although, sometimes people have said, “Oh, you’re still young.” Other times, like yesterday, these questions are followed by, “Why you no married?”
And then I’m left feeling like I need to justify my life choices to total strangers.
I know, I know, there are cultural differences here and the people asking me these questions (usually) do not mean to offend. They are merely curious about me, a foreign visitor in their country.
And I often respond by asking them the same questions, to at least even things out a little bit.
But it can’t help but make me feel a bit vulnerable. Because, for me, there’s another element to these questions. I’m a <gasp!> lesbian and that is not always a safe thing to admit. Sometimes I feel like this journey is putting me into the closet, for the first time, really, in my life. Which is why I SO love when I can be around fellow LGBT people! I enter that space being myself, not needing to come out or feel like I’m hiding anything.
Of course, I don’t have to come out when someone asks if I’m married. I can just say no. Even if they ask me about a boyfriend or husband, I can just say no. But the thing is, being gay is a part of my identity. It’s not my whole identity. But it’s there. And denying it or consciously thinking, “Ok, I can’t tell them I’m gay,” hurts for two reasons:
(1) I don’t want to have to deny any part of who I am, especially a part of which I’m not ashamed.
(2) It’s quite hurtful to know that, in all likelihood, the same people who might be friendly with me and enjoying my company at the moment would feel very differently if they knew that one aspect of my identity.
I interviewed one Sri Lankan woman the other day, who identifies as bisexual, and she put it quite well: “Being queer is a big part of who I am. I don’t want people to assume I’m straight.” She’s currently in a relationship with a man and therefore people believe that she’s now straight, that her former same-sex relationships were just a phase.
I have a lot more thoughts about TWG – or “travelling while gay” as I put it. That will be in another blog post, likely entitled “That Time I Accidentally Came Out to a Minister and Then He Felt Comfortable Enough to Tell Me He Wanted to Experiment with Viagra and Vibrators.””
For now, I think I’m just going to start saying my husband cheated on me and I don’t want to talk about it. Then everyone can feel uncomfortable. 😉
Or, better yet, this could be a good conversation:
“Why you no married?”
“Drat, I knew I forgot something!!”
Next up in the Book Titles Series (a positive one, I promise):