I may have said this before but for good measure, and because I still remain whole heartedly convinced, I believe that you can tell a lot about a country from two things: the toilets and public transportation. Take Japan and its heated seats and complext water spraying devices plus its jam packed but efficient bullet trains and then compare this to the squatters that never have toilet paper and equally crowded but far less efficient trains of China. Sometimes, of course, these qualities are not national but regional or limited to a certain city but I SWEAR there is a pattern of predictability, a direct correlation between the essence of a country and its trains/toilets. I’ve begun to catalog the places I’ve visited according o these qualities: squatters or toilets? toilet paper or hose? Clean or dirty? Stalls or troughs? Wet or dry? The end result paints an accurate picture of a country if you know what your looking for. So far, Sri Lankan toilets are western style, fairly clean, but always wet due to the hose washing technique and lack of seperate shower in hotels. The transportation system is CRAZY and irregular. Public transportation really only margionally exists in the form of three wheelers (that will be referred to as tuktuks from now on) wobbly, slow moving tin trains and buses prone to breaking down and late arrivals. Now, based on my trains and toilets theory, what type of country does this mark Sir Lanka as? I’ll let you decide. This much I can tell you from the 4 days I’ve spent here so far… It Is Beautiful. Drop dead gorgeous actually. The traffic is loud and caotic but thats really because there is only one road so everyone crams onto it. There are no real cities (not compared to most Asian cities at least) but instead the entire country is actually jungle and or tea plantations. I’ll say it again because I’m actually having a hard time wrapping my head around it…the jungle is no just in reserves or on the outskirts of towns but in the heart of homes, schools and communities. Everything weaves its way around the palm trees, the canopy, the tropical birds and chattering monkeys. They are strung together and if they leave marks on one another they’re shallow and unobtrusive. That be said, I’ve been here 4 days. There is a lot I don’t know or understand.
On a completley different observational footnote: I haven’t quite placed my finger on the religious scene in Sri Lanka yet. It is a spiritual place…you can feel that before you see it. I love the ritual of religion, watching people transform into entirley different beings through prayer and offerings. It would appear, although I know this is rare and unlikely, that buddism, islam, catholisism and hindi co-exist harmoniously, without an over obvious majority. In Kandy there is a famous temple, Temple of the Tooth, where it is rumoured to house one of the molars of the Lord Buddha, smuggled into Sri Lanka in the hair of a princess. It is marked as one of the most revered pilgramage spots that a Buddist will make in their lifetime. The tooth is housed in an intricate golded casket that 3 seperate high priests have the key for. You need all three to sucsessful open it. You can’t see the golden tooth house within the tooth temple though…instead you look at the house, that houses the tooth house that houses the tooth. My personal favorite part of the tooth temple took the form of flowers. Jasmine, water lillies and orchid shaped offerings where lain on tables laden with prayer. Right beside the tooth temple was a hindi temple…and right beside the hindi temple was a catholic church. If disharmony existed between these places of worship it was lost on me…it seems that people here have their priorities straight.
And now I’m off to catch a wobbly train from the heart of the tea country hills into the outskirts.