After a nearly a week among the ruins and relative quiet of the towns of the of the “cultural triangle,” I boarded a bus and headed to Kandy. Kandy is the cultural center of Sri Lanka, a not so big city on a lake, with lots of traffic and the ubiquitous honking of tuktuks, busses, cars and motorbikes, signaling and warning each other along the narrow roads at all hours. It is home to the most sacred of Sri Lankan sites – the Temple of the Tooth. Three times a day a puja ceremony is held and the sacred relic – a tooth of the Buddha, is brought out (actually just a gold casket where the tooth is kept) and hundreds of worshippers bring offerings and visitors file past for glimpse.
I spent my first afternoon in town aimlessly wandering, stumbling upon some colonial architecture and people watching (and maybe some shopping). The second day, with the help of my very gracious host at the guest house, I arranged for a tuktuk driver to take me on the temple loop - three 700-year old temples that lie outside the city, along with a stop at the giant buddha that overlooks the town and a walk through the 140-acre botanical gardens. I ended the day at the evening puja (along with everyone else in town).
As a solo traveler I get asked lots of questions by drivers, seatmates on the bus and people waiting in train stations. Some of the questions are pretty innocuous, where are you from, do you have a family, or don’t you have a driver’s license; but some seem a bit forward by western standards, like how old are you, how much money do you make at your job and why aren’t you married?
Travelling alone requires a certain amount of vigilance – tracking my belongings, not putting myself in certain situations. On the other hand, I have to be open to these questions, to being curious and being the curiosity. If I am willing to share, I can ask questions in return, about their family, their history, work and lives. I learn that your religion in Sri Lanka is determined by the religion of your father, that owning a tuktuk costs $5000, so many drivers work for companies or rent their tuk tuks, that a good wage is 1500 rupees/day ($10), that most Sri Lankans spend Sundays with family, they think their country is beautiful and they are grateful for peace after 13 years of civil war; that tourism is good, but also hard.
I also learn what they think of Americans, what they know and don’t know. (I had a long conversation with a man in the train station about animals – the fact that we did not have leopards and elephants was a surprise.) Generally, Americans are liked, but there are not as many American tourists compared to Europeans. Mostly they don’t think America is interested in them. I hope that’s not true. So, I will keep asking questions, and answering theirs.