Thursday, November 24, 2011

Elie Crossings: A hike through Ganapativanum

I love this street sign. 
A warning to those new to Sri Lankan country driving: NEVER honk at an elephant crossing the road, thinking that will make it cross faster. They are not cows. And they could get upset and turn your car over.
I heard that this actually happened to one unfortunate Sewalanka driver who was new and hadn't been much out of Colombo.   

Lawrence and Shani of Hansa Coffee--my favorite Sri Lanka coffee company--came up for a visit to Islander last week. We took a hike around the land in the area known as an elephant corridor, called Ganapativanum.
Fittingly, one of the first things you come across is a Ganesh shrine by side of the dirt road there.

A native of Seattle, Lawrence has an amazing knowledge of the island's flora and fauna. While on this hike, I enjoyed the many tidbits of trivia he'd pull out about one nondescript plant after another..."This is for snakebite." "This is an aphrodisiac." He's an experienced herbalist, and someone I wish I had in my back pocket to pull out now and then.

A delicate Sri Lankan Passionflower and bud.

Amanda points out weaver birds' nests. We found one that had fallen off the tree, and I brought it back to my work space.
 (It now functions as a convenient duster, unfortunately).

An idyllic elephant look-out amidst rice paddy fields. This place looks like a heaven for poets.
As you might imagine, elephants can wreak havoc on crops.

Lawrence's foot vs. Elephant foot

Mushrooms growing in cow dung.

Here's another elephant look-out. 

Here's Steve, attempting to get into that treehouse. 

This hand-carved stone belongs to the time of the Anuradhapura kings. It was used in the dam system to irrigate the paddy fields year-round, although we don't know exactly what it did.

The Islander lake at dawn.

The view from the entrance at sunset. 

Saturday, November 19, 2011

The Gala

This is the piece showing at the Tibet House in NYC this Saturday, Nov. 19. Its on auction to benefit the International Network of Engaged Buddhists future art programs, and was created in Bodh Gaya this past month during the International Arts Gathering set-up by the International Network of Engaged Buddhists (INEB). I've been remiss in posting pictures from that conference, but needless to say it was a crucible kind of experience. 

Tents were set-up in the courtyard, tables and stands in each dormitory hallway. There was paint, canvas, paper, and clay strew about the various buildings.
Thirty-three of us creative-types, plus at least a half-dozen INEB organizers, descended upon Wat Thai Buddhagaya for seven days. We came in by bus, train and air from seven different countries. We barely shared any one language (except of course, the language of art). Needless to say, the poor monks and nuns had no idea what they'd signed up for when they agree to host us. 

We held performances and slideshows in the dining hall hours after the nuns went to bed. 

We sketched each and every nook and cranny.

We explored the art in new temples being built.

We visited holy sites. This is on Vulture Peak, where the Buddha first taught the Heart Sutra.

We had impromptu photo op sessions on the roof of buildings.

Some of us made absolutely incredible art.

We were inspired by the company of holy men, who were also artists.

We got our hands dirty.

We came with some pretty incredible work all ready to exhibit.

In short, we worked hard and had a blast. I met an incredible array of artists working in South and Southeast Asia. It was really a kind of cross-cultural Buddhist art college of sorts. It was a remarkable opportunity to be exposed to multiple traditions at once. Here's a list of us all:

Thai artists included Bhanuwat Kittivuthikarn, Mareeya Dumronophol, Apisak Wattiwanpol and Somyot Kumsang, Sitthichai Smanchat, Supot Singhasai, Surasak Rodphrohboon, Suwat, Saenkattiyarant, Chatchawan Rodklongtan, Lipikorn Makaew, Phra Pol Kuwiangwai, Peap Vara Misara Prakitsilpa, Plaek Kitfuangfoo, Boonrat Na-Wichai, Pornchai Chaima, Sone Simatrang, and Songdej Thipthong.
Indian artists included Kaustav Paul, who studies ceramics at Visva Bharati University in Santiniketan, and Bodh Gaya artists Anish Kumar, who studied Tibetan thanka painting in Nepal, and Jagjeevan Kumar, who is a self-taught artist.
Wang Jian and Zhang Hong hailed from the Guangzhou Academy of Fine Arts in China. Nguyen Xuan Viet came from Vietnam. Tiane Vilayphonechith and Chaleunphone Phonnabouth traveled from Laos. Zaw Win came from Burma and I flew in from the United States.

Friday, November 11, 2011

What a way to dry clothes!

Its 11-11-11. I just have to say that. It may mean absolutely nothing, and pass without much event. But if you believe in the beauty of numbers, of the stars, calendars, serendipity and the universe, then perhaps its significant. At the very least, its poetic. Happy 11-11-11!

(I saw her, perched on the side of this cliff, above a river on the road from Bodh Gaya to Rajgir. And I was amazed.)

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Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Bathing with Crocs

I loved the bouquet of flowers this driver stashed in his tuktuk. Even three-wheeler drivers talk on their phones and drive. This road to Islander isn't paved, so it was like riding a bucking bronco on top of that! 

The locals bathe and wash clothes in the lake everyday, unafraid of a family of crocodiles that lives here too. The baby is over 5 feet long. They said the crocodiles don't bother them. (No, I haven't gone in yet.)

One tree on the lake is the evening abode of two different flocks. Black birds (which sleep in the upper half) and white cranes (which sleep on the lower branches).

Almost full moon rising over Islander.

Sunday, November 06, 2011

Free to Roam

Back to the present... Yesterday I made the early morning journey from Colombo to Islander, Sewalanka's retreat center just an hour from Anuradhapura. I have to say, it feels a bit like I'm on a safari--I've seen more wildlife in my first two days here than I've seen in the last two years. On an hour-long walk before sunset yesterday, we saw peacocks flying around the jungle, monkeys playing in the trees, a kingfisher catch a fish, a green hornbill, a star tortoise, butterflies, giant dragonflies, frogs, a miniature scorpion, and geckos galore. Today, on a day trip to Anuradhapura, our bus whizzed by a family of three wild elephants stomping into a poor farmer's rice paddies. Unfortunately, I was only ready with my camera to catch a few of these marvelous beasts... so here is a tortoise, some people, geckos, and cute puppies. 

The setting sun caught this tree so dramatically on our trail, I had to take a picture.

A family from the surrounding village stopped to say hello.

Somewhere between the 5th century BC and 11th century AD, the Anuradhaphura engineers built brilliantly calibrated irrigation systems that kept farmland watered year-round. The British were flabergasted when they discovered them, as no such system existed in the Western world. Islander is built around one such "bund" and they have excavated it out of the jungle.

Peacock tracks. 
 Front porch friends.

Amanda, my host and Sewalanka figure for 10 years, having lunch with Govinda, a Korean volunteer at Islander. (Apparently, Indian friends named him after the Bollywood movie star.) 

Other than about 30 Sri Lankans, my company consists of two Korean volunteers and a French expat, Arnoud, who makes amazing ice cream. (More on that later.)
Minju's interior insect fortress. 
There are no screens whatsoever at Islander, and the roofs are lofted above the walls for airflow. A fabulous design, except for the faint of heart. 

Path to the dining hall.

Resident cuteness

Husking coconuts

Path lined by a living fence, newly trimmed.