Soup to Nuts, February 19, 2006

Although Lily cooks wonderfully for us, she is off on Tuesdays, and we are on our own. Pizza Hut is available, and they love to deliver. About five dollars for a heck-of-a vegetarian delight pizza with extra cheese, which seems expensive to us. We've gotten serious about pasta again because it is so good and good for us too.

Pottery bells silent wind chime hanging outside our window

We usually shop nearby, but, one day, we wanted some decent potatoes for baking and some other special vegetables and fruit, so we went to Kandy Central Market with Lily. Asian markets are certainly different from supermarkets, and unlike American "Farmer's Markets." Each country has a different style, and each city is different again. Of course, there's always lots of space devoted to sacks of different grades of rice (Sri Lankan rice is red or white, short grained, quite different from India, or Southeast Asian. No sticky rice either, sorry to say!) Various colors and shapes of eggplants, tomatoes, lady's fingers (okra), onions, garlic, ginger, spices, cabbages, cauliflower, broccoli, fat cucumbers, gourds, and a myriad of exotic vegetables. We wanted zucchini for our pasta sauce, but there was none available that day. We did find some celery (very thin and puny), however, which added a nice, homey flavor to our tomato sauce, with Italian herbs from Australia.

The old part of Kandy Market is open in the center, with flowering trees and bushes in the courtyard, and a sign hanging that says "Please do not sit on the pipes" which everybody obeys. The courtyard is surrounded by rings of shops selling staples, canned and packaged goods, cooking oils, rice, vegetables, and spices. It's quiet and quite civilized, but, of course, prices in these shops are more expensive than in the bargain stalls outside. Both men and women shop, and everybody is decently and modestly dressed. Even when crowded, the market is easy to walk through, without any jostling. We're getting a little better at figuring out who is who; Muslim men have beards; Hindu women often wear gold nose rings; Kandyan Sinhalese women wear their saris in a special way; Muslim women wear head scarves. For the rest, we can't be sure who is who. Before the troubles (from the communist uprising and its suppression to the "Sinhala only" movement and the Tamil civil war) people were apparently very easy-going. Now there is more than enough politics and communal suspicion to last a long, long time. We can't really put our fingers on it, but we know it's there.

After we'd gotten what we needed from the shops, we proceeded to the newer area, which is packed full of stalls which are set up and taken down each day. To get to the bargain area, though, we had to walk through the meat department with lots of halal meat, carcasses hanging from hooks (not to sound too partisan, but in the midday heat the odor was nauseating--enough to drive a sensitive carnivore to vegetarianism).

The new section was all under a tin roof but the aisles were narrow, and it was very noisy. Sellers stood in the midst of their produce, scales at the ready, and called out to customers. If we even glanced as we passed a stall, the seller caught our eyes and asked, "What do you want, Sir? What do you want, Madam?" Heaps of beans, smallish potatoes, intriguing greens, pumpkins, bananas, plantains, and much more, all at low prices. Further outside, in a jumble on the sidewalks, it was a hawker's paradise of even plainer vegetables and fruits., and prices were even lower.

The three of us carried everything back to our waiting tuk-tuk. Visakha was surprised that there were no porters for hire to bear everything for us like in the huge Calcutta market. Sri Lanka just doesn't have manual laborers at beck and call like India.

Speaking of India, Ken was researching hotels for our stay in Hyderabad before we go to DJ's wedding. Online, he found that the two really cheap hotels listed were, in fact, no longer open for business. India is not a particularly cheap destination anymore. Of course, we've gotten older and used to more comfort (swimming pools!) and privacy (solid floor to ceiling walls) than we found acceptable during our trip in '78, but in Bangkok, the Burapa is only $15, and the Manohra, a real tourist hotel with a pool is only $20. The best deal we could find in Hyderabad was about half what we pay for a business hotel with a pool in the US. Then there are the two Taj Hotels--steals at $420 and $574 per night! Who, pray tell, can afford that! And WHY?

Best Western Amrutha Castle,
where we are staying in Hyderabad
$39.95 a night

And then there's the Great Eastern Hotel in Calcutta. We remember going there for lunch in 1979, and it was an amazing place. First opened in 1840, it was really the jewel of the east, spanning all those historically rich years. Sadly, when the Marxists took power in Bengal that was the end of the Great Eastern. We tried to stay there in 2001 when we first visited Bodhisukha School, but the majestic hotel was pathetic, boarded up and covered with graffiti, announcing (in English, Bengali, and Hindi) that the staff were on strike. Even before it closed for good, the clocks behind the reception desk in the lobby still announced the times for London, NY, Beijing, and Tokyo, but not one of them was correct! Well, the Great Eastern has been sold to a private owner (the Marxist way?), reportedly for eleven million dollars! When will it be renovated and reopened? Estimates vary, but we hope we can stop by and see a bit of history while we're in Kolkata, the city where nothing much works.

Last Sunday, we went with Savithri to a lecture on rebirth. The featured speaker was a professor from Iceland who has done twenty plus years of research, including some in Sri Lanka. Although everything started late (a hoary Sri Lankan tradition evidently) and the sound system gave the organizers some problems, it was an extremely provocative talk given to a full house. We had expected the professor's strongest cases to be local, but au contraire, the most compelling example came from Lebanon. A young boy named Nazih was consistent in his statements to everyone, even though none of it was encouraged by his parents. Like most children who feel they are not in the right family, Nazih begin talking about his previous life at around 2 years of age. He was a Druze (a secretive Arab religious sect in Lebanon) and repeatedly talked about how he was not small, he was big. He had many pistols and grenades. He claimed that he was a fearless, strong person. He had small children, and he wanted to go and see them. He had been shot. He told his mother that his wife had much more beautiful eyes "than you!" He described having a house in Quaberchamon, another town. Finally, when he was seven, his family took him there. He described an intersection with five roads, directed them to take the road to the left, and then go up the hill. His house was at the top. Everything was as he had described. The family met the widow and children who lived there, and all the details matched what Nazih had said. The widow tested him, asking who had built the gate, and the boy answered correctly. When the brother-in-law asked what present he had been given, Nazih replied promptly: it was an unusual handgun. He was also able to pick things belonging to the deceased from among other similar items. He had been a bodyguard to Walid Jumblatt, and had been assassinated by Phalangist. There were plenty of newspaper writeups of the assassination, and all the facts corresponded; in fact, Nazih had a birthmark on his hand, corresponding to the spot on the victim's hand which the bullet had passed before hitting his head. A remarkable bit of research, and we couldn't help but wonder how various communities and religions that don't believe in rebirth account for this degree of correspondence.

Another interesting case was Sri Lankan. A young girl talked about her earlier life in Kelaniya, near the great temple. Her family made incense and had no other work. Their factory was at home. She named the brands of incense, and described dying as she rode her bicycle. The professor checked on families making incense near Kelaniya, found one whose brand-name exactly matched exactly what the girl said. Several years earlier a man in the family (we saw photos) had been struck and killed by a large lorry while on his bicycle. Other details fit too. The girl had a birthmark across her chest which corresponded to the tire marks from the truck that had struck the deceased. Since these are scientific investigations, the professor made no speculation as to the implications of rebirth. He explained his methodology and observed that most of the strongest cases involved violent deaths, either accidents or murders. He said that most of the children who claim memories of previous births from an early age will probably entirely forget those memories by the age of eight, if no investigation is performed. We later visited his website at University of Iceland and found hundreds upon hundreds of cases, some conclusive, others apparently dead ends, leading nowhere. Fascinating stuff!

Our ID photo for SERVAS

On the musical-homes front, the house next door is being cleaned up and fixed up after the earlier renters moved out. The owners, our landlady's sister and brother in law, had to take a small rental house up the road when we came (everybody shifted!) because their own house next door was occupied. They had expected that the Tamil couple who rented it would keep it for some years. When they learned the couple was moving out, they were really surprised and inconvenienced. Surprise turned to irritation when the couple admitted that the house was way beyond their budget and that they knew that when they first agreed to rent it. They "wanted a nice house to impress the relatives when they visited from India! So they would think we were doing very well financially." Neither smart nor very nice, but that's life!

We have taught our last classes at Subodharama until we return from India. For our finale, we arranged two tuk-tuks and transported our TV, DVD player, and speakers, plus assorted extension cords and set everything up for a showing of "Strive on with Diligence." These days, to avoid the horrible rush hour traffic (mainly school service vans and buses transporting children to school) we take the back road by the WWII cemetery. It runs right above the river and there is spectacular scenery, fresh air, and spectacular pot holes too. The road less taken is usually pretty bumpy! Actually, the reason for the potholes is that the road passes a stone/gravel quarry where the mountain is being dug or blasted away. Those trucks are HEAVY!

The monks and novices seemed to enjoy the video. The English was far beyond them, but the subject was familiar, and they could follow where the pictures came from. There was a particularly strong silence when the picture of the body of the refugee whose throat was cut came on the screen.

Because our friends at the MahaBodhi Book Agency in Kolkata are the primary publishers of Dhamma books in Bengali, we offered to bring back books for the novices and monks from Bangladesh. When we first asked what them what they wanted, they asked for the Patimokkha in Bengali. After our last class, we asked again and basically they said, "Everything!" Fair enough! We'll bring back as much as we can carry.

Ken has also been researching archeological sites in the vicinity of Hyderabad, but we already know what we'll find in South India. There are Buddhist ruins under virtually every Hindu temple, no surprises there. The massive stupa of Amaravati, some of the bits and pieces of it in the museum in Chennai give some indication of the size and extent of that glory of the ancient Indian world.

We appreciated a recent article by a Sri Lankan poet living in Canada in which he expressed his wish that the Muslim world would have shown regret and outrage at the destruction of the Bamiyan Buddha images by the Taliban. Had they done so, he might be more sympathetic to their sense of injury at the disrespectful cartoons in Denmark. Ah, but religious sensitivities usually only extend to one's own faith; mores the pity. Having read and enjoyed Salman Rushdie, we really don't like censorship, especially the sort of censorship that proposes to kill the offending artist.

Ven. Bodhidharma, from UK, and Ven. Nyanatusita, Feb 22, 2006

So the vice president (sic) shot his friend. Bet there was alcohol involved! Otherwise, why didn't he go to the hospital, if he was so very concerned. Went to an undisclosed location to have dinner and sober up. No breath test? Cheney must take a plethora of pills, with his heart condition. Bet each and every bottle warns against drinking while using that medication. No takers? Wise not to bet against a sure thing.

Who isn't worried about global warming? Obviously Bush isn't. But then he's not paying attention to the state of the world, is he? Knowing what happened to the Maldives and so many other places in the tsunami, we have an inkling of what is coming when Greenland's glaciers slide into the sea and arctic icebergs calve into our oceans. Goodbye to life as we knew it! And as the oceans rise, it is also a case of water, water everywhere and not a drop to drink! Just wondering why people drink bottled water where tap water is safe? We boil and filter our water so that it is safe. Still, supermarkets everywhere are full of bottles of water. Obviously, there is great waste in bottled water, the cost of bottling, the polluting packaging, but still the profits keep the scam going. In parts of Kenya and Somalia even the camels are dying of thirst--people are drinking their urine, rationing is 3 glasses per day in temps over a hundred degrees. Just wondering: Is this the future for us all?

Obviously, none of us is going to get out of this alive! What else can we do but avoid evil, do good, and purify our minds. We decided not to wait until we got back from India to resume our meditation group. Students of the Lotus sits again! Begun years ago in Japan, moved to Flint, and now in Sri Lanka. We meet once a week, reading something useful in English, taking refuge and precepts, meditating, and sharing merit afterwards. There may be other groups around Kandy, but everything we've found is in Sinhalese, so why not meet at home! Our first meeting was very good. We miss our old gang back in Flint though. Hope they are still getting together. When they visit us here in Kandy, they'll certainly feel at home!

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