Inspiration on Sigiriya Rock

I’ve always held the belief that the perception of time slows down when one travels, but the opposite seems to be true these days. In the past month, my journeys have taken me from Sri Lanka to Thailand to China and, home to Taiwan, and now Hong Kong. It all seems like a blur at this point, but there’s too much happening to slow down. In just a few days, my cousin will be getting married to a Cantonese man. They met when she was still a shy 16 year-old boarding school student. Nearly 10 years later, they are finally tying the knot in what will be the first wedding in the Ferng family in over 25 years—even more the reason to celebrate!

In the meantime, I’ll be playing catch-up on all the stories yet to be told from the long journey from Ethiopia to Taipei. Since we’re in full throttle wedding-prep mode right now, I’ll just share a quick highlight from Sri Lanka.

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Located in the  central region of Sri Lanka, Sigiriya Rock is a massive rock column that rises nearly 200m high above ground. Technically it’s the molten core of an erupted volcano, which you would think would be nothing more than an impressive sight from below……. except not. In the 6th century BC, a  Singhalese King was ambitious (or crazy?) enough to build an entire palace on top of the rock. (To be fair, if I’d killed my own father and stolen the throne from my brother, I’d probably be paranoid enough to build a super fortified base on top of a volcano rock, too.) The complex was later converted into a buddhist monastery, which was used until it was abandoned in the 14th century.

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The rock from a distance

To beat the tourist rush, we arrived bright and early at 7am. There were only a handful of visitors around as we entered the site.

As I waited by the ticket booth, a group of men came up to the counter. In the middle of the pack was a lean, blonde gentleman probably in his late 30s or early 40s. He might have blended in with the other visitors if it weren’t for one unusual observation:  he seemed unable to walk on his own. Under each of his arms was another man carefully supporting his body weight.

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“I know this is going to be difficult, but I have to do this. I need to do this while I still can,” the man explained to his companions.

I was within earshot and his comment piqued my interest, but I decided to be respectful and not intrude. So we journeyed on, leaving the group of men behind us. (Don’t worry, we’ll return to him later.)

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At the entrance at the base.

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The final stretch before the summit — a rock on top of a rock!

The hike up was nearly vertical the entire way and absolutely stunning.  At one point we passed a wall of beautiful ancient frescoes:

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After about an hour of leisurely climbing, we finally arrived at the top. It was a beautiful day — bright and clear with visibility for miles in all directions. We hung out there for a long time, wandering through the palace ruins, sitting under trees, and relaxing by the remains of a swimming pool.

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Just as we decided to start heading down the rock, we spotted a familiar figure. The blonde man and his entourage had finally arrived. We had started at around 7:30am and walked up leisurely in about an hour’s time. By the time we saw them again, it was already almost 11am. Clearly it had been an enormous amount of effort on their part. This time, I approached him and introduced myself.

As it turned out, the man was named Richard Blease and he was a writer from the UK. I didn’t have to ask about his situation — he was very upfront and explained it immediately:  he had secondary progressive multiple-sclerosis (SPMS).

For those of you who are unfamiliar with MS, it’s a chronic disease that attacks the central nervous system, bringing a host of disabilities from numbness to immobility. When the disease progresses to SPMS, the patient no longer recovers from attacks, but rather accumulates ever-worsening disabilities. In Richard’s case, the disease had left him with an inability to balance himself without support.

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Despite his condition, Richard was in high spirits and extremely positive. He spoke of his love for travel and how he had climbed Machu Picchu long before he discovered he had MS. Nowadays, his goal is to continue exploring the world and to not let MS hold him back.

There’s not much more to say about him, except that I was incredibly moved by this encounter. Richard isn’t out there to tell a motivational story or to inspire people. If you google his name, you’d find nothing about him. But the fact that he is fighting to live a fulfilling, exciting life, even if it means climbing up a steep rock halfway around the world at 3x the normal pace and supported by two other men…. that’s a truly remarkable person if I ever met one. A model for all of us to follow.

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