Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Eat Pray Love - the Island behind the book

Jamie at On the Mat recently posted a nice review of the book/movie event, Eat Pray Love.

I have to say that the book fell a bit flat for me, although I did read it until the end.  I enjoyed the bits about Bali because I go there often and recognized many of the places, but I couldn't really relate to Gilbert's character, and I didn't find myself warming to her.  Maybe that's because I've never been through a divorce.  Maybe I'm just a different kind of person in the way I deal with hardship in my life.  I did like the wise words of the Texan yoga dude though.  I wish HE would write a book!

Anyway, as a spin off to Jamie's post, I have definitely been affected by the side affect of this book that she mentions - the people who are now going on copy-cat vacations and yes, you guessed it, ending up in Ubud, Bali, one of my favourite and often frequented (it's only 1.5 hours away by plane) vacation spots!  Not that there's anything wrong with that - Ubud is a tourist mecca and not exactly private anyway! - but really, there are only so many western women looking to find themselves (and a hot Brazilian second husband wouldn't hurt...) who can hang around in any one small Balinese town! ;)

I guess the thing that bothers me is that some of these visitors are traveling to far-flung places but are not really as interested in discovering those places as in finding themselves.  Now there's nothing wrong with soul-searching, but if you are going to come to someone else's home, why not learn a bit about it?  Get to know some of the locals? Learn about the history and politics of the place, the struggles and joys of its people?  I know Gilbert did this to some extent in her book, and that's great, but I have met people in Bali who don't even know that Bali is part of the Republic of Indonesia!  Really.

Last time I was in Ubud I met a woman on one such soul quest.  When I told her that I lived in East Timor (blank look), an island south-east of Bali, she looked at me and breathily oozed: "oooooooh, is it just PARADISE?".  I hardly even knew how to respond.  The words sort of stumbled out and I mumbled, "oh, it's not as nice as here", and moved off.  It wasn't her fault that she wasn't aware of the poverty, hardship and suffering (or existence at all), of the people in East Timor.   But what I wanted to say was "no... and neither is Bali".

Because Bali, while it may seem like paradise (and I'll be interested to see how it comes across in the film), is just a place like anywhere else.  Behind the glossy tourist facades, there is a harder life, too.  Corruption, harsh political realities and the constant struggle against poverty are just as much a reality here as many other places in the Indonesian archipelago.

Just sayin...  Satya, they yogic principle of truthfulness, is also about seeing the world as it is, in all its multi-layered complexity.  Not seeing only what you want to be true.


  1. Amen! Thanks so much for this post. I have to agree with you. Love your is really lovely!

  2. Great post, thanks!
    My boss often goes to Bali and can't stop telling us how this island is beautiful and how we should go there because it is paradise (for info, we live in Belgium, not so easy or cheap for us common people ;-)). But I guess he goes to places where all the things you describe are carefully hidden from his wealthy man's eyes.
    I'm not saying it's not a beautiful place, I do believe it is, but just like the rest of the world, it's not perfect.

  3. I feel like that about Australia. Everyone in the UK seems to think it's some sort of paradise where you can lie on the beach and the beer flows from the taps. But it's like any other western country, granted it's more laid back than the US, but it has it's own issues, racism and bigotry, poverty and segregation... Like you say, it's a place like any other.

    Australia will always have my heart, but it ain't perfect by any means.

  4. LOVE this post. It's so interesting to have your perspective as the "local" meeting the "traveler". I'd be interested to see how balanced you find the portrayal of Bali in the movie. Thoughtful, as always : )

  5. Great post. I love reading what you write about East Timor and Bali.

  6. @Lila - Thanks for reading! :)

    @Sabrina - Hi and thanks for commenting! I love 'meeting' new readers. :)

    @Emma - Yes, Bali is a stunningly beautiful place. And the Balinese are amazing people. All I'm saying is, it's only 'paradise' if you're a wealthy western tourist. For the Balinese, it's just home. With all the ups and downs and everything else that comes with life.

    @Rachel - Oh, goodness, don't they watch enough Home and Away to know that life in Oz is one big surfing drama?! ;) Besides, beer only flows from the taps in cricket season... :D :D

    @Jamie - I am hardly a 'local' in Bali... I don't even speak Indonesian! But I try as much as I can to make connections with people and find out about their real lives... Not the "made-for-tourist-TV" versions that they are so skilled at presenting. I have been going back for 6 years now, so it's easier for me to see things that many first-time tourists wouldn't. Anyway I'm really looking fwd to the movie!

    @Babs - Thanks! :) I'll try to keep it coming. :)

  7. WOnderful post. Yes, there is no one dimensional truth anywhere. Not even within myself!

  8. While I enjoyed both the book and movie, I also feel conflicted about the Western white woman going to exotic places to find herself. But, the thing that I do appreciate is that Gilbert is able to capture the strife that so many Western woman face, and she writes about it honestly (I think) and finds it in herself to do something about it and go after her dream. This doesn't mean the book is perfect, but it is a good reminder that we control our destiny ... that we don't have to leave it in another's hands, and I think this is what people are responding to and need to hear. In this way, I think it's very positive.

    All that said, while they did capture the economic hardship of India, they did not do this with Bali, and I'm not sure if it's because Gilbert herself didn't venture into any of these parts or something else. I think people are so desperate to escape the sometimes ugliness of our society that they enter another only wanting to see what's beautiful about it, which is not to say it's okay, but I understand to a degree. I agree with you that we need to see a culture in its multifaceted nature (I write about Brazil, my homecountry, in this way), but unfortunately our society conditions Americans to be afraid of poverty in general ... they don't know HOW to understand. Perhaps the question is, how do we change that?

    I hope you are doing well these days.

    Much love,


  9. Oh, in the second paragraph, I was talking about the book ... sorry I didn't make that clear!


  10. @ Kimberly - Yes, so true! And thanks for stopping by. :)

    @ Juliana - I agree with you completely - the beauty of Gilbert's book is indeed her honesty and willingness to put herself on the page with all her faults and quirks. I appreciate that humility and I think she comes out well for it. :)

    I think that compared to many places it's easy to let yourself go in Bali. It is a stunningly beautiful place and the people are deeply private about their personal lives in a way that they are not in many places. And to be fair, Bali has deliberately branded itself as a haven for luxurious living and escapism!

    I suppose for me, a journey is only a journey if I have learned something. And most often I learn more about myself by challenging my preconceptions than by living within them. By learning about the culture, history and politics of a place, we start to get into that mode and open ourselves to growth. :)