Eat, Pay, Leave

For those of you who never watched Oprah or maybe spent 2006 in a coma, you may have missed the sensation that was Eat, Pray, Love – Elizabeth Gilbert’s memoir recounting her journey of self-discovery that eventually became a movie of the same name starring Julia Roberts. And, for those of you who missed it, you’re probably unaware that the “Love” part of the book took place right here in Ubud – where Gilbert discovered the meaning of life, met her soul mate and lived happily ever after…..allegedly.

The wild success of that book had a largely unanticipated effect on Ubud — hordes of middle-aged women clutching dog-eared copies of the book, clad in flowing clothes, descended on Ubud in search of spiritual transformation and their own Javier Bardems. This created a backlash with some of the locals, (and by locals, I mean westerner transplants wearing flowing clothing who had arrived earlier than the aforementioned tourists and already achieved profound spiritual transformations). A few got their hemp drawers in quite a bunch and created t-shirts and posters with “Eat, Pay, Leave” -clearly demonstrating how much more evolved they truly were.

Thankfully for us, the phenomenon of Eat, Pray, Love had died down by the time we arrived but, the nature of Ubud is largely unchanged. Ubud attracts people of all kinds but, there is definitely an otherworldly feel to the place. Visitors often become imbued with the Hindu traditions and practices which are an integral part of life, allowing them to see spirit in all things. At least that’s what I read on a brochure the other day…..sounds great, doesn’t it?!

I was hoping to experience my own spiritual awakening during our stay. I don’t think you can live here without becoming at least a little curious. I also wanted to discover the secret to the peaceful countenances so prevalent on the Balinese. Ironically, my opportunity came along recently during an especially chaotic lunch with the kids at a local warung (cafe). I met a woman who helps non-locals set up appointments with traditional Balinese healers. It sounded perfect!

We settled on a date and I roped in a friend to join me. After an hour in the car, we arrived at the traditional Balinese compound where we were led to the healer – a very distinguished looking, older man dressed all in white. We settled onto the tile floor of the bale (which is basically a porch outside one of the houses) to wait our turn. We were told to write down some questions we might want guidance on from Pak Mangu. About three hours later (it must have been a Bali HMO), we were up. My friend went first and began to ask some personal questions to which Pak Mangu answered with wildly inaccurate responses. Trying to overcome her skepticism, she moved on to a more specific question about a physical issue and Pak Mangu went to work on her using his hands and feet. He seemed to have an intuitive touch and was able to hone in on areas of discomfort redeeming himself a bit to my friend. After about 20 minutes, it was my turn. I was somewhat intimidated now for several reasons — one being, Pak Mangu didn’t speak any English so, we had a translator with us who would repeat our questions to him loud enough for anyone sitting within earshot to hear and comment on (amongst each other and only in Indonesian). I felt like I was in an episode of Seinfeld. I asked him “How long should we stay in Bali?” to which the gallery giggled after they heard the question. This was not going like it did in the book. Clearly, not the appropriate question. I quickly decided that, at least on this day, Pak Mangu’s soothsayer skills were on the blink so, better to stick with more concrete issues. I had been struggling with a cold so, I told him I had been sick and feeling tired all week. He laid his hands on my head and pushed on several points on my body and at times I would feel a surge of energy. Not the worlds colliding, heavens opening experience I was expecting but, after four hours on a hard tile floor I was grateful for anything. After our treatments, we were ushered to the temple where we prayed and Pak Mangu prepared our “medicines” which were curiously from the same bottle.

On the ride home our guide told us that our readings may have been inaccurate due to the full moon that was happening that night. Apparently, this affected how the gods were communicating with Pak Mangu. Maybe in the future the gods could mention beforehand that they are going to be tied up and spare us the four hours on the hard, tile floor.

Funny, the next day I felt really good. My cold was gone. Had it runs it’s course or did Pak Mangu actually heal me? Who knows? What I do believe is where we put our intentions our thoughts and actions follow so, maybe I wanted to be better and so, I got better. Not to diminish what Pak Mangu does for people. He struck me as a man who practices healing with a sense of purpose and dignity and I’m sure many people benefit from his dedication.

The subjective nature of spiritual experiences is becoming clearer to me. I’m certain our interaction with Pak Mangu was colored by our feelings of discomfort and lack of faith in the process, while others who visited him that day reported great results. Analagous to what I recently heard about Ketut Liyer, the healer who still lives and works here in Ubud, and the man Gilbert credits with bringing about her intense spiritual awakening. Apparently, he gives everyone who comes to see him virtually the same advice. Seems the gods are often distracted by the moon.

Although this didn’t pan out exactly as expected, I plan to keep trying as many new experiences as possible. Being in Bali is a gift, and one that I don’t plan squandering just because my first experience was not the transcendent adventure I hoped for – in any case, I’ll keep you posted.

Pak Mangu

Pak Mangu

Pak Mangu in front of the temple in the compound

Pak Mangu in front of the temple in the compound

Pak Mangu in his examining room/waiting room.

Pak Mangu and patients — in his examining/waiting room.

Royal Cremation Ceremony

Here in Bali they know how to send someone off properly. Today, I attended the cremation ceremony for the king’s brother who died recently. Similar to the royal family in Britain, the royal family in Bali has no official role in government yet, they are still revered and granted an important place in Bali culture and society.

Cremations are one of the most spectacular ceremonies in Bali. In the beginning of our stay here, we were amazed by the number of ceremonies that are conducted almost daily – honoring anything and everything. Weddings, deaths, births, teeth filings, blessings of tools, and on and on and on. You name it! If it relates to any aspect of life (or death) they acknowledge it with offerings to thank the peaceful spirits or to placate the darker forces. At first glance, the preparations (including the decorations and offerings) were all similar or standard for each rite. Now that we’ve been here a little while, I’ve started to notice differences in how Balinese observe their religious rites. Much like the US, the size and spectacle of a ceremony depends on the wealth and importance of the family. And nowhere is this more evident than in the cremation ceremony. While the poorest of the Balinese are buried, and eventually, (sometimes as long as five years later), cremated in a group, the wealthier are cremated right away. While there may be differences in the pomp and circumstance of the cremation ceremony, the belief is universal that the body needs to be burned to set the soul free from worldly ties, and to start a new life in a world that is believed to be even more beautiful than Bali itself.

During the cremation ceremony, there is a large procession of people dressed in colorful clothes, carrying gifts and offerings, accompanied by musicians playing traditional music. The body is carried at the top of a large tower. The size of the tower depends on the status of the family. Today the deceased was a member of the royal family so, the tower was 11 levels which is the maximum height and reserved for royalty. As the tower is carried through the procession, It is shaken and spun around to confuse the spirit of the deceased and prevent it from returning to haunt the living.

Upon arrival at the cremation site, the celebration stops and the body is transferred to a coffin, usually in the shape of a bull or lion (today was a bull). The coffin is then set on fire and the crowd goes nuts to celebrate the departure of the spirit into the heavens.

Here are two videos from the ceremony. My apologies for the quality. It was pouring so, I didn’t go to the actual cremation which is after the procession and open to the public. I wasn’t that keen on standing in the rain. 😅

If you’re interested in a good quality video, I’m attaching the link to the king’s funeral procession that took place a couple of years ago. It looks much better than mine – it was taken by a real photographer. It’s a little long but the end is crazy!


We’re in Singapore for a long weekend. The kids had a couple days off of school and we needed to make a visa run, (our visa requires that we leave Indonesia every 60 days). While Singapore is relatively close to Bali in miles (two+ hours by plane), in other aspects, it is light years away. I certainly can’t speak for all ex-pats living in Indonesia but, I’m always reassured by the close proximity of Singapore. Knowing that good medical treatment, air conditioning, and serious retail are just two hours by plane has made living in Bali less intimidating.

We’re staying on Sentosa Island, an area of Singapore self-proclaimed as “Asia’s favorite playground” — I would say it’s more like being in the middle of a giant, somewhat tired, theme park. There are tons of “family adventures” to experience, even a Universal Studios which we didn’t feel compelled to visit since we live so close to the original. We did however, check out the new aquarium, which is purported to be the largest in the world, and it was definitely big. Not sure it’s the greatest aquarium, or even close to as good as the Georgia aquarium in Atlanta but, it is huge.

Although they have gone to great lengths to offer attractions for the whole family on Sentosa, the real draw is the enormous casino located right in the center. This made a lot more sense after watching tour bus after tour bus filled with middle-aged Asians disappear into the underground parking structure yet, curiously, no one was emerging to zip line or enjoy the bug zoo. While the kids are having fun, I’m about done here (1 1/2 days on Sentosa is plenty!) Apart from the stifling heat, we’re having a good time (never realized how much I adore central air!). I’m looking forward to exploring the city to discover some of the more interesting elements of Singapore.

I must admit we’ve brought our shopping list of “necessities” we’ve missed since moving to Bali and I’m hopeful we will be able to find everything –although, I suspect we’ll realize upon our return that we haven’t really been deprived of much at all. The whole idea was to learn to live with less so, I feel a bit hypocritical rushing to the mall here…..but, hey, I’m not made of stone! 😉

Back in Bali!

Returning from New Zealand, we all felt very differently flying into Denpasar versus the first time we arrived – much less like we were landing in a foreign country. Not sure Bali feels like home yet but, it’s definitely becoming less exotic and more familiar. This really hit home for me the other day when I walked out of the house and found this lying on the back porch:


Soccer balls and sickle


Closer view — yep that’s a sickle!

I guess the gardener had left it there while he was busy working on something else. And the best part is — I didn’t even think it was weird (at first glance). For those of you that thought sickles were only for Grim Reaper costumes at Halloween, not the case here in Bali! They’re still used by gardeners and rice farmers and the occasional seven year old boy who wants to hack stuff in the garden. Yikes!

Soon after returning to Bali, we had our first real bout of sickness, starting with Allie and working it’s way through the rest of the family. The kids seemed to get over it quickly and were back at school within a couple of days versus the old folks (their parents), who took much longer. I’m just glad it was respiratory and not some stomach bug that is difficult to identify and more likely to require medical assistance — something we’ve been desperately trying to avoid. We’ve heard “Bali Belly” is inevitable and, at some point everyone succumbs to it but, we’re not going down without a fight. I refuse to stop carrying hand sanitizer in my purse. I know everyone thinks I’m a crazy American but, I can live with that if it keeps us healthy. That being said — I hear medical care is getting better here and, if you can get good medical advice most medications are available over the counter and at very reasonable prices. We recently had to buy some antibiotic cream for an infected bite on Fletcher’s foot. I sent a photo of it to Dr. Sonya at home and she recommended an antibiotic cream which they had at the pharmacy over the counter (the name brand!) for $7. So easy!