Southeast Asia for Lovers
There I was, sipping my welcome drink in a posh Ubud resort, when I almost choked on it.
I was accompanying friends as they sought the best wedding venue in Bali. Concerned about the monsoon, they asked the hotel manager why it hadn’t rained at all in the week we were there.
Without batting an eyelid, she informed us there would be no rain for the entire month. “You see, Julia Roberts is in town.
The Hollywood leading lady has many accomplishments to her name, I get that, but the ability to control weather surely could not be one of them. As it turned out, one of the most popular myths in 2009 went something like this: Roberts came to Bali to shoot Eat Pray Love. To minimize interruption on the set, traditional rain-makers were hired to cast spells over the skies to keep the rains at bay.
One can never be too sure about these things in a mystical country like Indonesia (and I say this as a committed, practical Singaporean), but what’s certain is Bali—and by virtue of proximity, South-East Asia at large—has had an indelible spell cast on it by the Eat Pray Love marketing machine. You can now go on Eat Pray Love tours to trace Elizabeth Gilbert’s footsteps around the island. You can meet the medicine man she consulted, at $25 (around Rs. 1,145) a pop. You can meditate at a beautiful beach resort, learn yoga, and wander around Bali in search of the enlightenment that Gilbert and Roberts popularized in print and on the big screen, respectively. I love Bali, yet I could not help feeling like I wanted to eat, pray and hurl.
I trotted off instead to my beloved Thailand, into Bangkok’s chaos and the hidden order beneath it, and the secrets of the Andaman islands.
I have a piece in the Valentine’s Day issue of Mint, the Indian paper. Read it here. I have not written much since my cover story in Reader’s Digest Asia in July 2010, so I’m feeling pretty good about my “comeback”. I will be writing more regularly, here, as well as for a handful of publications.