The movie opens in Singapore next week and I completed the book in time to catch it. I realised that most movies based on books never really cut it. I find myself wondering why I wasted my money in the first place since I already know the plot.
In the final part of the book, which incidentally is my favorite, Elizabeth travelled to Bali following a prophecy by a ninth generation Balinese medicine man Ketut Liyer whom she met two years earlier.
The reason for my interest in this section is because I had been to Bali and while the island is as lovely as Elizabeth describes, I do not feel the same way about the people. Perhaps it is an Asian thing that we can understand the culture of the people closer to home in a more intimate way than Westerners.
Elizabeth describes the Balinese culture as one deeply rooted in where a person stands in the whole order of his or her community and the various perfunctions they are responsible to keep the everything in an equilibrium and fine balance.
An example of their rootedness in place and position is in the Balinese names of which there are only four – Wayan, Made, Nyoman and Ketut which means first, second, third and fourth respectively.
Another interesting practice is the asking of the same three questions when a Balinese meets a new face – ‘Where do you come from?’, ‘Where are you going?’ and ‘Are you married?’ as this helps them place you in their own internal hierarchy.
Elizabeth goes on to describe the Balinese as descendents of either royalty, priesthood or artistes so they are particularly proud of their heritage. All this gives them a calm demeanour and a peaceful exuberance which she can only envy.
Honestly, I have no idea where she managed to churn such ideas from. Other than the fact that Balinese do indeed only have four names, there was nothing in my experience that resembled her dreamy romantic notions of the people. Definitely not in the way they ripped me off.
Bali is first and foremost a tourist destination which also happens to be steeped in its own history and culture. The people are not rich and I seriously doubt they are bathed in contentment. Almost 80% of the island’s economy is dependent on the tourism industry. Could this explain the smiles on the people’s face?
One of the people Elizabeth met was Wayan, a single mum who left her violent husband. Caught in a no man’s land on the island hierarchy, she is left to fend for herself, where she lives hand to mouth with her daughter and two adopted orphans. Elizabeth took pity on her and raised a sum of US$18,000 for her to buy a plot of land to settle down.
I was really touched by her gesture and was quite surprised that Felipe, her lover, wasn’t too pleased about it. Turns out men are better judgements of character than women who are often emotional. Wayan gave a multitude of excuses for not buying a plot of land which exasperated Elizabeth. It was when she asked for more money that Elizabeth realised the hoax.
I like it the way Felipe puts it – she’s not a bad person, it is just her way of surviving. Too often the rich think that by giving the poor money, all their problems can be solved. But what we are really doing is just buying good feelings for ourselves and a dependency for those in need. Sadly I was proven right about their real state of desperation.
Does this mean that even if we transfer the money from the very rich to the very poor, poverty will still not be alleviated? Unfortunately so because whether a country becomes economically successful depends a lot on its geography.
Just pumping in cash won’t help poorer nations learn how to take advantage of their geographical distinctiveness in a sustainable way. Only education coupled with a committed government can. Teach the people how to get themselves out of poverty and show them that it can be done. Perhaps only in sustenance can we find the balance.