Elizabeth Gilbert’s popular book, Eat, Pray Love, and the Julia Roberts movie based on the book, begin in Bali, in the little city of Ubud, and end in Bali, the “Love” part of the journey. The elderly soothsayer, Ketut Liyer (pronounced keh-TUT lee-AIR roll the “r”) tells Gilbert to return to Bali, whereupon he will teach her “everything he knows.” She returns, and he doesn’t even remember who she is. Droll. And by the way, in spite of what you may have heard, Ketut Liyer does not play himself in the movie, no, the role is handled, superbly, by an elderly actor named Hadi Subiyanto.
I thought it would be amusing if I could locate the real Ketut Liyer and arrange an audience for CJ . Naturally, I sought out the services of my own Ketut, Big Ketut from the Ubud Inn where we were staying. If you think there are a lot of Ketuts appearing in this narrative, you are right. Balinese first names indicate the person’s birth order, so there are a LOT of Ketuts. So I found Big Ketut sitting with a bunch of smaller Ketuts, a couple of Wayans, and our other main guy, Little Abhut.
“Why you want to see Ketut LIAR?”
(all the guys laugh)
“CJ read about him in a book.”
“That damn book!”
“You know how to find him?”
“Yes, yes, big business.”
“Why do you call him Ketut LIAR?”
“He tell all the women the same thing. (imitating an old man) You very pretty. You have many children. You make lot of money, you lose money, but don’t worry, you get it back. Same thing to everybody. All lies.”
Lies or not, the experience would be memorable, so I pushed on.
“CJ will have fun. You can make it happen?”
“When you want to go?”
“Not me. CJ. Today. This afternoon.”
“No. Tomorrow. CJ go tomorrow. Cost Rp250,000 (250,000 rupiah or about $25 American).
Good to his word, Big Ketut arrived the next morning with a square piece of blue plastic, the number “1” printed on it. At the soothayer’s house, the women (and they are all women) take a number, like the little numbers you get at a bakery . . . or the meat counter. The “suppliants” wait around all day for their number to be called, ALL DAY. Somehow, for CJ, Big Ketut had procured the Holy Grail, the number “1” token.
Ketut Liyer held audiences at his family compound in a nearby village. By Balinese standards, his digs were palatial. Well, no shit, he was charging each woman $25 American for about 15 minutes, and he was seeing 20 women a day. Let’s see, $25 X 20 women = $500 dollars a day, seven days a week. Obviously, he was supporting a tribe of family members and a sizable entourage.
We arrived early. We didn’t want to lose our miraculous first position. We waited for a while. The courtyard filled up with other seekers. One Ketut’s handlers would make periodic announcements:
“Ketut is eating breakfast.”
“Ketut is praying.”
“Ketut is resting.”
Finally, only about a half hour actually, the famous Balinese fortuneteller himself appeared and gingerly sat down on his platform. Ketut Liyer is an old man, 97 years old he thinks, but doesn’t know for sure. He has two teeth. Two.
“Number 1,” bellowed the attendant, much louder than necessary. CJ gave me her “Yikes” face, and climbed on the platform to face the ancient shaman.
I was too far away to hear what they were saying, but I could see that they were both laughing and enjoying each other.
Later, CJ told me what he said, these words are from her journal. Ketut speaks:
Where are you from? How do you know me? The book? The movie? I do not speak English well, I hope you understand me.
I study your face, ears, nose, lips, lines, forehead, eyes.
(touching me) You have good ears. You have good chin. You have good lips. Good lines above eyes.
(counting) 1, 2, 3 lines between eyebrows.
Very pretty. Very pretty lady, good eyes, yes pretty.
I will read your hand. Good hands.
You will live until you are 100. Yes, long life! Very good.
You have wealth, yes, you will be rich.
You work very hard, many jobs, business, hair salon over store (and two other jobs CJ forgot).
Sometimes you are impatient. You rush. Patience!
(looks at the side of CJ’s hand) You have two husbands.
(CJ says, no, I only have one husband)
Maybe one is boyfriend.
(looks at the side of her other hand) You have two children.
(CJ says, no, I only have one child)
Maybe you have more.
Now I check your knees. Good knees, strong knees (he giggles) You can wake up at night and be strong enough to make love many times.
I am very happy to meet you.
250,000 rupiah, please.
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