Fat Shaming in Ubud

You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here. And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.
Max Ehrmann, Desiderata: A Poem for a Way of Life

“HAVE you ever thought of losing weight?” asked the owner of a vegetarian restaurant—while I was having breakfast with a friend. My friend looked insulted, glaring at the owner (whom was smoking a bloody cigarette meanwhile!) Having been in Indonesia a total of six years, I have become less reactionary to these things. Actually, I have come to expect them, because they happen mostly in a city overrun with foreign neurotics, fanatics, tourists, outright maniacs, and yogis–the city of Ubud, Bali.

To answer his question, I told Toni my story: Just last year I completed a 60 day juice fast and lost 15 kilograms. For two whole months I rarely ate more than an apple in a day—and only if I were feeling especially faint. For two whole months, I could barely focus on reading a book. Frequent checkups revealed progress, and so I pushed on. Blood sugar, blood pressure, and cholesterol – within only two months I had achieved the best stats for my size. The Doctor was amazed and happy for me. “Keep doing what you’re doing,” he said.

Going back further, in 2011 I started having chest pains, quit my job, and went solo hiking in South Korea for a month and a half. I lost around 10 kilograms.

“That’s way too extreme though man. How about meditation? Learn to control your mind and then you can control your cravings. You need to find emptiness, and then build on that. Build a new idea of yourself. Someone that gives to other people. When you give things to other people it –”

To answer his question, I went over my 20 days of Vipassana meditation. “I saw a lot of giraffes. Every day. I was like ‘wow! It’s giraffe time again!’” I said—to grossly summarize a very challenging experience. I left the ashram the same as I came in. I felt so disillusioned that, as a vegetarian of some eight years, the next day I tried babi guling for the first time (that is Balinese food in case you didn’t know).

When I was eight years old my mom took me to the hospital. She had found me lying on the hallway floor on a beautiful Saturday afternoon—perhaps two or three weekends in a row. There were so many things I wanted to do, but I couldn’t.

That’s when I learned that I have European anemia. Thalassemia Minor. Iron deficiency, which often leaves sufferers searching for energy—often through food. As a result, often I cannot get enough oxygen. Tens of times I have tried to diet, only to end up sick, with a fever, running nose (my current symptoms, following another attempt at another diet). I have tried special diets and supplements, exercise, but haven’t felt much of a difference. Oh, and I have been doing hatha (and some pranayama) yoga for about four years, just FYI.

Two years ago was the last time I went to CP Lounge, which is one of your only options if you like to dance and you live in Ubud.

“Can you do something about that fat guy?” said an elegant little Yogi. “Honey, I don’t like dancing here with that fat guy.”

I sat down for a while just to get over it. Luckily I had a good friend whom pulled me up by the arm.

Then a bearded Yogi comes to me and says, “Man! You know what? You know that movie about those giants? Man! You could totally be one of them! Just destroying little villages!”

He proceeded to stomp on the ground like a sumo wrestler.

I laughed it off. But I really just wanted to throw a few people through the glass walls.

I have not been to CP Lounge since then.

And there are now two vegetarian restaurants that have made me feel very, very unwelcome:

In Soba Lounge on Jalan Gotama, the owner speaks to his wife in a very loud voice. So loud that my table of friends has to stop and listen.

“You can’t run around in a panic, eating this, eating that! Nom nom nom! Throwing stuff in your mouth and not thinking! Because if you’re not thinking, and you’re not feeling, you might as well be dead—like the Prince of Ubud!” he shouts.

As the only big guy in the restaurant, and as he was standing directly in my view, I knew he was addressing me. My friends were quiet. Conversation slowly picked up again—as if nothing had happened.

In Paradiso, I walked in front of a couch of beautiful, American yogis. We made eye contact. I smiled. They did not.

As I walked passed, one of them said, “We all saw him. Let’s not ignore it. Just try to assimilate it. Be one with him.”

“Maybe that’s just his body? Maybe he’s just like that?” I hear a couple say, in Alchemy, Penestanan. “Maybe he has always been big?”

I have been to your countries. I know where you’re from: America, Canada, Australia, and a handful of European countries, too. Places where I would not stand out in a crowd. Places where people of all shapes and sizes are welcome.

What would you do if I were a man with one leg?

And what about the Balinese man whom weighs more than me, pigging out on babi guling on the side of the road? Are you going to bother him, too? How about if he wants to dance—will you get in his way? Will he need a group of friends to make a circle—just to keep out a myriadium of insults from Ubud’s elegant, affluent yogis?

You want to help me? Tell me where I can find affordable yoga classes. Tell me where I can eat raw vegan without going bankrupt. Tell me where I can go and let loose without feeling like I’m back in high school.

I spent the first three months of 2016 in underdeveloped villages in Borneo, speaking every day in Bahasa Indonesia and Bahasa Banjar. Some of these people were of the Dayak Meratus tribes of South Kalimantan. The landscapes were welcoming. One could drink from the streams and wander into forests full of gibbons. But the food was terrible: Often just rice, and instant noodles. And for that reason, when my project was finished, I came to Ubud—hoping to find some stability, yoga, healthy food. After all, this is traditionally a place of healing!

But what I found in Ubud has made me miss the dear, simple people, and the real tribes of Indonesia, whom accepted me with warmth and sincerity!

No, I am still looking for my Sangha (In Buddhism: A supportive, inclusive community whom admit to their own faults and delusions, and encourage you to admit to your own madness–before helping one another to find the right path).

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2 thoughts on “Fat Shaming in Ubud

  1. I first went to Ubud in 2007, and again in 2009.
    I took my two children there just after the ‘Eat Pray Love’ left Ubud. It already looked different. The restaurants, more new-agey spas and mystical paraphernalia. Every time we ran into a glitch – no rooms at the place I liked from my previous visit, or some such other unrelated bump in the road – I would stop, raise my clenched fist to the skies in a Soviet-era propaganda poster pose, and scream, “Damn, you Julia Roberts! You have foiled me again…”
    My kids thought it was funny, but I actually believe I was comically venting my distaste for the New-Agification, Californiness syndrome befalling a place I had already considered touristy before the film. Probably due to the book in 2006.
    I have been living in East Java this past year, and I have dropped a considerable amount of weight because of exercise, and also since I went vegetarian over 2 years ago, and vegan these past 3 months.
    The people here believe a man should have a little weight to him, and so my mother-in-law keeps prodding my wife to cook more for me. That and they wonder why I parade in the sun and get so dark for a ‘bule’! My mother-in-law thinks I am something else. What I do not know, but not a bule.
    I do think the kampoengs of East Java are more ‘real’ than Bali – Ubud or Kuta – ever could be. Kuta to me is the Florida/Spring Break madness for Aussies, and Ubud has become a Spa retreat for the wealthy, and New Age groupies.
    Your trip to Borneo sounds much more fun!

    • “Blasted Julia Roberts!” and her “Starve, Pose, & Feign It!”

      I knew this place before they came, and it was better.

      Thanks for the laugh 🙂

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