Eat Pray Leave (Spiritual Tourism for First World Angst)

I watched the “Eat Pray Love” movie with my mom at NCCC Cinema after voting in the Barangay Elections. I have the book gathering dust in my bookshelf since 2008 but I haven’t been really inspired to read it for some reason.  I was hoping the movie would push me to go read it already (you know what they say, the book is always better than the movie – something that did not bother the book author, Elizabeth Gilbert, who said that the movie is a different entity from the book so it is kind of ridiculous to compare the two, or something like that).

The movie poster for "Eat Pray Love"

The movie poster for “Eat Pray Love”

I was interested to see how the movie’s director, Ryan Murphy (yes, the creator of the TV phenomenon, “Glee”), would translate Gilbert’s travel memoir into film.  Will there be musical numbers? A soundtrack by Lady Gaga, perhaps? Will Sue Sylvester make a cameo appearance as one of the spiritual gurus?

But mostly I just wanted to see Italy again. Julia Roberts has not even left New York yet and I was already telling my mom, “This is taking soooo long!” To which my mom replied: “And she has three more countries to go to…”

Just take me to Italy again!

Just take me to Italy again!

The movie is two hours and twenty minutes long.  The man seated to my right in the movie theater was snoring in between crunchy bites of Pringles. There were only about 20 people inside the theater that afternoon and I noticed that at least a third of them were sleeping or falling asleep (or maybe they were just meditating, I couldn’t tell for sure).

Then I heard a child’s voice ask her mother somewhere at the back of the theater: “Ma, ano pala problema niya?” (“Mom, what is her problem?”) referring to the crying Julia.

My mom and I chuckled at the child’s question because we did find the whining of a white American woman (a New Yorker, no less) who seemed professionally accomplished, relatively well-off, obviously intelligent and good-looking, with a cute husband and an even cuter boyfriend, so ridiculous when compared to the problems faced by women in the Third World, where we live.  So no wonder our fellow moviegoers in Davao, Mindanao were dozing off.  They found it hard to relate and empathize with Julia’s crisis.

Poll results showing Filipinos want divorce yet the Philippines remain the only country in the world without it

Poll results showing Filipinos want divorce yet the Philippines remain the only country in the world without it (Source: Philippine Daily Inquirer)

She complained about her difficult New York divorce and we couldn’t help but wonder how she would handle a Philippine annulment where you had to lie about how psychologically incapacitated your spouse is (the more dramatic, the better).  Yes, Julia and Liz, in our country marriages may have been null and void from the very beginning but the children remain legitimate. And, oh, only the rich can afford to have their marriage annulled.  The poor just have to resort to murder, which is faster and cheaper.

When her husband finally signed the divorce papers, Julia/Liz decided to travel to Italy to eat, India to pray, and Indonesia to love.  How nice that she can take a whole year off, finance her travels with a substantial advance from her publisher who will publish the book she will write from her year of travel (yes, the book that would later become the New York Times bestseller, Eat Pray Love).

Holders of Philippine passports are often assumed to plan to stay in a foreign country they visit illegally

Holders of Philippine passports are often assumed to plan to stay illegally in a foreign country they visit 

Women from the Philippines aren’t as fortunate.  First we have to get a visa (assuming we had no problems with our birth certificate to be issued a passport within 10-15 days) and prove to the Italian consul that we will not be overstaying and illegally work as domestic helpers once we reach Rome. To help prove that, we have to get a bank certificate that shows we have more than enough Pesos to buy Euros that can pay for plates of spaghetti and pizza in Italy.  Forget about getting an advance from a Philippine publisher for a future book, it is hard enough to get a salary loan anywhere (SSS and GSIS already squandered our contributions).

When Julia/Liz gets to Italy, she learns about “dolce far niente” – that wonderful Italian phrase that means “the sweetness of doing nothing,” which is something very Filipino as embodied by happy Juan Tamad. Ironically, it is the Americans (yes, Julia/Liz’s ancestors) who brainwashed Pinoys into thinking that “doing nothing” is inherently negative because it is bad for the capitalist economy. Labor must not only be cheap, they must also be willing to work overtime and not rest.  Maybe Americans have learned to embrace the sweetness of doing nothing now that they have discovered even cheaper and more hardworking Chinese labor.

The Vatican: this is where most Filipinos go to pray. To eat, they go to a Chinese restaurant. And they love everywhere!

The Vatican: this is where most Filipinos go to pray. To eat, they go to any restaurant with rice. And they love everywhere!

Don’t even think of convincing a Pinoy to go to India to pray. We only go to two places for that – to the Vatican for an audience with the Pope (wait, that’s already in Italy!) or to Mecca, Saudi Arabia.  As far as Davao residents who are followers of Pastor Apollo Quiboloy are concerned, they are already living in the “New Jerusalem” and an Indian Ashram can’t compete with the magnificent Tamayong prayer mountain.

And why bother going to Bali and risk being caught in a tsunami, an earthquake, or a terrorist attack when we can just go to typhoon-free and equally gorgeous Samal or Mati? There are shamans and babaylans here that are funnier and give better advice than “smile with your liver.”

As a Filipina and a Mindanawon, I find it amusing that a lot of American women and others more from around the world (the book has reportedly sold nine million copies and the movie is expected to earn $175 million, not to mention the sale of merchandise of Eat Pray Love prayer beads, yoga mats, jewelry, perfume, candles, coffee, tea, t-shirts, journals, etc.) are so smitten by the whole thing like they just discovered the newest secret to happiness and the meaning of life. I am sure the Italians, the Indians, and the Balinese are equally baffled by this just as our fellow moviegoers that afternoon at NCCC Cinema 1 were.

Finding yourself by traveling around the world is a luxury many women cannot afford

Finding yourself by traveling around the world is a luxury many women cannot afford

“Eat Pray Love” for me then is like spiritual tourism (you know, like the kind of pilgrimage that hypocritical Catholic Pinoys take to the Holy Land who return home feeling “holier than thou” but not any more spiritual than those who do not go to church) geared towards solving First World angst.  Why do you think they come to exotic Third World countries for enlightenment? Because they can (no pre-travel visa required), because it’s cheap (their mighty dollar goes a long way), and because they can do whatever they please simply because they are, well, American citizens.

They eat. They pray. And then they leave and go back to their First World life (their true love) after they’ve had their adventure.  For those who are truly blessed, they get to make a real fortune out of the whole thing, too. As for their less fortunate counterparts in the Philippines, they take up nursing and hope to migrate to New York or find their Javier Bardem online who can get them a fiancé visa out of their Third World existence.

First appeared on Mindanao Times, November 3, 2010