13 - Eat, Pray, & Love Ketut Liyer (Ubud, Bali, Indonesia)


A Jedi Master in the flesh. Many things to many people. A joker, a smoker, a midnight toker. Behold the future in mine eyes…or some shit along those lines.

by Mr. Nos T. O’maniac



GET YOUR MOTOR RUNNING. That’s my motto. If I was going to spend another six months in Indonesia, then I would need wheels. Non-negotiable. I wanted freedom of movement. I was a refugee from my life. I deserved a motorcycle. Deserved? Get over thyself. Still, I needed a hog. The search began. The leading candidate was an Indonesian model, a brand new Honda Tiger…Grrrrrr, baby. At a paltry 200cc, my pants were in no danger of catching fire. Though modest, anything bigger was a waste of power and money. Not a lot of wide-open stretches. As I would find out, buying brand new from a dealership came with regulatory obstacles and hassles. But, alas, there was a Phantom in my future…


Elizabeth Gilbert - June 14, 2016

Rest in Peace, Ketut Liyer:

19?? - 2016

Dear Ones -

I received news last week that my magnificent old Balinese medicine man, Ketut Liyer, has passed away.

I wanted to take my time before I spoke about him in public, so I could just FEEL him in my heart for a while.

He was a healer, a mystic, a time-traveler, a world-bender, a mind-shaper, a compassion-expert, a flirt, a comedian, a bozo, a hustler, a magician, a trickster...READ MORE

From my second post, you may recall my reasons for choosing Bali as a launch pad. I couldn’t decide where to start my sojourn. A copy of Eat, Pray, Love fell into my lap. I read it and thought, Indonesia might be legit. I was too lazy to choose, so I let a middle-aged white woman’s memoir be my divining rod. The book didn’t cradle my soul, but it did peak my interest in the island nation. And so it was.

If you’ve read the book or seen the movie you know who Ketut Liyer is, or should I say was. Sadly, he passed in 2016. He was a famous Balinese medicine man, painter, woodcarver, and fortune-teller (among other things). Elizabeth Gilbert did an impeccable job of describing him, her comparison to Yoda spot on. His resemblance to the little green sage in appearance, manner, and speech was eerie. He didn’t speak in reverse-riddle form, but it wasn’t far off either.

This visit was not a priority. I was there a month before it happened. Who wants to be the asshole that shows up and begs Ketut to define his place in the universe? Sir, who has the other half of this amulet? But, after speaking with a woman at my guesthouse who’d just visited, I figured I had to check it out. How could I not?

I parked outside his family compound (traditional Balinese setup) and stepped through the open house gate. I approached the courtyard at the center where I saw the man himself sitting just above the steps of the bale meten (enclosed pavilion reserved for head of household) attending to clients. I retreated toward the gate to wait, scanning the paintings and carvings on display. I was hesitant about dropping in. From what Elizabeth wrote in her book and what some locals and fellow travelers told me, he was a well-respected healer in Bali. People came from all over to seek his counsel. And there I was showing up unannounced in hopes of an ad hoc palm reading…in shorts and a t-shirt. The women at my hotel said her visit was set up by a friend. She wore a sarong, brought a traditional offering, and purchased one of his paintings. I didn’t want to be irreverent, but that was a bit much. Thankfully, I wasn’t expelled. By this time (post book, but pre-movie), he’d grown accustomed to random drop-ins. Not a stretch to say he relished the attention.




A Balinese man (relationship to Ketut unknown) observed me lingering and ushered me back to the courtyard. I sat and eyed Ketut nervously from across the way for only a few moments before he noticed and beckoned me closer. By then, there was another traveler present, a woman of Canadian or American origin. She’d been sitting next to him patiently while he finished up with his Balinese clients. At first, it was awkward. I felt I might be intruding. He asked if she minded my presence during her reading. This is strange, no? I liked the idea of a free preview, but what about her? Not a problem. She encouraged me to stay. 

“Surreal” is a fitting word. I’d read a book with this guy in a starring role, a catalyst for drastic change in the author’s life. And then I was there watching him pretend to be clairvoyant. The best part? She didn’t realize this was the Ketut. She’d read the book and was familiar with Elizabeth’s Yoda encounter, but had nary a clue. A Balinese guide referred her. Talk about a coinkydink. Only after Ketut asked how I knew of him did she make the connection. 

Before he began, he had a few questions for her. He pulled out his guestbook (he has all foreigners sign it) and turned to a page where a woman had left her information and punctuated it with a lipstick imprint. He pointed and asked, “What dis mean?” She did her best to explain but Ketut was visibly unsettled. He referenced other examples and then asked, “Why kiss book? Why not kiss Ketut?” I detected zero irony. That giggled the shit out of me.

After she finished, I moved closer and took my place by his side. He also had a question for me. He reached for his copy of Eat, Pray, Love and thumbed through the pages. When he arrived at the section he was searching for, again he asked, “What dis mean?” I scrutinized the page and thought, Rut roh, Reorge. This is where Elizabeth introduces Ketut and compares him to Yoda. How the hell do you explain Yoda to someone who’s never heard of Star Wars and barely speaks English?  

“It’s from a movie…ummmm…called Star Wars. Yoda is a wise, intelligent…wise and intelligent…ummm…a teacher. He-” 

Ketut interrupted with, “Is handsome?”

And I repeat, Rut roh, Reorge

“Ummmm…well…ummmm…ahhhhhh…ummmmm…he’s wise, intelligent, wise, intelligent person…but from another planet…um…not human…but wise, intelligent…umm Elizabeth is saying you’re very wise and intelligent.”

Smooth. Reeeeal smooth. Excellent recovery.

Luckily, he moved on but not before providing a disclaimer. He discussed good karma, bad karma, and his compulsion to speak truth, recalling the time he informed a gentleman of his bad karma.

“He get very angry and say he kick me in neck to kill me. I scared and I run away.” 

Wise move, my friend. Truth was on my side that day. According to Ketut, I have very good karma. Goddamn right I do. Good he recognized it as I was in no mood to thrash yet another psychic. 

As the fortune telling proceeded, he paused often to ask, “You understand me?”

I sure did. 

My lifeline was fucking endless. I’d live to a hundred and ten. There’s irony here. He had no clue as to his own age. 

“You understand me?”

I’ll marry once to a beautiful woman with whom I’ll have two children. 

“You understand me?”

I must be careful when conceiving. It’s okay to have the sex twice, but I must take an hour break in between to rest and eat. And under no circumstances am I to go for round three. If I do, my child will not be “one hundred percent.” If my wife tries for the trifecta, I must push her away. Keep the horny bitch away, dammit!

“You understand me?”

I will be very rich and something I write will be published and put on TV. Hmmm, wonder where he got that idea? Weird.

“You understand me?”

He scanned my forehead, suspecting I might be “with police”. 

“You understand me?”

He looked at my back and saw the lotus flower. I forget the significance, but it’s fucking phenomenal. And then to my knees where he determined, rightly so, I’m an excellent driver. Also, I don’t have arthritis. 

“You understand me?”

After we’d finished, he asked if I wanted to take a picture which, of course, I did. He was unhappy with the first take and reacted with a disdainful, “Uhhhhh! I ugly!” He then buttoned up his shirt and had me take another almost identical shot. He was only marginally more pleased with the second, but he requested a copy. I agreed to send one and said farewell.

 As I was driving back to my hotel, I realized I could get the photo printed in town at a Kodak shop. I did so and returned to Ketut’s about an hour and a half later with picture in hand. When I entered, he was talking to a pretty young woman. He was rather fond of the ladies. As I approached, I could see there was absolutely no recognition whatsoever. Zero. Like we’d never met. Insert Memento reference here. That threw me. I showed him the photo. He took it from my hand and replied, “Uhhhhh! I ugly!” The young woman, feeling sorry for him, tried to assuage his scorn. “Noooooo. Nooooo. You’re not ugly…Awwwww.” I just stood there with a stupefied grin. Feeling a little ashamed about his reaction to my act of kindness, he snapped out of his melancholic trance and thanked me. Nothing strange there.

I can’t remember what I paid for the reading. $20? $40? Dunno, but it was worth every penny. Ketut was a lovable lunatic and completely full of shit when it came to telling fortunes. How do I know? I met a gay man who’d visited Ketut a couple years before me. He received the exact same reading. Darn. No Willard Scott centenarian highlight. No beautiful supermodel wife. No appearance on Conan O’Brien. No summer house in the Hamptons. It was fun while it lasted…Rest in peace you crazy bastard.



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