Books

My own private ‘Eat, Pray, Love’

By Kenny Mah
May 04, 2012

KUALA LUMPUR, May 4 — “But is it such a bad thing to live like this for just a little while? Just for a few months … to travel through time with no greater ambition than to find the next lovely meal? … And then to do it again the next day?”

― Elizabeth Gilbert, “Eat, Pray, Love”

EAT/Napoli, September 2002

This is the most alarmingly tasty slice of pizza I’ve ever had. I’m in a small pizzeria in Naples. I’ve been backpacking all over Europe, eating my way through the continent. It’s the end of summer but you wouldn’t know it here in southern Italy. A day earlier I was sunbathing on the isle of Capri (together with dwindling hordes of German and Swiss tourists greedy for the final rays of the season). The weather was perfect.

A fellow backpacker — a cute and petite web designer from San Francisco — whom I met while rummaging through the ruins of Pompeii had recommended this pizzeria. “It’ll be the best pizza you’ve ever eaten,” she had promised and she was so right.

This was nothing like the American-style fast food pizzas I used to beg for as a child — a thick, doughy pie and a mess of unidentifiable toppings held together by a gooey film of bright yellow cheese.

This pizza (yes, an entire pizza just for me!) came out of a wood fire oven a few minutes after I had ordered it — the thinnest crust, a generous smear of homemade tomato sauce and freshly crumbled buffalo mozzarella. So simple and so unbelievably good.

Today I learned that one doesn’t need complicated cooking techniques or fancy, expensive ingredients to eat well. And we do all deserve to eat well.

“Tis’ better to live your own life imperfectly than to imitate someone else’s perfectly.”

― Elizabeth Gilbert, “Eat, Pray, Love”

PRAY/Krabi, December 2010

This wasn’t a planned holiday. I came alone, without my family, my friends or my partner. The work at the office was done; the clients were away on their Christmas vacations. I just needed some time out, I told them, and surprisingly, they all said sure, they understand.

There was no emergency, no nervous breakdown or spiritual awakening. I told myself that this time out was for figuring out what to do with my career, which had stagnated (or so I told myself). Truth be told, I have no idea what on earth I’m doing here.

Krabi does not pretend to be anything other than what it is — a beachside tourist town in southern Thailand. Food is spicy, cheap and good. I had convinced myself I was going to do plenty of yoga when I got here. Meditation, even.

What I ended doing was leaving my yoga mat rolled up in my room at the resort (no more backpackers lodges for this old man) and going for two or three massages a day instead. I’m almost certain there’s a school of meditation that involves lying on one’s back for a couple of hours and sleeping while a skilled Thai masseur kneads one’s knots into submission.

The insight (if one could call it one) came when I was walking along Ao Nang beach one evening (conveniently the night before I had to fly home, for dramatic purposes). The sun was setting. Very beautiful. They say God is the universe that we witness. (No, this wasn’t the epiphany.)

I realised at that moment that I would never truly figure it out (exactly what “it” was could well be another problem) but that this was okay. Sometimes in life, it’s enough to experience and to enjoy and to be grateful for it.

“In the end, though, maybe we must all give up trying to pay back the people in this world who sustain our lives. In the end, maybe it’s wiser to surrender before the miraculous scope of human generosity and to just keep saying thank you, forever and sincerely, for as long as we have voices.”

― Elizabeth Gilbert, “Eat, Pray, Love”

LOVE/Kuala Lumpur, April 2012

We had just moved into our new home.

There are boxes to unpack and there is dust everywhere. The bookcases, our favourite pieces of furniture, are still bare so we ignore everything else and start filling them with books first. (Who cares if there are more important and urgent things to do? This is more fun.)

We don’t get very far along in our task when we end up sitting cross-legged on the floor, flipping through our favourite travel books and guides. “Remember that time you got propositioned by that granny in Budapest offering her ‘special’ services?” one of us will say. And the other might reply, “Remember that time that deer got its horns up the skirt of that sexy Spanish tourist in Nara?”

And of course we do. We remember everything we did, everything we ate, every place we visited, every experience we had together. The people we met, their friendly smiles, their hearty laughter, their kindnesses big and small, even if we were strangers — we remember it all.

“It’s time, my darling,” you say.

I nod, I know.

We had just moved into our new home. We haven’t unpacked. We take out a couple of maps instead and let our fingers browse cities and countries we haven’t visited before. It’s time for another trip.

A trip we’ll take together.

* Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman’s Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia, by Elizabeth Gilbert (Viking, 2006).

* Kenny prays for good food and travel every day. Read more of his musings on food, travel and life at Life for Beginners.