Bourdain meets spiritual people who have a much different view of death than many Westerners. It is not so binary: alive, and dead. Instead these believers view the end of time on earth as a mere transition. Death begins a new journey in the afterlife, and one day, the soul will be reborn in a new body. Shadow-play puppetry, a cornerstone of Indonesian culture, is prevalent throughout the episode. This art depicts the conflict between good and evil, heaven and hell, and it, too, is not so black-and-white in its message. There is always some good and some evil, some heaven and some hell, and there is never a singular triumph of one side over the other. Existence is fluid.
The episode as a whole fits into this concept. Indonesia is a beautiful place. The capital city of Jakarta is bustling, and Bali is a tourist destination offering resorts, picturesque beaches, and historic temples. The culinary scene is diverse and takes influences from many different cultures, and the food on screen looks delicious. But despite the scenery, this is still a heavy hour of television, filled with disconcerting moments, such as footage of cremation, and references made by Bourdain that are haunting now that he is deceased. In September, an earthquake and tsunami devastated the country, killing more than 1,200 people. It’s impossible to watch without thinking of the natural disaster.
Only two on-location episodes Bourdain’s CNN series remain. Here are the most interesting quotable moments from Parts Unknown: Indonesia.
Bourdain, on Westerners’ general ignorance when it comes to Indonesia, which is a huge country: “What should the rest of the world know about the fourth-largest country in the world, that they don’t know? Because, let’s face it, I think if you asked most people who are going to watch this show, ‘tell me something about Indonesia,’ you’ll get a total blank.”
An unnamed dining companion, on Indonesia’s diverse cuisine: “They say if you really want to know and try every single dish in Indonesia, you have to live here for 40 years. Tony, you need to stay here for a long time, because every single area has its own specialty.”
An unnamed foreign journalist, on Indonesia as a reflection of the world at large: “I’ve always called it a microcosm of all the good and bad in the world, because Indonesia has everything: democracy, it has pollution, it has environmental degradation, it’s got human-rights abuses. There’s a lot of problems here, but one of the great things going on is these elections are free and fair, and everybody knows it.”
Bourdain, bristling at the luxe tourist wonderland that is the island of Bali: “So this, too, is Bali, I guess — or it is now. Thank you, Jimmy Buffett, for taking a big dump on the world. Another wagyu slider, my good man. Yes, thank you. By weight, how much human waste is generated by your average person on vacation. Look around you. Do the math. I want a water sample. I’m telling you, the fecal coliform count is going to be interesting. I’m sure there’s a metaphor here. Am I bitter? Am I just old? Do I just have, like, a predisposition of instinctive hatred of young people? Perhaps. Enjoy the moment. The words of Baba Ram Dass: ‘Be here now.’ But I am here now. I’m not actually having sliders. You eat those fucking things.”
Bourdain, in a chilling moment, explaining to his crew why he doesn’t need to describe a roasted pork and rice dish on camera: “No, no, I’ll get it in VO because I’ve had it before. We don’t need to talk about this food, because I know it very, very well. I will speak incredibly knowledgeably of it in voice over.” [Bourdain died before recording said voice over.]
Bourdain, on how he imagines his funeral: “Leave me in the jungle. I don’t want a party: ‘reported dead.’ You know, what actually happens to my physical remains is of zero interest to me, unless they can provide entertainment value. Throw me into a wood chipper and spray me into Harrods, you know, at the middle of the rush hour. That would be pretty epic. I wouldn’t mind being remembered in that way.” (As it turns out, there was no public memorial service for Bourdain.)
The episode ends with a scene in which Bourdain is not seen; the ashes of a body are sent out to sea and there is a lone snippet of the host’s recorded narration: “All stories should end on a beach. All the good ones do, anyway. Why should this one be any different?”
For more details on Bourdain’s trip to Indonesia, plus essays and dining guides, head over to Explore Parts Unknown.