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Last chance: The Ubud market’s Block A will be closed for redevelopment by this time next week.
“This is a one-time offer, Rp 250,000 [US$26.50], not one rupiah more,” yells a foreign tourist to an Ubud market stall holder. The visitor wants to pick up a wooden Buddha statue at well below the asking price. He storms off, leaving the stall holder waving cheaper versions of the statue futilely in the air.
Nearby, another group of tourists haggle over the price of nylon songet fabric, “Don’t you have better quality than this?” they ask, as the trader exercises her limited Mandarin in the hope of making a sale.
And so the bartering and haggling goes on across Ubud’s market, made up of Blocks A, B and C, as it has done for years. But here in Block A there is a new note of desperation in the traders’ voices. This is their last week doing business on the busy corner of Monkey Forest and Ubud High Street, the very heart of this tourist town, and they need to turn over every penny they can.
By Aug. 13, Block A of the Ubud market, this two-story warren of life and color, this dynamic hive of cross cultures, will be closed until January next year.
More than 500 Block A traders will be moved temporarily to a new market space in Singakerta, a sterile, cream tiled, white-walled space of 1.3 hectares under a corrugated iron roof.
This new market that cost $1.7 million looks more like Olympic-quality horse stables than a traditional market; it is also several kilometers from Ubud.
Moving: This stallholder in the Ubud market’s Block A section will soon be packing up for the temporary move to Singakerta during the Ubud market’s redevelopment.
And this is what is spooking market stall holders, many who have had to take enormous bank loans of $30,000 for kiosk holders and $5,000 for stall holders to fund the Ubud market redevelopment — yes, it is the traders footing the bill for the $1.8 million makeover of their market. Their nervous calls of “where will the customers come from after the move?” still to be answered.
For the past 20 years, Ibu Gusti Made Darmi has run her kiosk in Block A of the market. At 55 years old, Gusti should be preparing for retirement, looking forward to some well-earned down time from haggling over the price of sarongs, Kalimantan woven bags and more. Instead she is up to her neck in debt with the banks and is being told to evacuate her kiosk in the middle of the foreign tourist high season and a fortnight before the Balinese holiday of Galungan and the Islamic Idul Fitri holiday, a period that would normally be a trifecta of roaring trade.
“We have asked to hold the move until after Galungan. The Singakerta market is new and no one knows about it. I want to move as I know the new market will be better, but I please ask the government to wait until after August when there are lots of tourists in town. Guests will have to go to Singakerta so that makes life hard. If we sell nothing in a day where will we get an income — we could go bankrupt if people don’t go to the Singakerta market. There is nothing there, no tourists, no hotels or restaurants. I want to see the redevelopment here, but after the holidays, not now,” says a deeply concerned Gusti.
Nearby is sarong dealer Desak Nyoman Rai, who has been running her tiny market stall for the past 25 years. In that time she has put two kids through school and university and is proud of her achievements. Until the redevelopment bill of $5,000 for her tiny stall space came in, Desak was doing ok, both her kids have good jobs and life was growing easier.
“My husband doesn’t have a job, so I am the one bringing in an income and I now have a Rp 50 million bank debt. I am extremely worried about the future. I am not happy at all to be going to Singakerta this week. All of us here are very unhappy, we don’t want to move before Galungan and we need to make money for the holidays — after Galungan it would be ok to move, but before then it’s a disaster. But we have not been given a choice by the government over this redevelopment and the move to Singakerta. Is the government crazy?” says Desak.
The lack of choice on Ubud market’s Block A development for 208 stall and 76 kiosk holders is not limited to the time frame of moving to Singakerta. Traders are also deeply dissatisfied with the design of the new market space, according to Ubud market head, Wayan Rojana.
“Moving was to start on Aug. 7 and be completed by the 13th, but traders have not started moving yet as they will hold off until the 13th. This is the beginning [of the move to Singakerta] so maybe traders are concerned, because it is not definite that buyers will go [to Singakerta market],” says Rojana.
He added that traders believed there would be benefits in the future from the overall $3.5 million dollar market redevelopment, paid for by the traders, however kiosk designs did not meet their hopes.
“Clearly for the kiosk owners they are not satisfied, because the shops don’t have space to put their wares outside, there is no verandah space so the walkway is kept clear. So it’s more like a mall or a supermarket than a traditional market,” Rojana says.
Shiny: The 1.3-hectare Singakerta market was built at a cost of US$1.7 million.
Kiosk and stall holders say despite funding the Ubud market redevelopment via bank loans and savings, they have been given no choice over design or the right of input.
“It’s like the traders can’t meet and discuss this — we are told what to do and that the kiosks will have glass doors — like an office. People like to feel the market atmosphere, but with glass fronted shops and no space to put stock on the verandah, it will feel like an office — this is the way to kill a small business. We’ve paid Rp 300 million that we have borrowed from the bank. We pay, yet we have lost control over the design and timing of the move,” says Ibu Gusti, releasing her hair bun and tearing at her hair.
“I am so stressed, I pull at my hair every day. What is the government thinking. We have a huge ceremony in Ubud in three days time, it’s the high season, Galungan and Idul Fitri,”
Her fears and concerns are echoed by next door kiosk holder Ibu Gusti Japa. “I’ve had this kiosk for 25 years and have borrowed
Rp 300 million to pay for the [Block A] renovations. I have never been given a choice on the [kiosk] design. I am not happy with the glass front, but we were just told what we get, we were not asked for input or our ideas. I am very worried about the move in case there are no buyers, yet I still have to pay back the bank loan,” says Ibu Japa.
For stall and kiosk holders in Block B and C of the Ubud market, the removal of Block A traders may prove a windfall with concentrated numbers of shoppers, however for one kiosk holder, the temporary shutdown of Block A may allow him to catch up a little on years of business lost to supermarkets.
Pak Koya has for the past decade run a general store in Block C of the Ubud market. He sells rice, cooking oil, sauces and other foodstuffs. Recently he has branched out selling small bronze statues, hoping to pick up some tourist trade.
“I don’t know how these changes will impact my business. I don’t know if we will get more sales, it depends whether people like our product. Most of my goods are local foods, but these days you can buy this all at the supermarket. Before we had supermarkets in Ubud locals used to buy their staples here, but since the supermarkets have opened I have dropped 75 percent of my business,” says Pak Koya, underscoring the shifts from Ubud as a village to its present-day incarnation as a modern town set to have a modern market to match.
— Photos by J.B. Djwan