For the second largest city on the island, Singaraja gets much less attention from tourists and resident foreigners than does other cities like Ubud, Candidasa or even little Amed. Perhaps because the city isn’t really a main tourist attraction; most visitors to the north of the island stay in the Lovina tourist area, and why not? Lovina has bars, restaurants, beaches, and other amenities that attract both tourists and foreigners who want to live in Bali without really changing their lifestyles. Singaraja is still its funky old self.
But Singaraja is a city in the midst of some major changes; upgrades in tourist-oriented facilities perhaps in anticipation of the mythical new airport that may or may not eventually be built either in the west or the east of north Bali, or maybe nowhere. But still there is hope for investors and developers who see vast fortunes to be made if the north of Bali becomes the next hot place to be.
For the past few years, my granddaughter and I have been watching the construction of a new, large hotel located just about 500 meters from our house. The new hotel is one of the Pop! Hotels financed by the Hardy’s group. Located in Singaraja Square, the hotel has 149 rooms renting out at close to 400,000 rupiah a night. It has a small outdoor pool, and the promo says that it has a private beach – first time I knew that a hotel could take over the beach here, which, as far as I know, is open to the public. I talked to a variety of folks in the neighborhood: residents of our kampung just to the west of the hotel, residents of the kampung just to the east of the hotel and some local business owners in the area around the hotel. The size of the hotel, its price for a room and its location in an essentially empty Singaraja Square has most folks baffled. I have to say though that when Zoey and I went to investigate, everyone was very friendly and gave us a guided tour. So, who knows, maybe we will be inundated with business travelers from around the country and the globe.
Singaraja Square, in the meantime, remains largely empty. There’s a dress shop, a bakery, a kareoke place, a medical supplies shop and a few other businesses there, but still lots of empty shops that are renting out at extremely high prices. Maybe the property boom in Bali has hit the city, or maybe not because the Square is still looking like a failed project, or maybe one that is just ahead of its time.
The city has a KFC; however, there are no Starbucks, McDonalds, Burger King, Pizza Hut or Dunkin Donuts, but who knows what the brave new world after the airport will bring. The mention of all these Western franchises brings copious amounts of handwringing from the foreigners in the Ubud area, but the fact is that Indonesians seem to enjoy going out to a KFC or McD’s (as they are known here) for a quick meal. Seems that for some Westerners, it’s ok to live in a villa with a pool, wifi, cable TV and a “staff” to take care of those nasty little things like cleaning, cooking and driving, but it’s not ok to interfere with their Balinese background of salt of the earth rice farmers, bakso sellers and little warungs. Because as a Balinese friend recently said, “why should we be allowed to have modern conveniences and toys; it makes us less exotic.”
And while you can still see mothers carrying their infants around in the traditional sling, you’re just as likely to see them pushing them around the kampung or desa in a stroller sucking on a bottle wearing a Mickey Mouse hat. Just yesterday, Zoey and I were strolling down Jalan Dewi Sartika when we came upon another grandfather with his grandson in a decidedly upscale stroller. This had all the bells and whistles and was at least twice as large as Zoey’s little transport. “Wow!” I said, “Where did you get that? It’s really nice.” “Down in Denpasar,” he replied. “It is nice but hard to push around on these terrible streets.” Umm. Finally someone who agrees with me that the sidewalks in Singaraja are in terrible shape. We chatted for a short time while our grandchildren sucked on their bottles and eyed each other somewhat suspiciously. Stroller jealousy? The new reason for black magic attacks? Bali goes modern.
We strolled on into a less fancy neighborhood. A group of small children rushed over to greet Zoey – her looks attract a lot of attention wherever we go – and she greeted them with the appropriate Indonesian kin terms for older and younger siblings . And she threw in English terms for the dogs and cats and horses passing by as she and I chatted with a little group of moms and kids. She’s something of a bridge between worlds, Eastern and Western, the new Bali and the old, the modern and the traditional.
By the time she grows up enough to appreciate all of this, she will only have vague memories of what the city was like when she was small, just as my children don’t remember what their kampung was like before the government came in and destroyed the beach,cut down the trees and built up the sea wall that radically changed the coastline here. There’s no telling what will happen in the city over the next 20 years, other than to say that the changes will transform the city into something much different than what we’ve all become accustomed to.