by Diana Darling

“Good morning, this is the Ubud Royal Public Works Customer Service Desk, how may I help you?”

“I’d like to have a 24-hour Circle K-brand convenience store next door to my house.”

“Are you a resident of downtown Ubud, ma’am?”

“Yes, I am.”

“Then I’m sure there is already a Circle K-brand convenience store next to your home. Have you been outdoors recently?”

“Well, no. But I would go outdoors if there were a Circle K next door.”

“Do you have undeveloped property adjacent to your home, ma’am?”

“Yes, I do.”

“Please hold on a moment while I trace your call. [loud, crashing gamelan music] Thank you for waiting, ma’am. One of our representatives will call on you shortly. Please don’t offer our staff any cash gifts. Now, what sort of retail opportunity did you have in mind?”

“What have you got?”

“Would you be interested in a designer clothing boutique, perhaps?”

“What on earth for?”

“Or perhaps an international coffee outlet?”

“No, thanks. We have a really nice local coffee bar on our street. But how about a something my family and I could afford, like a warung?”

“I’m sorry, ma’am, your neighbourhood is not zoned for warungs.”

“Why not?”

“If you’re in downtown Ubud, I’m afraid you don’t qualify for local food outlets.”

“Gosh. What are the choices, then?”

“How about an oyster bar? A batik bikini shop? Or a shop selling shell jewellery? I don’t think there’s one on your block yet.”

“We’re not really beach people. How about a hardware store? There’s not one in Ubud yet. There no a place to buy local newspapers, either. Or to get your kebaya dry-cleaned.”

“I’ll make note of your preferences, ma’am. But perhaps you should be aware of our policy mission and vision.”

“Tell me.”

“We want to develop an environment where tourists can experience traditional culture in a traditional village core.”

“Then how about a little park?”

“Parking is already being planned in designated areas, ma’am.”

“Not parking. A park. A place where people can gather in the shade of trees and chat. For free.”

“I’m sorry, ma’am. There’s no commercial interest in something for free.”

“Oh, but there is. Maybe you could let some small vendors set up little tables selling satay and stuff. It would make Ubud a nicer place. People would come out of their houses and have a normal life again. Tourists would love it.”

“No tickets?”

“No. This would be for the people of Ubud. If tourists came by, great. If they didn’t, so what?”

“This doesn’t fit at all with our development strategy.”

“Does your development strategy have any contingency plans for the sudden collapse of the tourist industry? Some economic alternatives for the people of Ubud, so they could still make a living?”

“Could you please repeat that, ma’am? I don’t understand what you mean.”

“You know. Like if there’s a financial crisis or some other reason for people to stop coming to Bali.”

“That will never happen, ma’am. Thank you for calling.”