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Bali Mart – Paradise for the Franchise?

Everywhere I look these days, another one has sprung up: Circle K, Alfa Mart, Mini Mart, Agung Mart, S-Mart – what’s next: “Ku-Mart”?? (read: kumat = had an attack of). It’s official, the locals have kumat on franchises. There are the bigwigs: McDs, KFC, Dunkin Donuts, Starbucks etc. and the small-fries (the cool kaki lima): Teh Poci, Tela-tela, D’Crepes, Semerbak Coffee (taking the piss out of Star Bucks, no doubt), the list is ever expanding…

Whilst we in the West are sick of the franchise with the ‘cultured’ among us shuddering of the thought of ever passing below the golden arches, they are the latest thing in Bali with folks flocking to them, even at ceremony times. Everything’s standardized and tastes the same, convenient, smiley, handy and hygienic, but there’s something a little sad about it all. For me, it’s the demise of the warung, the dakocan (dagang kopi cantik), the nasi jenggo seller: the character, the family feel, the bench seats on the roadsides, the gossip, the arak sessions... In spite of commendable efforts by the kids with laptop and junk food in hand, sucking up the free Wi-Fi, there’s nothing that can really ever replace the loss of a warung.

The extinction process has swept Bali with lightning speed: in Sanur alone there must be more than 30 marts of different descriptions, out of those more than 10 Circle Ks. North and West Bali may still be holding out; although I hear they’re zoning in there too. Ubud was immune to franchises (in fact outlaw by the ‘powers that be’) but now they have their very own Starbucks, so it seems there’s no hope for anyone anymore.

There are still a few of the old-skool, so get in while you can; relish buying a cigarette per stick; paying (if you remember) after you’ve sat there drinking Bintang with ice for four hours; or watching the world go by talking about nothing for eons. Bali is changing fast and for sure there’s no looking back now…

Vaughan Hatch has immersed himself with Balinese culture, living with locals in Bali since 1997. He speaks fluent Indonesian and Balinese, and is unashamedly addicted to playing gamelan. A linguistic, archaeology and publishing graduate, he works for indOKiwi ‘linguistic and cultural solutions’ in Sanur. Email him on contact@indokiwibali.com or call (0361) 464201 for further queries.

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