Ubudians, with great affection and awe, used to call the narrow path leading up to Sari Organik (renowned local vegetarian restaurant) the “rice field walk.” Lined on both sides with terrace upon terrace of irrigated land, it was until recently rare to come across a motorbike hurtling up or down the path. Rare also were signs of construction. Rarer still an artist plying his trade, selling his craft, offering a course. It was an oasis of green as far as the eye could see.
The most oft-quoted line from the movie Field of Dreams says it all: Build it and he (or they) will come. Well, they are indeed coming. In droves. On motorbikes, bicycles, some even still on foot.
They are excavating, drilling, chopping, sawing, digging, carving, hammering, erecting large structures where once there were none.
Javanese laborers, weighed down by kilos of volcanic rock or wooden planks, share the path with motorbikes – leaving little space for the even rarer breed of pedestrian to navigate what little path remains.
The rice fields are dwindling in space, in size, in existence. I can almost see the thought bubble floating above the head of a passing farmer, in flip-flops, perhaps astride a rickety bicycle, carrying a scythe in his back pocket, already tired from his early morning weeding: This is my rice. You people are guests in my rice.
On my way up earlier today, I was annoyed by the deafening noise, the incessant traffic, the ugly white-painted buildings (reminding me of outhouses) skirting the path more closely than any zoning regulation (if such a thing existed) would have allowed. But while sipping a ginger drink, perched above a still-intact rice field, I began to wonder: whose dreams ought to come true?
Only those of us who would have preferred to leave these fields well enough alone? Those with a sense of nostalgia for the way ‘it used to be in Ubud’? What about the locals who know the benefits of setting up shop far from the stiff competition on the main road, struggle to send their children to school – never mind those who need to pay off outrageous gambling debts! What about the Chinese or Indonesian or European entrepreneurs who know it’s all about location, location, location?
Sure, I’d prefer they build further away from the path, at the far end of each terrace, with a view to the ravines or jungles, leaving the view of the rice fields for all to enjoy. But you can be sure that when they finish building, the tourists will most definitely, unquestioningly, unflaggingly, come.
And so…I walked back into town less annoyed, less put off by all the construction haze, feeling grateful that the rice fields still exist, even if in smaller numbers and with obstructed views. Those gargantuan spa projects, the villas along the way, the artist’s studio with paintings hanging right next to the path, what looks like a new restaurant in the making; they might not be the most aesthetic additions to the landscape that once was (in my opinion) untarnished.
But, one way or another, change will come. And really, who among us ought not to try and make our dreams come true?