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An Island of a Thousand Ruko's

Minister Ardika Questions Bali's Love Affair with Strip Malls.

(3/10/2003) Indonesia's Minister of Culture and Tourism, I Gde Ardika, in comments made during a February visit to the neighboring island of Lombok, bemoaned the over-abundance of ruko construction taking place on the island. "Ruko" is the Indonesian abbreviation for rumah-toko, or shop houses, the ubiquitous buildings that comprise the numerous strip-malls that have become an ever-increasing eye-sore across the island.

The Minister told his Lombok hosts that "while Bali was once known internationally as the island of a thousand temples, it is now changed to become the island of a thousand ruko." In the past few years hundreds of ruko now populate the island, with more being built by developers who seem oblivious to the fact that ruko units built years ago along the island's main thoroughfares remain vacant. In some of the more remote areas of the island, developers' desperation to obtain some return on their investment now allow swiftlets to nest in the vacant ruko's, later farming the birds' saliva for eventual sale to Chinese bird nest soup merchants.

Urging the people of Lombok to learn from Bali's bad example, Minister Ardika emphasized how local cultural values must be preserved and protected via careful zoning and community planning. "If only ruko and concrete buildings dominate, the special local characteristics (of Bali and Lombok) will be lost," the Minister warned.