Singaporeans have had a long-lasting love affair with Bali, consistently a top travel destination due to its close geographical location and high-end accommodation offerings. But the Covid-19 climate has meant that borders are now closed and tourism on the Island of the Gods has ceased, causing massive unemployment. Life continues, however, thanks to small acts of kindness from a selection of Singaporeans living in Bali.
It is no secret that Singaporeans love food, which makes it the perfect way to show kindness to others.
Singaporean cook Andrew Rodrigues, 48, who runs Dapur Panda, a shack selling hawker fare in Legian, has called Bali home for 10 years.
Sitting at one of Dapur Panda’s two tables, you get the sense that this bolthole does more than serve up Singaporean classics. People pop by for a quick feed of fried beehoon or kway teow, but not before checking in with Mr Rodrigues. He is more a trusted uncle than cook – listening, joking and advising where needed. His sense of community-mindedness and commitment to feeding loyal customers prevented him from shutting the shop when borders closed.
“During the lockdown part of Covid-19 in Bali, I talked to my staff and told them we were going to lose money, so I asked them what was the lowest salary they could work for to keep us open.
“I have ex-staff and they come to me and I feed them if they need it. It’s about survival now. I stay open to look after my regular customers, to be able to give them the kind of food they miss from their home in Singapore.”
Singaporean Darny Mancano, 47, who has lived in Bali for 21/2 years, runs Asmiera Spice Cooking Studio in Umalas. It operates classes for children aged five to 12 and supplies handcrafted American pies to cafes and clients. But the pandemic has impacted enrolment and bills still need to be paid.
“It is obvious I can’t just give up due to the unforeseen effects of the pandemic. Neither can I force anyone to empower me to teach their children how to bake and cook delicious food,” she says from her custom-built kitchen in a new shopping development in Jalan Raya Bumbak. “What I do on a daily basis is have faith, be strong and carry on – it’s business as usual.”
Ms Darny has also been instrumental in founding the Women’s Fellowship Group, which meets up regularly in Bali to support fellow business owners.
“This is a diverse group of women from all across the Indonesia archipelago. These women have businesses in Bali and we share our ideas, experiences and expertise, and talk through our challenges by recommending holistic solutions.
“It is a way for us to help one another and this is especially important during these challenging times,” she adds.
A recipient of this help is Ms Nathasha Priska, 35, creator of doughnut bakery Sobat Donat, who has lived in Denpasar since 2014.
“Before Covid-19, I supplied my doughnuts to cafes in Sunset Road, Umalas and Kerobokan, but these cafes have closed. Through the support and referrals of the Women’s Fellowship Group, I have kept my small home business from closing. Every bit has helped,” she says.
Singaporean-owned company and luxury beachfront resort Como Uma Canggu was one of the first to help its employees.
Ms Anna Rohm, 41, Como’s executive assistant manager, says it has remained open throughout this time, when many hotels have had to close, some indefinitely.
“With the closure of international borders, every business has been affected, especially in the hospitality industry. We were able to remain open by reducing our operations and shifting our focus to the local and domestic markets. Despite the best efforts of the industry, a great number of employees in Bali have been affected by the dramatic reduction in business.”
The Como senior management team’s first response was to provide food relief packages in May to help their employees get through tough times. On Oct 16, Como also joined up with the Scholars of Sustenance Bali chapter for World Food Day to feed those in need. Scholars of Sustenance tackles food waste while feeding the hungry.
“We are excited to get behind this project and participate and donate to this cause. We are making a no-waste vegetarian nasi campur which we will offer guests to participate in and donate as well. We can feed up to 20 people for as little as $5,” she says. “Even small actions help right now.”
Singaporean artist Jorraine Lim, 35, has lived in Bali for five years and runs Berawa Art House, which provides weekly art programmes for kids and adults from her studio in Canggu.
“When I came to live in Bali, I wanted to help the local kids earn money by creating wall art for restaurants, but soon realised that what was needed was a properly run and dedicated art studio for expats. The Berawa Art House studio is a place where I teach children and adults how to create dignified canvas art they are proud to display at home.”
As the pandemic worsened, she went back to Singapore to be with family, but returned to Bali as soon as she could.
“My family wants me back in Singapore, but I have to honour my commitments here. Many of my students come to my class for therapy almost – creating artwork is therapeutic, an inward practice. So it can help a lot during stressful times. Plus, these kids get to take home an amazing piece of work to show their parents. I love that I can help people in this small way,” she says.
Philanthropist Adrian Keet, 44, has lived in the Berawa area for seven years and seen it transform from a small village to the tourist offering it is today.
By day, he is a management and strategy consultant, but in his spare time, he is busy with community initiatives like BGreener, a community of business owners and entrepreneurs promoting an ethical and conscious environment, and Scholars of Sustenance.
He also supports Merah Putih Hijau, which works to solve the waste-management problem in Bali’s water supply, and set up Berawa Nippers, which teaches children valuable surf life-saving skills and does Sunday morning beach clean-ups.
“I’ve been doing this kind of work for a while now. It started with Merah Putih Hijau and, more recently, The Bali Pledge, which comprises local businesses and global communities committing to and supporting sustainable, conscious tourism in Bali. My background as an engineer is to solve the root cause and not just the symptoms.
“It’s not about getting through Covid-19 – we will get through this – but when we do, what is the Bali we want to build, not just for us expats, but also what do the locals want and how can we support them?”
And he says the feedback from the locals is that they want a more conscious, sustainable form of tourism, one that is respectful of local cultures, with environmental awareness.
He adds: “I consider Bali my home as long as I’m welcome here. It’s not my rightful home or birthplace, but I’m comfortable here and that’s part of the reason I want to give back to the community.
“It’s an expression of how you think and feel, but people can’t see how you think and feel. People can see only through your actions, so it’s about creating a less selfish way that is fairer to all, walking your talk, and doing something about it.”
•The author is an Australian freelance lifestyle writer and passionate observer and reporter of people doing great things. She is currently based in Bali.