Published: May 17th 2010May 17th 2010
Fabric in the Five-Foot Way
Shops use the five-foot way as an extension of their store.
Bali batiks are famous world-over among those whose quilt, sew, or who are otherwise entranced by fabric. Visiting fabric stores was high on my list of things I wanted to do on this trip.
Jalan Sulewesi is the street in Denpasar to find fabric, lots of it. For three solid blocks, just about every store on both sides of the street is a fabric store, with the odd motor scooter repair shop thrown in for spice.
Like Singapore, and I’m sure many other tropical cities, Denpasar’s architecture makes good use of the five-foot way. Essentially this means the second story of a building extends five feet over the sidewalk below, providing much needed shade and protection from torrential rains. It also provides the shops on the ground floor an extension of their stores, and everyone takes full advantage of this extra space.
Shopping here is not for the faint of heart, though. First is the heat; Bali is just south of the equator and it is brutally hot and humid. Motor scooters (think Vespa) are ubiquitous, and often carry a couple of adults, a child or two, and sometimes the family dog. I’m not sure what side of
the street people are supposed to drive on. There are lane markings, but I’ve not seen anyone paying much attention to them.
But perhaps the biggest challenge is the sheer number of people who want to help you. “Madam, come look in my shop.” “Madam, you want batik?” “Madam, I give you good price.” “Miss, miss, you want to see the market? I show you.” “Hello, you want silver? I sell you bracelet for $10. No? Two
bracelet, $10. How about five
bracelet for $10? I sell you all
these bracelet for $10.”
It is helpful to know a few words of Indonesian. “Permisi,” Excuse me. “Saya lahti-lahti,” I’m just looking. “Berapa harganya?” How much is it? “Terima kasih,” Thank you. “Tidak,” No.
Most shops do not have fixed prices. In fact, if you try to leave without buying something, the shop owner will say something like “No, no, I give you discount. How much you want to pay?” And then the dance begins. They start with a price that is silly expensive, you counter with a price that is silly low. They come down a little, you come up a little. If you are prepared to
walk away, knowing the next store will have the same item or something similar, you will sometimes find the shopkeeper’s true bottom price. Or maybe not.
Most of the fabric shops carry Javanese batiks and sarongs. These are intricate, geometric patterned printed fabrics. But I came here to find dyed, Bali batiks.
Now, I’m not going to tell you that the following two stores carry Hoffman batiks, but the patterns looked awfully familiar, and Bali batiks were all they carried. In the first shop, Aimen Textile
, Jalan Sulewesi #93, the owner saw me fondling the fabric and said to me “You are a quilter?”
The second shop, Maju Store
, Jalan Sulewesi #19, had literally bales of new fabric coming in while I was there. These are fixed price stores, and, at current exchange rates, I paid about US$2 a meter. Surprisingly, at least to me, the Javanese printed sarongs were about three times the price per meter - but still a bargain.
Many shop owners on this street are Muslim, which means that they close up shop from noon to about 2:30 pm on Fridays when the call to prayer is heard from the mosque on
There is also a large Hindu temple on Jalan Sulewesi, and a flower market. The baskets of flower blossoms are used to make the daily offerings that you see everywhere - in front of homes, shops, tucked into cars or behind the license plates of motor scooters. Bali, May 15, 2010
There are more photos below