from the Jakarta Globe, Friday 22/01/2010

Everyone loves Conde Nast Traveler when it’s on your side, and players in the tourism industry hold their breath when it comes time for  “Best of” lists to be published. Never mind whether you like them or loathe them, Conde Nast publications rule the fashionista horizon – the Lords of the Bling.

But that doesn’t mean that their pronouncements can’t be erratic. Some whisper “bought”, but by who?

My opinion tends to lean more towards the theory that they simply follow what they think are promising trends and try not to get caught with their designer pants down. The Traveler’s ‘best of’ list is, so it goes, voted on by readers.

Please don’t get me wrong  – Conde Nast has been kind to Bali, supportive of the island’s struggle to get back on its feet after crippling terrorist attacks in this last decade.

But its latest rating has left me a bit bemused. The majority of 25,000 of its readers apparently felt that Ubud is the ‘Best City in Asia’.

As a long term resident of Ubud I’ll have to admit to a certain twinge of pride (gimme a break, its been my home for more than three and a half decades).

But the wet blanket in me went: “What the flip?”

Have I been asleep, snoring away the years like Rip van Winkle, only to wake up and find out that Ubud is not the village I arrived in during the early ’70s, complete with no electricity and dirt roads?

Quite the contrary, for the last decade I have been calling Ubud a town, despite some starry-eyed expats trying to tell me it’s a village.

There are traffic jams, and shops everywhere. But city it is not. As a matter of fact, despite it being the ‘capital’ of this kecamatan, or administrative district, it has yet to even be officially recognized as a town, let alone a city! Ubud is still called a kelurahan , or administrative village.

Yes it has a center – one major crossroad, the epicenter of our very own traffic jams (except between 9 p.m. and 6 a.m. on good days).

Outlets we have plenty of, complete with Polo, Calvin Klein – if you can fake it, we got it. Its restaurants rival Seminyak’s. And we have one soccer field, which doubles as an all-purpose public space cum parking lot cum kiddies mud bath.

There’s also a lot of culture going on, you can buy tickets to much of it.

But despite all the Disney-esque features, great nosh and the litter, it’s a far cry from a city.

Having been left slightly taken aback by a short-lived local poster campaign that tried to sell Ubud as the ‘Cultural Capital of the World’ (take that NYC, London, Paris, Prague, Berlin and what have you – I bet you don’t have trance dances every Wednesday), I can only imagine the confusion that lies ahead.

All those years we have been trying to sell the place on its charms as the ‘village of the artists’, now we have to jump to ‘thrilling city’? Oh dear. I’m gonna have a nap again, and perhaps when I wake up Ubud will be a country.

Rio Helmi is a photographer based in Ubud, Bali.