Murni’s Story

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Ni Luh Dian Purniawati
Bali & Beyond
March 2010

Bali & Beyond recently sat down with the namesake owner of Murni’s Warung, one of the restaurants hailing from the early days of Ubud’s tourism growth that has endured and progressed until now, to talk about her recollections on Ubud’s development.

To the left and right of the warung there have been many changes, but one thing that hasn’t changed is the lush valley and sound of the rushing river that reminds many of the Ubud of yore.

Sitting on the lounge listening to the sound of Blues, it took me back to Ella Fitzgerald 1930s. But glancing to my left at the scenic high ledge of foliage and the rushing river down below me, plus the waitresses clad in Balinese attire, I was beamed back to reality – in Ubud. The place had just been hailed as “The Best City in Asia” by readers of the Conde Nest Traveller.

Murni's Warung in the early 1970s.Murni’s Warung in the early 1970s.

I myself was at this time honored by the acquaintance of Murni, owner of Murni’s Warung, one of the restaurants dating back to the early days of Ubud’s tourism, which has endured and progressed until now.

“Forgive me, I just got back from ngayah,” Murni said. She seemed to be in a bit of a rush, catching up with her appointment with me. Just like any other Balinese woman, it was her obligation to go to the temple for ngayah, a communal activity among village members where they gather together to do things such as temple cleansings and ceremonial preparations. Ngayah could last for several days.

It’s no easy task being a Balinese woman. They not only readily go and serve for ngayah at temples but also take care of social and family activities such as weddings, ngaben cremations, and rites of passage for new family members, as well as other similar rituals in a banjar community.

Guests at Murni's Warung in 1975.Guests at Murni’s Warung in 1975.

Murni’s spirit and enthusiasm for life hasn’t diminished a bit. She has five children and eleven grandchildren, several businesses that must be looked after, including Murni’s Warung, a large antique collection and her help on a new book Secrets of Bali, Fresh Light on the Morning of the World.

“Back then there was only the Tjampuhan Hotel in Ubud,” said Murni. Murni’s business instinct only started when she bought a piece of land not far from the hotel that was owned by the Ubud royalty and started to sell paintings and some souvenirs.

More than a few guests came in to the warung to shop and look around. It came to be that they did not only pay attention to her wares but also her dining table, the only dining table in the space.

“They said, ‘I want this’. They were hungry and wanted to eat. I said, ‘but this is my lunch – not for sale,'” she recalls. This was what sparked her initial idea to start selling food. At the beginning she took a bit of her mother’s wares at the Ubud market and transferred them to her warung. Eventually she started to learn to make sandwiches. The western snacks she learned from her guests who later on became her close friends.

Murni was resilient. At 4 o’clock in the morning she would leave for Denpasar to get the freshest bread, tomatoes, and ingredients that at that time were not yet available in Ubud. At 9 she would be back in Ubud and prepare to open her warung. She repeated these similar chores every day. Back then she had her two cousins to help her out. Business was quite good. One month later she had added 3 more tables to her space.

“I learned a lot from my guests. I named my menu items with the names of my friends who taught me the recipes. Mary Sandwich for instance, was due to Mary teaching me to make sandwiches,” recalls Murni.

“I was lucky to have gotten this space,” she continued. “I bought it in 1974 and set up this warung. Starting with one level, I gradually expanded downwards. Some of it has been retained, such as the footpath that leads down to the river. Back then there was no such thing as channeled water or water companies; there was not even electricity in Ubud at that time!”

To the left and right of the warung there have been many changes in line with the rapid progress over the years together with the increasingly busy Ubud. But one thing that has not changed is the lush valley and the sound of the rushing river that reminds many of the Ubud of yore. Many guests are impressed with the warung. They somehow find constant déjá vu and live their memories there.

Many older tourists revisit and find a different and changed Ubud. Some of them are knowledgeable about the situation and the changes and understand that change is inevitable, but others are disappointed. They imagine the ‘village’ of Ubud, yet in reality find the ‘city’ of Ubud.

The street of Jalan Bisma for instance. Murni has vivid memories of the road as a once lonely footpath amongst a vast spread of rice paddies. That frequently muddy path during the rainy season has since changed into a hard paved road, and the rice fields have turned into an array of cafes, art shops, and hotels on both sides.

Many trees have been felled without replanting schemes to follow. Lots of garbage is scattered around the street with the lack of consciousness to keep a cleaner environment. A lot of understanding must be planted into the psyche of the locals.

“We are proud to have been called The Best City in Asia, but let’s not let us ‘sink’ underneath the pride,” solemnly advised Murni. “Overpride can lead to conceit. And when we reach this stage, we’ll forget that the true predicate given is a challenge for us in maintaining it.”

“We must keep on striving to become the best and remain the best,” Murni added with enthusiasm. Enthusiasm that should be in the hearts of us all. She remains energetic and engaged in all sorts of activities, despite her current health ups and downs.

This year she was supposed to head to San Francisco for an exhibition of her antique collection. Yet she had to cancel due to health. She has done several exhibitions before, meeting up with like-minded collectors from the world over.

“I want to have a museum to display my antiques,” said Murni. “Many of our youth do not understand the significance of their nation’s past. Then they’d be surprised when they go abroad and see their ancestral wealth on display there, as I was to see the Sembiran weavings (from North Bali) in the Netherlands. Not even the Sembiran people themselves know much about their own heritage.”

Her dream of building a museum is not easily made into reality in a flick of a wrist. It’s like she never imagined that Ubud would become what it is today, she also never thought that she would have become a collector and have the chance to travel to other regions.

Evening neared in, yet Ubud remained lively if not livelier. Several guests started to come and be seated at the dining tables. They seemed to enjoy the composed, comforting and hospitable Ubud nuance.

Murni’s Story