Ubud is lauded as Bali’s cultural centre to the point of cliché, but what’s culture without books? This was the thought of expat Laurie Billington (1958-2009) when she and her Balinese husband Made Sumendra set up Pondok Pekak Library and Learning Centre in 1995.
As a lover of books since she was “old enough to chew on them” she was dismayed that most Balinese had almost no access to books, as well as being starved for reading matter herself and so the idea of starting a library was born. Implementing a “Robin Hood” approach to fundraising enabled them to buy a small selection of Indonesian children’s books and they began networking with local schools. Kids were thrilled they could read for free, and the crowds began to arrive. Podok Pekak is tucked away on the edge of the football field in central Ubud where Made continues to keep Laurie’s legacy alive.
As the “victims” in this Robin Hood tale, travellers have access to a terrific local library and a variety of classes for a small fee. We love the smell of an old book, even in this day of downloads and e-book convenience and Pondok Pekak’s lending library is a delightful treasure trove full of page-turning bestsellers in several languages, an extensive non-fiction section with many guide books and rare and esoteric volumes on Indonesian and Balinese culture. More than books, you can even borrow tarot cards (it is Ubud after all).
Read for free in their upstairs “reading sanctuary” (although it was under renovation when we dropped in) — they have free WiFi too, or join to borrow books and read all you can for 50,000 rupiah per month (or 250,000 rupiah per year). You can also rent books for 2,000 rupiah per day (minimum three days). All memberships and rentals require a refundable deposit. Considering it’s hard to find a secondhand book in Ubud for under 50,000 rupiah, we think it’s a great deal.
If you’re not returning to Ubud and want to buy a book, they have that covered too as they sell off duplicates and overflow at the lowest prices around. Book donations are also greatly appreciated. Stocked up on books for the next year and need a lift to your accommodation? Pondok Pekak provides a fair priced taxi service into the bargain.
Classes offered at the centre are a marvellous antidote to a wet holiday for both adults and kids and get you under the skin of traditional Balinese art and culture. There are no fixed timetables, and they’ll schedule to accommodate your needs as best they can — book a day in advance, but they can sometimes organise a class in two hours. Classes range from one to three hours and cost 150,000 — 300,000 rupiah (less than most in town) covering Balinese dance, music, offering making, fruit carving, silver making and painting. Longer courses are available too — a one month mask making course with one of Ubud’s masters was happening when we were there. Additionally, private and group lessons in Bahasa Indonesia are available. Check here for details http://www.pondokpekaklibrary.com/bahasa. If you get hungry while turning a watermelon into a rose or reading to see if Harry gets expelled from Hogworts, a cafe sells snacks and drinks.
Pondok Pekak is the place to pop into when you’re wandering around town to refill your water bottle for a small fee, and there’s even a choice of drinking water brands if you have a preference. There are no excuses for buying plastic. Like all good community centres, Pondok Pekak’s notice board is a useful place to find out what’s happening in town behind the tourist veneer.
So escape from the mad traffic to this serene little spot, have a coffee, read a book and learn some new tricks while knowing that some Balinese kids will have access to books because of your support.
By Sally Arnold.
Last updated on 28th January, 2017.
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