Tuesday, April 21, 2009

A break, then a break

I haven’t posted for a while, as life has been a bit hectic with Fidget in town and adjusting to living not-alone again (hooray!) and moving house out of the sports bar to the other end of town near Embassy Row.

I will continue not to post, as Just Add Water, Fidget and I are off to Darwin tomorrow for five days. We’ll do the full tourist bit, including a dash through Kakadu. I will keep a log and update next week, when we arrive back.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Sights of Dili.

Some of these I have mentioned before, others not. It makes up some of what strikes me as different about this place.

Radiating out from the city centre, they are repaving all the footpaths with hexagonal pavers, usually in red and black, but sometimes also including yellow, the three (main) colours of the flag.

You see quite a few flags around. Most are East Timorese, but a large number are Fretilin flags. Fretilin is the largest party in East Timor (currently in opposition against a ‘unity’ coalition) and was the key political party representing armed resistance to the Indonesian occupation.

Children fly kites quite a bit here, to impressive heights. I haven’t seen the construction close up, but the string appears to be light fishing line and the kites are made principally out of discarded plastic shopping bags.

I have not seen refrigerated (iced) fish anywhere except in restaurants, and even that wasn’t top notch fresh. The man in this photo with fish on a shoulder pole had just finished rinsing them in the sea to wash away some of the smell.

The way oranges are sold is again off the pole, but they are bundled up in a really elegant way.

Children here are very openly joyous and free. At the same time, family discipline and hierarchy are very strictly observed.

The local bird here appears to be the Australian sparrow, which is a definite improvement over the Indian mynah. I’ve also seen some pretty large pigeons.

The earth near Dili has red Australian tones and there are plenty of eucalypts. Eucalypts and palm trees is an odd combination for me.

But I am continually struck by the demure, sidesaddle, scooter passengers, ankles crossed and often nursing a child.

I’ll write about this more…

A seaman, a spaceman and me.

The hash house harriers are a world-wide organisation of friendly yobbos whose motto is that they are “drinkers with a running problem”. Or in my case, walking.

Each week we gather in a different place. Runners follow a marked trail, walkers another. There are tricks and misdirections. You get to see places that you wouldn’t normally go near, in a way that is both fun and safe. One malae might be a target in some circumstances, 20 or more would give anyone pause. And often there are a few locals with us as well.

Today’s walk was terrific; flat, dry and long, through farms and fields, with children running and pointing, yelling “Malae, malae!” and laughing with glee as we replied “Bo tardi” [“Good afternoon”] and high fived those brave enough to approach. It seemed clear that although we were barely 2 kilometres from the main road, the sight of malae, and especially malae going through their villages, was a complete novelty.

The circle (the ceremony after the run/walk) was a relatively muted affair, followed by pizza and beer. The hash had been held far from my home and although I had walked there, it would have been midnight by the time I got home had I walked back. I didn’t think this was a hot option, but if I could just get to the highway taxis would still be running. But Spaceman came to the rescue and offered me a lift home. He also agreed to drive Seaman in the opposite direction. As it happened, the opposite direction was across the Cormoro River (which has a steel girder bridge).

However, both Spaceman and Seaman were geodesically inclined. They wanted to go the shortest route which meant cutting across the river bed, and in places the river. Half way across, there was a discussion as to which route to take. The navigator had all the advantages except one. He was near his home, he drives the area himself and part of the route was across water. The astrogator, on the other hand, had the steering wheel. Guess who prevailed?

We set off and made quite reasonable progress, cautiously navigating bumps and ditches until we were maybe 30 metres from the other side. That was good. We bogged. That was not good. We tried to drive out and sank to the chassis. That was bad. Eventually, while a band of locals fruitlessly helped to dig us out, Seaman walked the rest of the way home, and brought spades and tools and implements of destruction. And a chain with a 4WD attached. Unfortunately, he didn’t want to use his car to pull us out in case he sank too. We could see his point.

We dug the wheels clear of the sucking mud and the locals tried to pull us out with the chain, nearly succeeding. On the strength of that demonstration, Seaman decided that he could risk it with his 4WD and we were freed.

We had to drive to the other side – we had gotten so close! – and then unaccountably, Spaceman decided to take the bridge route on the way back.

Chicken. :)

Lazy Sunday afternoon

As readers know, I live in a sports bar. This is not as bad as it sounds, particularly at lunchtime on Sunday. The football is up at one end of the bar and I’m at the other, looking out to sea. Vendors move slowly, sticking to the shade as much as possible, and families saunter up and down.

There are three main types of vendors. Some have pushcarts or tricycles and sell a range of snacks, drinks (including beer), cigarettes, phone cards etc. Then there are the guys who walk the streets with a pole across their shoulders. From each end of the pole hang such things as fish, bananas, mangos, potted plants, live birds, bundles of oranges, bags of limes – a wide variety. You buy something from them and they cut the string attaching it to the pole and off you go. The third type are the likely lads, who wander the street selling tourist trash for 4 times its fair price – tais cloth, Timor Leste baseball caps, lanyards for hanging your pass on, cheap jewellery, banknotes from the previous regime etc. And, of course, cigarettes and phone cards.

From here I can see the port, boats, Ataúro Island and a wide sweep of ocean. Some days, although not today, the waters are brilliant blues and azures. Last night’s downpour has flushed a lot of mud into the harbour, dulling the colours.

There is a wind chime near where I am that, although soft, drowns out most of the noise from the televised rugby except the roar and the whistle when a try is scored.

Down on the beach, small children have entirely stripped off and are jumping up and down in the shallows. The boys seems to bathe naked up till perhaps 8 years old or so – the girls cover up at a much earlier age.

Some fishermen have pulled up their boat. Some are sorting and mending their nets, and one is cooking. Although from here I couldn’t possibly make out the details it is almost a certainty that they are boiling rice and chargrilling small sardine sized fish on skewers. I didn’t see them offload their main catch.

It really is peaceful.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Dili traffic 2

I saw it all today, but unfortunately captured very little on film. I saw 5 on a single motor bike (and the woman looked possibly pregnant).

I saw 5 guys hanging out the door of a "mikrolet" (the minibuses that are the cheap form of transport around here. Think about that for a second. The guy at the front can hang onto the door frame. The guy at the back can't quite do the same as the sliding door gets in the way, although he can if he faces backwards. That is apparently not an option, from my observations. Even the one in this photo has only glanced backwards.

So what you had was the front one (who is the conductor) gripping the frame and the seat and all others hanging by their fingers to the rain guttering!

The attached photo really is the one that got away. When I took it, they were straight in front of me, when the camera went off this is all I got.

If you look closely, the mother is sitting sidesaddle, as she has a skirt on. She is holding a small boy between herself and the father.

Completely obscured is the second child in front of the father.

I was in a taxi, stuck at a red light and by the time we could go, they were out of sight.

About the only thing Three Strokes ever told me about cameras that I understood was that lag time was a killer. I agreed with him at the time and do so even more now.

On the subject of cameras, photos etc, I have set up a Flickr account, where I will post photos. That way you can look at them if you want to without being forced to load them as a consequence of accessing this page. I'll try to put a permanent link to it on the sidebar.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009


Episode 1 – Honestly!

Hunting for accommodation, one of the young women who served at the bar had several times offered to show me a place, only to not show up each time. I vowed this one would be the last time, having begun to believe that the place didn’t actually exist. Maybe she’d been promising it in a kind of Melanesian way. If I thought that I had a chance at something, whether or not it was the case, then that would make me happier temporarily, which had to be a good thing. As per usual, she didn’t show. I gave up and went around the corner, near to where I normally have breakfast and waited in a department store for the owner who also let out properties.

Unbeknownst to me she had arrived a few minutes after I left, late but actually coming. She already knew where I had breakfast (had a waitress friend there) and rushed around the corner to see if I was there. She missed me by 2 perhaps minutes as I fruitlessly hung around the back of the nearby store, out of sight and view of the street, waiting for the owner. Eventually I got in a taxi and went to the department store owner’s property to look at it. The barmaid and I must have crossed paths quite a few times.

My work phone went off. I had owned it almost two days, just about no-one knew its number and I didn’t recognise the caller. It was her. She’d convinced the cleaner to let her come into my room while he was cleaning it – everyone knew about my househunting – saw the packaging of the phone and read the number on the side. Her phone had been stolen a week earlier so she borrowed the bar manager's phone and called me.

I gave her points for trying hard and went back to look at her house.

Episode 2 Dis-Honestly!

I was at a dance and someone asked to borrow my phone, as hers was out of charge. “Out of credit”, I thought, but lent her my phone. A day later I started getting missed calls from a number I didn’t know. It was the young lady from the dance, who had used my phone to call her own phone and discover and save my number. She’d ring once and then hang up, hoping that I would call back on my dime. Which I did, once. Surely I remembered her, and wanted to take her out?

Her calls have since gone unanswered. 10 points for cleverness, 5 points for humour in the situation, 0 for integrity and -10 for ever wanting to lay eyes on her again.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Eating and drinking in Dili part 2

After 2 long entries, a short one.

Victoria, on the eastern set of beach restaurants. Coral trout, parrot fish, good company and BYO good wine.


Monday, April 6, 2009

Eating and drinking in Dili part 1

This can never be a final list. Competition here is savage, and I expect owners to go broke if they can’t successfully find and defend a niche. There are 2 sports bars, for instance and they go head to head on everything, even Sunday roast. On the other hand, there is one really fine restaurant, Nautilus, which has decided to unashamedly go for the top end on everything – food, wine list, staff training etc.

So bearing in mind the inevitability of some takeovers, remakes etc., here is the scene as far as I know it. Bear in mind that my research has been extensive, but not intensive and the views are mine. Many others disagree.

Also, this would be an ultralong post if I tried to include everything. Geographically, there are three main groupings – bayside to the west (bar/restaurants, some with accommodation), near all the embassies, in the centre of town, bars and restaurants often with accommodation as a primary earner, and bayside to the east (mainly beachfront restaurants).

We might start in the centre of town, for no good reason other than I live there. My home is the ‘One More’ Bar (motto “one more: why not?”), a sports bar with a nice feel. The meat here is always top notch and the food is traditional Aussie with a bit of fusion thrown in. You want a good snag, come here. They’re made on the premises. Cool, Van Morrison style music played soft and live on Friday’s and Sundays. Waiting staff are friendly and competent. It’s a really comfortable place to be.

Roo bar. Quirky, Aussie themed pub. For Australians, well worth a visit for the cultural icons collected and on display. When I get some internet back, I may return to the Roo Bar and do a stitch panorama. If 3 strokes wants to criticise my technique or technology he can keep it to himself. Or snicker behind my back on Flickr.

City Café. My favourite café and site of some morning breakfasts. I go there every day and had a pretty good dinner tonight. Staff are good, I don’t actually take to the owner much, and the food and wine list are very Portuguese themed. Stacks of UN staff there most days and I’m pretty sure a lot of them stay there.

Discovery Inn, incorporating Diya restaurant. Diya is the other fine dining spot in town that I am aware of. Expensive, very good wine and spirits list (up to Johhny Walker Blue!) and an odd but effective Portuguese, Japanese and Indian themed menu. Very slow, but that and the expense are about their only flaws.

Café Brasil. This is where Fully Loaded and I often hold business meetings. Good coffee, good snacks, often on Friday they hold a late night Brazilian event (only went once, was bored and left) and a beef carpaccio to absolutely die for.

Various Indonesian café/restaurants around the area. The economy option, they are largely indistinguishable from one another. Food is so-so, service is refectory style – point at what you want and some gets dumped on your plate, prices are low.

Sanan Ria Foun [New earth pot]. Interesting, newly opened restaurant. Food was OK but not spectacular, service was eager and I should probably have eaten outside, but hey, we all make mistakes. Met a friend and passed a very pleasant evening indeed there.

Sri Lankan restaurant. Oh boy, they had all the luck that night. Blackout. Generator malfunction. Sudden crowd of takeaway orders. I’m going to give them the benefit of the doubt, and go back one day.

Indian Megha restaurant. Keen restaurateur, nice food. The butter chicken was more tomato-ey and less buttery than I’m used to, and that was rather a theme with his food. A more angular, penetrating taste, perhaps, without being aggressive or overspiced. Very economical, and I should go there one Saturday so I can snooze in the afternoon without guilt ($4.50 for all you can eat – hi, Fidget!).

Moon Bar, My Flower Bar. Have been to one, not the other. Chinese ladies peel off the wall and gravitate towards you, accidentally touching you. Finished my drink and left quickly. Was told the other is pretty much the same.

There’s more, lots, lots more, but that will do for the city centre. Next stop, Embassy Row.


It was the night Ugly Early turned ugly late. Ugly Early are a hugely popular local band (4 guitars, drums, and violin) who play classic rock – Hendrix, Stones and more with their own Timorese twist to it. If I can find a CD, I’ll buy it, and if I can find a clip (and someone was filming last night), I’ll seek permission to link to it.

The band was due to start at 9:30 but despite having done a sound check earlier in the night, ran into all sorts of tech troubles. Eventually the place rocked out and we all had a great time. Heineken was plentiful and everyone was having a good time. After the band had finished we were just getting ready to go when a bit of pushing and shoving between some Timorese started.

Security moved in to separate people but weren’t having much luck. Some people started picking up sticks but malae like myself persuaded them to put them down again. I think it was a relief for some to be able to say that they were going to support their brothers, but a malae stopped them. It seemed that we had calmed things down, but anyone who’s ever seen a bar brawl knows that the first thing about them is some idiot won’t take no for an answer. Generally another idiot will call him on it.

That was pretty much the case. Things escalated again. People were hitting people with chairs, punches were being thrown and lots of unsuccessful effort was going into trying to separate the parties. This time I stayed well clear – many faces were quite devoid of reason and voices were brimming with alcohol and anger.

One camp had been pushed and jostled out of the bar (which is open to the air) and the other camp (which included the owner) remained inside. A bottle came flying in, followed by stones. There was a funny noise and something hit the roof. Someone said a gun, but I’ve never heard one that sounded like that. By this stage, anyone with brains was sheltering behind the speakers or other convenient places. I made my way from there to behind the bar, and then to the back kitchen. I also called the cops, only to find that others had done so before me.

Eventually they arrived and restored order. That took time in itself. It didn’t appear anyone was too badly hurt, and eventually they let us go. They wanted someone to come down to the station to make a statement about what caused the fight. I begged off as I still don’t know the proximate cause or, as was of more interest to the police, who threw the first punch. Some left earlier, but I was a bit concerned that although this had been a strictly Timorese affair, roadblocks and other hazards could be on the cards. Despite the excitement, I hadn’t been in any real danger all night, and I wanted to keep it that way.

Eventually I got home at about 3:30, stiff and aching and tense, owing someone 4 Melbourne Bitters as taxi fare. I wanted a massage, but the only options I know for massages in this town are the physiotherapist and some of the beauty shops, unlikely to be open at that hour, and a karaoke/massage bar. Hmmm, perhaps not. So I went to bed.

I fell asleep at about 4. My alarm went off around 6. Someone rang about 8, breathless with the news of the fight. Eventually at about 10:30 I dragged myself out of bed. I look like hell today.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

I work in a palace, part 2.

I told you so....

I am, as Three Strokes will assure you, nobody's photographer. This is not art, but it is proof. It is also my workplace.

Read the silver lettering on the centre of the building. If you can't then double-click the photo itself and a full sized version will appear in a new window. Generally speaking, from this point on I will lower the resolution and/or set up a Flickr page and provide a link. But just for now, I wanted to do this.