Monday, December 1, 2014

Hanesan, maibee la hanesan ("the same but different")

'Same same but different' is what the street hawkers in Bangkok tell you when you ask if the $20 Rolex you are about to buy is authentic. I've been promising for some time to say how Dili has changed in the five years

Some of the differences: Dili now has some really decent roads. Unfortunately the previous lower speeds are not maintained by many of the drivers, some of the motorcyclists in particular. They are breathtaking in their audacity, skill and ability not to worry about their safety or anyone else's.

Dili has a shopping mall with a Gloria Jeans, a Burger King and a cineplex. It charges much more than its less elegant counterparts. It does have a decent supermarket and a really good coffee shop run by a local charity for orphans and abused youth. Of which Timor has a shocking number. I am told that the advent of a Burger King was not greeted with enthusiasm by UN workers here. An international fast food chain ticked the last box for lowering the hardship allowances they were being paid.

On the seashore in the bar/restaurant stretch that we used to frequent, a new coffee store has opened. They only use Timorese coffee, which is very good, from accredited growers who are paid a higher price for the product. They roast the coffee right in the store (mmmm!) and serve a great espresso.

Much of the area where I used to live was the centre of town, due to its closeness to the Palacio do Governu (essentially Parliament house and the Department of the Prime Minister rolled into one).

The central focus of town is now the Dili Plaza (the new shopping mall, not far from the airport. That old centre has really declined. It's rather sad that some of the places are now so run down. Less sad is the closure and demolition of some of the brothels which were accused of having underage prostitutes and of people trafficking. However, I was told by an expat that anyone who wanted anything could fairly easily find it in Dili. It was not a topic I wanted to explore, but his expression gave me the impression that this was on the rise.

The rise and fall of restaurants is to be expected, with some having massively improved their quality and some declining markedly. The informal market which used to set up each night along the beach near the restaurant strip selling barbecued fish, chicken, corn cobs and root vegetables got moved on to a place where they would have a hard time making a living. Again, a shame. I wasn't scared of eating their produce and had the occasional cheap and tasty snack.

All in all, it's a story of slow, unequal and less than planned development. But there are plans and as I saw in Liquica, the will to put them into action. I shall now pour a gin and tonic, and toast Timor's development. Ba Futuru!

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