Silly season

There is very little of that mad Christmas shopping here but it is the time to build your nativity scene or buy a Christmas tree from the tree vendors on the strip between the Palacio and the Stadium.

The street traffic has been getting very silly but that is not silly season’s fault.  During the week, the number of ships anchored offshore made it to 13 later in the week.  I am told mostly rice shipments but I also understand some port improvements may also be slowing things down.  Looks very silly but could be a genuine attempt to look as thriving as the waters off Singapore.

Malae (ie expats from somewhere else) are starting to de-camp for the holiday season and the Christmas Fairs have been providing gift shopping opportunities so they (errrh we) can be extra silly at this time of year.

The town seems to be slumping under the weight of banners strung across streets everywhere – for all sorts of things.  The queue at the ANZ bank remains very silly.

I noticed a new restaurant “Coconut Resto” is having a soft opening in their premises in the old Thai Pavilion.  I think it is Aru Cafe outside on the porch and the Coconuts inside.

The wet season seems a little wetter than last year so far but no real ball-tearing storms leading to the Comorro River running bank-to-bank.  I think the last time that happened was December 2005.  I can’t help but notice the semi-industrial premises on the west bank of the river that has built a retaining wall structure about 30 metres into the river channel in order to create more land for themselves.  In most parts of the world, this would be a no-no and we will have to see what it does to a genuine bank-to-bank flood down the river.  Very silly to me but potentially exciting for somebody.

Roadside fruit and veg – going, going …

In a couple of days, the roadside fruit and veg market near the Pertamina Wharf will be gone.  Its underway right now.  That quaint dream of brunch at Thai Pavilion prior to fruit and veg shopping (including delicatessen items) is no more.  Even the Thai Pavilion has made way for the Aru Cafe.

The Aru Cafe actually looks like a cafe by day with an outdoor servery on the balcony.  Menu is “Asian fusion”, juices are excellent.  Who knows what the view across the road will be like soon.

And on views across the road, the Aribu Resort Hotel down near Ocean View Hotel is ever so slowly taking shape.  There will be a huge 1st floor balcony bar/restaurant (I think) overlooking the sea.  Maybe next year.

Nautilus seafood restaurant is still under final fit-out.  Can’t be much longer now.

Random comestibles

On the weekend, I whipped out to the Doulos to check out the floating bookshop – the huge ship docked at Dili Wharf and attracting hordes of schoolchildren.  To be honest, the whole thing was over in 30 minutes.  About 1/3 of the books were religious tomes or advice on how to rear children and husbands.  The second 1/3 was children’s books and the rest, a mixture of classics, nature books and cookbooks.  What I did notice was that sales were next to nothing.  That is, most of the books were in English and very few students would have even the most simple knowledge and possibly no money anyway.  (And there is no public bar on-board.)

One could not have noticed the 2 or 3 commercial freight vessels hanging around offshore for the week.  This is unusual but explained by the Doulos occupying prime dock space.

I paid for scoffing at this costly arrangement by going to the bank today and spending 36 minutes in the queue to attend to my 3 minute over the counter transaction.

I hope I do not pay again courtesy of yet another “Indian” restaurant opened up.  The “Flavors of India” has opened about 100 metres on the sea-side of Vasco da Gamas restaurant.  The proprietor is Nepalese and tells me he is still in the setup phase but expects to be fully kitted up in about 2 weeks.  He assures me he does not use oil and that this is healthy Indian food.  In the interests of random-ness, give it a try.  It is open, quiet and airy and suggests lunchtime is a good time to start.  (Tiger beer is $2 and cold.)

The fruit and veg markets on Comorro road have now finally completely moved – mostly to the old Comorro market area which extends from Comorro Road towards the sea for about 200 metres.  Pumpkins finished, papaya hard to find (except out near Liquica), plenty of bananas, mangos, potatos, limes, tomatoes and greens.  Beans OK, as are snow peas.

Changes, always changes

It seems like every time I look, something has changed.  I have made a few changes to restaurants in my Google Earth landmarks file which include amongst other things the apparent change of HarbourView Cafe to a Thai restaurant.  Maybe the sign was knocked down, is being cleaned/changed or maybe the HarbourView name is no more.

Besides becoming increasingly difficult to cross now, Comorro Road is changing at a rapid rate.  Perkins shipping has moved to “Banana Road”.  There must be about 4 new petrol stations and if you look over fences that you may otherwise fly past in your car, you will see lots of cleared land ready for something.

Physiotherapy Timor is now operating from near the Dili Club so you can get the full body service in that strip of shops now – haircut, massage, a curry, Thai food, pizzas, beer and physiotherapy if you fall off a bar stool.

Restaurant changes

The Harbour View Cafe sign is no more.  The restaurant still exists but now proudly displays the fact that it is a Thai Restaurant.  Not that you would notice a lot of difference once inside (it had Thai food anyway when it was Harbour View) but it is another sign of the changing times (ie no sign anymore).

Similarly, Alfa-Omega appears to no longer exist and is now calling itself Gerland Restaurant, suggesting that “Soupy” has moved on.

The Nautilus restaurant (in the old Fat Boys premises) is ever so slowly taking shape.

The Atlantic Grill is much quieter these days after management changes.

There is a new very local restaurant called Baratu right next to the new EU premises on the east side of the Palacio.

Guido Valadares National Hospital & food

One of the most significant changes around town must be the transformation at the national hospital in Dili.  Two years ago, I would have been tempted to fly to Darwin to get an ingrown toenail attended to, but now the national hospital is starting to look fairly good.

It was held back for a long time by the large number of IDPs living in tents scattered across the hospital campus but since their move a couple of months ago, the renovations have continued.  Give it another 6 months and it should look pretty nice.  And there are no wandering pigs or chooks on the grounds anymore.

Oxfam have just released a revised report on the food supply situation and it does pose a warning about the ability of TL to feed itself.  In theory, there ought to be enough arable land and water to produce adequate supplies but the whole infrastructure around food production is a long way from being able to do this.

A few months back, I dropped into a farm just outside Maubisse while on the way back from Mt. Ramelau.  Unlike most rural properties, it looked like a market garden and I wondered who they sold their stuff to.  It turned out that they had no mechanism to get this stuff to Dili.  No transport of their own and no established mechanism for uniting buying and seller.  (I drafted up some text for a sign and told them to put it facing the oncoming traffic so they can’t miss it – I wonder if they did do this.)

Apparently USAid have helped setup such a mechanism.  I don’t know if that particular property is part of it, but a group called “Zero Star Company” (operating as Timor-Leste Fresh) are selling fruit and (mainly) vegetables by the crate and doing home delivery.  With the closing down of many of the street-side markets, it will probably affect the expat buyer the most and fortuitously, this new delivery procedure will probably appeal to expats most.

Maubisse is about 2 hours drive from Dili in the hills.  It is much cooler and provides better conditions for growing some of your typical western favoured vegetable items – broccoli for one.  This is also the place for the premium coffee.

Fruit & vegetable markets moved on

For those accustomed to buying fruit & veg across the road from Lita Store, those days are now over.  They are no longer there.  For traffic and parking, a good thing.  For convenience and a feeling of putting money directly into Timorese pockets, not so good.

And if you ever used the fresh fruit & veg markets near the Stadium round-about (outside Mercada Lama), gone as well.  And I see the first signs of the ones on Comorro Road going the same way.

The fish sellers who were making the seaside strip across from One More Bar a home, have also moved on.  At least I know where they are and they have finally made those lonely structures down near “Pig Bridge” their new place.

I wondered if the road accident I saw last week outside Lita had anything to do with it.

At this stage, the rugby scrum that you pass through on the way to Dare is still there and there is no sign yet of movement in the market at Pantai Kelapa next to the Pertamina oil facility.

Not sure where this will all end up.


The Mercado Lama group have returned to the new Taibesse market.  The Lita group have also gone there.  The Comorro Road sellers are due to move shortly.  Some will move back to the old Comorro Market site.  The Pantai Kelapa sellers will move after that.  I am told that unresolved east/west issues mean that sellers would prefer to move with their monu/sai mates.

This stuff is good for traffic flow but real bad for providing accessible shopping for non-pedestrians.  The new locations will be hard for car shoppers as parking will not be easy.  I imagine security and convenience will be a problem for a few malae which will drive fresh produce sales back to the supermarkets (ie from the little guys to the big guys).

Even Bali has duds

If you want a break from Dili then Bali is the cheapest destination where there is some semblance of Western comfort items.  In Dili, you eventually get accustomed to life without Starbucks, Mickie Dees, squash courts and golf courses.  And in the end, you don’t really miss them much at all.

But you go to Bali to eat and drink well at half the cost of Dili (and still don’t go to Starbucks, MickieDees, play squash or golf !).  As far as eating goes, my rule is (as far as possible) to eat something you can’t get in Dili.  But it means striking duds occasionally.  It was my turn to choose so I selected the trendy looking Balinese decor restaurant with some Italian-derived dishes on the menu.  I use the term Italian-derived to avoid abuse from RO who would probably be appalled if I just used the word “Italian”.  And there is no way I am going to insult my gnocchi rolling teacher !

Anyway, things were going OK.  Food was OK without being spectacular then it happened.  The band started playing.  A few guys wearing chefs uniforms playing violin, double bass and conga drums.  I choked when they got to “Johnnie B Good”.  Then a few more old classics were butchered.  I sprayed when other diners actually clapped.

I suddenly saw my future as clear as a bell.  Would I be doing this when I am “retired” ? * Yes, the restaurant was probably mostly retired folk and the children were obviously grand-kids.  I blew it.  My rights to choose a restaurant withdrawn until further notice.

And for once, if a guy had said “transport”, I would have accepted instantly and offered to drive back to Dili.

*  That is, clapping musos in chef’s uniforms !

Gastronomists, you can sleep easy

Another burger joint has recently been added to the mix.  “Brothers Hamburger” is located about 300 metres west of Hotel Timor across the road from the “Reinado gang retirement hotel”.  It looks like it is run by Chinese/Malaysian/Indonesian proprietors who all sit there watching C-grade Asian movies while serving across the counter.  Decor is “large echoey clean white public toilet tiles” style.  Ambience is “large echoey clean white public toilet tiles” style.  Burger is edible without raising one to heights of ecstacy or lowering one to requiring a bucket.

I couldn’t help notice the large new signs out the back saying “Brothers Hotel”.  Could be a new hotel about to emerge.

Another Indian restaurant has appeared in the form of the Welcome Indian take-away next to the Dili Club.  (Or was that Welcome to the Indian take-away ?)

It reminds me that things have changed in the gastronomic department.  I recall that when I first arrived, the topic of stomach flu * often came up in conversation.  It always appeared that someone in your circles was suffering in this area and I considered it par for the course to get a dose every couple of months.

Setting aside the bad prawn incident of 3 or 4 months ago, these days it is pretty rare to hear of these unfortunate gastric incidents.  There is no doubt that the group of restaurants frequented by expats have lifted their game and it has been mostly helped by a significant increase in patronage and hence throughput.  There is also more throughput through the supermarkets and less likelihood of old produce nearing or past its expiry date.

It could also be that I ceased drinking from barrel water early last year and only use it for cooking these days.  It could also be that others have followed my lead or that quality control at the barrel filling plants has improved.

In any case, the restaurant scene has lifted (eg Tuk Tuk) and we wait with bated breath to see what Ross & Bruce will have to offer once the new Nautilus seafood restaurant opens in the old Fat Boys premises.

*  I use this term to mean any condition of the internal organs likely to generate sudden uncontrollable emanations from the laughing or sitting equipment.  I actually detest the PC-ness of this word and recommend the term “crook guts” .

Coffee economics

We all know prices for foods seem to be going up everywhere.  Here’s my latest figures on local Timorese coffee economics (in USD) :

The local bit

  • Timorese coffee farmer receives about 30 cents per kg of raw beans
  • After skinning, washing, drying & removing poor quality beans, we end up with 1/6 of the raw bean weight in processed, dry beans in export condition
  • This means the farmer receives about $1-80 per kg of processed beans
  • Processing costs, overheads etc. are (say) around double that

The overseas retail end of the chain

  • A single espresso shot is about 30 grams of roasted beans
  • It takes around 37 grams of processed green beans to make 30 grams of roasted beans, making around 27 shots per kg
  • Therefore the farmer receives around 6.7 cents per shot in your local coffee shop
  • The processing company may get around 5 to 10 cents
  • So if, the raw coffee bean price doubles, all else remaining equal, your espresso price goes up another 6.7 cents

In any case, using this Timorese example, about 10 to 15 cents of your cup goes to the producer and processor located here in TL.  I am assuming export grade stuff in my example.  The cheaper stuff earns a fair bit less.  Similarly, the backyard processing operations.

Enjoy your 13 cents of finest Timorese coffee.

Note : Feel free to shoot holes in my analysis – this being a casual brain dump done under the influence of too much caffeine.