Boxing Day Sales

I have’nt experienced Christmas outside the Dili environs since 2004 and I can’t even recall ever venturing out for Boxing Day* sales in the western world since Moses was sailing amongst the bullrushes.  So why did I do it this time ?

It was embarrassing.  I bumped into people, tripped over imaginary and other tiny objects.  I had lost all ability to negotiate crowds without retiring to the roadside gutter.  I excused myself in department stores and knocked stuff off shelves.  I had lost the devil required to negotiate the sales, the urge to buy something (or anything) as long as it was on special.  And the one thing I bought, failed to work when I got it home.  I even wore jeans that I had not worn in 3 years.  The crutch hang down near my knees … and the belt didn’t have enough holes.  Too much Dili good living had stripped off enough “condition” to reduce me to a waif-like state (compared to when I first arrived). I dared not venture out in my Dili shorts, t-shirt and sandals for fear of terrifying the well-dressed locals.

I felt defeated.  Would I have felt the same if I had negotiated the hordes (buying blue jeans) in Colmera.  I don’t know.  Did I really need to buy anything anyway ?  Seems I am not the man to buy the world out of economic hard times … nor to be used as a role model for the fashion industry.

And a tip for fellow bloggers, this time of year is murder for blog spam.  The rate of inane, machine generated drivel comments has gone up 50 fold over the last 2 weeks.

* For the uninitiated, Boxing Day is the day after Christmas Day renowned for huge cut-price sales, Test matches at the MCG and the odd horse race.  All may involve drink to some degree.

Weather report

Weather Report were a definitive jazz fusion group led by the masterly keyboards man Jo Zawinul.  They gotta be more interesting and correct than Dili weather reports.

Most mornings I listen to Radio OZ and I scream when I hear the Dili weather report.  Now tell me what is the point of telling me it is going to be 28 degrees today and tomorrow 28 and maybe next month 30, rising up to a peak of around 34 early next year.  Am I going to tuck in my down jacket, my fleecy underwear ?  Maybe salube * in some silky boxers for the day.  Perhaps dash out to “Top One” in Audian (Dili’s answer to any decent shop in Rodeo Drive) to update my wardrobe.

What is relevant is “will it rain/storm/bucket ?”.  I get daily emails with the weather report.  For weeks, it has been telling the same old 28 degrees and every 2nd day, predicts rain and fails.  May as well recite a verse from Shakespeare instead.

My advice to the ABC (& others) is stop it before you need an arm extension to pick your nose.  My suggestion follows :

ABC (& others) version : “Dili will be 28 degrees and cloudy”

My version : “Do I need to tell you that today will be 28 degrees ?  Didn’t think so.  Same as yesterday really … bit of wind.  If you see those clouds building up over Dare, probably forget about it.  Its just teasing.  And that north-easterly wind, its when it stops that you have to worry.  Stay cool.”

* Yet another OZ linguistic mastication of the wonderful word, salubrious.  To salube is to enjoy the high life, curl the mo, strut your mutt.  That is, aim to achieve a higher state of salubriousness.  In other words, pretend things are a whole lot better than they really are … for an hour or two.  For some reason, only used after the 5th drink.

The best place to be during the Olympics

Although I will probably watch the opening ceremony to see how the Chinese put that together and I will probably watch a few sporting events that I would otherwise never watch (think synchronised swimming), I am glad I will be in Dili during the Olympics – as far away as possible from the hooplah.  No shops with Olympics specials, no endless ads on TV about Olympics this and Olympics that.  In fact, I think it quite possible to skip the whole thing and never know it existed.  That probably makes Dili a good candidate for those wishing to drop out … but of course, you just end up dropping in to something else.

I watched a piece on TV last night about the effects of the global downturn.  Higher prices, reduced family incomes leading to mortgage pressures, banks hauling in bad loans etc. and felt mighty glad these issues just don’t hit the radar here.  I am just not enticed to take out a bank loan here or whip down and buy the latest electronics gadgetry or domestic labour-saving device.  Am I concerned that I am not wearing the latest in t-shirt, shorts and sandals ?

Will the Beijing air be breathable during the Games, will there be any Olympic terrorism (apart from the Chinese security services themselves), will it be the greatest Olympics ever ?

Will there be yogurt at the supermarket today, or cheese or bacon ?  Will there be a power cut today ?  Will I have to plunge the toilet this morning ?

Back on the angry pills

I heard yesterday that a UN police officer of African extraction overtook on the wrong side of the road and wiped out a cyclist on the other side of the road.

Being a cyclist who has lifted the middle digit to UN police drivers more times than I have had cereal for breakfast, it makes me mad. Some of these UN police drivers (and some UN drivers in general) should not be driving on Dili roads. It is a joke that some of these morons are behind the wheel.

Several times I have been cycling correctly on the left side of the road near the kerb and been confronted with UN vehicles overtaking and heading straight for me. Do they elect to hold back ? No. Do they slow down ? No. They press on with hand on horn, expecting me to clear off. I usually see this stuff well ahead and have my digit prepared for insertion upwards and on the odd occasion, let off a string of invective.

On one occasion, the response was the raising of a middle digit out the drivers window by the driver. Touchee.

I must recall the incident where a UN driver admitted that he never drove a car back at home (possibly no licence) but was handed a vehicle on arrival here. He had to get someone else to back-up the vehicle when he got himself and the vehicles around him into a jam.

For me, UN driving remains a joke and it is up to them to clean up their act. If you came from a country called “UN”, you would be embarrassed. Will we read about this incident in any UN report ? Probably not. The carpet must be getting pretty lumpy by now.


Over the Christmas-New Year period, I was reading the Economist magazine and read an article about the negative aspects of “organic” and “fair-trade” produce.  It argued that supporting these initiatives was actually making the situation worse.  (A gin and a warm afternoon on the porch produced the following.)

In their defence, it must be said that I can not disagree with the assertion that “organic” production requires significantly more land to produce the same quantity of produce.  (More on quality later.)  But I do have some reservations about the assertion that “fair-trade” by giving higher prices to primary producers, encourages them to stay in production when the real problem is over-production.

Now when I look at “fair-trade” as it is applied in the coffee industry here, I see a different picture.  In a perfect world, these “over-producing” farmers would switch overnight into producing something more “valuable”.  They would go to the bank and convince the bank to give them a loan which would start paying them back in (say) 3 years.  They might mortgage their land, do some re-education on their new crop etc. etc.

But what if you don’t own the land (so have no asset), your house is a hut made from palm trees, you only went to school for 2 years when you were a kid and you barely have enough food to eat as it is.  And you have never seen a bank and your government is in no position to help you out.

So “fair-trade” offers you a 5 cents per pound premium on the free market price – hardly a rip-off if this amounts to way less than 1 cent for each coffee in a “free world” coffee shop.  And because it is called “fair-trade”, somebody else markets it that way and actually gets a 20% premium on the final bean price.  So in order to get that 5 cents to the producer, you are probably paying a middleman many times that.

The reality is that the typical coffee producer is low-paid, lowly educated, poorly fed and a totally unworldly part of the supply chain and as a result, is shafted by the big middlemen.  I will guess the banana industry is just the same.  In other words, the Economist argument applies in a “perfect market” – one where the cost of fair entry to that market is closer to equal.

So what’s this gotta do with tomatoes.  This will be subject to a later article, but basically, the tomatoes you buy here in Dili are gnarled unevenly coloured and often soft or split specimens.  They are organic as use of artificial fertilisers is almost unknown here.  They are not products of carefully controlled irrigation systems, not in hot houses and are probably wrenched out of dry scabby soil.  But they taste like real tomatoes.  They are exquisite.  Not the cardboardy equivalents seen now in the western world – products of automated systems, hot houses and controlled temperature warehouses.

One day, I can just imagine western kids getting a taste of a Dili tomato and complaining “yuk, this is not a tomato … it’s not perfectly round … it’s got yukky green bits and some spots … it’s rubbish”.  And to think tomatoes are rejected in the western world if they are not uniform in size, colour, firmness and cardboard taste.

Yeah, lets get rid of those unproductive coffee farmers, the unproductive tomato growers and while we are at it, all those unproductive art galleries and who needs those unproductive musicians who are not in the top 100 chart – they are just dragging down the more efficient artists.

I have nothing against the Economist bringing some of the issues to the table but the full picture would sometimes make it easier for us dumb readers to make our own decisions.  So if I want to pay more for Mexican re-fried beans over ordinary baked beans, I will – presumably because I attain more satisfaction doing so.  And if I want to eat gnarly old mis-shapen tomatoes over the cardboard variety, I will.

Should I respect any dry economic theorist who listens to classical music subsidised by the public purse.  Now that would be a travesty wouldn’t it ?