Dili’s Ring Cycle

Pardon me for being so frivolous, but yesterday’s break-out from Becora Prison was just what was required to provide the necessary twist to make a good old rollicking opera.

Major Reinado and all 56 of the lads escaped at around 2pm. No-one seems to know just how and when yet, but I am sure that at least one of the 100+ Timorese prison guards ought to know something.

The lads managed to evade the NZ military patrols in the area and as far as I know, have vanished.

I suspect it was no coincidence that yesterday was a Timorese public holiday, and that the Malaysian military contingent left yesterday as well plus the first of the NZ military withdrawals. And also in a period prior to the establishment of a bigger UN police group. And also the same day as an Australian SBS Dateline documentary on the subject of a coup.

Is this going to be a single sitting opera, as long as Wagner’s Ring or what ?

The Internet can be sensuous

On a good day, things are pretty good here. However, when it comes to internet access, it is ferociously frustrating.

I actually took some steps to see just how much decent internet really costs. My understanding is that there is one ISP in TL, going by the name iNet. It resells Timor Telecom bandwidth and is the only player. It is a slim, sleek organisation with limited overheads but it too, is beholden to Timor Telecom’s telecomms monopoly.

As far as I can tell, so-called broadband internet here means 128k and 256k DSL links which cost over USD1,000 in initial set-up costs and over USD700 per month. Most of this really goes to Timor Telecom and I was told that TT were about to put internet access prices … wait for it … up !

I now know that most of the internet cafes really have only 128k connections. This explains why a full 10-person cafe is almost totally brought to a grinding halt. And it makes a mockery of the thought that going to an internet cafe might be significantly faster than a modem connection. And it makes the 5 minutes of downloads/updates that I did in a real world internet cafe in OZ a few months back look absolutely sensuous compared to the weeks it might have taken to get it done here.

Internet cafes … sensuous … time for a holiday ?

Please Explain

For the last couple of weeks, there has definitely been an increase in Blackhawk activity (ie helicopters), particularly at night. Apparently, there has been an increase in gang activity and the lads have been getting a bit more belligerent and have been testing the foreign troops and police.

The Comorro/FatuHada area (on the west of town towards the airport) seems to be the main problem spot. But I don’t know much more than that, and little is reported about it in the foreign press. There is a rumour that someone is slipping the lads a few bucks to stir up trouble. If this is true, no-one seems to have any idea what the purpose is but to constantly create an insecure environment and ensure that “refugees” (IDPs) stay in the camps, which is exactly what they are doing.

As far as I can tell, there has been no general movement away from the camps. It is almost the new normality. There are concerns that the secure camps which provide free water, (certainly not the greatest) sanitation, some degree of medical service and free food are far too attractive for a number of people.

There has been talk of stopping the free food in the camps and moving food distribution points to the suburbs but I have seen no evidence of this myself (not that I would even recognise it occuring anyway).

But a couple of nights ago, 10 houses were burnt in the FatuHada area. I think there were a couple of arrests but who knows if that will put anyone off. But yes, the security situation at night-time has definitely deteriorated in certain parts of town, even right next to the OZ defence HQ at the Dili port.

Many think things will bumble along like this until the general election scheduled for May 2007 – that’s 8 more months of bumbling. That is unless some political revelation occurs first.


Besides the complement of OZ and NZ police at the Timor Lodge Hotel, there are still some longer term residents. They have lost their regular bar as the blue shirts have commandeered that. But they have also lost a bit of relaxed lifestyle. Security experts have deemed that the establishment required twin 5m high wire fences topped with razor wire and sun-like security lighting. It looks awful. The banana trees were chopped down too. I do know the blue shirts are not allowed out so is this really what is required to keep the boys inside ? Or have I got this wrong ?

Too Much Wind

I have been suffering with too much wind lately. Not my own, but nature’s version. For the last week or so, it has actually been quite windy and combined with the fact it is dry season, you end up with a lot of dust and in my case, far too much coughing – its genetic.

The wind whips up the sea into a furious 0.3 metre chop. Even at this modest fury, the waves break over some of the seawalls along the esplanade. At the weak spots (outside the Malaysian Embassy and near the Farol lighthouse), it has not been uncommon to see piles of sand covering half the road. And to my amazement, road crews actually cleaning it up several days later.

The transition from 95+% humidity in summer to the current dry conditions is intriguing. That’s if you call 28 degrees and 80% humidity dry ! The hills have burned off to a dry beige colour and the significant reduction in ground cover means walking or running in the hills is even more dangerous on the loose gravelly surface.

It is a tradition to burn off all the dry grass on the hills. While I understand this is good for the soil, I imagine some pretty ugly erosion is also the result when rains finally come.

Phew … I must have writers block. I’m actually talking about the weather !

ATM Rage

Its a strange world we live in. As far as I know, there are only 2 ATM machines in Dili for provision of cash. Both are run by Australia/New Zealand’s ANZ bank. One is at the one and only ANZ bank in TL and the other is inside the Leader supermarket.

The only one available outside of business hours is the one at the bank itself. But its out of commission right now. Why ? Someone took to the ATM with a person thumping object and caused fatal damage. I would think every Australian and New Zealander plus numerous other locals and other expats use the ANZ, so the elimination of the only out of hours ATM machine is bad karma for a number of people. Particularly those who can not get to the bank during business hours.

Poor fellow, it is understood he may be on the bank’s security camera. Could be a career down the drain and a huge repair bill. Its the talk of the town but no names have been mentioned.

And now for some restaurant news. The BanThai restaurant now has a new owner and is now known as the Bangkok Thai. The Shanghai restaurant (near Castaways) is undergoing extensive renovation. I do not anyone who has ever eaten at the Shanghai and one acquaintance described it as the only restaurant in town that doesn’t sell food. It is rumoured it will become a hotel-like establishment.

Alas, the Beach Cafe remains closed but intact. I am not the only one who regarded this as a Burmese restaurant at the top of its game. I’ll be reporting on it like a rabid dog until it finally re-opens, which is constantly rumoured.

Dazed and Confused

I have been a bit confused lately. I don’t travel well if I put on weight. Lethargy sets in and inevitably an increase in the susceptibility to the dreaded lurgy. A chest infection and blocked ears probably contributed to the confusion on top of some internet connection difficulties. And “Dili-gence” … who cares about that now anyway ? No more front page news for Dili. Lebanon has some real nasty stuff beyond the capabilities of the boys here … and Darfur, Sri Lanka and Woteveritistan.

You would have thought with a couple of thousand troops and 800 blue shirts, things should be going swimmingly here. But in the last couple of weeks, things have deteriorated. I have seen none of it myself and most of it has occurred at night in the usual places. But today, right outside the OZ Defence Force base in the centre of Dili across the road from the Hotel Timor, I am told it was all on today. The lads from the hills came in to have a good old fashioned punch-up laced with a bit of stainless steel and sharp projectiles.

A bit difficult for the blue shirts to handle when it is right amongst refugee tents and families etc. I just don’t understand it and at the moment, I am not sure anyone I have spoken to does either.

And I am perplexed just why the new Prime Minister is doing a world tour (ie Kuwait) just a matter of weeks after taking control under quite unusual circumstances. I suppose if you don’t have a functioning military or police force, you may as well go and do something else in times like this.

And now for the good news. There is a new burger joint a couple of hundred metres south of the Obrigado Barracks across the road from the old Matadouro (slaughterhouse in Portuguese). There’s enough room to swing a rat but not a cat. The burgers are $2-50 which compares well to the $6 touch at the more expat oriented establishments. There is no grog but I rate the burgers (or should I say the cheese burger I had) fairly high. A very nice crisp lightly toasted bun and well-presented.

Yeah, I know. Another road kilometre to work off this week.