Traffic lights heads up

Having mocked the traffic lights mercilessly when they were installed a couple of months back, it is worth reviewing their performance and effect on road safety.

In general, they have been installed on the incoming side of intersections only, so there are no lights on the other side of the intersection.  They are also placed about 5 metres back from the intersection corner which means one must stop 5 metres before the intersection so you can see the lights change.  This means you must look at a weird angle to see the lights change and a lot of the time, you can not see vehicle movements on the cross street.  4 out of 10 for no lights on the outgoing side of the intersection and 2 out of 10 for not being able to see traffic in the cross street.

They are sometimes working and sometimes not, sometimes on permanent amber, sometimes not.

There are a couple of intersections where the lights are respected but others where they are pretty much ignored.  I had expected that they may be vandalised by now but I have seen no evidence yet of this.

All up, provided you ignore them at select times, I doubt they have any effect at all.  If you observe them, probably a negative effect.  At this stage, UNPol do not pick you off for ignoring the lights which seems the common sense response to me.

Many think that street lighting would have a much bigger positive effect on general road safety and crime.

There goes the job in police public relations.

Eating Indian

I once lived in a group house with a guy called John and for a reason that escapes me, we engaged in curry cooking competitions where the sole aim was to outdo the opponent’s previous effort in heat.  It just wouldn’t do to eat a curry without sweat falling off the end of your nose.

So I have a soft spot for this type of food.  Recently, I noticed a new Indian restaurant pop up just south of the ANZ bank – the Indian Megha Restaurant. It is still undergoing some final renovations but is operating and doing Indian breakfast from 7am on the weekend.  Typical main courses are $3 to $4-50 and Tiger beer is $2 a bottle and it is on my card to go soon.

There are 3 Indian/south Asian restaurants in the Tiger fuel area on Comorro Road – the Sun restaurant at the Backpackers, the Piyashi across the road and the Tandoor further west.  Indian food is also available at the Bangkok Thai on the way to Christo Rei.

Election news

Today, the last of the losing first round presidential candidates declared their endorsed candidate for the 2nd round. The Democratic Party’s Fernando “LaSama” do Araujo formally endorsed Jose Ramos-Horta.

If the supporters of the other six candidates vote exactly according to their leader’s endorsement for the second round then the second round contestants LuOlu (29%) and Ramos-Horta (22%) would expect to go to something like 31% and 69% respectively.

It is unlikely to go quite like that but even if only 80% follow their leaders endorsement, it would end up something like LuOlu (40%) and Ramos-Horta (60%).

Some people still say the first round election was fundamentally flawed and it is truly fortunate that the results were so distinctly separated in vote numbers that no-one is convinced an accurate count would change the final result. But it has put more pressure on the 2nd round result to get it right.

Thankfully, it appears it was no Nigeria or as bad as Florida.

ANZAC Day ceremony

The annual ANZAC Day ceremony was held in Dili yesterday morning as it is in most places where Australians and New Zealanders can get together in numbers.  Last year, it was held at the deserted heliport but this year, the heliport is a thriving ADF (Australian Defence Force) facility.

This year it is was held on the grass verge just outside the front of Camp Phoenix – the ISF (international stabilisation force) HQ.  All Australians and New Zealanders were welcome, but it is a public event and there is nothing stopping anyone coming to observe – the main impediment being that you have to be there before dawn.

The ANZAC Day ceremony being a tribute to those who have fought for their country was quite appropriately put together by the ADF and NZDF, with speeches and prayers from several army personnel and the ambassadors of Australia and New Zealand.  The NZDF put in a fine singing performance.

Coffee and Bundaberg run was served for all guests which numbered around 300, including many Australian and New Zealand police, many of the OZ/NZ community and a small contingent of Turkish UN police.

It may have been a public holiday in OZ and NZ but just another day here in Dili (for most).

Note : ANZAC Day tends to focus on the Dardanelles campaign of the First World War where OZ and NZ troops (amongst others) fought the Turks at Gallipoli (more correctly Gelibolu).  Historically, both Australia and Turkey regard the Turkish victory as defining moments in their country’s histories.

Keeping software up-to-date – the Dili way

Once a month, Microsoft brings out their security updates which from a user point of view is a bit more manageable than the old random release of these updates. Some of these monthly updates (for Windows XP) run to over 40Mbytes but the typical size of late has been around the 10 to 20Mbyte mark.

Now it is just not possible to handle this sort of download over a modem connection unless you possess infinite patience. And if you add in the almost daily anti-virus software updates (and the large updates once every couple of months), you can get blown away pretty quickly. I try to keep up but this will usually involve a visit to an internet cafe to get this stuff.

That may seem OK but the majority of internet cafes here proudly advertise “fast broadband” when they only have 128kbps connections. Some have 256kbps. If you get in early, you can get most of that bandwidth to yourself and do your stuff. But heaven help you if a large group of other users file in.

I recall one time I went into a “cafe” (no coffee in sight) to do my updates and my humble task ground the bandwidth right down such that the owner came out to find out who was downloading music or images. “Not me”, I said. I killed the task, did a bit of harmless surfing and finished the job off at another “cafe”.

On another occasion, I thought it wise to ask the manager if I could do my updates and I was told “no, try somewhere else”. Honest but obviously a strategic mistake.

I have been reading about Google’s new online applications (calendar, word processing, spreadsheet etc.) and just how useful they are. And the pressure this is putting on Microsoft. On the one hand, you never have to worry about updates again but on the other, you may never have enough bandwidth to make the experience worth it here. And Youtube ? What’s that ?

Its just too expensive here and the real broadband world is just a dream.  The 15 year monopoly by Timor Telecom is just not doing it for me.

Rice and choppers

For the last week, truckloads of rice have been coming off the Dili docks escorted by the GNR.  I presume this means that the rice shortage is well and truly over.  I would still like to know how it really happened in the first place.

This evening, I was aroused by a new sound.  It says something when you start to notice unusual helicopter sounds.  First it was the Blackhawks, then the dulcet tones of the Kiowa and the commercial tones of the choppers from Heavy Lift.

This new one is noisy and slow.  I presume this is the first sweep around town of the Kiwi Iriquois choppers.  If they swoop low, they will frighten the horses, dogs, cats, pigs and sleeping babes.

Eating News

A couple of times, I noticed the Metro Cafe with doors closed and I wondered if it really was. I am now convinced – concreting up the entire front facade was a dead give-away. With MyFali, Foodstart and Starco restaurants nearby, similar style of eating is still available. I have noticed Starco clientele increasing substantially lately.

People have reported Restaurant 99 across the road from the stadium as becoming popular. It is Chinese and on my card to visit one day.

On the road to Christo Rei, there are 3 new places still taking shape. The first is about 100 metres on the east (ie Baucau) side of Sol e Mar. Another open air style establishment which could still be a couple of months away from opening.

Closer in at Metiaut, a restaurant/accommodation establishment has been under construction for a while. The accommodation rooms look very small but an upstairs eatery is under construction which should have neat views over the water. They have hung up their shingle now and Dili now has its own Hotel California.

Closer in again, another bar/restaurant is taking shape slowly between Bachky and Bangkok Thai restaurants. It looks like it will have a bar (made in the shape of a wooden canoe) such that customers look out to the sea. Again still a few weeks away from completion.

Election final result blues

I suppose a lot of people were geared up ready for trouble on election day then when the results seemed clear the next day and then after a pause, when the final results were posted on Wednesday.

There had been almost no trouble at all for a month until Wednesday night. All I know is that there were rock fights in Bairo Pite which repeated on Thursday night. And tonight, a message that there were rock fights at the Colmera junction (ie 100m west of Hotel Timor on the pharmacy corner). There has not been trouble there for quite a while since the Colmera gangs were taunting the people in the Jardim IDP camp between Hotel Timor and the port entrance.

I heard a few police sirens but that’s all I know. I think they are probably relatively small and controllable. It belted rain this evening so didn’t seem like a good night to go out but I guess it doesn’t stop the lads looking for some evening biffo.

The acid spill

Apart from the election, the biggest event lately has been the acid spill at Dili port. It has taken a few days to piece the bits together but I think it goes like this.

A container was dumped at the port (last weekend ?) containing over 20,000 litres of acid which was leaking. This resulted in closure of the port area (for about 3 days) to the general public and evacuation of surrounding areas including guests at Hotel Timor and the Kiwi soldiers from their base next door. The IDP camp between Hotel Timor and the port was asked to evacuate but they refused , claiming it was a ploy to get them out.

At one point, the nature of the acid was not certain so a conservative approach was taken. Experts from Australia were called in and confirmed it was HCl (hydrochloric acid) so the no-go zone was reduced after a couple of days.

Most of the acid leaked into the sea where it would be rendered harmless. Sea water contains salts, the main one being NaCl (ie sodium chloride) and anyone who has done school chemistry should know that HCl plus NaOH (ie sodium hydroxide) produces salt (NaCl) plus water (H2O). There are more than enough free hydroxide ions to allow the HCl to break-down. Other chemicals may not have been so friendly.

At some point, someone announced that one should not eat fish for a few days. This probably explains why a couple of guys I know in the construction industry said their workers refused to eat any fish back at their canteen. The eating recommendation was quickly reversed but too late for some.

It turned out the acid was on its way from Indonesia to Australia but when a leak was discovered, it was off-loaded in Dili. It highlights the fact that the port probably had no protocols for dealing with this sort of problem, the ship did not know how to handle it and the acid was probably stored in an unsafe manner in the container and possibly not identified correctly.

I believe the ISF (ie OZ component of the international security force) managed the clean-up.

Feel free to correct me if I got anything wrong here.

Travel advisories and what it means now

I know I risk annoying someone for touching this one but yesterday morning, Radio OZ chose to broadcast much of the content of a recently released Timor-Leste travel advisory by the OZ government.

Unless you listened very carefully, you may have thought things had descended into a security nightmare again.  But the reality is slightly different.  Yes, the travel advisory was changed on Tuesday but only to add a section warning against movement in the seaport area following a major acid spill.  Otherwise, the general flavour of the advisory has not changed for months.  (Note that if you register on the advisory website you will get an email reminder if the advisory changes, as I did on Tuesday.)

That flavour is based on the January/February situation where there were nightly rock fights in specific parts of town and things were generally not very nice.  Things calmed down in early March but the advisory has not fundamentally changed.  It has not changed as there has been an expectation that something will kick off the trouble again – like an election.  And here we have an election process – campaigning, voting, announcement of results – which will go on until July.

For those who are not students of the travel advisory (, it basically advises Australians to leave and advises those staying to avoid the western districts and avoid congregating in bars, restaurants and places frequented by foreigners etc. etc.

I suppose one contentious point is the system of defining warning levels.  TL is at “level 5” which is the highest level but most people can’t quite believe that you can equate TL with Iraq or Afghanistan.  And if it is level 5 now, then May last year should be “level 9”, shouldn’t it ?

Most expats who have been here for a while generally know where not to go and when not to go.  They tend to know what to avoid and will generally know which direction is the way to safety if something goes wrong.

In general, I wouldn’t recommend a first-time visitor coming here unless they join up with a group (ie employer-related) who will provide some accompaniment and guidance.  It takes time to become accustomed to the security environment and to get the “feel” when things are wrong.

However, I move about freely right now and feel no anxiety about moving about Dili, although I would avoid places like Fatuhada, Kampung Alor, Bairo Pite and the Delta areas in Comorro.  Very few expats have a need to hang around these areas.  At the end of the day, it is all about being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
There are hundreds of UN police roaming about the place these days and I am confident if any escalation of problems occurs, it will be quickly fed into the security notification system which now seems well entrenched.

If I feel the need to don the cast-iron underwear (with high-tech chafe-free absorbent gusset), you will hear about it here.