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.

Life at the edge

I wouldn’t be the only one to be breaking out of town to check out life out of TL at this time of year.  Apart from a couple of very touristy/rest trips to Darwin I haven’t re-acquainted myself with life in OZ for over 2 years.  So I am doing a south-east OZ tour of old stamping grounds and mates.  (The things you have to do to reduce the OZ wine lake !)

If you thought that arriving in Dili was a bit of a shock, the reality is that going the other way is every bit as shocking.  I certainly was not prepared for the 1st grog shop visit where there were more beers on offer than wines.  What happened ?  It seems like very man and his dog is brewing beer.  Not that this is bad, but get a grip guys, beer has never been so expensive.  Hint – start brewing in Dili boys.  Dili Draught … Becora Bitter … Maubisse Mild … Same Stout … Palacio Pilsener … are you with me ?

And OZ tomatoes  … perfectly red, round and tasting like cardboard.  I miss the gnarled but tasty Dili tomatoes already.

And everybody tells me I need to consume.  You know, buy stuff I don’t really need.  Replace those shorts I have worn for ages in Dili.  And that mobile phone is just so OLD.  And those t-shirts look oh so naff.  Get a grip – I am not going to buy a new car for the good of the country.  Besides – every man and his dog in Dili seems to be buying blue jeans in Colmera.

I went to a local suburban club with some old mates and was amazed at the apparent dagginess of the premises until the beers kicked in and the band transformed from ho-hum to rock legends.  It could have been related to the fact that the local hairdressers association were having their Christmas party and hit the dance floor.  I was more than prepared for a trim right there and then.

And the internet speed – WOW.  See you next year (1000 Gigabytes later.)

Letter to J-Lo

This is to my friend J-Lo (the name I shall refer to her even though she is not a film star and lives in Dili).

J-Lo is a treasure.  I met her in 2005 and one day I even ended up working in her work-sphere.  We traded friendly insults for ages and I even cooked for her.  And one day she announces she has found THE man.  It was’nt me.  As a sop, she even conceded that in another life I might have been that bloke but we both know that Dr Who and the Planet Zog are not real.

Thanks sis, I will be biting at your heels forever.  And “shut-up Barry”.

The ersatz Olympics

It is day 7 of the Olympics and apart from seeing a couple of short clips on satellite news services, I have not seen a complete event yet.  Although TVTL did have the opening ceremony, I have seen no more sign of action there and although TVRI (an Indonesian TV station) has the Indonesian TV rights, I have not cracked any Olympics coverage there when I have looked.

I guess it must be happening as other news reports say it is but they also talk of fake fireworks displays in the opening ceremony, fake singers and fake weather.  I am starting to wonder if this whole thing is being faked in some studio in Shenzhen next-door to the fake NorthFace adventure gear factory.

It is more clear evidence of the whole world turning to fakedom.  I am pretty sure that one day I will make a mistake and make an appointment with a spin doctor to syringe my ears.  He will convince me that I actually will hear better with my ears blocked and will bill me anyway and suggest that I should return to hand in my reading glasses so I can see more clearly.

Olympic air quality

One of my more acceptable personal hobbies is monitoring Beijing air pollution figures.  Naturally, Dili is the perfect place to do this.  Part of my ongoing analysis is to be found here.  Now is as good a time as any to have a look at the daily historical record to see what it is really like.

Beijing’s location does not help its desire for clean air.  In reality, Beijing is about 70kms from the Gobi desert to the west.  There is a lot of loess in this area which is really fine dust and at certain times of the year, there are the infamous Beijing sandstorms (around March and April).  Chairman Mao had a vision of a Beijing with a skyline dotted with factory chimneys and there are still some last remnants of this planning vision.  Many of the smokestacks have now been removed but during the same period, the number of cars on the roads has grown rapidly.  In the last couple of years, the older diesel chugging buses have been replaced.

The enormous economic growth in China has been driven by a fair bit of catch-up in acquisition of things such as refrigerators, air conditioners and in fact, lots of gadgets.  This has driven up the demand for electrical power significantly which is usually met by coal-fired power stations, many which are located to the west of Beijing in provinces like Shanxi.  The prevailing wind direction is from the west.

Beijing next to a desert tends to indicate a lack of plentiful water and this is the case.  In summer, temperatures get up to 40 degrees while in winter, it gets down to minus 10 and lower.  So when it comes to selecting the best time to have an Olympic Games, August is the winner.  July may be technically clearer but it is also a lot hotter.  In China, the number 8 is seen as a very lucky number – the word “auspicious” is often used.  So it is no surprise for the Olympics to be commencing on 8/8/08 – lots of auspiciousness in that date.

If I can get my act together, I may publish a few more statistical analyses of the figures over the next week.

This is really about Nairobi

This is not about Dili at all but reading about Kenya being on the edge of civil war brought back memories of some quite risky behaviour on my part once.

I had just finished a 4 week safari tour of Kenya, Tanzania, Zaire, Rwanda and Uganda on the back of one of those open safari trucks.  Four weeks, about a dozen people, shorts and t-shirts throughout and a fair bit of testosterone.   After farewelling all the others, I spent the last couple of days in the 680 Hotel by myself.
I was alone in the bar one night and the black guy next to me suddenly turns around and says “why do you white guys all stick to this part of town … you never come and mix with where the black people live”.  Perhaps it was the sudden absence of heaps of company (including one or two girls that I regretted not having made advances towards) or perhaps it was the drink but I agreed with him.  He goaded me before finally offering to take me to “where the black people live” north of Tom Mboya street.  I agreed.

So off we go on foot and as we pass Tom Mboya street, the general streetscape tended to head to a rougher style.  We went into a bar – rough-looking by western standards.  Not a white man in sight.  My “mate” orders 2 beers.  I don’t understand what he says but he ends up having an argument with the barman.  He finally comes back with 2 warm beers.  I say to him, “it was me, wasn’t it?” He said, “Yes”.  I gradually feel more uncomfortable and am not really enjoying this beer (too warm) much at all.  About 20 bright white eyes stare at me.

He sees my discomfort and after the beers are demolished, offers succour by asking me, “let’s get out here … why not come and see where we really live out in the suburbs”.  It is now dark and I am obviously in a very uncomfortable place for a white man and say “yeah, why not!”

So off we go to a bus stop and hop in a small mini-bus.  He has a another argument with the driver.  I knew it was me again.  “So what was it this time?”, I ask.   He replied, “the driver wanted the white man to pay 3 times the normal fare … don’t worry, you are my guest, it is now OK”.

It is pitch black outside and we are clearly leaving town for god knows where.  About 20 minutes later, we pull up in some village out of town and go to yet another bar.  This time, I know there is not another white man for miles.  There is a group of guys playing guitar and singing.  They all say hello to me and make me feel quite welcome.  I have a beer.  This is not too bad, I tell myself.

Then my host says to me, “I have to go, I’ll be back later”.  And he leaves.  So there I am drinking beer in a bar after dark way out of town without a clue where I am and outside the bar, it is totally pitch black.  I start fretting.  For an hour, I find solace in beer and pretend that I really have not put a skid mark on my y-fronts when I am sure that I have.

Finally, my mate returns and I spin a story that I have to get back into town as I have arranged to meet friends for dinner.  He orders a car and the guy drives me back to my hotel and everything was fine.

It was probably next day that I decided to do a brewery tour of the Kenya brewery.  I manage to find a bus going the 20kms out of town and ask the driver to stop at the appropriate place.  He did and pointed me in the general direction.   The Kenya brewery campus is huge and has a mini-bus that runs non-stop in a huge loop around the place.  I find the main office and ask about the brewery tour.  It was Wednesday and the tour was only weekly on a Tuesday.  The security guard directs me to a brewery bar instead.  Regretfully, I accept this fall-back position.

I am walking through the campus and again, it appears I am the only white guy.  Everyone stares at the white guy with shorts, t-shirt, thongs and day-pack.  I walk past a small building with a trestle seat running across the full-length of the front of the bulding.  There are black guys sitting backs to the wall, all necking from large beer bottles.  They all stare at me.  I conclude that the only way out of this was to assume this was the bar and do what nature intended in this circumstance and join them on the seat drinking beer with back to the wall.

I purchased a wonderful cold beer from the bar which was surrounded by prison bars.  Except in this case, it looked like the barman was the prisoner.  I found my spot on the wall, drank some beer, no-one looked at me anymore and life was good.  Then it started going downhill.  I had obviously sat next to the brewery drunk.  We strike up conversation.  He is drunk but I press on.  He asks me why I am there and then starts getting awfully sorry that I had travelled so far and couldn’t do a tour.  I ask if there are any trinkets like brewery caps, glasses, bottle openers etc.  Of course, in the sales department.  He goes off to clock off for the day, we hop onto the mini-bus and shuffle off to the marketing building and I purchase my stash.

Suitably satiated, my drunken friend suggests we go to another bar on campus.  I agree.  This one is much smaller but still has the bar surrounded by iron bars.  I have a few more beers then my drunken friend starts asking for my phone number and address.  Then he calls the bar-woman for more beer.  The rather large lady brings the 2 bottles over and my friend starts massaging her breasts.  She doesn’t bat an eyelid.  He could have been checking them for ripeness – slightly uncool, me thinks.  A whiff of common sense tells me that it is now time to go so I spin the old chestnut about meeting friends for dinner and say I must go.

My drunken friend follows me out the main road inside the brewery campus.  There are food stalls lining the road and my friend is getting extremely garrulous.  He starts talking to some ladies at the stalls and offers to arrange a woman for the night for me.  And oh yeah, I tell him one of the friends is my girlfriend.  My speed hastens as I head for the bus.

On the bus which was packed, my drunken friend stood up the front next to the driver and was telling anyone within earshot that I was his mate.  Gulp.  In the end, no problems.

I have since been told several times, “you must have rocks in your head … you could get killed”.  Dili is so much easier and there are no bars out of town to get me into trouble.  And never make assumptions about anything.