Olympics passes without a murmur here

It came and went.  I saw a bit of the opening ceremony but not the lighting of the torch or the guy racing around the top of the stadium.  Saw a couple of video clips of sporting events, mostly of smiling faces on podiums collecting medals.  Did not see the closing ceremony.  Have’nt heard anyone even discuss the Olympics.

A short-term egg shortage appears to have resolved itself.  It appeared eggs were unobtainable for about 10 days.  I was in a supermarket in Audian a couple of days ago and there was clearly a run on a new egg shipment.

I am not sure how the food distribution system operates but it is obviously all tied up with ship movements.  But I remain perplexed that local production of things such as eggs is never enough to meet local demand.

A new ANZ ATM machine is due to open at the airport soon.  So it may be possible to obtain cash on arrival in the not too distant future.

An “International Expo” is being held at Mercado Lama over the next few days.  There are some tais stalls but for those who have been to the last 2 such events here, it is more a mixed bag with a variety of government departments and some international companies (eg Timor Telecom, CCT, Ensul).  Even if you dont think it applies to you, if you look at it from a “getting it together” point-of-view, it is a pretty well put together event.  Also tons of plants to buy.   Runs from Wednesday (ie yesterday) to Sunday.

The PNTL (ie police) have clamped down on shabby parking and are pinging cars parked on the right-hand side of one-way streets.  This has affected parking outside the ANZ Bank, Kmanek Supermarket (ie Cold Storage) and in the small street next to Hotel Timor, in particular.  People have reported police removing licence plates and more recently letting down tyres.  It appears that one way to avoid “prosecution” is to merely park on the “footpath”.  This seems to be OK.

It must be a slow week over at Chateau FOS.

Falintil Day

Today is another public holiday and it has been pretty quiet out there today.  I realised that the reason for my increased surliness recently while on the bicycle has been the increased road traffic of late.  No problems today but when one is cycling on the correct side of the road near the edge and some pillock overtakes heading straight for you and flashes headlights and hits the horn indicating it is my responsibility to evade him, well …

Anyway, the Falintil boys had a bit of a parade outside the Palacio to celebrate Falintil Day.  The lads eschewed (I finally get to use this word instead of “avoid”) the use of canned music and elected to go for the military band option.  My camera has saved a part of this performance (with sound) as a momento to be replayed in my old age.

A few days ago, a new arriver in town asked about acquiring running shoes.  My answer was the “Oceano” department store near the ANZ Bank.  However, I did do a whip through the Colmera shops today and there are more options than I imagined.  There is no doubt that there is more stuff available now, even if most is at the lower end.  I still go with the “Oceano” option for running shoes.

And the bookshop in Colmera was jam-packed with customers – most books were in Bahasa Indonesian as they are at almost all bookshops in town.  The official languages are Portuguese and Tetum.

Pie market forces

Demand is meant to somehow influence suppliers desire to supply, but sometimes I just don’t think the market operates in the true free-market sense here. For instance, if I go to buy tomatoes at the local market, a pile will cost me $1. If I want 10 piles, $10 and someone told me once that if you go higher, the per-pile rate actually increases because in the words of the seller, “if you buy them all, then I have nothing more to sell”. Same with eggs – whether you buy 1 or 30, the per-egg price is the same. And if the goods are getting a bit shabby at the end of the day due to a long day in the heat, there is no change in price and no desire to “fire-sale” the lower quality goods.

According to the Timor Post, a Democratic Party MP (ie a member of the coalition government) is lamenting the lack of price-fixing (by the government) to stabilise fluctuating prices caused by sellers “setting prices as they desire”. Price fixing is only used by “non-free market” governments, or as a social stability measure in markets which are not truly free due to monopoly control of key supply sources. Maybe vendors are just not understanding supply and demand or see a hugely distorted view of the economy at work. Maybe I need to re-read a few textbooks.

Even the humble Mrs.Macs pies (an essential dietary requirement) are out of stock wherever I look. The supply chain is failing as it often appears to do when searching for yogurt. I may have to resort to trying the new burger joint across from the ANZ bank called “Eastern Burger Corner”. It sells burgers, chicken wings, spring rolls etc. in a burger jointish environment. Someone told me I must also try the beef rendang at Lili’s which is 30 metres east of there.

It’s amazing just how much the lack of a meat pie (with tomato sauce) at lunchtime steels the mind for the rest of the day.

Finding sudoku

Sometimes some things just pass you by living here but while in Bali recently, I was looking to buy a cookbook written in Indonesian but with western-style recipes – as a Christmas present.  Then I saw sudoku books in Indonesian.  Forty US cents for a smaller edition – seemed a safe place to start.

For the moment, I am hooked.  So today I go looking for a fresh sudoku puzzle book.  I go to the new “Loja Livru Gracia” bookshop in Audian.  Nope but I walk out with 3 copies of the “Time Timor” magazine written in Tetum.  And yes, there are a number of cookbooks in Indonesian, the usual religious tomes, some language dictionaries (Indonesian-Korean).  And a large rack of used PC magazines in Indonesian.

I had a few other little fiddly shopping chores to undertake and schmoozed through shops I had not schmoozed through for a while.  It struck me that there has been a large increase in the number of clothing shops and a matching increase in shops offering clothing repairs and adjustments.  Karaoke systems are now big as are numerous small stereo systems.  Maybe I had not noticed the shop selling electric guitars.  I did notice the absence of small electricity generators which have obviously moved from the front of the shops to down the back (where they ought to be since the reduction in power cuts).

Anyway, I called it a day and downloaded a sudoku puzzle generator instead.

Shopping for the sensitive new age guy

Its funny how you spend half your working life wishing you earnt US dollars rather than the OZ dollar and now that you do, you would rather be paid the Pacific Peso (a now quaint historic term for the OZ dollar). One side-effect is that western goods sourced from OZ are getting a tad more expensive.

My new pack of 5 dozen Marathon dim sims now costs USD30, up from USD20 last time. Even the $2 Tiger beer is fast disappearing and it is only a matter of time before your typical OZ beer rockets from $2-50 to $3 over the bar. Mrs.Macs pies remain at around the $2-50 mark. For some reason, I don’t seem to notice the price of most other things except maybe breakfast cereal which has broken through my upper ceiling price.

It is worth noting that the general feel of Dili is significantly different when comparing early 2006 to now.  I would think western supermarket turn-over has trebled so goods ought to be fresher and turn-over greater.

For the discerning snag, here is my analysis of price increases from MY sample basket of goods.

Price increase is from March 2006 to October 2007 (close enough to 18 months). During the same period, the US dollar fell by 21% against the aforementioned peso. My sample is based on one selected vendor and as we know, prices can vary significantly between vendors.

Snag Item Price Increase
Melbourne Bitter cans (OZ) 21%
Heineken cans 29%
Tiger beer (Sg.) 17%
Bintang beer (Ind.) 0%
Penfolds Rawsons Retreat wine (OZ) 0%
Wolf Blass Red Label wine (OZ) 0%
Penfolds Koonunga Hill wine (OZ) 0%
Gordons Gin (part NZ) 11%
Johnny Walker Red Label 0%
Coca Cola (OZ) 21%
Coca Cola (Ind.) 20%
Soda water (Ind.) 20%
Heinz Baked Beans 10%

The figures are revealing. Some of your 100% OZ produced goods seem to have increased exactly with the fall in the US dollar. Non-OZ goods do a bit better. However, no matter what prices I looked at, OZ wine has not changed at all. I guess this reflects the production situation in OZ more than anything else.  Feel free to draw your own conclusions.

My great holiday underwear disaster

On my return, I was told that not much had happened while I was away.  It depends what you are looking at.  Yes, the old burnt-out shell of the “Hello Mister” supermarket has been razed to the ground after several years in its burnt-out state.  Yes, the Harbour View cafe is open again and yes, “Fat Boys” bar now has the sign up saying “Fat Boys”.  And yes, there are tons of road drainage works going on around town. But while away, I had more critical problems to attend to.

My holiday strategy was to take away the oldest most decrepit items of underwear with the aim of updating while in an advanced region called Europe.  This also saves on washing (5 washes by my carefully constructed plan).  So in Lisbon, I make my first purchase and choose my size (noting the signs denying the option to try them on for size).  The cashier insisted that I had selected way too big and convinced me to drop a size.  (Maybe Portuguese men pack a little more and Euro sizes are a bit bigger or maybe she was trying to crack on to me.)   So I dropped sizes and you guessed it, found I had acquired 3 pairs of nutchokers for about USD5 each.  Next day while on the tourist trail, I nearly passed out.

In an attempt to recover the situation, several days later I noticed grundies (ie mens underwear) in a “Chinese 2 Euro shop”.  Not to be fooled, I chose the biggest size available (XXL) and parted with my USD2 per pair.  Thinking I knew that Asian sizes were vastly different to western sizes, I thought I had it.  Nope, another 2 pairs of nutchokers and another day of occasional verbal squeaks.

The couple of days jetlag therapy in Bali on the way back meant I could perform the final recovery of the situation.  Another 3-pack at USD1 per pair from a large department store seemed to be the go.  I noted the sizes, noted the sign denying one the option to try them on and …….

8 pairs of nutchokers for sale.  3 pairs used.  Best offer.  I may as well go down to Audian and try my luck.

The Monkey Bar furniture city

I hope Ross doesn’t beat me over the head with a big stick (for speaking too early) but shortly, the old Monkey Bar premises on the road to Becora will be opening as a furniture outlet with perhaps the classiest furniture in town imported from Surabaya in Indonesia.

I have had a look and it is good stuff.  The old bar carpark is now a huge new showroom built in Timorese style.  The gardens have been spruced up and all it needs is a little cafe to make it a very attractive destination.  There’s obviously money in laundry.

Tricia and Women’s Woven Art

Yesterday, the Radio Australia “Connect Asia” programme did a piece on the work of Tricia Johns who has organised “Women’s Woven Art” to provide jobs for Timorese women.

Women’s Woven Art specialises in traditional and contemporary handicrafts, bags and homewares. The main selling point is that the material used is traditional Timorese “tais”.

The interview can be heard at : http://www.abc.net.au/ra/connectasia/stories/m1365439.asx

It is also an interesting case in that she has battled to put together a business which provides jobs for Timorese. I am not even sure she takes an income from it herself but because it is classified as a business, she is not eligible for aid funding. My guess is that if she had understood the “system”, she may have structured things differently. But at the end of the day, the business is growing and it has done it without hand-outs (apart from her own).

Early last year, Tricia was organising the occasional one-off stall and also selling stuff from the back of her car. She was battling. But at the time, the Hotel Timor was also struggling to make anything of its own hotel shop. It had little to sell and was closed most of the time.

Around the middle of last year, Tricia managed to strike an arrangement with the hotel to take over the shop and it now looks very active. The quality of the product has steadily improved and the range of products continually expanding.

One day, I will bite the bullet and arrange for a custom-made tais laptop bag, which should raise eyebrows in any big city in the western world.

Atlases – Census 2004 and Geo-historical

One of the more useful TL government web sites is the National Statistics Directorate, otherwise known as “Direccao Nacional de Estatistica” at http://dne.mopf.gov.tl

I have seen a paper copy of the census reports (dated September 2006) which comes in 2 booklets :

Timor-Leste Census of Population and Housing 2004 – Population Projections 2004 – 2050
Timor-Leste Census of Population and Housing 2004 – Atlas

I looked at the first and thought it a bit inpenetrable to anybody but someone keenly interested. The Atlas version contains lots of coloured maps which are easier for me make sense of, and I intend to get myself a copy – as a momento of what things are like here when my own memory fails me one day.

I am not sure when it appeared but an abbreviated (but not readily downloadable) version is now available on the Directorate web site. It reminded me to put acquisition of a copy on the todo list.

Some interesting numbers (from 2004) :

  • Population : total 923,198 ; Dili 173,541 (2010 projected : 1,149,028)
  • 19% of population in Dili (trending upwards rapidly)
  • 103 males per 100 females (but trending lower outside Dili, down to as low as 89)
  • Mean number of people per household : 4.7
  • Median age : 18.3
  • Age distribution is uniformly suggesting high birthrates and high deathrates, the only blip being in males of 25 to 29 years.
  • Agriculture is by far the biggest “employer” with 27% of al families involved in coffee growing
  • Language proficiency in Dili : Tetun 75% ; Indonesian 71% ; Portuguese 19% ; English 12%
  • Illiteracy : Total 54% ; Dili 26%
  • High school graduates : Total 15% ; Dili 38%
  • Fertility rate (babies per woman) : Total 7 (the highest in the world) ; Dili 4.5 (lowest district value in Dili which is still very high)
  • Infant mortality (1st year of birth) : 98 per 1,000 (very high)

A recent acquisition and recent appearance (at the Hotel Timor gift shop) is the “East Timor Geo-Historical Atlas” by Frederic Durand (published by Silkwork Books in 2006). It is an English translation of the French “Timor Lorosa’e, pays au carrefour de l’Asie et du Pacifique” published in 2000. It has some updates but is basically the 2000 version in English. As it has a historic rather than geographical /social emphasis (like say the census), it probably does not suffer too much from this. Locally, it is US$45 which may be a bit pricey but compared to what !

Tidbits from around town

I saw a brand spanking new urban style garbage truck today.

The big brown wooden building near the Pertamina terminal on the corner has finally finished building works. I believe there was a grand opening about one week ago but signs have only appeared since then. It is called the “Thai Pavilion” and comprises a Thai restaurant (another) and accommodation. It looks flash from the outside and my card is marked for further investigation.

I tried a burger at “Route 66” outside Landmark Supermarket. A beef burger with cheese comes in at $3-50. The decor is very utilitarian and perhaps explained why I did my burger as a take-away. You get to see the kitchen and cooking technique and I can fault neither for cleanliness and hygiene. As for the burger, it tasted more like what many burgers taste like throughout Asia (of the non-Macca variety) – different.

Directly opposite, the car wash establishment has modified its setup to include a dedicated bay for fitting blast film on car windows. This reflects the new security environment here, where a number of organisations have mandated (or at least recommended) blast film to be fitted on all employees vehicles.

“Castaways” bar/restaurant is undergoing renovation to make more room for tables and to concentrate all service activities behind a long bar running down the western side.

The old “Coolspot” nightclub renovations look complete to me and it can not be long before its new persona is revealed. It looks nothing like its old persona and now has large floor to ceiling doors at the front and bollards to stop cars parking at the front – presumably to prevent blocking the view to the sea.

Timor Gas in the Hotel Dili has moved into a flash new office-style building in the south-east corner of the property. It suggests things are going well.

The influx of new UN police over the last month (in particular) is now quite noticable.

The ANZ bank are planning to put in around 5 new ATM machines to disseminate cash. I’ll take a punt and say, Landmark Supermarket, Lita Supermarket, airport. After that, I am really guessing. Maybe Audian, the Palacio do Governu or Hotel Timor.