Beach Cafes – I am seeing double

I have finally tried out both of the new Beach Cafe incarnations and pronounce them both winners.  Not only winners, but a perusal of the menus reveals that the menu is exactly the same and the presentation almost exactly the same and they are 100 meters apart.

So which and when ?  The original one is at ground level and has the finer decor in both table settings and surroundings, and even music.

The newer one is one floor up at the Dili Beach Hotel and has the sea view but more utilitarian furnishings.  It is also about 50 cents or $1 cheaper for many items.  Both have the amazingly huge serving sizes and it seems a large number of people take home a doggy bag.

Being a fan of “padh thai”, there is absolutely no way I can get through one at a sitting and invariably I do a doggy bag take-away.

So which one ?  The “Dili Beach Cafe” for lunch or the full moon to take advantage of the sea view (but only if you can get the front tables) and the “Beach Cafe” at dinner or if you want a nice eating environment with a running water feature in the restaurant itself.

Next stop is the new “Route 66″ burger bar just near the front gate at the Landmark Supermarket”.

The great egg shortage

It took two visits to supermarkets plus one trip to a local market to convince me that something was wrong with egg supplies. There are none. A whole city without eggs.

I asked two locals and both said that there had been a huge buy-up for Christmas feasting. One (with a wicked smile on her face) blamed the Portuguese for baking too many cakes.

Basically, the majority of egg demand is supplied from imports as there seems to be no egg farming of sufficient volume in TL. When I asked some expats about their own egg supplies, a common response was disbelief that an agricultural economy had not wound up this sort of egg farming.

Anyway, one of the locals said the next shipment from Singapore or Malaysia (I think), is two weeks away. In general, these imports are significantly cheaper than the OZ equivalent.

A city without eggs for 3 weeks. That first omelette will be a monster.

UPDATE : See my comment below for an update on the egg situation.


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 ?

Beach Cafe lives

I am still rolling over with laughter at the traffic lights post.  Perfect intro for the return of one of my favourite eateries.  The Beach Cafe is back.

It has moved into renovated premises next door in the old Shanghai Hotel.  The menu is the same and the cooks are the same.  Tim takes over from Jimmy as the frontman.

And only 50 metres west in the Dili Beach Hotel, we have a new related eatery called “Dili Beach Cafe”.  I think this is also Burmese and related somehow to the other “Beach Cafe”.

I have been pining since May for the return of the Beach Cafe.  I hope my memory was right.

Traffic lights ! What the …

I try to be an observer but no matter how hard I try, I can’t help but collapse with laughter at the new sets of traffic lights that have been popping up over Dili over the last couple of weeks.  Fortunately, they have not been switched on yet.

It is a subject of great mirth for just about anybody living here, but no doubt, there is someone who has this as their pet project.  For the moment, it is a huge laugh but one day soon, they will be turned on and I am laying odds-on bets that it will be a schemozzle of the highest order.  Surely, it is a lumbering bureaucracy somewhere that came up with this.

I would love to see the traffic analysis figures but I have never seen traffic counters, of the human or mechanical variety so assume no figures exist.

You can drive across Dili in 15 minutes and apart from the odd traffic snarl due to either an accident, breakdown or sudden road closure, I can not recall ever thinking that traffic was a genuine problem.

But what came out of all the talk on the subject was that there is no road code apart from a 45km/hr speed limit in Dili proper and no drink-driving (when there is no mechanism to test for it).  So who is going to stop for a traffic light and what will happen during the 15 hours per day when there is hardly a car on the road.

I have heard some wacky stories about the expected vandalism and methods of combatting it, but I will have to leave that one when I actually see it happen.  Another huge laugh is a certainty.

Can you believe it ?  Dili has 20 sets of traffic lights !  And 2 weeks ago, none.

Dogs, chooks and Zen

While in Bali, it struck me just how these 3 things pretty much define some of the main differences between Bali and Dili.

Dili dogs are pretty nervous creatures and inclined to defend their territory fairly strongly, which is pretty good since most of them look to be craving a good feed.  The Bali dogs are real laid-back by comparison.  It can be a struggle just to get them to move off the road.  It appears they trust their 2 legged masters not to run over them.  While here, I can’t count the number of times dogs have given me a good tongue lashing and on a couple of occasions, a fair bit of foam.

And the chooks (ie chickens) that run around the streets here are of the most emaciated variety and explain just why most expat purchased chicken is imported from Brazil.  But the Bali variety seem to very hearty animals, stretching right up to the real flash lads on display in little cages.  The best specimens here are of the fighting cock variety.
Bali has lots of Zen but I am struggling to find much of it here in Dili.

Back from a Bali refresher

We spent a week in Bali between Christmas and New Year.  A couple of things have changed back here but it is worth commenting on some of the noticable differences between Dili and Bali.

It was only days before we left that an Australian government advisory came out warning about potential trouble in Bali and advising against non-essential travel.  We didn’t even bat an eyelid over that one.  Arrived in Bali and had the fastest airport movement (through immigration, I meant !) I have ever had in Bali.  Later it became clear that the tourist numbers were well down.

I am not a Hawaian shirt wearing, zoom lens toting tourist with a bag of souvenirs under my arm so I don’t have a lot of time for kazillions of souvenir shops and the buying of another “I’ve been to Bali” t-shirt.  But I was gobsmacked at the staggering number of souvenir/art shops and not a tourist in sight.  It turns out they are hurting really bad.

At the remote hotel we stayed at for part of the time, there were acceptable numbers when we were there but no bookings after 8 January.  And they had spent 3 months during last year without a single guest.  As for the staff, they just went back to tending the family rice paddy or whatever.

We spent New Year in Ubud and again, I was gobsmacked.  Hardly a single tourist on the streets after dark.  3/4 of all restaurants empty.  Restaurants who had decorated themselves with balloons etc. for New Year and not a single customer.

Only the flash trendy upmarket foreigner restaurants seemed to making any headway.  Definitely no backpacker types looking for the best cheap eats in town. But it did mean eating a wonderful meal at New Year at 2/3 of Dili prices (and infinitely more exquisite) and not having to book.

A lot of Balinese are doing it really hard.