The burning boat

At lunchtime today, I got a call to inform me of a boat burning down in Dili harbour.  I grabbed the camera and zipped down to find a 15m long wooden vessel well and truly alight.  I took a few snaps, observed the hundreds of interested observers, the traffic schemozzle near the government buildings and eventually got bored and left.

I am told it burnt down towards the waterline and then at 3:45pm, the heavens opened for perhaps the first humungous dump of the wet season.  At 6pm I was told it was still burning.

The rumour mill says the boat was offloading smuggled diesel and an accident happened during the process.  Dili rumours are fairly notorious but usually 80% turns out to be true.

It certainly was great entertainment watching the plumes of dark black smoke (no carbon credits earnt here) rising to meet the looming storm clouds above.  The black smoke would seem to support the diesel theory.

The absence of any form of vessel capable of delivering water to put out a fire on the water was noted.  But even the land-based bombeiros (ie firemen) require a little financial incentive to attend to land-based fires.  And no, there is no marina in Dili.

Anyway, it was all better than the TV.

Power problems

Us foreigners will often live where backup power generation is available.  This means life goes on and if you can’t hear the generator, it has little effect.  At work, it may be different or it may not.

The current power problems are definitely at the severe end.  I reckon the power cuts over the last 24 hours to be at 11 hours where I live.  So a good generator should cover for that you would think.  Then the AC problems start … a few computer problems as well.  I try to find out what is going on.  I get my lecture after my 10,000 questions.

I am no electrician but it goes something like this.  Even when the power is there (from the grid – did I just use the word grid for here ?)  it still may be ratshit.  So the voltage drops way down from the standard 220Volts.  It may fluctuate a hell of a lot and the little UPSes give up and go onto battery.  The lights, fridge and everything else still run but the UPS may switch to battery.  And when the power finally gets bad enough to require the generator, the UPS battery doesn’t enough guts left to do its job.

Step up AirCon unit.  When on street power, it goes through periods when no cooling comes out of the thing.  Then it comes good again.  When this happens in the middle of the night, you don’t sleep too good.  Then it is explained.  When the voltage drops too low, the compressor (ie the bit that provides the cooling grunt) can’t hack the pace and eventually fails to perform any useful function.  The fan may still run but further power drops lead to strange grinding noises as the fan tries to cope with the crap power.  Eventually, if the gods be willing, the power drops out completely and the generator can take over.

Electricians please correct me where I got this wrong but the UPS thing and the AC thing have been driving me crazy.   Now that I understand, it is not so bad.

Clean air

Apart from when it is windy and you might cop a lungful of dust, Dili air approaches magnificent … except when you pass the odd ablution premises in need of a bit of a rinse or a rubbish receptacle being gorged by a ravenous pig.

If I was an Olympic athlete (shooters and other more sedentary “athletes” excluded) I would be very nervous about next year’s Beijing Olympics. I would be doubling up on the clean underwear and praying like hell that competition day is one of the good days. I know you sometimes can’t see Atauro clearly but imagine rarely being able to see the Christo Rei statue from central Dili because of pollution.

Meanwhile, enjoy the clean air in Dili which each and every day is becoming heavier and heavier with humidity. The glasses are starting to fog again … the optical ones I meant !  OK, they both do.

Bring back the drums

Last week, it was the phones. This week, it is increasingly becoming power. We seem to be back to daily power cuts which would appear to be scheduled to give everyone a fair go. Based on past experience, this indicates a shortfall in generating capacity and I understand that another generator has bitten the dust.

Lots of power cuts mean lots of lost productivity and more stresses on equipment. More time to find out that the generator monitoring person has not filled the diesel tank or has no reserve supply of fuel. More time to mutter – “let’s go to the pub instead”.

Doesn’t really matter – no-one sets the time on a microwave in Dili anyway. Expect cuts like this until New Year.

Thumbs up to Arte Moris

“Arte Moris” is an arts school, cultural center and artists’ association which provides a centre for Timorese artists to practise and refine their artistic skills.  For reasons I am unaware, many of the young artists (and it would appear most are in the young category) are into dreadlocks and a Bob Marley-like atmosphere.

You can’t miss an Arte Moris vehicle painted like a hippy vehicle and tripping along the road with drummers beating away inside.  You might even think they are on the magic mushrooms.  But I don’t think so.

Yesterday I saw them setup a rock concert-like event down at Christo Rei near “Sol E Mar”.  There was much music whether from the Arte Moris band or recorded music in between.  There was dancing on the sand and many others joined in from time-to-time.

Again, you might think “drop-outs” …  until the entire group moves up and down the entire beach collecting rubbish before returning to the reggae beat.  No evidence of stimulating substances either.  So who would you pull over for a shakedown ?  An Arte Moris student or a “suit” ?

Back into the swing

Just like Tumbleweed I had trouble topping up the mobile phone on Tuesday on the special $2 for $1 top-up day.  Managed to get two $10 cards in but the 3rd took more than 20 tries and even then, it came through next day without the “double your money” bit.  I couldn’t make calls that day either and all up, it was another Timor Telecom shambles.  It was one of the reminders that one has returned.

Other things I noted on return were :

  • Harbour View cafe is open again.
  • I couldn’t get over just how quiet it was at night when I got back. The chopper work has tailed right off these days and it is more likely you will hear the Merpati flight to Bali than a chopper.
  • There is a new Indonesian restaurant called “Lilis” diagonally opposite from the ANZ Bank. Further south past “Megha” is a new Sri Lankan restaurant called “Sigira” (must check name).
  • Landmark Supermarket is now an agent for Ikea furnishings. There is a small offering on display but other items can be ordered from the catalogue and Landmark will ship it in for you.
  • The National Hospital is undergoing significant re-building.
  • Just about every drain in town is being dug up and presumably street drainage will eventually get fixed.  (Hopefully not like the roof drains at home here which were originally laid sloping away from the downpipes.)
  • The new Foreign Affairs building has pretty much taken its final shape and the site on the heliport for the new president’s palace has been cleared of ISF military gear, including the less-than-a-year-old large warehouse erected by the ISF.
  • The temporary pre-fab visa office at the airport has now been replaced by a more permanent solution adjacent to the entrance to immigration.
  • The guy who runs the t-shirt souvenir stuff at the airport now has an outlet upstairs in the Landmark building and Landmark now has a fully occupied upstairs floor.

A nice little reminder that Dili is still not a retirement option, was the little spike that led to a flat tyre yesterday. Apparently, a handful of nasty metal spikes were laid on Comorro Road last evening to catch any unsuspecting vehicle. A passing UNPol vehicle provided torches and numerous local teenagers popped up out of the dark to help make the tyre change a swift operation.

Phillip Adams on TL via Radio OZ

A well-known and sometimes polarising OZ journo, Phillip Adams, has spent 2 weeks here in TL doing research and interviews for a forthcoming radio documentary on his “Late Night Live” program on OZ Radio National. This will also be broadcast on Radio Australia and no doubt will be downloadable from the Radio National or Radio Australia websites.

For those in Dili, listen in to local Radio OZ FM at 8pm on Monday 22 October.
As a teaser, you might like to read the blog of his 2 week experience which can be found at

Phil has a long career which includes being a producer of one of the Barry McKenzie movies in the 70s – a big tick from me.  I suppose he would see himself as a social commentator these days.

Being an ex-resident of the Hotel Dili, I pooh-pooh his 1-star hotel rating. OK, he got one of the smaller rooms and not one with a spa bath but he must be living high on the hog these days.

The 3rd Annual First Lady Cup

OK, now I have a reason to peel off that excess holiday flab (caused by increased ingestion of Super Bok and Sagres no doubt) and prepare myself for the 3rd Annual First Lady Cup.

This is a 10km fun run from the Palacio to just short of the CazBar (ie going east along the seafront) and back. Walkers have an abbreviated 5km walk which just might get them to Hotel California and back (if you care.)

Mark your card for Sunday 18 November at 8am. Just in case I perform poorly, my excuse this time (recorded in advance for efficiency) is that I do not perform well on Sunday at 8am.

An advertising flier is available here.  Will add application form when I get one myself.

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.

Letter from Portugal Part 3

Although one’s experiences no doubt vary, my general impressions of Portugal are of short beds, thin walls and a seemingly total absence of greenery on any main course in a restaurant/cafe (amongst many other things).  Thanks to these large food servings and economical beer and wine offerings, I shall be returning to Dili health camp with a few kgs to waste away.

Apart from being glad to see the end of a bit of excess ballast, I will certainly not miss airport security checks.  It seems they have wound up the metal detectors sensitivity such that stripped of every piece of metal apart from the zip on my fly, I set off detectors and succumbed to a manual search every time.  I even set off the detectors at the airport shops when entering.

Will be back next week.