Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Ambulance signage - What a mug - Weetbix and coffee - Local traffic control - Running the local Quiz

Last week, a colleague and I went out for dinner. As we wandered along the main road (the ‘Comoro’ one to the airport) to the venue, he pointed out a parked ambulance to me. It was white and had emergency lights on the roof and green writing for identification. So far, so good. This one was different in that it had one of those stickers on it announcing ‘Ambulance’ in large letters, but in mirror writing. This is, of course, so other motorists can read the message, right-way-round, in their vehicle mirrors. “Now take a close look at that one”, he said. I then noted that the message was located above the rear doors. Hmmmm, “Go figure”, he said. I haven’t yet worked out a (clever) rational reason for that sticker location other than someone got it wrong and no one has bothered to make a correction. If medicine is about precision, then the message on this ambulance gives me some concern.

My coffee mugs are slightly too small to take the full contents of my coffee plunger. So I finally went shopping for bigger mug and found one, for $1.75, at the ‘Lita’ supermarket. The sturdy white thing has two pictures, one on either side, of the Coca Cola (traditional) Santa Claus + sack of goodies + reindeer. Why are such grand items gathering dust on a discounted shelf here in the tropics? When it gets cold here, then temperature does dip below 20 Celsius, but that’s still a way off from snow-time.

Since everyone in Dili is spoiled for fresh, choice coffee, $2 kg isn’t too bad, eh? I like to add something extra to the brew. In this case, chocolate milk, fresh out of the carton all the way from….um…Indonesia. The carton has a picture of a cow on it and the legend says ‘Indo Milk’ so it must have a milk component. Anyway, I digress. Lita has a shelf of items close to expiry and being on a budget, I explore this shelf regularly. Recently, I bought ‘Up & Go Liquid Breakfast’ (with the energy of two ‘Weetbix’©™) it is chocolate in colour and alleged flavour (can you see where this is going?). On its own, the sensation is of drinking pureed Weetbix + sugar + chocolate colour and flavour. Despite the striking illustrations on the carton, I am not a convert. Adding it to my coffee is of no benefit to either.

The local crossroads is a very busy place; slow to get through and frustrating for the people caught there every day. The police tasked with managing the ‘stop n go’ circus, don't appear to make a lot of difference. Yesterday there was a change; instead of four male police standing around and blowing their whistles, there was one woman police officer on duty. Does this mean that the job has been taken up a notch in importance or deemed less demanding? Maybe they should just put up some traffic lights (I recall it has been about seven years since they initially went in, so time for some more) I managed to nip through the congestion on my bicycle and made it to lunch at the ‘Dili Club’. My tyres have a flatter tread and I managed to pass many vans and cars that were slower than 30km/h.

Tuesday night was my first running of the local quiz competition! Andrew from has helped out in a big way with the raw material, i.e. loads of questions and I removed all the Kiwi-orientated questions, as most people attending the quiz are either locals or foreigners from Australia, Portugal, England, US, Brazil and Indonesia. With such a grand selection of questions to choose from, what could go wrong? Never the less, I managed to make a mistake and that is what ‘quiz masters’ are remembered for. Here goes: ‘Name three countries that have borders on the Mediterranean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean’. I announced these were: Morocco, Spain and Portugal. Vocal corrections rapidly flowed in and I briefly considered packing up and going home…’No!’ take it as a learning experience (multiple ‘courses’ over the years have been of benefit) and move on. So ‘France’ was correct and Portugal wasn’t. The microphone I had specially bought for the occasion ($15) didn’t seem to work well enough, so I used my voice at 95% volume to reach all five teams (small, but manageable turn out). Richard did a vital job on the laptop with marking and entering results into the spreadsheet. We raised $75 for the Bairo Pite medical centre and $75 for the initiative (new to Timor Leste). On the plus side, we managed to get through over 80 questions and answers in less than two hours and that is about 30 more than I noticed previous competitions have achieved in a longer session. Richard and I are keen to give it another go and make a better job of it. So maybe in another 2 to four weeks?

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Bikes - bread - bumps - big secrets and yoghurt

Wednesday 21st Aug 2012

  • · One (much newer) bike
  • · Best Indian restaurant discovered
  • · Turkish bread
  • · Local speed bumps
  • · Visa
  • · The Marmite Conspiracy
  • Yoghurt

There is a new bike in my lounge now. I picked it up from the ‘Palm Springs’ gated community on Sunday and will pay for it next month A mighty fine piece of machinery that is really close to getting a ‘Tubus’ carrier installed. The rear disk brake sticks out in an odd way that gets in the way of the carrier attachment. While I have found local workers keen to give anything a go, I am concerned about going back to the bike shop to find an unexpected adaption or a new bend or two added to one or more components. Kind of like 'getting what you asked for but not what you wanted'. This will more likely be a success with some careful thinking first। Anyway, the weight & performance are excellent and I might be ready to go for a bigger weekend ride soon. Maybe this weekend? I’ve already replaced the off-road tyres with my ‘Schwalbe’ road ones. They are reputedly so tough that they won’t puncture unless they a meet the perfect thorn/spike/nail/other.

I have been told that ‘Haris’, Indian restaurant, next to the ‘Dili Club’, off Comoro road and opposite ‘Leader’ super market, is where everything is delicious. I guess Hari cooks from basic ingredients and that makes it quite an experience. Be prepared for a 30-45 minute wait, or dial ahead with a lead time of 20 minutes or just order drinks and talk while waiting।

The Turkish café by the ANZ is closed as Antonio has taken 5-6 weeks off for a battery recharge, so no more bread for a while. Fortunately the grape vine has put me onto another Turkish place, almost next door to ‘Food-L-do’; both in the new strip of shops on Comoro road, but closer to the new Ministry of Defence complex (where they raise the flag in the morning). Hmmm, if you don’t know where any of those places are then it is a wee bit confusing? Comoro road is the main drag from town, out to the airport and beyond to the western areas. Anyway, this other Turkish place does a nice coffee and I was given a free wee crisp biscuit sprinkled with icing while I waited for the new loaves to come out of the oven and cool a bit. A nice Sunday afternoon. I actually dropped in while taking the new bike home.

My local street has no name that I know of; well it isn’t shown on any maps I can find nor are there any signs. The locals all know where they live, so maybe there is no need? I haven’t noticed any problems with ‘through’ traffic, not that this would be considered a rat-run, even during rush hour on the Comoro road 200m to the south. This might be something to do with the general narrowness of the road, its broken surface, children running around and dogs relaxing in many locations. Dili dogs are not used to moving once settled, so people tend to drive around them. Two days ago, I came around the corner into the home stretch, with another 300m to get home and there were four new judder bars (UK = Silent Policemen) built across the road. Wet concrete mounds, which everyone on two wheels skirted (don’t know what the cars did). Today The concrete has set and the 20km/h speedsters have been put in their place. A local decision and no problems with the council…come to think of it, I think we don’t have a council, as that would mean people paying rates and there is enough of a challenge dealing with the Government.

My visa hasn’t been signed off yet as minister or other important person has to do the actual signing। Fortunately I don’t have to leave & re-enter the country yet (go to Bali for the day and then return for another 60 day tourist visa is the trick) maybe later this week or the next?

Move over:

  • · 9-11 was an inside job and
  • · Did we actually land on the moon?

Most Kiwis are aware that the Marmite factory in Christchurch was heavily damaged during the big earthquakes last year. This has meant that the supplies of Marmite have dried up and the population has turned, reluctantly, to Vegemite and Promite. But I have shocking news from Dili! Over the past two weeks I have discovered large supplies available in two super markets. I crawled in with my camera to get evidence, but was discovered by staff and not allowed to continue unless I had checked in my hat + bag and also accepted a shopping basket. A malae (foreigner), recently arrived, dropped a dollar in my basket – sometimes a low profile isn’t the literal answer. My next step is to alert the embassy and see if the issue should be escalated. As all conspiracy theorists know; if I am fobbed off, it simply proves their complicity and guilt. Maybe I should buy the Marmite jars in bulk and use them to play the ‘Tower of Hanoi’ puzzle until eating time?

Hari makes and sells yoghurt, but I am finding it hard to get hold of a suitable plastic container to keep the product in – local shops want to sell me thermos flasks or their plastic containers with lids, in a size that we would call rubbish bins.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Transport on two wheels goes up a gear

  • · Weekend bike ride (local offers support)
  • · Investigating ‘Timor Plaza’ (local super mall)
  • · Re-building work laptops
  • · ‘New’ scooter + stuck dials
  • · First run of ‘Settlers of Cataan’
  • · ‘Good’ English

This last Sunday (12th Aug) I agreed to go for a long road cycle. This was after 6-7 beers at the Hash the night before and gave me increasing cause for concern when I turned up on my $10 bike (actually, it is promised to someone else, but I’ve already invested $10 in getting new red brake handles) and observed how the other machines looked, with their disk brakes and carbon fibre frames and obligatory clip-in pedals. My bike is resembles (pause) a modified downhill beast that is also the heaviest ‘bike’ I’ve ever used. The seat squeaks and so does the rear suspension. This could be due to no lubricant being used on any moving metal parts for many months/years. No point in wasting any oil on it, as this bike is now under palliative care.

The first 15km were OK and then we hit the hills rising rapidly at about 2 degrees. The others drifted into the distance and I exerted myself more to try and get back in touch with the bunch. The volume of squeaking increased and a local four year old ran beside me for several hundred metres, smiling and no doubt offering encouragement. This is sometimes called a reality check. I told some other cyclists to pass on a message that I was turning back to town and gravity took over for a few kilometers – ahh, bliss!

There is now ‘super mall’ in Dili along the Comoro Road. It is still being occupied by businesses but I dropped in on my cycle home from the hills, in a search for interesting things and got lucky at a computer store, where I found 50 blank DVDs for only 60cents each. The going rate is about $1 each at the other computer stores, so I had found a good deal. Everything else was a bit too expensive and I felt rather odd being one of about 25 customers spread over 2-3 floors at 9am on a Sunday morning.

Now that I occupy the MIS desk and all the power that comes with it (I get to shut down the file server at the end of the day), I’m beginning to rebuild the PCs and laptops. We have a wide range of hardware and software. There is a rumour that some of the latter is legal. We have many anti-virus programs, with most of them out of date. The recent solution has been to simply install (anti-virus) a new one alongside the others that allowed a virus to make itself at home. The result is messy and takes time to resolve. My goal is to buy (!) a proper licensed product, put it on the file server, then distribute and update it to all the work machines. Hardly original, but it would make life a lot more pleasant.

For the past four days I have been making use of a scooter that has had quite a history and has also been on a recent visit to the workshop for repairs. Since Monday I’ve been using the scooter to transport me to and from the Tetun lessons (week #2). On Monday I opened the throttle up along Comoro road and the dial was hard over – nothing like the wind in your face. The dial was in the same place today (zero) when the fuel tank ran dry. Admittedly the fuel gauge has not been stuck on zero; instead it diligently indicates that the tank has always been half full, so I think more repairs are required.

I bought over a game or two and on Sunday evening & three of us tried out ‘The Settlers of Cattan’. It was popular and was well complimented by an excellent sunset (private house balcony by the beach) and then a good curry + some Portuguese red wine. I had cycled to the house and had to wear my head torch to cycle home.

There is a large quantity of clothing turning up in Timor Leste that sometimes sports unusual messages in English. Some are risqué pickup lines (girls’ tops) and others I really don’t understand. A recent example a black T-shirt with this written large on the back: "You can be money”. Not “You can be happy”. Maybe it is a relic of a failed advertising campaign somewhere? Maybe it comes from the same stable of skilled linguists that produce the subtitles for the pirated DVDs? Some of them are so bad it’s amazing, as the language sometimes doesn’t conform to basic grammar rules, let alone bare any relationship to what is being shown on screen. One day I’m going to march back into one of those shops and demand my dollar back.

Bikes, sport, words, busted, broken or blocked


  • · Watching the sports channels at the Dili Beach Hotel
  • · Bike repairs and Tetun lessons at DIT
  • · Tour de Timor
  • · Scrabble and my first seven-letter word!
  • · Smidgens of the Olympic games
  • · Which side of a locked door (broken) do you really want to be?
  • · Blocked drains

Nothing much happened the week ending on the 9th, so the above will have to do.

Sunday was a nice slow day and it didn’t really take off, apart from the 06:30 walk over the hill, back over ‘Crista Rae’ and breakfast on the beach at 08:30, until 16:00 (4pm) when I met Elmo outside the NZ Embassy and we walked on down Beach road to… the Dili Beach Hotel, where we grabbed a table on the second floor balcony. No need for walls or windows there, so there were great views, over the road to the beach and beyond to Atauro Island in the distance.

We made it there just before the Super 15 final between the Chiefs and the Sharks. Lots of vocal support for the Chiefs, but the few South Africans kept rather quiet. Four bottles of ‘Bintang’ beer kept us and the bar owner happy for a couple of hours. NB: while the local brew is cheap and sold in clear, recycled water bottles by the side of the road in a range of interesting colours – bright blue and dark green seem to be common, unless they are something else??, I think it is probably wiser to stick with a more expensive, yet consistent product.

Language is important and here it is ‘Tetun’, yet the necessity doesn’t make the learning any easier for me. This was the finish of week one of lessons at the Dili Institute of Technology. Being four hours every morning in a modified shipping container with four others. I have struggled due to my consistent history of never successfully learning another language. This is slow work, yet I can pick out a word or two from the advertising around town now and say good morning: “Diak ka lae?” Literally it means ‘Good or bad?’ or ‘How are you?’

· The Tour de Timor sounded like an exciting event to turn up for except for:

  • · My bike is really only suitable for a 10-15 minute trundle around the streets and no further
  • · The entry for the race is US$1,000
  • · Entries are closed because the event is sold out
  • · The tour takes place next month and I have not trained properly and not at all in the tropics

Hmmm, maybe next year, along with better equipment, training and dosh for an entry?

Every 2nd Monday evening, alternating weeks to the Tuesday quiz, a few of us meet at a café to play scrabble. Some players are very good and know many odd, legal words. Anyway, I started one game and got my first ever seven letter word! This is pretty good, as I was suddenly well out in front as I not only got the double word score + 50 more points as well for using all the letters J. I think the word was something like ‘Placing’.

My scrabble nemesis got a seven-letter word herself later on and beat me in the end by about 10 points L C’est la vie

I got to see some of the Kiwi team do their show jumping (Dili Beach Hotel) and then nothing more, as I don’t have easy access to a TV. The internet is US$1 per hour from home and the English newspaper comes out once a month. Still, I can check out once a day and peruse for variety.

The door to my room had its lock broken. Darned inconvenient as I + Elmo had our gear in the room and locked it in as we went off for dinner about 7pm. When we got back, the lock freely moved in strange ways. There was no change in the locking bar, so we eventually had to leave our gear there and go home. My house key was in my bag, in the room at work, so I had to go home and wait for my landlady to return and then have her husband let me in through the back door. Next day I think work got a professional locksmith in and the new assembly now looks and works quite nicely.

My drain in the tiled ‘bathroom’ (neither actual bath nor sink – just a toilet + a plastic bin filled with water and a scoop to fling the water around) got backed up and the close inspection showed that it had been cemented into the floor and could not be unscrewed or lifted. An old family trick came in use here: caustic soda (aka sodium hydroxide or NaOH). After buying some and dumping a quantity on the drain grill I added some water then quickly left while it bubbled, fizzed and turned the nasty stuff into soap-like stuff. All working properly now.