Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Phone numbers and phones no longer with us – work dramas becoming less - managing a team of four – board gaming near marine life collectors – circuit boards are common - the latest quiz

Week ending Sept  25th  2012

Last week I got sick of my ‘new’ phone, a cheap Nokia, and decided to get my Sony (ex-NZ) into play. So that was Thursday. On Friday I left work and cycled home. Saturday morning there was no phone to find…anywhere; not even at work and certainly not on the road, considering the number of foot traffic out and about day and night. Saturday afternoon I queued at Timor Telecom clutching an old business card from six years ago and requested that number again. After some consideration a new SIM was re-set to my old number and I paid $3. That was clever, eh!, as most people just get a new number. Too bad I didn’t know anyone’s phone numbers and they couldn’t ring me anyway, as they didn’t know my ‘new’ one. A bad ‘Plan A’. I have now got my lost number back and am using the old phone again. A friend, Tracey, has been in Dili for a few years, gave me a large spread sheet of several hundred useful numbers this afternoon, so I can put the key ones into my phone.

Work has settled somewhat, with a mediator/investigator appointed and a couple of big meetings held over the weekend where grievances were aired and addressed. Fortunately two of the Board of Governors are either current or ex Parliamentarians, so they knew how to handle the crowd. I missed one of the meetings as no one could ring me and I couldn’t ring them + an arranged meeting I actually knew about was cancelled, so the one place I knew to go to had no one there.

We’re now looking for a project manager for the MIS rollout and that is on  My contribution to the advertisement was outlining the importance that applicants know how to actually run a project and some proof that the applicant has been successful in the past.

My four staff are making use of their diaries and picking up on the tasks with some enthusiasm… to varying degrees of success. Still, I’ve managed to get them a whiteboard for their room and have requested the hinge be fixed so the door opens and shuts + a key to lock it and make sure that the computers are still there after lunch and the next morning.

Sunday afternoon was a nice one and I had a late lunch at the ‘Castaway’ on Beach road before playing some stiff competition with ‘Settlers of Catan’. On the way to the venue, we passed about 7 biologists gathered around a table in porch/courtyard area, examining a haul of fish and fauna down to worm sized. All scooped from the sea on a scuba expedition that morning. There is a diving company based at the Castaway, so that is the connection. Further along the wall was a stack of plastic packing crates, I assumed they would be packing their samples into the crates and then returning to Australia – how DO you get dead sea creatures through customs and Agriculture?

Three of us are running twice a week along the beach past the airport, We can make it to the special building erected in 1989 for the Pope's visit, before turning back again. My most interesting find has been a circuit board from a communications unit of some sort. I took it home and washed the sea and sand out of it, but the resale value is probably gone. Even though CRC sprayed on the rust marks helps mechanical things, it is counterproductive with items that are this sensitive.

Someone else ran the quiz last night, but I supplied the questions. Managed to take part by not having looked at said questions, because I just forwarded the email onwards. One give away to the quiz origin (New Zealand) was the number of NZ-focused questions. It didn’t help that our Kiwi team got most of them wrong, but this wasn’t pointed out by anyone and another nationality, think Republican/Democrat, was running the show anyway. We ended up as 3=

Thursday, September 20, 2012

A lull on the Western front – Cycle carrier bolts + a new kitchen – an evening with a NZ Minister – Dollar Beach visit on Saturday – advertising in reverse with Timor Telecom - Transporting yoghurt

Week ending Wednesday 19th Sept 2012

Life at work has become easier, with a key person taking two weeks special leave and previously unhappy staff going back to work.  Some sort of investigation will take place, hopefully this will proceed next week. Meantime I have four staff to take care of (two have recently joined). They had some training last week about the purpose and general operation of this microfinance organisation. I have obtained a diary for each of them and we have discussed how the diaries will be used to track tasks, appointments, meetings and their individual work. 
I had to ‘find’ two computers and chairs, as there was just a room with two desks in it. One laptop was with two others in a cupboard and had an apparently faulty hard drive. I managed to recover it by using ‘Spinrite’, from The PC came out of the same cupboard, but works fine, while the monitor is a classic 14”, TV-type, one from 12 years ago. One chair was ‘recovered’ from another office and I swapped an orphan plastic one for a metal one in another office while the occupants were out. On exiting the room I noticed an unused whiteboard, so I returned later to ask for, and be granted, the use of it. Sometimes some mental gymnastics/mental rationalisations are required, but I did it all with minimal financial outlay.
The laptop battery was replaced from one of the other two laptops (both really stuffed), the power cable was purchased on the Colmera shopping area, where I showed the staff my $100,000,000,000,000 (2008, one hundred trillion dollar) bank note from Zimbabwe. This caused amusement and my offer to buy the store and let them keep the change was declined with a grin, but they did give me an un-asked-for $5 discount on the power cable + transformer, so got them for $40.  

My bike still needs 6 special metal ‘pads’ + holes made for the rear frame. Once finished and attached, I’ll be able to position the bike carrier and my panniers for shopping and touring. Fortunately the bloke at Singapore Hardware has a micrometre and we now know the gap between the holes is 17.77mm. This is not really noteworthy, but the numbers have stuck in my mind and I’ll probably remember them for years, like some rotten song you can’t get out of your head.

Chris (another Chris), is very handy with building things and I admired his kitchen sink and tiled bench with shelves underneath. “All put together for $200!, You want one?”. Sure I do, just got to plan out the finances. Maybe some Quid Pro Quo, to offset some of the cost, with doing his computer work?  Sounds good – we have a deal.

Last night I was nibbling on sate, fresh shellfish and checking out the wine range at the embassy. The invite arrived via email last week – ‘Business attire’ it said, so I rushed off on Monday to buy some black trousers in a large shop where I was the only customer. “These are very good trousers and are ….$39”. “I’ll give you $30”, I said. “Done!”. Hmmm, another fail on good bargaining. I made up some ground by insisting that taking up the hems would be included in the cost.
The other part of getting ready was a cut throat shave and a haircut for $3. A good result. As it turned out,  I doubt anyone really noticed except me; still, I wore my NZ version of a Hawaiian shirt and that WAS unique amongst the guests.  I didn’t get caught in the parking jamb outside as I rode my bicycle there and locked it up outside the embassy wall. During my 30 seconds with Mr McCully I managed to tell him what it was like to be tear gassed (previous experience here in 2006). Maybe a nice break from the trade delegation stuff? The official speeches were initially greeted by silence, as was everyone was in a tiled area without a table to put their glasses down. The sound of one hand clapping, multiplied many times, sounds no different to just the one. In the end I put my glass down on the tiles and a couple of other people followed suit. When Murray finished his speech I lead the rest of the attendees into a good old Toastmasters round of clapping.
One introduction was useful, a second Australian doctor; I occasionally cycle with another one.

Last Saturday was a day trip, East, to the beach. It was meant to be ‘K41’, which is, um, about 41km from Dili. Our expedition of four did not include anyone who knew exactly where K41 was and no one knew where the distance was measured from, so we just stopped at a nice beach with a pathway and some little raised chalet/gazebos with bamboo floors and no walls. I believe it was ‘Dollar Beach’. Very relaxing and we had a good picnic lunch. No good for snorkelling as water too murky due to sand. A classic sleep-in-the-shade turned into a roasting down one side. On the way home I bought 8 bundles of timber, 50c each, from the roadside, for the pizza oven at home. Apparently my place has a history of pizza and parties. I will need to take that challenge carefully.

 Part of my MIS project relies on getting info back from the districts to Dili. Either we use masses of memory sticks/USB thumb drives or get each location to use the internet. But, is the internet available via 3G from each region’s capital? Should be easy enough to go to Timor and ask (‘Yeah, right’). Well, I don’t get fobbed off anymore (qualification: 'easily') unless there something definite has been promised along with a name/time of delivery. The staff told me that while they had no brochures about 3G, all I had to do was look at the TT web site. ‘But, I said, there is no 3G info on your website’ . ‘Please show me the website on your screen and  where the info is’ Eventually I discovered that the staff do not have access to their own company’s website let alone the internet, so no-go there. Plan B: ‘Please give me a piece of paper, saying that Timor Telecom has 3G in each of the 13 districts. Easy enough, right? Well, no. the manager had to do something like that and she/he didn’t actually work at the branch anyway. I was offered an address for the director of TT (!) along with a suggestion I write to him and ask for the information I required . I had one last attempt and asked when the last district had 3G introduced ‘Oh, that would have been last year’. Ahh huh. All that took only 70 minutes.
I think it will have to do. Even a local IT guy suggested that all technical questions  regarding TT should be directed to three different people and if two of them agreed, then the answer was probably right.

Now that the Tour de Timor is over, I can buy yoghurt again ($4 for a litre), as the yoghurt maker had been in the cycling event. I purchased some on Tuesday night after work and decided I didn’t need a plastic bag…..yup, wrong move. One yoghurt-ed bag later, I got the remainder home, rinsed the container and then into the fridge. 

The chocolate is fairly cheap, but all the Portuguese stuff has been heated treated with tropical prejudice. Cadburys is not heat-treated, but costs US$4.50 for 200gm.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Hillary visits - UN Me - Cycling - Work dispute

2012-09-12 ending
Lunch down Beach Road at Aru Bakery in the hours before Hillary Clinton left town. The intersection outside the bakery (we were eating on the verandah) was closed 30 minutes after I passed through it
One of my hard drives wouldn’t read properly so I passed it off to a friend with a Linux system and he fixed it in no time – quite a difference not having access to over 1Terra Byte of movies, books and articles.
Thursday night Movie in Dili (held at a wee private theatre, holds about 120 people, near the ANZ – used for fundraising to complete the first home-grown feature film made in Timor Leste): “UN me” satire on how the UN appears incapable of saying or making a difference such as:
  • No definition of terrorism. Hmmm, so how can the UN do anything about terrorism if there is no ‘acceptable’ definition of the term & no countries are identified as being involved in terrorism?
  • No action taken on preventing the Rwanda tragedy, even when told by their own peace keepers. So who does the UN listen to?
  • The UN spent US$8 billion in 2010 – I wonder what concrete results have been produced?
  • The film maker compared the original UN Charter with the current situation and he pointed out that no nations have ever been expelled for breaking the charter rules.
  • On the bright side, the UN is better than nothing at all and they possibly keep foreign driving schools busy.
• The Tour de Timor cycle competitors are staying at the Timor Lodge (before and after the event) and early on the morning of the 10th, left on the Tour

Unhappy staff – a minor ruction on Friday, when a petition was presented to management to the effect that the petitioners, who’d come in from the districts, were unhappy. Quite a surprise but the Board of Governors has stepped in to investigate the issues raised. The petitioners have been in town since then and there is some uncertainty as to when this will be resolved. Update: situation has not got better. This is one situation that needs listening skills and then action, the sooner the better.

We informed the two new staff members (part of our MIS rollout, over the next 15 months) that they had jobs and would be starting later this week. That makes for a least two happy faces.

Friday evening was dinner on the beach opposite the ‘Excelsior’ Hotel, along Beach Road. Fish on a stick. Other things I couldn’t identify, also on a stick. Beer, in a can and labeled ‘Tiger’. Perfect with the sunset.

Saturday was another cycle up to Dare in the morning. This time I cut three minutes off the climb, so I got there in just over 55minutes – 10 slower than the lead cyclist, so plenty of room for improvement. Next day was the Hera circuit. This involves leaving town via the Becora suburb, up the hill and down the other side onto the flat and on through to Hera and the turn off back along the coast to the hill over near Christa Rey (Jesus statue area) and down to the beach for breakfast at the Cazbah. Sunday morning is church day and nearly everyone is out working along the road in their best, on the way to pray and sermons, which I could hear from the road. People appear to drive more slowly too, so I was overtaking car, trucks, vans and motor scooters (all travelling under 30kmph)
Sunday was visiting day, but my scooter, with disconnected speedo and stuck dials, ran out of fuel . I parked up, fortunately in Dili central, and walked 500m to a local version of a fuel station. This is a stand with re-purposed water bottles hanging from various places. NOT the local illicit brew, but 'benzene' or petrol. $2 and 1.5l later I was in business again.
After seven weeks of sleeping-in, I got out for a Tuesday morning run along the beach near the airport. There are heaps of runners out at 06:00. The airport fence has fallen down in large sections so we could have just run across the runway and even to the helicopters and terminal.

There is a lot of scope for tourism here. It came up in a conversation on Saturday night (Brazilian Day with a dinner of pork & beans + large amounts of sangria) where I heard Burma only has about 200,000 tourists per year while Timor Leste had only 1,700 official tourists in 2011. At least there are some big international events on the Timor calendar now; maybe they will start drawing in the travellers?

  • Fishing competition
  • Marathon and the
  • Tour de Timor.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Cycling up to Dare – Lahane market for coconut – Cycling to Hera - Attaching the bike carrier – Quiz master for next week - Visiting the FDTL

My new bike had its first outing on Saturday morning at 0700. So on with the slinky bike pants + top, then off to the Lahane Bridge, on the south road towards Aileu. From there, five of us proceeded uphill for the next 50 minutes to Dare. That’s what those low gears are for, especially when not bike fit! Lots of local people out and about, watching the malae trundle past. Hard work and I was glad to stop near the top to

  • chat to the other riders
  • enjoy the view of Dili from a few hundred metres up
  • read the plaque (put up by the Australian RSA for WW2 help by the Timorese against the Japanese) and
  • size up the big downhill.
After 2-3 horror stories about previous bike falls on the same road, I resolved to go a bit more slowly. This road is sealed, but with a somewhat broken surface, especially where locals have diligently dug a wee trench across in which to fit 3cm water pipes. Otherwise the road is given variety via general washouts and/or subsidence due to extensive use and no repairs for ‘x’ years. I’m sure it’s all just a little more ‘used’ than it was 6 years ago. I could lie and say, “You haven’t changed a bit”, which might be technically true, but lots of other road ‘bits’ have changed, significantly.

Enough clever talk. After my safe descent, it was barely 08:30, so I locked up my bike outside Lahane market and ventured in. A fascinating warren of alleys and stalls packed with sellers of vegetables, miscellaneous food products in cellophane, cigarettes for up to $1.30 a packet (Marlborough’s), loose tobacco in pinches and in flat, pressed squares of about 200gms and fresh meat + other off cuts (still had the red/purple colour, but I wasn’t tempted due to presentation being solely on a wooden bench). I spotted 6 avocados & got them. Next were some green beans and I bought two handfuls for a dollar. Both parties were very pleased. Hanging from a string in a vendor’s hand was a nice, large pineapple so I bargained it down to $1.50. After purchase, the seller departed and I then noted the other side was somewhat soft. Later cutting showed half was rotten – only one happy party in that deal. I had forgotten the lesson that all buyers of fruit and veges already know; to tap and press . Onward to a noisy stall that had a large pile of coconuts and a machine that the nuts were being shoved into. This was producing freshly shredded white nut meat. I was given the liquid content to drink (nice after the cycle ride!) for free. This coconut meat has been excellent in my breakfast and keeps well in the fridge. Deep within the market is a building that is really a wee shop. There I found a plastic scrubbing brush that has worked well for cleaning the dishes. On the roadside, as I was hanging my shopping bag off the handle bars, I noticed an elderly man barely 2m away with a long pole over his shoulder and bunches of bananas (‘hudi’) hanging off on strings. $1.50 and one bunch of bananas later, I was away home.

Next day was another 0700 meeting near another bridge, along the east coast road from the Lita supermarket. We rode out to Hera (lots of rolling hills and Timor-mature, sealed road) before a hairpin around the Hera roundabout/turnoff and back the way we had come, to the beach area and lunch on the beach by the Cazbar. About 15-20km all up. Just when I was ready to buy passion fruit from the beach vendors, there was none for sale - oh dear.

One of my new cycling contacts, Chris, knows a bit about metal work and between us we designed a couple of metal blocks to act as spacers for the lower half of the carrier (the rear disk brakes prevent the carrier being snugly attached by screws). I managed to buy two Allen key-screws and a drill bit, for $1.90, from a warehouse called ‘Singapore Hardware’ that Chris knew of. Chris also advised me to take a 1kg bag of something to the market to test the scales. He had apparently bought 2kg of meat from the place, got it home and found it only weighed 1.4kg. Raised eye brows at that story.

I was asked to help out some Kiwi liaison staff at the FDTL (military defence) building (new in Feb this year and another palace-type complex off Comoro road). While I know enough about Access databases not to touch them (I’d rather bounce a cricket ball off a landmine… no, wrong analogy for this part of the world, but you get the idea), I have agreed to sort out the antivirus situation and remove the games and none work-related applications. Due to advice given to someone at the top, no servers have apparently been setup, so this, very new, building just has lots of standalone PCs and printers with internet connections here and there and cables draped all over the floor in each room. (If I find out later I am wrong on any points, then I’ll edit this entry with a correction)

Lining up the quiz for next week (less questions and a tighter process). ‘Yup’, we’re looking forward to 20 fewer questions (only 60 instead of 80) and a better setup. Having the questions pre-printed was popular, so I’ll do that again.

Hiring two new IT staff is going ahead, we just have to find out where we will put them. The project has to get 13 branches migrated to the new MIS system by the end of next year and that date is closer than it appears. With the UN leaving at the end of the year, anyone getting a new job now should be OK. The economy is possibly going to contract quite a bit until/unless more Non-Government Organisations (NGOs) arrive. According to the Wall Street Journal, there is significant interest in the country by China, Australia and the US, so there will possibly be some changes coming up (Hillary Clinton did a flying visit to town today)

Another VSA volunteer has arrived in town, on holiday(!) and he wants to interview me about my work, so we’re doing that tomorrow. Apparently it’s a project he’s working on to contribute to the 50 years VSA has been operating. Maybe I can reminisce about Dili in 2006-7.

The Tour de Timor begins on Monday 10th and it is one of the premier sporting events of the year.