Friday, May 23, 2008

Dissing Dili

Yeah, so Dili is a little played out. This is my third time here in the past seven months. And there was no political instability this trip (come on guys, it has been *weeks* since you last shot the president). This is good for the Timorese population, not so good for the interest level on the blog. I will give it my best shot with a couple highlights from the last two weeks.

Highlight 1: Betting the Turks at backgammon. Somehow, the same way beer always tastes better when your team is winning, it is always better to beat a Turk. They consider backgammon to be in their blood, a national pastime. But, when it really comes down to it, my American-ness has nothing to do with why they get so pissed off. It’s ‘cause I’m a woman. The guy that owns the Turkish restaurant that I pass on the way home everyday plays with one of the UNAPOL (United Nations Police – just one of the heavily armed foreign factions cruising around Dili on any given day.) I walked by and watched them play a couple times, sizing them up, before I casually mentioned that I could play too. And I got gifts when I won! I don’t know if I would qualify quite as a true backgammon hustler, but I kept myself in yogurt and flatbread pretty good.

Highlight 2: Diving. I was lucky enough to get an entire Sunday morning off this week. I headed out with a trip about 50 kms outside the capital. It turned out to be a complete shit show, but, man I still love diving. We got a flat on the truck, which would have been no big thing had we had a working jack. Instead you get a bunch of ailing 30-something former tough guys fighting with a jack that continually slipped, dropping the gear laden truck on anyone nearby. Fortunately a truck load of teen-something Timorese came by with a real jack and fixed the car for us. Then, I got into a brawl with a jellyfish. Admittedly, I was a little annoyed at the species already because one of his brethren had gotten my wrist on the first dive. So I took personal offense when I got stung again. And proceeded to flail around in annoyance enough to get myself three separate stings. Damned Cnidaria.

Highlight 3: Independence Day. I was hanging out in my hotel, reading my book, minding my own business, when I heard a series of pops and bangs and got a whiff of the unmistakable smell of gunpowder in the tropical air. Just then I noticed the wailing sirens in the background. Obviously the best place for me in an occasion such as this was on the hotel balcony facing the street so I could see what was going on. Ah. Fireworks for Independence Day. The sirens were just the usual background noise. (I had gone to the flag raising ceremony that morning, complete with sharpshooters and a military band that would be shown up by most elementary schools.)

Highlight 4 : Pig-dogs. I was up in the mountains supervising field training in a village filled with puppies and children in various states of malnutrition. (Timor has children everywhere. It has, by a long shot, the highest birth rate in the world. The average Timorese woman has 7 children. The average. It is incredible.) But, there, sleeping by the road, were a pile of four things that looked like pig-dog hybrids. Snouts and stumpy legs and fur and puppy tails. (I think they were actually dogs. Despite being a confirmed city girl, I am getting better at identifying these sorts of things, lots of agricultural surveys you know.) Just a last minute attack of rationality prevented me from taking one home for further analysis and fetch playing.

Well, that pretty much sums it up. I am going to hit the spa tomorrow in Bali, then spend the rest of the long weekend in Tokyo. I suppose things could be worse…

Sunday, May 11, 2008


So I am back in East Timor. And I have to admit, this poor little bastard of a country is starting to grow on me. The weather is beautiful, the beach this morning was great, I had a great dinner last night of this massive whole grilled tuna… Now if only they could do something about the frequency of armed insurrection and the fact that you can’t get a baseball game on Australian satellite TV, I would be all set.

The trip over was, as always, three fun-filled days of plane travel. I had a 24 hour layover this time in Tokyo, which was fun. I got up early and took Japanese rush-hour public transportation the 1.5 hours from the airport city of Narita into downtown Tokyo. Now, as a veteran of the morning rush on the 6 Lexington Line subway, I can tell you that I understand the squeeze. This was definitely on par with the worst that the 6 has to offer, but it was the ENTIRE subway system. Though it was actually the most orderly made cattlecrush I have ever experienced. No one bitched about else’s umbrella poking them in the ^*($. When the doors opened everyone orderly and politely shoved the people next to them out of the way to get out, then the crowd on the platform orderly and politely pushed back in. Strange.

Anyway, the hope had been to spend the morning walking around the Imperial Palace. Unfortunately, the Imperial Palace is closed on to the public since 9-11 (why must terrorists ruin *everything*?) so I was shit outta luck. I took a couple of pictures of the Niju-bashi Bridge outside and wandered off in search of plan B.

I meandered through the Ginza shopping district for awhile but that wasn’t really doing it for me. I can’t imagine why anyone in general would buy a Fendi handbag, but I really can’t fathom paying for it in yen. I was getting a little desperate when I walked by what appeared to be a small riot of traditionally dressed pensioners in front of an elaborated carved building. Hmm, I thought, this looks like something I need to get into the middle of. So I waded in to find out what was going on.

The tickets had just gone on sale for the daily kabuki performance. For those of you that don’t know kabuki, it is the art of traditional Japanese theater with fancy costumes and lots of screaming. Tickets generally cost in upwards of a car payment for box seats to an all day performance, but you can get the cheap seats for an hour for a mere $10. So I found myself in the front row of the upper deck watching the theater fill in. There was definitely a regular crowd of retired folk that came every day. Some of the women had the extravagant robes and insane hairdos. There was a guy that looked like a homeless version of James A. Garfield and Fu Manchu’s love child. When the performance began, they went crazy (but very politely) for their favorite stars. It was all and all quiet surreal.

Not that I had any bloody clue what was going on. The plot seemed to generally follow that of the 50’s classic, “My Boyfriend’s Back.” Guy has family. Guy goes to war (with much pomp and circumstance and drinking of the tea). Neighbor draft-dodgers hassle the little woman (This also involves tea drinking.) Guy comes back and settles shit (though he might have died and come back as a ghost because he was all in white and didn’t get to drink tea anymore.) This all rapped up just in time for me to catch the express train back to the airport to head off to Bali and East Timor.