Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Meeting Dili

Approaching Dili by air is startlingly beautiful. If you can imagine flying into paradise, well that’s how my first glimpse felt. Thick clouds covered the island at first, apart from the craggy peaks which pierced the fluffiness. Beside me my travel companion (Tim F) commented, I wonder how it would feel to be standing on top of that mountain. Like standing on the edge of the world I’d bet.

The Air North plane to Dili seated about 30-40 people and was full, with two attendants for the one-hour flight from Darwin.  We arrived at Dili airport and were startled to notice people standing and waving to the plane, only a couple of metres from the edge of the runway.

Around the airstrip were at least a dozen choppers and other aircraft imprinted with ‘UN’. Large wooden crosses dotted the hillsides close by. These are not burial sites or memorials, but simply reminders of faith placed around the city in this predominantly Catholic country.

Customs was relaxed. We paid US$30 for a visa, showed our passports, and stated the purpose of our visit as ‘visiting friends’ (friends that three of us were yet to meet). Bags were scanned, and presumably scrutinised, though how intently I am unsure. We simply handed our incoming papers to a gent standing in the walkway out to the greeting area. And that was it.

We were met by Rev Samuel, Mr Argus and Ardaleno. Two local barefooted children, covered from head to toe in dust, spontaneously joined us on the walk to our car, and the young boy who I guess was about nine years old, lifted the bags and guitars inside. We piled into the Rav 4 Samuel had on loan from Mr Argus. I can’t imagine what we must have looked like after 24 hours without sleep.

The drive through Dili was bustling and entertaining, accompanied by the usual tooting horns, occasional pothole, obligatory swerving to avoid bikes and people, trucks overloaded with dozens of people, motor cycles with whole families on board, and vans with patrons hanging from the doorways.

But if you think you get the picture, Dili is no carbon copy of other Asian cities. It is too busy being itself.

The air is warm and dusty here as the wet season has not yet arrived. Unless you work in the public service, it's a 7 day working week here. Perhaps you might take a break to go to church on Sunday morning. From the ends of long bamboo poles, slung across people’s shoulders, hang fish, pak-choy, shoes and any other manner of item for sale. People wheel huge wooden trolleys, sometimes through the traffic, and others sit at stalls on the footpaths selling bottled water and such.

But that still sounds like other Asian cities I have visited.

Dili is not built-up in the way of the others. There are some large buildings, most built in Portuguese architectural style, but very few exceed a couple of storeys. The Catholic cathedral is the largest building in town, and I find its size and austerity offensive. Housing is predominantly constructed from bamboo and corrugated iron, and many structures are built on riverbanks that don’t look like they’d see out a high tide. If I had to make a comparison, the closest I have seen to Dili is on some townships of Laos, but still in Laos there is more visible wealth.

Rev Samuel saw us unto the Oriental Hotel, just a couple of buildings from Hosana Church from which our activities are based. We are grateful for our rooms with their private bathrooms and air conditioning. Mine is situated in the centre of the hotel and borders a festively painted courtyard. The hotel had provided some breakfast for us: fried eggs, sweet bread we could toast, cordial, and jam. We had three hours until our first duties, so retired to out own rooms to rest.

Suddenly I missed my family, the way one does when faced with the unfamiliar.

It was good to lie down and stretch out on my double bed under the air conditioner - surely one of the better modern inventions! After waking on Friday morning back at home (more than 24 hours before) I’d had no sleep, so I lay down on my bed and caught half-an-hour or so. The power nap would have to suffice as the combination of cool air on clammy skin woke me prematurely.

I worked out how to activate the hot water after my first shower by following the pipes around the wall to an electric switch labelled ‘hot water’. On my first day I helped myself to three showers while I acclimatised, and battled exhaustion. There are three types of power point in this room, none that accommodate the European convertor brought on this journey. Luckily one of the versions on offer turns out to be an Aussie point. The courtyard has a fishpond in the centre and some places to sit, but it’s far too hot to use late morning. I know. I tried.

Now on our fourth day in Dili I am amazed how quickly we have settled in. And also how familiar our companions, now friends, feel to us despite the stilted language. They are warm and welcoming with a ready smile, a handshake or kiss, and they are grateful for whatever we can offer. It is a pleasure and a privilege to be here.

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Saturday, September 22, 2012

Dallying in Dili

For the next week I will be a guest in the world's newest nation - East Timor. How does one best prepare for such an experience?

Physical preparation is one thing. You organise the vaccinations and medications and pack clothes suited to the climate. There is social and intellectual preparation too. Mine has included reading about East Timor's history, and about what the country offers to visitors. I've had conversations with several people who've recently worked in East Timor. I've visited the East Timor Association, and learned a few choice words. I've gathered educational and music resources to share with those we encounter, I've listened to indigenous music, and sought information and advice about significant social issues facing the country.

And yet, I don't feel completely prepared.

How can I be? My world is nothing like the one I am about to enter in the 'poorest country in Asia'.

At this moment I'm sitting in Darwin airport. It is 4:11am and I can't sleep. It's too cold in here for one thing, but it's 26 degrees outside. Floor sleeping, even under newspaper to minimise the fluorescent lighting, has never come easily to me. I notice two of my companions have managed to drop off. We arrived here at midnight and our flight into Dili takes off at 6.30am, so I have some time on my hands.

Time in limbo. Time to stew over things.

We are a party of four and we're visiting to continue building relationships with people at the Hosana Church in Dili. Its an undertaking my congregation in Melbourne has decided to pursue. We're also helping fund a 'resource centre' that is currently focused on computers skills, music teaching and English. Along the way our little band of travellers will focus a little on music, share what we know, and take songs and wisdom home with us.

What I learn over the next week will probably change me. I expect it will be impossible to be unmoved.

Think of me. Of us. And I will keep you posted.

Perhaps by week's end I will understand how I might have better equipped myself for this adventure.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

'South Pacific' Opens in Melbourne

The red carpet was in danger of wearing out at the Melbourne opening of South Pacific last night. Patrons were greeted on Spring Street by Polynesian dancers and drummers as they entered the Princess Theatre.

Rumours abound of a cast romance, a factor that will help affect a successful box office. But this production needs no such thing to attract the hordes.
Eddie Perfect, Daniel Koek and Teddy Tahu Rhodes
Sometimes one goes to a show and decides it is worth it on the weight of one element alone. But here I find there are so many elements to recommend buying a ticket.

One patron (Robin Nevin no less) was overheard describing Teddy Tahu Rhodes’ rich sonorous voice as being ‘like thunder’. Perhaps. But I was thinking earthquakes, and yes, the earth did move for me, darling. What a presence.

Lisa McCune, greeted with spontaneous applause as she graced the stage, was astonishing as she leapt, pivoted and even cartwheeled about the stage like a spring chicken.

Eddie Perfect was. Continue reading

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Sunday, September 16, 2012

Review: Summer of the 17th Doll (HTC)

Celebrating its 60th Anniversary season, the Heidelberg Theatre Company has included one of Australia’s most iconic plays, having first performed ‘The Doll’ in 1992.

Themes of respectability and tradition are explored during the seventeenth summer that Olive (Jodie Symes) has welcomed itinerant cane cutters Roo (Gavin Williams) and Barney (Dan Haberfield) for the off-season. This year Pearl (Tina Bono) replaces Nance who has married, for many weeks of revelry. But the summer doesn’t unfold as anticipated.

Costumes and props have been thoughtfully assembled with hats, gloves, 1950’s hairstyles and cigarette rolling. Continue reading 

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Saturday, September 8, 2012

Review: Happy Ending (MTC)

Forty-something Louise (Nell Feeney) is happily married (more-or-less), but has developed an infatuation with her young Chinese masseur, Lu (Gareth Yuen). After months of massages, sometimes two a day, Louise confides in her coffee companion Lilliana (Roz Hammond) that she wants to consummate her desire, and sets about getting closer to Lu.

Award-winning playwright Melissa Reeves has crafted a well-balanced and entertaining script, interweaving English and Mandarin dialogue, and highlighting cultural sensitivities and etiquette in both cultures.

Shoji screens are manipulated effortlessly into various configurations, creating a gentle aesthetic. Subtitles appearing on the screens are a wonderful devise through which character and cultural dimensions are elevated. Continue reading

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