Saturday, October 16, 2010

Taxis in Timor: An Assault to the Senses

Most times when you climb into a taxi in Timor, you are serenaded with very loud music -- and a reluctance by the driver to turn it down. He will do so eventually, if you continue to insist.

Once that's settled, he often lights up a cigarette -- and yet again,  you must ask him to put it out -- reluctantly he does so -- most times. This can be quite comical if you don't speak the language and are trying to convince him to put out the cigarette.

The whole time you're negotiating the cigarette issue, the back windows are rolled up and for some strange reason -- in almost every single taxi in Dili -- the windows will not roll down. So you are blasted with loud music, cigarette smoke and extreme heat -- since the taxis rarely, if ever, have air conditioning.

Even still, your taxi ride is likely to take a long time since many of the cabs are in pretty bad shape. The last time I took a cab, the engine was making strange noises and the car appeared to be having some sort of seizure as it jerked along at barely 20 miles an hour.

Next time, I'll bring a good book, a fan and ear plugs. Better yet, maybe I'll just walk.

Shadow Puppets in Java

The Indian epic poem, Ramayana, is often performed with shadow puppets. It's quite fascinating to watch from the audience -- the puppet master also narrates the story and keeps time with his fingers as they strike the wooden stage. The entire play is done with the puppets' shadows projected through a white cloth screen -- as seen above.

What's even more fascinating is to step behind the screen -- and watch the puppet master in action with his colorful puppets.

      The play is performed with a full orchestra of Gamelan musicians.
This man, who describes himself as a puppet maker, shows off one of the colorful characters from the Ramayana.

The Ramayana

The Ramayana is one of two great Indian epics -- the other is the Mahabharata. The Ramayana has been around since around 1500 B.C.
During my recent trip to Yogyakarta, I went to a performance of one of the books from the Ramayana -- where Rama's wife Sita is kidnapped by the evil Ravana. Rama is assisted in the rescue by the monkey god, Hanuman -- who is dressed in white. The story was performed on stage at the outdoor Ramayana Theatre.

                                          Ravana (standing)

                                          Hanuman plays with fire.....

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Neverending Power Interruptions in Timor-Leste

I thought it was bad when the power was off four hours a day here in Dili. Suddenly, the power is out about eight hours per day now -- and it continues to get worse and worse. The generator works, but it's simply not strong enough to power everything in our office -- so some people are forced to sit idle -- everyone does without air conditioning. The heat and humidity reminds me of a Washington DC summer day -- on steroids. It's really that bad.

The power interruptions and power surges are also wreaking havoc on equipment. PC's burn out, my laptop adapter cable fried and the water pump went dead. Stabilizers are connected to everything, but they, too, are succumbing to the constant up and down of the electricity.

So today, the water was off -- along with the electricity.

The one thing that does keep working is our internet. One of my colleagues noted that it was a bit odd that through all the power cuts and so forth -- our internet keeps chuggin' along.  It's mainly because we have a small generator that is dedicated to keeping the server and the VSAT hardware running.

Some things, you simply can't do without.