tevere: Jihae, solemn with hint of smile (Default)
Hey, cool: one of the first (to my knowledge) entirely Timorese-created short films has just been released. I'm not sure how well it comes across to people unfamiliar with Timor, though-- in the last scene, they're heading out of Dili into the mountains. Anyway, I found it amusing and nicely shot, and got a kick out of recognising places around town. There's also not a UN Toyota to be seen!

Fair warning: contains non-explicit animal slaughter for human consumption. The title Asu (dog) may give you an idea of what kind of animal, not that I think that should matter. There are a couple of restaurants serving dog in Dili, which you'll see marked with 'RW' (rintek wuuk, meaning 'soft hair' in Tombulu, a language spoken in northern Sulawesi in Indonesia). Although to my recollection it's really more of a special occasion meat served at large gatherings.

Meanwhile, the obsession in certain parts of the world with Bin Laden and SEALs and the SEALs' highly trained attack dogs is making me eye-rolly. So although Slate's response is pretty stupid, it still made me laugh: Cats of War.

tevere: Jihae, solemn with hint of smile (Default)
I've been doing a bit of research about East Timor lately, and came across this gem in the account of an Indonesian journalist who went up into the mountains in 1999 to interview the Falintil (pro-independence) leaders:
And then suddenly I saw something that made me think my mind was wandering: a white guerilla. He looked perfectly at home amongst the other men. When I was introduced to him later on, I found out that this bearded guy with the appearance of a Middle Eastern Islamic scholar was called 'Anthony'. Within Falintil he was known as being a deserter from the Australian Army. (Timor Timur: Satu Menit Terakhir by Rien Kuntari, loose translation)
I was sceptical until I googled him, but apparently it's true! There are about three other news reports confirming an Australian in his late twenties who lived and fought with Falintil for about two years, apparently for religious and ideological reasons. A journalist from the Guardian seemed to think he'd become somewhat unhinged, if he hadn't been already. Rather than it being a case of 'every rebel movement needs a honky!', it seems the Falintil leaders merely viewed him with a sort of amused tolerance (his codename apparently reflected a propensity for sleeping in). There's no record of what happened to him after independence, although the last time he's mentioned in the public record (October 1999) reveals he was sick of living in the forest and kind of wanted to go see the new Star Wars movie. The Boy and I racked our brains to see if we'd ever heard of someone matching his description living in a hamlet in the middle of nowhere, but it seems more than likely he eventually went home.

Are there any books you guys know of about Westerners joining rebel movements in foreign countries? (Preferably non-fiction, or at least realistic-ish fiction.) I can think of Johnny Lindh Walker, David Hicks, Lori Berenson, and that American girl who was killed by a tank in Palestine, but surely there are lots of other well-publicised cases.
tevere: Jihae, solemn with hint of smile (Default)
I like [personal profile] facetofcathy's clear and articulate explanation of the institutionalised systems of privilege that lead to something like the J2 Haiti story coming into existence. I don't think it's particularly productive to focus on [livejournal.com profile] gatorgrrl as an individual,* when it's our (for varying values of 'our': white, Western, developed-world, storytelling, media-consuming, fannish) culture that implicitly and explictly produces, endorses and perpetuates narratives like these.

*[ETA] I'm not saying she doesn't bear responsibility for that story. She does. And she should be criticised. But I feel that story is a symptom of a wider problem that also needs to be addressed. Loudly and angrily, where necessary.

To me, an interesting part of the discussion around this story is the ongoing conversation on whether or not fanfiction -- as opposed to original fiction -- is ever an appropriate vehicle for the exploration of real-life natural or man-made tragedies, particularly in non-white and post-colonial settings. The Haiti earthquake, 2004 tsunami, genocide in Rwanda, the reign of Idi Amin or the Khmer Rouge, the war in Iraq. (Or even fictional scenarios that are stand-ins for specific real-life tragedies.) This is clearly not to say that original fiction has carte blanche in its exploration of these topics, but: is there something inherent in the structure, audience or culture of fanfiction that makes it unsuitable for this purpose?

I don't have any answers to this question, and I know other people are saying insightful things about it elsewhere. Instead, I'll just offer a personal example as further food for thought.

Last year I wrote a fairly long fanfiction AU set during East Timor's Popular Consultation for Independence. In September 1999, approximately 1,500 Timorese were killed by Indonesia-supported local militias and Indonesian soldiers; more than 400,000 people were displaced; and 80% of all infrastructure was destroyed. The story I tried to write was about (highly problematic) Western perceptions and experiences of those events, about white privilege, and about the hypocrisies of international intervention and humanitarian aid. (Whether or not I succeeded is up to you.) It also, not incidentally, contained a romantic sub-plot between the (white, male, US national) protagonist and another white male US national.

A few people who were unfamiliar with the source material told me that story worked well enough as original historical fiction. I briefly considered filing off the serial numbers, as it were, before abandoning the idea. The thing is: if I had written it as an original story, I would have written it quite differently. Why?

Some examples )

In conclusion: I'm not sure whether all of that means fanfiction is fundamentally unsuitable for these topics; is generally unsuitable but can be made appropriate through careful choices of style, genre and source material; or is just different from original fiction.

tevere: Jihae, solemn with hint of smile (Default)
We have a flatmate at the moment -- our former upstairs neighbour from Jakarta, who's in town to do some reporting -- which is pleasant way to ease back into our soon-to-be sharehouse in Melbourne. This guy is just the kind of flatmate you want in East Timor: when I say something like, "You don't mind a couple of weevils in your beans, do you?" or "This egg isn't quite vegetarian-- are you okay with that?", his reponse is a cheerful, "I eat anything as long as it's fully cooked."

Does that sound like a challenge to you?

International Stabilisation Force (AS/NZ) 24-Hour Ration Pack, Menu B

Previously on "Dissection of an MRE":

- My initial acquisition of the Ration Pack
- [livejournal.com profile] kaneko goes beyond the call of fannish duty to roadtest beef teriyaki, freeze-dried rice, marmalade and tea
- I comment on the surprisingly delicious Shrewsbury biscuits (picture here) and Vitalife Wellgrain crackers
- [livejournal.com profile] kaneko sacrifices herself to the greater good of chocolate rations, tinned cheese and a Forest Fruits muesli bar

And now...

Potentially disturbing images within )
tevere: Jihae, solemn with hint of smile (Default)
So, do you remember how I posted that the USS Bonhomme Richard came to town? And you remember how I jokingly said,
What are the chances, do you reckon, that Brad Colbert or any other GK marine is out there right now?
Well, hell. [livejournal.com profile] minzky has dug up photos of Brad Colbert and the First Recon Battalion Marines doing their pre-deployment training with the 11th MEU. The MEU that is on the fucking USS BHR.

Yep. Brad Colbert was chilling out within eye distance of my house -- hell, for all I know he came and chilled out at the fucking bar next to my house -- and I DID NOT KNOW.

(Yeah, yeah, even if I'd seen him on the street I would've totally ignored him -- I mean, what the hell would I say? -- but that's not the point!)
tevere: Jihae, solemn with hint of smile (Default)
I handed in my resignation on Friday, it's a long weekend, and I'm sitting outside on a bright blowy day just enjoying being surrounded by the mad rattle of leaves and dancing hibiscuses and glimpses of whitecaps out on the water. It reminds me of Australia, actually: the clarity of the light and colours and the feeling of having one's head emptied out and filled up by the sounds of a lively natural landscape.

So, you know, life is pretty good right now.

Here are some other things currently adding to my cheer:

1. No-knead bread. It actually works! Fancy elastic bread with big holes in it, perfect for toasting, and probably the best (and least stressful) bread that's ever come out of my kitchen. But the recipe calls for instant yeast, so if you're using normal dry yeast then use at least a teaspoon (I used a tablespoon, but that was probably paranoia-induced overkill) and activate it in water beforehand.

2. White Collar. After an initial period of resistance I finally caved and watched the first two episodes, and it's just delightful eye-candy fun. Although I was disappointed that spoiler )

3. Mooncups. I first heard about these little gizmos right here on my flist, but it never occurred to me to use one until I moved here. The thing about Dili is that there's no regular rubbish disposal mechanism; what you do is dump your rubbish in a concrete receptacle on your street, where it's progressively reduced by ragpickers, pigs, dogs, chickens and eventually the government sanitation crew, who cart the remnants to a rubbish dump at the top of a hill (which then promptly washes down into the sea, where it's trapped inside the reef until an unusually high tide). You can probably tell where I'm going with this, but-- yeah, one of the most common sights in Dili is one of those shifty yellow dogs trotting along with something in its mouth: a used nappy or sanitary pad, which it then half-eats and leaves by the side of the road. You think the idea of a silicon menstrual cup is gross? Try accidentally stepping on someone else's sanitary pad and tell me that. Anyway-- I was raised to think tampons are gross and unnatural (I think it's an Asian-mother thing, since women in Indonesia and Timor think the same), so if I can adapt to the weirdness of an insert-y type thing, so can you. PS: CHANGED MY LIFE.

4. Yuletide! I'm surprised Generation Kill made it in, to be honest-- I feel like we're almost a mid-sized fandom now. I think this year I'm going to focus on the truly eeny fandoms-- i.e. not GK or SCC, but we'll see.

Separately-- I'm kind of idly contemplating remixing 'Sixteen Days' to make it original fiction, sort of as a side project for next year. It may not be the book I ever thought I'd write, but I figure if I wait for the Great Australian Novel I may be waiting a while-- and if I already have half a book then why the hell not, you know? The thought of the research is making my head spin, though. Handwaving is all very well and good in fandom, but-- omg, characters from Senegal and Algeria and Bangladesh and historical fiction, WHYYY.
tevere: Jihae, solemn with hint of smile (Default)
Today is the seventh anniversary of the Restoration of Independence, which celebrates the handover of government from the UN Transitional Administration for East Timor (UNTAET) to the Timorese in 2002. Later this year we also have the tenth anniversary of the Referendum for Independence, on 30 August.

It's interesting to chart the changes to Dili during even the short time I've been here. Jardim, which occupies the prime location between the seaport and Dili's premier hotel, was a squalid, sewerage-filled IDP camp housing hundreds of families when I first arrived in late 2007. Just a few weeks ago the site was restored as a city park, complete with play equipment donated and installed by the Kiwi Army.

January 2008

March 2008

May 2009

Arguably, the beautification of Dili shouldn't be the government's priority. 90% of the population live in rural areas outside of the capital; most don't have access to clean water, electricity, or a market for their agricultural products. Should Dili residents really be getting new footpaths when roads to major outlying towns are impassable four months of the year?

In Dili, we have a false sense of the nation's overall progress. But it's hard to let cynicism infect the feeling of optimism there was in the city today. This morning I biked up a dry river into some of the tiny villages in the Dili foothills, which somehow feel remote even though they're perhaps a kilometre as the crow flies from the city's main thoroughfares. People were home for the holiday, hanging out on their front verandahs with their extended families, and there was none of the fear there was just a year ago when we were still under curfew following the shooting of the President.

A couple of village children, led by a feisty little girl in a pink dress, chased me along the bank of the river, yelling, "Photo! Photo!" until I stopped to oblige.

Happy Restoration of Independence Day, kids.

Augustino (front, centre) and other kids from Camea village
tevere: Jihae, solemn with hint of smile (Default)
There are three book exchanges in Dili. All are in a pretty sorry state, because desperate readers (like me) have gone through and picked out all the good items, exchanging them for things like the photocopied Charles Dickens we bought at the airport in Vietnam in 1995. After about a year, the only books left in circulation are a sad flotsam of 1980s murder mysteries, Tom Clancy and fantasy novels with the covers ripped off.

But just the other week, the hotel next to my house opened a book exchange. And it is amazing. Not just for the fact it has non-fiction, or that most of the books look new. Observe this photo and tell me the reason why I started laughing to myself in a manner that made the receptionist edge away nervously:

THAT'S RIGHT. After all my trials and tribulations with Amazon, Nate Fick has made it to the Dili book exchange next to my house.

The sheer improbability of this is hard to encapsulate. It's Heart of Gold improbable. It's like walking into the Simpson Desert and finding an esky by the side of the road that contains a still-frozen pint of Ben&Jerry's Chunky Monkey.
tevere: Jihae, solemn with hint of smile (Default)

Nothing like strolling beachwards through Dili's bright, sunny backstreets, only to emerge at one's destination and nearly getting run down by a passing French warship. I'd forgotten it was coming in today, and it gave me quite a turn. Sadly my cameraphone doesn't do it justice; in real life it looked like it was practically nudging up on the sand. It was fun to look at, too, unlike the sullen American ship that came in last month. Compact and prickled all over with fern-like antennae, and trailing a bustle of activity around its skirts: little landing craft picking up and setting down and zooming towards shore.

Meanwhile, the camouflage crew have apparently moved from Green Delta Four status to White Echo Five, meaning they can patrol while equipped 'only' with assault rifles, and they don't even have to point said lethal weapons at pedestrians like yours truly! The times, they are a-changing. Although since I also got caught in the street yesterday between two groups of intoxicated young men throwing chunks of concrete at each other, maybe not changing all that much.
tevere: Jihae, solemn with hint of smile (Default)

I make a lot of Black Hawk Down jokes at work, mainly because I'm still regretting that time I voluntarily gave my seat to a junior-ranking colleague because I, um, couldn't be arsed leaving the office. Also, I didn't have any closed shoes. It'd be kind of funny to be able to say, I gave up my seat on a Black Hawk because of Yuletide, but sadly that wouldn't be quite true.

I've been thinking about it a lot, but I still can't decide how to accurately describe the sound of a helicopter. The Boy pointed out that the old cliched thwap-thwap or thump-thump sound probably comes from the two-bladed helicopters used in Vietnam -- except we had Iroquois (Hueys) here in Timor until about six months ago, and they didn't sound like that, either.

The Black Hawks actually seem to have two distinct sounds that vary in proportion according to how far away you are. From a distance, what you mainly hear are the blades. It's not really a thumping, but more of a fast, slightly irregular beat that runs together into a constant rough sound like a truck engine. The closer you get, though, the less you hear the blades and the more you hear the turbine, and when a helicopter's directly overhead pretty much the only thing you hear is an incredibly loud, high-pitched whine.

And... why I am talking about helicopters, again? Procrastination -- it's a sickness, I swear.
tevere: girl in gloomy cityscape (city girl)
So, I was just pulling out of a parking space today when one of the guys who'd been lounging at the side of the road -- I hesitate to say 'parking attendant' -- ran up and knocked on the front of my car, the way you do to warn someone that they're about to back into a taxi or a careless piece of livestock.

Given that all the restaurant's goats seemed present and accounted for, I wound down the window and stuck my head out. "What is it?"

The guy was fiddling with something at the right-hand corner of the car, and I knew instantly what it was. I sighed. "Oh, don't bother fixing it, just hand it here."

The right indicator had fallen off the car. Detached, it didn't even look like an indicator: it was just a big clear pod about the size and heft of a baby's head, hermetically sealed and strangely independent-looking.

We'd spent the weekend camping and hiking on Mt Matebian ('Mountain of Dead Souls'), a remote peak near the eastern end of the island. "A mildly strenuous three hour climb!" said the Lonely Planet. "Oh, it was only a mildly strenuous three hour climb," we told each other bitterly as we staggered into camp eleven hours later, dehydrated and starving and sunburnt, and fell like rabid dingoes upon the only sustenance available for purchase in the village: warm cans of Indonesian Coke, three years past the use-by date and tasting of rust.

The sun was ominously low in the sky, and it was still two hours to the nearest paved road. Six hours back to civilisation; two-thirds of the length of the country to be crossed before nightfall.

The Boy and I made it halfway before dark, past the badlands and into the twisting narrow road through the eucalypt forests. The car lights sometimes picked out solid shapes amongst the trees -- tiny dark hutments, silent and still -- but most of the time there was nothing, just the road cutting through a neverending press of jungle. The Boy was driving. I stared out the window and thought morosely about Thinner by Stephen King, and Lost Highway, and every road trip horror movie ever made.

Sometimes there was the gleam of eyes from the underbrush: semi-wild dogs, chewing thoughtfully on dead things. Occasionally one of them would wander out onto the road, dazed by the oncoming lights, and then whimper and run confusedly in a straight line in front of the car until The Boy swerved around it.

"So," I said, breaking the silence. "If you ran over something, would you take it home and eat it? I mean, you'd have paid the owners, so it's kind of like you own it anyway. Maybe it'd be unethical if you didn't take it home and eat it, because then it'd be wasted."

The Boy made a face. "Nah. What if its intestines burst when it got run over? And I don't know enough about gutting animals; I've only ever gutted fish."

In fact, we knew about the burst-intestine thing because once The Boy had slipped while gutting a fish, and the entire thing had been ruined: rank tasting and awful.

"Yeah, I guess," I said, pensive.

Suddenly there was a flash of grey streaking in front of the car at an impossibly close distance; The Boy yelled and braked, there was a terrible solid thump, and then we were stationary amidst an eerie quiet.

"What was that," I said carefully.

"A pig," said The Boy.

We sat there silently for another moment. "Is it dead?" I asked.

"Oh, yes."

I turned on the hazards, since we were still where we'd stopped: the middle of a deserted country highway, a hundred kilometres from anywhere. The hazards were loud, a weird unnatural ticking sound that seemed to grow louder by the minute, and they cast a ghoulish orange strobe across the dense undergrowth to either side of the road.

"We should pay someone," said The Boy.

"Who?" I still remembered my arrival-in-Timor briefing: "Ten dollars for a chicken, forty for a goat, pigs are a dollar a kilo. And if you don't hit an animal at some stage in the next two years, it'll have been luck more than anything you did." Roadkill is a daily fact of life in a country where goats, sheep, pigs, chickens and dogs roam and nap freely on the roads. Timorese buses average a dog each trip. But here, there was nobody to pay.

"We could--"

"Ugh. No." I imagined a hundred-dollar note stuffed in the pig's mouth, like an apple. "Anyway, that's just finders keepers; it's not like the owner's going to be the first who finds it. And are you sure we don't want to keep it?"

"Ugh," echoed The Boy. "No." He set his mouth in a grim line, and went outside to investigate. "Good news," he reported, when he got back.

"For us or for the pig?"

"The car's not damaged."

"Oh, thank god," I said heartlessly. "Let's go, before it reanimates and eats our brains."

"What?" said The Boy.


As we drove away, just for a moment we thought we heard a little pig-like snuffling from behind us, but it was probably just the wind in the trees.


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