Wednesday, April 09, 2008


I went to get a haircut the other day. There are actually quite a few expat run joints in town but, as I have previously noted, I prefer to buy local so I decided to drive around until I found a place that was run by Timorese. My local in Jakarta was a place down the road from my house which had these beat up old barber chairs and charged Rp. 7000 (less than a dollar) so my goal for the day was to find an equivalent in Dili.

A likely contender was the place across the road from the Australian embassy. From the outside the building looks pretty run down, I figured there was no way it was run by an expat. I'd forgotten how to say hair, and I don't think I ever knew how to say cut in Tetum so I mumbled something in Indonesian and sat down. Turns out I was suckered by the old bait-and-switch and had my hair cut by a Filipino trannie instead of the Timorese barber I was after. It's surprising how long Tagalog can sound like Tetum when you're still a beginner... The Filipino English accent is unmistakable though...

Not only that, but it turns out koke hudi aren't called koke hudi at all but something else that I can't remember the name of... Kaka something? Anyway, I'd told a few people about my new discovery and they smiled politely and changed the subject. After two or three days they started to go soft and mouldy and I complained of this to my cleaner.

"Yeah, I know. I wondered why you bought them... We never eat those things..."

Oh well...

Hey America, take the hint!

I was down at the market today and tried to get rid of my stash of loose change that has been piling up since we arrived in Dili in December. I count out a dollar using a selection of Timorese coins (Timor Leste uses the US dollar as its currency, but they mint their own coins to avoid having to ship heavy coins in from overseas) and head off to buy my rice, secure in the knowledge that someone else will be lugging around all of that deadweight.

I pick the kind of rice I want and hand over my pile of coins. "Oh these are no good, we don't use these anymore" says the old lady pointing a finger at my pile of 1 centavo pieces.

So, America, if a country with a GNI per capita of under a thousand dollars can get rid of the penny, then you guys are way behind...

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Koke hudi

One of the pleasures of moving to a new country is trying all the wacky new fruits they have on offer. Here's my latest discovery: koke hudi.

Hudi means banana but, unless you live in Timor where the bananas are actually red, they bear little resemblance to your everyday banana. I have no idea what koke means... From the outside they look like large kidney beans, or perhaps small red fejoias, but on the inside they've got these big, black, hard seeds covered in modest amounts of slightly tart, sweet flesh. The fruits they most resemble to me are custard apples, or perhaps small passion fruit with inedible seeds. More tart than a custard apple or an Asian passion fruit (with the yellow skin and grey flesh), sweeter than an Australian passion fruit (with the purple skin and yellow flesh).

I've been reading a lot of Jared Diamond recently and I can't really say I wonder why these things haven't spread beyond the borders of Timor... They're tasty, sure, but getting the flesh from the seeds takes some real labial gymnastics and there's really not that much of it. Over the last hour I've eaten about five of them and all I have to show for my efforts are some tired lips and probably about 4 cubic centimetres of koke hudi flesh. If I were a hunter gatherer in Timor thousands of years ago, I probably wouldn't waste my time on these.

I've been trying to think of better ways to use up my stash. Custard apples suffer from a similar problem (though the amount of flesh coating your average custard apple seed is substantially larger than you get off a koke hudi), and they manage to make juice out of those. Does anyone know how they separate the flesh from the seeds to make custard apple juice? Wikipedia tells me that custard apple seeds are poisonous (as are many fruit seeds) so I'm not quite ready to throw a bunch of them seeds and all into the blender...