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Timor-Leste II: finite thoughts reading Badiou in Dili & snorkeling in Atauro

kids & ships

skinny-dipping kids & cargo ships

Settling into a routine here in Dili. We shifted hotels to one that is more 'downtown' .... if you can call it that. Before we were in a sterile Korean-owned hotel with a pool & gym, but there wasn't much around the hotel & we had to take taxis everywhere (which was a real pain .. they never knew where we were going & always tried to rip us off .. & taxis don't run after dark, so you can go to dinner, but good luck getting back).

banyan alley

between two banyans & a hard place

But now we're close to good restaurants & a sort of waterfront promenade where everyone hangs out (free wifi even, in these groovy gazebos where all the students connect). We're still in this sort of jet-lagged routine where we wake up at 4 a.m. We run on the beach, past the fishing boats & bulls & pigs & dogs & roosters. Then breakfast of eggs & avocados (tons here) & passion fruit & 'bubbles & squeak' (in American speak this means 'potatoes'). Some opt for vegemite, i pass.


Lecidere waterfront

Then A comes to pick up j & S & off they go, usually to sit in hot Dili traffic .. to go meet ministers & NGOs & yesterday they even met the president or prime minister or something.

beached ark

beached boat

I've been working on the first book of West of Kingdom Come. It's a strange process, sort of writing itself from the inside out. I started with an outline & then a rough draft & now it gets sort of fleshed out in a very non-linear fashion, jumping around in no particular order. As i add one word i realize i need to go back to another section & add or change something else. Which is not to say i know what i'm doing or know what it is about.

timorese diet

Tried a few places for lunch, but have settled on this Timorese-Indonesian place called Bakso Kota, which i'm sort of obsessed with & start salivating for hours before lunch even comes around. In typical style, everything is pre-cooked (which normally i'm not a big fan of, but it seems cooked fresh for the lunch rush, which is almost all Timorese) .. i usually pick jackfruit curry & a fish roasted in chilies & tempeh & a boiled egg & all sorts of greens & seaweed salad, with spicy chili sauce to put on it. But they are famous for their soup (bakso) with cut-up dumplings & noodles & meatballs, etc. which i've had a few times.

bakso kota

my new favorite restaurant, Bakso Kota


food from Bakso Kota

clockwise: tofu, curry chicken, seaweed salad, bitter greens

A few times for dinner we've been going down to this area on the beach with all sorts of stands barbecuing fish & calamari & prawns & corn on an open fire, with rice-balls wrapped in banana leaves & beer. They set up plastic chairs to sit right there on the beach, with stray dogs lurking to eat whatever scraps you'll throw their way & fishermen pulling in their nets. At the end of it all you pay something like $20 for 6 people.

fish fry

fish fry on Dili beach (& ever-looming ships on the horizon)

The rains have sort of come .. at least on a few days. No big dramatic storm to kick-in the rainy season like we used to get in Mexico or Arizona, just a gradual build-up. There's a place along the waterfront with these big banyan trees, which i guess secrete a lot of oily nuts or something, because when it rains, crowds gather to watch the spectacle of unsuspecting mopeds & motorcycles that are almost guaranteed to slide out in the slippery black sludge. At which point everyone goes nuts cheering & jeering (while a few go to help the dazed & confused victims, usually covered with sludge & gravel .. an ambulance even had to come for one woman). In all fairness, some try to warn the speeding motorcycles .... but when they ignore the warning, the crowds are more than happy to jeer & heckle the person, hoping they wipe out so they can laugh & say 'i told you so'. One enthusiastic man next to me (that gave me two thumbs up when he saw me taking pictures) said the day before was even better, when there were 20 motorcycle & 5 car accidents. In the 10 minutes i watched, i witnessed 3 or 4 accidents, though none i captured on video.

When it's not raining, everyone hangs out in the shade of the Banyan trees (including monkeys & dogs & roosters), drinking coconut water & listening to Timorese country music (big here). Timor feels like a pre-teen child (it is 10 years old after all) .. an awkward gangly kid that doesn't know what to do with it's life & doesn't yet know it's place in the world. And there's something exciting & cool about that .. so much potential to re-invent itself.

banyan monkeys

monkeys grooming in the banyan boughs


Went to the Resistance Museum another day .... a solemn reminder of all the atrocities committed against the Timorese & what they went through to get independence. Went into it more in the last post, but seeing all these things puts context to being here .. makes things seem actually pretty good considering what they've been through. You can only imagine what every Timorese you meet went through a dozen years ago .. fighting in the resistance or fleeing to the hills. We all read about these things back then, the protests & «Free East Timor» banners .. but unless you were actually there in time & space, it's hard to picture what was actually going on. I was in West Timor in 1990 & looking towards East Timor i would try to imagine what it must be like, but i scarcely had an idea of what was happening just across the border. There's lots of people & countries to blame, but as an American it's shameful that the invasion of East Timor was all done with the U.S. blessing (for fear of communism). The museum had documents from the meetings Ford & Kissinger had with Suharto two days before the invasion, giving him the thumbs up.

machine gun fishing

crazy guy (veteran?) pretending his fishing pole was a machine gun

j took another field trip, this time inland in the mountains all the way to the southern shores of the island. But there was no room in the car, so S & i stayed behind. [Here's her pics & post from this trip.]

canoe dog

dog & canoe in the fishcamp

Yesterday we got like 10 people together & charted a boat to go Atauro. It was sold as a whale-watching/snorkeling trip, but we didn't see any whales. We spent a few hours motoring around in circles in the strange currents where normally they lurked, but all we saw were a dozen or so little spinner dolphins. That always seems the case if you go looking for something in particular .. you never find it .. or if you do it's no real surprise. We did go snorkeling (where the rest of these photos were taken .. though it's hard to get all the colors with a cheap camera & no flash). Where we snorkeled (along the north shore of the island of Atauro) there was a shallow reef right off the shore that dropped vertical down to 50-80 meters. Pretty cool to dive way down then drift up (though had to give my camera to j when i did this as the camera is only waterproof up to 10 meters).

giant sponge

giant sponge

I've been reading Infinite Thought by Alain Badiou, which i started reading in Singapore & on the plane here. It's a collection of sorts of various essays on philosophy & politics & art & language & love. I'm not sure i totally relate to Badiou. Even if i don't agree with, say, Derrida or Deleuze, i still them interesting. Whereas Badiou misses with me more often than not. But he does have a unique perspective & says some interesting things about philosophy's relation to language (which he sees as a strait-jacket of philosophy), mathematics, poetics & itself (philosophy of philosophy). But when he talks about politics & love (the other two pillars, or conditions, of his core belief system of philosophy), i am not so interested or don't get what he is saying.

Badiou: Infinite Thought

Mostly though, he philosophizes about philosophy .. which can be annoying & pretentious & French, but i guess at the same time he knows better than to claim that philosophy knows about more than itself. He knows his boundaries, albeit those boundaries are infinite (hence the title). In Badiou's mind, philosophy is ever-sentenced to the periphery .... or at least he thinks the other schools of philosophy have put it there, at the end of the road.

brain coral

Badiou might come off as negative to most, but actually he seems quite optimistic, in the same way that at least i find Nietzsche to be positive-thinking beneath the surface of it. He deconstructs to be constructive. He doesn't paint a cheerful colorful picture, but he doesn't give false illusions.

«My philosophy is that although philosophy is ill, it is less ill than it thinks it is, less ill than it says it is. One of the characteristics of contemporary philosophy is to elaborate page after page on its own mortal illnesses. But you know, when it is the patient who says he is ill, there is always a change that it is at least in part an imaginary illness. And I think that this is the case, because the world itself, despite all the negative pressures it exerts on the desire of philosophy, the world, that is the people who live in it and think in it, this world is asking something of philosophy. Yet philosophy is too morose to respond due to the morbidity of its own vision of itself.»

moorish idols

He reveres & treats philosophy like a dynamic living organism, that is ever changing. He calls for a philosophy that is adaptable & malleable, that evolves to fit the demands of the world.

«Philosophy is required to ensure that thought can receive and accept the drama of the event without anxiety. We do not fundamentally need a philosophy of the structure of things. We need a philosophy open to the irreducible singularity of what happens, a philosophy that can be fed and nourished by the surprise of the unexpected. Such a philosophy would then be a philosophy of the event. This too is required of the philosophy by the world, by the world as it is.»

reef madness

The ontological core of his philosophy is based on set theory. We are always once removed from 'real' things (in thought & speech) & can only speak of idealistic notions of subjects, as belonging to sets. Even the subject of philosophy, speaking of itself, in the set of philosophy is still 'counting-for-one' as Badiou would say. Sort of like collapsing a wave function in quantum mechanics, whereas just by speaking of it, putting into words, we have already distanced ourselves from the truth. Thinking in terms of set theory helps to further his cause of multiplicity, which again in relation to quantum mechanics is like the many-worlds interpretation.

coral green

Not that Badiou ever even mentions quantum mechanics .... this very well could be my interpretation/projection. One of many which counts-for-one in the set of Badiou interpretations. He does go on about mathematics quite a bit though:

« ... mathematics is precisely the thinking which has nothing to do with the experience of consciousness; it is the thinking which has no relation to reality, but which knots letters and the real together; a thinking faced with the void because it obeys the ideal of formalization.»

And the duality of math & poetry:

«Philosophy can only establish itself in the game of contrasts between the poem and the matheme, both in primordial conditions (the poem, whose authority it must interrupt, and the matheme, whose dignity it must promote).»

sea weed

And relation of philosophy to literature:

«The literary in philosophy is the directed transmission of vectoring, through an effect of sense, of the following: the relation of a truth to sense is a defective or void relation. It is this deflection that exposes philosophy to the imperative of a localized fiction. The moment at which the argumentation fails imitates [sic], amid the power of the argument itself, this, that truth causes the failure of knowledge.»


j capturing me surfacing for air


 >> next: Bali hoorah: east meets westward-ho in the American Purgatorio of Ubud

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