The price of life


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I’ve been getting angry with taxi drivers recently. Before my time in Dili, it used to be that you paid a dollar for any taxi journey around the city. Some taxi drivers still live by this unwritten rule, whereas others have started jacking up their prices. When I ask Timorese people about taxis, they tell me that they normally pay a buck to go anywhere.

At the moment, the easiest way for me to get around is by taxi. I only travel to and from a few areas in Dili: Pantai Kelapa, Obrigado Barracks, Palacio, Balide and the area near Café Brasil. Half of the time the journey costs me a dollar – the other half it costs me two or sometimes three.

I hate the fact that I’m being so finicky about a dollar or two, but I don’t like it when price of a ride is effectively doubled. If the taxi driver has been particularly friendly, I sometimes offer him a buck fifty, but often the driver will sternly tell me, “No. Two dollar.”

Try and go to the airport and the price goes up even more. I’ve been quoted as much as $10 to go to the airport in Dili. I told this to a Timorese friend of mine and he nearly laughed his head off. “Ten dollar!” he exclaimed.

I wouldn’t feel so frustrated with this if I didn’t catch cabs every day. I don’t know what other foreigners in Timor think about all of this – I expect they don’t care much at all.

What we’re getting back to is the double-pricing that you see all over Southeast Asia. I remember being in Bali and asking the price of plug converter. The guy at the market quoted me 250,000 rupiah. I then went to a supermarket and found the exact same thing for 20,000 rupiah.

Back in Timor, there is something of a foreigners’ economy going on, especially in terms of accommodation. The hotels in Dili are expensive and they tend to be extremely grotty.

If you’re here for the long term and you plan to get an apartment or a house, you’ll certainly feel the pinch from that second economy. I’ve seen small studio apartments that go for more than $1,000 a month. It’s not that they’re high quality, but the presence of so many well-paid aid workers flashing their cash around has resulted in prices being bumped.

Our house costs $800 a month excluding water and electricity. After living in Thailand for so long, I still consider that a little expensive. When I think about it, though, I was paying close to $200 for my place in Phuket, and this house in Dili is now between three people. Anyway, there are people paying three to five times as much as us for houses in Dili.

East Timor certainly isn’t one of those Southeast Asian destinations that you’d go and live in because it’s so cheap. There isn’t much overlap between the places the locals eat and the places foreigners eat. If you eat at the local joints, it’s very cheap, but if you’re dining out at the foreign places day in day out, it adds up. I try and mix it up when I can. A main course in one of the malai (foreigner) restaurants tends to cost about $10 compared to one or two dollars in the local spots.

Aside from food, accommodation and transport, there isn’t much for foreigners to spend their money on in Dili. Alcohol isn’t too expensive. A can of beer costs about a buck fifty to two dollars from the store and three or four dollars in a bar or restaurant. Spirits are about five or six bucks a shot and mixer. DVDs cost a dollar or a dollar fifty.

While I am complaining about the cost of living in Dili, I’m well aware that it would be possible to live on about $500 a month. Last week I went to look at another house where someone said there was a room available. The rent was $100 a month. I was all set to go – I even packed my bags.

When I saw the room I had to think hard about what I was doing. No matter how adapted to life in Timor I may think I am, there are still some things I can’t shake. The place where I was going to live was very dirty – the bathroom in particular was an interesting sight. There was also an issue of security and it was recommended that I hire a security guard to watch over my room.

I wouldn’t have felt comfortable living there. I have no problem with roughing it, but imagine the dingiest guesthouse you’ve ever seen – this place was worse. I need somewhere to work and a place where I’m not continually living in fear that my laptop and camera are going to be stolen.

It has been interesting to compare this sort of experience with my time in Thailand. There’s no doubt in my mind that Thailand is an easier place to live. I keep reading on Internet forums that the current exchange rates have left Thailand as expensive as England or America, but I think that’s nonsense. Thailand is still very cheap.

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One thought on “The price of life

  1. Thought you would have been used to double pricing, having lived in LOS.

    The exchange rate (especially the pound) is making Thailand an extremely expensive holiday destination. Especially when you take a whiskey and coke in White Box and get stung for 300 baht.

    Even the Oddbins or Threshers specials' in the UK are looking cheaper than 7-11 in Thailand.

    We now spend most of our time hustling passersby for Taxi service or collecting plastic bottles, tin cans and cardboard boxes…….

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