Friday, September 11, 2009

Chinese economy

The other day I needed to replenish my stash of passport photos, but was in no mood to pose for a photography session. So I asked the admin officer at work to take me to a photo shop where we could scan my old passport photos and print out a new batch.

He took me to a computer supplies and printing store that also offered a small selection of textbooks. Sure enough, they could do the job.

As we waited for my pictures, I observed the spacious one-room store. Two things struck me. First, it was filled with a nearly uninhalable odour combining cigarette smoke with printing fluids. Second, while most of the staff was Timorese, everyone in the important seats were Chinese. The girl at the cash register, the older woman at the manager's desk, the middle-aged man walking around checking up on everyone else's performance. All Chinese.

Then I thought back to my lunch that day. It was Indonesian food at a restaurant that catered mainly to Timorese. Some of the girls who served the food were Timorese, but the guy at the cash register - clearly the guy in charge - was Chinese.

That evening I decided it was time for me to start settling in. Settling in for me is greatly expedited by obtaining one or both of two items: an electric kettle and/or speakers for my ipod. That evening I bought both. At two stores owned by Chinese.

The hotel I almost stayed in, the apartment I almost rented, the supermarket that has the best prices... all owned or managed by Chinese. What's not owned by Chinese seems to be owned by Portuguese.

There are a few establishments here owned by Timorese. The posh residence in which I am sitting out my homeless days is owned by a very rich Timorese family who doesn't live in Timor-Leste. The smaller restaurant where I sometimes go for lunch is owned by a Timorese family. And of course most of the houses I have visited in my search a home have been owned by Timorese. But considering the population composition of this country, Timorese seem to be strangely missing from the economy of capitalism or entrepreneurship. They've all been hired by the Chinese.

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