Finding your place

When it first comes into view from space, Dili looks a bit like Dubai. It’s on a coastline, with a promontory pointing north. A mass of buildings sprawls along the land closest to the water, and gradually fades out from there.


I used Google Earth to get a view of my new home. Just by typing in “Dili” I set the world spinning and parachuted down through the atmosphere to this splash of a city on an island coast.

There are lots of interest points marked on Google Earth, too, which Tom pointed out to me as we cruised. The Hotel Vasco de Gama [8*33’07.91″ S, 125*34’15.40″ E], where he stayed on his trip there in November and where we’ll stay until our apartment is ready. The I-Net Internet [8*32’53.91″ S, 125*33’36.89″ E], where the project’s temporary office is. The dried-up Comoro River… the epicenter of shopping Supermercado Lider… and out on that promontory, Cristo [8*31’13.54″ S, 125*36’31.37″ E]: the big statue of Jesus welcoming all.

We tried to zoom in on the house where the new office and our apartment will be, but we didn’t have specific directions. We roamed through the general neighborhood, though, and scoped out what the views might be like.

Later we got an email from a friend, Jan, who worked in Dili for several years. She knows the house well – had spent more than a few hours tossing back drinks in the upstairs apartment that will soon be ours. It used to be rented by someone who was nicknamed the Coffee King. He was a friend of Jan’s.

A few years later she happened to move into the house he was vacating… in Kabul.

There’s a holy mountain in China, Tai Shan, that a million Chinese climb every year to get the view of the sunrise from the top. It’s famous because, when Mao watched the sunrise there, he declared, “The East is red.”

From that same spot on Tai Shan, Confucius, his predecessor by quite a few centuries, said, “The world is small.”

I stood at the same peak on May 1, 1992. It was the first time I’d lived overseas, and Tai Shan was the first of the three holy mountains in China that I would climb. I looked across the rippling range of earth, vast as eternity, and said, “Wow.”