mood boosters

It’s very boring to talk about being in a bad mood when you live in Timor-Leste.

It feels tone-deaf to complain about the comfortable lives foreigners like me have here, compared to the lifestyles of many Timorese people (for example, if I were Timorese, I’d almost certainly be making less money than I am now, cleaning my own house instead of having a cleaner, and caring for children or younger siblings, not just my dog).

And it’s naff to moan about elements of a life you’ve chosen, moved to; a circumstance borne from your own decisions. If it’s that bad, why did you come here for it, right?

But none of that changes the fact that sometimes, you just have down days.

And when I have down days in Dili (down, here, differentiated from depressed — I am not about to suggest a hair mask as a cure for brain chemistry) I cheat-sheet my way out of it with tried-and-tested tricks.

Here’s a list that might be helpful for you if you have a down day of your own: a way to feel soft, comfortable, and re-settled.

Hair creme bath at Yomi Salon

This takes 45 minutes, makes your hair smell nice for about three full days afterwards, and immediately makes you calmer and happier. Any hair salon offers this service (with any number of miscellaneous brands of leave-in conditioner I’m not convinced offer any actual benefit to your hair) but my preference is Yomi Salon, which has stores near Eastern Burger in Lecidere and (two!) at Timor Plaza. For $15 you have your hair washed, head massaged, shoulders massaged, and hair blow-dried, and spend close to an hour in air-conditioned comfort. This is a good re-set for me on days when I feel sluggish, grimy, lethargic and lazy.

Plate of the day at Pau de Canela

Eating a beautiful, fresh meal is a general go-to for me when I need cheering up, but (in this post-Agora Food Studio period) my favourite place is Pau de Canela. It’s a skinny Portuguese cafe at Timor Plaza with sexy amber lighting, lovely staff, and — importantly — filling, tasty, and healthy daily lunch specials. They’re $9, which puts them out of my usual meal budget (you could eat at the food court’s warung every day for a week for the same price), but when I’m feeling like shit and can’t take another cup of white rice and MSG cassava leaves, they’re worth it. There’s always one vegetarian option and at least one meat choice, and they’re served elegantly, with place mats, heavy cutlery, and pretty ceramics.

Massage at Lorosae Concept

So, Lorosae Concept isn’t my favourite place for a massage in Dili — I love a Thai massage, and the place in Farol near the New Zealand Embassy is my go-to — but for comfort on a gloomy day, there’s nobody better. It’s a sophisticated, peaceful, non-sexy massage studio with heavy wooden doors and hushed whispers in the lobby and sweet ginger tea served in a china cup afterwards. I pay $25 for an hour-long aromatherapy massage, which is always skillful and lovely — but it’s as much the cool, calm quiet I’m paying for. They’re in Formosa, just behind the Palacio do Governo, and take walk-ins.

Solo drink at Castaway Bar

Go in happy hour when gins are $2.50! Arrive in the afternoon and claim a seat overlooking the ocean! Cry behind your sunglasses and ignore everyone you know you see walking up the stairs! Order in English and don’t feel bad about it! We’re holding on for dear life on a Castaway solo gin arvo but we wouldn’t have it any other way babey!!

Go to the movies

A lot of these recommendations are beads along the common thread of ‘cool yourself down and sit by yourself’, and this one is no exception. But the movies are also good for distraction, escapism, and catharsis.

Three years ago, during a bad day in Dili, I took myself to the Timor Plaza cineplex, alone, and sobbed through all two-and-a-half-hours of A Star Is Born. It was a purge. I felt small and safe and allowed myself to be vulnerable in a way my frustration and guilt at my bad mood hadn’t — $6 spent for better value than a lot of the therapy I’ve had.

I’ve written before about how I feel more visible in Dili than I usually do back home — in a small city, with a smaller expat population, you frequently see people you know. It’s always nice, but when you’re in a bad mood and you don’t want to chat, the anonymity of the dark cineplex is a perfect haven.

Coffee at Aroma Cafe

In a previous life in Dili this would have been an Agora Food Studio coffee, but we adapt — and the related Aroma Cafe is an excellent substitute. A beautiful, cool, quirky, well-lit space with friendly staff, excellent coffee, and cold water poured from a jug without you having to ask. I will stop for an espresso in most places in Dili, but when I need to feel calm and contained afterwards, I’d go to Aroma. It’s at Pateo, next to Western Union.

Little ocean swim

Recommending this with trepidation because it requires more effort than everything else on this list — and arriving at the beach to find low tide could only make a bad day worse. But there is nothing like being submerged in the ocean. And, importantly, I feel like many of my mood boosters are my attempts at resisting the vagaries of Dili life; building a dam wall against the straining everyday — but it’s better to lean into it, right? Deal with what wears you down about Dili by doing the very best thing that comes with living on an island.

Eat fruit, watch microlets, take a Bintang to Beto Tasi

Conscious my list was a little too sit-in-air-conditioning, I turned to some friends to crowd-source other mood boosters. They came up with some very good ideas — thank you Georgia, Geordie, Alysha for the suggestions.

  • Watch the pink and brown microlets run around Laulaka roundabout in Hudi Laran
  • Eat a full piece of seasonal fruit in the shower with your bare hands
  • Drink a beer and watch people running at sunset by the beach
  • Drive Dare up and back
  • Have sunset Bintangs in the water at Beto Tasi
  • Ride as fast as you can down Comoro Road on your scooter

You’re doing the best you can! Go on, keep going.

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