March 31, 2013
- - One day there is veld then the next day there’s a confetti of white, pink and fuchsia as the first harbingers of Easter, the cosmos flowers, annex the Highveld.
- - You reach for something with long sleeves in the evenings; the 30 degree + days are a fading memory.
- - Hot Cross Buns stand in for something religious, like raisins and a sugar water glaze can stand in for something all together more spiritual.
- - Gauteng’s in pause mode as the first quarter of the year is ticked off and there’s a gap for trips to the Vaal, pilgrimages to the Zion City of Moria and long weekends at Sun City to ride fake waves and push buttons on a slot machine.
- - Stores are in big display mode because big spin means big spend. Bunny ears on alice bands equal the cha-ching at the tills and so too does chocolate fashioned into rabbits, eggs or anything that actually lays eggs.
- - School’s out for the hols so kids are left to do the mall trawl. They’re handed over to bigger kids, students dressed up as in mothballed rabbits suits who are made to hold treasure hunts of mashmallow eggs. The kids mean business, frisking bunnies on display, upending flower pots of fakes bushes and pulling the cartooned students’ dirty cotton tails for not handing over more of the sugary booty.
HAPPY EASTER EVERYONE – blessings of spirit, chocolate and even cotton tails to pull
January 22, 2013
Next week Tuesday (29 Jan) I’ll be in Cape Town to give a lecture as part of the University of Cape Town’s Summer School programme.
The theme of my talk is “Being Chinese in SA Today”, mostly it’s informed by the journey of Paper Sons and Daughters in the nearly two years since the book was launched and the conversations around belonging and identity that have as a result.
This mornng while I was piecing together the elements of what I want to present at the talk, I found myself simultaneously trying to secure a table reservation for the biggest Chinese celebration next month (unrepentant multi-tasker that I am).
I struck out at first choice – Swallows Inn in First Chinatown and had patchy success in Cyrildene Chinatown, leaving me a little undecided and and not being able to commit till I conferred with others expected at the feasting table for the Year of the Snake.
But as I hung up, I realised that there were half a dozen clues about “being Chinese”.
First was that food matters, that’s the quality of the food matters and the skills of the chef especially when it comes to celebrating a new year. It while I was comfortable to say yes outright. Another clue was that my first choice was for First Chinatown, in Commissioner Street. It’s the Chinatown of the childhood – the place of memory and connection and personal history. Also my Cantonese palate finds most of the food served up there, most familiar. Years of isolation has meant food preparation styles have had a constancy and dependability I know well. Only with the arrival of the new migrants and the rise of new Chinatown in the mid-90s have new dishes been served up.
The fact that Joburg is a city with two Chinatowns also speaks volumes about the waves of migrations that have taken place as people through the decades have sought the fortunes of the mountain of gold.
What’s also clear are the separations and distinctions that make up the Chinese community, or more accurately the communities within communities. It’s obvious that the imprint of history, socio-political context and personal choices are never far from these stories.
At the end of the all though there’s always room to bread bread together, or in this case to split a springroll and share a plate of noodles.
* JOIN me at UCT on 29 January 2012 for my lunchtime lecture. For more information check out the UCT Summer School web page at http://www.summerschool.uct.ac.za/
December 18, 2012
This was a piece I wrote for THE STAR’s Little Spot this month. Had to write it because we all bow at the FaceBook alter, we don’t think before we tweet and we are all guilty of emoticon abuse.
BEING dead has its drawbacks – ask Gandhi, Chief Sitting Bull and even John Lennon.
You’d think shuffling off the mortal coil would be the “finish and klaar” bit of your life, but in the age of social media, Facebook will resurrect you and revamp you with photoshop glitter and glory.
Gandhi in the digital space is featured with butterflies resting on his open palms, the Chief gazes over lost horizons all atmospheric with sun breaking through just the right amount of morning mist. The posts come with words of wisdom attributed to these dead men – most of it misquoted, legend or just plainly untrue.
But accuracy and appropriate context have never stopped social media before. We lap it up because we’re drunk on the modern mantra of “I Tweet therefore I am” – the 140 character essence of us. We believe from our armchairs clickivism will save the world. We trust that reposting a link will help free Tibet and liking a page will win us an iPad. Our comments are smiley face emoticons so vague and arbitrary they work for almost all situations ranging from “you suck – smiley face”, to “you’re the best – smiley face”.
When all’s said and done, all statuses updated and all hashtags Tweeted out, remember the golden rule still holds: Read between the lines. As this Facebook post puts it: “You can’t believe everything you read on the Internet – Abraham Lincoln.”
October 14, 2012
I love when this city surprises me and reminds me why there’s so much to celebrate – this place with a pulse that throbs and people who are always up to something wow.
This Saturday was for feasting and for urban living with inspiration. It was an almost impromtu pavement banquet right under the M2 South.
It was a meal we sat down to courtesy of the energies of Kelo of TED Jozi/ Soweto, Jaydene and Kelvin from the Jhb Culinary School and Miche of Touchstone Collaborations. They literally stewed up this culinary creation and their cooking fairies delivered it to the tables.
The pavement was tranformed with white tablecloths, bougainvilea, soil and artist’s goldleaf. It was a table of plenty with good, wholesome food from organic growers and artisan cheesemakers and bread bakers. We were invited to mingle, to break bread with strangers, give thanks for the food, for the alchemy of soil, sun and chlorophyll and to honour the growers, cooks, clearer-uppers and the company.
I took up my seat next to the High Priest, Seth the web man, across from me was Sithembile the frustrated law student who wants to play more violin. Also joining the table were two Canadians and their little girl who just happened to stop by, looking for a place to have lunch before heading to the airport to fly back to the Northern hemisphere and the Nigerian artist from Germany with his Rolliflex and gentle urging not to be afraid of capturing the shot and improving my focusing potential with more yoga.
And when we had eaten our fill of all the delicious goodness and toasted another glorious Jozi day with pure water from jam jars, Sithembile was coaxed to let his violin out of its white case and Speech, the poet also at the table let his words flow with rhythm and rhyme.
A good day indeed – even under the shadow of the concrete artery of Johannesburg East there’s extraordinary possibility.
October 2, 2012
Good day and greetings. Yes it’s another sparkling spring day in Jozi.
I’ll be speaking tonight at the SAFREA (South African Freelancers Association) meeting held at the University of Johannesburg’s Kingsway campus at 6.30pm.
I’ll be talking about the journey of the book since it’s launch in April 2011 – and it’s been an awesome ride with so many new insights, connections and shared stories. I’ll also talk a little about memoir writing and the balancing act of working on a book while still writing to pay the rent (or buy the fancy cat food).
The meeting is open to everyone, so come along if you’re in the hood. Below is some information about the event or visit SAFREA’s webpage at www.safrea.co.za
Love to see you there!
Safrea Gauteng General Meeting
Tuesday, 2 October, 2012
Intellilab, Univ Johannesburg, Auckland Park campus
Time: 18h30 (Happy hour from 18h00)
R20 – includes coffee/tea/wine and snacks
Our scheduled guest speaker is:
Is a freelance journalist and author of Paper Sons and Daughters, Growing up Chinese in South Africa, published by Picador Africa in 2011 and Ohio University Press Aug 2012. She will chat about the journey of writing Paper Sons and Daughters as a freelancer and balancing this with the day to day reporting and writing that comes with working as a journo.
Ufrieda says she is really gratified by the reception that her book has had – ‘it’s a big hurrah for people writing the smaller stories.’
She has written for The Star, City Press and other publications. Her website is www.ufriedaho.co.za
September 7, 2012
I was a Nam-virgin till a few days ago, having never set foot in Namibia before. Of course the dunes didn’t disappoint and how can you not be awestruck by a desert night sky or driving straight into the August blue moon as you turn the bend on a gravel road?
Moon rise over the red and white Swartkopmund lighthouse guiding ships across the Atlantic.
But here are a few other things I noticed about Namibia as a first-time visitor.
- Pack a pen. You still need to put ink to paper to announce your arrival to authorities because scanning passports has not yet come to Nam.
- Non-smoking sections still mean the far corner of the restaurant – like the peeing section in the public swimming pool!
- When people say there are no filling stations for kilometres even when you see the little sign on a map – they mean it! That goes for people, cars and settlements too … gorgeous nothingness for hundreds of kilometres at a stretch!
- They made 4×4 vehicles for Namibia, not Parkhurst or Sandton!
Roads in Swartkopmund are sand. They’re wonderfully wide because at one time they had to be able to accommodate ox wagons doing a 360 degree turn.
- New Zealanders are great for helping you push you vehicle out of the sand (yes it’s a desert) and laughing with you as they do it! Love the NZlanders!
- You don’t have to pay for plastic bags – but take your own anyway because the dumpsite outside of Windhoek doesn’t need the pressure.
Brush up on your 4×4 skills – or cough up and hit the sand with the pros. Choose someone who’s mindful of leaving a small footprint on the sensitive dunes.
- If you moan about Joburg’s water quality, you’re going to having a lot of griping to do about Swartkopmund’s briny H20.
- Namibia has daylight saving hours – do the maths before you fly!
- When the Devil’s looking for somewhere warm to holiday he heads to Sossusvlei’s red-hot dunes. And speaking of devils, the devil’s claw that grows in Nam is said to be serious muti for fighting inflammation!
Wear shoes … the red dunes are RED HOT!
- It’s difficult to say “Hello, how are you?” in Nama – but a smile will do (German, English or Afrikaans will help too).
- There’s 4G in Windhoek, but expect little other connectivity of any sort anywhere else – but you’ll be better off for the FB, Twitter, blogging, cellphone diet … really!
- You can buy a coffee in Parliament for R5 or N$5, you can even bring along a Canadian tourist (nice meeting you Sanwar!) but you’ll have to sweet-talk the police officers who say “no” a lot.
A flamingo takes off on the Skeleton Coast.
- SADC citizens gets discounts!
- You can actually park in a public parking spot without a car “guard” harassing you for change (Not so in Swartkopmund though where tourists are fleeced by every tour operator out for the Euro and everyone who’s got a neon bid on).
- If you fly in with the national carrier expect wildlife programmes on Etosha and “The Simpsons” in German.
- The sand viper spits, but the Namib Desert Snake is a friendly – both deserve respect!
Look out for Namibia’s “Little Five” – here’s the Namibian desert snake.
AND my most important observation of all: Namibia’s worth a second visit … probably a third!!!
The sun sets in Swartkopmund, but not on future travel to a country with loads to offer.
August 21, 2012
Well the day has come … I’m thrilled and over the moon that Paper Sons and Daughters is being launched this week in the United States by Ohio University Press (See the catalogue info below).
The journey since the book was launched in SA in April last year has brought to my door connections with so many people from this corner of the South and many far-flung places – it’s been a treasure for me!
I’ve been moved and touched by people sharing their own stories. There are people who tell me they’ve just laughed with nostalgia reading the book or shed a few tears, recognising what makes us more similar to each other than we know.
There’s the young woman from Montreal knowing that her story stretches to South Africa somehow. She has little reference to this country other than knowing her parents once called this place home. She questions who she is, what a diaspora story means to her and how she fits into the great puzzle of her family and community’s narrative being ethnically Chinese but living in a globalised world.
There are other people who greet me with “from one fahfee man’s daughter to another” because they can finally claim that part of their inherited identity even if it’s about fahfee (the illegal gambling that became a form of livelihood for many Chinese South African families). It’s gives context to why so many Chinese South African have been a community that’s deliberately hidden, veiled and secret.
Yes what a journey this has been … a glorious journey! Hope those of you across the seas enjoy the read!
August 7, 2012
Some people remember what they were doing when JFK was shot, others know exactly where they were when Francois Pienaar held up the World Cup trophy with Madiba.
But if you’re a Joburger older than 30 you probably remember THE most important date of all – 10 September 1981. It’s the spring day that it snowed in Johannesburg!
I remember being in grade school that day everything got its soft, white wash. The sky went grey, as if mercury had seeped into the heavens and the forced the clouds to hang heavy on our horizons. Then there were white wisps floating past our windows. It wasn’t rain, it wasn’t sleet or debris from a burst pillow factory … this was the real deal.
Our teacher hurriedly cut out snowmen shapes for us to decorate. We stuck cotton wool on our pictures to mimic snowballs; we were told about the mystical and elusive six-sided crystal flakes. Mostly we were just waiting for the bell to go so that we could build an actual snowman and throw a few snowballs around.
My Jozi SnowDude celebrating the fluffly white stuff!
Then today Joburg had a glorious flashback. By all counts we’ve had a mild Jozi winter, the old cold snap has mostly given over to cold but bearable days. Forecasters said we’d get up to the mid-teens today, but no one told us that we could expect SNOW.
But indeed it snowed in Joburg today. First our cynical adult minds were convinced that we were just having a bit of sleet again – the icy drizzle that would vanish almost as soon as it touched the ground.
Then the tree branches took on a blurred, fluffy dusting of something white; the wire frog in the bird bath became Mr Frosty Frog, even the cats ran back into the house looking like they had a dandruff problem.
My child’s heart new instantly that we were going to build snowmen today and yes Joburgers had earned themselves another day worth remembering.
July 18, 2012
Let’s face it … it’s tough to live in South Africa.
Instead of taking walks in the park we barricade ourselves behind electric fencing and we worry if Eskom is even going to get it together to keep the juice running through the power cables.
We read about school books dumped in rivers while politicians shrug their shoulders and buy art from fast food chains.
We order up another plate of sushi or have another round, then we drive home passing street children at every traffic light begging for a few coins.
We know that in our country children raise other children as HIV takes its toll and we know that it’s a national shame it’s a national sport to take out our rhinos … and our robots!
Yes, South Africa can be tough tough place to live …
Mandela Day … a reminder that we can do more, and do better!
But some days there’s something magical about being able to call this corner of the South home – like today: MANDELA DAY and watching ordinary South Africans heeding the call to show some goodwill and to give back 67 minutes to those around us who need a little more than we do today.
Living here means it’s almost impossible to have a lukewarm reaction to anything. You can’t ignore the harsh realities – we rage, we stomp our feet, we tear our hair out, we cry and we let our hearts be broken a thousand times. We fall down and then we get up again because we know a giant walks among us. And his “Long Walk” is inspiration enough that even on tough days we just have to put one foot in front of the other and get on with the journey … it’s how we roll.
Happy Birthday Madiba!
The Teddy Bear Clinic for Abused Children
*I visited the Teddy Bear Clinic today with my friends Michelle N, Thandeka and Abigail. Teddy Bear clinic help children who are abused. They deal with about 200 cases a month – that’s scary and heartbreaking! But there are people who care – there’s the couple who asked for all those attending their wedding to give donations instead of gifts to refurbish a waiting room at the clinic. There are primary school kids who collected 1000 teddies for the children (each child is given teddy when they come to the clinic). There’s the foresight to create a mock courtroom, so that children know what to expect when their cases do end up in front of a judge.
Please check out ttbc.org.za and see their wishlist or if you have some time or money to give!
Beary, beary nice!!!
July 5, 2012
As a daughter of migrants I know all about feeling a like a fish out of water in even a country you’ve called home for years.
I get it that so many straddles two worlds one of where their feet touch the ground in that square metre of earth and another that’s tied up with the imagined – that place of place of memory, personal history and nostalgia.
Over the past few months I’ve got to meet a few Ethiopians living in Joburg and the East Rand. I’ve got to drink coffee brewed in a jebena and served with salt, test my tongue on new Amharic words and to scoop up piles of lentils in bubbly pancakes called injeera.
At the same time I’ve got to meet another group of people who can only wish for the day they can share a cup of coffee with their neighbours, instead of being persecuted by them.
These Ethiopian migrants live on the East Rand trying to make money selling mielie meal and airtime. But they’re outsiders they’re not welcome, especially not when their hard work starts to pay off and they start to look like they have a chance of building a life. This group of migrants were the target of xenophobic attacks in May. Now they are too scared to return to their homes and their small spaza, their tuck-shop businesses, have been destroyed.
There’s also no turning back, no possibly to return to the Horn of Africa. Ethiopia’s problems of political upheaval, a quashing of freedoms and an economy that’s still a long way off to looking stable makes it an unlikely opt out plan.
I’ve posted the two articles under the “My Work” section. The first one was in the City Press iMag and the second was in The Star (Africa edition) .