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JACARANDA DAYS IN JOZI

11 November 2011

This crazy o’l city of marchers, moaners and madmen still knows how to show off her lavender loveliness.

It says a lot that the Jacaranda in Joburg is an invader, a migrant like so many other add-ons and interlopers in this ever-changing city.  But just as quickly as the trees burst forth with an unashamed purple canopy each some, the clustered blooms hit the tarmac to be washed down the city clogged stormwater drains.

It’s the rise and fall of all things, of a season for everything and the reminder always to stop and smell the roses … and the Jacaranda flowers too.

 

 

***And thanks to the Joburg Photowalkers who are always such an inspiration to go chase the light! They walked Kensington, Rosebank and Pretoria to check out the puple outburst in three locations.

Check out the Photowalkers on Facebook and join them on their cool execursions in all the hidden and unexpected places in the city.

 

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SWOPPING CRIME AND GRIME FOR A CAPPUCCINO
3 November 2011

We forget too quickly the small miracles, the disasters that did not happen, the doom that did not suck us all in with a miserable gulp.
I got a miracle reminder earlier this week. I was in the mining precinct along Main Street. It’s the old economic heart of the city, where the first stope would have become the first page in the story of a mining town back in the 1880s. But it was the more recent history I had come to find out about.
“Can you remember what it was like working here in the 90’s?” I ask Jeanette H, who has worked in this part of Marshalltown for 22 years.
”It was so bad … hardly a week went by when there wasn’t a shootout with a bank robbery. Laptops were just stolen from people when they walked out of their buildings and you didn’t wear expensive jewellery to work, in fact you never wore any jewellery.”
I laughed a little at her comment, because I survived it too – those days when the inner city was just crime and grime. In the late 90s I was working fulltime at The Star on Sauer Street. Getting to and from work I caught the bus outside the library gardens along Market Street. Waiting was like being a sitting duck. I, like so many others, shared the city with crooks, cons and general baddies on a daily basis. I dodged a mugging, managing to escape onto my No.27 bus just seconds after I dashed away from the thug with a knife who wanted my camera bag.
Even pizza was served up with fear in those days. Sometimes I met a friend, who worked at Bank City for lunch. She’d arrive for us to split our pizza with her hand clenched in a fist. ”What’s that?” I remember asking, quizzing her fist.
She unfurled her fingers to reveal a crumple of gold chains and earrings – all the things too “flashy” to walk the Jozi streets with.

   Jozi – nothing is impossible!

That was then. This week’s mining precinct is a very different place. The public-private partnership did work! The big banks, the mining houses and sandwich shops that chose to stay got to live and tell.
The one step forward and two steps back of rejuvenating a city made for a heady tango, but still it was a dance. The slow dance translated into streets being swept, trained private security guards rocking up for work and businesses paying extra because they could see returns.
More than that it translated into women in pink lycra jogging around the precinct in lunch hour and people sipping cappuccinos at the sidewalk cafes with their iPhones on the table. Tourists now stop to admire the replica Mapungubwe golden rhino and imposing mining headgear. They pose for pix, taking their time, making a peace sign, pulling a funny face, there’s no rush to shoot and stash their cameras back into their zipped up jackets.

Jozi survived to tells her tale – I’ll raise my cappuccino cup to that!

Jozi’s cappuccino revolution.

 

 

HIP HIP HOORAY FOR THE CITY OF GOLD

31 October 2011

It’s the last day of Jozi’s birthday month. Here’s to her 125 years – a city of grit and grime but a city with a heart of gold. These are FIVE of my favourite things about this place I call home.

1) A skyline that leaves you with no doubt of where you are – the cylindrical column of Ponte, whoring its soul with a flashing commercial billboards; the concrete bulge topping the slim spike of the Telkom tower and the Carlton Centre that still lives up to being the roof of Africa.

2) Public art that’s a nod to the spirit of this place – the lady with a burning brazier striding across the Queen Elizabeth bridge; the eland on Jan Smuts Avenue filled with sustainable succulents. He’s a creature from the shamanic dreamtime and a time the city was veldt and plains. And the Sisulus captured in warm embrace in downtown Jozi with laps that invites you to sit a while, remember a little of where we’ve come from and where our journey may lead.

3) Anonymous bird feeders who stop at the tiny traffic island a stone’s throw from Commissioner Street’s Chinatown. They stop their cars, switch on their hazard lights and scatter bird food for pigeons perched on Gerhard and Maja Marx’s origami sculptures. Ask them why do they do it and some will say it’s looking after God’s creatures others just shrug and keep on creating a rain of bird seed.

 

                                Origami Pigeon Sculpture near old Chinatown

 

4) The Joburg Photowalkers, who capture the city’s golden light in all its unexpected places from Diepsloot to Newtown to the Hillbrow Hospital and Chinatown.

5) Joburgers with a sense of humour and big hearts. It’s the people who have lookalike Sanral stickers that say “Construction Vehicle” stuck on their skedonk Volksies and it’s people who say “Sorry sie-sie” when you stumble on the pavement where once maybe the spot may have been flecked with gold. They pick you up, dust you off and send you on you way with a smile.

 

NOAH’S ARK SETS SAIL WITH RIHANNA’S ”UMBRELLA”

29 October 2011

Long ago when I was small I had an acting debut as a giraffe, or at least the back-end of the giraffe.

My costume was a brown velour sleeveless jumpsuit my mom sewed on her old Elna. It came up to my six-year-old armpits and was held in place by an elastic band. A stuffed stocking with woollies strands pinned on my behind was my whippy tail. All the choreography involved was that I bend over to grasp the waist of the girl who was the giraffe head and follow her lead as we made Noah’s Ark come alive.

Earlier this week I was at my niece’s Grade Three year-end school play. It was a night to realise how some ships – and arks even – set sail never to return to port.

The curtains pulled back on the barnyard scene and Rihanna’s “Umbrella” came through the speakers as sassy six-year-old “kitties” sashayed onto the stage. Gone were the handmade polystyrene cut-outs from my giraffe days. The set had a semi-pro touch and hay bales had even been bought in for authenticity. Quirky home-styled costumes sewn by moms were replaced by the uniformity of store bought outfits just tweaked to match the theme. Proud daddies recorded proceedings on their iPads.

There were flashing coloured lights on stage and perfectly synched sound, a special pro DVD to purchase and even a teacher who muscled in to sing a final number in her wannabe Idols moment. And yes the school even charged parents, grannies, aunties and uncles for the privilege of watching their little ones sing and dance to plump up school coffers.

It seemed a long, long time ago when parents only had 24 frames in their Kodaks to use sparingly; when nativity plays with a wrapped up teddy bear as baby Jesus were PC enough to be performed and when children could drink Oros and eat a Marie biscuit after their concert without worrying about tartrazine, wheat allergies, carbon footprints and Greece’s debt crisis.

And boy did it seem like a long, long time ago from the days I got to wear a whippy tail in public.

 

 

STAND AND BE COUNTED … me and the Census Man

23 October 2011

 

Festus knocks softly.

“Hello,” I call out, checking that my ears have not deceived me (I’ve never got round to replacing a broken doorbell and quite like it that way).
But I knew he was on the way. He’s like a giant Weaver bird, dressed in his yellow bid. I’d eyed the census man walking up and down the street all morning.
“Hello, I’m Festus he says,” flipping over his ID card in lieu of a handshake.
Come in I say, leading him to the kitchen.
Instantly CS and H are all over the counter. There’s Festus’s bag to sniff at and the laid out census documents to scratch at. I grab them, deposit them on the floor.
“Down you bad cat,” I point a finger as H meouws disgustedly at me.
Festus asks about DVD players and about home languages. He can’t quite place that I was born in South Africa, but have an “other” for a second language.

When he writes “journalisme” for occupation I ask where he’s from, recognising the French he’s chosen.
“I’m from Rwanda.”

I ask where in Rwanda, but I only recognise he’s hometown in the broad description of ‘it’s in the south’. He says he’s been in South Africa for three and half years – still counting in half years! I smile, understanding a little this migrant journey, of counting one day at a time.

For now though Festus is counting me.

Done he places a sticker on my front gate.

One day he’ll go back home he says, and he’ll be counted in Rwanda too.

 

ONE MONK VS A SUPERPOWER

4 October 2011

In August 2009 I was in Geneva attending the Sino-Tibetan FINDING COMMON GROUND conference. This was the piece I wrote at the time. The call for dialogue, tolerance and freedom from oppression is one the South African government must hear loud and clear

OUT of large black car with an “HH” number plate steps a spectacled monk.

The Dalai Lama, called His Holiness by the devout, has arrived at a Geneva hotel. This time it’s not for spiritual teachings to Swiss Buddhists as he as done throughout the region this European summer as the monk who commands rock star status in the west. He’s here with his political hat, to open a three-day long Sino-Tibetan conference called Finding Common Ground, which was held at the beginning of the month.

There’s no official Chinese representation though and the Tibetans are not from Tibet but are those exiled from their home that the Chinese invaded in 1950.  Nine rounds of official talks with Beijing since 2002 ground to a halt last year. The Communist Party-led government regard the media-savvy and globally connected monk with suspicion and distrust. The Dalai Lama’s controversial middle-way approach of finding meaningful autonomy, not independence from China, remains ignored by the People’s Republic.

Even before proceedings at the conference got underway it was clear that the Dalai Lama would be speaking to the converted. The common ground among the group of about 100 was that many of them are viewed by the PRC’s Communist Party as enemies of the state, labelled “separatists” and “colluders with the west” on government news websites. Many are banished activists and scholars who reside outside of China and like the Tibetans have not returned home in years.

The stories of the Chinese exiles are filled with accounts of detention without trial, torture in detention, expulsion and exile. They share with the Tibetans a longing for home and freedom for their separate motherlands.

One delegate at the conference was 20-year old Ti-Anna Wang. Her name is her parents’ way of commemorating the Tiananmen Square massacre in the year she was born, 1989. The Canadian national was supposed to start her first year of college in 2008 but took a year off from school moving to Washington to fight for her father’s freedom. Her father is Wang Bingzang (62). His name may mean nothing to South Africans, but his name matters less than what he stands for. Wang has opposed one-party rule in Communist China for the past 20 years. For his pro-democracy activism he was eventually kidnapped in Vietnam in 2002 and held for six months in secret detention till the Chinese announced his capture. At his one-day trial he was not allowed to speak, no witness gave testimony, no evidence was presented and he was charged and found guilty of “offenses of espionage” and “conduct of terrorism”. He is serving a life sentence in solitary confinement. “I miss my father. The last time I saw him was two years ago. The sad thing is that I have never really had the opportunity to know him because he spent his life dedicated to fighting for the values of freedom and democracy, and when he was arrested I was just 13,” said Wang.

There’s a haunting similarity with many South Africans detained under apartheid. It makes Wang’s story and the Tibetans’ stories not ones of geo-political interest, or a romance about the west’s infatuation with Eastern religion or a happy-go-lucky monk. This is a story of human conscience. At the Finding Common Ground conference the prime minister of the Tibetan government in exile, Samdhong Rinpoche, who speaks as political head, said simply to questions put to him by The Star: “We are losing Africa” and expressed disappointment that the South African government refused a visa to the Dalai Lama to visit here in March, the month marking the 50th anniversary of the Dalai Lama’s exile. This despite the fact that Nelson Mandela invited his fellow Nobel Peace Prize laureate, the Dalai Lama, to open an Office of Tibet in Pretoria in 1998.  Samdhong Rinpoche understands Africa’s seduction by China’s economic muscle. It’s the same the world over as the Tibetan government in exile is still not officially recognised by any government. Meetings with the Dalai Lama, when they are held, are almost strictly unofficial and they’re also used to strategically irritate the Chinese superpower when it suits western governments. It’s a game that’s played out to the peril of the remaining millions of Tibetans who haven’t been able to flee Tibet and those in exile who watch their religion, language, culture and identity being eroded under Chinese occupation.

South Africa should know this story well. This country’s history holds up the challenge to “never forget”. A parallel challenge therefore is to speak up as global citizens whether it’s about meeting the needs of those in our backyards of Diepsloot or making voices heard for the oppressed in Zimbabwe, Russia or Tibet. Choosing geographical borders to corset what we take an interest in is a self-imposed narrowing of our world view that has consequences not unlike apartheid’s isolation. It strangles critical awareness, breeds contempt and confusion for the other and festers into the plague of intolerance and xenophobia – diseases that already pockmark our history.

The Finding Common Ground conference, held over 8000km from these shores, closed with a consensus document that holds a message that’s not for a place faraway, but for right here at home too: our common ground is our common humanity.

 

ALL ROADS LEAD TO …

3 October 2011

Call it the common denominator, the great equaliser of all who travel the N3: the toilet break, the pit stop and the coffee fix that leads travellers to the Harrismith one stop.

Just over 250 kilometres out of the city of gold the speedometer must rest. It hiccups over speed bumps and comes to stop at the petrol pump. “A full tank please”, we ask and hand over a few coins for the service of a windscreen cleared of bugs and the grit of the road.

A bit of shade-cloth is the trophy spot to park. Now the show begins. Through the windscreen children appear mute, jumping on a trampoline and discovering a jungle gym’s secret. The lady in the 4×4 is changing a baby’s nappy in the driver’s seat with her sunglasses doubling as a headband. People clutch takeaways in brown paper bags and wrap their lips carefully over hot cups of coffee. A clot of teenagers spill out of a car. Their flip-flops shuffle in the direction of the toilet signs. Someone adjusts a strapless sundress, suddenly self-conscious outside of the car. A child grabs someone hand. The adult holds a suitcase in her other hand and they head to a car where someone’s been waiting to pick them up.

This is the midway point, the meeting point. But always the road is calling. The journey must go on.

 

MOONCAKES A MILLION MILES FROM HERE

12 September 2011

With the mercury hitting the mid-20s in Jozi it feels a million miles from autumn, but across the world, in China, there are people lighting lanterns and getting ready to eat from the bounty of the season’s harvests and of course to cut into the diva of the night’s delights: the mooncake. Today, 12 September,  is MOON FESTIVAL!

Mooncakes are still one of those annual yummies that I count down sleeps for, a bit like summer’s first litchis, mince pies at Christmas and hot cross buns glazed and ready for Easter.

Growing up in Bertrams, Jozi, mom still made sure that we got to celebrate this mid-autumn harvest festival that she remembered as a girl in the village. We’d gather our feast and head outside to eat on our tiny round garden table. Mostly I remember the “‘madumpi”, the taro potatoes with their skins that fall away from the cooked grey creaminess of the root veg. With it would be little bowls of oil and soya sauces to dunk our foo dao. Our chairs would be close to the table to reach for another steamed foo dao but we also had to make sure our chosen spot was one with a perfect view of the moon in all its swollen glory this  15th night of the 8th month on the Chinese calendar.

Gran, our Por Por,  would be at our house often for these special feasts. She was the storyteller, sharing with us the story of doomed romance of the two lovers cursed to only meet up on this single auspicious night. They could be seen as two stars moving towards each, gran would say, and then as the sun rose the lovers would have to part and separate again for another year. We kids would throw our heads back, looking at the twinkling celestial wonders sure after long minutes that we were indeed seeing two stars draw closer across the dark canopy. We were betting on the lovers, willing them to succeed in their star crossing.

Mom would ask if we remembered the childhood poems and ditties about the moon that we knew. It was enough invitation to start us reciting and chanting … yuut gaun gaun, chui deh mong (sort of saying ”moon shining bright, beaming on the ground below”) … and we would go on singing, picking up the rhythm as mom smiled and filled in the bits we’d forgotten.

Then out would come mom’s small knife and the heavy golden pastry that is the mooncake.  But the crumbling rich pastry is just the surface of what your tummy is about to receive. Inside the crust is a dense, dark solid of sweet, creamy lotus paste gives way to a centre of a preserved hard salted egg yolk, symbolising our celestial sister. Heavenly!

Happy Moon Festival everyone!

 

HOUSE OF MEMORIES – Back to Judith’s Paarl

16 August 2011

They’re gone … the two “lucky” conifers my mother grew on either side of the cracked tile walkway leading up the front door of the Millbourn Road house. The patch of lawn my brother sunk a tin can into to play “golf” is a levelled out patch of sand where two cars are sandwiched. Even the walkway has not survived.

Over a dozen years have passed since I walked on the pavements of my childhood in Judith’s Paarl. Here where we learnt to ride bikes without having to hold onto the handles bars and where the No.27 bus bought us virtually to our front door. Arriving home I’d swing open the squeaky pedestrian gate of our house, look up at the peach-coloured house and wonder how much longer the sagged wooden beams holding up the carport my parents erected cheaply would go on holding up the sheets of zinc.

This week I returned to Judith’s Paarl with a journalist from the “Beeld” newspaper. He wanted a different angle for his story about “Paper Sons and Daughters” and I figures a walk to the old house might deliver.

There are no more snap dragons coaxed to trail the diamond mesh wire my mother put up, just more sand. I didn’t see any of the old neighbours, not the Padayachees, the Viseus or the grey-haired aunties who outlived their husbands and were always first at the bus stop.

The house barely recognised me and I could only see traces of who she was from before. Holding on were the old wrought iron gates made by the old uncle who did everyone in the Chinese community’s gates and burglar bars and the dark blue panels of glass on either side of the front door. And surprise, surprise the sagged wooden beam remains, still holding up the carport.

Someone else lives there now, someone else added on a front room and ripped out the scalloped front walls, replacing it with a no-nonsense palisade fence. I drove off after a few minutes, knowing this was someone else’s home, someone else’s memories were being made here now.

 

SMALL PIECE OF PAPER, BIG STATEMENT

27 July 2011

As a freelancer you forgo a couple of things you never think you’ll ever miss – things like an allocated parking spot, access to buildings without signing in, stating your “reason for visit” and ticking the “no firearms” box … and having business cards.

Some years ago, after freelancing for years (and being liberated of a company’s business card) I would every few months promise myself I would get round to having a stack of cards printed. I procrastinated because it never seemed to really matter that I had to scribble down my name, number and email every time I met someone who wanted my business details. The little reciprocal dance of exchanging cards didn’t seem a priority. Cards I did receive ended up in a stack of random disorder inside a bulging Lego-like plastic toy box.

Eventually my sister surprised me one birthday having designed and printed a stack of cards for me. I was delighted with her thoughtful, practical gift. I just had to remember to have them in my bag, not in my desk drawer.

But business cards clearly mean something more than a way of introduction and exchanging details between new acquaintances. This week after visiting one particular institution I ended up with a deck of business cards by the time I got home. Before I banished them to my Lego box I realised the cards, which seemed to all look identical at first, were in fact, not so. The head honcho’s card featured an embossed silver logo, everyone else’s was in regular ink.

I’ve heard stories like this before: new CEOs and main manne demanding fresh fruit baskets in their offices, golf lessons and yes the business cards with gold trim or their names in shiny bold fonts and embossing. I’ve even come across a government so and so’s business card with Braille on it; just so taxpayers can pick up the tab for his overkill political correctness.

The business card is a little piece of paper that makes a big statement then, but if you don’t have a legitimate statement to make then you go the gold trim route – now that really speaks volume. But embossed or not the card still ends up in my toy box!

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FOR 4 JULY AND ALL COOL AMERICANS

4 July 2011

(This is a piece I wrote for ‘THE STAR’ – Little Spot, but perfect for Fourth of July)

You know you’re in America when everyone you meet is originally from Ethiopia.

When you wrap your ears around the variation in US accents you’ll hear people say “you bet” a lot. In star-spangled country it’s no surprise you overhear a mobile-phone conversation in the Banana Republic store that goes like this: “No, I can’t today I’m going to my dermatologist for my botox”.

Americans will pay for poison in their frown lines but they like value for money too. When they want coffee they’re talking a Starbucks 591ml caffeine fix, even if the container won’t fit in any of the half dozen cup holders in their super-sized gas guzzling cars. It’s also the good ol’ US of A where you’ll find buttered-popcorn flavoured jelly beans and cinnamon and sugar in and on everything from butter to buns and even toast.

With greenbacks in your hands you can shop for anything, anywhere – even in the sky. A domestic in-flight catalogue offers airborne shoppers everything from a resin Yeti for your garden, a “potty train your cat” kit in rainbow colours, flags and flag holders for your red, white and blue and for $49.99 even a personalised branding iron to burn your initials on to your steak or your burger.

It’s the land of the free and the home of the brave. It’s also the land of the BIG and home of the bizarre. You bet!  

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WASHINGTON WILDLIFE AND DR KING’S DREAM

19 June 2011

A White House security dude keeps watch on the Oval Office, while the Washington Memorial bakes in the background on a hot, hot DC day.

Dr King’s dream immortalised for all of us!

No, I did not steal this from Barack’s veggie garden!

The land of the free … and a bit of free time for the military peeps in the background!

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LESSONS FROM A SMALL COUNTRY – Postcard from Copenhagen

9 May 2011

WANT to tick off an ordinarily reserved, polite Dane? Stand in his bicycle lane!
Cycle paths in Copenhagen are the throbbing veins carrying the city’s busy people. They’re not idle lanes reserved for the countryside mailman or the weekend alternative to pop down to the organic market.
That cycling works in a thoroughly modern, high-tech society of about 1.8 million residents is the point! It’s about a nation that can afford the convention of cars for transport and excellent roads infrastructure but still opts for old-fashioned pedal power. It’s the preferred option to drop off kids at school, transport the week’s groceries and make it to the theatre on time.

By 2015 Denmark expects that 50 percent of its people will use bicycles for their
daily work commute. It’s estimated that nine out of 10 Danes already own a bike. It’s a choice to have a lighter carbon footprint, reducing traffic congestion and having a healthier, less sedentary lifestyle. Copenhagen is regarded as the Mecca of city biking and its innovations to improve the city cycling experience include synchronised bike traffic lights that give bicycles a five to 10 second head start on vehicular traffic. There are double bike lanes on high bike traffic routes and the city’s S-trains, metro and buses accommodate bike parking with integrated design that maximises space for seating, parking and standing.

In keeping to a typical Scandinavian characteristic of style through simplicity and modesty, most bikes are inexpensive and uncomplicated. Some are modified in homemade fashion, with attachments of artfully welded trolleys for children, dogs and whatever else one would want to transport. Some bicycles are lovingly pimped with everything from pictures of Britney Spears, painted flowers, decorations and old wooden beer crates that do double duty as baskets. Rental bicycles are widely available throughout the capital city. It means tourists have access to bicycles for a fully refundable deposit of just DKK20, about R23.
This pro-cycle view from an unbelievably flat Copenhagen maybe doesn’t stretch to the horizon of a Johannesburg in the frenzy of rush hour gridlock. They seem like worlds apart. Of course the option to use bicycles and public transport is possible only if you have choices in the first place. There’s no choice if you never have the luxury of owning your first second-hand car or if your daily commute to works starts two hours before your work day with a five-kilometre walk to a taxi rank of mostly unsafe and unreliable “coffins on wheels”.
The postcard scribble from Copenhagen maybe doesn’t leave enough space to detail the possible roadblocks experienced by a cycling society – tension points of who foots the bill for infrastructure, disruptions to road planning and possibilities of raised accident risks for all road users.

But there is enough room to add a note about shifting ideas of aspiration and quality of life, even if they throw a literal spoke in the wheel for those desperate for a car upgrade or those not yet ready give up their fossil fuel addiction.

In an era of climate change threatening not just the quality of life, but life itself on the planet, less is more and this includes downsizing to a bicycle to match more appropriate carbon emission and overall consumption levels.

This postcard from Copenhagen may only be a sun-shiny snapshot from somewhere far away, but it’s not a place of myth and fable. This is not the stuff of fairytales, something out of imagination of famous Danish storyteller Hans Christian Anderson. It’s a note from a small Scandinavian country with some big ideas, even for South Africa.

CHECK OUT SOME PIX IN THE PHOTOS SECTION

                                                         

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COME CHASE THE LIGHT WITH THE JHB PHOTOWALKERS
8 May 2011
Hello All
Come join me and the Joburg Photowalkers on Saturday 21 May at 1pm in First Chinatown on Commissioner Street. We’re going to walk around the old hood, eat at Swallows Inn (at your own expense) and chase the autumn light! Below are more details that do appear on the Joburg Photowalkers’ FaceBook page.  Or check out more about them and more details about the event on http://www.facebook.com/#!/JoburgPhotowalkers
THANKS
˜˜˜
Join UFRIEDA HO, journalist and author of the newly released book “Paper Sons and Daughters”, for a photo walk in the Chinatown of her childhood.

Meet at Sci-Bono parking area at 13h00 – come hungry – the photo walk starts with lunch (at own expense)

Whole-roasted ducks hang on “S” hooks pushed up against shopfront windows. Woks fire into action with blue and orange flames and the chef’s hands become a blur of action as the alche…my of heat turns garlic, ginger and crisp vegetable into steaming plates of deliciousness. Tablecloths don’t match anything in the old restaurants of Commissioner Street, the lanterns and the old wood panelling have long ago succumbed to layers of dust and grime gathered over years. But the food is still good and this is where the Chinese have lived and worked for decades, relegated to these suburban outskirts under apartheid’s racial delineation.

Only in more recent years has the city erected two towering concrete sculptures of dragons to mark the entrance of China town. Pavements have been fixed and two display panels have been installed to tell a bit of the history of this minority community. Nearby are three steel sculptures of origami pigeons. Origami, associated with Japanese art and crafts, actually has its origins in China. The Indian and Chinese communities who live here have always fed the birds that flock to this small concrete island that separates the flow of traffic as cars race eastwards.

Hidden, obscure but nevertheless present, the Chinese South African have been in South Africa since the Dutch arrived in the Cape in the mid-1600s. There are around 10 000 Chinese South Africans who are still here, they endure just like the stories of old Chinatown as Ufrieda remembers them in “Paper Sons and Daughters”.

 

MILK AND BREAD

26 April 2011                              

Exchanging contact numbers on scraps of paper the other night I ended up not just with emails and a couple of digits but inadvertently someone’s shopping list too.

As I flipped over the piece of paper later on that night there was Mrs X’s list. On it was gin, box of red wine, rusks, low GI something, AA batteries and bio-degradable soap. It got me thinking about what goes onto our own shopping bag and the quirks and flavours that we each prefer.

Like does it have to be low-fat, plain yoghurt with live cultures or do you have to have the rooibos-infused variety that comes just from Woolies? Do you do rechargeable batteries because you’ve swore off the Bunny beating his drum for eco reasons or is it too much of a schlep to charge up every time? Do we have to have Koo creamed sweetcorn and does the brand really matter? Do we insist on free-range on our eggs and do we bother dice our own butternut? Is it gin in the sapphire bottle or is the cheap and nasty stuff good enough?

And when you choose your loaf of bread is a standard ol’ government loaf or it a loaf with honey and soy, linseed, flax and more itty bitty things than you’d find in budgie food?

What about store loyalty points? Could you not be bothered or are religious about scanning your shopper card and racking up the points for eating healthily or buying your deodorant from the store that gives you a 0.5 percentage more “cash back” on your total shop spend?

We all say we just need to pop in to the shops to get milk, sugar, tea and bread … but clearly we’re not always talking of the same thing.

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SAME OL’, SAME OL’ …

1 April 2011

It’s tough to shake a feeling of déjà vu when another World Cup final rolls round and South Africa has missed out yet again. Choking does leave a bitter taste in one’s mouth!

It’s a bit like the new National Traffic Intervention Unit. The unit comes all spanking new, straight from some “consultant’s” desk and it’s got an  acronym too: NIU (Yip the “T” got dropped, go figure). It’s a unit that’s somehow meant to prevent road deaths this Easter. Sounds to me like another Arrive Alive campaign and whatever else has come before. Actually it looks more like throwing money at problems rather than actually fixing anything.

Why would people not think they can get away with driving like demons when our law enforcement looks as respectable as squishy bums on camping chairs hiding behind concrete pillars and foliage? For as long as it’s a cat and mouse game rather than about personal responsibility and regard for other road users, motorists will try their luck and cops will think a radar gun means actual power.

And speaking of same ol’, same ol’, the election stuff we’re hearing right now sounds like a stuck-record. As politicians take up their usual positions it’s the same stale arguments, the same spurious nonsense with sugar-coating and spin. We’ve got to realise that a democratic system works best when political parties are treated just like service providers.

A political party is not a grumpy old aunty that no one likes very much but feels duty-bound to invite to Christmas lunch. Political parties should be dealt with the way we deal with cellphone network companies. When EMPTY-N fails you give NOdacom a try and when they disappoint you too, you change to CELL-F(for flunk) and when that outfit doesn’t  give you what you want either then you start looking again or demand better.

The more things change, the more they stay the same … what a pity!

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BETTER OFF WITHOUT

March 21, 2011

We know the de-clutter story, the worthy ethos of want less, live more simply and the holy grail of knowing that what you have is enough… It’s s’tru really!
Getting there is the trick, but here are five things we can ditch immediately:

– No more SMSes and computer generated “Happy Birthday” messages from banks, service providers, shoe stores and anyone else who thinks they know you because you filled in a form somewhere, sometime with your personal details.

– Enough of having to pick up a laminated CarWatch cards everywhere you park. The piece of plastic-covered paper is not going to protect my car from being stolen, neither is the dude who handed out the card.

– PackagingX3 has got to go. Seriously, I believe you that my food and my plastic cutlery are protected from all the nasties out there. I believed you with the first plastic sheath and got you loud and clear with the double-bagging. No more please!

– Promo ads for the TV station/ radio station I’m already watching or listening to. Yes, I know I’m tuned in. No, I didn’t confuse you with another station, really. But keep reminding me, I can feel my hands itching for the remote control.

– Restaurants that never have what they advertise on the menu. Spare me the to-ing and fro-ing of choosing what you don’t have. Scrap the beetroot juice is you’re always fresh out, ditto with the asparagus quiche and yeah I can tell the difference between halloumi and mozzarella, they’re not interchangeable just because you’ve run out again. And when I ask for no ice in my water please, yes the kind that comes out of a tap, that’s exactly what I mean

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WHERE DID THEY GO?

March 17, 2011

The other day I woke up wondering what happed to those sour ball sweets.

I’m talking about the ones from when I was a kid. They came in a tin, mostly red coloured with a wrap-around photograph full of the promise of all those gloriously sour, hard sweeties inside.

My FB post got some great memories from friends. Imaginings of boiled sweetness all tart, crunchy and potentially hazardous too as the shards could slash tastebuds and palates, but alas, still no brand name and still no end to the mystery of where to buy them.
It got me thinking about what else we’ve lost along the way.

Gone is the milk van gliding along in electric silence along the streets of Judith’s Paarl, Jozi where I grew up. You’d only know the truck was there when the driver pulled up the handbrake, click, clicking the ratchet. We hid our plastic milk coupon under a small rock at the pedestrian gate and when we woke up, the milk was always there, always!

We said goodbye to wind-up watches too. My dad’s Omega wound up to let out a low hum, instead of ticks and I could lean on his wrist to listen to the metallic, continuous hum for long, long minutes. Now I pay R70 for a watch battery every year!
And where’d Tiffany go…remember that teen singer “sensation” with curly permed hair, fingerless gloves and neon pink braces that was part of the Stock Aitken Waterman crew (or similar).

We slammed the door on hook-up skirts, sweatbands and shoulder pads too.

I haven’t seen a twin-yolked egg for years, not to mention cakes with fresh cream, the real stuff, not that flourescent frothed white topping.

I don’t miss the skirts or the manufactured music and I can live without the paired yolks actually …. but please … bring back the sour balls!!!

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