Monday, January 4, 2010

Exploring Joburg - kinda sorta

Here's the thing - there's another post that goes before this post, but that post is on my laptop, and I can't use my laptop, because South Africa has the most messed up plug socket the world has ever seen. It's true. You know those ten in one travel adapters you have? Well throw them the eff out, because you're in South Africa now, and they're here to play. And you know what - don't try to use them in Namibia either, because they were owned by South Africa, and I bet that little tiny country that exists as an island withing South Africa (a modern day cold-war Berlin) probably uses them too. They're giant, they have three circles, and no one knows what to do with them.

You all know the trick (oh I'm sure you do) about how if you have a European dual plug plug thing, but all the outlets are those annoying British monsters with the three rectangular pegs, well - sure - you can make those fit together. Who hasn't tried forcing the round peg through the square hole after all? Once you realize that they're basically the same thing, except for the mysterious third piece it all starts to come together, after all. That third piece just flips a switch that opens the socket up. So if it hasn't already been broken, when you are putting your round pegs through the square hole, all you need to do is jam a pen, or a spoon, or something - preferably note metal, though I've seen it done without ill effect, into the third hole and bingo bango you're up and running. Now you're playing with power - Nintendo power.

But there is no luck here. Because the South African plugs hate you. Which really means the pre-world war two Brits hate you. But enough of that. Suffice to say, you're getting this post now because I can't post the other. So just deal with it. I'll throw the other one up out of order, and you'll just think, well isn't that lovely. You don't care. You just got three weeks all at once. I just wrote three weeks all at once. This blog is in a big cluster of a problem right now. Time to just call death blossom on the whole thing. But no - I want to have memories. It still terrifies me, how long it will take to get the photos in. Facebooking the pictures is taking long enough.

You know when you wait for ten minutes while they're all processed, just to have it crash when it gets to the upload part, and they haven't saved the processed ones anyway, so when you reupload, it has to do it all again, and you just hope it works the next time? Yeah - that's the best. And don't even get me started on how when you upload not all of them are really "there."

Ai ya.

But that's quite enough of the intro. Time to get onto the meat of this post. I'm in Joburg. And don't call it J-Burg cause then people will laugh at you, and you shall cry. You must.

I landed well enough, after writing about a tenth of the story I wanted to - apparently it took two hours? Wheels up to wheels down. Will I finish it? Who knows now. I hope so. So there I was in the airport, once more getting through customs without a hitch. African customs are the best customs. Listen up America, you need to just chill - all your bombs happen ON the planes, not once people have got off them, yeah? And you stop the ones up there too. Just because I have a beard doesn't mean I hate freedom. I love freedom. U.S.A. U.S.A. U.S.A. Please let me in in March. 'kay?

So my hostel said it would pick me up - and that's a good service here. I just had to call them. Right - how do I do that? I have no phone. And no idea how to use pay phones. You may remember the problems this caused in Copenhagen. You probably don't. Go through the archives. I have no time for hyperlinking. Though I keep wishing I did.

But the two lovely Winnipeg girls who thought I was insane (more on that in the mysteriously passed over post that lives on the laptop) told me that I could just have tourist information call for me. Let me tell you, tourist information was not happy with my request - but they called anyway. And then thirty minutes later a white van with a sign that said "Diamond Diggers" showed up. I got in. Now, if you know that this hostel picks up, it's easy to - say - make such a sign and troll for people getting into the country. I tried my best not to focus on this. The sign was laminated after all. That was a nice touch creating less fear.

So there I was wondering if I had just got into a car with someone who was about to kill, and or, rob me. I asked questions about the hostel, and about tours offered, and other such things. Apparently they're all booked out for the world cup already. After ten minutes of this talk I was pretty sure he wasn't a murderer. Why entertain my inane questions for so long? It started to rain. A huge pool formed at the end of an onramp. Three cars could not get on the highway. I was told they'd need to wait an hour, otherwise they'd run it, and stall. That was fun. I was less terrified.

Then we turned into a barb wired alley, with no one around, and I though, self - you're going to die. And that made me unhappy, as I'm sure you'll understand. But no, it was just the car park, and there was the hostel. All was well. I paid for my room, paid the twenty rand a day for breakfast (so as I can have something with my Malaria pills.) and then I handed off all my clothes, and fifty rand. In theory I will have them returned clean, and dry. We shall see. But it was getting sketchy here, so I had no choice. Washing is no problem, but if the rain keeps up - well that would be unfortunate. I am too scared to check the forecast. They lie, at any rate.

I did some internetting - how I've missed free net access - tried to solve a virus problem (still fighting the one I got from Chef's laptop... I feel like I should alert her, but until I know how to fix it, and care enough to look into it - i'm busy - I shouldn't worry her. Besides, without net access she won't be able to clean it anyway. It's all good. It just affects people who key into her system anyway. P.S. Everyone should learn how to turn off Window's stupid AUTORUN stuff. It's the devil. And if you find a USB key on the ground? Don't plug it into your system. Not before you've tested it somewhere that you don't really feel all the concerned about.)

On the internet, I hooked up with a buddy that I met in Iceland all those months ago, who lives here. He said he'd be over in a bit. And he was. And now my plan of not leaving the relatively safe compound was set aflame.

Within moments I was being driven through the streets of Joburg. "Remember how you said you were terrified of downtown Johannesburg?" he questioned. Did I ever! "Well this is it." Hurray!

But he tried to put me at ease, claiming that it wasn't nearly as bad as people made it out to be, "wait - you locked your door though, right? Lock your door!" and so I locked my door. Safe, indeed. I was told that while cars had become more and more difficult to steal, it was still relatively easy to hijack one when the key was in, and the vehicle was running. But, you understand, the city is safe.

And then we passed his old apartment, "no electric fence?" I commented. "You know," he said, "I lived there two years and never noticed." This was not a person all that worried about security, although when we got to his new place and required one electronic opener for a gate, and another for a door, and more keys for the metal bars to the house, I suddenly realized that not being too worried about security was completely, and utterly, relative. Life is different here. "Once the bars are on your windows, the security is free, so why not?"

Inside he apologized for the messy state of his place. It looked about as clean as my apartment ever was, at the best of times. And then we attempted to make hot chocolate. This failed due to the microwave breaking at the most inopportune of times, the dial snapping off. Hot chocolate was made on the stove. It was enjoyed with a bottle of Castle, stout. If you ever see this beer, get it. I'd have regular castle, but not the stout until now. It very literally tastes like no other beer I'd ever had. It's creamy. Look - I'm not saying it was good, but it was unusual, and that is reason enough to try it.

His sexologist roommate came home, demanding the answer to the question of "who are you?" I meekly replied, then returned the question, "I live here." Answer enough. While I was only a fraction less terrified of her, as I was of past guide Raymond, all seemed well when we started talking about LARPing. Don't know what LARPing is? That's for the best. Pat yourself on the back. Don't look into it. It's not worth it. It will only end in tears.

I had a lovely night there, and was offered to crash over, but it would require putting people out to drive me home in the morning, and I wanted to do the tour of the South West Township tomorrow - which I would definitely miss if I trusted myself to wake up at a normal hour. That, and there was a slight thrill in driving through downtown Joburg at midnight. All of these things combined into leaving early, and not having a few more castles.

Some of the roads were flooded.

I heard more tales of local crime before I left, and decided that I wasn't quite sure what Joburg was like. I also realized that the locals don't seem to have a clue either. They either play up their city's crime, and then wander around at night, or talk about how safe it is - and refuse to leave their homes. Walking the city was compared to wading through a pool with crocodiles. Well, actually alligators was the metaphor used, but it wasn't local enough... though alligators are less dangerous, so perhaps I'm screwing everything up by changing it. So forget that. Walking through the city centre was compared to walking through a pool of alligators. Sure it could be fine, but - you know - why bother. Apparently things were a lot safer fifteen years ago. This is not an un-awkward realization.

Another fun fact, Joburg has one of the worst laws I've ever heard of. If you stay in a building for three days without someone kicking you out, you have legal squatters rights. You can not be evicted unless someone finds you another place to live.

You can go into an abandoned building and three days later it is yours. This makes sense. I don't mind this part of the squatters law. But let me explain where it gets sketchy, shall I? If I move into your house, when you're on vacation, and spend three nights there - guess what? I live there now, legally. There's nothing you can do. Sure you still own the place, but you have no legal way to kick me out. Now if I'm understanding this correctly, if I spent the three nights at my buddies house, while I was in town, I would legally become a tenant. He could not force me to move. The law could not force me to move.

Maybe there's something about me needing to be South African? I'm not sure. But that's the law as it was explained to me. Really people - really? How could this not be a terrible idea?

And facebook - why do you hate me? Just let me upload my pictures!

So Joburg - I don't know what I think of it, and I don't know that I will in three days. This city is just too different. And you can't explore it. And - it is what it is. To truly understand it, I assume you must be a local - born and raised. And even then you'll probably just known enough to know it's beyond comprehension.

Last year they lit someone on fire for being foreign. But it's a safe city. You did remember to lock your doors right?


  1. I really enjoy reading your posts Mike....keep it up! Because of your insperational writing, I have started the ball rolling on my own adventures! Good luck

  2. excellent! Thank you - and let me know if there's anything i can do to help.


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