Thursday, August 30, 2007

New blog template

Had to change it - that narrow column of text was driving me mental.
I did try to figure out how to edit the HTML myself. I learned some HTML a few years back, and actually put together a few websites for friends. (No I will not tell you the names of them because the tech guys will roast me for my brutally basic abilities). But who's kidding who - there's these nice templates just sitting on blogger ready for me to use. Who am i to reinvent the wheel.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Breaking Booze News

I believe I’ve found a liquor store. Finally – after 24 days – I have located somewhere to buy some booze.
You can buy wine in grocery stores – so I have the vino covered. But if I ever wanted a nice gin and tonic, or tequila shooters, some quiet Friday night, I previously have been screwed.
(Note: Woolworths here is a higher end grocery store. You can buy wine there, but all of it has a “Woolworths” sticker on it. Kind of like the Oprah book club. And like the Oprah book club, nothing makes me want to buy a book, or bottle of wine LESS than having a big “Woolies” sticker on it.)
In England they call it an offlicence, in Ontario, it’s the LCBO – or the ‘elsie” if you’re super cool, like me, and Fiona. Here – no beating around the bush. No euphemisms or references to the government. It’s: the bottle store. Plain and simple.
I was driving around at lunch yesterday (driving replaces walking, which, frankly, you’d be stupid to do, unless you like being robbed) and decided to take a little tour. So far I’ve been heading to work, or to Sandton – south of where I live. I’ve actually never bothered to head north, towards the prison. I think, for fairly obvious reasons. It’s a prison.
At any rate, the road past the prison goes on a bit, then through some new developments, and eventually out to a main road.
There is a kick-ass broken down restaurant there which, whether I eat there or not, likely not, will make for some good pictures.
Continuing up something-or-other road, I found a new little mall.
Now – here’s the thing about these little strip malls. They are surrounded by security fencing, and in the parking lot are about 30 guys in fluorescent yellow safety jackets directing traffic. OK – that was the polite way of saying it. They are very aggressive, and run after your car wind-milling their arms trying to make you park your car in the spot they deem appropriate. When you’re ready to leave, they stand directly behind your car, and motion for you to back up – even though you know that doing so will likely result in them being flattened. I have thusfar tried to pretend I don’t see them, in the hopes that they will think “Shit – this foreigner doesn’t see me – I better get the hell out of the way so she can just back up in peace.”

Anyways – point of that is that it’s tricky to just cruise into a little mall, drive around a bit, and see what stores they have. You really have to commit to the idea, and stick to your guns about ignoring the parking bullies.
Yesterday I was feeling brave – so I drove in, cruising slowly – looking simultaneously at the other cars and the stores, and studiously not looking at the parking bullies.
Then I saw it – the bottle store. I think I actually let out a little cry of victory.
Even better: it’s called Loco Liq.
Haven’t been in yet. But the fact that there’s a little Mexican restaurant right next door makes me think this may now be my favourite mall-away-from-home.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Yummy Monkey

Some photographic proof of the monkey gland sauce incident.
(That's not a little monkey finger, by the way. That's a fry.)

I have since researched, and found that monkey gland sauce is no longer made with monkeys.

What the hell is it then?

I'm guessing it's one of those mincemeat things - where it used to literally be minced meat, but now is just a tasty concoction that frankly, tastes damn good spooned right out of the jar. Not that I'd ever do that with mincemeat, or with peanut butter and honey. That's immature.

Please note : no monkeys were harmed in the making of this post.

Contest Clarification

For the literally thousands of you keen on winning THE BIG PRIZE, here's some clarification to your questions:

Miss SA does have tile floors, and they are very slippery - I have fallen over twice already, and I wasn't even drunk. The one time I thought I was screwed, because I was carrying my handy-dandy burglar-proof chair over to the door, wearing socks, no slippers - mistake - and I wiped out and smacked the chair into one of the giant enormous mirrors. Either that thing would have shattered, killing me instantly with about 20 feet of mirror shrapnel, or I would have had to pay to replace it - also a near death experience, I'm sure.

Anyway - the point of that was to tell you that I am counting slippers in the tally.

The suitcase, or suitcases, are standard 26" uprights from the Bay. They might be 28", there were two options when I bought them. I thought I was getting the bigger one, but for some reason I think I ended up with the 26" one.

I will count tonight, and let those of you who have made guesses know if you're in the ballpark.

And yes - all this clarification could have been avoided with a good SRD meeting. What was I thinking? These South Africans are screwed if SRD's and CRM is left up to me.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Jozi Jazz

I finally feel as though I’ve seen a bit of real Joburg. The Standard Bank Jazz Festival was held in Newtown this year, right in downtown Jozi – and is an area that has previously had serious crime issues, but has been undergoing a bit of a renaissance in recent years.
Friday night, we left from the agency – JT, Thabang, and I, driven by Archie. We pulled into a parking area he’s used before, and he spoke to the attendant about guarding his car. Apparently, you can follow any one of dozens of “parking attendants” that line the streets, but unless you know what you’re doing, very often they turn out to be phony. If you pay them in advance, good luck finding them, or your car, when you return.
With over 30 minutes until showtime, we elected to grab a bite first. The restaurant we popped into was crammed with people – and they were all locals. Much better than the tourist restaurants of Sandton, that’s for sure. Our bellies, full, and 20 minutes late, we headed back to the huge marquee tent for an evening of jazz.
Apparently, a 7:30pm start is more of a vague guideline than a hard and fast rule, because the concert didn’t actually start until about 8:45. Nevertheless, the first act came on – and what an act. Freddie Jackson – who in his day was a bit of a hit, I take it. Picture a black Liberace, complete with effeminate pelvic thrusts, and squealed vocal riffs, and you’ll start to get the idea. And this guy – who was the opening act – just would not stop. He used to be a hit, and dammit, he wasn’t going to let the dream die. He sang until almost 10:30. While the crowd seemed to really be getting into it, it was far from good. It was pure cheese. If you can imagine getting stuck watching Gowan open for the Stones, and rocking out just for the pure nostalgic hilarity – that’s kind of what was happening.
After pulling 16 or so very eager young ladies on stage, and looking like he had absolutely no idea what to do with them, he thanked the audience and his God, and got off the stage.
Next up: Caiphus Semenya and Letta Mbulu – a famous husband and wife South African team. Now the crowd was really on its feet. What an awesome experience – to be part of a loud, singing, dancing, joyous crowd – in a city I’ve been trying not to fear for the past three weeks. It was one of those real moments you get every once in a while that are hard to describe, but that make you feel like you just evolved another sense, or learned something really valuable.
Anyhow, I take it that seeing these two in concert is a rare occurrence these days, and they have a slew of local hits that are very good. They’ve both gained fame in their own right – but even never having heard them before, I thought they were terrific.
At about 12:30 am the headliners came on: George Duke and Stanley Clarke. These guys were incredible. They were the stiffest black guys I’ve seen since I’ve been here (picture a black Jerry Seinfeld with a bass guitar, and Newman on the piano) – but their talent is unbelievable. Their fingers move so damn fast – it was like heavy metal jazz. The crowd stayed on its feet to the end – mostly because of the music, but I think partly because the temperature had dropped to about five degrees.
At 2 am, completely frozen, tired, but very pleased with ourselves, we headed back to the car – which was still exactly where we parked it – and headed north to the suburbs.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Interesting things I've eaten so far

Kudu: some sort of antelope-like thing. Tastes like venison.
Lot’s of steak: that’s not really interesting, but there sure is a lot of it here.
Vegetables”: when you see this on the menu – be sure to ask what you’re getting. In most cases, unidentified vegetables turn out to be creamed spinach, and mashed squash. Not bad. But not exactly what you’d expect.
Pap: a fairly tasteless grits-like concoction. You can get it with just about anything.
Muesli: again, not interesting – but don’t use the word ‘granola’ – they have no idea what you mean.
Biltong: In Canada we have jerkey. In South America, they have charkey. In SA - biltong.
Monkeygland sauce: no idea what it’s meant to be, and hopefully it’s not made of what it says it’s made of. Kind of tastes like spicy sweet and sour sauce. I dipped steak in it. Not really sure why.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Yay - visitors

A warm SA welcome to the digital pitch team, Jordan, Colleen, Mike, Scott, and Mark R. It has been very nice to have visitors already, and I have practiced both my driving and direction skills touring them around a little.
Some photographic evidence does exist of our Saturday night debacle - which - as i now MAY have internet at home, might actually get uploaded.
Stories to follow.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Facebook Update

For those of you at home trying to reach me through Facebook - please be aware that it is website non grata in the office, and has been banned due to it's evil and disruptive powers.

HOWEVER, all is not lost, for if i ever get my 3G (read: wifi) card back (it has blown up, or something) then I will not only be happy as a pig in shit with internet at home, but I will be able to bypass the web security and log on to beloved Facebook again.

Don't give up hope, quad squad, I will update my status again.

[I will, however, not watch that video again - it is depressing. I bought a straight iron, and made room in my luggage for it. My hair is lovely now.]


I will begin to include footwear descriptions in the blog, so those of you paying attention can guess just how many pairs of shoes I managed to squirrel away in my suitcases.

[Note to eLiz – the Sunday hike involved: hiking boots]

The prize: well, it is very exciting and amazing and you would kill your own nanny for this thing, which also includes a free stay at Miss South Africa's apartment in Johannesburg. Think about THAT.

End of an era

OK, so i'm out of the industry.

P*rn allegations seem to have been cleared up. Thank you IT.

Here's proof of what once was: (hmmm, rather fuzzy. Sorry)

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Zebras and dassies and wildebeests, oh my.

Sunday I woke up at 8:09, swore, and jumped into some clothes, wolfed down some cereal, and ran out the door to my car. I had planned to meet up with a hiking group about 35km south, still within the city, just south of Soweto.
Not really having any idea how to get on the highway, and then how to get off and find my destination, I had originally planned to leave at 8am sharp, giving myself a full hour to get there and meet them at 9am. By the time I pulled it together, it was about 8:22am. Very late.
Luckily, Sunday morning in Jozi isn’t too busy on the roads, and I put the pedal to the floor of my little Renault, and sailed down the M1.
So far, getting used to driving on the left side of the road hasn’t been too bad – but I still have a lot of little habits it’s going to be hard to break. I reach for my seatbelt into the midair between the driver’s seat and the passenger’s seat every single time. I walk to the wrong side of the car every time. And unfortunately, drivers sharing the highway with me have to be very careful on my left-hand side, as most of my car is hanging into the lane to the left of me, I’m so used to having my body closer to the left side, rather than the right side, of the lane. (Anyone who was able to follow that explanation – bravo.)

Anyways, after a minor wrong turn and panic (number 79), I pulled up to a serious looking group of hikers.
Tony, a Brit, now living in SA and leading these hikes hosted by the local conservation society, greeted me warmly, having given me detailed directions over the phone earlier in the week.
We set out a few minutes later, and Tony pointed out animals and plants of interest as we went along. Consulting with Tom – a hike leader dressed in camo shirt, and army-issue canteen – the decision was made that we’d head up the ridge “to stay downwind of the animals.”
What fun. Like real hunters.

On the way up, we saw:

  • Dassies (aka rock rabbits) – picture big guinea pigs; apparently the fact that they climb trees was a source of laughter from the locals, but having no preconceptions about whether dassies do or do not climb trees, I admit the joke was lost on me.

  • Weaver birds – apparently we saw four different types; again, some subtle differences may be lost on me.

  • Yellow mongoose – clearly a greedy little thing, was hanging out near the cars to pick up any food it could get.

But the coolest part of the day was as we reached the top of the ridge, there were a pair of zebra ears just visible. As we got closer, we could see an entire family of zebras watching us. They continued to stand there as we moved closer, until we were no more than 150 feet away. Behind them ran a group of about 20 black wildebeest. They kind of chased each other randomly in circles. The zebras moved off a few feet, and we could see some more in behind.
Naturally, the camera and zoom came out.

Apparently these hikes, which happen two Sundays a month, often encounter animals like zebras and wildebeest, but it’s relatively uncommon to be able to get so close.

(I will eventually get my photos online. Bear with me. I have included a representative shot of a zebra here, as a visual reference. The bit about the lion might not be representational. The bit with the motorcycle is totally true though.)

Ensorship-cay in SA

I am now part of the adult entertainment industry.

Well – that is, according to our IT system. I logged on this morning to update my posts, and was firmly informed that access is denied to because it is p*rn. Quite exciting, really. I’ve never done p*rn before. I don’t really feel that much different now that I’ve done it. Maybe it’s because the p*rn industry has made me bitter and jaded.
I hear you can make a lot of money in this industry, but so far, I haven’t made any. Let this be a caution to all young girls who think they can strike it rich this way. Take it from me, girls, stay in school. Don’t do drugs.

[Note: at press time, IT had not relented to allowing me to post to my non-p*rn site. Hopefully this will be solved soon. :) ]

Monday, August 13, 2007

Here she is.....Miss South Africa

I have been asked a lot about my apartment. Not so much because people are curious as to how South African apartments may be different from those back home.

More importantly – it's because the one I am occupying is Miss South Africa’s.
Many friends, upon hearing that, consulted Google, and fired over pictures of the current Miss SA:


(And no, I do not know why she is posing with a Landrover, of all things. Why doesn't GM get in there and get the girl a CTS or something?)

I am now able to clarify that the lovely young lady they found is not, in fact, the current owner of my apartment. In fact, the owner is a former Miss South Africa. (And no - I've not met her either - I've met her mum, who is lovely).

For those who may actually be worried about my comfort – I can tell you it is a lovely apartment, with, count ‘em, two balconies – one of which is large enough to have a decent party.

The upper balcony, the large one, also has a braai. Braai’s are BBQ’s. The word can be used as a noun, a verb, or a social gathering. Apparently, everyone here either has, goes to, or prepares something on, a braai pretty much every weekend.
My current challenge is to find a store that sells charcoal, and figure out how to use it. It’s been a long time since the gas BBQ took over in Canada – so I’m not so familiar with the charcoal thing.
Either it will go very well, or I will have a good story for the blog.

The apartment is furnished, and there’s a LOT of mirrors. It helps me see exactly how I look at every angle, doing pretty much everything. It makes me want to go to the gym.

My only fear is that I will somehow destroy the white shag carpet in the bedroom. I’m not really a shag carpet kind of girl, much less white, because I know I really can’t be trusted with it. It’s only a matter of time until I forget to take my hiking boots off and am forced to become acquainted with the steam-cleaner rental business in SA. I feel that a trip to the rug store may be in order.

Friday, August 10, 2007

The importance of a crackberry

Day 2
I realize quickly that the adaptors I brought from home are useless. So begins panic number 28. What happens if my blackberry dies? Oh god – I really will be isolated and alone. Not to mention, that without power, there’s no way I can use my laptop, or fire up my iPod speakers. This is serious.
I text the only person I know in the country. No answer. I wait. Several hours, growing more and more panicked, lonely, and miserable.

Finally, I decide drastic measures are needed. Not having a laptop means no internet, which means I cannot find a taxi to take me to an electronic store. Not having a car means I cannot wander around in search of one. And being in Johannesburg means there’s no fucking way I’m walking anywhere.

I do the only thing I can think of. I wander down to the guards at the gate, bend down to the little speaker, and try to explain that I need a taxi, but have no idea how to get one. I repeat myself a few times before the door to the guardhouse opens, and one of them peers out at me. He really can’t understand why this weepy looking foreigner is asking him to call a taxi, but he’s helpful, and gives it a shot. Apparently he doesn’t have a phone book, because he indicates to me he’s going to look through the newspaper to try to find a number. He writes down two possibilities, and asks if I have a phone. I show him my blackberry, and tell him I don’t know how to dial local calls here. He looks at it in amazement “you can make calls on this?”
I quickly realize one of us is going to have to learn a new skill today. It will be me.
I dial one number and it rings, but no answer. The other beeps, and I quickly pass the phone to him to identify the sound. “Ah, it is busy.”

“OK – let me try this.”
He makes a call, and comes back smiling. He’s called his friend to come fetch me. I can’t believe it. Really – his friend is going to get up off his couch, get in his car, and is going to drive me to the shop. Which he does. Five minutes later,
Thabo shows up, I jump in the passenger seat, explain I need an adaptor, and off we go.

Honestly – I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. I’m pretty sure near the top of the list of things they tell you NOT to do in a foreign country is “jump in the car of a complete stranger who has been referred to you by other complete strangers.” But there you go.
I got my adaptors, got back to the apartment in one piece, powered up the crackberry, and made three new friends in under an hour. Things were looking up.


  • You can call it Jo-burg, but it’s cooler to call it Jozi.
  • It is winter here in August, and it’s effin cold. Almost zero at night.
  • Houses in Jozi don’t have central heating.
  • You should always bring a toque on any trip you take. You never know. In Jozi, it is helpful to wear it in your apartment with no central heat in August. Two wool sweaters, wool socks, and a duvet stolen from the guest bedroom are also in order.

Chapter One

First things first – I totally ripped the title of my blog off of a fellow exchange participant. But I like it, and I feel it might make a good trend for all Kummel participants.

[Background : Kummel’s a work-abroad program through work, and a few lucky participants get to leave their comfort zones, their families, their pets, and their regular jobs and travel to a Worldgroup office in another country for a brief stint there.]

My location? Johannesburg, South Africa. And I’m here until just before Christmas.

So – last Friday morning I tearfully got on a plane and headed to New York for the first leg of the flight. I had two WAY overweight full-size bags, a stuffed carry-on, and a guitar that I’ve never learned to play. Yes – an odd choice, and damned hard to fit in the overhead bin, but I figured I could pass a lot of long lonely nights learning to play it.

Hung out in JFK airport for a couple of hours fighting the urge to meet my sister, and just stay in New York for 5 months, then managed to get onto the South African Airlines flight to Johannesburg. It’s a whopping 18 hours – so I prepared myself for a long one. Managed to take in a few movies: 300, Spiderman 3 (ok – well I fell asleep at the end) and Fracture. Also managed to eat everything they put in front of me. Why, I don’t know. Really, all I did was sit for 18 hours, so why I needed that much food is beyond me – but I guess it gives you something to do. Plus, anytime they offer you more wine, and more cheese, you’d be crazy to say no.

Upon landing, my first night was really just a series of panic attacks.
Couldn’t find the guy picking me up at airport. Panic number one.
Managed to find him eventually, and get to my apartment in one piece.
As soon as he’d left, panic number two started: what the hell was I thinking – I can’t be in Johannesburg on my own for five months. It’s dangerous here, I’m lonely, I’m tired, and damnit, I don’t have any red wine. This is the worst thing I’ve ever done.
Panic three – pretty much like panic two. Repeat for panic four, five, etc.
Then I remembered that my friend and boss had given me a few letters to read in precisely this situation. I will spare you the details, but they were thoughtful, made me cry, and ultimately, made me feel better.

Needless to say – I made it through the night – my first night in Johannesburg.