It took a couple of hours this morning to clear all the boring work stuff. After we were done, we got on to the relatively new Dubai Metro and headed to Dubai Mall to continue the brief visit we had paid it last night. Our priority was to go up the Burj, but we were told that there was plenty of other stuff to do there to soak up the time. Since we had booked tickets for the 7:30pm session we had a fair few hours to kill.
We managed to catch one of the hourly fountain shows outside. With the Burj in the background we enjoyed various water works all choreographed with music (apparently each show has a different global theme) and although the fountains themselves were quite impressive with how high up they squirted the stuff, the show as a whole seemed a bit bland.
We decided to check out the aquarium. To be honest I was amazed at how the managed to fit such a wonderful tank (and underwater tunnel) smack bang in the middle of a shopping mall, but there it was. I was happy to just sit outside and point at the fish from the public area but since we had time we went in too. The tunnel was exactly what you would have expected, but the underwater zoo turned out to be a pretty cool part of the experience; they had quite a few weird species of fish, a lot of which I hadn't seen before. Topped off with a ride in glass bottomed boat along the top surface of the tank and I'd say the whole deal was actually pretty fun.
But at last it was time to head up the Burj Khalifa. Unlike other observatories, this one seems to have been designed from the ground up for tourists and it was quite nice to read all the facts and figures about the building and construction process as we headed to the lift to take us up to the 124th floor.
If I'm totally honest, the view up there wasn't particularly stunning. Perhaps it was how Dubai is a desert, or maybe the fact that we were there at night, but there wasn't really much to see and neither was there a sense of the great height we were at. We did get to see another fountain show, this time from above, and it was quite nice to have been out on the open terrace instead of behind a window as in other observatories.
Heading back down, our time at the Dubai Mall was over. I still don't know how we managed to spend six hours there, and that without visiting more than a couple of shops (including the wonderful Candylicious). Content with our sightseeing, we headed off to the house of some family for a late dinner. Now that the business and sightseeing was out of the way, tomorrow was reserved for chilling out with friends.
Monday, May 31
It took a couple of hours this morning to clear all the boring work stuff. After we were done, we got on to the relatively new Dubai Metro and headed to Dubai Mall to continue the brief visit we had paid it last night. Our priority was to go up the Burj, but we were told that there was plenty of other stuff to do there to soak up the time. Since we had booked tickets for the 7:30pm session we had a fair few hours to kill.
Sunday, May 30
Despite promising myself never to leave the country again (well not for the next couple of months anyway), I've found myself having to go to the UAE for some work related stuff. It's a bit annoying actually - it's a bit disruptive for one thing and will be too short to make a proper holiday out of it (the only reason we're staying so long is because it would be too expensive to fly back sooner). Still, at least I'm going with my parents so it won't be all that bad.
We landed in Abu Dhabi quite late and waited a while for our lift to Sharjah. The drive was pretty uneventful until we got into Dubai proper - despite my misgivings about this trip I knew it would be an opportunity to see the brand new Burj Kilafa. It was an awesome sight, far more exciting and unreal than any of the other "tallest buildings in the world" I have had the fortune of seeing in person.
Detecting our wonderment, our kind host treated us to a brief stop off at the adjoining Dubai Mall where we had dinner (courtesy of Burger King) and were able to check out the Burj on foot. It was even more impressive up close; it's not often that I've had to crane my neck to see the top of a building, and even at a few hundred metres away I couldn't get the whole building in my field of vision. Amazing stuff.
But it was late and so we headed off. I didn't have much sightseeing to do here in Dubai (both my parents and me have been here before) but the Burj and Mall were definitely on the list of things to spend some more time checking out.
Thursday, May 27
As all good theories about marriage come about this one was also born over a home cooked dinner with a bunch of clever mates. Although it doesn't matter much to the content of this post, this idea did come about during a meal in South Africa. I guess there's no holiday for marriage talk.
The question was regarding how to know if someone was right for you. That you "just know" wasn't really good enough, especially during a time when people already married for a few years who also "just knew" are also claiming that they should have "known better". Faced with this question, I offered the desert island test.
The trick would be to find someone with whom you could live on a desert island, alone. A remote mountain also works, but the point is that you would have no other worldly inputs or distractions. You would grow your own food, and work to live rather than getting your name on a business card or magazine, and the goings on of anything outside of the island would not be of any concern to you. Your only interactive input and output would be with your partner (and maybe a pet hamster).
Would you get bored in this situation? Or for those who are already married, could you survive under such conditions?
What I was essentially trying to do was to normalise relationships, and remove the guff that many of us think contributes to one, but doesn't really. On a desert island, it really is the person who matters and nothing else. Of course in this day and age it's an unrealistic test, but the idea itself tends to frighten the hell out of some people.
As soppy and naive as it sounds, there was once a time when for the typical Joe and Jane on the street the only thing that mattered in life was to find a good partner (where "good" means many things) and raise a family with them. That's really just about it and everything else, including jobs or pastimes, were just incidental. But increasingly nowadays marriage isn't about finding someone around whom your world revolves, but instead someone who fits in with your already defined sense of self and individuality. We now want someone to add and enhance the lives we have already built or are building and marriage is now merely one part of many which makes up who a person is: so X is now a successful, smart intelligent and strong person who, as an aside, happens to also be married to Y.
Things like obedience and devotion are now seen as weaknesses, signs that a person isn't an individual. We now have to think about ensuring our survival without relying on the people we've committed to, and as such partners are no longer necessary to complete ourselves. There was a time when phrases like "she's at the centre of my universe" and "we were made for each other" where in common use, when women would dream about taking on the surnames of the guy they were in love with. And when they eventually did cement their relationship, as long as these people had each other nothing else mattered to them. But alas it seems that these concepts have now been relegated to unrealistic or outdated ideas or fictional romanticism (I'm looking at you, Twilight). It's not that this state is unachievable, but more that it's undesirable.
However I'm not suggesting that society has it wrong. What goes into a good and strong relationship, and indeed what a relationship is, evolves over time and means different things as we progress. In that sense the desert island test is simply just out of date, something which refers to a highly idealised and possibly over-demanding view of marriage and romance that has no place in this day and age.
That said I certainly don't think reaching such a state is impossible in this day and age - looking at the popularity of stuff like Twilight (spit) anyone would think that old fashioned romance is all anyone wants. I guess the trick to a happy relationship is, as always, to find the one person who has the same view and needs of hooking up, getting married and becoming a spouse as you do, no matter what level of involvement that actually entails.
It seems like yesterday that I took delivery of the first Super Mario Galaxy, a game I swore was the best thing ever at the time. And it was good, except I found myself losing interest once I had gotten to the end of the story mode; I still have 40 stars or so to collect, but it either became too difficult or too much of a chore to carry on with.
Which is why SMG2 is so surprising. Despite clearly being well rooted in the first game (squint and you can't really tell the difference), it feels much more fresh, much more straight forward than SMG. The levels seems tighter and more straightforward (while retaining all of the fun), and it seems less reliant on non-classic Mario mechanisms than SMG - there's no confusing starship hub, now replaced by a more linear world map; random appearance of comets are now replaced by collectable tokens and bits which should be played in 2D (which actually happens quite often) have to be played in 2D. It's like they've cut out all the fluff of the first game.
Of course it's early days for me yet, having collected less than ten stars. The boredom/time sapping characteristic of the first game could still creep in. But in my old age I don't seem to mind this as much; so I miss a few stars and that coveted 100% I used to need... it's the journey to the end that will make this a wonderful game to play.
Wednesday, May 26
Tuesday, May 25
Like Lost, I had come late to 24. Still, the way in which I could sit and watch the whole of the first season in a single weekend confirmed to me that this would be a show I would always enjoy. And now that it's ended, it has definitely made my top five shows ever, alongside Buffy and TNG.
Compared to the season finale of Lost yesterday, I didn't find the final episode of 24 as fulfilling or good. It felt a bit rushed and unfair, with Jack not getting the closure or recognition he deserved. Nevertheless it would always have been difficult to top a show that had been so awesome otherwise.
The biggest draw with 24 was the way it was able to twist its storyline, As someone who tends to see plot lines a mile off 24 was one of the rare shows that was able to shock and surprise, at some moments even prompting me to get off the sofa in excitement. There have been some excellent and classic TV moments, and although some may call them unrealistic or even cheap, I've not found the same kind of excitement in any other show.
Much was said about 24's realtimeness, the way in which an hour show showed the events of an hour, the 24 episodes of a season, a day. For me this wasn't really a relevant attribute of the series; in fact I still maintain that it would have been a lot better without this unnecessary burden, sometimes leading to filler. None of the good bits of the show relied on the fact it was in real time, and it ended up being a bit of a gimmick more than anything else.
I know a few people who refuse to watch 24 due to its portrayal of Muslims. I think that at least three of the eight seasons (including the last) involved Muslims in some way. I didn't seem to mind this as much, perhaps because I'm able to detach or see TV for what it is, but aside from that for every bad guy they also had a goody representing the other side, or an even bigger non-Muslim threat. Toward the end of S7, it even got to the stage where Jack became quite involved in Islam. So I wasn't that bothered by the whole religious commentary of the show; in fact I was more annoyed by the constant and not-so-subtle product placement.
Ah. Jack. I take my first paragraph back actually - it was Jack who was the main draw of 24. The perfect hero - he was strong and capable but always measured in way that transcended policy or law. His sense of justice was pure and active - he wouldn't be concerned with silly laws or rules designed and enforced by corrupt and weak people. He always did what was right, even if that meant him suffering himself. As one of the bad guys once realised: Jack really was the best.
Monday, May 24
Although it's only been running for six seasons (even though it lasted seven), it feels as if Lost has been running for much longer. Perhaps it was just the epic feel of the whole thing, or maybe it had something to do with the final episode (sorry, I can't talk about it much) this morning, but for some reason it's almost as if something will now be missing from my television schedule.
I loved Lost. And I'm not even sure I understand what actually happened in it; and coming from someone who insists on having a full and total understanding of anything he watches that says a lot. It's almost like I've learned one of the main lessons in the show (sorry, I can't talk about it much).
It wasn't always plain sailing though. The success of the mystery leave-them-hanging format in the first season appeared to have gone to the heads of the makers, with season two and three both having been heavily criticised for being a bit too much bait and not enough story. Still, the massive loss of confidence and resulting drop in ratings seemed to have done the trick and Lost returned even better from season four onwards. Unlike other shows, it had learned it's lesson, and now, after watching the whole thing, I've realised how long their game plan was.
The final episode was pretty much perfect (sorry, I can't talk about it much), and if I was a lesser man I would have been in tears throughout. Pathetic as it sounds I even begun to miss a few of the characters (not least Kate), if not the Island and surrounding myth itself.
Lost goes to show that sometimes it's not about the story or getting from introduction to conclusion but more about the characters and their interactions. Who cares if certain things aren't answered, or if there are things that don't really make sense? That's not really the point.
As it stands Lost was a brilliant show, one that was perfectly timed, and after skipping the first play of season one, I'm definitely glad I decided to watch it in the end.
EDIT: One of the best write-ups I can find is here, on Kotaku of all places. The comments make for excellent reading too.
I've written before about how Star Trek has had an effect on my life, although I was surprised when reading Abstruse Goose this morning:
And there I was thinking I was the only one who followed the Prime Directive...
Sunday, May 23
A black comedy about four jihadists was always going to be a little iffy. That said Four Lions manages to tread the line between taking the mick and causing offence quite well, and I didn't come away thinking how wrong the makers had gotten it.
Since it's not offensive, it must be funny right? Well yes and no really. There's no doubt that some of the one-liners will eventually reach classic status, destined to be repeated amongst groups of Muslim people, and some of the sketches were genuinely hilarious. But although I did laugh out loud plenty of times, most of them were pretty shallow and so very short lived. I guess I was expecting something a little more sophisticated.
The same goes for the message of the film - it's pretty non-existent really. This might be a good thing as we avoid all the sticky situations of moral, ethical and religious dilemma and just stick to the laughs, but it did contribute overall to the shallowness of the film.
Riz Ahmed was excellent as usual, as were his support; They clearly had a good time making the film (although I did sometimes have trouble understanding their accents). It was well put together too, and I had no complaints about the technical side of the movie.
Overall this wasn't quite the film I would have liked it to be. Nevertheless, it gets a recommendation both for the novelty and cheap gags, but if you miss it at the cinema don't worry: a DVD watch will be just as rewarding.
Friday, May 21
The game of the same name on which this film is based on remains a firm favourite of mine. I think the thing which did it for me was the simplicity of it all; there was no convoluted plot, or controls that required hours of play to master. Difficult was challenging but in a simple, non frustrating way, and the total playtime didn't mean I had to quit work in order to see it through.
The film managed to retain a lot of these back to basics qualities. It was easy on the eye and brain equally (with many of its plot twists seen a mile off), and offered a level of fun which some films tend to look over. However since you tend to interact with a film less that you would a game, the lack of sophistication also meant a less of an engaging experience overall.
Technically the film failed on a few levels. I'm not quite sure who appeared in the film more Gyllenhaal or his stunt double, the special effects were bad and the editing left a lot to be desired. I'm not even sure the ending made that much sense either. Still, at least Gemma Arterton looked okay. I didn't even mind that she wasn't Persian.
Overall then although not really a classic, Prince of Persia did do enough to get away with being fun; just about anyway. It's hardly unmissable though, so perhaps it'd be best to stick to DVD with this one.
Despite wanting to, I've never really got the chance to go to a Muju performance before. I guess the thing which prompted me to go this time was that half of the show was going to be them putting on a piece by Alia Bano of Shades fame.
Walls went on for twenty minutes and was about two best mates, one a not-so-practising Muslim and the other a rich Jew and how the latter planning to leave for Israel affects their relationship. Twenty minutes wasn't enough to explore this whole set up properly, although as a basis for something larger (the writer insisted that it was a work in progress) the promise was certainly there.
Clearly not as polished as Shades was, there was much left to be desired about all aspects of the performance. The script wasn't stellar (although there were a few gems), the plot slightly forced and construed, and the acting a bit shabby (I noticed a few forgotten lines and fluffs). Still seeing as how Muju is a charity where most of the human resources are volunteers, it would have been a bit unreasonable to expect a full theatrical performance.
The second half of the evening was spent on a series of comedy sketches titled "Extreme Prevention". I can't remember any which I didn't laugh hard at, and I was surprised at how far some of the jokes went - both the suggestion to abort a potential terrorist foetus and the Jew who had a bagel stuck on his, well, you know thing raised a couple of eyebrows between my giggles. I was more glad that the show wasn't worried about pushing the boundary just because it had a faith element in its constitution. In that sense it was braver and so more effective than some of the other "Muslim comedy" I've had the chance to check out. I especially liked how both Prevent and Quilliam got a good knocking. About time.
All in all I was quite impressed by Muju and what they had come up with. Not only were they quite talented as an amateur group, but they managed to avoid most of the pitfalls that come with faith based initiatives; something the probably achieved by virtue of leaping off more than one faith. I look forward to what they have to offer next.
Thursday, May 20
Wednesday, May 19
Indian or Turkish? Don't really know what you fancy? Well head down to Baharat down in South Woodford; it seems to have a decent enough selection from both.
We stuck to the "Mediterranean" menu, and then just to the starters. This turned out to be quite a good idea since it gave us a chance to sample quite a bit of the menu, including pastries, chicken wings and even calamari. All were of a standard enough quality.
Baharat was a nice enough place to eat in. It's pretty intimate (read: dead), and I probably enjoyed the Bollywood soundtrack a bit more than others would. The service was prompt and polite and overall there wasn't much to complain about.
The flexibility we got in sticking to starters was reflected in the price as we ended up paying a tenner or so a head, a decent price considering the way in which we had ordered.
Overall Baharat is little more than an above standard Indian with some of the usual twists on its menu. This makes it a safe bet and for those of you living in the area when looking for a place to get a good bite to eat.
Tuesday, May 18
Shak says (12:47):
everyone saying about this muslim bird...
"she's so pretty..... shame she's so skinny"
either we're the only honest ones.... or we have an aquired taste
xxxx says (12:48):
any girl who says that ias just jealous
any guy who says that
is either gay
or knows women will be reading/listning
and will want them to think that he doenst endorse model-skinny type figures
Shak says (12:49):
so we're actually keeping it real?
xxxx says (12:49):
there;'s a reason why models are skinny
men like skinny girls
any guy who says he doesnt
or just a chubby chaser
xxxx says (08:25):
all women are the same
piece of advice to you
never believe anything a woman tells you
Shak says (08:25):
xxxx says (08:25):
so when you meeting these women
xxxx says (08:26):
dont feel bad about lying
long as it gets you a fit wife that's all that matters
cos she'll be lying as well
xxxx says (08:28):
in fact ... why do you even need to get married at all
if you want kids ... you can have kids without getting married
Shak says (08:29):
xxxx says (08:30):
is it against the law for yo
or against your religino
Shak says (08:30):
in what sense?
xxxx says (08:30):
can you find a girl
and have kids with her
and not get married
Shak says (08:37):
of course not. no sex before marriage innit?
xxxx says (08:37):
Monday, May 17
Poor taste, nonsensical, badly acted, awful editing, an insulting storyline and numerous plot holes that the makers didn't even try to fill... these were all attributes of a film that really shouldn't have made it past the conceptual stage.
And yet I didn't really care because I was laughing so hard. Think 80's lowbrow comedy and you'll understand what Hot Tub is.
So either I'm still an immature kid who finds really stupid things funny or the film manages to exude that unique magic that always overrides logic. Whatever happens to be the case, I can't help but recommend Hot Tub Time Machine. And if you don't happen to find it that funny... well then you just simply have no soul.
Sunday, May 16
Aunt: So xxx says she knows that slutty one from House Full. Shak, do you want her to hook you up?
Me: I'll need to watch the film to figure out exactly how slutty she is, but yeh, probably.
Brother: Mum, would you let Shak marry a bollywood actress?
Mum: ... Well if she was a virgin, yes.
Saturday, May 15
Bland, boring and lifeless are adjectives I can use to describe many aspects of this film. From the lifeless plot to the awful acting all the way to the staid one liners in the monotonous script, I really didn't understand how such films can ever claim to be entertaining.
Perhaps unsurprisingly it reminds me much of another film I didn't really understand: Robin Hood displayed the same kind of mind-numbingly boringness as Gladiator, so perhaps it was my mistake for even thinking of going to watch this film. On top of being bad, it even had the gall to be over two and half hours long.
I'm falling asleep just writing about it, so I'll just stop here with a "not recommended". Not recommended, not even for the cheap attempts at an apology for the Crusades. No, really, they do.
Thursday, May 13
Khuda Jaane - Bachna Ae Haseeno
Not sure why I missed this since it seems pretty much up my street. Better late than never I guess.
Show Dem - JR feat HHP
MAKE THE CIRCLE BEEGA! I won't explain why this is can't be anything other than my song of my holiday in South Africa, but the fact that it's a tune too just makes it all the better.
Due to the nature of the trip ("home away from home" versus "as a tourist") I won't be writing a daily travel log of my stay in South Africa but instead will be recounting my experiences and thoughts over the past couple of weeks in individual retrospective posts, just as if I was posting from London.
Since they'll be arriving in a haphazard manner, to make these posts easier for those interested to specifically follow (and so allow you to avoid all my other rubbish), I'll be labelling all relevant posts with "south africa". So, to check these posts on the web just visit:
Or alternatively if you're a user of RSS, just add the following to your favourite reader:
So have a read, enjoy and please feel free to comment.
Wednesday, May 12
I've uploaded the photos I took during my stay in South Africa to Picasa. As usual, I've split them into public and private albums as necessary; what's changed is that I've now switched to Google Account managed privacy (as opposed to URL/token based) and will try to provide access to the respective albums as appropriate.
If you think you want access to a particular album but don't have a Google account (and have no interest in creating one) then drop me a line and we'll figure something out.
Apologies for the lack of quality - it almost seems as if a bug had crawled onto my sensor toward the beginning of my trip. My A200 seems prone to becoming dirty (despite me never changing the lens), which as an aside might be the excuse I need to replace it.
In any case, I hope you enjoy the pictures.
Hmm. I many ways this is identical to 2008's (cripes) Iron Man, with Robert Downey Jr carrying most of the otherwise forgettable film to the audience. However what this sequel actually proves is that you can't play the same trick twice, and the film doesn't quite manage to get away with it.
Bland is what I'll use to describe this film. In fact, I'm not actually sure what, if anything, happens in it. Still, at least both Scarlett and Gwyneth are looking good.
If you do go to watch this (if you haven't guessed yet, I'm not really recommending that you do), make sure you hang around past the credits. Assuming you've not read my Twitter yet, that is (an unforgivable mistake. Sorry!).
Monday, May 10
So it probably goes without saying that I absolutely loved my time in South Africa. After the very tourism focussed trip to Korea and Japan, I had fully intended on making South Africa more of a social and chilled out holiday, but despite this I never expected to have as much fun as I actually did.
I've repeatedly asked what my highlight of the trip was, or which was my favourite city. The honest truth is that there were far too many highlights to pick just one - I'm hoping I have done justice to all the various things I did by recounting them here on this blog.
As for my favourite city, well that's just as difficult to call. Durban had the wedding and surrounding excitement and vibe, Cape Town had lots to see and do while Johannesburg just had tons of people to meet. My trip to South Africa would not had been as complete or well rounded had I not been to all three places, and quite strangely each place had the effect of accentuating the effect of the others on me.
Another question I was asked was whether I could live there. Well joking aside (by the end of the trip I was known as "the guy who had come to South Africa to find a wife") I think I could live here if I had the chance to. The main concerns for me would be the lack of ANY family in the vicinity as well as the levels of violent crime here - of the fifty or so people I met, at least five of them had been smashed and grabbed, a similar number had been car-jacked and around a handful had had close family members murdered randomly. Crime here isn't something you read about in the Metro on the way to work, it's very real.
I loved the quality of life, and how people find the time not to only enjoy themselves but to take care of others. Comparing the way we treat ourselves and guests here in London, I don't think it's a case of selfishness or self-involvement, but purely one of a lack of time. Things like working near your home or even in our home have real implications to how people live here, and it's something I found myself to be terribly envious of.
Then there's the level of pseudo-integration of Asians and Islam. I say pseudo because of this constant awareness that we weren't in a real South Africa during most of our stay but in a kind of bubble, one which may not have been reflective of life outside the homes and towns of our friends. That aside, I loved how an otherwise secular restaurant would have a place to perform whudu and offer prayer, how adhan was called out in the open and how even the most non-Muslim place to eat would know what halal meant. All this and they speak English? It was almost perfectly comfortable, apart from the various comments regarding my wearing of chappal.
I loved how everything seemed to have fallen into place with this trip. Even the ash clouds seemed to change the trip for the better as our internal plans adjusted for our late arrival. There was something to do everyday, most of the time with little or no planning and I didn't feel we wasted any time. Well apart from that stint on Robben Island.
Of course this trip would not have been what it was had it not been for the wonderful, wonderful people. I often wondered what my time there would have been like had I come under any other circumstance, and after this trip I can't imagine experiencing South Africa in any other way. All three cities would have been very empty had we not had the company of the various people I had met, most for the very first time. The hospitality was totally unexpected and even uncalled for and we appreciated every iota of time given to us.
I fully went in to this trip as the third musketeer, or a side dish to the main course as some had also described me as being. I didn't even know the people whose wedding I had been invited to, and yet I got a mention in the groom's wedding speech. Heck the only reason I even knew of the trip was after reading about it in a blog. For sure I didn't have a right to have had such an awesome time, and I'm grateful at being given the opportunity to make so many new friends and acquaintances. I distinctly remember someone referring to this as they commented on how easily I was able to make myself comfortable around people I didn't know, but I was reassured that this was meant as a compliment rather than criticism of how imposing I was being.
But still I like to think I did make genuine contributions, and was a part of the bridge building that was going on. At times it seemed that the people I was travelling with knew more Saffans than the locals did, and I'm proud to have been a part of, or at the very least an incidental reason for, the new friendships being made. There's a reason why JR's Show Dem became the theme of our trip. Make The Circle Beega indeed.
Would I recommend South Africa to others? I'm not actually sure that I could. As a tourist destination I'm not sure what exactly the place has to offer - sure there are nice beaches and a mountain or two but for me these were mere bonuses to being able to doss, eat, have late night chats till 3am about women and celebrate life as much as we did. In short, if you happen to have around fifty friends spread out all across the country then you should definitely go.
And yet despite the amazing time I had in South Africa, despite my wanting to stay for at least another two weeks and despite not ever feeling homesick throughout (ten days in a hotel is usually my limit) there was something definitive and final about this whole trip. It was almost as if after my time there I had finally done and seen everything I wanted to; surprising considering I still have a well populated travelling list to get through. I realised that life just can't be about having this much random fun or seeing where the wind takes you, that the only sustainable way of living is to do so with modesty, and finally that I was actually ready to embrace the mundaneness of normal life. To be honest I'm not quite sure what it was I was feeling really.
But anyway. The trip has already become a fading memory and I despair as I struggle to recreate all the good times I had there in my mind. Still, I'm sure there'll be more than one occasion here where I'll be reminded of a joke or conversation I had in Durban, Cape Town or Johannesburg and smile to myself as I'm taken back to the absolutely brilliant tour of South Africa I took in 2010.
Sunday, May 9
After breakfast (which was kindly hosted by the family of a friend who is currently staying over in the UK), we decided to make Rosebank our final place to hang out in. This allowed us to browse the Sunday-only flea market (in which I managed to fulfil my whole quota of holiday gift shopping) as well as grab some food before heading off to the airport. But most importantly it allowed us to meet anyone who wanted to take the time out to say goodbye to us.
Once again I was quite taken back by how we were treated. People came and hung out, some for the whole time we were there. Many gave leaving gifts, something which I still don't quite get, coming from a town where token gestures like these are generally received with suspicion and cynicism. Quite fittingly our final meal was held in Spur, although in retrospect I should have taken more advantage of my final chance to sample South African meat.
Even the journey to the airport was full of poignancy as some friends took the time to personally drop us off. Quite amusingly we met some more people at the airport over coffee, at the same Mugg and Bean where I had originally met them over what seemed like a lifetime ago. Had we really only been here two weeks ago?
The final joke? Well in what was classic South African style we arrived late at the gate and were final called before even seeing our plane. I guess we just didn't want to leave. I was actually hoping for the same ash which delayed our flight to return, but my prayers went unanswered. As I sat down on the top deck of the A380 to Paris I finally came to terms with the fact that our time in South Africa was well and truly up and we were finally going home; the memories of our time here keeping us flying higher than the plane we were sitting in ever would.
One of the main reasons I wanted to go to South Africa was to see if the food there really was better than that found in the UK. Back in London not a single dinner goes by without an (often uninvited) Saffan commenting on how much better the meat, BBQ, fruit, chocolate, weather, sex, politics, human rights, tax positions and people are back in their home country. In fact the only thing we seem to have are jobs, but the fact that that's all it took to get these people to leave their heavenly abodes says more about them than the quality of life in the UK.
But I digress. The point is that I made a point of eating as much as I could while touring South Africa, throwing out any sense of modesty (or diet) while I did so. I didn't really have a plan past going to as many braais as possible, but it turned out for Saffans food didn't just begin and end on the grill.
We managed to clock in three, maybe four, braais during our stay, all of various qualities and scales. All were awesome and very good at providing various succulent pieces of evidence to back the original claims made by the locals. I'm not sure I've ever tasted chicken so good; it literally exploded with juiciness in my mouth. But our hosts weren't just one trick ponies who were concentrating on the meat; no, for them hosting was a top to bottom affair resulting in wonderful salads and an almost uncountable number of guilt ridden desserts.
The same kind of approach was taken during the couple of home cooked dinners we went to. Multiple courses (including soups, dessert and then tea and cake), lots of exotic dishes (like, uh, prawns) and good all round conversation to boot. Full marks to the South African host then.
The times we chose to, you know, pay someone to feed us didn't disappoint either. The Thais and Italians were of a standard fair, but the fish restaurants were pretty darned amazing - apart from the fish and chips we ate in Cape Town which although good, I reckon I could have done better in the UK. Oh and I don't think I'd have been able to sample a halal ostrich steak in any of the other places I plan to travel to.
Which brings us to Spur. This is a chain of steak houses which we were told we just had to visit - we reluctantly managed to squeeze in a session for our final lunch before heading to the airport and I'm glad we did. I'm not even a big fan of steak and the like, but the ribs I had there were awesome.
I must contest the claim that fruit is better in South Africa. It was standard fare; I'd even say that the fruit in my home is of a better quality. Still, I was happy that it was so available.
Finally there was the junk food: namely the Crystal Steak Sandwiches, the Bunny Chows, the Gatsbies(?) and the Akhalwayas. However these little bundles of joy deserve a post all on their own, not least because they were part of a much larger inter-city tribal contest that us Brits were supposed to judge upon.
Saturday, May 8
I guess it was fitting to have our final braai on our final night in South Africa. But this wasn't like any of the others we had had the pleasure to attend: here, a single host had opened her home not only to everyone we had met in Joburg but even some we had come across in Durban and Cape Town. I didn't manage to get a proper count but apparently over 35 people had been invited. I won't bang on about the food having been awesome, because by now that was just a given.
It was good to once again meet some of the new friends I had made, some who I'd be seeing for the last time. There was also a host of others who I hadn't seen before but had been told about. As is often the case with such events there wasn't enough time to have a quality conversation with everyone I wanted to, but I guess that's what happens when you sacrifice intimacy for numbers.
Despite clearly always being the third musketeer in the group I was travelling with I did feel a bit flattered that the locals were going to so much effort. In some ways it was just the final and definitive example of how extremely hospital the guys over here have been and exactly how well we had been looked after during our stay. We didn't feel like strangers from a far land, but old friends who were staying with family.
It's all the more upsetting that we'll be leaving tomorrow.
Although I was well aware of the whole South African Muslim Blogosphere (and do in fact take credit in some obscurely perverse way for linking it to some parts of the UK), I never really felt myself as a part of it. This was partly out of laziness and a lack of space in my feed reader - there's only so many blogs one can read after all. But in the main this was actually due to my own hang ups and insecurities regarding online relationships. I'm just going to say it: I find it weird having friends with whom you only communicate via Twitter and blog comments.
Don't get me wrong. Peeing contests aside, I've been doing this Internet thing for a long time now, be it IRC and newsgroups in the mid-nineties, the BBC Asianlife Messageboards (sigh) earlier on in this decade or even this whole blog thing that's currently all the rage. I've met more than a few wonderful people via the Internet and I do understand that you can build pretty solid relationships that have their origins in the ether.
However with all these people I did feel that our relationship wasn't complete until we had met in real life, something I made an immediate effort to do once I realised they were more than just words on a screen. In fact barring one person (who as an aside also happens to be the first person I was able to describe as an Internet friend), I've been able to meet them all in person. Not only that, but I have always been introduced to these people on a one on one and random basis (someone found my blog after searching for "nightmare rishta tips" or something) and not via entering some already established virtual community - one of the fundamental reasons why I refuse to maintain a blog roll over there in the sidebar on the right, and why the words "blog meeting" make me quiver in my boots.
But like I said this is more about me and my old fashioned take on the Internet than any criticism of said communities. For instance, I fully recognise that I would have no where near had such an awesome time here in South Africa had had such a "virtually assisted" (since a lot of these guys knew each other in real life already) community not existed. I do see the real value in them, and will never undermine them as being something flippant or trivial.
But that isn't actually what I wanted to talk about here. Regardless of my feelings of online communities, the fact that I was coming to South Africa meant that I would actually be facing many of the people who made up quite a large and prominent one. This was actually fine for me - as far as I was concerned I was just going to be meeting random new people for the first time. And I love meeting random new people.
I must admit however that I was slight taken aback by the number of people who seemed to already know who I was. From the "you're not as intimidating in real life as you are online" made by someone who had read my comments on the blog of someone I had already met in real life to the "how was the beach this morning?" asked by someone I had just met who had been following me on Twitter, it was all quite weird and perhaps even a little unsettling. I must admit that it actually had an effect on how I interacted with them at first, as guards and self-consciousness both went up in spades. And to be honest I'm still not sure how much each of my new friends already knew about me.
I like to think I'm well aware of how public the stuff I write is: it was more the increased immediacy of feedback than the lack of a level playing field or any privacy concerns that got me. I think what actually took me by surprise was how merged the virtual and real world had become over the last two weeks. Here, instead of receiving blog comments on a post I had written, I was getting real live feedback. People didn't @reply me in response to a tweet, they sent me a text. And unlike on the Internet it's a lot more difficult to dismiss or ignore comments made in real life by people in the same room as you are.
I must stress that this was all temporary though; after a few minutes with a new face they had become real life acquaintances who then just happened to follow me on Twitter or read my blog. Currently the vast majority of people I recognise who follow me or read my blog I had already come to know of in real life first, and for me most of the people I met here in South Africa have now fallen into this category too.
The weird thing is that despite this experience of pleasantly meeting personalities that had only existed in cyberspace, I'm still nowhere near in getting over my issues regarding my participation in the kind of social networking I describe above.
Perhaps I'm just a Luddite?
Quickly: nice teeth, nice feet. Very smiley, friendly, conversational and intelligent and not stuck up or too good to talk to someone new or random. Quite impressively, most were extremely handy in the kitchen (and I mean that in the most respectful way possible). Oh and most were perfectly comfortable (and so even more attractive) wearing flats over heels. Awesome.
All seemed to want to save the world and fight oppression, including the type that their potential husbands will inevitably cast upon them, not that any of the singletons had an interest in getting married any time soon: no way jose, all men smell, blah blah blah. Interesting observation: not one wife whom I had met had taken the surname of their respective spouse, and when asked none of the ones currently on the market had any plans to do so either. Girl power, eh?
Finally all were hot, and I think I fancied each and every one I had met. Standard.
Disclaimer: The above is are a bunch of generalisations and so not all girls in South Africa demonstrate all or even any of what I have described. In particular none of it (apart from the good stuff maybe) applies to anyone I met on my journey or to anyone who happens to be reading this post. Ta.
After hearing about Laudium I just had to go check it out. But aside from pretty houses, debunking various myths about the wildlife there, checking out a wonderful and impressive mosque (go tablighi jamaat!) and experiencing the magic that was the club sandwich from Mohideen's there really wasn't much to see there. The ride was fun though, the thirty minutes or so allowing more of us to do more of the bonding thing.
Actually one of the more interesting parts of the trips was driving through a shanty town on the way back home. It was quite paradoxical - here was rows upon rows of tin shacks, much like you would expect from any other poor and undeveloped country (not for the first time I was reminded of parts of Karachi). Yet the people seemed strangely comfortable with their respective residences, each of them appearing to get on with life. And in person they didn't seem particularly hard up: some were laughing and playing games, others had bags full of shopping while more still were dressed in suits or fancy dresses, perhaps returning from work or an evening out. It was all quite bizarre actually.
I was told that the area was still being developed, and indeed further inwards into the area there was cheap, bricked housing. Perhaps the people living here are just waiting for their houses to be built? Maybe I'll get to see them on my next visit here.
Although I wasn't there at the time it started, there was a bit of a tribal warfare thing going on across the east coast of South Africa. I found this amusing because on the whole it seems South Africans are usually quite respectful and united in knowing what their relative strengths and weaknesses are. For example when it comes to beaches, Durbanites will say lots of good things about Capetonian sand, while the latter will always cede to the water of the former. People from Johannesburg will never oversell their fair city and always disclaim any visit with a "there's really not much to do here, you know". Oh and everyone seems to have the same opinion about Laudium girls.
So what exactly what this out of the ordinary dispute about? Was it land? Money? Women? No. It was actually something much more important than any of those things: food.
It started with Durban claiming that their Crystal's was superior to anything Johannesburg had to offer. Joburg responded with Akhalwaya's, a bunch of independently run fast food joints linked only by heritage. It was only afterwards that Cape Town entered the fray citing the Gatsby of Wembley as their entry into the contest. Frankly though it just seemed like they just wanted to be part of something that was turning out to be pretty damned big. Poor things.
But this dispute became important enough for us, the objective visitors from abroad, to make a point about leveraging our lack of loyalty to anyone in order to figure out what town did in fact have the best junk food. What follows is my findings, although be aware that my companions may have come to a different conclusion.
Since we started in Durban, first on the block was Crystal's Steak Sandwich. Steak in this context means shredded meat (maybe from an actual steak, I dunno); this was stuffed between two impossibly small slices of white bread along with chips, sausage and what I can only describe as some kind of magical sauce. What resulted was something I had only previously imagined - a deceptively small and neat package of dense goodness, which was paradoxically very light on the stomach and which ended way too soon. That was my only criticism of the sandwich - it was way too small. Perhaps I should have had another, but the price of one was quite prohibitive by Durban standards.
As a bonus Durban also offered us Bunny Chow: a hollowed out half loaf filled with various bean, meat or kebab curries. It was a novelty at best, although it did taste good and I did enjoy the throwback to messy Indian food eating.
Which brings us to Cape Town. To be honest they were never really a contestant; I think they just offered an entry into the competition just so they didn't feel too left out. Their entry was vague and confused too: we were supposed to have something called a Gatsby, but where we were to get one was some cause of contention. After some infighting between the Capetonians we were meant to go to Wembley, then some other place I forget the name of (which had run out of chips of all things). We finally settled on Aneesa's part of a chain of a couple of shops.
Despite the lack of co-ordination with their entry, the Gatsby did actually turn out to be a pretty good shot at the title. Similar in filling to Crystal's, this was less of a compressed affair and more voluminous; the foot long loaf was designed to be shared between four, although due to it displaying the same ability to feel light on the stomach I think I could have managed at least half on my own. Tastewise it lacked a certain oomph that the Crystal's had, but it gained points due to sheer size and party play - the way the eight of us had shared in a couple of Gatsbies that day was in stark contrast to how we each jealously guarded our Crystals.
Finally though, we're in Johannesburg. Things were as complicated here as they were in Cape Town, not least because of the diversity of Akhalwaya's. In fact we only got to eat at a store that others considered not to have been the Real Deal, the Akhalwaya's Express on Mint Road. Frankly though it was real enough for me, with the AK1 sandwich offering at least as much culinary joy as the offerings from the other two cities.
The bonus in Joburg was had during our stint in Laudium, an Indian township around a 30 minute drive away (where I was NOT looking for a wife). Although we had aimed to sample the local Akhalwaya's it turned out to be closed or something and so we picked up yet another steak sandwich variant from Mohideen's instead. Despite out best efforts to pace ourselves (we had a braai on tonight), half a shared sandwich became three quarters and then a whole one each. Now I'm not usually this weak with food, but I did give in in this instance. I crumbled like a cheap hooker soccer punched by her drunk pimp, but the funny thing is that I have no regrets for doing so.
But what you guys really want to know is which place had the best junk food? Well the irony here is that it was completely the wrong strategy to invite strangers from a far off land to judge on such a difficult decision - to be honest I was blown away by all of it, my undeveloped pallet not being able to distinguish between any of them. Still I must admit that I had a fantastic time trying to figure it out. I reckon Crystal's would have taken it if it had been a little bigger, while I've been told that I've not really given Johannesburg a fair go either. I can't call it I'm afraid. Maybe I'll come back here for more research one day.
Am I copping out? Well yeah maybe. The point is that I'm craving it all after writing this and struggling to think of what could ever be an equivalent over here. Thanks a lot South Africa: you've single-handedly managed to ruin the chicken burger for me forever.
The only real loser in this war is me.
Friday, May 7
Meeting so many cool and multi-dimensional people in such a short period of time has made me realise a few things about myself, all of which in turn can be reduced to one single observation: that I seriously lack depth.
First let's start with the opinions I hold. I don't really have much to say about human rights or politics. I don't have big dreams about saving or changing the world for the better. I tend not to care about global injustice with the passion others do. Quite pathetically the single thing I tend to get passionate about is marriage, and even that's less to do with a genuine interest in the subject and more to do with it being something I want for myself. I'm sure even that will fall by the wayside if I ever did get married myself.
But it doesn't really end there. Even with everyday things like entertainment I seem to flounder. I thought I watched an expert-making level of movies, but where my contemporaries can talk about how a certain director manages to communicate a certain message in a certain milestone movie, I'm busy getting excited about the next big Bollywood comedy starring Akshay Kumar. While others are busy dissecting the lyrics of some sub-Saharan muso, I'm asking if anyone has heard the latest Justin Bieber track. Where others watch documentaries about the history of photography, I'm left finding someone, anyone, to talk about Buffy with. And then even when I eventually do find that someone, I'm left wondering if I was ever a big fan of that show compared to how they talk about it.
I don't write poetry. I don't take fancy photos. I don't play any sport, well not more than in passing anyway. Instead I sit in awe of people who can extract so much pleasure and joy in simply talking about making a cup of coffee, and am left wondering where my equivalent passion lies.
But I don't write this about my feeling sorry for myself. The truth is that despite seeing all this amazing depth in other people I don't see it as something I necessarily need to establish in myself. I'm quite secure around people who happen to be deeper than I am; I can kinda get by talking with them (although perhaps not on their level) and have stuff to say and input to make. And when I've left with nothing to contribute I'm more than happy to listen instead. In short, I don't feel like I need to change or address anything and am not about to start a hobby just to have something to talk about.
The reasons why it's an issue is similar to those I outlined when talking about my lack of ambition; that it seems to be a bit of an implicit deal breaker when it comes to meeting someone to marry. It's not that I care if a partner is more deep or cleverer than me, but more a case of me wondering whether I could ever do them justice in the long run, you know during our daily conversations over breakfast and the like. I'd want to be a sufficiently good, and if not the main, source of opinion for whomever I end up with and not someone who isn't able to provide food for thought.
So leaving any disingenuousness aside for a minute, it does ultimately come down to insecurity and ego, and the feeling of whether or not I'll be good enough for my eventual partner. The advice I would always others with the same concerns would be to be honest about who they are and then allow the people they're seeing decide whether or not you happen to be good enough, since almost invariably we tend to judge ourselves harshly.
But then this isn't just about minimum acceptability or tolerance, but more about trying to be everything a single person will ever need. It doesn't matter how nice a person is if you're going to other people for conversation while being married to them.
Thursday, May 6
There was a brief phase in my life when I went to Islamic talks and the like quite regularly. Due to my attendance at what appears to have been a fantastic madrassa growing up, the talks that attracted me tended to be less about practical stuff like scripture, fiqh and history and more about abstract things like how Islam fits in with politics and human rights and all that progressive stuff.
I found them interesting but also ultimately lacking in any kind of sophistication - they weren't really saying anything that wasn't obvious and if they did manage to present anything novel I struggled to see how such a concept would fit into my own daily life. Of course a large part of this reaction was due to the keen sense of cynicism I had been developing during my adult life, but whatever the reason I was losing interest in attending Islamic talks in general. Perhaps arrogantly I find my internal reasoning, some of which I discuss here on this blog, to be much more useful than some rockstar imam (sometimes along with his groupies) spouting what I felt to be blatantly obvious catchphrases and vacuous and rhetorical thought.
I don't see my stance changing much any time soon and so I usually find it easier to pass on talks and stuff when I get invited to them. Tonight however since us travellers were all invited to one hosted by the Muslim Professional Network, I thought it would be both polite, convenient and useful to attend.
Regardless of my own thoughts on this particular talk (I'm sure you can read between the lines) it did make me wonder about why I don't see the same value in them that my contemporaries do. I certainly don't think that I know everything there is to know, but I do trust myself to have enough of an internal basis and balance to know what the right thing to do is, both with respect to scriptural practise and living life as a decent human being. And all this is without knowing much of the complex (and in my view sometimes redundant) Arabic Islamic terminology I hear many others use in describing their own practise and perception of religion. And just to be clear: no, I don't consider myself to be a sufi or someone with sufi like tendencies. That's probably something for another post, but in short I'm way too literal to be able to handle that particular approach.
The real difference I see is that I don't seem to require the definitive and prescribed answers that others need to hear and understand in order to get on with things. This could just be because I don't have the same kind of questions, but as someone who explicitly recognises that there are different paths to God I don't think that there is anything wrong in having a different approach. However I do think that I tend to struggle less with the whole Islam thing than those who choose another, more explicitly "knowledge based" approach, do, and that's something I do see as a huge benefit and am glad to have.
I never thought I'd ever find myself recommending a museum as a must see in any country, but the Apartheid Museum was actually pretty darned good - and after spending two hours in there I actually felt that I didn't have as much time as I would have liked there.
Unlike the other museums I had visited during my stay in South Africa, Apartheid was well laid out, informative and focussed on its chosen subject, and seemed to be clearly aimed at those who like me didn't really know much about South African politics.
Such was the effect of the museum (particularly after seeing the casspir) that I even realised that I didn't really watch stuff like Blood Diamond and District 9 as I should have. I think if I ever got to watch these films again they would all take on a slight different meaning now.
Anyway the museum is definitely one not to miss if you're ever in Johannesburg.
Far be it for me to imply that I have control over something as mystical as the weather, but the fact is that we've apparently been quite lucky with the weather we've been having here in South Africa. Add to that the fact that we've been to three separate cities and the correlation appears less random and more direct.
It usually went something like this: we arrive in bad weather (sometimes rain) and after a couple of hours it turns on its head. I think we hit almost 23-24 in some places, something that shouldn't happen in what the locals consider to be their winter.
Whatever the reason, I'm not complaining. The weather was a big part of why I enjoyed my time in South Africa, even if it meant being made fun of for wearing slippers. But that's something for another post...
Wednesday, May 5
We really should have spent more time than we did in Soweto today. The lack of transport and guides was the main reason for the brevity of our visit, but we did get a small indication of how people lived in the ex-Black township.
We stopped off at one of the larger mosques to offer prayer and talk to a local Muslim convert who was washing cars outside. On our way back to Joburg proper we visited the Chris Hani-Baragwanath Hospital, reportedly the largest hospital in the southern hemisphere and a place where many of my South African Doctor mates had trained. I must admit at grinning at the various sponsored departments which included Johnson and Johnson's Burn Treatment Centre.
Soweto wasn't really the shanty town I was expecting, but it was still an insight to how the majority of South Africa lives. After almost two weeks of living it up I unfortunately found myself quite surprised that such places existed.
You know, there's something special about waking up to a Fajr adhan. It's even more magical when there's a chorus of them from various mosques in the vicinity. But what really gets me is how this is all happening in a non-Muslim country. It's so weird.
And yet there are other examples of this kind of Islamic Integration, jaw dropping to us Brits even though we boast of how at home we are in the UK. We also heard adhans on the beaches of Durban and restaurants all over South Africa not only know what halal means and whether they have the required status or not (it was common for proprietors to explain that although their meat was from a halal source, their kitchens were not), but some even had prayer rooms or jamaat khanas. I mean it's not like I have a problem randomly praying when out and about in London, but this took convenience of practise up to another level.
Of course a lot has been said about bubble and how demographics tend to match geography in South Africa so perhaps I've just been exposed to Muslim friendly areas. But the point is that even if these are services made for Muslims the people and places seem much more comfortable with who they are then people elsewhere. This is quite ironic considering some of the other (self diagnosed) identity issues those in South Africa appear to have.
Tuesday, May 4
The fascinating thing about meeting Asians from South Africa is realising how long they've actually been outside of the continent. These are third, fourth and fifth generation folk, some of whom have never been nor feel any inclination to go back to India unless its as a tourist. In short, this is what Asians might be like in the UK in a century's time.
Still, I was a bit caught off guard when it came to establishing what place Indian culture took in the lives of those I had the pleasure of meeting. Take the more obvious indicators of culture for instance: clothing. Wearing a kameez out and about the streets of South Africa seemed to invoke both curiosity as well as compliments from the locals for being so brave in my staunch indifference of how other people perceive me, while wearing a scarf with my traditional suit at the wedding seemed to be taken by many as a declaration of my homosexuality. And the amount of abuse I got for wearing chappal instead of shoes will scar me for life (for me anything above 18C means leaving my socks at home, thanks).
Language is a funny one too. Now I don't expect my kids to ever learn a language from the sub-continent unless they go to a class or something: my language skills are far too inadequate. So I'm not surprised that a lot of those here couldn't speak the language of their forefathers, but then on the other hand none felt that their mother tongue was anything other than English anyway. And yet amusingly a lot of people seemed to have Indian accents - another after-effect of apartheid apparently and perhaps an argument against propping up the alleged ghettoism in the UK.
Food seemed well established. Curries and the like were still enjoyed by families and provided by restaurants; the fact that I have to haul back three copies of Zuleikha Mayat's Treasury of South African Indian Delights attests to how established Indian cooking is over here.
But what really took me by surprise was the near absolute denial of any kind of Indian heritage by some who I met. They were proudly South African, which as someone who claims to be proudly British I completely understand. But for these individuals, being South African meant having to reject being Indian or even brown, something I just couldn't get my head around. Thinking about it now, I guess their stance is that the things I would describe as being Indian have by now been subsumed into South African tradition, and so there's no need to be redundant in having to mention it twice. But still, I find it strange that they feel no allegiance to the Indian cricket team.
Of course I'm sure the issues of cultural identity is much more complex than how I've presented it above. What is clear is how Islamic culture has seemed to remain much more intact than Indian culture, the former somehow having been protected and kept "special". That's not really surprising given the explicit importance we all place on religion.
But for me all this just goes to show that you can let go of some aspects of culture and still have a strong sense of self and identity. It may even provide answers to questions regarding how difficult it would be to marry someone or raise kids outside what you believe to be your culture, and that the fear of losing roots might be just a little unfounded, especially when, as some here in South Africa show, it's totally possible to create your own.
Not all my experiences in South Africa were brand new. After hanging out at Moya's on the bank of Zoo Lake I headed over to visit an old friend from the UK who had settled here after marriage.
Although I had seen them in the UK since they moved, it was weird hanging out with my friend in their new surroundings. I guess it was the first real experience here that bridged my time here in South Africa to home, something that reminded me that this wasn't all just an awesome dream but reality. It reminded me of all those wishy washy things like growth and development and movement, how the things you take for granted like local friends can change, and that for the better, and how those changes soon become normality for all concerned. I realised that time and distance doesn't necessarily change friendship, and it made me wonder how I could handle leaving London to live in another country.
Oh yeah and the food was pretty good too.
Our residence in Johannesburg was situated in the sub-district of Fordsburg. Again, I'm not quite sure of the local history but it was clear that this was one of the Indian area of Joburg - there were times in passing when I thought I was in Green Street or Southall.
It was here that I heard four simultaneous adhans at Fajr, the place where you'll find a clutch of Indian fusion restaurants and shops selling halal food and roti. Dodgy open faced phone shops are all the rage here and even the Jimmy's Killer Prawns has a place to do whudu and pray.
It was like being in a posh part of Pakistan to be honest.
Around a five minute walk from where we were staying we found Oriental Plaza, the shopping mall where Indians were moved to toward the start of apartheid. Although now it was just a place for Indians to buy stuff off other Indians the history and legacy were both still felt in spades.
And yet for some reason I felt comfortable around here, even though I was told I stuck out like a sore thumb (what with the chappal and all). Unfortunately like the rest of South Africa we were warned not to walk around after dark. Shame.
Monday, May 3
Not being an expert on South African heritage, I'm not exactly sure what the significance of Cape Point is. Looking at a map it's certainly not the most southern point of South Africa, although I think the Cape of Good Hope was where the Dutch landed or something.
That said for some reason the walk around Cape Point was conducive to peacefulness and good conversation. Perhaps it was because it's a Monday, but the place was blissfully quiet, all the way up to the graffiti laden lighthouse right down to the sandy beach where we offered prayer. It was the kind of place you'd come to to either be alone by yourself, or alone with a special someone.
We missed out on the baboons though.
Sunday, May 2
After stopping off for a wonderful miracle the locals here call a Gatsby we were taken to Fire and Ice, a bar situated in the Protea Hotel. Although I had stayed in a couple of boutique hotels back in Japan, the Protea was unlike any of those and I had quite a bit of fun checking out the themed toilets.
But the fun and games literally didn't end there. After ordering our milkshakes (which single handedly proved that not all food in South Africa was actually awesome) we paid a small deposit in order to borrow a board game from reception. Battle of the Sexes was probably a little overkill for this particular crowd, but numbers were balanced and respective genders (a little too) competitive so we did manage to have lots of fun.
It was actually one of those perfectly comfortable moments, the ones when everyone happens to be in the zone laughing and joking around, with barriers down and psychological space being shared. Without a doubt Fire and Ice helped in creating the vibe, but the whole thing started a bit earlier in the evening as we sat and shared a Gatsby together.
These weren't people I had just met over the past few days but old friends who I had somehow known for ages. It's funny how holidays in South Africa have that effect.
When my friends in Durban admitted to Cape Town having better sand in their beaches than they did, I didn't really quite know what to expect. I had already been kinda underwhelmed by the South African beaches I had seen so far, with Brisbane's offerings still fresh in my memory. And during our stay in Cape Town we had already visited Camps Bay; despite factoring in the crummy weather and gale force winds I was even less impressed by my findings here.
Today we took a walk along Lagoon Beach. To be fair my initial impressions were in line with what I had already seen - the beach was dirty and rocky and I almost didn't bother kicking my chappal off. That I actually did turned out to be a pretty good decision.
In terms of quality, I think I'd place the sand on this particular beach second only to Whitehaven on Whitsunday Island. It was super-fine and cool, and having it seep through my toes as we walked through it was, well, lovely. The beach itself loses major points for being dirty and rocky at the start, but in the section after that it was all pretty heavenly.
Apart from the sand, there was a certain magical vibe in the air tonight. It may have just been the weather or the light or simply the company... but suddenly I was very aware of the fact that we would be leaving soon.
Saturday, May 1
Cape Town has some awesome hiking trails, mainly due to Table Mountain dominating the centre of the city. Due to their location, they're pretty accessible too and perfect to fit in a late afternoon. Even though this was meant to be less of a sightseeing trip we had already dossed quite a bit so far and I was feeling a little guilty for neglecting all of my tourist duties. Climbing a mountain or two felt like the perfect chance to compensate.
After Jummah yesterday we tackled Lion's Head. This was a short yet technically challenging (read: fun and satisfying) climb that involved using our hands to scramble up rocks, ladders and chains. We made it to the top for sunset, and managed to get some awesome views of the cloud covered Table Mountain across the way.
Getting back down was a little more difficult: the sun had disappeared leaving us in twilight and none of us really knew where the path we had just come up on was. Luckily we bumped into some friends who were due to meet us at the top; they graciously led us back down to the surface.
Today we decided to tackle Table Mountain itself. Although it's a taller beast than Lion's Head the trail up was far less challenging, consisting of rock steps more than anything more difficult. Still, the views at the top was worth the two hours or so it took to get up. After taking some time to take it all in, we decided to save time and take the cable car back down.
Two brilliant climbs in as many days left me wondering what it would be like to have such an activity in my own back yard. I like to think I would make use of it regularly; it sure beats running around the streets of Outer London for an hour.