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culture

Dumplings served at Chez Fong

A Theatrical Dinner Chez Fong

I recently cracked an invite to dine Chez Fong. Fong, otherwise known as Su-yen, chopping up a storm before the other guests arrive. Fong, aka Su-yen Thornhill, is part South African, part Chinese (via Hong Kong), part chef, part comedian, part yoga guru, and part Energizer Bunny. She runs a restaurant that’s not a restaurant (don’t you dare call it a pop-up), in a dining room attached to her sprawling Houghton home, where she whips up eight courses (maybe ten, if the mood strikes her) of pan-Asian taste bud excitement every Wednesday evening. Some dishes re-occur; others surface once and are never seen again. Spicy soy sauce in progress. Dinner Chez Fong is like a lucky packet of flavors, or a Forest Gump box of (savory) chocolates in which you never know whatchyer gonna get. It’s guaranteed to be delicious though. And you’re firmly guaranteed to laugh a lot. People laughing Chez Fong. Su-yen messaged me on a Tuesday, inviting me to attend her dinner the next night. There wasn’t a seat for me, she said, but I was welcome to come hang out in the kitchen and sample the food as it came out. I accepted without hesitation. People […]

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The Palace at Sun City

Adventures in North West Province: 24 Hours at Sun City

Last month I spent a weekend in Groot Marico, a whacky hippie town in North West Province. Soon after booking the Groot Marico trip, I received an invitation to spend the night at Sun City during the same week. I was really excited. I’d never been to Sun City — which is like a South African Vegas — and had been awaiting an opportunity for years. Since Groot Marico and Sun City are both in North West, I decided to extend my stay in Groot Marico for a day so I could go straight from there to Sun City. If you’ve been to both Groot Marico and Sun City, you’ll appreciate the humor in this arrangement. Groot Marico and Sun City are in the same province but they might as well exist in two different dimensions. “The Palace of the Lost City” at Sun City. I was invited to Sun City to participate in the festivities leading up to the Nedbank Golf Challenge, the biggest pro golf tournament in South Africa. I attended the Nedbank Golf Challenge Welcome Dinner, as well as an event called the Style Affair — a ladies’ morning in which women were invited to lounge around […]

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Inside the Richmond

#Gauteng52, Week 48: The Richmond Studio Café

Welcome to Week 48 of my #Gauteng52 challenge, for which I visit and blog about a new place in Gauteng Province every week for 52 straight weeks. This week I visit the Richmond Studio Café, a new coffeeshop in Richmond. Every now and again I visit a new place in Joburg and get so freaking excited I literally cannot wait to blog about it. Such was the case on Tuesday, when I went to the Richmond Studio Café. Entrance to the Richmond Studio Café. Richmond is a suburb just south of Melville. It’s one of those tiny Jozi suburbs — just a few square blocks — that most Joburgers outside the immediate area probably haven’t heard of. But Richmond has a special caché, despite its modest size. Several national and international news agencies — CNN, Media24, SABC, etc. — are based in or immediately surrounding the suburb, so Richmond has always been a central hangout for the South African media. It has a buzzy, journalisty vibe that I’m fond of. When I first moved to Joburg there was a legendary bar in Richmond called the Bohemian. But the Bohemian closed and moved to Westdene in 2012. Richmond used to have a […]

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Groot Marico Visitors Centre

Adventures in North West Province: Whacky Groot Marico

A few weeks ago I spent a weekend in Groot Marico, on a writing retreat with three friends. Welkom (Welcome) to Groot Marico. Groot Marico, a funky town in North West Province, is best known for its association with Herman Charles Bosman. Bosman was an acclaimed South African author who lived in Groot Marico in the 1920s and wrote a few collections of short stories based on the town. A bust of Herman Charles Bosman at the Groot Marico Visitors’ Centre. I fully intended to read some Bosman short stories before writing this post. But alas, it hasn’t happened. Bosman, who was like the Edgar Allen Poe of South Africa, is all over Groot Marico. Everyone waxes lyrical about him and there was even a Bosman literary festival in Groot Marico the week before we were there. Yet I recently learned Bosman only lived in Groot Marico for a few months, when he worked as a village teacher there for one semester in 1926. Bosman’s time as a teacher in Groot Marico was cut short because he went home to Joburg for winter break and murdered his stepbrother. So instead of going back to Groot Marico, he went to Pretoria […]

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Colorful handbags at Via La Moda

#Gauteng52, Week 47: Joburg’s Best Handbags (and there’s a sale)

Welcome to Week 47 of my #Gauteng52 challenge, for which I visit and blog about a new place in Gauteng Province every week for 52 straight weeks. This week I visit Via La Moda, a workshop producing luxury handbags and other leather goods in Industria. I can’t believe I named this post “Joburg’s Best Handbags” because in America we call them purses, not handbags. But during my years in South Africa I’ve gradually adopted “handbag” over “purse” (much in the same way I’ve adopted “petrol” over “gas”), because it just sounds cooler and more sophisticated. And when it comes to handbags, no one is cooler or more sophisticated than Via La Moda. Finely crafted handbags (not purses), made of ostrich leather and python skin, await completion in the Via La Moda workshop. Before I get into this, I should mention Via La Moda is holding its big annual sale next week, from 30 November to 2 December. (Not on Black Friday, thank goodness. Black Friday is the devil.) I’m not a big shopper and usually don’t care about sales but I think this one is worth mentioning. These bags are exquisite and not cheap (like, really not cheap at all). If […]

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Hannah, a moving to Joburg expert, in Breezeblock

Moving to Joburg? Hannah Can Help.

Are you moving to Joburg? Or have you already moved to Joburg and need some help adjusting? If so, meet Hannah of Translating Me. Hannah Pirnie, the bad-ass founder of Translating Me, at Breezeblock. I hope she doesn’t mind me calling her bad-ass but that’s what she is. Hannah and I share many things in common: We’re both foreigners living in South Africa. We both have blogs. We both love Joburg. We’re both on a mission to help other people love Joburg as much as we do. We both have names beginning with H. We’re both bad-ass. Basically Hannah and I are like the same person, only Hannah is way more organized than me and does a lot more stuff. Also she has three small children and two of them are twins. I’m digressing. The point of this post is to tell you about the services Hannah provides — helping people moving to Joburg (or actually to anywhere in South Africa) with all of the practical, logistical, and emotional aspects of relocating and adjusting to life in this crazy place. People often ask what I found most difficult about moving to South Africa. My answer is always the same: the bureaucracy. […]

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Olatunji Sanusi, artist at August House

#Gauteng52, Week 46: Open Studios at August House

Welcome to Week 46 of my #Gauteng52 challenge, for which I visit and blog about a new place in Gauteng Province every week for 52 straight weeks. This week I visit August House, a collection of artists’ studios and residences in downtown Johannesburg. August House is a building full of artists. I went last Sunday during one of the Open Studio events the building holds a few times a year. I ran into an artist friend who has a studio there (it seems nearly every artist I know either lives in August House, has studio space in August House, and/or is affiliated with August House in some way) and he was shocked when I told him it was my first time visiting. I now realize why. August House, a 1940s-era Art Deco building on End Street. The building housed light industry before it became an artists’ residence. Although I had never heard of August House until a year or two ago, the building has been an icon of the Joburg art world since artists began living and working there in 2006. There’s been lots of intrigue surrounding the building since then, with rumors of it being sold to property developers for low-cost […]

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Chapel at Jesuit Institute South Africa

#Gauteng52, Week 45: The Jesuits of Auckland Park

Welcome to Week 45 of my #Gauteng52 challenge, for which I visit and blog about a new place in Gauteng Province every week for 52 straight weeks. This week I visit the Jesuit Institute in Auckland Park. Sitting atop a ridge in Auckland Park is a stately, century-old house occupied by a group of Jesuits. Who knew? I certainly didn’t, but Marie-Lais did. In fact, as #Gauteng52 draws to a close (only seven weeks left!) I need to give Marie-Lais Emond a shout-out. Her encyclopedic knowledge of secret Jozi places has made this series much more interesting than it would have been without her. If you’re not reading Marie-Lais’ weekly “Other Side of the City” column in the Saturday Citizen newspaper, which features my photos, now is a good time to start. (The column doesn’t appear online, unfortunately, so to see it you have to buy the actual paper or follow Marie-Lais on Facebook.) Anyway, Marie-Lais knew about the Jesuit Institute South Africa and the two of us went there to meet Father Russell Pollitt. One of several buildings that comprise the Jesuit Institute South Africa. The institute’s gardens are really spectacular. The Jesuit Institute residence, built as a private home by […]

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Smokey kissing beaded Smokey

From the Melville Cat: I’m a Work of Art

From the Melville Cat: Heather enjoys animal-inspired art. She has a beaded giraffe, for example, as well as a clay porcupine. But until recently she did not have any art inspired by the most important animal in her life: me. I’ve been dropping hints about this omission for years — by sleeping on Heather’s art books and refusing to admire the beaded giraffe despite multiple prompts. Apparently my hints finally worked. Last week Heather came home with this: My beaded likeness. I’ve named him Melville Cat Deux. I didn’t think much of my beaded likeness at first. After all these years of waiting, I suppose I’d lost interest in the idea. Also his front legs are a bit short. Ho hum. But then I took a closer look at Melville Cat Deux and realized his resemblance to me is quite remarkable. We have a similar posture. A man named Shepherd made Melville Cat Deux. Shepherd makes a living creating beaded animals on Melville’s 7th Street. He has sold Heather several beaded animals in the past. Shepherd with Melville Cat Deux. Shepherd has been making beaded animals in Melville for many years — longer than Heather can remember — but he […]

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Church in Cullinan

#Gauteng52, Week 44: 9 Things to Do in Quirky Cullinan

Welcome to Week 44 of my #Gauteng52 challenge, for which I visit and blog about a new place in Gauteng Province every week for 52 straight weeks. This week I visit Cullinan, a historic diamond-mining town northeast of Pretoria. Cullinan is a classic day trip destination. It’s a quaint little town about an hour-and-a-half from Joburg (significantly less from Pretoria) with just about enough to see and do in a day — maybe two days for hardcore history buffs. Marie-Lais and I were there from about 10:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and experienced quite a lot. Train tracks in Cullinan. Diamonds are Cullinan’s claim to fame: Sir Thomas Cullinan discovered diamonds there in 1898 and later founded the Premier Diamond Mine. In 1905, Frederick George Stanley Wells found the 3100-carat Cullinan Diamond, the largest diamond in the world. The Cullinan Diamond went on to become part of the British Crown Jewels. I’m not particularly interested in diamonds, nor is Marie-Lais. So we didn’t do the diamond mine tour, which I think is the main thing most tourists go to Cullinan for. I was, however, interested to learn that the diamond mines in Cullinan are still active and all the land in the […]

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donuts at Kramerville Bakery

A Secret Bakery in Kramerville

UPDATE (February 2018): The bad news is, Kramerville Bakery has closed (sad face). The good news is, Eloise and Alex are opening a new restaurant in Illovo, scheduled to open next month. Follow their Facebook page for more information. The Kramerville Bakery is hard to explain. As is Kramerville itself. Despite the small-town-sounding name, Kramerville is a street full of furniture showrooms and interior design warehouses in an industrial area just off the M1 highway north of Sandton. A few years ago, a ragtag bunch of restaurants, coffeeshops, and bars started popping up amongst the showrooms and warehouses. These food and drink venues are usually hidden above, behind, or inside the showrooms and warehouses, and hence accessible only to people in the know. The Kramerville Bakery is the newest of these secret venues. The entrance to the Kramerville Bakery. Note the stacks of plumbing pipe outside the door. To find the Kramerville Bakery you must drive to the end of Desmond Street (Kramerville’s main drag), make a right onto Archimedes Street, then turn right into an unmarked parking lot and drive to the end. There you will find a plumbing supply warehouse, no sign of a bakery. Park your car, walk […]

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Fortiscue Help of African Flavour Books

#Gauteng52, Week 43: African Flavour Books

Welcome to Week 43 of my #Gauteng52 challenge, for which I visit and blog about a new place in Gauteng Province every week for 52 straight weeks. This week I visit African Flavour Books, with locations in Vanderbijlpark and Braamfontein. Word of new local bookstores travels fast in Johannesburg. I started hearing about African Flavour Books, which sells primarily African literature with a hint of African-American mixed in, the moment they opened their shop in Braamfontein. I visited the new Braamfontein shop for the first time a couple of weeks ago and scored a copy of Lauren Beukes’ Moxyland for the rock-bottom sale price of R80. (That’s about $5.75 for a brand-new paperback!) The shop is bright and cheerful, with a fantastic selection of books and an adorable section for kids to sit and read. I fell in love instantly. The new African Flavour shop in Braamfontein, right across from the Once in Joburg Hotel. Books. More books. Cute kids reading books. You get the idea. The Story of African Flavour Books As I was making my purchase I fell into conversation with Fortiscue (aka Fort) Helepi, the owner, and learned that while the Braamfontein shop just opened, African Flavour itself is […]

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