Last night I found myself in the back of a taxi — a legit South African minibus, minus the filth and missing floor panels. The taxi driver’s name was Shadrack. I nodded to the rap tunes blasting from the sound system beneath my feet as we hurtled out of Joburg and toward the Cradle of Humankind. It was dark. I couldn’t make out the faces of the seven other taxi passengers, which didn’t really matter because I’d never met any of them before (except one, who I’d met once several months ago). I didn’t even know anyone’s name yet. It was difficult to talk above the sound of the stereo. I wasn’t worried though. We would get to know each other soon enough. Shadrack’s taxi was transporting us on a journey back in time.
The top floor of the Carlton Centre, officially named the Top of Africa, is one of the most underrated attractions in this highly underrated city. Sure, the observation deck is run-down and the windows are smudged. (In fact, smudged is an understatement. Try filthy.) Sure, this part of downtown is a little sketchy. But this is the tallest building in Africa. It costs R15 (about $2) to take the elevator to the top. The view is phenomenal, unlike any other on this continent. It’s like looking over the edge of the world. Pardon the smudgy sky — not even the magical PhotoShop spot-healing brush can heal this many window smudges.
My friend Michelle was in town today on a nine-hour layover, and I took her on a whirlwind sight-seeing tour of Joburg. On our way to the Neighbourgoods Market in Braamfontein we came across a Volkswagen Beetle parked on Juta Street. The car was covered in vintage clothes. Lungi’s mobile vintage shop. The car belongs to a young woman named Lungi, and her husband, Allah. Lungi (who seems to be the main spokesperson for the business) said they wanted to open a stall inside the market but the costs are too high. So they decided to set up shop on the street.
Johannesburg is filled with contrasts, contradictions, and colliding worlds. East and west. Rags and riches. Black and white. Life and death. The area around Diagonal Street, a busy commercial district in the Joburg city centre, is a good illustration of worlds colliding. Stand in the middle of Diagonal Street and look up, and you’ll see this: The famous “diamond building” at 11 Diagonal Street. Look down, or rather straight ahead, and you’ll see this: In fancy Joburg neighborhoods, you often see signs that say “No Hawkers”. On Diagonal Street, hawkers get a discount.
Yesterday I joined the Joburg Photowalkers on an architectural tour of two towns on the outskirts of Johannesburg: Benoni and Springs. Benoni and Springs — east of Joburg in an area called ‘the East Rand’ — are to Joburg what Frederick and Manassas are to Washington D.C., or what Hackensack is to New York City. They are small towns outside of big towns — places where people tend to live out of necessity, convenience, or habit, rather than for the culture or nightlife. In America we call these towns the outer suburbs, or more simply, the ‘burbs. Due to the influx of gold-mining money in the East Rand during the 1930s, Benoni and Springs boast an unusually large number of art-deco-style buildings. Art deco was the main focus of this tour, and the buildings we visited were beautiful and interesting. But I was just as interested in the glimpses I got of what life is like in small-town South Africa.
Last April I posted about a weekend trip to Magaliesburg, a small town about an hour from Joburg that is frequented by hoards of motorcyclists on Sunday mornings. In that post I wrote: I was looking forward to hanging with with hundreds of tattooed, leather-clad guys on Harleys. What a great blog post that would have been! Little did I know that less than a year later, I myself would be a tattooed, leather-clad motorcyclist rolling from Jozi to Magaliesburg on a Sunday morning. Well, sort of. The only leather items I had on were my hiking boots. Close enough. (Photo: André Harmse)
I know I said I was going to look forward, not back, from now on. But I lied. There is one more day in 2011 that I want to write about. Two and a half weeks ago I spent an afternoon in Chinatown with the blog girls — Martina, Karen, and Namrata. It was my first visit to Joburg’s ‘new’ Chinatown, which is in a suburb called Cyrildene. (‘New’ Chinatown in Cyrildene is not to be confused with ‘old’ Chinatown in the Joburg city centre. You may remember that I visited the old Chinatown a few months ago.) My friends took me to Chinatown because I needed some cheering up, and I was also in dire need of a haircut. Karen knows a ridiculously cheap hair salon in Chinatown, and a Chinatown haircut is a great excuse to gorge on cheap, delicious Chinatown food.
I’ve been blogging for quite a while now. I admit it gets tiresome at times. A year ago, I would rush home after doing pretty much anything and blog about it immediately. But 170 posts later, that blogging thrill doesn’t come as easily as it used to. It takes something special to get me excited to blog. Something like Wednesday night. Nelson Mandela Bridge at night, shot from the Queen Elizabeth Bridge.
My apologies for the recent dearth of 2Summers reading material. I’ve neglected my online personality of late — real life has interfered. I’m trying to get back on the blogging wagon. ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ I’ve been meaning to write a post about Sophiatown for months. It’s a Jozi suburb just a mile or two from Melville. Sophiatown appears mundane — like any other middle class neighborhood. But beneath the surface it’s an extraordinary place. A typical Sophiatown house, although atypical in that it has no fence or wall around it. A fence-less, un-walled house is a highly unusual sight in Joburg. Last weekend I took a stroll around Sophiatown courtesy of Past Experiences, a local company that specializes in Jozi walking tours, and the Sophiatown Cultural and Heritage Centre.
When I was eight years old, my dad took me to see the movie Gandhi. I suppose Dad thought it would be an educational experience. Unfortunately I don’t remember anything about the movie except that it was long (there was an intermission!), Gandhi always seemed to be dying, and the bloody riot scenes made me cry. Before I moved to Joburg, I didn’t know that Gandhi once lived in South Africa. In fact, he lived here for 20 years. Gandhi’s passive resistance movement wasn’t born in India, but across the ocean in South Africa.
Part 1 of a 3-part series. Read Part 2 here and Part 3 here. It’s time to tell you what I was doing in the Western Cape last week, besides bumming around Bo-Kaap. The real purpose of my trip was to visit the Cederberg Wilderness, 240 kilometers northwest of Cape Town, and participate in a hiking adventure called the Cederberg Heritage Route. The Cederberg Wilderness.
I recently visited Alexandra Township for the first time since moving to Joburg, to attend a kids’ baseball tournament. At the end of my post about the tournament, I said I was looking forward to spending more time in Alex in the near future. Turns out my next visit was nearer than I thought — two days later I received an invitation to attend a tour of Alex, sponsored by Joburg Tourism and the Alex Tourism Route-Open Africa Cooperative (ATROAC). Alex needs more love. It’s just as interesting historically as Soweto, where 99% of tourists go when they want to visit a Joburg township. Alex has its own Gautrain station (Marlboro) and is across the road from Sandton, where most of Joburg’s visitors and business travelers stay. But Alex hasn’t been discovered by the big tour companies yet. Go now, before that changes. Alex in the foreground. Sandton in the background. [Joe deserves special credit for editing this photo. It didn’t look half this good when I shot it.] Our day in Alex began at the AlexSan Kapano Community Centre, recently renamed the Alexandra Resources Centre. We checked out the brightly colored library and business centre, then boarded a bus for a three-hour tour, led by […]