12 December 2008

navigating around

After years of resistance - and living in countries where I either knew my way around or where the road system was transitory, to say the least - I have finally succumbed to using a GPS navigator for the car (a "Navi" in German). It has made me aware of and transformed my hesitancy of getting around in South Africa, and made me more adventurous about using back roads in New Zealand.

Ever since we talked about going to Johannesburg we have been getting aghast looks and dire warnings about the danger of being out on the road in the murder capital of the World. Advice has ranged from keeping all doors locked and never going out after dark, to keeping a car length space at traffic lights so that in the case of a car jacking attempt it is possible to swerve past the car in front. It has made me hesitant to drive on my own. To be fair, the first few weeks in the crazy traffic of Dubai were pretty nerve-wracking, but there the issue was confined to being accidentalyy in on purpose being rammed by a speeding Landcruiser, not robbed and murdered on the open road, as people have been predicting.

All this has changed now that I have the dulcet tones of Sally the navigator telling me to "in 200 metres turn left" and "recalculating" when I miss a junction. She is amazingly easy to program and even lets me download my routes to my Mac when I return so I always knew where I went. The fear of getting lost is gone now so I know whatever else happens I will aways find my way home.

09 December 2008

And you think the Belgiums have it hard...

This is only a selection of the 11 official and 9 unofficial languages
of South Africa:

Rabbits or reindeer

These are on sale in the Christmas section as Santa Claus on his sled
drawn by reindeer. I fear we are being sold Easter leftovers. Or
tradition is wrong and the sled is really drawn by hares. What do you
think, scam or misunderstanding?

05 December 2008

The Essentials

I guess I have found my local supermarket. It's essential, obviously, once we get over eating out, but often surprisingly hard to find. While there are plenty of multinational chains (Carrefour in Dubai, Spar in Johannesburg) it sometimes takes a few attempts to find the place with the right food at the right price. Surprisingly here it turns out to be Woolworth. They may be going bust in the UK, but here they are the local equivalent of Marks and Sparks fool hall. So far the other places I have tried are either too far to walk or have a crummy fruit selection. How is it that a country with almost permanent summer can't produce nice peaches or decent banana?. I blame it on the global food crisis. Anyway, Woolworth it is for now.

30 November 2008

Re-cap: Stockholm

Travelling in the last weeks has been a bit ridiculous, what with going back to Joburg and then spending less than a week in Stockholm before going back for 6 days to Joburg and then - today - returning to Kiwi-land for the New Year holiday.

But I didn't want to miss out on posting some of the things that struck me in Stockholm:

First of all I have realised that Arlanda Airport is a place of many entertainments. Not only did Stuart find a book dispenser last time he passed through, I also discovered my favourite word in Swedish:


And while we are at Arlanda, the ticket machine makes the most laughable plops when buttons are pressed (which I can't post as his blog doesn't allow posting of sound files, so you will have to just try it for yourself when you go there, or ask me and I will send you the clip - it would make a great text message tone for your phone).

on being European

People on first meeting often ask where I am from. A difficult question to answer, or rather a complex answer is required. "Where are you from?" rather than "What nationality are you?" or "Where were you born?" or "Where do you live?" implies a sense of belonging to one location not the current one and maybe even being homesick, i.e. having a home one longs to go back to. I usually don't feel that I have such a home. So the answer usually runs along the lines of: born in Germany, lived in the UK for twenty-odd years, most recently living in x, part of my itinerant life as a corporate wife. Not a short answer by any means.

But the more I travel and live in assorted countries the more I realize where my heritage (although definitely not my home - that is a whole other blog post) is. There is nothing more comfortable to me than walking down some old cobbled street in Stockholm or enter a museum in Paris, find a cafe in Edinburgh or book a hotel room in Amsterdam. I haven't spent any significant amount of time in any of those cities, never lived in those countries, but it still feels easier than locating an rating place in Dubai or a shop in Joburg. Europe is my history, my point of reference, my yardstick however much I think of myself as a World citizen. Really I am just a European.

12 November 2008

What I'll miss - part 2

Caramel milkshakes at Fidel's, hanging out with Stuart after work and Leo any other time.

My new toy

I photograph a lot. I also draw sometimes in my diary where I also keep pictures, clippings and interesting bits of paper. So far I have not found a good way to combine the photography into my diary. Digital helps, since I can print out photos myself instead of waiting to get print back from the shop (how quaint that seems now). But usually I forget or don't get round to printing photos for ages, and them I can't find the glue, and the writing in my diary has moved on... Anyway, a minor pain, but annoying to my completionist creative tendencies. A few weeks ago I remembered that you can find anything on Google. Now I am the proud owner of a Polaroid Pogo. It's a tiny battery powered printer that makes 3x5 inch sticky photos without the need for ink cartridges. How cool is that! My life is minimally better now. Is that sad?

05 November 2008

Stuart's travel finds

I know he is not going to get around to posting these anytime soon, so here are some of my favourite photos he has sent me to keep my up to date with the weirdness of the World:


Great idea: Buy a book from a dispenser at Arlanda airport in Stockholm


Swedish environmentalism. It can be as simple as an empty bottle


"Wan kea": a whole new swear word is needed for this "bullshit off an ass hole"


Budapest - the sticker on the back says: It beats walking

30 October 2008

What I'll miss.

Ice cream on the waterfront at Kaffee Eis. When Stuart worked at NZX we would meet there for an afternoon break. There is nowhere that has better ice cream or more interesting flavours: chai, ferrero rocher, passion fruit! I just wish they had more reliable opening times.

26 October 2008

Advertising the family

This is not really my style of music, but I have to say that I am pretty impressed with the effort my nephew has made. He is the drummer, and filmed and edited the film with his friends. Another film maker in the family.

25 October 2008

Rip off much?

Now that I finally managed to crack the net lock on my iPhone, allowing me to use it with any SIM card, I am starting to look at data plans here in New Zealand. .

The iPhone really is deprived of most of its functionality if there is no access to non-wifi data, i.e. 3G. It was pretty straightforward in South Africa, where I had a pay-as-you-go card and just converted some of my minutes to data as needed.

Returning to New Zealand I spent an hour perusing the confusing range of plans on the Vodaphone website - YouChoose, Base, Starter, iPhone - until I thought I knew what I wanted. 200MB for $40 seemed ok, and there was no minimum contract, which was important since I am leaving in January. So I call them and change the plan, all well and good. It's when I call tech support to get the access details to allow the phone onto the 3G network that I find out that iPhone data is not the same as normal data. Apparently I can't just use the normal data plan, I need an iPhone specific one. Whatever. But this one has a 24 months minimum running time, so I would have to pay to get out of it. So basically if you have a phone that can really use the data you pay for, you need to commit yourself for two years.
I declined that offer, stuck with my vanilla data plan and so far I have had normal operations. So much for those sales tactics.

24 October 2008

In Conclusion

I've now been back in Wellington for two days and slowly waking up from my zombified jetlag state, I notice that there has not been a bit of blue sky since my return. So, to cheer me up - and for the rest of you stuck in cold climes, here is a slideshow of all my best South Africa photos so far.


Created with Admarket's flickrSLiDR.

18 October 2008

what people say

Isn't it?! = Really? You don't say?
Shooo (sure) = ok
Jaaaah = yes
Yebo = totally

Mobile Blogging from here.

Blast from the Past: Dubai construction workers

Once I wanted to make a film about a day in the life of a labourer in Dubai. All around us where we lived on Sheikh Zayed Rd were new construction sites and every morning, lunch time and evening we saw endless groups of blue/green/orange-clad young men either appearing from dusty buses or waiting to board them to go back to wherever they spent their nights. It turned out to be impossibly difficult to make contact, find willing subjects or gain access to the sites and hostels where they live. Most documentaries I saw about Dubai mentioned the poor working and living conditions of imported labour on construction in the UAE, but even the BBC didn't seem to be able to get access to show real live footage.

Now a Guardian reporter seems to have been able to do the impossible, and report on it without condescension or hand-wringing: http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2008/oct/08/middleeast.construction

It makes me feel better that this injustice is finally being made visible.


It's been a dry dry winter here according to those who have been here longer than I have, so everyone was very happy about the downpour we had last night. There as thunder and most impressive lightning (which I still don't know how to photograph, so you have to imagine great streaks of light across a purple sky with loud bangs of thunder following 330m/s later). We hoped that the rain would wash away some of the dust that has accumulated on the steps and the balcony, but this morning there was no sign of it having rained at all. No puddles, no mud, no washed concrete. I guess it's too hot, the rain just evaporates.

Melrose Arch Long Long Table


Last night, after two days of constructing stages and stetting tables outside, rigging lights and sound and removing cars from the road, the Long Long Table event took place here. It's a charity dinner for the Starfish foundation which looks after HIV/AIDS orphans, of whom there are far too many in this country. There were fire jugglers and stilt walkers and by all accounts everyone was thoroughly entertained and well fed.


You can see more photos of the event here.

13 October 2008

Shopping in foreign climes

It seems so simple. Go food shopping for two people who eat out a lot: some juice, crisps, some cheese and crackers, fruit, milk and teabags. A doddle. But. You have no transport. And not only don't you know where the nearest supermarket is, but you don't know what it's called, and when you find out the names of the shops you don't know where you get the freshest fruit and what teabags are strong enough and if it's ok to take the trolley out of the shop with you. And then you try to find your way back to the car park in an unfamiliar shopping mall that somehow reminds you of Dubai with the glitzy shops and the designer clothes, but despite checking the map constantly - I can't believe I need a map to get around the shops - you still walk past the same carpet shop three time. And I haven't even started on trying to figure out a currency that has multiple versions of each coin...
I can't wait till I get round to working out how to buy my (pre-paid) electricity and get the broadband set up. I'll let you know how that works out.
Mobile Blogging from here.

Am I Back In Dubai?

12 October 2008

Soweto Architecture

Diepkloof House

One of the posher parts of Soweto, Diepkloof has schools and quiet streets.

New building

The former men's and women's hostels are being replaced with family accommodation by the municipality.

flats in Pimville

These flats near Freedom Square in Pimville are part of the renovation of Soweto.

Soweto stadium

The renovation work for the 2010 World Cup is coming along. Johannesburg is getting 6 stadiums, two of which are in Soweto.

Soweto and gold mine slag heap

Some people still live without electricity or running water in the shadow of ginormous slag heaps left by the gold mines.

You can see more Soweto photos here.

11 October 2008

Maropeng and the Sterkfontein Caves

Our weekend trip took us to the Cradle of Humanity. I'll let Stuart tell you all about it in his blog:

10 October 2008

Three Soweto Entrepreneurs

All throughout my youth I had heard of Soweto, the South Western Township on the outskirts of Johannesburg, hotbed of ANC activity and location of frequent uprisings and clashes with the Apartheid regime. So I was pretty excited to finally be going to see it. I had heard all sorts of descriptions and been given advice, from the "you can't go on your own, you'll get mugged" to "why do you want to go, it's just a slum" to "you'll love it, it's such a hip and happening place". So thoroughly confused, I took a drive there with George, the father of a friend of a colleague of Stuart's. George is my first entrepreneur. He is 70 and retired from a job at a bank. He took a course with the Tourism Authority and now drives tourists through his home suburb. Apart from his in-depth knowledge of the area, having lived there since the 70's he also has some interesting stories about life under Apartheid and some pretty definite political views: "I don't give a man food, I give him the means to get his own food." I met my second entrepreneur (or rather both of them) as we were driving through Pimville, a small part of Southern Soweto. As we were driving along, I saw a large red elephant by the side of the road. It turns out that Lebo and Isaac had collected steel reinforcing rods, wire and red onion bags and were building a life-sized elephant. They had based it on a photo found in a magazine and drawn designs based on this to decide where the steel rods should go to form the base of the elephant. After covering the frame with onion sacks there were going to smooth it with cement to make a realistic-looking animal. These were then for sale. Pretty cool. If you want to buy one for your garden let me know and I'll give you their mobile number. I met my third entrepreneur at lunch. A cousin of George's (who seems to know everyone in the neighbourhood) Robby runs a B&B/restaurant/marketing firm. He co-ordinates with the large car companies such as Mercedes, Audi and Lexus to showcase their new models to potential buyers in Soweto. Despite it's large and increasingly well-off population and the building of many shopping malls in the last decade, Soweto still misses out on car showrooms. So Robby fills that gap by putting on a party and drawing in the customers.

09 October 2008

The Constitutional Court

This court has been deciding such important human rights issues as the right of gay people to marry and adopt children; the duty of the government to provide pregnant mothers with retroviral drugs to prevent infection of their babies at birth; abolition of the death penalty... South Africa has the most modern constitution in the World, forbidding discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation and disability, for example.

constitutional court

All the justices of the first court inscribed their names into the concrete of the new building.

constitutional court

Nelson Mandela said this about a democratic and free society at the Rivonia treason trial:

"It is an ideal which I hope to live for and achieve. But if need be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die."


He then proceeded to spend 27 years in prison. The days of his and other political prisoners' incarceration are marked on these slabs.


Each of the articles of the constitution is carved into the front door of the court, in all the official languages of South Africa, as well as Braille and sign language.

More pictures from Constitution Hill

The Awaiting Trial Block - 2

One of the remaining staircases from the Awaiting Trial Block

Women's Prison - 02
This is the layout of the sheds built to deal with overcrowding at the women's prison. 4-6 non-White women would spend up to 23 hours a day in a cell built for 2. Women's Prison - 04

The inside of the women's prison. Prisoners were not allowed to cross the central space.

Number Four Prison - 05

Crockery was shared and cleaned once a month

Number Four Prison - 08

The isolation cells at Number 4, the non-White men's prison

Local humour...

It's an article about White wine titled "White Supermacy". Pretty close to the bone when found in the cafe inside the old prison.

Mapping memory

One of the projects helping to visualise the reality of the apartheid prison was to run workshops with returning prisoners to elicit their memories and capture the past. Everyday objects became meaningful when viewed through the decriptions of the ex-prisoners. This woman talked about the difficulty of opening cans brought in by visitors.
Another spoke of being arrested because she forgot her passbook on the way to buying fish in the market.

Constitution Hill

The complex housing the South African Constitutional Court is set next to and around the old prison, an architectural and political stroke of genius. Part of the site is the Old Fort, where White male prisoners were held, the women's prison for White and non-White female prisoners as well as Number 4, the prison for non-White male prisoners. A lot of effort was made to keep political prisoners apart from 'common criminals', non-Whites from White inmates, men from women, in case they realised that there really wasn't all that much difference between them. The whole complex is quite depressing with the tiny cells and sorry conditions prisoners were subjected to. Male prisoners crowded up to 70 in large rooms designed to sleep 30, sharing two toilets. Women shared tiny shacks between 4 or 6 when they were designed for two. Bedding allowances were different for White and Black prisoners, and they were fed different quality of food.

Many Blacks were arrested for violating the pass laws, which required them to carry a registration book stating their entitlement to be in a certain area at a certain time, to carry out certain jobs and to live in specified areas. Between the 1940's and the 80's more than half of all non-White prisoners were pass offenders, or as one of the displays (under)stated: "Without meaning to, it was quite easy to break the law if you were Black".
A passbook
The only building that was completely knocked down to make way for the new court was the so-called Awaiting Trial Block, which once housed famous prisoners such as Nelson Mandela and Mahathma Ghandi. All that is left is a marked outline on the floor and the four staircases reaching up to the blue sky. One of those has been cleverly incorporated into the back of the court chamber, and the bricks gave been recycled to form the wall of the court and the Great African Steps. The design of the court is based on the traditional African concept of justice under a tree, where the chief would receive complaints and discuss matters of state I'm the village square on the shade of a tree. From the lamps to the carpet pattern to the shape of the windows this design is carried through.

Mobile Blogging from here.

08 October 2008

Our new place

Looked at two flats today and true to form (Dubai we looked at three before choosing the one we loved to live in for 2.5 years, in Ipswich we looked at two before buying the second flat we viewed, ok, so Wellington was a little harder, I ran around for a good two weeks) we have decided to move into the second place we looked at. Stuart's employer is keen to find something for us, as the hotel, while fabulous, is excruciatingly dear. So here are a few photos from our quick look round: The living space. Behind the location is a large glass table for dining, which goes into the kitchen. Behind the sofa on the left is the main bedroom and bath, where we will install a screen to separate the bedroom from the living room. Master bedroom. The bathroom is on the left. Biiig bath. Stuart happy. Ergo, Fiver happy. The pool. Maybe finally I can learn to swim proper lengths. The block is two minutes walk from Stuart's work, so he is very keen on it. It's located here:
View Larger Map

07 October 2008

Cool chairs

All over the hotel there are weird places to sit, apart from the 'feet in the pool' cafe I mentioned the other day. Not all are comfortable, but the black lounged built into the stairway is brill. You have to be sociable to sit there, though, as everyone stops to ask how it feels.

Nelson, larger than life

Our first trip to a shopping mall last night, and who should be there but old Madiba himself. The square of course is called Nelson Mandela Square, what else. Just as well we went to buy some books on South African history

05 October 2008

Watching wild animals

For the last couple of years my birthday has been sadly neglected, but this year I followed Stuart to South Africa and he decided to treat me to a special trip: a weekend in a fancy game lodge looking at elephants and lions. As it turned out there were loads more animals to see than we expected, more on that later. From the private deck with views across the valley to the mosquito-netted bed to the massive bathtub decorated with flowers and candles, the lodge was out of this world. It’s a small place, only five huts grouped around a communal space where all the eating and meeting takes place, although it also has a pool and a little remote deck where you can watch the waterhole and see if anything comes to drink. The people wo run the place were incredibly friendly and helpful, arranging a private dinner for us on the first night inclusive of a massive pink birthday cake that we couldn’t do justice to, and a bottle of champagne. We got up every morning early (easily done when one is jet-lagged) to be taken on a game drive. The lodge owns an over-sized Landcruiser customised to allow everyone to see and stay out of the sun. There was much ribbing when the driver found out that we are Landrover fans, unfortunately the Landcruiser never got stuck so we had no opportunity to gloat. We also went out in the evening a few times, to watch the sunset on the veld (what they call the bush here). We saw an amazing range of animals, more than we thought possible: elephants, white rhino mothers and their calves, a lion, a leopard and a cheetah, giraffes, warthogs, wildebeest, various kinds of antelope (one of them dead, having been killed by the cheetah), zebras, baboons, and hippos (although of latter we mostly saw their ears, as they stay underwater to keep cool during the day). It was just incredible to see all these creatures so casually living their existence right next to us, mostly ignoring us as we pointed our binoculars at them. The giraffe was more concerned with keeping an eye on the cheetah stalking it, and the zebra with feeding its foal to be bothered by us. More photos on my flickrstream:

04 October 2008

Before and after

My birthday was quite the success: I managed to scored lots of DVDs as well as some balloons and chocolates. Oh, and then there was the trip to the game lodge. More on that later.

02 October 2008

Motorway services construction sign

The toilet sign is unrelated, but I couldn't resist. They are actually building a whole new services, in the meantime shops and toilets are housed in containers.

Wet feet with your coffee

The pool at the Melrose Arch hotel has extended beyond the standard swimming usage. This afternoon I am the only person here, I am told it is too windy. Oh, and there are clouds, too. Compared to windy Wellington this is the perfect climate.

Recycled flowers

All over the hotel we find these coke can flowers, pretty.

Leaving Sydney

Limbo for a day as I fly from Wellington to Johannesburg via Sydney. That this is even possible. Used to be I got excited about flying home to Germany from the UK, now continent hopping becomes a frequent occurrence.

Posted by ShoZu

30 September 2008

Duck problems

Stuart is already in Johannesburg and started his first day at work yesterday. All seems to be going well at the office, but when I got up this morning I found the following emails in my inbox. The situation in the hotel room doesn't seem to be quite under control: "I don't think the ducks believe me. I told them you would be coming soon but another day has gone and you are still not here. I think ducks have an attention span problem so that is why they keep nagging me about you. Actually, I think they are a little lonely sitting here all day long with no one to play with and me telling them that you will come and play has got them all excited. I will go and have a bath now and that should shut them up for an hour or two but, honestly, the plaintive quacking is driving me up the wall." Worrying developments. A half hour later the following arrived: Well, things are now getting out of hand. I went and had a bath (just to cheer up the ducks, you know). As sometimes happens on these occasions I fell asleep. I awoke when I heard what can only be described as 'furtive quacking'. So, I get up and look for the ducks. Imagine my surprise when I see that, not only have they climbed into my bed, but that they have also dislodged my chocolate from the pillow, and were just about to eat it! Well, they are now in disgrace - I gave them a serious talking to and put them back in their rightful place on the side of the bath, without supper. Please come soon and help me control these ADHD ducks - they are driving me bonkers." FYI, the ducks' names are Quacky and Sylvester. I think Sylvester is the brains behind the operation, Quacky is just the muscle.

29 September 2008

Mobile blogging

One reason I have started this new blog is that I want to be able to blog while travelling from my new beloved iPhone. The old blog is on iWeb, which means I have to come back to the computer to make a blog entry to upload. There are lots of blog apps in the app store, so I thought it would be easy to find one that does what I need:

  1. upload the blogger, including photos (preserving the original geotag when the photo was taken,, geotagging of entries andability to add links.
  2. editing of all existing blog entries, not just the ones written on the phone.
  3. tagging and categories.

Not so easy after all. I have tried three now and it seems as if I am stuck using multiple apps to achieve all those things.
Lifecast is great, and free, but only shows me the posts I wrote on the phone. Once I posted, I can edit but end up with duplicate posts. But it let's me upload photos, although not with text. Which is more than I can say for iBlogger, which costs money, but let's me edit posts and re-published them as well has having great tagging support. . No photo uploads to Blogger at all, alas. Promised to come, but who knows when. Lastly there is Shozu, which looked promising, but has an annoying bug that makes it useless: once you bring up the keyboard, it stays there and totally obscures the rest of the post. Otherwise. It would be fab, and free. I haven't bothered with any other blogging app, I figure paying for one is enough and for now I'll make do with using multiples. This so what you get when developers aren't allowed to talk to each other, I guess.
Mobile Blogging from here.

24 September 2008

Mighty Mighty

My friend SNZBlogPhoto69-2008-09-24-03-49.jpegara curates the Mighty Movie Mash screenings at Mighty Mighty every month. For her second event she asked me to contribute one of my films. I have been thinking about how much I liked my Wellington Portrait, but that it was hard to screen, not having a storyline, and being more of an installation piece than a film. But I thought I would give it another try, since it has only been screened at film school so far.  As it turned out, I was right to have doubts. I still love the film, but the venue was all wrong. First of all, the film was bracketed by Leo's short Collaborator and a very slick horror short from the UK, so the audience was totally baffled by  this switch in content. Then, since the film has no audio, all the background sounds of a bar and the street outside were very audible (to me, anyway). And lastly the screener had not managed to show the film in full screen from his MacBook, so the time remaining was very visible in the bottom right corner of the screen and made it more of an exercise in waiting till it's over. So the way forward with this piece is to put it in an exhibition space, where the audience expectations are different to a cinema audience. Plus, there I might be able to show the extended 30 minute version. Another idea someone suggested was to film more and make this an extended piece. So I am planning to look into getting film permits in South Africa and Dubai and film more portraits of strangers.