Art and the City panel

Went to the Art and the City panel at 812 Design Center in Shenzhen last week.

Here is Bronwen Shelwell’s speech on microspaces, about working in South Africa. Artists mentioned include Steven Hobbs, Hedwig Hoben, Nina Barnett, and Theaster Gates.

Forgive the many cuts in my edit, because there were lots pauses for the Chinese translator to speak which I took out of the video.

Very interesting, and inspiring!

South Africa Part II: Kruger Park and Cape Town

In the last installment, I arrive in South Africa which is the home nation of my lovely girlfriend. I explore Joburg, meet her dad, and experience the chill South African lifestyle of braais.

Now, the real part of the trip was to begin.

All the while, I should mention, Trevor Noah loomed in the background. Yes, by coincidence it was the same week that Trevor started at the Daily Show! I’ve always been a big fan of Jon Stewart and I was really looking forward to it. It was a big deal, his face was everywhere. South Africa seems to be pretty proud of their native son taking over my countries best political comedy show. His face was on every newspaper. Especially after the now legendary Trump-as-African-dictator bit.

(Although the place we mostly stayed at had cable, soon I would be without it, without even Wi-Fi on my laptop to catch up with TV. I’d eventually catch up, I always do, but to tell the truth being off the grid was hard on me. More on that in a moment. )

Also, people paid attention to the Rugby World Cup. Not only am I an American, I am an American who doesn’t follow sports. I didn’t really care. People seem to care a lot still. Something or other happened, Japan, Samoa, Wales, New Zealand. I don’t know.

Okay, on with the story.

 

Days Five to Nine

Day Five was a busy day. In the morning we went to downtown Pretoria and saw the capital Union Buildings. Then, transferred to another parent and in the evening we were to spend time with the mother. Again, I was anxious. Again, it was no big deal and everyone was totally welcoming.

I suppose being in one’s thirties, parents would have to accept whomever their daughter chooses to be with. Even me.

An uneventful evening, and then the next day the trip to the Kruger Park began!

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Oh no, I knew it would partake of some driving, I knew it would be a challenge, but I didn’t know it would be that much driving.

My girlfriend’s mother’s husband drove, and we sat in the back. For days on end, we were driven around sitting in the back. Felt as if I was twelve-years old again.

Luckily I had my iPod. Got a lot of audiobook listening done: Gun Machine by Warren Ellis. I recommend it, a good listen.

First day out, a slow drive north with many stops at sleepy little towns where there’s nothing to do but buy postcards and trinkets from locals. Finally we arrived at Grasskop to stay at log cabin guesthouses on the night before the Kruger Park camping started. A nice town, an interesting art hotel nearby, and we ate decent Portuguese food.

Another thing about these old people I was hanging out with, they are serious morning people. Nice people, absolutely generous people who are kind enough to support and show me around their country on this tour. But seriously morning people. And I happen to be not. Had to get used to that.

At dawn left for the Kruger Park. Finally made it!

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The way the Kruger Park conservation park works, is that it’s not some zoo with animals on display for you. It’s an enormous area the size of a city or province. The animals simply go about their life. There is a fence around the edges, and I’m sure the rangers control the animal populations to some degree. Yet for the most part the animals are living exactly as they would in the wild, and any visitor can certainly get the sense that this is no zoo. No zoo pretensions here, it’s totally authentic nature, the way South Africans like it.

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One just drives around, on dirt roads, following a map if one likes or only wandering, and see what animals turn up. If there’s a lion, roll up the window. If an elephant is standing on the road, no choice but to wait until he decides to walk on (please don’t antagonize the elephants).

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Right off the bat I saw a lot. Giraffes chewing on the leaves of trees. Zebras hanging around. Families of elephants enjoying the day and spraying themselves with water to cool down. Endless herds of impala. With my binoculars, I sat in the backseat and we parked around various locations and took it all in. I got some good pictures.

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The campsites don’t open until the afternoon, so we really took it easy. Like, hours and hours of taking it easy. After a certain point, I was listening to my iPod and reading my thick George R.R. Martin (Storm of Swords, best book of the song).

The campsite parts of the day were more chill. You aren’t even allowed to go for a drive when it gets dark, unless it’s a guided tour, so we stayed in. Read in the cabin, relaxed. Swam if there’s a pool. Listened to the noisy frogs at the nighttime pool. Read some comic files on my computer, unitizing my laptop best I could though there wasn’t even any Wi-Fi! Used up the airtime on my phone fast.

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Every day we went to a different campsite, each with its own stylized bungalows. “Round hovel” or something it’s called in Dutch/Afrikaans. The first had these silly-looking blue-headed guineafowl birds that walked about.

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The second included a rhinoceros exhibit with a fenced trail, and we happened to even see a rhino walk right up (sadly no camera on me so no rhino selfie). Poor endangered creatures, least they have their horns here.

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The final was near Crocodile Bridge and filled with baboons and vervet monkeys walking around the site chill as can be – do not ever feed the monkeys.

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Every night, of course this being South Africa, we drank wine and had a braai. I’m sorry, I’m so sorry, but it’s not my scene to be so into nature. I could have used a little bit more technology to pass the time. I mean, the stars were beautiful. The animals were indeed beautiful. Like that scary late part of the night when the leaves were rustling and the flashlight revealed a baby elephant came right up to edge of the camp to munch on greens. I was so nervous upon approaching. That was some moment. Even the hyena was beautiful.

Yet, I sometimes feel worried that there is something wrong with me. I cannot appreciate it the way other people can appreciate. I need something to read. I need some interactive media to comfortably remind me that the rest of the world exists, some distractions. I like that. Unlike locals that are ever content listening to the winds on a slight buzz. All the while, I partly felt like there was this underlying conflict because I wasn’t having some spiritual epiphany out there in the African wilderness.

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South Africa Part I

Being an expat living in a major Chinese city of millions – with thousands of Westerners within the English-speaking foreigner scene – you never know who you will meet and what part of the world they may introduce you to… particularly when it comes to romance!

As I’ve written about extensively, it just never seemed to work out with me and Chinese girls. I haven’t followed up on those old blogs in a while, but know this of my present situation: I have not been lonely over the past year.

In the summer of ’14, I happened to fall for an artsy South African girl. Without getting into too much detail, let’s just say there were some interesting stories along the way. I’m not going to share all those personal stories at this time. Suffice to say it’s been serious, intense, and loving.

I am however happy to share the fact that last holiday (Moon Festival coinciding with National Day) she took me on a tour of her home country. An entire new continent I’ve never been to, a whole other land. I am still in awe of all I had seen.

I must admit, it was a challenge at times. Sad though it may be, at this late stage in my life this was actually the first time I had ever met a girlfriend’s parents! Wow. Really? Well, that’s me.

I was rather nervous. There was, in actuality, the issue of class. White South Africans tend to live in the suburbs, in gated communities, walled off by electric fences. I grew up a step below, and over the past half-decade gotten comfortable living in the lesser developed end of a developed city in developing country.

South Africa in actuality may be one of the most unequal countries in the world, but I’m not saying that my girlfriend’s family are that rich. Just normal middle class. Yet even that is tricky for me to be comfortable with. I liken myself to a starving artist-writer in China mind you, not some trader-businessman.

Really, it wasn’t that bad.

All that said, the country is full of beauty like no other… I can see what people love so much about Africa.

My lovely did an incredible job of planning this trip. (How could I plan? I followed her. And it worked out very well that I did.) Everyday, off to a new place. New sights to see. New wonders to behold.

Off we went.

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Day One

We flew in from Hong Kong. Transferred at Addis Ababa in Ethiopia, to the view from the aircraft of exquisite waterfalls and Mt. Kilimanjaro. My first time entering the Southern Hemisphere. Wish I could have explored Ethiopia more. Next time.

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Though we were tired, I was determined to start exploring right after landing. Being picked up from the Johannesberg airport was almost a disappointment; I’d wanted to learn about trains right off the bat. But it was tiring after the second flight being over ten hours.

The driver took us to the guest house in Melville, the hip part of town. On the drive over I stared out the window and took pictures. The highway only showed what looked like middle-American suburbs. In fact, much of what I would see of the middle-class homes and shopping malls pretty much reminded me of American suburbs.

Melville was awesome. Full of vegetarian restaurants (we ate Mexican food the first night, yum!), used bookstores (I spent way too much money), and most importantly of all a comic book shop. Outer Limits: I got an old Understanding Comics by Scott McCloud I’d been wanting to reread and share for ages.

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They didn’t have the latest One Piece manga volume, but later I did find it at a shop in Pretoria.

And Gaiman’s Sandman: Overture still hadn’t come out yet, always late.

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Day Two

By the second day my ears no longer popped and jetlag not too bad, we hung out some more in Melville and bought vintage clothes at this cool place made out of trucker containers called 27 Blocks. After some errands at the bank, I got a Sim card for my phone. Another highlight was simply going to a grocery store. Again, due to the western context, it was nice to simply be in a supermarket.

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We checked out and took a tuk-tuk driver to downtown Pretoria, at the City Bowl area near the Gautrain station. There, although heavy with all the luggage, we went to yet another bookstore (found a used Warren Ellis graphic novel) to meet up with Eleni –  blogger of Greek Meets Taiwan – who lives in the area. It was tricky to find the time, but small world that it is one might as well take advantage, and had coffee with her boyfriend and talked about education.

A lot of interesting talks showing me how it really is in South Africa…

Running a bit late, we took the Gautrain to Pretoria. This was the moment. My girlfriend’s dad, first time ever in my life to meet him. Although I did talk to him on Skype the week before. It was cool, no big deal at all. Nice man.

The dad and his wife – I would meet the mother later (now that I think about, perhaps divorced parents is one of the things that brings us together) – drove us out for dinner. We stopped by at a hoity-toity golf club where I did not feel comfortable at all. But it was interesting to see their scene. I was treated to an endless array of delicious meals, put on weight, and I’m very grateful he invited me into his home and was so kind.

The house in the suburbs was as suburban as ever. Except as said in South Africa they have electric fences. Stayed in our own guest bedrooms, watched cable TV, and caught up with my online life.

 

Day Three

Already my third day in this land, and then sadly it started to get boring.

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Monkey Vid

Hi all. I’ve been back from South Africa for several days, and busy with getting my China life back on track.

There are also some great new developments with the book and I will happily share soon enough…

Please be patient on my South Africa blog post updates. I have a lot to write about. (Coming up in two parts.) Currently drafting!

 

For now, enjoy this very short video I made about seeing monkeys at the Kruger Park campsite:

About to go to South Africa

Apologies for no good blog post so far this week.

Actually, I have a whole lot to write about. I have many Chinglish pictures lined up for your amusement, some new interviews with brilliant young writers waiting to be posted for posterity, and of course the latest news on the promotion of my forthcoming novel South China Morning Blues.

(Please do check out the official new web page: http://www.blacksmithbooks.com/books/south-china-morning-blues)

 

But I am a bit busy lately, because I’m preparing to fly out for a big trip tomorrow: I’m going to South Africa

Shall be there for two weeks. Never been to that continent before. Should prove interesting.

More on that soon.

 

— And let me say that as a couple of white people going to Africa, this song has been stuck in my head! 🙂