I don’t think I’ll ever eat white bread again. As much as I’ve read about it, and as much as I know instinctively it’s not a good idea to consume highly processed food, I still eat white bread on a daily basis for two simple reasons: white bread freezes and toasts well. Over breakfast, though, I was easily convinced I should never eat white bread again. The chef in the kitchen where I’m staying makes his own varieties of bread, biscuits and croissants on a daily basis. As we chatted this morning, he spoke with passion about the importance of fresh bread, made with a variety of grains, over the highly processed bread available at supermarkets.
After breakfast, I chatted via Skype with my family back in Lismore. Although they’ve known for a few months I’ve been planning to visit South Africa, I don’t think the reality set in until I actually arrived earlier in the week. When I chatted with Pat on the phone I could hear concern in her voice. “You’re safe?” she said to me on a couple of occasions during our brief conversation. She was obviously drawing upon all of the background knowledge she had of South Africa from what she had seen on television over the years. The unrest. The poverty. Those kind of things. So I decided the best way to show them I was “okay” and staying in a nice “middle class” part of Johannesburg was to do a Skype call with them. As I showed them the lovely green surroundings of Melville, I could see they were re-assured.
I hadn’t realised it until the other day that Melville was considered to be the “bohemian” centre of Johannesburg. As well as referring to an area that’s home to musicians, artists and the like, I also discovered Melville is considered the “gay centre” of Johannesburg. I knew this with certainty the other day when I I popped into a bar about 100m from where I’m staying. “There’s a lot of men in here”, I thought to myself with a curious recognition. As I sat at the bar, I looked over a saw a pile of magazines which turned out to be South Africa’s gay newspaper. As I thumbed through it, I recognised the universality of these kind of magazines – gays are increasingly pretty much the same all over the world it seems. Later, as I left the bar, I crossed the street and looked back to see a rainbow flag flying atop the building. As I looked around I saw a few other shops and bars with rainbow flags. Having failed to notice this earlier, I realised my “gaydar” is in need of repair.
I spent the day travelling with an internet friend, a friend of his, and a couple of their children. Although they’ve all lived in Johannesburg all of their lives, they tend to live, work, and socialise not far from their homes in the more affluent part of town called Sandton. “I can’t remember the last time I came into the city”, he said as we made our way on a bus through the central parts of Johannesburg. They’ve recently introduced a “hop on/hop off” bus, and so we though that would be a good way to take a look around the city. For me, it was all new territory, but I also got the impression much of the bus trip was an eye-opener for the locals I was travelling with also.
I’ve never been one for those “hop on/hop off” bus trips, largely based on my own experience from seeing them travel around Sydney. I could never understand why you would use them when the public transport system in Sydney is reasonably good. In contrast, the public transport system in Johannesburg isn’t as good. Although there’s a commuter trains which transports ten of thousands of people from Soweto each day, and there’s a new train system to the Northern Suburbs which is part tram, part subway, I’ve discovered the rest of the public transport system is fairly insufficient for the needs of a city of at least 3-million people. So despite my initial apprehension, I thought the “hop on/hop off” bus was a good way to see a lot of the city at a reasonable price.
We started at the Apartheid Museum, travelled into the city, and then had lunch at The World Of Beer. “This sounds like something out of The Simpsons”, I said at one point. But at R65 (about $7) entry (which included three beers), it turned out to be a very interesting exploration of South African history. The bit I enjoyed most was a short video which described the traditional role of a woman in many African communities as the creator of a type of beer made from sorghum. After watching the video, a traditional container of the beer was passed around for tasting. By tradition, men were supposed to drink first, and you were supposed to be squatted. Most people passed the container onto the next person, so I was one of the first to taste. Conclusion? I guess I’m much more of a lager kind of boy. Lunch at the World Of Beer was excellent, with lots of “traditional” South African meals.
Another really interesting part of the tour for me was Ghandi Square. I kinda knew Ghandi had spent some of his life living in Durban and working as a lawyer. I didn’t know, however, it was his experiences in South Africa which resulted in his politicisation. after he was refused access to a number of buildings and modes of transportation due to his race. There’s a statue of Ghandi wearing long-flowing lawyer robes right in the middle of the square, appearing as a much younger man in contrast to the more common images of him.
After six or so hours hopping on and off the bus, visiting various parts of the city, it was time to head home and relax. Tomorrow, I’m heading off to a game park outside Johannesburg, and then on Monday, I’m visiting Soweto. Busy times ahead.
P.S. I’ll update this post later with more photographs. At the moment (and I’m not sure why), I’m finding it difficult to transfer photographs from my camera to my laptop.