Sunday/ the Gautrain

A few pictures from today : my hotel is right across from the Johannesburg Stock Exchange;  Use only what you need exhorts Eskom the national electric utility; and since the hotel shuttle from the airport was pretty expensive  I had to go and do a test run on the new Gautrain.   The Sandton station is just around the block from the hotel and the airport is three stops away.   The system is set up the same way as in Seattle and Hong Kong : buy a magnetic card for a nominal fee, and top it up at any station’s ticketing machines.    Tap the turnstile reader with the card to register your departure point and tap the exit turnstile reader at the arrival station.   The fare is calculated and deducted from the card.   A one-way fare from Sandton Square to the airport is  R100 (US$15) : not cheap by South African standards, but a cab ride to the hotel will cost at least US$ 50 –  and besides, if you intend to fly for transport* you can definitely afford a $15 train fare!   The train’s inside is very nicely appointed in a gold, blue and cream color scheme and the seats are very comfortable.  The train hits 160 km/h (100 mph) for short stretches between the stations and runs very smoothly.     Very nice!   The last picture is a view of the old rail track from the elevated Rhodesfield station.

*which reminds me of my experience this morning at British Airways’ security check point at Cape Town this morning.  I only had to take out my notebook computer and my Blackberry.  Didn’t have to take my shoes off, nor take the bag of liquids out of my computer bag.   Walked through the metal detector, the bleep + red light went off, but I was just waved through by the attendant.  On top of all that I unintentionally smuggled in a 1/2 bottled water tucked into the side of my backpack that I was not called on either .. whoah !

Saturday/ packing up

The time has come to pack up again .. staying overnight in Johannesburg tomorrow night, then to Hong Kong via Bang Kok on Monday.  About the same time as from Seattle, but this time I fly west.

The Arizona Spur is one of a franchise, the South African equivalent of TGI Fridays, where we had dinner last night before the movie.   A few other South African artifacts : I love the GPS coordinates on my new Cape Town t-shirt, and the moo-vuzela that the cow uses to trumpet its cheese; and the hand-made African wire-and-bead reindeer looks a little lost.  Can you blame him – this far south with Christmas less than a month away?

Friday/ Liefling the Movie

It has been a very long time since I saw an Afrikaans movie in a theater, and tonight I did : Liefling the Movie.  It is an Afrikaans musical with English subtitles, and on track to become a blockbuster South African movie.  Think Mamma Mia! the ABBA musical – it’s about the same.    The picture below shows the romantic leads.  The movie was made on a tiny tiny budget by American standards : R 5 million (US $800,000).

The original song Liefling was recorded in 1972 by Gé Korsten (album cover below).

Below are the opening lyrics of the song.   Overly simplistic and dramatic, one could say – but consider this :

[Source : Wikipedia] In the 2002 Currie Cup final against the Golden Lions, a South African Rugby Union player Derick Hougaard broke Naas Botha’s 15 year record for points scored in a Currie Cup final of 24 by scoring 26.  This feat at the start of his career and his excellent goal kicking success ratio during the following years earned him the accolade  Liefling van Loftus (Eng. ‘Sweetheart of Loftus Versfeld Stadium’)  in Pretoria.   Each time Hougaard scored points for the Bulls at Loftus, the chorus of this song was played in the stadium.

Which reminds me of Simon and Garfunkel singing Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio? A nation turns its lonely eyes to you (Woo woo woo) in the song Mrs Robinson (1968).

Liefling 1972 (Kunze, Maffay, Toerien)
Jy weet dat ek nie sonder jou kan bestaan nie  You know that without you I cannot exist
Jy week dat jy ook nie alleen kan bestaan nie  You know that you too cannot exist on your own
Dit weet jy goed  You know that well

Koor Chorus
Liefling kan ons nie maar vergeet en vergewe?   Sweetheart could we not forgive and forget?
Liefling ek kan nie sonder jou verder lewe   Sweetheart I cannot carry on without you
Dit weet jy goed You know that well

Thanksgiving Day

[Source : Wikipedia] Thanksgiving Day is a harvest festival celebrated primarily in the United States and Canada. Traditionally, it has been a time to give thanks for a bountiful harvest.    While it may have been religious in origin, Thanksgiving is now primarily identified as a secular holiday.   It is sometimes casually referred to as Turkey Day.
In Canada, Thanksgiving Day is celebrated on the second Monday in October, which is Columbus Day in the United States.    In the United States, it falls on the fourth Thursday of November.

The precise historical origin of the holiday is disputed.   Although Americans commonly believe that the first Thanksgiving happened in 1621 at Plymouth, Massachusetts, there is some evidence for an earlier harvest celebration by Spanish explorers in Florida during 1565. There was also a celebration two years before Plymouth (in 1619) in Virginia. There was a Thanksgiving of sorts in Newfoundland, modern-day Canada in 1578 but it was to celebrate a homecoming instead of the harvest.   Thanksgiving Day is also celebrated in Leiden, in the The Netherlands.    A different holiday which uses the same name is celebrated at a similar time of year in the island of Grenada.  There is no Thanksgiving Day or equivalent thereof in South Africa.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone !

Wednesday/ Mooiberge Farm Stall

Mooi berge means ‘beautiful mountains’ and is the name of a farm stall outside Stellenbosch known for its colorful scarecrows and metal artwork in and around its strawberry fields.   (Confession : the pictures are actually from Tuesday, when it was very windy).    The best time of year to visit the Cape Town area is well into the new year, as late as April.

Tuesday/ snow in Seattle

Here is a picture of my house in Seattle (thanks for sending it, Bryan !).   The snow drifts on the roof is something I have not seen before with snow there.   I am sure the beautiful blue sky means the temperatures dropped to well below freezing at night time !  

Monday/ The V&A Waterfront

My friend Marlien and I went to the Victoria and Alfred Waterfront,  situated in the heart of Cape Town’s working harbour with the dramatic backdrop of Table Mountain.   The red structure in the second picture is the Clock Tower.  (That is the Ocean Princess cruise liner from Princess Cruise Lines at the dock on the left behind it). The restored warehouse in the one below it is now filled with souvenir shops and art shops.  Finally, we found my favorite artwork mirrors of which I have one already.  I regret now that I forgot to look up and write down the name of the plate metal artist that made the frame.

Sunday/ The Lanzerac Hotel & Spa

My friend Marlien and I visited the Lanzerac Hotel on Sunday afternoon.   It is another example of Cape Dutch architecture that endures on a 300-year old country estate.  Back in the day when I was a student at the University of Stellenbosch nearby, we could come here and sit on the patio and get a little rowdy.  It seems to me that those days are over !


This little African picture sewn up with scrap cloth (my mom was the artist) was the cover for my book bag for the first year I went to school.  I’m taking it back to Seattle to frame it or to use as a pillow cover.  And doesn’t the Cape Gooseberry jam look yummy?  The big jar of Marmite might not appeal to everyone.  It’s similar to the Vegimite in the sandwich that Men At Work sing of in their 1982 song Down Under :

Buying bread from a man in Brussels
He was six-foot-four and full of muscles
I said, “Do you speak-a my language?”
He just smiled and gave me a Vegemite sandwich
And he said,
“I come from a land down under
Where beer does flow and men chunder
Can’t you hear, can’t you hear the thunder?
You better run, you better take cover.”

Friday/ South African currency

While spending money here I have to divide by 7, since there are 7 South African Rand in one US Dollar.   I remember on my first trip to the USA in 1990 that I had to multiply by 2.5 – that’s how dramatically the exchange rate has changed.  (But the rand is actually too ‘strong’, it is hampering exports and job growth in South Africa).   The Rand takes its name from the Witwatersrand (Eng. White-waters-ridge), the ridge upon which Johannesburg  is built and where most of South Africa’s gold deposits were found.  The rand has the symbol “R” and is subdivided into 100 cents, symbol “c”.   The Rand notes denotes the so-called Big Five, a reference to five of Africa’s greatest wild animals – some people say the five most difficult animals in Africa to hunt on foot.  (Of course they are protected today but poaching is a stubborn problem).   Which are they?  The rhino, the African elephant, the lion, the African buffalo and the leopard.


Thursday/ Die Braak, Stellenbosch

These pictures were all taken around Die Braak (Eng ‘Fallow Land’), the Stellenbosch village town square dating back to the late 1700s.  The buildings are good examples of Cape Dutch architecture.   In the first picture there are slave bells on visible on the right (yes, the Dutch had slaves in The Cape.  It was finally abolished in 1834 after revolts from the slave-owners).    I stand in front of  Die Kruithuis (Eng. The Ammunition House), and the church is St Mary’s Cathedral.

Wednesday/ back to the Cape

Here is the British Airways jet that took us to Cape Town today. (This is at OR Tambo Airport  in Johannesburg).   The ‘Go fans’ is left over  from the 2010 World Cup.   Our trip was a little bumpy at first but later at sunset we were rewarded with spectacular close-up views of pink cumulus clouds up in the air.  Right now  I’m in Stellenbosch and I will post some pictures of the beautiful surroundings here the next few days.  No more airplanes and airports!

Tuesday/ Nelson Mandela Square

Since it’s my last night in Johannesburg we went to Nelson Mandela Square, a shopping mall in Sandton.  Formerly known as Sandton Square, it was renamed on 31 March 2004 after a 6m (18ft) statue of Nelson Mandela was installed on the Square to honor the famous South African statesman.

I love the Boabab Christmas tree.   Get this : the Boabab tree lives for thousands of years and inspired many African legends.  The tree is not indestructable, though, and not resistant to long periods of drought.   When it dies it collapses into a fibrous mass until a high wind blows away the remains of a tree that may have been a landmark for centuries.




Monday/ African greetings

(This post is late).   Posing in front of a board with greetings arranged in a shape of the African continent at the PwC office.   The ones I recognize are –

goeiedag (Afrikaans) for ‘good day’
dumela (Sesotho) for ‘hello’
sawubona (Zulu) for ‘i see you’
bon jour (French) for ‘good day’

Sunday/ Allan Quatermain

I traveled back to Johannesburg tonight for more work before I can finally take some time off.   It was a beautiful clear day in Cape Town with temperatures crossing 30 °C (upper 80s °F).  The view of the colorful airplane tails was taken while we were waiting for the pushback at Capetown airport. or ‘Fly the Mango’ is a low cost airline.   The other picture is the courtyard of the boutique hotel I am staying in, the Quatermain.   I’m pretty sure it’s a reference to Allan Quatermain  – the protagonist  of H. Rider Haggard’s 1885 novel King Solomon’s Mines and its various prequels and sequels.   The character Quatermain is an English-born professional big game hunter and occasional trader in southern Africa.   He supports colonial efforts to spread civilization in the Dark Continent, and he also favors native Africans’ having a say in their affairs.

I found the  DVD starring Richard Chaimberlain and Sharon Stone .. and word is that Sam Worthington (Avatar) is attached to a sci-fi interpretation of the legendary Allan Quatermain character.

Friday/ the JNB-CPT shuttle

Many South Africans work in Johannesburg in the week and travel back to Cape Town for the weekend, and this weekend I am one of them. 

Pictures :  Bilboard at JNB airport for the Gauteng province’s commuter train dubbed Gautrain to connect Johannesburg to its surroundings has started up its first section (see ;  got a fire-arm or weapon to check in? this way  : ) and I liked the big Marmite kitchen clock in one of the souvenir stores (but a little too overwhelming, as much as I love my Marmite).

Thursday/ at work in Johannesburg

Here is the PwC South Africa head office building in Sandton where I worked today.  Sandton is a suburb in the northern outskirts of the Johannesburg metro area.   Yes, the new PwC logo is everywhere.   And the sun sets even after a long work day – taken from the outdoor deck in the PwC building where we had a beer after work in the canteen.  (I guess canteen sounds better than bar).

Wednesday/ a pit stop in the Cape

(This is very early Thu morning in my hotel in Johannesburg!).   I arrived Wed at 11.30am at Cape Town airport, got picked up by my mom and dad for a quick trip to Stellenbosch to go have lunch and repack my bags, and then back to the airport at 4pm.  The shortest visit they have ever had from someone from as far away as the USA, quipped my dad.  (I will come back to Stellenbosch Friday night).   It was 2 hr flight up to Johannesburg to go and do some work – for a possible project where Pricewaterhouse* will be the system integrator.

*PwC as we now call ourselves

Tuesday/ Frankfurt airport

I arrived this morning at 9.30am here in Frankfurt on the Airbus A330-300.    Due to my lengthy layover,  I left the airport to check into the Airport Holiday Inn to get some sleep.    It was totally worth it;  at first I thought I could take the train to the city for a few hours of sightseeing, but this way I dodged the rain, and hey, the hotel was free of the bedbugs shown on the Yahoo Deutschland homepage).    It’s now 8.30pm and my flight leaves in a few hours.

Monday/ X-rays at the airport

I’m at Seattle airport.  The hardest thing to do when I travel is to get out of the house.   This morning I had to consult the internet on how to pack a suit in a suitcase*.  (Turn the one arm and half inside out, fold in half, stuff the shoulders with a sock or two, put some t-shirts in the middle and roll it up in a tight bundle).

* Never had to pack a suit for my trips to China, but I will need one in South Africa. 

At the check-in counter Lufthanza swiped my carry-on bag (limit is only 8 kg!) which I was not happy with.   Airport security spared us having to walk through the full body scanner even though there were ones installed.  Maybe they’re still gearing up to full use.    ‘It’s for your Safety’ it says.  Yes, but the latest research shows the cumulative effect of exposure to X-rays is bad.   There’s really no safe dosage.  By the way – it’s the 115th anniversay of the discovery of X-rays per Google’s homepage (an odd anniversary for Google to feature on their homepage, is it not?)