Scott Hanselman

South Africa 2008 - Emergency Taxis (Combis)

December 13, '08 Comments [19] Posted in Africa
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taxi_overload Taxis in South Africa are not safe. I'm not talking about metered cabs, I'm talking about what we called "ETs" or Emergency Taxis in Zimbabwe. Basically Minibuses on a fixed route, stuff with people. Almost always Black People.

For many (most?) this is the only way to get around. You've either got a car, walk, or take a Taxi. There are nearly 130,000 taxis in RSA. They have no seat belts, or the belts are not used. They often run with the doors open. Once in Zimbabwe I was asked to hold the passenger side door to look shut as it had fallen off the hinges.

They'll pack you in like you've never been packed into a vehicle. You'll sit on laps and hang off the side. You'll hold on for dear life and listen to fights and honks. Sometimes a cab will encroach on another's turf and you're in the middle of it.

You stand by the side of the road in known, but unlabeled spots, and you make a hand signal. Point a finger up to say you want to go to town. A finger pointed down if you want a local taxi for somewhere near. There's many hand signs that you just pick up as lore. For example, there's a route down the street that will take me to the Clearwater Mall for 6 Rand (about 60 US cents) per person. I hold one finger down, and say "NgiyaeClearwater" to make sure they are going that way, and I'm off. I could just say "Clearwater" or speak English, but I feel that if I speak Zulu, or whatever the local language is, depending on where you are catching the taxi, that I'll be less likely to be messed with or talked about. This might just be me, but I've found that if you have a great accent with even a few words, folks assume you're totally fluent until proven otherwise. I'm not...I have the Zulu-speaking abilities of a kindergartener, but I can click effectively.

So far, in eight years, I've seen two other white folks in taxis. It's apparently just not done. I've also been harassed (in Zulu) by a drunk man who said "they take our land and now they are riding in our taxis."

All this said, I wouldn't recommend taxis in South Africa if you have another option.

About Scott

Scott Hanselman is a former professor, former Chief Architect in finance, now speaker, consultant, father, diabetic, and Microsoft employee. He is a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author.

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South Africa 2008 - Communal Living and Relatives in Close Quarters

December 13, '08 Comments [19] Posted in Africa
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image I've been driving around Johannesburg getting my head used to driving on the left side (I credit my excellent hand-eye coordination to many years of video game playing. I can "remap" very easily) and after a trip this afternoon to Makro (the South Africa "Costco" giant wholesale warehouse equivalent) I returned home to find no less than twenty souls in the house.

I am immersed in Black (mostly Zulu, but some Sotho) culture here, so I can't speak to White South African culture, but from what I can tell, when someone is in town, Black Folks come over. We had visitors from Lesotho, from Pretoria, from Zimbabwe, from all over.

All of this is a culture shock to me each time. It's at once comforting and grating. Predictable and chaotic. Here's the parts, even after nearly a decade of marriage, that I haven't gotten used to.

What's for Dinner?

Folks just show up. No call, no write, just, hey, what's for dinner? But the interesting part is that dinner is never mentioned. People arrive and sit on the couch. The meal is completely implied. We had a meal at 4pm. We'd already had lunch, and we had dinner planned, but there was a "critical mass" of humans, and food started showing up. At some point we were having a braai. Someone started looking for a goat to slaughter, while someone else starting wondering if it was allowed in city limits.

Relatives arrived, each one that showed up brought five others we couldn't quite place. So-in-so's uncle's ex-wife's daughter's sister and the like. And their three kids. And they stay. For a long time.

There are a couple of things I can hear my father saying, in my head, that would never be said in South Africa.

"Don't let the door hit you on the ass on the way out."

"You don't have to go home, but you can't stay here."

Folks may scandalize and gossip, but they'll never let you go hungry or without a place to sleep in South Africa.

Start Inflating Beds

At some point it's clear that folks aren't leaving so inflatable air beds are brought out. Blankets appear from no where. More blankets that you'd think could comfortably fit in a normal sized house. I don't know where they come from nor where they disappear to, but sleeping quarters are quickly assembled by social pecking order.

If you're a teenager, you get whatever couch or scrap of floor is left. If you're an elder, you get a proper bed. Boys under 30 on air mattresses, families in rooms, girls on couches, everyone else find a spot. Just wait until morning as folks get up earlier and earlier to try to be the first in the bath. Sucks to run out of hot water in a three bedroom house with 19 people.

Women in the Kitchen, Men in Front of the TV

At some point, like silt separating while panning for gold, the house starts to split with women in the kitchen area and men in the living area. Or, manning the braai/bbq. Grunt. Men. Fire!

Oddly, as a Sensitive White Man, it's a little unclear where I am supposed to be, so I end up flitting between the two. The women don't find me threatening, rather they find me fascinating and I'm peppered with questions. The men are disappointed to learn I can't even fake caring about soccer. Ah, the Pirates! No, Ajax! No, Bosso! Ah, whatever. Is Manchester a valid answer? Did we get a home run?

Who moved my Cheese?

My wife loves Flakes and Crunchies. You can find them in the states, but they are definitely a specialty item. Certainly not available everywhere. We try to get a box and smuggle them back to the states when we go. I bought her five Flakes today and put them in the fridge so they wouldn't melt in this oppressive Christmas weather. I went to tell her about them, and literally by the time I'd returned there was one left, and four wrappers strewn about.

In the US Judicial System you are "innocent until proven guilty" but this is reversed in many countries. In my household and in the households I've been raised in, food in the fridge is "someone else's unless you know it's yours." Here, it seems, that anything not bolted down or labeled is edible.

I have since hidden my stash of Black Cat Peanut Snacks under my pillow.

About Scott

Scott Hanselman is a former professor, former Chief Architect in finance, now speaker, consultant, father, diabetic, and Microsoft employee. He is a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author.

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Hanselminutes Podcast 142 - Week One in South Africa - Vusi

December 13, '08 Comments [2] Posted in Africa | Podcast
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My one-hundred-and-forty-second podcast is up. Scott's on holiday in South Africa with his family this month. Rather than doing repeats or "best of" shows, Scott's doing man-on-the-street interviews and uploading them over cell phone. In this episode, Scott talks to Vusi, an IT sales manager from Johannesburg.

Subscribe: Subscribe to Hanselminutes Subscribe to my Podcast in iTunes

Do also remember the complete archives are always up and they have PDF Transcripts, a little known feature that show up a few weeks after each show.

Telerik is our sponsor for this show!

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As I've said before this show comes to you with the audio expertise and stewardship of Carl Franklin. The name comes from Travis Illig, but the goal of the show is simple. Avoid wasting the listener's time. (and make the commute less boring)

About Scott

Scott Hanselman is a former professor, former Chief Architect in finance, now speaker, consultant, father, diabetic, and Microsoft employee. He is a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author.

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South Africa 2008 - Hyper-Vigilance

December 13, '08 Comments [20] Posted in Africa
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Yesterday a car full of young, white boys slowed along side my mixed family as we walked from the mall, slowly lit a firecracker and threw it at us.

I saw the whole thing happening in slow-motion, time didn't speed up until the boys sped off. In retrospect I have had all sorts of fantasies of grapping the firecracker and throwing it back in their car, or stepping on it. I knew what it was and what was happening as it was happening, but it was all in the space of maybe 5 seconds.

All the stream of consciousness...Why are they slowing? Hm, white folks in the car. Hm, five blond boys, maybe high-school age. Why do they have a lighter? They are smoking? Ah, they are disposing of a cigarette. Why would they light it and then immediately throw it out? That's a firecracker! They are throwing it at us. Why are they smiling? They are speeding up. Put my body between the car and the boys....wince. Everyone jumps. Didn't think to get the license plate. What would I have done with the number anyway? Feels like the police in the states would take this seriously. Too many boys in that car. Teenagers are stupid, but multiple teenagers are dangerously stupid. Being on my guard 24-7 is taking a toll on me. My head aches.

I am very disappointed, and very sad. Fortunately my three-year-old isn't old enough to understand that this marks a first in his life.

About Scott

Scott Hanselman is a former professor, former Chief Architect in finance, now speaker, consultant, father, diabetic, and Microsoft employee. He is a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author.

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South Africa 2008 - Limited, Ahem, Connectivity

December 11, '08 Comments [16] Posted in Africa
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imageIt's always a challenge when leaving home to find connectivity. We've got Fiber Optic to the house in the states (20Mbs/20Mbs) and unlimited nu3G tethering via phone while roaming. Even then, there are SO many open WiFi spots in the states, it's easy to get connected when away. Frankly, the only place in the states that has horrific connection speeds are hotels!

Speaking of hotel connectivity, recently in New Zealand was I charged US$25 for 50 megabytes (total transfer!) per day. I wasn't able to even start sync'ing Outlook with that cap.

The last few days here in South Africa I've been trying to figure out how I am/was going to transfer my 100-300 megabyte audio files for the next three weeks of the Hanselminutes podcast.

I went to a local mall and used their internet cafe and while it was reasonably price at 10 Rand (US$1) for 15 minutes, the maximum GET or POST was 2 Megs. I couldn't even download my favorite FTP program, much less upload a few gigs of audio over the next month.

My new friend Mario from the SADeveloper helped me get connected without breaking the bank. We started with a Huawei E220 HSDPA USB Modem. It's a real basic modem, but like most 3G modems, it has the software you need on a flash disk inside the device. You plug it in, it's recognized as a disk. Then you run the setup, and the software handles dialing and connectivity.

But, I've gone too far ahead already. The modem doesn't include a SIM card. It has an empty slot for one on the side. You can get a Vodacom SIM Card for 1 Rand (10 cents US) pretty much anywhere. We got it at a bookstore. Then, we went to a Vodashop and had the guy behind the counter activate the SIM with his phone.

The trick is that you buy minutes then convert the minutes to pay-as-you-go data on a non-contract data plan. You can add minutes two ways. There are some places that can push the minutes into your SIM without a phone which is the situation I'm in. Or, you can use any phone, put your SIM it in and dial *111#. You'll get a menu that will let you purchase data plan megabytes with your minutes. I was able to buy 3 gigabytes of transfer for about US$60. Not cheap, but not oppressively expensive.

I've turned off the Windows Update service as well as images in my browser. I've also switch to mobile versions of some sites like Twitter or CNN, to save bandwidth. Perhaps that's penny-wise, pound-foolish, but that's me.

About Scott

Scott Hanselman is a former professor, former Chief Architect in finance, now speaker, consultant, father, diabetic, and Microsoft employee. He is a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author.

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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed herein are my own personal opinions and do not represent my employer's view in any way.