Scott Hanselman

South Africa 2008 - Visiting the Mall in Soweto

December 15, '08 Comments [18] Posted in Africa
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CIMG8328 Soweto means South Western Township. I drove the family to the Maponya Mall in Soweto today for an outing. From the city's website:

Soweto is the most populous black urban residential area in the country, with Census 2001 putting its population at 896 995. Thanks to its proximity to Johannesburg, the economic hub of the country, it is also the most metropolitan township in the country - setting trends in politics, fashion, music, dance and language

Soweto celebrated its hundredth birthday in October 2004. A chronology of key events, the June 1976 uprising, and the centenary celebrations.

The city has made the redevelopment of Soweto a major priority, including electrification, tarring of roads, and the building of public facilities and housing.

You may think of ghettos and shacks when you hear the word Soweto, and if you look for them you'll find them, but I've really noticed a difference in Soweto in recent years. I haven't got a tale of rich people visiting poor people as a form of tourism. The mall was as nice a mall as I've ever been to, including malls in Asia (which are REALLY nice). We didn't go to the cultural center (yet) or Mandela's house. We went to the mall. And it was lovely.

There's a rising black middle class, and they were all at the mall today. The whole place was decked out for the holidays, which I find slightly funny because it's quite hot and I just think snow when it's Christmas. Anyway, there was a huge tree in the center part of the mall.

We ate for a very reasonable price at Nando's, which is way better than KFC. We fed a group of 10 for less than US$30, as the US$ to the Rand is a favorable 1:10, as opposed to the 1:6 or 1:7 it's been on previous trips.

One of the things that strikes me about the mall in Soweto is how "put together" everyone is. Great outfits, cute hair, folks are fit and sharp. I felt underdressed, completely. If you go out, you'd better look nice.

CIMG8338I did also feel White, as I was alone in that sense, but didn't feel uncomfortable. It was actually very interesting (as it always is) as it's a reminder as to how my wife feels. As a white guy, it was like dropping into the movie "White Man's Burden," or a photo negative. I was effectively an albino. One actually forgets one's color in these situations, and after a few weeks if I pass a mirror it takes a second to remember my pastiness. Fortunately I am sporting a pretty darn good beard so I'm brown from the neck up. ;)

The Soweto mall has everything any other mall in the world, so it was great for Christmas shopping. My wife's younger brothers are moving out of the house so we are in the market for a fridge for their apartment.

Not a really exciting post, this, but rather a mundane story about holiday commerce. We drove to Soweto, we shopped, we returned. I drove on the left. This was my day, until tomorrow. If you visit Joburg, definitely check out Maponya Mall in Soweto.

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