Wednesday, June 16, 2010

World Cup Fever - Johannesburg Impressions, A Canadian's View

Whenever I travel outside of North America I'm astonished by the grip of western culture. Johannesburg is no exception; a mall culture is particularly strong here. Malls host all the parties and have all the big screens and FIFA centers. They seem to be “the place to go”, much more so even than in North America. Thankfully, there's little evidence of big box stores although the city is car-centered and lacks efficient public transit. Nevertheless, this role's been filled by shuttle taxis which, although intimidating to visitors, seem quite effective. I was surprised at the lack of seatbelt use especially in the case of infants who rest on their mothers' laps in the front seat. There are some traces of the colonial past, the architecture and rusks appearing on aisle markers in grocery stores. Despite all this evidence of western culture many things set this city apart.
  • Some malls contain flea markets. Only a few are heated.
  • Entertaining store names and slogans:

Pick n Pay (As opposed to Pick n Run?) Their by-line, “Inspired by you,” has little to do with their brand.

Mr. Delivery for pizza.

Clicks Pharmacy: Clicks Clubcard. Saving is the point.

  • Fences. Electric, concrete, and steel. Every structure is well fortified. Perhaps the most striking example is the university whose fortifications seem to contravene tenants of higher learning, such as openness and right to protest.
  • BP appears to be doing quite well and has been running ads promoting their non-Fair Trade coffee.
  • No headphones on people. People spend time at bus stops in conversation.
  • Noises, of so many kinds, fill the air. Drivers toot horns to alert pedestrians who have no right of way here. Vuvuzellas fill the air, especially when South Africa is playing, then they begin at dawn and last until dusk.

People here are very friendly and most are quite excited to meet a Canadian. They ask many questions about Canada. Some, assuming I'm a white local have even asked me for directions. I've spent the most time speaking with Victor, the caretaker and my host, Alima. Victor is from Malawi and is working here to support his family back home. He's hoping to start an IT business here or a kindergarten back in Malawi. If anyone knows of some free school supplies, let me know.

Alima is fiery, passionate, and very kind. She addresses every black South African as brother or sister. They have a really cool culture which blinds the visitor to all the uncompleted projects, delays, bus strikes, leaky taps and lack of recycling.

A note on security: Although security is a major concern here, I've not felt threatened once. (I walk or taxi everywhere.) I have, however, felt a certain fear in the air, heard conversations about car-jacking, and seen reports of home invasions. This is enough to restrict my travel at night to well-worn routes.

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