Bungee Jumping in Soweto

Land of Nams: living in Johannesburg, exploring the world, documenting the things I love

On an innocent Friday evening with our friends at a bar, my sister got into a conversation with a friend from Soweto who suggested that she should jump off of  the Orlando Towers. I was silently thinking w’what a terrible idea’  but my sister was all ‘yea, sounds great!’ I thought her feelings might change after she no longer had a couple vodka sodas in her system. Alas, the next morning her determination became stronger. So on Sunday after dim sum, P and I drove her to her suicide mission in Soweto. If they allowed tandem bungee jumping I was going to force my way onto her jump so my mom wouldn’t be mad at me when she inevitably splattered all over the ground. Luckily for everyone involved, tandem jumping was not allowed.  As we made our way up the rickety elevator I was not-so-secretly relieved that I wasn’t jumping, Neha was staring stoically into the distance and P kept making (sensitive) remarks about what the last height was before we would definitely die if the elevator broke.

At the top (cruelly, cameras weren’t allowed) we chatted with several lovely S’affers and the staff who were telling us about the color-coded bungee ropes and the physics involved, which somehow was not making me feel better. After several minutes it was Neha’s turn to walk the plank. They strapped her in and brought her to the edge. She said they told her she was going down the easy way or the hard way and there was no turning back. She stuck her arms out and they counted to three and she jumped off on her own free will into oblivion.

Luckily there was no splat, but I was having so much anxiety watching it the whole thing that I was screaming like it was me who was doing the jump and digging my nails into P’s back. I think this is a sign that I’m not ready for kids. Neha said (and so have several former jumpees) that the worst part wasn’t the jumping or the recoil but the hanging there while waiting for them to reel her down because it felt like she was definitely going to slip right out of the harness strapped to her feet.  Who is Neha these days? I don’t even know.

You can make a booking but it’s not necessary, they are open from 10-5 Thursday-Sunday.

Land of Nams: living in Johannesburg, exploring the world, documenting the things I love

Land of Nams: living in Johannesburg, exploring the world, documenting the things I love

*last photo by staff at Orlando Towers

Dim Sum in Jozi

Land of Nams: living in Johannesburg, exploring the world, documenting the things I love

Land of Nams: living in Johannesburg, exploring the world, documenting the things I love

Land of Nams: living in Johannesburg, exploring the world, documenting the things I love

Land of Nams: living in Johannesburg, exploring the world, documenting the things I love

 

In NYC I used to love going to Chinatown for dim sum: taking the train to Canal Street, walking up a dodgy stairway to a giant tackily-decorated-yet-somehow-utilitarian restaurant, getting over my shyness to aggressively wave down people pushing carts full of goodies (usually not knowing exactly what I was eating) and filling my stomach with too much delicious Chinese food. In Johannesburg we’ve found a place that is pretty darn good. Shun De, located in the new Chinatown in Cyrildene offers dim sum that hits the spot. There isn’t enough room for carts but there is a counter stacked 4 feet high with bamboo baskets full of dim sum staples and a table crowded with desserts like glutinous rice balls and salads. Along with your appetite you might as well bring your aggressive side to demand attention when competing with other Chinese-speaking customers at the food counter. Our friend who is Chinese-Canadian taught us some dim sum manners: always refill the tea of those sitting around you before your own, tap the table to signal “Thank you” (with one finger if you’re single, two if you’re married), and leave the tea pot cover upside down or on the edge of the pot to signal for more. Along with what’s visible in the bamboo steamer baskets, you can also order other dishes from the kitchen (like steamed spinach, fried rice or noodles, etc). Prices are cheap, with 10 people we ordered about 30 dishes between us (maybe 30 is an exaggeration but there was sooo much food)  and paid ZAR80 per person. I especially recommend the pork Bun Xao (a fluffy white dumpling with delicious pork inside).

 Shun De is located in Cyrildene on the corner of Derrick Avenue and Janelea Street (on the second floor). Call
(011) 615 7168 for reservations especially for Sunday dimsum

Rhino and Lion Reserve (also: lion cubs and white tigers)

Land of Nams: living in Johannesburg, exploring the world, documenting the things I love

Land of Nams: living in Johannesburg, exploring the world, documenting the things I love

Land of Nams: living in Johhanesburg, exploring the world, documenting the things I love

Land of Nams: living in Johannesburg, exploring the world, documenting the things I love

Land of Nams: living in Johannesburg, exploring the world, documenting the things I love

Land of Nams: living in Johannesburg, exploring the world, documenting the things I love

Land of Nams: living in Johannesburg, exploring the world, documenting the things I love

Land of Nams: living in Johannesburg, exploring the world, documenting the things I love

Land of Nams: living in Johannesburg, exploring the world, documenting the things I love

I took my sister for a drive about an hour outside of Jozi to the Rhino and Lion Reserve. So far I’ve seen 3 out of the big 5 one of the animals I was missing was a lion. We were driving around the reserve (in the Clio, a questionable decision) and came upon Mufasa sleeping under a tree. I couldn’t get a good shot from inside so I got out of the car to snap him, and when I got back in I realized I had been standing 30 feet away from a fully grown male lion with nothing but grass between us. We saw zebras and two rhinos, as well as the usual ostriches, antelopes and wildebeests. Then we drove to the Animal Creche (which is a word for nursery) and had a chance to play with the 4 month old baby lions(!!!). They also bizarrely had tigers, white and regular, which is very odd because tigers are not native to the entire African continent. Regardless, it was a great opportunity to take close-up shots of them. The panthers, cheetahs, leopards all had fences on top of them, the tigers were left with nothing but sky. Clearly, these people do not know the deadly prowess of tigers (read this incredible New Yorker article about the tigers of the Sundarbans in Bengal). An interesting thing  to watch was the stalking – the not-quite fully grown tigers would stalk anyone that they felt was small enough, mostly children (albeit through the fence). The last picture is of the tiger stalking my sister, which was quite thrilling to watch.

Ernest Cole and the Apartheid Museum

Land of Nams: living in Johannesburg, exploring the world, documenting the things I love

Yesterday after the bookstore I took my sister to the Apartheid Museum. It was my first time too and I learned a lot. One of the biggest things I was haunted by was the work displayed in the museum by the photographer Ernest Cole. I remember reading about him in a NYT article some time ago and was blown away by his images of apartheid era South Africa. He gave voice to the voiceless and gave us a window and record of life for black South Africans. He snuck his camera into mines, marches, and the street (a black man walking around with expensive cameras in apartheid Joburg was not an easy feat). He successfully had himself re-classified  as Coloured and since they typically received more privileges than blacks, he was able to escape into exile to New York City in 1966. He published his photos and writings in a book called House of Bondage (it was banned in SA during apartheid) which I am going to start immediately when my sister leaves. Tragically he spent most of the 70′s and 80′s homeless and without his cameras. Ernest Cole died at the age of 49 a few weeks after Nelson Mandela was freed from jail. A lot of his lost images were found in Sweden after his death and are currently making their way around the world in exhibitions.

Collector’s Treasury: 8 floors of books and antiques in Maboneng.

Land of Nams: living in Johannesburg, exploring the world, documenting the things I love

I’ve been sharing a lot of photography-heavy posts recently but that is because I’ve been seeing so many beautiful things. My friend and fellow photography enthusiast Kate and her boyfriend brought me, P and my sis to Collector’s Treasury: Books and Antiques on Commissioner Street in downtown Jozi. Picture 8 huge floors (we only got to 4) with more than a million books stacked, stuck, and piled high to the ceiling and haphazardly in every nook and cranny. It was heaven for P because there were books as far as the eye could see and heaven for me because there were so many things to photograph!

There seems to be no real order and you must ask the two brothers if you are looking for something specifically and they will pull it out for you from the small recesses of their brains and the shop. There are books that are hundreds of years old perched perilously on the edge of a shelf or on the floor. You are free to browse and photograph (and plot your husband’s birthday present). We all came out with some books, I found one that I haven’t had a chance to read yet by one of my favorite authors, V.S. Naipaul.

Collector’s Treasury is located in the Maboneng Precinct in the CTP building at 244 Commissioner Street, you can park on the street right in front of the store. Along with all kinds of books (some very old and rare) they also have antiques, records, maps, and prints. A book lover’s paradise which claims to be the largest used book store in the southern hemisphere, a claim I am inclined to believe.

Land of Nams: living in Johannesburg, exploring the world, documenting the things I love

Land of Nams: living in Johannesburg, exploring the world, documenting the things I love

Land of Nams: living in Johannesburg, exploring the world, documenting the things I love

Land of Nams: living in Johannesburg, exploring the world, documenting the things I love

Land of Nams: living in Johannesburg, exploring the world, documenting the things I love

Land of Nams: living in Johannesburg, exploring the world, documenting the things I love

Land of Nams: living in Johannesburg, exploring the world, documenting the things I love

A photo-walk in Sandton

Land of Nams: living in Johannesburg, exploring the world, documenting the things I love

Happy New Year! Last week I went with the Joburg Photowalkers on a trip around Sandton. It’s not exactly a colorful neighborhood in Jozi so I decided to focus on snapping bits of nature amidst the concrete. The walk ended at the top of a hotel bar for some sunset pictures, but I had to leave for a dinner party and apparently missed some amazing shots. Ah well, I got to stuff my face with pierogies!

Land of Nams: living in Johannesburg, exploring the world, documenting the things I love

Land of Nams: living in Johannesburg, exploring the world, documenting the things I love

Land of Nams: living in Johannesburg, exploring the world, documenting the things I love

Land of Nams: living in Johannesburg, exploring the world, documenting the things I love

Land of Nams: living in Johannesburg, exploring the world, documenting the things I love

Land of Nams: living in Johannesburg, exploring the world, documenting the things I love

Land of Nams: living in Johannesburg, exploring the world, documenting the things I love

Land of Nams: living in Johannesburg, exploring the world, documenting the things I love

Buying a car in South Africa Part 1: Manual Transmission Newbies -You can do it!

Land of Nams: living in Johannesburg, exploring the world, documenting the things I love

I’m not quite sure how many parts there are going to be to this series, as buying a car in RSA is an exercise in insanity and perseverance. All I can say is that after approximately three months of living here, we are off the company rental and into our own Renault Clio (above). Actually, I’m not even sure there will be a part 2 as I can hardly even bear to think about the whole process, let alone record it (and I wasn’t even the one who had to deal with the Randburg Licensing department)

What I want to talk about right now  is driving a manual having had no experience. Hardly anyone in the States knows how to drive a manual, including us, and we fully expected to buy an automatic. Well it is on average about 20-40,000 Rand (almost 5,000 USD) cheaper to buy a manual (fyi cars are double sometimes triple the price of the same car in the US here). Since we were already irate about having to spend ANY money on a car the decision was made for us. After not even a week into it here are some tips for manual newbies like us.

1. If you are switching the side of the road, (it is not difficult, you can do it!) give yourself a few weeks in an automatic to just focus on driving on the left side, the new road rules, and driving habits in this country. Trying to learn manual and getting used to the new side might be a bit overwhelming.

2. If you have no idea how to drive a manual, book at least one professional lesson. We did that and those 2 hours were invaluable. I can give a hearty recommendation to Johannesburg residents for Patricia’s Driving School. She is patient and nice and has been doing it for 15 years. I mean we didn’t need to go back after only 2 hours with her!

3. Practice just moving off up hill. Yours or a friend’s driveway should do the trick. I spent at least 2 sweaty hours out there (I was so frustrated I took off my pants) and it helped me get to know the car tremendously. Plus a driveway is the most low pressure situation you can be in.

4. PRACTICE. You are going to stall and it is going to be ok. I spent 10 minutes stuck at a steep uphill intersection sweating it out with the hazard lights on my first solo drive. The cars didn’t even honk at me, just drove around. It made me realize I hate using the hand brake to start and avoid it as much as possible. It is also a bad but easy habit to have, if you have a partner to depend on him or her to do the majority of the driving. Don’t fall into that trap! Be independent! The only way you will be good at driving a manual is if you practice, Make yourself go through the discomfort so you can come out the other side.

5. Enjoy! Driving a manual is so much more fun than an automatic and if it continues to go well we are converts for life. You also have to be a lot more engaged in your driving (at least in the beginning) and that can ultimately mean being a better driver. You are learning a great life skill besides!

PS. Drivers everywhere…don’t ride the back of the car in front of you at a stoplight! It’s probably me sweating it out in my manual wishing you’d back the f*ck away so I don’t hit you when the car rolls back 3 feet slightly during moving off uphill.