31 January 2011

Ronden market

Two of my friends and I recently attended the monthly Ronden market. I think it's the last Sunday of every month. Though January has had five Sundays, so let's call it the fourth Sunday of the month then.

We enjoyed the vegetarian curry which was fabulous as always and soaked up some rare winter sun. The three of us gaijin (foreigners) were also captured in picture form on some Japanese hippie's smartphone. Say cheese.

30 January 2011

Wrap up another month

As my departure was becoming imminent my aunt invited us to dinner at her house in Cape Town.

We made a day of it by stopping in Woodstock to have lunch with a friend at The Deli. And by taking some pictures of buildings, naturally. And then we bummed around the city again, but mostly it was just too hot to get a lot of enjoyment out of it. I did have myself measured for a dress though... I hope that works out well.

25 January 2011

The Langkloof

After Christmas we visited the husband's parents. As always the Langkloof was a great place to "get away from it all"—whatever that means when you're already on holiday.

The drizzly weather provided ample time for reading, taking naps, and bumming about in general. We also took a good look at father-in-law's house-in-progress and mother-in-law's always flourishing garden. You'll see her mobile chicken coops that are working out nicely. The chickens eat the bugs and fertilise (read: poop on) the soil, then after a while their coop is moved over a bit and the soil can be used for planting.

For someone who didn't like dogs I've kind of warmed to them, and sweet dogs like Tequila the German Shepherd and Pedro the Pavement Special make it much easier. Of course I already started my conversion some time ago with Trishka, the ever attention seeking Rottweiler/Border Collie.

We spent New Year's Eve in the classic fashion: barbeque. I think the steak was as big as my face. I don't know how I ate it all. After brunch with the family and our newphew—who I could finally meet—we made our way back to Stellenbosch. Upon our return the ocean was covered in mist. It was the first time ever I saw it like that. The mist stretched across farmland next to the road almost all the way home.

21 January 2011

Christmas 2011

As an ALT you may very well pick up a weird obsession with food. You can impress both adults and children in Japan with pictures of delicious food. But also, you can have really great conversations with Japanese people about food. There's a general appreciation of food, or even—at a more basic level—an awareness. I know everyone doesn't listen to the lunch time announcements at school, but the lunch menu is read out as you're eating, every day. And often this would have been preceded by someone being genuinely curious about one or another dish and what exactly it is. Someone may even have jumped up to check it on the lunch plan printout on the wall. The announcements also carry extra information on one of the dishes or ingredients for the day.

Add this to many other aspects of Japanese food culture which I could wax lyrical about, and it's not surprising that Japanese people are interested in the food of other countries. And they specifically ask about food that goes with special occasions.

So this was our Christmas table this year. In my family's case there are no hard and fast rules about the Christmas meal. I'd say generally it happens in courses—first (pictured), main, and dessert—and generally it's "special" types of food like fillet steak or roast chicken, and we'll try something interesting with the vegetables, and of course there are many trimmings such as sauces, good cheese, and the like.

The Christmas meal in the West compares much better with Japanese New Year than with Japanese Christmas. Christmas here mostly involves eating some form of fancy cake, often with strawberries on top, and children might get a present. New Year's is much more of a family get-together, specific types of food are served, and children receive otoshidama—new year's money— from their adult relatives.

And this formal new year is in contrast with more informal parties in the West. Or in the South African case where I think 9.9 people out of 10 have a barbeque on New Year's Eve.

Does your country/region/culture/family have specific food for Christmas and/or New Year's?

What's surprising about a supermarket?

Some quick snaps of a supermarket back home.

Things that are interesting or surprising to my students (or even to me when I rethink things):

  • Snow decorations in a country where it doesn't snow for Christmas.
  • Buying food by weight—Japanese supermarkets usually have things priced by package or by single item. 
  • Different squashes like butternut and gem squash.
  • Buying a whole watermelon for R25 (290yen) instead of for 800yen or more.
  • Apples for about R3 (30yen) each, not 100yen or more.
  • Buying a whole bread for about R9 (100yen) instead of 5 slices for 150yen.
  • An enormous cheese selection. Compare with: grated cheese in bags, Camembert, cream cheese, and—worst of all—fake cheese.
  • Fruit juice in abundance, but more importantly, in enormous bottles (lower rack).
  • Ice-cream, not in a little cup, not even just two litres, but also five litres. And for about 500 or 600yen—no way. 
  • Enormous carts. But as one must point out, the cart-size and the general person-size correlate.

19 January 2011

The best way to see Cape Town

In keeping with the "tourists in our own backyard" idea, we went on a bus tour of Cape Town during December.

The company offers two routes, the blue peninsula route—presumably more naturey—and the red city route, which we took.

The main point for setting out and completing the journey is the V&A Waterfront, but you can start anywhere on the route and buy a ticket on the bus. We opted to start at the Waterfront, hopped off and took a stroll around the Greemarket Square area, then continued on from there to Camps Bay where we had lunch. We finished at the Waterfront again.

And truth be told it is a totally worthwhile endeavour even if you don't hop on and off much. The commentary on the bus is quite good, and it's available in many languages—including Japanese! You can get a great overview of the city's history and recent happenings, as well as bookmark all the places you might want to visit on another occasion.

And if you get a good seat on the open top part of the bus you can take pretty good pictures. As you will no doubt note, I went a bit nuts with the historical buildings in crazy two tone colours. I can't help it, I adore them all.

UPDATE 2012: More recent Cape Town wanderings.

18 January 2011


To continue with the December chronology, next up was our visit to the Backsberg Estate for a picnic concert. It was a whole day affair, but we were more interested in the concert than the picnic, so we rolled around early evening to see Jax Panik, Goldfish, and Die Antwoord.

Jax Panik I hadn't heard so much as heard of, being out here in the foreign wilderness. Their performance was quite enjoyable, and I see they're cultivating a nice young fan base (cf. the first video below). Goldfish was even better than expected, because their act included vocalists that they had collaborated with for their CD. The boys mixing it up on the stage are great, but the vocalists add some spice and interaction.

Die Antwoord is hard to characterise as anything other than "interesting". To be sure, The Ninja, as we know apparently reverently refer to him, has done more interesting work in the past, but who's going to turn down international fame once you finally found something that makes a lot of people tick?

But more interesting than the performance was how members of the audience were experiencing it. I haven't been to an event of this nature in some years, and the change is quite apparent. That thing the Mark Zuckerberg character says in The Social Network is true. People aren't just going to parties anymore, they're now taking their camera along, and reliving the moments later—online. I suppose me blogging about it is a case in point. Though it did seem that some people were there not so much to see Die Antwoord as they were there to be able to say and show (digital camera for evidence!) that they had done so. A lot of girls didn't appear to be into the music or the performance at all, but that didn't stop them from recording the evidence of the moment.

But anyway, here are my pieces of evidence of some moments. Oh, and big up to the people who organised it. It's nice to go to an outdoor event and see staff that are constantly in the vicinity of the porta potties, ready to keep them sanitary.

The Old Biscuit Mill

Sitting under my kotatsu, trying to catch up with the bygone holiday once more.

This time with our visit to the now famous Old Biscuit Mill (super boo for that Flash site that takes forever to load) in Woodstock. I first heard about the Neighbour Goods Market when the founder Justin Rhodes came to give us a lunch time lecture on starting your own small business. In the past few years it has gone from strength to strength and it's well worth a visit if you're in Cape Town on a Saturday morning. If you can't make that you can always just pop by and visit the art/design and interior shops.

We were lucky to find sweet parking here. It can be quite a crunch, so the earlier you arrive the better. And then of course there's more deliciousness for yourself!

11 January 2011

The Baxter

If this post turns out completely incomprehensible it's because I'm so very very jet lagged. (Jet lag in Japanese is fun because it's time/difference/become senile 時差惚け jisaboke—thank you Amy. But catch-up is required, and I can't bring myself to do anything more useful just now.

We attended David Kramer's Breyani at the Baxter Theatre in Cape Town. (Seemingly a lifetime ago in a place where it was summer and I could sleep at night.)

The Baxter Theatre remains excellent for many reasons, amongst others: a) the variety they put on; b) the affordable prices they charge; and c) the sound mix that generally doesn't suck. And while the building looks like a weird brick-spaceship from outside, you've just got to love the feeling of it landing on you with its weird orange ceiling lights.

David Kramer, if you didn't know, is a South African song writing and composing legend and should be commended for all the research and effort he's put into bringing local music forms to the people at large.

Breyani is a nice overview of some of his projects over the recent years, including Ghoema, and it imparts many historical and cultural gems, through the best voice for the job, Kramer's. The audience learns about Cape music through the show's authentic and original presentation by Kramer and the amazing team he put together.

The show at the Baxter is over but hopefully it'll be coming to a theatre near you soon.