Sunday, June 26, 2005

Taiwan Bound
Rather a lot has been happening in my life since I got back from my trip to South Africa a month ago, (not that I've been writing about it here, due to the chaotic nature of everything.) However, here's the long story short:

I got back from SA, spent a few days in Michigan, then went to visit family in North Carolina, thinking that it would be my only chance this summer before I had to teach at the community college all summer. While I was home for the week, I got a call from the international teacher recruitment service that I had kind of given up on, offering me a for-sure job in Taiwan. However, I could only take the job if I could be there by the end of June, rather than the beginning of August as I had been told was a possibility before. And of course, they needed to know right away.

I accepted the job, got out of teaching at the community college easily, since the summer session is light, and have spent the entire rest of the month packing up my apartment, selling my furniture and car, saying good-bye to friends, etc, etc. I drove the 12 hours from Michigan to NC in my parents' completely packed minivan (with all unnecessary seats removed) this past Friday, unloaded it all yesterday to store at my loving parents' house, and am now reorganizing the basic necessities to take to Taiwan for a year of English teaching. I leave tomorrow.

The information I have right now about what I will be doing is scant at best, but since I'll be teaching at a Catholic girls' school, I suppose it's fitting that I'm taking a lot of this on faith. When I first get there, though, I'm supposed to be working at a summer camp, so I have no idea where I'll be living or if I'll have internet access. For an idea of where I've been told I'll be teaching, eventually, here is the Sacred Heart school website, and here is the English version. I'll probably set up a new Taiwan-dedicated blog when I get there, but I think I'll keep this one for linguistics stuff. I'll write next from the other side of the world!

Monday, June 20, 2005

Afrikaans in 60 Words
While I was in South Africa, one of Danola's colleagues was expounding about the superior joys of speaking Afrikaans. He told me, very seriously from within his slightly drunken state, that Afrikaans uses only 60 words, and this is what makes its speakers so straightforward in their communications.

To illustrate his point, he used the example of an Afrikaans speaker vs. someone from Europe complaining about service in a restaurant (since that's where we were at the time). According to him, this is the contrast.

Afrikaans speaker: This service is for sh*t.

European: I'm terribly sorry, but I seem to be having a problem with thus and such and I was wondering if I might perhaps speak to someone about making a complaint...

From the example, I think it's fairly clear that what the guy meant was that the culture in which most people speak Afrikaans (that being pretty much exclusively South Africa) fosters a certain forthrightness of manner, whereas he views European cultures as being annoyingly indirect and too concerned with politeness. This may well be a valid observation, but the fact that he has decided in his mind that this means Afrikaans has far fewer words than other languages is very amusing to me.

Monday, June 13, 2005

South Africa Whirlwind, Part 2: Capetown
On Thursday, one week after I arrived in South Africa, Danola and I got on another plane and flew to Capetown. Danola was technically doing a training session for some of her company's Capetown staff that afternoon, so I got dropped off at a mall to wander around for 4 hours. I only bought one thing, a book, but I was very excited about it, because it was Steven Erikson's latest, which I can only get as a UK import by special order in the US. Hooray for countries that get most of their books from England anyway! When I got tired of walking in endless circles around the mall, though, I sat down in a little waiting area outside one of the department stores to read, but instead ended up listening to the other people who sat down there talk to each other. Afrikaans, South African English, a click language... Fun stuff.

When Danola and her Capetown staff person/guide, Jonathan, finally came to pick me up, we went to what is apparently the best pizza restaurant in Capetown for dinner with her trainee group. There ended up being just 5 of us, as Dave had to go to an OB appointment with his wife, but between Danola, Alasdair, Shane, and Jonathan, they managed to rack up such a tab in the nearly 6 hours we were there that the waitstaff was genuinely impressed. Being the only sober person there was kind of interesting. It was kind of like the "team-building" karaoke parties in Japan, except thankfully minus the singing. It was certainly amusing seeing them try to hire our waiter away from the restaurant to go manage a restaurant in the airport. He quickly told them they couldn't afford him, though I could certainly see why they'd want to, given that the service there was miles above any other place we'd eaten.

On Friday, Danola just had to run over to the airport for a "quick" meeting, and 2 hours later I ended up over there too, trying to organize file folders. We did actually finish up quickly after I got there, which was good, because then we got to go to Table Mountain. It was a beautiful day, and there weren't that many cars (which is apparently often a problem), so we got up to the top easily. In the cable car on the way up, the floor rotated around so we could get a full 360 view, no matter where we were standing.

While the top of the mountain certainly looks flat from the city, the top of it is very rocky, with all sorts of interesting wear patterns from water and wind across the top, and lots of little bushes and trees. Danola and I walked around up there for probably an hour, looking at the mountain and the ocean so close together. It was beautiful. I took many stunning pictures, to use a Danola word, and I do promise to post them soon.

That evening, Alasdair invited us to his little town, along the coast, but not actually in Capetown. It's a rather indie, artsy kind of town, full of coffee shops, art galleries, restaurants, and bars, all practically right on the water. Alasdair's apartment is above an art gallery and coffee place, and directly across the street and train tracks from the beach. Danola spent the whole sunset hour gushing about the beauty. The Capetown staff thinks she needs to get out of Johannesburg and move there.

On Saturday, Danola and I hit the V&A Waterfront for breakfast and strolling. Because I had done no souvenir shopping at all yet, we also hit the "Craft Market." We saw many things, but the weirdest thing was that they had an entire section of the market dedicated to massage of all kinds, chi adjustment, palm reading, etc. I ended up buying some small (easily packable) carvings of rhinos and elephants, and some necklaces cleverly made out of beads and safety pins.

Then we went for a drive along Chapman's Peak, which is apparently where they have the Argus bike race every year. The road is very curvy, with beautiful views everywhere you look, and very steep, leading me to believe that the cyclists on that tour are insane. The road leads up over the mountain and down to the other side of all the little towns along the cape. Simon's Town is the home of Boulders Beach, where the African penguins nest. We took the walk out on the raised walkways to see them all, which was very cool. There were lots of babies, all covered with brown fluff. So cute! Penguins are so neat.

For the rest of the afternoon and evening, we ended up at Shane and Alasdair's favorite bar, The Brass Bell in Kalk Bay. It's actually a collection of bars and restaurants, all sprouting out of a central building on separate decks, all at different levels and directions. The owner apparently rents the land from the railroad tracks to the ocean from the train company for ridiculously cheap, on a 99 year lease, and can build whatever he wants. The Bell sits so close to the water, they have to put up plexiglass shields to keep diners from getting sprayed by the ocean, and during particularly rough times of the year, they have to remove the tables from the decks nearest the water, because the waves actually break over the tops of them. Given that it was winter and the low season, Shane and his wife just kind of took over the place, introducing us to the waiters and giving us all the gossip about the more colorful locals. For instance, the guy playing his guitar for change in the underpass to get from the street to the Bell under the train tracks now lives with his wife, 3 kids, and two dogs in a camper that someone donated to them. They used to live in a dome tent on the beach. They live off what he makes from playing guitar, by choice. Apparently, he comes from a very wealthy family and his parents have been putting money in a bank account for him for years, but he never touches any of it.

Alas, all good things must come to an end. On Sunday, we flew back to Johannesburg, where Danola decided I would not be allowed to leave without my first exposure to a full length Bollywood movie, Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, which left me with a definite impression that Danola's life needs more singing and dancing. I'm amazed I didn't have Bollywood dreams that night. On Monday, I packed up, went to dinner with Danola when she got off work, and then began the long journey back to the US.

Thursday, June 09, 2005

South Africa Whirlwind, Part 1: Animals
My trip to South Africa was rather short for being on the other side of the world, but I still got to see an awful lot. After a combined 27 hours of flying through and waiting in various airports, I arrived at Johannesburg International Airport, where Danola convienently works. She took me back to her place, on the wrong side of the road, in her very cute little car, with the driver's seat on the wrong side and shifting gears with the wrong hand.

I managed to stay awake until a reasonable bedtime hour, and then slept 14 hours straight. An exciting first day in South Africa, no? I was up before Danola got back from work, though, so then she took me to see the scenic Nelson Mandela Square in Sandton, a very high-end area of Johannesburg. The square is surrounded by shopping on all sides, where I conveniently procured film, but in the middle there is a humongous statue of Nelson Mandela (doing his famous "Mandela Shuffle") and a temporary installation of a parade of cows. My favorite was the literary cow wearing a tie and being skewered by a pair of pens. Danola being the popular people person she is, we also ran into one of her old friends.

On Saturday, Danola and her mother took me to the Oriental Market, a giant, predominantly Indian bazaar. It is possibly the most confusing place I've ever been, with stores that are inside, outside, underground, upstairs, with proper walls and aisles, in tents, in stalls, spilling out into the walkways, and on and on. We had samosas and coffee for lunch, and then ran into one of Danola's aunts. I began to get the impression that Danola knows everyone in Johannesburg. That night, we went out to dinner and then to a party with Danola's best friends, who I had heard a lot about in Japan, since she used to live with them. One of them still lives in that house, and it was interesting to see all these people and places I had only heard about.

Because Danola had to work during the next week, she arranged a trip to the Kruger National Park for me, so on Sunday afternoon I took a bus to the town of Nelspruit, where my guide, Andre, picked me up. I spent the first night in the backpacker's inn/hostel that his family runs, and the next morning we hit the road. We actually saw quite a lot more than the Kruger. During the 3 days I was out there, we saw Blyde River Canyon and two private game reserves before even entering the Kruger.

Blyde River Canyon was, I think, my favorite part. We went there during the morning of the first day. The views were spectacular. One of Danola's friends was worried that I would find it boring, being from the country with the Grand Canyon, but the two are nothing alike. For one thing, it's a green canyon, seemingly covered with giant flowering aloes, and other trees and bushes and grasses and green things, even though it was supposed to be winter. My favorite area was the Potholes, where the river takes a lot of twists and turns, forming many eddies and whirlpools. Rocks fall into the whirlpools and erode nearly perfectly circular holes in the canyon wall and river bed, over and over again. They're also called Bourke's Luck, because the first person to discover them also found the pools full of little gold nuggets washed down from the areas upstream.

In the afternoon, we went to the first private game reserve. This one was not a Big Five reserve, meaning it didn't have any particularly dangerous predators on its grounds, so we were able to go out hiking in the bush all afternoon. We were able to get pretty close to a lot of the animals, especially the giraffes. There was a whole family of them, with two babies. I also saw zebras, warthogs, wildebeests, and the ubiquitous impala. That night we went for a night walk, and saw some bushbabies (monkey things), and a really huge porcupine. Oh, and a male nyala, which really surprised Andre, because he didn't think the park had any.

One of the neighboring reserves does have lions, and Andre takes great glee in telling a story about another night walk he did not long ago. He was taking two very talkative Dutch girls for a night walk, and they had been annoying him a lot. Suddenly, he heard a noise and saw something in the dark, so he turned on his flashlight, and there was a lion from the next reserve over lying in the middle of the road. Then there was a roar from the side of the road, and another from the other side, and then one from behind! "We're surrounded! We must be very quiet, and move very carefully." The Dutch girls shut up quickly and cried all the way back to their cabin. Andre didn't tell them that all the surrounding roars they heard weren't really lions at all, but male impala in the act of mating, and therefore quite harmless. I didn't see any lions there.

I did see lions the next day, when we stopped by the white lion breeding project. The white lions of this area are much like the black squirrels found in Michigan; a natural but rarely occurring coloration pattern. The white lions were thought to be a myth for a long time, but finally some hunter brought back proof, either with a trophy or a picture, I forget which, and one particularly rich guy decided to start the breeding project to increase their numbers. They know the lions are not albino because they have grey eyes and when they are born they have the same fur spotting pattern as regular baby lions, which fades as they get older. They were very pretty, but the yellow male on the opposite side of the fence from the three white females looked rather frustrated.

Then we went to a second game reserve that is known for having more of the rare animals that are very hard to spot in the Kruger. All of their cabins overlook the hippo pool, but during the day, usually all you can see of them is their noses and ears. Apparently, hippos can stay completely submerged underwater for up to 20 minutes at a time. Late in the afternoon, we drove around the reserve looking for animals on their way to the various watering areas for an evening drink. We saw many zebras, wildebeests, and impala, as well as lots of different kinds of rare antelope, like the eland, duiker, waterbuck, kudu, and tsessebe. When it got dark, the hippos came out and started wandering around or at least lying on the shore. They are really loud, as it turns out, kind of a really carrying, low mooing. The reserve has "Beware of Hippos" signs up where all the cabins are, because hippos are actually quite territorial, don't like people, and can move really fast. Andre said more tourists get hurt by hippos than any of the other "dangerous" animals in South Africa.

The third day we finally went to the actual Kruger. We got up at 4:30am in order to be there for the gate opening, supposedly because there would be more animals around early in the day. The Kruger is huge. Really, really huge. You're not allowed to get out of your car, either, so basically you just drive around, hoping the animals will wander close to the roads. If you've actually seen an animal recently, park etiquette is to motion to other cars to roll down their windows so you can tell them where to go. You can always tell if something big has been spotted, by the line of stopped cars on the road. Besides the various animals I had seen at the other parks, I got to see 4 of the Big Five. The Big Five are elephant, lion, buffalo, leopard, and rhinoceros. I technically saw everything but the leopard, which is the hardest to find. I say technically because the rhino was so far away I couldn't really tell what it was, so it's more of a faith rhino. We had one elephant threaten to charge the car because he had a thorn in his foot and was in a bad mood, but apparently elephants do this a lot. They don't like cars very much.

We had to leave the Kruger early in the afternoon, though, to get me back to Nelspruit in time to meet the bus back to Johannesburg. Good thing we made it, because that's when I had the aforementioned conversation with the young guy on the bus, and besides, Danola and I had to go to Capetown the next day. The Capetown adventures will be next.

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