Guilty or Not Guilty?

How do I plead? Guilty or Not Guilty?

Two things that REALLY piss me off.

One, people trying to make me feel guilty for emigrating from South Africa and two, ex-pat South Africans badmouthing my country of birth and my new adopted country.

The decision to leave our country of birth, which we love dearly and will always love, was certainly not taken lightly. Initially we did not go out actively pursuing ways and means of emigrating, we did not have any intention of leaving, however when the opportunity arose for Irene, my wife, to be granted New Zealand citizenship, she decided to take it. (Her grandfather was a born Kiwi, which entitled her to citizenship). We agonized for many months before we finally made the decision to move. We felt, rightly or wrongly that the crime rate was getting worse and more violent and the Aids epidemic was causing a huge financial drain on the country. The future for our youngest son and us was not looking too promising. After all we were not getting any younger and job security and old age pensions were not a given. Our two older boys had already left to pursue their futures in the UK.

In November 2000, we left the shores of our beloved homeland to make a new life in New Zealand. Over the last eleven years, we have built a successful new life in the Land of the Long White Cloud (Aotearoa). It has not been easy; we have worked hard at it, sometimes feeling guilty for leaving but at the same time feeling grateful that we were accepted by New Zealand. Darren (our middle boy) has since joined us, is married to a lovely Kiwi girl, and has made a good life for himself here in Auckland. Evan, our youngest, who was only eleven when we arrived, has forged an amazing life for himself, graduating from Auckland University with a linguistics degree and winning a full scholarship to study in China where he still is. Now my critics may say that this is all well and good but could have been achieved in SA, who really knows but I have my doubts.

I am always thrilled when hearing positive things happening in SA but saddened when hearing negative stuff. As I have already mentioned, what really bugs me is ex-pat South Africans who consistently spread negative stories about the place, never seeing the positives. In my humble opinion it was them and their ancestors who caused the problems facing SA today. If ALL the people of SA were given the same opportunities and rights, then just maybe we would have seen a much more positive outcome.

I don’t know what the future holds for South Africa but my heart will always be there. Having said that, New Zealand is a great place and when people come here to make a new life for themselves and can find nothing nice to say about the place then I would like to say to them, Fuck off back to where you came from.

So how do I feel, guilty or not guilty? Well, I do feel guilty for not doing more to help improve the lives of my fellow South Africans but I am certainly not guilty for wanting and achieving a better life for my family. I have reached the stage in my life when I can say that my heart lies in numerous places. In the bush of the Northern Transvaal, the green hills of Natal midland, the Sugar plantations of Zululand, the wine land of the Cape and the beautiful Bay of Islands in the North of New Zealand, Mt Ruapehu in Central North Island of NZ and of cause my new home town of Auckland. I love both countries deeply and feel a great pride when I hear both National Anthems.

Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika – God of Nations…

Putco Bus – by Trevor Romain

This is an article by Trevor Romain – I found it on Facebook and enjoyed it so much that I got Trevor’s kind permission to re-blog it. Trevor is not only a gifted writer but an accomplished artist. Enjoy..

Putco Bus

(Disclaimer. What you are about to read is a simple story about a personal awakening up Louis Botha Avenue from the Doll House. It is not meant as a political statement, a judgment of others, acceptance of wrongs or a righteous soapbox holier-than-thou rant. The following just came to mind while drawing this Putco bus. I’m just saying…)

When I was in high school waiting for the bus to go home, a bunch of us were talking the usual kak that schoolboys do when a Putco bus pulled up. One of the boys took a bet that none of us would jump on the bus and take it the four stops down Louis Botha Avenue to where we normally got off.

For some reason the bus stopped right in front of me. I mean, there it was. An open door. If you stepped into that green monster you could expect a bicycle spoke in the ribs, robbery, dismemberment and certain death. It was simply not done. Taboo. Verboten. Eewww, dirty.

As a child, ‘they’ said don’t drink out of those enamel, chipped, tin mugs that Africans drink out of. (Why they had tin and we had glass I’ll never know.) Wash you hands twice if you touch an African. Don’t get too close you might get a disease. And for goodness sake, never get on a Putco bus because you will be robbed and killed instantly. Oh man, that propaganda machine worked us didn’t it? The indoctrination got us all scared and hateful.

Well, I was a renowned fraidy cat who stole a rat, but my friend Mark and I got on the friggin’ Putco bus, didn’t we?

The bus driver raised his eyebrows and before he could say a word I blurted out, “The okes took a bet. They dared someone to get on the bus. Errr sorry.”

My buddy Mark said, “It’s only a few stops. We’re going to Thelma’s Fish and Chips.”

The driver smiled and nodded. (He must have laughed really hard afterwards explaining to his buddies how these two white lighties were shitting bricks on his bus. I must admit I almost had a thrombosis with fear. I about kaked myself.) I tried to give the driver my bus ticket and he said, “Those tickets, they do not work on this bus, kleinbaas. Stand here,” He pointed to a spot just behind his seat. Then he put his foot down and the green monster lurched forward leaving the boys at the stop coughing and spluttering in a cloud of black diesel fumes. (The bike ous like Joe and Scotch and Francesco, experienced that cloud of smoke I’m sure. And so did the cyclists who used to hang on to those #@$&*$# buses on the way UP death bend. Did the words ‘Death Bend’ not register?)

Surprisingly, when I got onto the bus, nobody killed me. (At least not to my knowledge. I may be dead and not know it.) Nobody handed me the dreaded Ebola virus. Nobody scowled at me. Nobody robbed me. In fact the riders on the bus, both sitting and standing, didn’t give a crap. This ‘big dare’ we took didn’t faze anybody on the bus. My actions meant absolutely nothing, china. Nada, Niks. Bogger-all. The people on the Putco bus just wanted to take their hungry tummies, weary eyes, slumped shoulders and go home to Alexandra Township.

I learned something very interesting and enlightening in Orange Grove that day. By breaking the rules and stepping onto that Putco bus (and into the jaws of certain death) I saw the enemy! And I learned, very clearly, that the enemy…was ME!

Thank you Trevor for allowing me to re-blog this beatifully written essay.

Check Trevor’s Blog Site

Life is…remembering

Saigon (Ho Chi Min)

At the urging of my old friend Morris Harris, I have added a bit more on this incredible city.

As I mentioned in my previous post, Vietnam is incredible, in particular Ho Chi Min City (Saigon). The place is rundown, dirty, busy and noisy. Yet there are signs of growth emerging around the city. There are a great number of new buildings going up, offices and apartments. The traffic is something that takes getting used to though; I have never seen so many mopeds and motor bikes in my life. One of our tour guides told us during a city tour; if a young man wants a girlfriend in Vietnam all he has to do is buy a motor bike, otherwise he’ll stay a virgin.
One afternoon I was making my way to meet Irene and Evan who were out shopping, when I tried to cross over a busy road. I waited at a pedestrian crossing trying to get a gap to cross (they take no notice of pedestrian crossings in Vietnam). There were literally thousands of mopeds, motorbikes and taxis moving in both directions. I thought I would never get across when after ten to fifteen minutes a young guy pulled up on his moped, got off, grabbed my arm and proceeded to walk me over the road. After reaching the other side, he told me in broken English that the only way to cross busy roads in Saigon was to look straight ahead and just walk across slowly. He said that the traffic would move around me like a flow of a river, and that is exactly what happened. I never had trouble crossing again.

We did a lot of walking in Saigon, and were fortunate enough to stay in District 1 of the city. District 1 is the so-called “fun centre” of Saigon with its thousands of pubs, restaurants and clubs around a central park. It is also within walking distance of many of the tourist places of interest like the main market and night market, war museum, Reunification Palace and of course the famous Saigon River (which by the way is fucking filthy). In the evenings, you can see hundreds of young guys with their moped/motor bikes parked on the sidewalks next to the central park with their girl friends and themselves draped over the bike making out, very cute. How they manage to stay on the bikes is beyond me but I suppose when the pheromones are flying anything is possible.

For me the Highlight or should I say the Lowlight of the city tour was the war museum, not because it was bad or boring but because it was so touching. By the time I came out, I was in tears; the poor people of Vietnam have gone through such hell. America has a lot to answer for with their use of Agent Orange and napalm. Absolutely heartbreaking, and yet they bear no malice. Vietnamese people are friendly, always smiling and very welcoming and hospitable, they are fiercely proud, patriotic, and tough; one cannot help but fall in love with them.

Street food is the way to eat not only in Vietnam but also in most countries in Asia. The local population do not seem to cook at home, so buying food from street vendors is the way to go, and the food is delicious if one can get past the hygiene. The best food we had in Asia, i.e. China, Vietnam and Thailand was from street vendors and street side restaurants. A street side restaurant is an informal restaurant set up on the sidewalks. They put up a tarpaulin and bring out a few plastic tables and chairs. They cook the food on LPG cookers on the pavement right in front of the patrons. In addition, they don’t have anything like liquor licenses, (What’s that? They ask) they serve a variety of different local beers with your meal. It is wonderful. Moreover, there are hundreds of these street side restaurants all over to choose from all specializing in one type of meal or another.

The tunnels of Củ Chi are an immense network of connecting underground tunnels located in the Củ Chi district of Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), and are part of a much larger network of tunnels that underlie much of the country. The Củ Chi tunnels were the location of several military campaigns during the Vietnam War, and were the Viet Cong’s base of operations for the Tết Offensive in 1968.
The tunnels were used by Viet Cong guerrillas as hiding spots during combat, as well as serving as communication and supply routes, hospitals, food and weapon caches and living quarters for numerous guerrilla fighters. The tunnel systems were of great importance to the Viet Cong in their resistance to American forces, through which they secured an American withdrawal from Vietnam and ultimate military success. (ex Google)

Right next door to the tunnel area where we visited is a shooting range where one can try out all the old war weapons, such as AK47’s MMG’s as well as throw hand grenades. The noise was deafening, with the rat-a-tat of machine gunfire and the explosion of hand grenades adding to the atmosphere. It reminded me so much of my stint in Angola in 1976. I went into one of the tunnels, crawled about 50 metres before I got claustrophobic, and had to get out quick. The smell of the cordite and explosives was pretty eerie, again the experience brought a huge lump to my throat. The Vietnamese people as well as the young American soldiers must have had it hard in those days.

We also went up the Mekong Delta, which was very interesting and very beautiful. The Mekong is a subsidiary of the Saigon River. It is hard to believe that only 40 years ago they were in the middle of one of the bloodiest wars in history and have no bitterness towards the Yanks.

Another place of interest, which we visited, was a place called Mui Ne. Mui Ne is a seaside resort and quite amazing, with beautiful white beaches and hundreds of fancy resort hotels and hostels, a real holiday paradise attracting thousands of young yuppies from the UK and Europe. It is supposed to be the Kite Surfing capital of the world. We spent two day there and enjoyed it a lot but preferred the authentic Vietnamese culture in Ho Chi Min. I suppose that that kind of resort town is good for Vietnam as it attracts a lot of Western tourist who have money so it helps build up their poor economy.
Anyway, friends, that is about it, I highly recommend Asia as a tourist destination, generally most of Asia is cheap, with the exception of Japan, which I believe is a bit pricey.

Many people asked me if I liked Saigon and Vietnam, my answer has to be…


I FUCKING LOVED Saigon and Vietnam.

Watch this space for more exciting theories on whether Life is…


Family holidays…

I love family holidays, and the family holiday, which we have recently been on, must be up there as one of the best of my lifetime.

Our eldest son Brad and his lovely partner Denise tied the knot in London on August 13th and he gave us the choice of going to London for the wedding, which he said, would be a low-key affair or meet with the rest of the family in Koh Samui in Thailand. After some thought and discussion with the rest of the family, we decided to choose the latter.

With Evan studying in China it was logical to meet him there and do some touring, his knowledge of Mandarin, made Evan a perfect tour guide and we had an amazing time in China.

We visited Shanghai, Hangzhou (where Evan attends the Zhejiang University) and Beijing, all of which we found to be not only fascinating but beautiful too. Each city has its own unique fascination. We did the usual tourist visits like the Riverbanks and French concession in Shanghai, as well as the Propaganda museum and enjoyed the ballroom and Chinese line dancing on street corners in the evenings. Westlake with its beautiful “Three Pools Mirroring the Moon Island”, the Botanical Gardens in Hangzhou, as well as Evan’s Uni (Zhejiang University). We also stayed in the Student hostel where Evan lives. We partook in a sample of Hangzhou’s nightlife but at our age, we didn’t do much of that.

The bullet train trip from Hangzhou to Beijing was quite remarkable; the distance between the two cities is 1320 km. The trip including a few stops on the way took us just under six hours, which is an average of over 200 km per hour; at times, it reached speeds of 360kph.

As expected, our stay in Beijing was fantastic. Beijing is an amazing city not only very modern but in many ways it is still very traditional. It is a very busy city with a population of nearly 20 million. We travelled extensively on the underground, which is very efficient and surprisingly easy to understand even for foreigners. Since the Olympics all street signs, Subway stations and shops have English signage.

We stayed at a hostel/guest house in an old traditional “Hutong” (are alleys formed by lines of siheyuan, traditional courtyard residences.) The place was beautiful, very quaint, all the rooms surrounding an enclosed courtyard. Our room was lovely and clean, with comfortable beds and our own ensuite bathroom. The staff was very friendly and helpful. All in all a very enjoyable experience.

For me the highlight of our stay in Beijing must be, without exception, our visit to the Great Wall of China. It was so awe inspiring that it was humbling. Another awesome experience was strolling around Tiananmen Square, the huge and infamous square in front of the Forbidden City. (Infamous because of the protests of April 1989 when a large number of people were shot dead for protesting against the Communist Government)

The only complaint I had about our Chinese experience was the air pollution and the oppressive heat it brought on. As an African I thought that the heat would not worry me, well I was wrong, I have never felt heat like that in my life, draining to say the least.

China is a fascinating place, which we enjoyed immensely, the food was incredible and the nice thing about touring China is that it is so cheap. We absolutely loved it!

We thought China was cheap until we arrived in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) Vietnam. Now that place is cheap.

We met Darren and Amanda there; they were staying with an old school friend of Darren’s, Remy Jauffret and his lovely partner Sabrina and their beautiful daughter Yukiko who live and work in Saigon. It was great seeing Remy and Family again. They showed us a good time in HCMC. Darren, Amanda, Remy, Sabrina and Yukiko all went to Cambodia for a few days and we, Irene, Evan and I stayed on and explored Saigon, the Mekong Delta, the Cu Chi Tunnels and Mui Ne Beach.

Vietnam is poor, run down, hot and sticky, dirty, but an incredibly beautiful country. HCMC (Saigon) has traffic like I’ve never seen in my life before. There are over 4 million motor cycles in Saigon, which has a population of just over 9 million people. The city is an extremely busy hub, with motorbikes and taxis whizzing around every which way. The roads are in disrepair as are most of the sidewalks and old buildings. Yet there is no air of doom and gloom, the people are optimistic and friendly. I must admit that I fell head over heels in love with the place especially Ho Chi Minh (Saigon) I will definitely be visiting there again.

On Darren and Amanda’s return from Cambodia, we sadly had to say farewell to Remy, Sabrina, Kiko and Saigon, my favourite city, and head off to meet Brad, Denise and the kids and Denise’ family in Koh Samui Thailand.

Koh Samui, simply Samui as it is referred to by locals, is an island off the east coast of the Kra Isthmus in Thailand, close to the mainland Surat Thani town. It is Thailand’s second largest island, with an area of 228.7 km2 and a population of over 50,000. It is rich with natural resources, white sandy beaches, coral reefs and coconut trees, and tourist. It is an absolute tropical paradise.

Brad booked us into a huge villa, right on the beach near the village of Lamai. The villa had six luxury bedrooms each with their own bathrooms. There was also a fully equipped kitchen a lovely dining room and lounge/TV room. The Villa had its own infinity swimming pool right on the beach. Absolute luxury!

Apart from the obvious pleasure of seeing Brad, Denise and the grand kids again, we got to meet Denise’s lovely family. Briege (Mom), Siobhan (Sister), Dermot (Brother-in-law).

The weather could not have been better, beautiful sunshine and nice and hot, but if it were snowing it would not have dampened our joy at being together. I cannot describe the joy of having the whole family together albeit just for a short time. It was fantastic. Unfortunately, Darren and Amanda could only spend four days with all of us as they had used up their leave and had to get back to work. However, we still all had a great time together.

There was an incident, which unfortunately put a bit of damper on the holiday. Brad had hired three mopeds and a little Suzuki Jeep for the duration of our stay; these were to be our transport around the Island. The very first day we were all going to travel in convoy around the Island. Brad and Denise on one bike, Siobhan and Dermot on another and Irene and Evan on the third, and I was to drive the little Jeep with the kids and Briege. Both Irene and Evan had never been on a bike before and this inexperience proved disastrous, as we pulled off Evan, with Irene on the back lost control of the bike and they both came off, hurting themselves quite badly. We had to get them to the local hospital where Irene received eight stitches in her head and Evan badly grazed on his arms and legs. That put an end to the third moped. From then on they both travelled in the jeep with Briege, the kids and me.

All too soon, the day arrived for all of us to pack and return to our respective homes, Auckland, London, Belfast and Hangzhou. The farewells were heartbreaking and I’m not ashamed to say that I cried like a baby. The older I get the more and more sentimental and emotional I get. I only wish that we could all live in the same city, oh hell I’ll just settle for the same country.

We are already saving and planning for the next family holiday. Where will that be? Life is… a holiday with all the family.