Klerksdorp/Struck by gold

Klerksdorp, where a dazed-looking, cut-out Joshua Doore lookalike squints out at the deserted, drivetime streets from underneath a rust-red Russels store sign.
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Struck by gold

There’s a passage, a succession of two, three tumbleweed hums in Portrait with Keys by Ivan Vladislavic, which I haven’t been able to shake.

We ride into Joburg, up her bumpy bellybutton stretch from the South. The book’s slipping from my the womb of my lap.

Joburg lifts her dress, waving dozey Potch goodbye. Coincidences collide and flirt to pull off a slick audiovisual trick on my twitching senses:

The sun surrenders faraway in the West, the last glowing coal in braai-blue skyline. A road sign winks, she knows we know that we’re on the Golden Highway.

Look right. A pair of knowing, shadowless figures look as if their digging up a measured patch of veld to discover, or a small ditch to stash away, some secret treasure.

Images aren’t stable in stale brown light of buried pyrite. In a colourless flash the two figures unravel, now morphing into two youths lolling on same patch on farthest side of main drag, faceless under bright peak caps. This is Eldorado Park.

Two men at the back of the bus, smacking their lips in tandem, whinge, or whine, about how expensive food and drinks were on the train. Imaginary coins rattle in half sober skulls, causing their eyes to gleam as they sliver into smiles of regret.

What passage was it I was thinking about?

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South peninsula sorrows

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When you exit Cape Town by train, the majestic view of the mountain quickly disappears, replaced within minutes by a sprawling industrial wasteland.

Fallow machines gape at you from the annals of mechanization, wrestling your nerves and sense of time as you fight to shuffle recent memories of the beauty of the city to the front of your mind’s eye.

Espilande Station. Ysterplaat Station. Bellville.

Grey warehouses and shipping containers stacked higher than pylons stare down at the ruler-wide rectangle of your window.
Moody monoliths bleaching the sky around them to a limp and livid rag, sinking whatever it was that was afloat and bobbing about in your heart.

The train gathers speed reluctantly, in uneven lurches, like a belching drunk. A cocktail of fear and vertigo swell up in your abdomen when you speed past Osterzee Station.
The four days spent gorging yourself on the wonders the mother of cities, wonders she willing gave, blur and fade the harder you try to zoom-in on details and deeds.
The man in a black cap in the seat in front of you can’t take it. He rolls down the thick metal window cover on the sorry scene of our departure.
He turns his head away from the non-view, leaning into a slipstream aroma of fried fish and baby formula, slap chips and sweat, gushing down the aisle between rows of turquoise pleather seats. A banquet of bodily emanations, betraying the pulse of patience and parting.

Waiting in Simon’s Town

Waiting for the 1436h train back to Cape Town.

From a bench on the station’s platform, the view and soundscape are exceptional. Marvelous silence bar the crescendo of waves crash-landing on the belly of Long Beach.

The fence dividing shore from station is more a suggestion of the possibility rather than an actual fence. Low cinder blocks matted to a wet-gray by the aqueous arrivals. There are more gaps than actual wall; the gaps themselves are bri

Simon's Town: view of Long Beach from high up
Simon’s Town: view of Long Beach from high up

dged with two thin strips of wire. A rudimentary telecommunication system facilitating chatter between the inanimate, perhaps? All in all, the wall, its paucity, rather than revealing poor-workmanship, hints at  righteous rebellion: the persons tasked with its erection refusing to obstruct more than necessary the shimmering panorama of multi-blue seawater and auburn beach sand.

Anyhow, the view of green-brown mountains is too immense and forceful to be tamed, being nearly as high as the irritable skies cloaking their true reach.

A mélange of vehicular and human traffic comes to a slouch about your shoulders, akin, like the fence, to a suggestion by a knowing friend. A discomforting, but sufficiently distant reminder of the semantic noise that is the bedeviling crown atop the rude entanglements of everyday life.

I wish for the train to never come.

A persistent hush, monotone serenity, pinches my ears when I emerge from Recreation Records clutching two vinyl discs in a crumpled Pick n Pay packet; the Cannonball Adderley Quintet’sThe Price You pay to be Free and Chet Baker’s Nato Tour LP. The voluptuous quiet spoons me in her arms when I sit down alone on a blue wood bench to wait for the train I’m wish never comes.

Recreation Record's, eight years deep and stilling spinning vinyl
Recreation Record’s, eight years deep and stilling spinning vinyl

She, the quiet, whispers to me the far-away footsteps of sauntering beachwalkers, soothing my anxiety as my eyes search the tracks for the train I wish would never come.

Gazing into the anonymous thoughts of those far-off somnambulists, staring into the minds of those specks walking hand-in-hand near the water, as if at sand particles in a seashell, a “for fuck’s sake” splinters the calm. The broadside blows me out of my lull. Perched on the edge of the next bright-blue bench to my right, an earphoned man in explorer gear, a fellow waiter, grows impatient, willing the train’s arrival with the magnet of his anger.

And just then, the train arrives.

Watching Faces: In-depth tactics

Cartoon of the journalist and writer Hunter S....
Cartoon of the journalist and writer Hunter S. Thompson, based on his classic look. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

After plucking a dusty copy of Hunter S Thompson’s Song of the Doomed from that good old bookshop on Commissioner Street, triggering a welcomed opening the Universe’s floodgates, I’ve had my starved fangs in writings of America’s famous new journalists.

That day, after hours at Hing Hong Chinese Old Age Home coaxing information from reluctant residents anxious to get to their noodles stir-fry and corn soup lunch (what a treat.), I decided to brave the punishing heat and head to town on foot.

Commissioner street was my time-machine, the slanting path sliding out of Jeppestown into the shadows of the CBD’s skyscrapers, balancing the dread of staggering into the newsroom deadpan without a thing to write.

Late afternoon Joburg is unsettling if your spirit is already unsettled and your brain is already contracting in one long slow spasm. But you check yourself don’t you? and snarl a good one at your self-pity that’s not quite ennui.

But the weariness was contagion, really a harmless itch in a death-match versus all skin fingernails of a hypochondriac, contracted or imagined at the old age home.

Many of the elderly Chinese folks irrevocably flinched when the personal questions came out. Many shut the sole gate of the invisible Chinese wall when the general questions came out.

The journalist is cursed to be an outsider. It’s one of the perks, if you are wise to the strategic implications. I wasn’t that day.

So off the outsider went unable to turn rejection into koolaid, eh em soet aid. Jeppestown’s wondrous graffiti watched rather than offering consolation. It watched, I hadn’t.

The floodgates. Tom Wolfe’s New Journalism found its way into grateful palm via those dilated canals. In the Kentucky Derby is Decadent and Depraved Thompson, hunting for way to report on the crazy spectacle, finds himself anxious to get close enough to watch the faces of people that matter.

For him it is the “gentry of whiskey”.

For me and my quest to know what death and burial and the city mean to Joburg’s Chinese community, what does this mean?

Up to now faces only appeared and disappeared on my radar.

Pity.

Road Trip To Hong Ning Chinese Old Age Home

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#affinity

Hong Ning Chinese Old Age Home in Delgravia, just on the border of Jeppestown, on Main street.

Nomatter, a fellow #teamvuvu soldier, and I took two Rea Vaya buses and a short walk through Troyville and upper Jeppestown to visit the home.

We spoke, asked questioned, learned more than we bargained for, and crossed the isthmus that divides news subject from friend.

All morning, these words from Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities spun a dappled, crystalline web between my ears and cast a sherbet-powder-dust veil over my eyes:

“Between each idea and each point of the itinerary an affinity or a contrast can be established, serving as immediate aid to memory.”   

I am yet to pinpoint what the essential meaning of these words is, not yet. But a sense of their profoundness swells fat in my mind and tongue, producing a grin drizzled with wonder.

I do promise you, learned friends of this blog, no sooner this melodramatic state evaporates, and the elusive meaning hidden in the clouds of Calvino’s words distills itself in relation to the cool surface of outrageous exploration of Joburg’s Chinese community, than out the mouth of babes we go.

Trot trot trot.

‘Till then…

Visible Borders: Here and Not

Downtown. Chinatown. Commissioner street. Albertina Sisulu street. Ferrairsdorp.

Many of the buildings in the “original” Chinatown stand abandoned.

Empty shells with no ocean to echo.

None except the crashing waves of history? Perhaps. The feet of the deaf loathe sea sand.

Gone No one for tea ValileThe empty, quarantined buildings refuse entry to everyone. Everyone except the hunched over municipal employee: clanging set of keys and orders whispered from high, high up the bureaucratic food chain of rent and surveillance.

Perhaps.

Visually, and physically entire spaces are bordered off, along with the people who live there. Their voices, stories, past and future dreams, suffer a symbolic excommunication that spills into reality.

This fable of sides and borders, of separate places will play a large part in my exploration of how the Chinese community in Joburg prepare themselves, and their recently deceased, for another place, while remaining tethered to this very real, visceral place.

Johannesburg.

Ubuntu dreams

I have come around and in some special, ordinary as bread kind of way, began to enjoy this blogging thing.

Words do not come easily to me. Private thoughts ramble and hiss beneath the skull, short-circutting sentences and expression. Sometimes, blinded by my own daydreams, the tongue drifts off into obscure idiom, up and further up mount garble without pencil or page.

My argument was that blogging can easily lead you down the road into hideously manicured neighbourhoods of narcissism. A spermy, animal urine puddle doubling as Jacuzzi where insignificant words and ideas serve as bath salts.

Between thinking, reading and writing (longer pieces and private pieces), where do you find the time to clog the webisphere with unconsidered epithets. Playing too close to the “drivel” line.

I have to admit, caveats being du jour, this sense was not based on any extensive or deliberate blog reading in search of blogs that would disprove this sense. Why would I? Where would one, or two or three, find the time to perform this chore?

In a lucky packet?

But one, and possibly two or three, can grow in a matter of days and weeks. In minutes a strong opinion can dissolve and dark skies burst like dawn’s egg yolk.

Here’s the new sense, or at least as much as I’ve been able to see so far:

Terminal irony, fashionable cynicism, curiosity deficiency, under complication, ennui. Cognitive diseases of our time. Sometimes, as a palliative measure, it is necessary to give a stranger a peak into your soul.

Bill Evans, in the linear notes to Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue, describes a Japanese visual art in which “the artist is forced to be spontaneous”.

“Erasures or changes are impossible,” he says of the art practiced on parchment wood.

This improvisation, he says is a discipline the artist must teach himself through constant practice.

The practice, is “that of allowing the idea to express itself in communication with their hands in such a direct way that deliberation cannot interfere”, Evans explains, before drawing out how this practice came across in the gargantuan trumpeters 1959 release.

This is, in a little way, my manifesto of blogging.

In the poem below, Amiri Baraka declares: “Poems are bullshit, unless they are teeth, or trees, or lemons piled on a step”.