First Two Months In South Africa

And just like that, it’s been two months in the Rainbow! As a continuation of what I wrote when I first got here, two months means two more months to explore the city, to get acquainted with the new job, to learn I can never escape African Time, and to just get my new life together. I’ve managed to get a lot of things done in the last two months like finding an apartment, finding the best gym in the city, and hugging a lion at a private game reserve. I haven’t done any big trips but I have booked two trips later in the year; one to hit up Kenya/Tanzania, and one for Cape Town to Namibia. It’s really starting to set in that I’m a long ways at home but there are still times where I’ll be talking with my American counterparts and utter a “Dude, we live in fucking Africa bro”. This isn’t said with any negative connotation, but rather with a “wow I legitimately actually live in Africa” sentiment.

How about that weather?!

It's always Sunny in Philadelphia . . . I mean Joburg
It’s always Sunny in Philadelphia . . . I mean Joburg

Wow. It is winter here and you seriously could not ask for more perfect weather. Anywhere I’ve lived in my life, the weather was always a huge topic of conversation. It’s all over the news, and people’s moods would be dictated by how sunny it may be in the coming week. Seattle, one of the places I’ve lived, would be overcast with a chance of drizzle for about nine months of the year. People would bitch the entire year about how awful the weather was but when the sun did finally appear for three summer months, people are so shocked and speechless, they forget they ever complained the previous nine months and dub it as the best place on Earth.

I was one of these people, guilty as charged. I think I speak for most Seattle folks when I say we get used to the weather, but never actually like it. While in New York, the weather was better in the sense that it wasn’t cloudy most of the year but it was so unpredictable that it could be sunny most of the day and then the biggest rain storms of your life could ensue at any time. Winters are cold, summers are humid, and sun is a never a guarantee for an extended period of time during any season. The weather app would be one of your most commonly used apps as you’d pray that the weather would be sunny for whatever plans you had on the weekends.

Well, there's no chance of rain so this bad boy can be used . . . in winter.
Well, there’s no chance of rain so this bad boy can be used . . . in winter.

Enter Johannesburg, the solution to all your weather woes. I’ve been here two months, and I have seen TWO cloudy days since I got here. It rained for about 30 minutes the first weekend I arrived but I’ve not seen it rain since. When I open the weather app on my phone, there’s no point . . . it’s just sun for as far as out as my phone goes. South Africa is very far south and away from the ocean so there is more seasonality here than the rest of the continent but there are no extremes here.

In the middle of the winter here, the average temperature is about 60-65 degrees and sunny with no chance of rain. At night it gets a little chilly but doesn’t warrant anything more than a light jacket. However, the biggest reason the weather is so pleasant here is because there is no wind. Wind is what made places like NYC, London, Chicago etc. so much colder. You’ll find none of that here which is why the temperature is never actually cold. What always amuses me is the locals here complain about 60 degrees being completely freezing, warranting an overcoat with scarves. Then when they see me walk into the office with a dress shirt with no jacket, the awe on their faces is priceless.

I’ve been told it does rain in the summer but it is tropical style where it will be sunny most of the day and then a rainstorm will ensue for a half hour in the afternoon. Yet, it never gets humid here (in fact it’s very dry so lotion is key) even in the summer and temperatures top out around 95. I can live with that dry heat all day and I can certainly use a break from the 95 and 95% humidity days of NYC. People from here that have traveled around the states compare it to San Diego without the ocean climate which I can definitely agree with. All in all, if you’re planning on moving here, prepare for some of the best weather of your life.


The food in South Africa is amazing

Your standard wine by the glass pour...notice the, for 3-5$ average.
Your standard wine by the glass pour…notice the, for 3-5$ average.

The food in this country is spectacular. I had heard all about how good the red meat is but that was about it. I’m pleasantly surprised at the number of restaurants and types of cuisines this city has to offer. There’s also an abundance of seafood and cuisine’s from all around the world. I’ll write a post about this some other time in more detail. I absolutely love a good steak, who doesn’t? In South Africa, not only are the steaks delicious, but so affordable as well.

No longer will I be paying 100$ a person for a steakhouse dinner in NYC, that’s just criminal. Steaks here are about 150R, about 15$ for a quality filet mignon. And steaks ALWAYS comes with sides here, no more shelling out another 10$ for grilled asparagus. In fact, I think I’ve been to more top tier steakhouses in my first two months than I did my entire time in New York. An average bill for two people with steaks, appetizers, and wine comes out to be 60$. So much more reasonable. Wine is dirt cheap as well. You can get some amazing wine here for the equivalent of a few dollars AND they always give generous pours. Fine dining has also grown in recent years from what I’m told and there are many world renowned chefs with restaurants serving all sorts of creative, fusion fare.


I have walked and I live to tell the tale, Security in Joburg

Okay this area is Sandhurst that I'm in which is the nicest place in the country probably. The houses are massive here and places of this caliber would have gates anywhere else int the world. However, houses that are 1/10th the price of these will also be gated.
Can’t see any houses? Ya me neither.

Without a doubt, the most common question/reaction I got from people when I knew I was moving was “Omg, I heard it’s so dangerous there”, or “I hear people get hijacked from their cars in the middle of the street”, or my favorite, “be safe, don’t get killed” (ya thanks I’ll try my best). I’ve certainly not lived here long enough and am in no position to negate these stereotypes because they were stereotypes for a reason; statistically Joburg is quite a dangerous city on paper. Nevertheless, it is ALWAYS relative.

There are places in NYC I’ve never been to, have absolutely no desire to ever go to, and would certainly never recommend any friends to visit. The same applies here. While I am SURE there are places I should never visit in Joburg, I will never go seeking those areas. Some may say, what if it’s late at night and you take a wrong turn somewhere? Well I say to that, you can turn your ass around get the hell out. When I first moved to NYC, a few too many beers one night and I passed out on the A train waking up somewhere in Rockaway Park which isn’t the friendliest of areas late at night.


Security is obsessive in South Africa

People are obsessed with their security here. One can easily see if they just drive through any street; everything is so gated that you cannot even see the houses. When I think of gates, I think of ridiculous mansions behind them costing millions of dollars. Not the case here. Even an average house has a gate, albeit not as fancy, but a gate nonetheless. In fact, when I spoke to my real estate agent about giving a pair of keys to the doorman in my apartment building, she thought I was absolutely nuts. I told her in NYC, half the reason you have a doorman is so he will sign for your packages, and always have a spare key on reserve. I was told quickly that you can’t trust any of the people here and you most certainly do not give your doorman a key under any circumstance.

The streets of Sandton, completely empty, at 8pm.
The streets of Sandton, completely empty, at 8pm.

One of the things I was told over and over again was that no one walks in this city and don’t do it. It’s certainly true that people don’t walk here but I absolutely love walking so one day I decided to hell with it, I’m just going to do it and see what happens. Living in the absolute middle of Sandton makes it a slightly more biased exercise since this has to be the safest area in the entire city. Even then, most people still would never consider walking. So one day, I came home and decided I’d walk the 20 minutes to my gym.

It was an incredibly boring walk but I had never felt so liberated being able to prove to myself, and all skeptical parties, that it was completely safe, which it was. I didn’t feel out of place at all. Granted there was nothing to see along the way and I maybe saw 10 people the entire time but it felt good nonetheless. I left the gym around 10pm to boost the credibility of my experiment and while it was even more quiet during that time, I didn’t feel unsafe at any time. Now I walk to the gym all the time. The funniest part of the whole experience is when I cross the street and I can just tell the people in their cars are looking at me thinking, “wtf is that guy doing? Does that guy have any idea where the hell he’s at?”

If you’re reading this thinking oh, I can move to Sandton and never have to drive, that’s completely false. I merely just wanted to prove to people, myself included, that walking isn’t all that bad. It doesn’t solve the problem that the city is so spread out that even if you could walk safely everywhere, there’s nothing to walk to.


There exists such a thing as Prepaid electricity

Buying power at the grocery store...what an interesting concept.
Buying power at the grocery store…what an interesting concept.

Ok, perhaps there are other places around the world that have this but I’ve yet to see it. When I moved into my new apartment, the first thing I noticed was a little box right by the door that had a number pad on it. The real estate agent told me that you buy your electricity before hand like a pay as you go cell phone plan, enter in a security code, and then you’ll have electricity. When the number reaches 0, the entire apartment’s power will in fact shut down (this happened to me midday). Never seen anything like it! Not all apartments here do this but I reckon it’s a trend starting with the newer and more modern apartments.

I wasn’t receptive to this initially. I was so used to just having an electric bill come at the end of the month with a surprise number somewhere between 70$-200$ a month depending on the time of year. But as I think about this now, it is actually a smart system. You really learn to control your power usage and you’ll actually turn your lights off before you leave in the morning because you always see that meterbox slowly counting down. You go to the grocery store and just tell them I want to load up 1000R onto the serial number that belongs to the box, they give you a receipt with a serial number, you punch it into your box, and voila, let there be light! Such a strange concept, but I’ve since learned to close the lights whenever I’m not around.


There exists some character in this city

Entrance to Neighborgoods
Entrance to Neighborgoods

From initial impressions, after one realizes Joburg isn’t the land of lions chasing gazelle on the streets, but an actual proper large sprawling metropolis, it seems plain and boring. While Joburg is certainly not a NYC or history filled capital of an European country, it’s slowly developing some character. Two of the things that lead me to believe Joburg is headed in the right direction is the weekly food markets, Neighborgoods and Market on Main.

I've had plenty of Paella in my day but this one in SA is right up there.
I’ve had plenty of Paella in my day but this one in SA is right up there.

Every Saturday, in the Braamfontein area of Joburg, an area that you can tell used to be sketchy but it’s slowly being gentrified because of things like this akin to Brooklyn 10 years ago, there is a food market with all different types of foods from around the world, as well as a outdoor patio area serving drinks all day. I’ve had almost everything at this thing and the food is spectacular.

There’s at least 30 different vendors set up in a transformed parking garage slanging their fare, which includes everything from Paella, to Indian food, to Argentine Asado. When you’re done eating, head upstairs to an outdoor patio area where everyone is hanging out having drinks. This place gets absolutely packed as well and there has to be close to a thousand people here during peak time (noonish).

Food here is probably very expensive for South African standards as everything here is a novelty, around 50-70R per item but it’s nothing I’m not used to. Neighbourgoods attracts people of all ages but majority 20-30 somethings because of that outdoor drinking area and there are all sorts of people, including a lot of hipsters! Wow, I didn’t think the hipster trend made it this far south but I am wrong.

On Sundays, a similar food market occurs in the Maboneng district called Market on Main. This area is also an area slowly becoming gentrified and in demand. Rent is still cheaper here but the apartments and neighborhood really give off a Williamsburg vibe and you can see that the neighborhood is slowly moving in that direction. Rent is still cheap but I can just see that in another 5-10 years, this area will be far more expensive.

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Suburban life + African Time = Difficult Adjustment

Your Saturday night hotspot, the Ster Kinekor movie theatres.
Your Saturday night hotspot, the Ster Kinekor movie theatres.

After being here for 2 months, I’m of the opinion that no young man or woman without kids should be living in the suburbs. Okay maybe not bad, but certainly don’t think anyone that’s lived in NYC should move to the suburbs until they have due reason, which is to settle down and have kids. Main reason is that the life you’re so used to, being able to do anything at any time, and never even have the option of being bored, is no longer there once you move to the burbs.

I have to drive to do anything as I’m able to walk to absolutely nothing worthwhile, and the spontaneity that exists in the big city completely vanishes in the burbs. Since you must drive everywhere, meeting up with friends for a drink on a weekday night just doesn’t sound so appealing because who wants to risk driving drunk later on? Sunday Funday doesn’t exist here and doing anything late night requires diligent planning.  I’m a get things done fast kind of guy.

I’m sure if I had lived in the burbs all my post college life, I wouldn’t know any better and I’d be content with Suburban living but I did not. All I’ve known is the big city life and that does not mesh well with suburban living after. African Time, an expression commonly used here to denote the slow pace of life, when coupled with the boring Suburban living will undoubtedly be the hardest thing I try to adjust to during my time in Joburg.

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