Things I Fucking Love About Denmark

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Beautiful Møns Klint, a nature reserve on Sjælland, south of Copenhagen.

The singlemost surprising thing to happen to me in this lifetime was to become Dane-ish. Who knew that the blonde guy at the party I bounced a cigarette with in the nineties (it was the nineties, okay, everyone smoked) and drunkenly handed my business card and panicked when he called the next day because I kind of had a boyfriend, oops was going to become the dude. You just never know where this life journey is going to take you so always wear good broeks and waterproof mascara just in case.

Lunch Can Last Eight Hours

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A typical Danish smorgasbord.

The Danes are generally an understated bunch. They hate clutter, self-aggrandisement and anything over-the-top, but the one time all this modesty and minimalism go to hell in a hand-basket is when they sit down to lunch. Not any lunch, an occasion lunch – a birthday, Easter, a confirmation (yes, this nation of atheists become pretty religious when somebody’s child turns 13). When it’s an occasion lunch, it’s balls-to-the-wall. They make up for all that healthy eating and biking big time. Before I learnt to take small portions, even greedy guts me found herself in a bit of a dilemma being stuffed to capacity by the fourth course. I was never foolish enough to make that mistake again. If you sit down at 12pm it’s quite common to still be sipping strong coffee and nibbling home-made chocolates at 8. You’ll have had every kind of fish and meat dish this nation created including smoked eel, hot liver pate with bacon and mushrooms, roast pork with crackling, chicken and asparagus tartlets and salmon and herring prepared a dozen different ways. Eaten on bread, by the way, with a knife and fork. A Danish smorgasbord is a thing of rare beauty. Everyone should sit down to one at least one time in their lives.

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In a country which has more pigs than people it’s not even a meal unless there’s bacon.

They Drink Schnapps, Like, All the Time

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We drink schnapps when we’ve had two bottles of white wine and the DJ is playing eVoid and several hours ago already you lost all sense of reason. The Danes drink schnapps because it’s lunch time, because it’s cold, because it’s on the table in a variety of interesting flavours. Before you start pooh poohing a schnapps moment (cover your ears, vegans) you need to try a shot of ice-cold traditional Akvavit with a slice of nutty, freshly-baked rye bread smeared with a bit of pork fat including the crispy bits (wait, wait, bear with me) topped with herring in a creamy mustard sauce covered with thinly sliced red onions and a hard-boiled egg. Okay, sexy as I try to write it it still sounds grim, but I promise you – wash this lot down with a shot of fresh, herby schnapps and an ice-cold Danish beer and you’re up there with the angels.

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This shot of Nyhavn has become a bit of a cliché, but on a long summer’s evening it’s a very spectacular place to enjoy a glass of something and watch the world go by.

You Don’t Take Your Husband’s Name When You Get Married

Because what for kakois is that idea, anyway? Sorry, but this is a thing of mine. They just get under my skin, these stubborn vestiges of the patriarchy that stick around like gazonkelnuts because it’s always been that way. How about saying no to that ridiculous norm? How about creating a new way where you’re equals in the partnership? How about he takes your name? That’s how it works there. If you’re a woman and you have a better name than your male partner he takes yours. It’s all very simple and uncontested and makes perfect sense to me. So, you women becoming Somebody Poggenpoel? Please stop it already.

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How Danish women get around.

Old Women Ride Bicycles and Smoke Pipes

I’m really not advocating smoking, I’m actually very anti-smoking (since I stopped smoking in the nineties when I was very pro-smoking) and the Danes smoke too much, true story. But it fills my heart with joy to descend the stone staircase of my favourite restaurant in Copenhagen which is built into a cellar dating back practically to the Viking days and sitting beside a roaring fire and watching two old ducks at the next table dressed in fur coats and looking fabulous drinking enormous vats of beer and puffing on cherry tobacco pipes. It says something about the way gender plays out in that place. You’ll be hard-pressed to find a submissive woman in Denmark; it’s just not the way they are raised. They don’t give a fuck. Which leads me to my next point.

The Women are Woes

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My favourite actor, Danish Iben Hjejler, doing what she does best. I wish I could carry her around in my bag and unleash her on South African men who forget their manners.

Danish woman are not wallflowers. They go naked if they want to, they have sex when and with whom they want to and they’ll tell you quite quickly where to get off if you start with your chauvinism rubbish. Here, there is no hierarchy of the genders. Both partners work. In many households the woman is the breadwinner. Not only that but she cleans her own house, does her own washing, makes her own liver pate and bakes her own bread. Then she’ll get on her bicycle and collect her children from school (there’ll be a little trailer attached to accommodate them all. Most have around seven), cycle home in sleet and order everyone around like a sergeant major. Danish men are terrified of Danish women, and for good reason. They’re beautiful, tough as nails and scary as shit.

The Summer (when it comes) is Spectacular

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I don’t know if it’s because it’s so elusive and long-awaited, but the summer in Denmark is a special kind of magic. The air smells like the rambling rose bushes which erupt everywhere in hot pink and crimson during the warmer months. People sit on the harbour wall drinking elderberry cider while ancient wooden ships creak out a ditty of their mysteries. At 10pm the sun is still visible on the horizon. Bonfires are lit on the beach. Children run into the warm ocean, forests become impenetrable walls of bright, lush green. All the nation celebrates  with wine and strawberries and buttery new potatoes. People eat hotdogs with remoulade and dill-flavoured crisps. Music concerts spring up everywhere and nobody wants to go to bed. These hot nights are too delicious to waste. These long days are for savouring and for seduction. Most of the time Denmark is cold and flat and grey. But from June till September she’s tanned, blonde and very, very sexy. Visit her then and you’re sure to fall in love.

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Miss Knitwear and a Goat Called Allen

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My favourite item in the Miss Knitwear range, the grey shawl with feathers.

Once upon a time there was a goat called Allen and a girl called Candice. Allen lived in the Karoo which is a sensible place for a goat. Candice lived in Gardens which is a sensible place for a girl. Allen and Candice knew a secret not many South Africans, but several overseas visitors do: that his family of Angoras produce 75% of the entire planet’s mohair, and that this mohair – like most things to come out of the Karoo – is exceptionally beautiful and of an extremely high quality. So beautiful and so high that busloads of Germans and Americans and Brits flock to our shops every year and go suki la la and spend gazillions of monies on items which – compared to other parts of the world – are inexpensive, original and quite incomparably lovely.

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Allen (right).

And Allen and Candice think it’s a shame that the whole world knows of this thing and walks around Boston and Schleswig-Holstein wearing South African mohair while South Africans wear Foschini (no offence to this chain, but really). And it’s silly that we don’t know about this magnificent product right on our doorstep and support small businesses and the people who devote their lives to putting South Africa and its magic on the map. I met Candice at a dinner party a few years ago and loved two things about her: the fact that she runs marathons for fun and the magnificent, diaphanous scarf that floated about her shoulders like a rain cloud on a koppie. And I was astonished to hear she’d made it herself and that this, in fact, was her business.

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Candice Johnson, runner of marathons and founder of Miss Knitwear.

Between her and her friend, Allen (and some of his friends), some of the prettiest and most delicate mohair products you’ve ever seen are produced and sold at selected stores around the country and online, and I think we need to familiarise ourselves with who is doing what down here and start making a real effort to support local businesses. It’s not easy competing with the big clothing corporations, and kudos to the ones with the courage to spot a gap in the market, venture out alone and do their own thing. I’ve been coveting Candice’s knitwear since I saw it, and I was excited beyond when she brought me a big box of woven beautifulness in shades of winter and told me to choose what I liked.

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The reversible animal print scarves look amazing with jeans and/or a leather jacket.

Candice’s products are made from kid mohair or baby mohair which is shorn from the fleece of a young Angora goat. Even though it is the softest and finest kind, it is in fact stronger and warmer than wool and will keep you cosy as anything when the weather turns cool. It’s lightweight, comfy, doesn’t itch, is the most durable of all animal fibres and won’t shrink which makes it easy to wash.

My favourites in her range are the ones which incorporate ostrich feathers (oh, another fact: every year South Africa exports a ton of feathers to Rio for the carnival. Just read that again: a ton. Do you know how little a feather weighs? Shem that they can’t even come up with their own). Mohair and ostrich feathers go together, in Candice’s words, ‘like cream and jam’. Clotted cream and gooseberry jam plunked on top of a hot, buttery scone fresh out of Karoo farm oven. There is nothing like a feather to make you feel like Edith Piaf in a Paris nightclub having no regrets, even if it’s just a Monday and you’re headed for the Spur.

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Totally how you should go to the Spur.

So, a shout out to Candice, Edith and all the people in this world who are brave enough to be artists and creators and do something unique and original with their lives. And of course a shout out to Allen who, along with his sexy goat friends, has given us just one more reason to be proudly South African.

For more info on these fabulous things and how to find them look here. The website will help you locate stores in your area and give you info on prices. It was important to Candice, an animal lover, that my readers understand wool from Angora goats is very different to wool from Angora rabbits. While Angora rabbits are plucked, Allen simply gets a haircut. Which, in the Karoo summer, he adores.

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The charcoal shawl with feathers. How, just, gorgeous.

Riding Out the Storm

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As one grey, Cape winter rolls into another and I drift further and further away from who I used to be I find myself reflecting on the madness of this South Africa and how we got from there to here. Last week we had to go to home affairs to renew a passport. But the guard, who was missing a front tooth, barred our entry through the revolving doors and pointed to a sign which says ADMIT 200 ONLY. He was deeply apologetic as he explained that since 200 people had already gone in that day he couldn’t allow us entry. Only, when you’ve lived in this country your whole life you understand that a no – especially when it’s a black person saying it to a white person – can be turned into a yes with the right amount of smiling and pleading. It’s hard denying a grovelling umlungu.

So, in we went and joined the throngs of ladies with expensive highlights and their children in private school uniforms updating documents to that they can go to Europe for the July holidays and scruffy Cape Flats mothers jiggling screaming babies and replacing stolen IDs and thin umtatomkhulus with walking sticks and shiny shoes. Since the chairs come in rows of three I couldn’t sit beside my family so instead I sat down next to a woman in her sixties with a neat fro and a handbag held securely in her lap. Perhaps the fact that I sat next to her without skipping a seat was a sign that I was amenable to chatting because she immediately began telling me two unrelated stories while I listened with that over-enthusiastic white South African expression that says, I know you are black but I don’t even see your colour. I am talking to you like you and I are no different, can you tell? Can you see how cool I am with this whole race thing?

The first story was about her big toe and how it slowly turned black and began to smell and that’s how she discovered she was diabetic. She had to have it amputated and she’s sorry she can’t wear slip slops in summer anymore. The second was about her son who attends Rondebosch High School on a scholarship and next year he’ll either go to London on a gap year or study Industrial Psychology at UCT. She leant in close and said, ‘All his friends are white! All of them. Even the one from Botswana. But he speaks fluent Sesotho, imagine that! A white boy speaking Sesotho! At the weekend they all come and sleep over in Khayelitsha. He’s so popular, my boy, they love him. The whole time I cook – they want hot breakfast, lunch, supper. Those boys never stop eating.’ And then her number got called and with a cheery wave she was gone, and for the first time I took notice of my surrounds. All the staff now are black except for one, lone white woman. She’s as wide as she is tall and probably about my age. She looks like her name could be Roelene.

Roelene will have gone to school somewhere like I did – a factory for turning impressionable young South Africans into uncritical supporters of the National Party. She – like me – will have been indoctrinated with racist propaganda, told lies about our history and become an unwitting, Die Stem-singing cog in the machine of Afrikaner nationalism. When South Africa transitioned into a democracy, Roelene would have dunked her rusk into her Ricoffy and watched as, one by one, her colleagues resigned or got retrenched from their jobs only to be replaced by smart, ambitious black men and women in crisp white shirts, neat braids and colourful manicures. This would have posed a dilemma for Roelene who – like most of us whites – had never had any dealings with black people who weren’t pruning the hedge or mopping the floor.

Now, she had to sit on a toilet seat still warm from somebody’s black bum; report to a competent black boss and eat at a table beside her co-workers who chatted in isiXhosa as they tucked into last night’s warmed-up stew. We human beings are so resilient and adaptable that few of us even take the time to really reflect on the weirdness of this, and the fact that in the new now none of the old rules apply. After centuries of apartness black and white South Africans were flung together like siblings who’d been adopted out to different families and were now meeting one another for the first time, familiar but at the same time utterly foreign. Now we had to live side-by-side trying to forget the past but also trying to remember it and trying, hardest of all, not to fuck everything up. There was a time I used to dread going to Home Affairs, but now it’s run so efficiently the mind boggles at how these few people with limited resources are able to process so many applications in a single day. When you arrive at 7am the queue stretches so far down Barrack Street you can’t see the end of it. The last few times I’ve been there my passport has been ready for collection within a few days.

But that day we were the last to arrive and so we were the last to leave. Finally, at 4:25pm, we were summoned into the single photo booth and then told to wait for our number at the counter to be called. Only, one by one, people stood up from their desks, put on their jerseys and headed for the door. ‘Ummm, excuse me!’ I called out to the last, departing person but closing time is 4:30pm on the dot and they were not about to miss the early train for these pushy whites. So there we stood in the gloomy, deserted waiting-room clutching our number that was never going to be called and looking at each other in anguished silence. Eventually, a bored-looking female security guard took pity and told us that if we went downstairs we might find someone to help. We did, and they did and then we drove home with the radio announcer warning of a massive cold front approaching with high seas and gale-force winds – us, to our cosy Victorian on the Atlantic Seaboard; Roelene, to her place somewhere in the northern suburbs; the ladies with their manicures to newly-built brick houses in the township. All, in our own ways, riding out the storm.

Fine, I’ll Write About the Damn Marches

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The name alone makes me want to go there every day.

Lately I’ve been much of a mehness, and I realise this whole grieving business takes its own sweet time. But there are moments and hours and even days when things feel pretty good again, and I know these times, in time, become the predominant thing before long but until that happens a memory or a song or a something can knock you for six. Yesterday and this Monday just passed I felt knocked for six, so I whatsapped my mom and said let’s have lunch at the Perseverance Tavern. The Perseverance Tavern is on Buitenkant Street and I think I read somewhere that it’s the oldest pub in South Africa, dating back to 1836 if the date on the facade is to be believed. And when you sit outside on a nice day the sun shines through the pretty, bright leaves of an ancient vine and the more Black Jack draughts you put away the more you think of the throngs of people who, over the past nearly 200 years, must have ordered a beer, like me, to dull the ache of life’s sorrows. And I cheered up somewhat, knowing I was not alone. Because what is life if not a long series of perseverances with different details. And being slightly tipsy is a very excellent way to approach this business of Monday.

But I also though of other things. On the previous Saturday I’d attended the 50th birthday lunch of a writer friend which took place under an ancient pomegranate tree in the garden of a lovely old house in Simonstown. After we’d eaten and drunk and sung and been jolly, the talk took a slightly more serious turn (as it does here in the old RSA) and somebody sitting across from me who reads my blog said, please will you write something positive about the marches? And my first thought was not a chance, are you jas because it’s all very complicated – if you’re white and say something nice about something that happened in South Africa you’re stupid and belong at Woolworths buying organic goat’s yoghurt. So, for good reason, I was hesitant to put my thoughts to paper. But then, as the afternoon wore on and I thought more about what she’d said I have to admit that something about the sneering that happened re that event and the accusations of racism and the determination of some individuals to put a negative spin on a pretty amazing and positive moment in our history made me a little more defiant than usual and even inclined to defend the white people which is something I don’t often do. Because whether it had any political impact or not, that march made a huge difference to the morale of this country.

Nobody can deny that we’ve been so much of fucked over. All of us, not just the black people (if you don’t believe me, go see the movie Johnny is Nie Dood Nie). We lived in a dictatorship where we were forced to fight for a cause we didn’t believe in and if you didn’t play nicely, you went to jail, thank you, koebaai. Now we have Zuma’s ANC making megaai and you can’t say he’s kak because then you hate black people and you can’t say he’s kiff because he so very isn’t. So someone like me who likes to say stuff finds themselves in a bit of a bind. But what I will be voor op die wa enough to say is this: that I refuse to be cynical about what that march signified. And I will not tolerate people telling me I’m crap because I chose to take to the streets with my flag and my placard and yes, Marikana and yes, Fees Must Fall. The black people are right, we should have marched then, we were slow on the uptake. It’s all that goat’s yoghurt. But I fail to understand how I’m more kak for marching than for going to Tasha’s for brunch.

And yes, we totally marched like white people because we are white people. Sorry if we didn’t march ‘right,’ but I can tell you that we marched with humility and love and tentative hope in our broken hearts. We marched holding hands with people we’d never seen before, with strangers on our shoulders, shared bottles of water, sang our little voices hoarse. There are not many moments in life we get to feel relevant. That day, my heart soared when I saw how many people had shown up. Thousands. Thousands of hearts and voices joined by a common purpose. And it happened at a moment when we really, really needed to be reminded of who we are. Not newspaper headlines, not statistics, not barbarians and colonialists and murderers. Just human beings wanting the best for our country and for each other.

A young black woman came over to me and asked if we could be in a picture holding hands. My Jewish friend ending a conversation with some Muslim ladies walking by with ‘Zuma will fall, inshallah!’ Some guys danced by shouting ‘Amandla!’ and the mixed crowd answered with ‘Awethu!’ And I know, know, know that for the most part white people live the life of Riley and black people struggle on, I’m not denying or excusing that for a second and I’ve talked about it lots in other blogs. What I want to call attention to here is that when you take the politics away and put South Africans side by side in a different kind of context it’s not racism you see among us. All day long I encounter white and black and brown people living, working, playing, interacting. We don’t have a problem with each other. I’m not sure we ever did. That’s why they invented apartheid in the first place. Our government fucked it up for us and they’re fucking it up still.

The thing is, you can choose to see hypocrisy in just about every aspect of human behaviour. We’re complicated creatures and we’re fundamentally self-centred. When stuff doesn’t feel relevant to us we give it a skip. But its an oversimplification and, frankly, ignorant to say that we don’t care about the people we live amongst. If we could wave a magic wand and eradicate the poverty and the suffering and the deep injustices of our society we’d do it in a heartbeat. I think we don’t have a clue how to go about this. But what we can do is show up in support and solidarity to the people who really get klapped when our economy goes tits up. Not us so much; the middle classes have the buffer of their relative wealth. It’s the poor people, always, who get shafted.

I’m no political analyst and I can’t begin to predict where all of this will end. But what I know for sure is that there are huge amounts of love, solidarity and goodwill among us, even given the terrible, brutal history we share. This aspect of our country is not covered by the media or mentioned by our politicians because it’s not what they want us to believe. But we need to know better and keep fighting the good fight and showing up wherever we can, whether it’s outside parliament or paying to put someone’s child through school. Which happens more than is talked about, by the way. Deep down I think we know the truth of who we are and we need to hang onto that, not be distracted by the nonsense we’re fed about each other. And when it all gets too much take ourselves to the Perseverance Tavern – or somewhere like it – and be reminded that pain is perennial and life goes on and you’re not the first person, by a long margin, to cry into your beer. Amandla awethu. We’ve survived worse and we will prevail.

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Why Kendall Jenner and I Are Actually Twins

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Kendall (left) and I in our new Daniel Wellington watches with matching cuffs. We like to wear the same.

So the other day this weird but not totally surprising thing happened. There I was at Checkers standing in front of the poultry section trying to find the least sorry-looking chicken breasts to grill in a dry, unappetising way for supper because #fatgirl and also #fatbastard and this woman comes up to me and says, ‘Excuse me… I’m sorry to interrupt, but are you Kendall Jenner?’ And it’s remarkable because even though I’m not actually Kendall Jenner I find that lately the similarity between us is becoming uncanny and something one can’t deny unless one is seriously impaired.

There are just so many things we have in common, Kendall and I. We both drive a black car and also she spends much of her time sadly picking at bits of lettuce in plastic containers and complaining about things like how busy she is and how much the paparazzi is hounding her. Which, if you’ll ask my husband, is very much like the way I spend most of my days except for the paparazzi part. Definitely I will concede that she is possibly more famous than me even though just this morning at the meeting to discuss outfits for the Grade 7 fashion show one of the moms said, ‘maybe you can write about it on your blog ha ha’ indicating to me that she knows of the blog and also that I write it. I know that Kendall gets comments like this all the time. It’s exhausting for famous and semi-famous people.

The actual truth of me is that I pay the DSTV people nearly R800 a month just so that I can watch the Kardashians being on holiday in Maui laughing and having the best time ever until ones pushes the other one overboard on a yacht causing her to lose a ginormous diamond earring the size of a ham hock and yet she manages to be sad for only one episode. They are very zen, those girls, and I admire that about them. If it was me, even though mine are cubic zirconias, I can guarantee that whomever pushed me like that and made one of my favourite earrings fall out would hear about it every day for the rest of their natural life. So it is literally the only show I watch since the cooking shows make me hungry and I can’t follow the news and all those words.

And I watch the show because it inspires me. If Khloe can get that thin in revenge against Lamar Odom (we all know the sorry details of what happened, no need to repeat it here) who am I to whine about having one boiled egg for breakfast? No-one. I am no-one. She is my inspiration, Khloe Kardashian. And their teeth… I think I find their teeth the most inspiring thing of all. With teeth so white and perfect how can you have one bad day in your life? The second I got a summons in the post saying chances are fair to middling that I’ll be going to jail for unpaid parking fines I would just whip out my compact and look long and hard at my teeth. Jail, schmail. Bring it.

Also, and this is incidental but I’ll mention it in passing, Kendall Jenner and I have the same watch. Just look at the pictures closely and you’ll see it’s true. Identical. She was also (like me) asked to wear it and in very laissez faire fashion kept her shirt unbuttoned to her navel. Because whyfor must she waste her time with buttons? She has black cars to drive and salads to eat. So next time you see me purchasing a package of Country Pride and wonder to yourself, is that her? Is that really her? wonder no more.

(If you also want to be mistaken for a celeb at Checkers have a look here. If you choose to purchase one of their seriously gorgeous watches online and put in the code DISCOPANTS (which is me, not Kendall) the Daniel Wellington people will give you a 15% discount up until December. Kendall and I love ours).

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Kendall and I hanging at the, uh, L.A. Festival in L.A.

Chips*, Here Come the Chinese!

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Me and my friend, Lucy, who owns Hot and Spicy Szechuan Food in Milnerton This is easily the best Szechuan restaurant in Cape Town but you’ve probably never heard of it because it’s not on Bree Street.

Some weeks ago, over lunch at a new Cape Town restaurant everyone is queuing to get into but is actually crap de luxe and the kitchen staff secretly laugh at you for paying R135 for dry chicken in Nola mayonnaise I had a conversation with a friend’s 65-year-old mom who comes from a country the name of which I won’t mention except to say its climate is dodgy, lots of (sorry) South Africans live there and it has more sheep than people. And the conversation was irksome and went like this: *Someone makes a reference to Chinese people living in to Cape Town*

Her: You won’t believe how many Chinese have moved into our neighbourhood. In fact, parts of it don’t even look like Wellington! (oops, I said the place) anymore.

Me: (1,5 glasses of Chenin in and already forgetting my manners. Though lately, being nanoseconds away from The Menopause, it doesn’t take much to make me stroppy): How lucky for you! Must be a great improvement on the local cuisine.

Her: Well… I know what you’re getting at, Xenophobia and everything, but really… it’s just overrun! They’re everywhere!

Me *moving my leg so my husband can’t kick it anymore*: I don’t know why everyone is so nervous of the Chinese. What’s wrong with Chinese people? I mean, look at Chinatown in Milnerton. Chinatown in Milnerton has saved my bacon many times when I needed cheap things in a hurry and pretend soccer shoes for my 9-year-old and also did you know you can buy toilet paper for a fraction, a fraction of what Kak n Pay charges for the same thing. So I think we need to all stop being so weird about people who don’t look exactly like we do. Also, they make dumplings (this was the clincher, in my opinion).

Her: * Awkward pause* Well, I think you’re missing the point of what I’m trying to say, I’m not saying I don’t like Chinese people, I’m just saying, Wellington blah blah blah…

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Dumplings. Is there even anything to discuss?

And yes, I’m probably missing the point, but it aggravates me when people say things like that and assume you’ll agree because personally and speaking for myself, I have less than no problem with Chinese people living in ‘my’ city (or even better, ‘my’ neighbourhood, then I don’t have to travel so far for dumplings) and to anyone who does I have two words to say to you: Peking Duck. Anyone who has ever tried to make Peking Duck will immediately have the deepest, most abiding respect for the people of China. Recently I decided to celebrate my new stove and its fancy rotisserie function by attempting to make Peking Duck.

I purchased a frozen duck (since I don’t live in China) from a trendy, overpriced butchery and also enough Chinese 5 Spice to season all of Yingdong and Fangshan and Poongking combined and followed the recipe to a tee. Significant was my excitement around my own cleverness because who on this planet doesn’t adore Peking Duck? (yes, yes, the vegans, but never mind them for now). Well. The fact that that duck had to leave its pond of murky happiness to end up a leathery grey thing on my sad dinner table fills me with shame and regret.

I will say emphatically that Peking duck is not a dish for non-Chinese people to attempt. Neither, for that matter, is Szechuan Spicy Boiled Fish. Which I haven’t tried to make but after the last thing won’t even bother. So, if for no other reason than the plethora of places in this (and every) city you can visit and order delicious dishes for a lot less than R135, let’s try not to say crappy things about the ‘foreigners’ who arrive on our shores. Because unless you actually did that swab test at Home Affairs and are 100% Khoi San you are also a foreigner, FYI.

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Szechuan Spicy Boiled Fish. Yes, those are chillies and yes, you will cry like a little girl and then come back the next night for more.

I’ll be the first to admit that the Chinese have a reputation for being insular and are often not the friendliest folk you’ll encounter when you’re out shopping (although there are huge, massive exceptions to this generalisation, like my friend Lucy in the above pic who is basically sunshine on speed). But, in instances where we feel inclined to put people in boxes, it’s very good to stop for a minute and consider the reason why some people may behave in a certain way. Generally speaking, I’d say that living in a dictatorship on the brink of abject poverty (this is turning, but it will take a while) in a country where full-term girl babies were routinely aborted and where you work your fingers to the bone seven days a week for a wage below the breadline and never see your children is enough to make anyone a little taciturn.

Add to that the fact that basically everyone in the world hates you (last time I checked there wasn’t a notable lack of space in New Zealand) and you’re going to turn inwards and stick with your own kind. A few centuries ago, when everyone and their brother was arriving on South African shores in the hope of finding diamonds and living a better life (don’t we all hope for diamonds and a better life?), a large contingency of Chinese people arrived as slaves of the Dutch East India Company. And you can imagine that being a slave in the household of one Gerhardus Poephol van Schipol wouldn’t exactly have been a barrel of laughs.

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Gerhardus Poephol van Schipol not looking thrilled about how the poffertjies turned out.

Then, to add insult to injury, between 1904 and 1910 over 64 000 Chinese were ‘imported’ to colonial South Africa (love the euphemism) as indentured labourers to work on the gold mines. So they basically helped build our country. And while most of these Chinese were returned to China (thanks for that, and good luck not dying on the ship), the Chinese population that exists in South Africa today are, for the most part, the great-great-great-grandchildren of independent migrants who trickled in in small numbers from Guangdong province as early as the 1870s. I would say that if your people have been living here for 150 years you pretty much qualify as a local.

And for these people, life on the whole has not been a thing of joy. Discrimination and racist legislation prevented them from obtaining individual mining licenses (pretty ironic, that). The ugly laws that governed South Africa at that time denied citizenship, prohibited land ownership and restricted trade for the Chinese. Classed as non-white and barred from entering the formal sector, most Chinese had to go under the radar to support their families, playing Mah Jong for money in the townships, getting arrested by the apartheid police and eking out an existence by running small businesses. Nobody wanted Chinese tenants or neighbours. To be eligible for a rental property you had to get written permission from every person living in the street that they didn’t mind you moving in there. Can you really blame them for being a bit poesbedroef**?

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China Mall, Johannesburg

When you drive through dusty little towns like Vanrhynsdorp and Pitsonderwater and see the inevitable Chinese shop in the middle of nowhere selling everything from cheap clothing to fly swatters you’ve got to wonder at the lives of its owners. If this isolated, lonely existence miles from home and anything familiar is better than where you came from… wow. So, I say from our places of white, middle class privilege let’s try and keep the arrogance in check. You’d be hard pressed to find a race who work harder, longer and are tougher and more resilient than these.

Also, rather than going to cool establishments that serve Nola mayonnaise and don’t need your custom, support small businesses in off-the-beaten-track places run by people who work insanely long hours and try really hard to serve consistently good food. Many of them are supporting entire families back home in China. You don’t find a lot of Chinese people hanging out at Clifton and going for drinks at Caprice. They understand the value of money and what it takes to survive. Plus, there’s no reason on god’s green earth to make your own Peking Duck.

*South African for ‘watch out!’

** South African for ‘very sad.’

(If you want to also cry like a girl and go back the next night, Hot and Spicy Szechuan Food can be found about 500m up Bosmansdam Road if you’re coming from Koeberg and is tucked behind an establishment called Sables Bar and Bistro. I don’t think they have a phone and nobody speaks English. Go hungry and point at things).

The Time I Became a Jehovah’s Witness

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I know that for some of you reading the header you’ve already decided in your minds that what I’m about to tell you is a pack of stinking lies, but I swear every word is true. And I don’t write of this event to diss anyone’s religion – I like religions (maybe not the Catholics so much); for example, I believe that I would have made a pretty fabulous Jewish wife if the Jewish boy I dated for a short, yet memorable period in my life had deemed me respectable enough to attend Friday night supper at his folks. But he didn’t, and you know that if you’re not cracking the nod for the challah you’re definitely not cracking it for the chuppah.

And I don’t even know what that was about because I would have magayered quicker than you can say shemsach (a new word I learnt from my friend Candice Cohen to describe the amount of cheese Woolworths puts on their burgers). I would have been there like a bear, buying cakes from Denise’s Delights and chopped herring from Checkers. I still go there, though, to Checkers and loiter at the Kosher counter on a Friday afternoon, pretending I’m shopping for Shabbos. I’m sad like that. And while I look back with fondness and nostalgia on that short, memorable period in my life when I nurtured the fantasy of becoming Jewish (and it was truly a fantasy because we actually only went on about two dates and argued the entire time. He’s a Capricorn, say no more) I don’t think the same thing applies to him because I heard, through the grapevine, that he ended up becoming a rabbi. Which is a pretty Capricorn thing to become, now that I think of it. They’re all bossy as hell.

I can only imagine that his dark past cavorting with a shiksa is something he doesn’t talk about much and would rather forget. (Luckily he’ll never read this because he doesn’t have the internet. That’s how rabbi-like he is). But anyway, this is not about that, though it does give you some insight into my character. So, when I was 15 I developed this enormous crush on a tall, blonde surfer boy I’ll call Troy (because I suspect, unlike my rabbi ex fiancee, he does have the internet). Only thing was, Troy was a Jehovah’s Witness, and they also have strict rules about whom you can and cannot hook up with.

In those days the movie ‘He’s Just Not That Into You’ had not been made so it didn’t occur to me that his religion might just have been an excuse. I took it at face value when he told someone to tell me he could only date within the faith. So, for me it was a no-brainer. I became a Jehovah’s Witness. Admittedly, not for long enough that I got to walk around on weekday evenings knocking on people’s doors, but if Troy had said, ‘listen, babe, if you’re free Wednesday we’re hitting Westridge’ I would have out-knocked and out-pamphleted the lot of them just for the chance to hang out with him. But I don’t think they fully trusted me to spread the word right, either. This might have had something to do with the fact that at that stage of my life I put a lot of time and effort into trying to look like Madonna.

Since I only had the clothes I had and my mom wasn’t keen on dropping a bunch of money to make her teenage daughter look like a street-walker, I had to improvise. No corset? No problem, I just wore my bra over my shirt. I saw it on a music video. Also, for some bizarre reason the fashion look of the day was long johns, so I stole a pair out of my dad’s cupboard and tie-dyed them purple. These items, together with the hot pink glitter gel I used liberally to slick back the sides of my permed mullet, well… hot as I thought I was, in retrospect the look wasn’t a win.

But there I would sit, Saturday after Saturday in my Madonna outfit for two hours (two hours, friends!) while the pastor called on brother this and sister that (that’s how you address people in the Kingdom Hall) to read from the scripture or reiterate why celebrating your birthday is satanic while my eyes bored into the back of Brother Troy’s head, willing him to turn around and notice my underwear-as-outerwear. And there wasn’t even Instagram to distract you in those days, so you had to pay attention. It was really all a complete waste of time because, bar the one time we kissed in my friend’s jacuzzi (okay, I kissed him and he couldn’t get out even though he tried several times. I’m surprisingly strong for a girl), he had zero interest in me and my glitter gel.

And the reason why I’m remembering all this is because yesterday he sent me a friend request. Out of the blue. Not that I hadn’t stalked him fairly recently and seen he’s still a member of that church but has a lovely wife and family and while he looks the same and I’m sure is a delightful human being, what possessed me to feel that degree of adoration and behave like a crazy person I’ll never know. Though I’m happy to report I’m not crazy now at all. At all. Ask my husband.