Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Adventures in Jo'burg #4

1 For the fourth instalment of "Adventures in Jo'burg", I did something I've always wanted to do: I went to a geek con. The con in question was ICON, which featured lots of Magic: the Gathering, Warhammer and Warhammer 40 000, some LAN gaming (more on that later), some RPGs (more on that later), some LARPing, some cosplaying, and a great big vendor hall full of anime, comic, geek, art and other goodness. And *astonishingly attractive* goth/cat girls.

costume_20 For those who are interested, it seems that RPG.co.za is the place to go to find out information about ICON. And while I'll post some pics shamelessly scraped from their site (and which are years old), if you want to see more, check out their gallery.

So I arrived, early (too early as it turns out), and had to wait outside as one of the organisers attempted comic relief in the form of deriding attendees who weren't into his gaming (RPGs, as it turns out) at the top of his lungs. Warhammer, Magic, etc. where targets of abuse. But everyone chuckled, so it was fine.

5I was attending because I had passed the preliminary  rounds for the Mayhem Dawn of War 2 competition. I was looking forward to some solid gaming, and was completely let down. The players I was competing with were beyond excellent - the two who beat me (I eventually came third) thoroughly deserved to win, as their skills in the game completely outclassed my own. But the room was continually noisy (incredibly distracting when you're playing a game which revolves around intense focus), the computers provided were of a poor quality (I had to adjust the monitors myself because the organisers didn't know that the wide-screen monitor used had a native resolution of 1440x900, DESPITE THE FACT THAT IT BELONGED TO ONE OF 2 THEM - and was dirty, to the point of making it hard to make out what was on the screen), and the competition was poorly organised - the match-ups where decided on the day, there was no proper announcement of prizes (in fact they still haven't announced if I won anything for third place, two days after I achieved it), so overall I was unimpressed by the competition.

Then I investigated RP. I love roleplaying games (I have another blog all about it, in fact), and this was really exciting to me - seeing other people playing, finding different points of view on how the games are played costume_15 and so on.

I registered, and quickly discovered that, as expected, geeks are anti-social. Until I was put into a group with other players, and while the GMs (game masters, the story tellers in RPGs) where reading their source material - a process that takes between 15 and 45 minutes, we all stood around awkwardly if we did not have a large crowd of friends handy (which I don't, being an East Londoner and all). Eventually we got together and we had a great game - we played Call of Cthulhu (a first for me, but something I've always wanted to do), and I enjoyed myself immensely. Afterwards, I was so dog tired, I slouched off home and passed out.

Some highlights from ICON when I wasn't competing or RP'ing:

  • Cosplayers. There were several. A guy I knew in s5 the competition introduced me to two catgirls, carrying their doggie slaves. Guys in wode, tieflings (complete with tiny little horns), Yomiko Readman. Not to mention - in case you missed it - CRAZY ATTRACTIVE GOTH GIRLS.
  • Chatting with the comic-book vendors. I've read enough over the last four years that I can generally match them in conversation. One of them looked like he was about to cry when I pointed out that I asked for Warren Ellis, not Garth Ennis, because he'd got them mixed up.
  • Realizing that I'll never have enough money to dedicate to the hobbies I'd like to have. 40k artbooks at R500. D&D manuals at R480. Boardgames going for over R1000. If I picked up all the books I wished I owned there, I could easily have spent about as much as I have recently started paying off on my car.
  • At one point during RP, one of the GMs (tiefling cosplayer, actually) started running around the big tent screaming (in a high-pitched voice) for about thirty seconds. Compete silence (from everyone else) reigned as all eyes turned to him. After finishing and quietening down, he sat back at the table and said (loudly) something like "and that was what the little girl did when you took her teddy bear".

All in all? I'll go there again, if I'm still in town this time next year. It's expensive, and I'll never compete in a Mayhem competition again, but ICON was pretty frickin' awesome :)

Friday, July 10, 2009

Adventures in Jo'burg #3

I've taken a short break from Adventures in Jo'burg because - frankly - life has been quite quiet. Also, work has been busy :)

Today I won't speak about any particular day. I want to take about a daily adventure: driving the streets of Johannesburg.

Now, I'm "hip", and "with it". I've played my fair share of Need for Speed (pick your flavour: Underground, Carbon, Most Wanted, Undercover). I'm good at travelling aggressively and fast. I'm also good at leaving that stuff at home, because I remember how often I've driven into walls at 120kph.

But nothing I've done could prepare me for Jo'burg roads. And you know what the main problem is? I'm a good person. Jo'burg drivers expect you to take every gap, no matter how suicidal it is. I've had guy centimeters from my back bumper, when I'm doing 80kph (in an 80kph zone) - if I'd slowed down at all, I would've been discussing insurers with them.

I've also discovered that the city of Johannesburg hates me. This time, I'm not referring to the people - though they loathe me too. The city itself - brick, mortar, electronics - hates me. I've yet to meet a robot (that's traffic lights to you from far away) that does not change to orange the second I've gotten to within five seconds drive of it.



That's the most frustrating time for it to happen, I'm not kidding. It means two things:

  1. Getting through the robots while maintaining speed is juuuuuust out of reach. You'll never make it on time, unless you go at least 20kph above the speed limit.
  2. You always spend the maximum period of time waiting at robots.

At the insistence of a friend who also drives Jo'burg daily, I've pushed through robots if it turns red as I go over the line. It's effective, but I feel both guilty and in extreme danger as I go through.

But back to the people of Johannesburg hating me - in case it wasn't immediately apparent, I believe in following the speed limit to the best of my ability. This is a lot more challenging in Jo'burg than you'd think. The number of frustrated drivers who have flashed brights, honked, and eventually just drove AROUND me in frustration (in single lane roads!) is getting worryingly high.

Add to all of this that I'm still learning Jo'burg, and live bordering on a "dodgy" area, so I do not want to stop and ask for directions, and when I drive I'm almost always nervous and hyper-tense.

But I like driving. And Jo'burg has some interesting places to go to.

Now if I could just find a vendor that sold Go boards...

Monday, July 6, 2009

Adventures in Jo'burg #2

5224479 Today's anecdote shall cover yesterday's fear, tribulation and challenge - Bruma Flea Market!

Bruma Flea Market (or "Marketworld" as I believe it has been termed) is (I'm told) one of the largest flea markets in Jo'burg, if not South Africa. I'm not sure if I believe that completely, but it is indeed massive. The only real thing it compares to is the annual Village Green flea market during the Grahamstown National Arts Festival. It runs six days a week (Tuesday to Sunday) - I tried to find it last week, and, sadly, missed the forest for the trees - I drove right past it, decided that I couldn't find the damned thing, turned around and came right back (well, actually, went to Eastgate mall for lunch, but you get the gist).

It is also the only flea market I have ever been to (though I'll admit I haven't been to many) that you have to pay for entrance. It's well worth it though! R4.50 gives you endless harassment, street theatre, harassment, and opportunity for great bargains.

bruma-flea-market Yes. It's a cheesy way to phrase it, but you get harassed *that much*. If you walk down the wrong alley (this place has alleys), you'll get ambushed by a half dozen traders insisting that you visit their stalls. They'll choose an item at random, and insist that you purchase it. When you refuse, they state an obscene price (sometimes - to be honest, sometimes the prices where pretty good). When you continue on your way, they'll drop 25% off the price. Then another 25%. Finally, if you continue on your way (with a deaf ear turned to the "But chief, this elephant carving took me days, won't you look at it again? Only R250! Please chief, support me, I haven't eaten in days."), they'll leave you alone to feel like the absolute heel that you are.

However. I got to see my first ever street theatre - some contortionist/dancers who were excellent for street theatre folk - if they joined a circus troupe or professional group somewhere, and spent a little time polishing their act, I would gladly pay R100 entrance to a show of theirs. I also saw a gentleman who styled himself a contortionist and comedian, who dragged an innocent young man out of the audience and proceeded to shamelessly embarrass the man - but he did some great stuff with a ring that was (partially) on fire, and could lie chest-down on the ground and pick up a hat and glasses with his feet and put them on his head/face by bending his torso into a near full-circle. When I say the man is spineless, I'm being entirely literal :)


I also got to see some youths doing what appeared to be a tribal dance, though frankly I've seen much better amateur stuff.

But! No-one attends a flea-market for the shows - they attend for the bargains! What did I find, you ask?

Well, frankly, nothing. About four-fifths of the items on offer were for tourists (it was the big signs saying "dollars, euros, other major currencies accepted here" that gave it away). Sculptures of little African heads, tall and thin sculptures of African warriors, sculptures of elephants. Beaded wire cars. Wooden boards with (you guessed it) African-sculpted chess pieces. Paintings of (waaaaaait for iiiiiiit) African warriors. And so many DVD, CD and computer hardware shops it would blow your mind. Wait, what? Yes, you can get your games and music here, as well as a new laptop, speakers, and a neon-pink wig at the stall next door. 'cause, you know, it's epic.

All of the food stalls (all of them!) proudly declare themselves halaal. Not that I mind, I prefer halaal food (amongst other things, this means that the animals were treated well [or, at least, better than non-halaal] before being slaughtered). Of course, most of the places just took this overboard - falafels, schwarmas, and other fun-to-pronounce food types where the order of the day. I had what was marketed as a "pizza pie", which I assumed was the correct term, but turns out to mean "calzone". Meh, it was nice :D

But I'm now inspired to shop at this place for birthdays, Christmasses and other gift-type events in future. Tacky African Warrior sculptures for *everybody*!

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Adventures in Jo'burg #1

My sister, bless her heart, is convinced that I should blog my experiences here in Johannesburg. Some are negative commentaries on the city, some are funny.

While today had it's own adventure (Bruma Flea-market), this entry will be about yesterday.

I recently got a car. I've been in Jo'burg for three months now. Three months, in the biggest city (arguably) in the country, without any automotive means of transport. Lifts to work have been available, but that's pretty much it.

At one point my work-lift offered me a chance to go to one of the few things I've really been excited about since I've moved here - the chance to go to South Africa's premier comic book, fantasy/sci-fi fiction, RPG shop, The Outer Limits. I went, I was a little disappointed (I expected it to be bigger), but ultimately was very happy to find a place that catered for my interests.

So I decided, what with my new car and all, to drive there, maybe pick up a comic or two, and drool over the painfully expensive RPG books.

Here's the problem: I don't know Jo'burg. At all.

I live in Kensington, which is pretty far south-east of city center. Eastgate Mall is a long work or short drive down a major road. I work in Rosebank, which is a little west-south-west of city center. My church is a few blocks away from where I work.

That's all I know, in terms of directions. A little of Rosebank, a little of Kensington, and exactly one (1) route between the two.

Now, Outer Limits is in Melville. Which is far enough that I'd certainly get lost going back streets. So armed only with a map book and four days of research on maps.google.com, I ventured on to the M3. Heads-up: I've never driven on Jo'burg highways before (I go via back-streets to work/church, and Eastgate is close enough that I don't need to use a highway). Let's just say that people are not happy with speed limits in this city while I obey them to the best of my ability... and this resulted in my complete lack of popularity on South African roads.

I survived the highway (despite it's best efforts), and got off at the Crown Interchange, which is to say that the M2 petered out and became (IIRC) Main Reef road. I took a few turns, got lost, consulted the map book, got confused, got unconfused, and got on to the right road.

Now, on maps.google.com, and on the Outer Limits website, their address is given as 8 Main Road. If you take the route I took, you end up on Brixton, followed by a few other streets, and the road eventually becomes Main Road, after which it becomes Ontdekkers. I drove up Main Road, found number 8, and... it was a gigantic mall. Outer Limits, from previous experience was a shop facing the street, off a raised pavement.

Suddenly: Confusion, panic, paranoia. Had they moved? Had they closed shop?

Saddened by this news, I trekked back to Kensington to sulk in my flat. Cue more M3 antics, people hooting on normal roads as I consulted my map book to find out where I was, and driving past a large group of protestors on Queen Street, toyi-toyi'ing and holding placards I couldn't read because of the police cars in the way.

So, finally arriving home from TWO HOURS on the road, getting lost, finding my way, getting lost again and finally getting nothing for my troubles, I consult with a friend of mine over IM, who informed me that Melville has *two* Main Streets. That intersect. And that I was about two blocks from the shop I was trying to find.

maps.google.com, in fact, guessed which Main Street Outer LImits was on, and got it wrong. I had spent an exhausting morning searching and getting nothing, because I trusted you Google. You fail me.