I am trying to work out the hierarchy of Joburg’s street people, prompted by my ongoing fascination with who is outside my car window. This is Joburg and the cast is carnivalesque, a constant reminder that no matter your state of privilege there is no getting away from poverty. If you have a car, there you are cocooned in your own thoughts, listening to the radio or occupied by a cellphone call and thinking it’s a private moment when a knock on the window calls attention to a man draped in cellphone chargers, or holding a large box of fruit that you don’t eat or wielding a soapy-filled water bottle and a squeegee and hellbent on cleaning your windscreen (in the North it’s Grayston Drive offramp, in the east it’s the corner next to Eastgate Mall) milliseconds before the traffic light changes. (In my hierarchy, the window-washers occupy the lowest rung because after having had a smash-‘n’-grab (there’s even a neat phrase for it) years ago I get panicked when someone lies across my line of sight).
#166. Recommend that if you love reading and food, or recipes, or have any interest in Chinese culture, and/or Taiwan (or all of these) then you should pick up a copy of Emperor Can Wait by Joburg restaurateur Emma Chen. For the uninitiated the title refers to a chinese proverb “The Emperor can wait –while we eat”. First a disclosure – I worked [as an editor] with Chen on the initial manuscript. Now that’s out of the way … the book launched a few days ago with a wedding feast at the Red Chamber, Chen’s restaurant in Hyde Park that is celebrating 20 years of existence (In Joburg restaurant parlance, a lifetime).
That’s 20 years of the best cucumber salad in Johannesburg, possibly the world. There are people who would kill for that recipe and in this city it’s possible they already have.
#87. Close your eyes. A relative who hadn’t been to Joburg for nine years out of choice returned for a week for a family function and declared this to be a great city. Investigating further I discovered the secret to his sudden change of heart. Continue reading →