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Tue Jan 23 2018: Visiting Historical Sites

Chillin' with Jacques at his place in Port Elizabeth.


Like any good South African, Jacques prepares a braai for his house guests

As he tends to the fire, Neda proudly tells him, "We also braaied a couple of days ago. We fired up our camp-stove and fried up some boerewors. We're pretty much South African too!"

Jacques listens with a horrified look on his face: "*THAT'S* not a braai!"

He goes on to explain that the art of braaing is a highly ritualized process, from picking the right wood for moisture content, smokiness and taste. Then the fire has to burn out until there are only hot charcoal and embers left in the pit. Only then can you place the meat on the grill to start cooking.

So we have now been educated. Cooking over gas is *NOT* braaing! In fact, it's sacrilege to use anything but wood! All South Africans know this. It's Braai 101.


We hang out and wait for the fire to burn out

Jacques has invited his friend Liesl over and Phillip is there as well. We sit around talk. I show Jacques and Phillip some of the motorcycle roads in the area that I've scoped out for us - more of those mountain passes from that website I found on-line.

They both smile and nod politely. Jacques finally says, "Well, those are good roads for BMW motorcycles. But if you want us to show you some *KTM* roads...", and then a big smile...

It never stops around here... :D

We sit around and wait and talk and joke around while the fire continues to burn down. It's getting dark, and Neda and I are kinda getting hungry.


Neda asks, "We've had a lot of meat the last couple of days, is there a vegetarian option?"
Without skipping a beat, Jacques replies, "Yes! Chicken!" LOL!

South Africans love meat!

There are a few unspoken rules about Braai Culture that we've quickly picked up. Apart from not using your camp-stove to fry up boerewors in a pan...

The most important thing we've learned is that when a South African tells you the braai will be ready in an hour or so, he's straight-up lying. Four hours later, the sun has disappeared and the meat is still uncooked because the fire still has not gone out.

Another thing we learned: the entire Braai Culture revolves around being social while tending to the dying flame. It reminded me of the Schwenkbraten that our host Günter prepared for us in Luxembourg:

"What's the advantage of cooking over a swinging grill, Günter?", I asked back then.
"Nothing, you just sit around, swing the grill and talk..."

This is the exact same thing in Braai Culture. While waiting for the fire to die down, you just hang out, drink and talk and be merry.

So different from our North American barbecues where you just fire up the gas grill and in twenty minutes, you're chompin down on steaks, chops and sausages!


The next day, Neda accompanies me on a little quest

My mom's family is from the Port Elizabeth area. She used to lived in a small town called Uitenhage, just 30 minutes north-west of here.


My mom, when she was a little girl (seated on the right) with her two sisters,
with my grandmother and grandfather.

On the ride up, we see South Africa's national flower blooming all along the roadside

There's garbage strewn everywhere on the sides of the road along the highways. Colourful plastic bags that have caught on shrubs and fences are jokingly called South Africa's National Flower.

We reach Uitenhage and I'm surprised to find ourselves in a very middle-class neighbourhood. I don't know what I was expecting. My mom doesn't talk much about her childhood, just that it was difficult living in South Africa. I guess I thought everything in this country would be shanties and townships, like all the movies and TV shows portray.


My mom was born in this building! Back before it was a water store, of course...

My cousin still lives in the Eastern Cape, about a couple of hours away from here, and she's able to send me maps of all the places that our parents lived, where they went to school, etc. I'm very curious about my mom's past, I know so little about it. Because I grew up in Malaysia where my dad's family is from, I'm more familiar with that side of the family's history.


We went inside to buy a drink and take pictures

As Neda was snapping away, a woman approached us. She identified herself as the owner of the store and instructed us to stop taking pictures. She seemed very angry and asked us to leave.

I tried to explain, "My mom was born here!"

"Your mother was born in South Africa?", she asked in a So-What? tone.

"No, she was born right *here*. In this building. Over 75 years ago. Probably in that room over there!", I pointed to the back room where her employees were unpacking boxes.

"Oh my word!" (South Africans say that a lot) Her demeanour changed completely and her eyes grew huge, "I thought you were from another store, spying on us! Tell me more!"

I explained how my grandfather ran a General Store on these premises and the family lived in the back. She seemed really interested. She was entirely unaware of the history of the property before they started their business here.

"Stay as long as you want, and take as many pictures as you'd like!"

Knysna!

After our brief visit to Uitenhage, we ride back to Port Elizabeth, this time to the downtown core.


This is where my mom went to elementary school

Chinese children were educated separately from the rest of the population, first by Anglican nuns out of a church then the "school" was moved here. It used to be called the Moi Yean Association building.

It took some sleuthing to find this place. My mom kept telling me, "It's on Queen St. You can't miss it. Queen St is the main street in Port Elizabeth!"

There is no Queen St. in Port Elizabeth, not as far as Google Maps and my GPS were concerned. After apartheid ended, most of the colonial names in the country were changed to celebrate important people from the tribes. This street is now called Govan Mbeki Ave.

As a little girl, my mom used to take the train from Uitenhage to Port Elizabeth every day to attend school here. It's so interesting retracing her steps 70 years later as part of our grand motorcycle journey!


We paid a visit to my grandfather's grave at the Port Elizabeth North End cemetery

The Chinese are buried in a separate area of the cemetery. It's always been this way, long before the apartheid laws were enacted in 1948. My grandfather died out of the country, but he still loved South Africa so much that his dying wish was to be buried back here.

I was only a toddler when he passed away, so I don't remember him, but the only time I visited this country before now was for his funeral 45 years ago.


Our next stop: this is where my mom went to high school

It's in a suburb of PE called Kabega Park. Today, it's a school for Special Needs kids, but it's nice that they kept the Chinese High School facade intact for historical reasons.

My mom and her sisters all learned Afrikaans in school. When she got mad at me when I was a child, she used to swear at me in Afrikaans. Jacques was impressed I still remembered some of the swear words... I think I used them on our ride through the Elands River Valley the other day! :)


We ride down to the beach in Summerstrand, another sea-side neighbourhood in Port Elizabeth.

Taking a walk down Shark Rock Pier, looking out at the surfers in Algoa Bay

We are finding that Port Elizabeth is super-friendly! As we were strolling up and down the boardwalk, everyone smiled and said hi to us. After such a cold reception in Cape Town, I was pleasantly surprised. Perhaps I had misjudged South Africa based on my mom's experiences living here as a child. Maybe it was only the unfriendliness of the big city that left us with a very bad first impression. In fact, looking back, everyone seems so much nicer once we were out of Cape Town!


Surfing the waves at Algoa Bay

We grabbed a drink at a restaurant overlooking the boardwalk and talked about our impressions of Port Elizabeth

There have been many destinations on this trip that we've visited from our past: Croatia, Malaysia, the UK. Places where we've relived our family history and shown each other our respective childhoods. However, South Africa is brand new to the both of us. I'm so happy that Neda is here with me as I uncover all the bits and pieces of my mom's life, long before she even met my dad.

I believe that you really get to know who a person is when they share with you a bit of their history and how they grew up.

We head back to Jacques' place to meet up with him just as he is returning from work. Apparently, there's more to South African food than just braaing because he's taking us out for dinner tonight!

We all drive over to the restaurant in Jacques' car. On the way, he plays us a CD of a folk singer; it sounds a bit like Bob Dylan.

Jacques introduces us to the music of Rodriguez. He explains that he was super-popular in South Africa, and how he and his friends all used to listen to him when they were younger. He mentioned a documentary they made about the country's fascination with Rodriguez. We'll have to find it online and stream it sometime.


PRAWNS! BBQed up Portuguese style in peri-peri sauce. OMG! So delicious!

We are told these are the best prawns outside of Mozambique. So now Mozambique has become a bucket list item for us!

Much later, we were finally able to watch that documentary that Jacques mentioned. It's called "Searching For Sugar Man". What a fantastic program!

It detailed a South African DJ's obsession with an American folk singer from the 60s: Sixto Rodriguez, whose music rose to popularity all across the nation during the apartheid-era, long after he stopped releasing any more albums. But because the government's segregationist-policies had closed off the country to the rest of the world, South African fans had virtually no information about the singer - just that he died under mysterious circumstances, having either overdosed or killed himself on stage.

I won't spoil the documentary, but it's more than just uncovering bits and pieces of information about a musician. It was really about life in South Africa during apartheid.

I remember the apartheid government being economically sanctioned by other countries and villainized in TV and movies - they were the bad guys in Lethal Weapon 2 (1989). Musicians refused to play venues in the country in protest. There was an anti-apartheid song put out by Little Steven, U2 and other artists, "Sun City" (1985). All stuff I vividly remember from my own childhood. On the flip-side of the coin, the government had tight control over any media entering the country, including the news, which they monitored and routinely censored. I was unaware of just how cut off South Africans were to the outside world.

The documentary "Searching For Sugar Man" showed one of Rodriguez' albums which was imported into South Africa. The government didn't approve of some of the protest singer's lyrics and the record was intentionally scratched up and rendered unplayable.

Any attempts by white South Africans to criticize or protest apartheid were met with imprisonment. The government encouraged its citizens to inform on and turn in their neighbours and family members. It was like living in North Korea.

White, black and coloured South Africans were being oppressed by the apartheid regime, all in very different ways.

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