Saturday, August 14, 2010

Trip to South Africa


Just recording my recent trip to Johannesburg South Africa. It was a trip sponsored by the Malaysian Paediatric Association to attend the International Paediatric Association Congress. I represented Malaysia as the President of our Association.

It was a long trip and as soon as we arrived in the early hours of the morning, we were sufficiently warned that this place isnt safe.So, travel with 'official' taxis and don't venture out alone. This is Africa - they said.

Such friendly advice is exactly the sort of thing I love to go against.

"Official" taxis means paying almost RM200 ( USD70 ) for a 15 km trip! I decided to break the rules and travel the local ways.

That meant going into one of the local vans, wait for 14 others to fill it up and contribute RM2 per person ( USD 30 cents ) to the person closest to the driver and hey presto! off we went., Initially to Alexandra and changing taxi to Midrand where my cheap hotel is.

One needs a few important tips when travelling like a local. Foremost, learn a few local phrases to win the local hearts. that means learning some Zulu phrases. "how are you" becomes " Unjjaani" and you answer "Ghia pila Unjjanif for Im well thank you".

I found the locals exceptionally friendly despite their angry-looking demeanor, and skin complexion slightly darker than mine.

Its that angry-looking that our guides had warned us " Beware of African" Little did they know that behind these looks, are exceptionally warm hearts, one of whom , a girl barely 17 yrs of age who made way for my 2 huge suitcases and allowed the suitcases to sit on her lap. One lady volunteered to carry one of them to the next taxi, even she was already late for work. Of course there were those who had learnt that foreigners are to be swindled and made offers to help , hiding some evil intents. By then you can 'smell' their intentions, and seek help from others; many were ever so ready to assist, like Clive, Anastasia, Salphina, and many others whose name escape my memory.

That reminds me of the mystery of the VAT Refund. Sounds friendly enough. "you dont have to pay for the tax - we pay you back" full of non African smiles , charming voice and sluggishly friendly. That was at the modern airport. they offerred to give me back 400 rands but using local cheque and to be cashed at the airport. At that point the smiley lady said" Sorry, we take 100 rands as our commission; you take the rest, better than nothing eh?" thats a whopping 25% commission or is it "con mission '. That was an official policy apparently.

I can clearly recall, being robbed in Belgium and kicked by locals in Austria!

Beware of Non Africans ? - or am I being racist now?

"Salanigha seth" and "Ghia Bonggo " for now.