Monday, April 30, 2012

Debauchery in Durban

Considering how much traveling I have done in my lifetime (Zimbabwe, US, UK, Spain, Portugal, Italy, France, South Korea, Thailand, etc), it is surprising how little traveling I have done around my own country. Sure, I went on holiday to Plettenburg Bay every year, but that was as far as my South African travels went until I came to Rhodes for University. Suddenly my horizons opened to include Grahamstown, and from there one or two trips to Johannesburg. So, when given a reason to make a trip to Durban, there was little hesitation on my part. Grant needed a little convincing, but before long the plans were set in stone and there was no turning back.

When deciding how to get to Durban, we took the cost of travel into consideration. Flying would cost us around R1500 each both ways, while driving would cost about that overall. Once it had been decided that both of us would definitely be going, it also made financial sense to drive rather than fly. Since our original plan also included spending a week diving in Aliwal Shoal, this also made the most sense in terms of the time that we had. Once those plans crashed and burned (I still have to complete my diving course), the travel arrangements stuck and we were still going to be driving rather than flying down. A mistake, I can confidently say in hindsight, considering how long it took to drive there. I have driven from Grahamstown to Cape Town and back numerous times, a trip which usually takes me 10 hours including a quick stop for lunch. That is 899km in distance, while Durban is 799km away. So, in my mind, the trip should be at least an hour shorter. But apparently not. Roadworks, traffic and general stupidity on the part of other drivers on the road meant that instead of the 9 hours that we had been expecting, it took us 12 hours to get to Durban and just as long to return. Needless to say, I think I will be flying on my next trip.

Of course, once we actually arrived in Durban (well after the sun had set), it all seemed worth it as we found our way to Robyn's house and were greeted by the wonderful Robyn herself. Robyn makes everything worth it. If I had just taken the trip to visit Robyn, it would have been worth it. But, as it was, we had little time with Robyn and decided to make the most of it by taking her out for a nice dinner and catch-up. We went to a Mexican restaurant on Florida Rd, and continued to eat the most enormous pizza I have ever seen in my entire life. Yes... we ate pizza... at a Mexican restaurant. Grant was perplexed too, especially since we don't get Mexican in Grahamstown and he had been expecting to get something, well, Mexican. But we were all well-fed and thrilled nonetheless and the company was awesome. We then made our way down Florida Rd to an amazing frozen yoghurt place (I cannot for the life of me remember the name of it) where we treated ourselves to some condensed milk yoghurt with the works on top. It was.... divine. And makes me hungry as I am writing this. Damn Grahamstown and its lack of frozen yoghurt!! We decided to walk and eat and made our way back to Robyn's place for an early night.

Speaking of which... Robyn has the most amazing place that I could imagine. I wish that I'd had the forethought to take photos, but instead you will have to bear with me as I describe a gorgeous two bedroomed, two bathroomed house. Ridiculously high steps lead up to a veranda with a small pool on one side and sliding glass as the entrance to the house. You step inside and are escorted into a modern dream of dark wood floors, white walls and black furnishings. Leather couches decorate the lounge along with a massive TV, and further on is a small open dining area before you get to the uber-modern, uber-jealousy-inducing kitchen of amazingness. I swear that if that oven would have fit in Grant's car, Robyn would never have seen it again. And then there are the rooms - Robyn's pristine white haven with the open-plan bathroom, and her housemate's room which (I shouldn't know this, but Robyn snuck me in when he wasn't looking) includes a walk-in closet and three deep steps that lead into a sunken bath/shower combo that I would kill for.

Anyway, enough of that. Back to the weekend. After a few more hours of catch up, during which Grant was half passing out from exhaustion, we decided to call it a night and head to bed. Grant and I had an early morning after all. We woke up around 9 and I started getting ready immediately. We needed to be at the Blue Waters Hotel at 11:00, in time for Andrew and Nikita's wedding. This was the main purpose for our trip, and I was excited as anything. I had met Andrew before many, many years ago, but had never met Nikita despite our almost daily chats. We got along like a house on fire, and when Grant and I were invited to the wedding, it was hard to say no. So we didn't. And there we were on Saturday morning, arriving at the hotel and going up to a reception venue where we knew hardly anyone. Actually, I knew one person and Grant knew me. But, no matter, we sat ourselves down at our table and slowly started becoming acquainted with the others. And it turned out that Grant did in fact know more people than me after all! He quickly recognised the photographer as someone he knew in University days and, after telling Andrew how funny it was that the only person he knew was someone from Rhodes, he was approached from a woman who had been sitting at our table all along and informed that he did in fact know her too, from way back in the day at Rhodes! So, our lack of acquaintances was soon made up for as we chatted and danced and had a good time.

The wedding itself was a wonderful one. Not knowing the couple particularly well, Grant was worried that the service might have been religious (think of it as his worst nightmare), despite my assurances that it was unlikely to be. As it turned out, I was right. The ceremony was far from religious, and was actually rather amusing at parts (you wouldn't think that made for a good ceremony, but it certainly made for an entertaining one). The reception venue was beautiful with a view of the Durban coastline from 18 floors up, and the food was delicious. The guests were incredibly friendly and welcoming, as were the couple, and overall we had a fantastic day that made the Durban trip feel like it was completely worth it. A dinner at Bangkok Wok finished off the day, and was the perfect end to it. We made our way back to Robyn's and had another early night, which wasn't surprising considering that we were both feeling exhausted after the long day.

Sunday saw another early start as we woke up and started arranging breakfast at Robyn's boyfriend's place. Having only met James briefly on Friday evening, I was looking forward to spending some time with him and making sure that he was the right man for my little Robyn. Deciding to do something that we couldn't do in Grahamstown, the four of us made our way to Gateway to play some bowling. Little did we know that Gateway would also be Grant's dream come true, as he discovered the Ferrari simulator in the food court. R150.00 and ten minutes later, he had taken the car around the track and was satisfied, though still uber-excited, and it was time for us to play some bowling. Being the terrible bowler that I am, Robyn and I decided to challenge each other with the sides up, while Grant and James took each other on with the sides down. With an amazing finale, I swept the floor with Robyn (winning by a whole like 5 points), and completely lost track of how the others were doing while I was performing my victory lap around the bowling arena. Not really. But I would have been. Instead, Robyn performed a very interesting celebratory dance in her bowling shoes that slid along the carpets. For my entertainment, of course. It was lovely. Once the bowling was over, it was time for some air hockey, some lunch, some shopping, a piercing (not for me) and then it was back to the house so that Robyn could get ready for church (which I skipped). Once she returned, there was more preparation as we prepared for the night that I had been waiting for (without knowing that I was waiting for it) for weeks. That's right folks! I was in Durban! And what else was in Durban?? THE HUNGER GAMES! You should have seen my excitement when I realised it. Robyn was less excited, but totally willing, James was happy to be dragged along, and Grant... well Grant stayed behind and fell asleep early. LAME! Instead, I got to see THE HUNGER GAMES! Which I loved and will tell you more about in another blog.

And then... two and a half hours after the movie started... it ended, and it was time to make our way back. It was well after 11pm, and I had a 4:45am wake up ahead of me, which I was not looking forward to in the slightest. So I hugged Robyn as tightly as physically possible and promised that I would be back again soon, and made my way inside for a night of relatively restless sleep. And woke up ridiculously early. And we were on our way.

And so concluded the whirlwind that was Durban. It was brief, but it was amazing, fun, exciting, Robyn-filled, wedding-filled and supremely awesome. And hopefully we will be going back soon. Pictures of the trip can be found here:

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Hungry for More

When it comes to reading books, I follow trends. I rarely find myself reading a book by a new author that hasn't been recommended by a number of people. I completely fall or the bestseller title, even though I realise that practically every book on the market is labelled as a bestseller. But more than anything, I listen to public opinion and follow that. When I hear about a trend, I tend to want to jump on the bandwagon. It was the case with the Twilight series, and now it is the case with the Hunger Games.

It is hard not to compare the two series, really. Both written by women, featuring female protagonists of around the same age, both can be placed firmly in the realm of fiction, both are aimed at the same reader demographic and both have gotten to be incredibly popular. To me that is really where the similarities end.

I read the Twilight series in my fourth year of University. At the time, I was obviously older than the main demographic, the books being aimed at teenagers more than twenty-somethings. Nevertheless, I was not the only one in my classes reading the books and I felt that there was nothing to be ashamed about. I sped through the books, and I found them to be enjoyable. They were not anything incredible, they were not breathtaking or amazing. But they weren't utter drivel either. And I always feel that anything that can get teenagers interested in reading is great. If I had been reading these as a twelve year old girl, I would have thought that they were the best thing since Harry Potter! As it was, they were entertaining and nothing more. I will still watch the movies for the same reason. I like getting caught up in the fanaticism of it. When I was in Korea and went to watch Eclipse, I made my own t-shirt with my friends, I chose a team, and I had a fun night out. And that was that. Not award winning stuff, but fun. Predictable, but fun.

I was very late on the Hunger Games craze, only really getting into it just before the movie came out. I had heard so much about the movie and decided that I wanted to read the first book before seeing it, since it seemed like a kind of movie that I would want to see. And so I got a copy on my Kindle and I sat down to read it one night. And I was hooked in. It took me all of four days to finish it, which is incredibly quick considering that I tend to read in the evenings when I am already exhausted.

The Hunger Games is the first in a trilogy of books by Suzanne Collins revolving around the world of Panem. Panem is divided into twelve districts (each with their own sector of industry) and a Capitol which is the seat of the government. Seventy-four years before the events of the first book takes place, there was a revolution where the people revolted against the government and lost. As a result, the Hunger Games are started as a yearly ritual to remind the masses of the revolt and of their failure, and of the power that the Capitol has. The Hunger Games themselves are a televised tournament (along the lines of Big Brother) where two children, one boy and one girl, between the ages of 12 and 18 are randomly selected to be placed in an arena where they will have to fight to the death. The books revolve around one particular participant, Katniss Everdeen, who has grown up in the poorest of the districts (District 12) and who volunteers to participate in the games to save her sister's life.

Part of the reason why I got hooked into the Twilight series was because of the mindlessness of reading it. I could read a chapter in a minute and know exactly what happened without having to concentrate too hard. It was good to take my mind of the studying that I had to do with most of my time. It was entertaining, but it wasn't award winning stuff. I found The Hunger Games to be different. The writing was simple, but not mind-numbingly so. It is easy to read, but it is also enticing and thought-provoking. Obviously not to the extent that, say, Shakespeare is thought-provoking in that you have to reread every sentence to understand what is being said. But I found that the writing flows well and keeps the reader attentive rather than mindlessly paging through the book.

The characters in the Hunger Games are also, well not relatable... it's kind of difficult to relate to a character who is forced to deal with killing others to stay alive, and Bella is certainly more like your typical mopey teenager. But the characters that Collins creates have more depth to them. They are all independent by necessity and they are all in conflict in more than one way. The main female character in particular is certainly more the kind of protagonist that you want your girls to read about and relate to - a girl (or woman) who does not rely on anyone, who stands up for those that she loves and is steadfast in her decisions. And better than that, the protagonist is a girl (or woman) who does not want to be in love, who does not want to be tied down and does not want to be reliant on anyone for anything. Certainly a better role model than Bella, even if she does tend to run around hunting illegally and ends up having to kill competitors to stay alive.

Overall, I would give the first book of the Hunger Games series an 8/10. I found it to be a great read and I would recommend that anyone who likes these kinds of series give it a try.

Watch this space for my review of the first movie.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Why I Must Be The Worst Travel Companion In The World

I have a huge amount of sympathy for Grant, and so should you. Over the last weekend, he had to spend more than 24 hours in a car with me, and no one should have to do that. And so, here are the reasons why I must be the worst person to travel (in a car) with.

As a side note, I like to think that I am not that bad to travel with outside of the car – ie. On plane rides, trips where I meet up with people at the destination, etc. However, I cannot vouch for myself. This would require someone vouching for me.

  1. “It’s So PRETTY!” I love traveling by car as a passenger, mostly because I am the kind of person who finds most scenery pretty. Aside from, say, the trip to PE which I must have done at least 50 times over the last seven years, I will always find new and wonderful things that I think are gorgeous. Even if it is something that I have seen before, chances are that I haven’t seen it in that light, that season or at that angle before. And I get ridiculously excited about it. To the extent that I was forbidden from uttering those words on the return trip from Durban. “Instead,” Grant advised, “how about you tell me when you don’t find something pretty.” Needless to say, those words were not uttered.

  2. Photographer on Board. I restrained myself this trip, and Grant understood that I was restraining myself. Because of the whole “It’s So PRETTY” problem described above and the fact that I tend to like to take photographs of pretty things, car trips with me could very easily end up being long experiences. I swear, if Grant had been willing to pull over every time I wanted to take a photo, we would never have arrived in Durban on time to attend the wedding. And sadly, taking photos from a moving car that has windows and a windscreen that are less than crystal clear just does not work. This means that I didn’t actually end up taking very many photos of the trip to and from Durban. Which is a real shame. I totally want to head out in that direction (maybe just an hour from Grahamstown) at 7am again just to get the picture of the mist flowing over the hills and mountains. I cannot remember seeing anything more gorgeous in my lifetime.

  3. Sleeping Beauty. There is nothing quite like a car trip to make me want to fall asleep. Especially when the trips involve getting up well before my usual waking hour – like getting up at 6am or 04:45. There is little that can be done then to keep me awake – coffee, Red Bull and Monster have no effect. Somehow I did manage to stay awake during both trips with Grant, but there were long moments of considering just giving in to the sleep that was threatening, and blinking lasted a lot longer than it usually does, since it was such an effort to keep my eyes open.

  4. Bathroom Breaks. Another thing that I am terrible at, though to be fair I don’t have much of a choice in how my body handles itself. I tend to be terrible at needing to take bathroom breaks. Often at the most inconvenient of times, like just as we pass the last petrol station that we will see for the next hundred k’s or so. I can remember a number of trips where this has wreaked havoc – my trip to Yosemite with my parents and tagging along on a drive to Cape Town in my fourth year being only a few. While this is fine when I am on my own, it is absolutely awful when driving with someone else, particularly when you have somewhere to be and are trying to get there as quickly as possible.

  5. Navigation. I have discovered that I suck at navigation. Apparently I cannot blame this on my HTC (though I am determined that it does not help matters) but only on myself and my lack of navigational skills. I am useless at judging distance (turn in 130m could be the next road or could be the one down there… I don’t know) and I am terrible at reading maps. The number of times that we took a wrong turn because I couldn’t tell what the GPS wanted me to do was embarrassing and I think I have been taken off navigational duties for future trips.

But, despite my terrible travel companion skills, we managed to make it to Durban and back in two pieces (one for me and one for him) and had a weekend that we can both look back on fondly. More on our Durban weekend later in the week (or month)!

Monday, April 16, 2012

Descending into Boredom

I don't know why I ever trust the people who choose Oscar nominations. They are so narrow-minded to begin with, looking for a particular type of movie to fit in with their categories. But it's not just that they close themselves off to the awesomeness of certain types of movies that gets me. It is the movies that end up being picked, even often end up winning the Oscars that truly blow my mind (in a bad way).

Take, for example, The Descendants. You can't really say that it had a great cast. Yes, there was George Clooney, who is a stud and is awesome. I am not denying that fact. But he was expected to carry the show on his name alone, and he actually didn't pull off a great performance. I thought that the girl who played the older daughter was halfway decent, but I found Clooney to be, frankly, flat. His character was supposed to be dull, work obsessed, I get that. But when he finds out that plot to the entire story, it should kind of shake things up a little. Which he tries to do. And fails. His character never seems to move out of first gear and it makes the show painful to watch.

Then there comes the story. The story which does seem to get into second gear with a lot of effort and then still goes absolutely nowhere. For those who do not know what the movie is about, I will tell you no more than what you see in the trailer. It is about a man (Clooney)  whose wife ends up on life support in a hospital when she gets into a boating accident. He is left to look after the two children while he tries to sort out his life, his wife's affairs and sell a large piece of land that he and his family have inherited through the generations. Oh, and he finds out that his wife has been cheating on him. This is all in the trailer, as I said, so I have given absolutely nothing away there. And the sad thing is, there is nothing more to give away. That is the entirety of the movie, squashed into a 3 minute trailer that was far more entertaining than the two and a half hour show. It suggests interesting topics, but the interest never materialises.

Of course, taking  place in Hawaii, you always knew that it was going to be a visual movie, a movie filled with timelapses and beautiful scenery. Which it was, to some extent. But I could appreciate the vastness of the land and the beauty of it more when it was integrated into the story. Like when Clooney and his daughters are  looking over the land that belongs to them, contemplating what selling it would mean, and the camera pans over the land numerous times - you can see why it would be something difficult to let go of, and you can see why the land should be treasured. You can't see that so much when the scene changes randomly to clouds floating over the ocean or over the shoreline. A lot of the most beautiful, most visual scenes are completely separated from the narrative, and it feels like they have just been put there to be pretty. Beauty is one thing, but it should add to the movie rather than be placed there for beauty's sake.

As you can tell, The Descendants did not meet my expectations. And that is the problem with the movies that are chosen for the Oscars. They are chosen for reasons that we are not aware of, and they raise your expectations for the films. Expectations that are often not met. Perhaps they should have a category for dull artsy movies that make you think twice about life. I would certainly put this and Never Let Me Go into that category.

March Madness

It's really hard for me to believe that we are a quarter of the way, and almost a third of the way, through the year! It's almost as hard as knowing that I am now officially 24 years old and that it has indeed been 3 years since my 21st. I know that I am still young, but my God do I feel old!! One of my friends started dating a 21 year old and the thought of it just made me cringe when I realised how much of an age gap that is. Anyway, enough of this self-pitying. Time to get down to it. What did March bring?

First of all, there was my dive course. As an early birthday present, Grant paid for me to take the course and bought me most of the gear that I will need for it (a BCD, regulator and cylinder are just not necessary if you are still trying to decide whether it is going to be a serious hobby or not.) The course did not go 100% as planned, and it is not over yet, but I am trying hard and (hopefully) will have my last pool session tomorrow and my open water dives next weekend. To hear read more about my experience of diving, check out this post.

Later on in the month came my six year anniversary with Grant. It was something that I had been really looking forward to, since we missed our four year and five year anniversaries while I was overseas, but because of the dive course and the grand prix, we ended up doing nothing special for it - we just spent the day like a very normal Sunday, lounging around the house, playing games and watching movies.

In terms of photography, I got one job covering the Windmills performance by the Rhodes Chamber Choir, and some of the photos that were taken have been put up on my website. They will also be put up on the choir's official site once that is up and possibly on Rhodes website. If you would like to read more about covering the event or would like to see some of the photos, you can see them in this post on my photography blog.

Work was really busy in March with problems happening towards the end of the month. Thankfully they were nothing like the problems that we had last year, in that they affected less people and affected most of them less significantly. But those that the issue did affect were most put out and there were a lot of threats to be dealt with. It was mostly not the Accounts department dealing with them (thankfully), but it did mean a lot of stress all around the office.

Towards the end of the month I had to take a second trip to PE (the first one having been to get my diving gear) when I had to take Kath to the airport. It was not particularly exciting, since it took place before first light at 5am so that I could get back to work on time. Needless to say, it was not the most pleasant trip I have experienced and I was in dire need of caffeine and just plain sleep when I arrived.

And finally, there was my birthday at the end of the month. A huge number of people did remember (largely thanks to Facebook reminders I suspect) and I thank all of those who sent me messages. It was a wonderfully relaxing day mostly spent in bed. Grant took me out for a nice dinner in the evening and we finished off the day by watching a movie together. I didn't get too many gifts this year, and I suppose it is a sign of my getting older :P I did get spoiled by Grant with dinner and diving equipment and even got surprised when his parents came to visit this week, bringing with them a gift of lights for my studio, which we are planning on building later this month. It was a bit of a weird feeling, waking up on my birthday to another ordinary Saturday without anything special planned, but I need to grow up at some point and not every birthday needs to be a spectacular affair. There's always next year, when I turn the big 25 ;)

Some reviews from the month of March that you guys have to look forward to:

Angels and Demons - Dan Brown
Dead Famous - Ben Elton
Hunger Games - Suzanne Collins

The Descendants
The Roommate
I Love You, Man