Monday, September 29, 2008

Unlikely Tourist in Soweto Part I

I'm not sure where to begin, I sit here comfortably in my luxurious Cape Town hotel room. I was just mildly annoyed that my hotel room over looks the parking lot and that instead of the room we made a reservation for we got a room in the back corner. I spent the day on an airplane, drinking sparkling lemonade and eating terrible airplane food.

It was up until I started writing this post, I was annoyed that I was spending all this money to be 20+ jet hours from home only to deal with the smug deputy general manager of this hotel.

At the Winchester

Then I realized that yesterday I took a tour of the poorest most disadvantaged place on earth.

The day before I paid our guide coordinator, Robert 3 000 Rand (~375 USD), for Jess and I to tour the famous Soweto township. We also paid 3 000 Rand for our day trip to see wild animals in Pilanesburg. A voice inside my head (that sounded just like my mom) thought there was probably a less expensive tour, another voice said I make more than enough to afford this.

At the Watering Hole

The day started with our tour guide showing up late. Of course it was only because our first tour guide didn't show up. That was the best bit of luck. Our new guide, Sonny Boy, was a young black man from Pretoria who now lives in the Soweto township. His mother was an educator and an administrator, and it showed. Sonny was versed with Soweto's history and its world-shaping events.

Sonny Boy

We started with a quick tour of the city center. Up until then, we were told that the city center was strictly off limits to anyone who was not black. While we were there this was, for the most part true; I saw a total of three white people during our entire time downtown. Still I didn't feel terribly out of place, and the populace didn't bat an eye at the white girl and the asian kid with the 300mm snapping shots while cruising through the mall. I suppose I was just another tourist.

Ad Hoc

The first stop was the Top of Africa. The largest concrete structure in South Africa, it sports 50 floors and claims to be the tallest building in the country. From the top you can get a bird's eye view of the city center. It's from up there you can see why some try to compare downtown Joburg to New York. But that's most likely due to what it looks like from 50 floors up; far from the race of life bustling below.

West from the Top

To the south west, monstrous mine dumps separate the city from the township of Soweto.


Much like the attitudes that lead to the inception of the township, the mine dumps separate the city from Soweto, and serve as much a physical barrier as a conceptual one, from here the poverty stricken shanties of the township are all but invisible.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Back from South Africa

It's been a while since the last post and there is much to write about. I'm going to start a series of posts about the South Western Township of Johannesburg, known by is truncated nickname, Soweto. Of the experiences one can have while traveling, it is important to see how people in other parts of the world live. And not how they live at the tourist traps serving you smoothies at the mall. To see how they actually live, to see the day to day, to go to their neighborhoods, to go to their restaurants, their bars, and see their homes.

There is a growing movement in tourism that attempts to add a responsible element to travel. It's called Eco Tourism and its principles call for a greater awareness of your impact as a tourist. During my visit to China and India in 2005, it was undeniable that as an American, I occupy a privileged place in the world. During my trip to South Africa, the same privilege was, again, an undeniable part of every day.

Unlike our trip to Pilanesburg, our tour of Soweto was less about the jewels of Africa, and more about its gritty reality. But much like our trip to Pilanesburg, it was still one that was rooted in an experience designed for tourists. Still it was a tour that I would recommend to everyone who has the chance to visit Jozi. And if you can, you should find our guide to take you there.

Saturday, September 13, 2008


It's rare that I'd seek out an opportunity to be confined to a car for 12 hours, but as a tourist, even I am susceptible to my own hypocrisy every now and then. But this one was worth it if i do say so myself. And besides how could I go all the way to the African continent and not get to see a giraffe up close!

Big Bird








Yay Giraffe!

Bye-bye Giraffe

More to come...

Science Parks

Day One of the international conference on science parks. Today I was the staff photographer covering the session on the future of science parks. The most difficult part of which, was not participating in the discussion. The conversations were lively and engaging albeit sometimes a little painful. What could you expect from an aging set of administrators trying to get their heads around how the current trends in technology would affect their work in 10 years? It's difficult to blame them, for they are the products of the last 20 years.

They knew the buzz words and the issues, but there was an underlying current of fearing the unknown that ran through the discussion. They spoke frequently of social networking, but almost as if it was something that was only for the kids. They even went as far to say that, "Someday this social networking thing might even have an impact on business." I could not help but worry that it would be a long while before they might understand that exchanging business cards has quickly becoming the least effective way of growing their own networks.

They worried about the environment and energy. Of course this coming from the generation who ignored the call for clean energy 40 years ago was particularly disappointing not because they are late to the game, but guided by their wallets not the value of a healthy environment. It's not that these particular actors were making those decisions, but as a generation the idea of more efficient transportation and cleaner energy were hardly present in the discussion. Rather, the fear of rising energy costs was the specter of a dark future. While it was good that they were cognizant of the issue, I felt the topic was confined to the economic constraints rather than new ways to manage their carbon output.

There was also much discussion around the future of intellectual property. It was obvious that many of them felt protecting IP was in a state of crisis. Their concerns around how to share ideas while managing successful business models, however, also tended toward the familiar patent terrorism and IP theft that has currently challenged innovation. The realities of open models were more a reason for fear than a means for true scientific advancement. The call for shared IP was something I felt they sincerely wanted, but felt was unattainable; as such it remained a topic that centered around protectionism.

If anything, it was obvious that these actors have been facing the realities of the modern world for almost too long. They ran large, successful organizations, but ran them on the tenets of aging philosophies. Philosophies created during a time of relatively less information flow and restricted global communication. Philosophies that they didn't necessarily seek to defend, but ones they didn't feel they had the tools to evolve. It was good to see they truly cared about the issues, but I am curious to know if any of this discussion would make it into their policy decisions when they get back to their desks next week. Or if this was just another conference exercise, something for them to satisfy their rationalization that they were prepared for the future.

I sincerely hope they will take back with them the challenge to step into the breach. To have the uncomfortable conversations and to push new ways of approaching their work. Until they are gone they will continue to be our leaders and the most we can hope for is they look to the future with fresh perspectives and the confidence to make meaningful change.

Friday, September 12, 2008


Sunset on Joburg

I slept all the way to DC but the next 15 hours to Jozi would not be quite as restful. After three movies (Take It 2 The Streets, Horton Hears a Who, and Robots), a few episodes of Top Gear, a couple of fitful naps, and several bottles of water later, we finally arrive in Johannesburg. The weather is much like SF and the airport is much more modern than I had expected.

The exchange rate is in favor of the dollar, rare these days. I'm exhausted.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Nine Eleven

After two hours of sleep, it was time to catch an early flight to Dulles and then to Joburg. It will be 20+ hours of transit. Oh goodie.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Ink on Paper

I've signed on to be Senior Director of User Experience Design at I'm excited to get to work, but also excited to be on vacation. South Africa tomorrow.

58.5 °F
57.2 °F

After completing errands and getting packed, a rallying call to the ZG brings out the familiar faces. Sure it's not warm but that meant the actualgeist was without a shortage of places to sit. Seth, Mission Control, Jason, Dennis, and Danielle fill a table on this surprisingly mild night.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008


The oral typhoid regime is brutal. Thankfully today is the last day. South Africa the day after tomorrow. Poor Robert had his house flood thanks to a pipe broken by Friday's tremble. But timing is in his favor and he'll be able to house sit for us while we're gone.

Tuesday Characters

64.0 °F
57.6 °F

Poker at Aus' house.

Monday, September 8, 2008


The SF air conditioner is back on. Empty tables and regulars only. South Africa in three days.

67.5 °F
55.8 °F

Mission Control and the Jason the Scientist late on this cool empty Monday.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

To Fremont!

Seth, Dennis, and I rode 50 miles to Fremont, to BBQ at Nitika's apartment.

69.1 °F / 20.6 °C
56.5 °F / 13.6 °C

91.4 °F / 33.0 °C
62.6 °F / 17.0 °C

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Saturday Night Lights

The heat continues and makes for a lazy day spent with malaise. After doing a little cooking, roasting beets, boiling some fresh sweet corn, and making dinner, it was time to leave the hot box that is the apartment.

And where better to seek refuge on a warm night but the park.

Night Park

92.7 °F / 33.7 °C
59.4 °F / 15.2 °C

Colin feeling the pressure of the inevitable fatherhood in his future makes a desperate last stand with us at our midnight beer in the park. Dennis, Danielle, and Seth also enjoying the rare night of warmth at the park. The city even left the bathrooms open tonight!

Friday, September 5, 2008


Messin' with Flashes and Bikes

Feats of Strength

More Experiments

Singlehanded Singlespeed

The heat continues, and the ZG is still no longer tenable. Instead we gathered at Seth's private patio to burn some meat, watch some really bad movies, and do stupid things on bikes. All in all not a bad way to spend a Friday.

100.9 °F / 38.3 °C
58.8 °F / 14.9 °C

Seth, Dennis, Danielle, Jason, Aus, and Karyn, enjoying the heat wave.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Big Fun at the Back-up Bar

The summer is in full effect on this hot Thursday, so the ZG has already been crossed off the list of possible places to find an afternoon beer. That makes planning to meet at the back up bar a no-brainer. A few sms's later, we're out enjoying the emptiness of the back patio at the back up bar.

As the sun settles behind Twin Peaks not a single sign of fog is in sight. With the temperature holding steadily in the 80's we roust another pitcher of beer and begin to see signs of life emerging at the neighboring back yard. We also begin to see signs of life filing into the back up bar and we are no longer alone out back.

In fact we have been joined by a couple who proceeded to have a very public display of affection, if you could call it that. Now I've seen some crazy things on the Internet, including many things that would make even a sailor blush. I've also tended to think that the Internet has been losing its sense of reality, no matter how user-generated the content, it's difficult to believe that the Internet truly reflects reality.

Well tonight, reality made a come back. And while I'll fore go the details, it's safe to say that up until now, the Internet was the only place I could see what this couple did in the back corner.

102.9 °F / 39.4 °C
56.3 °F / 13.5 °C

HOT HOT HOT. Mission Control, Lucie, Jason, and Peter at the back up bar.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Summer Time is Here

Umbrellas are Out

Today was a tonkatsu bento, minted, Big Mouth day. It was hot and sunny. And if it wasn't for getting there early on a Wednesday, it would have been impossible.

102.9 °F
56.3 °F

Third table on the bar side. The umbrellas were out. I can't remember the last time the umbrellas were out. This taken four years ago:

It Grew Quickly

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Chicken Round Up

I've been eating a lot of chicken lately. It seems that SF has a lot to offer if you're a poultry fan, from rotisserie to fried to pastry. If you're looking to make a day of chicken, try, in no particular order:

Rotisserie Chicken from Good Frickin' Chicken
It's not that everything else isn't good here, but the rotisserie is so good that you're going to wish you had more of it. Get a side of mac 'n' cheese, a salad, and the famous olive oil bread (it's not famous for nothing). It's hard not to go crazy on a whole chicken, dawn your slicker and you'll be up to your elbows in no time.

Chicken Karaage from Nijiya Market
If you're in Japan town looking for a quick snack and want to avoid sitting down at a restaurant, head to Nijiya Market at Webster and Post and get a small tray of chicken karaage. Take your karaage, an onigiri, a bottle ice green tea, and head for the Peace Pagoda to enjoy the wonders of these small fried morsels.

Chicken Adobo from Kabayan Fast Food
If you're in the mission and have already had 5 burritos this week, try this Filipino favorite. It's just like your best friend's mom's house, complete with whole peppercorns and bay leaves. Get this with rice and some bite-sized lumpia ftw.

Fried Chicken from Town Hall
After Powell's Place closed down, I haven't been eating fried chicken much. While KFC and Popeye's might do in a drunken pinch, it's not something that I can typically bring myself to eat while actually hungry for fried chicken. That's where Town Hall comes in. Sure it's way fancier than it needs, or should, be, but you can't deny the crispy, juicy, savory, goodness.

Chicken Pastry from King's Bakery Cafe
And what is a list of good chicken places without a bakery? Another of my mission favorites is King's Bakery Cafe. I grew up in Hawai`i and there's a famous bakery there named King's, this King's has nothing to do with that one. This one is run by a Chinese baker who not only whips up your favorites like apple turnovers, donuts, and some of the best dinner rolls you can find, but it also makes a few large versions of my dim-sum favorites including baked char-siu bao, and a few savory pastries. The chicken pastry has a flaky buttery crust and for the $1.50 it sets you back, it's hard not to get a half dozen at a time.

Meanwhile, day two of the RNC did not go without a good amount of ceremonial homage to those who have experienced the ravages of war. It's hard to ignore that the GOP is not only very militaristic, it is a party that has defined itself with war. Even the graphic design follows with the symbols of military service, the star and the use of gold rather than red, white and blue. It could easily fall into the family of brands that is the US Airforce, and the US Army.

While I have a great deal of respect for the men and women who have served bravely, I feel that in modern times diplomacy should have long since made actual conflict something that needs to continue at the current scale. The last eight years have been an insult to those who serve our country. The pandering to this audience during the RNC is not patriotic, it is patronizing. John McCain, you have an amazing story, but your story does not qualify you to be a president in the modern era. If anything you should be reminding those who carry the future security of the nation to focus on avoiding the conflicts that placed the horrors of torture upon your head.

The other horrific over-simplification of the McCain Palin ticket is also its shameless pandering to women. All the images that aren't of our storied war heroes are of proud, sophisticated, affluent women. Hillary Clinton supporters, I hope that you all, in your post-rational haze, can see their ploy. Hillary Clinton makes Sarah Palin (Sarah, have you heard of us, we're called the blogosphere.) look like a rookie cop on her first night out in the Tenderloin. She is hardly a substitute, and to infer as much should be taken for what it is, an insult to the collective intelligence of the female voters in this country.

I hope it becomes clear to the GOP that this election is one that the world is now watching. I hope it becomes clear to the voters who would vote for McCain that the world wants peace, and that is not what McCain will bring. Increasing unilateralism, a large, debt-financed military, and no sound economic plan will not make the global economy better. And while we continue to distract ourselves from the war in Iraq and the global fight on terror, China quietly mounts its future dominion. It already owns a size-able portion our debt and it won't belong until the relative strength of our currency is undermined by the yuan.

Despite all that, I simply find it offensive to listen to the claims that the Democrats have put the US in its current malady. Fred Thompson, how can the Democratic majority in congress have had any real chance to muck things up, they've only held the majority since 2006. The debacle that is Mission Accomplished started three years before that majority. You insult the American voter with your loosely factual account of the past 8 years. Truth is a pillar of the American experience, haven't your years on Law & Order taught you anything?

Non-sequitor photo:

Nap's Only

93.2 °F / 34.0 °C
52.9 °F / 11.6 °C

I had to skip the afternoon beer to take my live Typhoid. YUM!

Monday, September 1, 2008

Labor Day

It was a hot Labor Day in SF, sunny, clear, and not a cloud in the sky. A great day for a BBQ and a great day for a bike race.

Video by agreatnotion


A friend from my days at Yahoo!, Alden Tanaka was racing in his first race as a 1/2/Pro level rider.

Alden Tanaka in the Pack

It was awesome actually cheering for a rider I knew; I definitely watched the race a little closer.

Number 82

While he finished DFL, he still finished. On a hot day after a hard week of races at the track, he still did better than the 20 or so who never saw the finish. He even got his name mentioned at the end as he came over the line. I was still impressed, keeping up for 55 laps with the pros is no small feat!

We attempted the ZG after the race, but as expected, it was overrun. After a couple beers at our fall-back location, we went back to the ZG to find a warm evening and open tables.

LOL: McCain is being compared to Teddy Roosevelt at the RNC!

84.6 °F / 29.2 °C
51.4 °F / 10.8 °C

Second table from the elephants. Sumeet's brother Jolly (in from the UK), his friend James, Sara, Jess and Jason the scientist in attendance on this rare warm night.