Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Day 34

Once again, I am skipping ahead in the continuity of the blog (and yes, I realize I am very, very far behind now, but realize that it's difficult to write posts that have a few thousand words each while working 12 hours a day with no off days) to post something about my dad.

Depending on who is reading this, you may or may not know that my father, 52, died two years ago today after losing a battle with cancer.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Day 5: Ellis Park, Nasrec, Braamfontein, Greenside

Previously during my trip: I get my accreditation, walk to a mall that closes really early, and watch a live game show that is falling apart at the seams.

I attempt to go to sleep after my marathon viewing of the game show, but my sleep schedule is still out of sync with Johannesburg time, so I lie in bed, tossing and turning for the next six hours, when I “wake up” to start my first day of volunteering.

Part of Johannesburg’s plan to revitalize their city is to build a mass transit bus system. They built dedicated bus lanes in the center of main roads and highways and have placed stations in the middle of the two bus lanes. They system is called Rea Vaya BRT (Bus Rapid Transit), and “Rea Vaya” means “we are going.” The problem, however, is that this approach is “too little, too late.”

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Day 4: Kensington, Ellis Park, Nasrec, and Eastgate

Previously during my trip: Michael Caine from Children of Men picks me up from the airport and a Portuguese restaurant doesn't know the meaning of ambient music.

I awake the next morning, and I have a few errands to run before reporting as a volunteer tomorrow. I first need to acquire my accreditation, which is a badge that needs to be worn while in the stadium area. The badges are color-coded, depending on the type of badge issued (volunteer, media, etc.), and each badge has numbers (one through nine), that indicates the areas where the person is allowed to go.

Since my hostel was located close to Johannesburg’s other stadium (Ellis Park), I figured that I could probably go get accreditation there and save myself a trip to the other stadium (Soccer City, where I was assigned to work), which is about a twenty-minute drive across town.

Since I don’t have a car (the preferred mode of transport for Johannesburgians(?)), I start to walk to the stadium, but I first need breakfast. I pass a local grocer (not a supermarket), and I look around to find something to eat. I see a lot of weird packaging, strange food items, unfamiliar brand names, and nothing particularly portable or appealing for breakfast. I opt to buy some things from the bakery in the back of the store, where they have freshly baked bread. I get some rolls, which are very inexpensively priced, less than one rand ($0.15) each. The rolls prove to be delicious, and I start trekking downhill, and I see the stadium in the distance.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Extraordinary Measures: Extraordinarily Quotable

I can’t believe that I forgot to mention in my post about the flight that I also watched Extraordinary Measures, the CBS Film (the TV network’s film division) that was released earlier this year. It had a memorable marketing campaign, where Harrison Ford yells, “I already work around the clock!” a phrase that gained momentum on the Internet.

I must confess though, I really didn’t watch the film: I fast-forwarded through the entire movie, stopping only when there were scenes with Harrison Ford. Some great quotes from Extraordinary Measures, all by Mr. Ford:

Friday, June 11, 2010

Day 16: Breaking News

I know I'm jumping ahead in my travel blog (yes, I am 12 days behind schedule), but I was just given a free ticket to today's match between South Africa and Mexico.

No, I'm not joking.
(pics or it didn't happen)
I'll explain more about what my job is as a volunteer later, but I have to get going, as I need to get to the stadium for the opening ceremony!

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Day 3, Part 2: Johannesburg, Kensington

Previously during my trip: I'm on a flight between New York City and Johannesburg for a really, really, really long time.

Upon entering the airport, practically every wall and floor is covered with World Cup sponsors and branding. It’s quite amazing to see, and it’s the first impression that the World Cup Organizing Committee is going after, I think.

Customs is very straightforward. I show my FIFA accreditation letter and my passport, and I’m on my way to collect my bags. One interesting thing about passing customs is that some type of infrared machine must first scan you. Called “FevIR,” it apparently detects if you have a fever so they can quarantine you in case you have some sort of disease (swine flu, SARS, yellow fever, whatever).

I take my bag and see Dean at the baggage carousel, who gives both his mobile number and his daughter’s home phone number to me in case of any emergency. I doubt that Americans would do the same for some random foreigner, so +1 for South Africans. I step through another set of doors and find myself in a pseudo-lobby between the outside world and the secured airport world. There are a few currency exchange places, and I convert my remaining American currency into South African Rand ($1 U.S. is roughly equivalent to 7.50R). I get slightly screwed on the conversion to Rand, but I'm thankful that I had already exchanged $250 worth of currency before leaving (which makes me feel super-rich, as that's the equivalent of about 1,700R).

Day 2, Part 2 and Day 3, Part 1: The Flight

Previously during my travels: I spend the night in JFK airport and relax in "The Lounge."

All the passengers gather at the gate to board the plane (an Airbus A340-300e), which seems huge (especially since I’m seated in row 71, seat K), but it is the third-largest aircraft in South African Airways’ (SAA) fleet. According to the in-flight magazine, it can hold a maximum of 253 passengers (their 747 can hold 357) and has a wingspan of 60.3 m (198 feet).

I take my seat, and I’m seated next to Dean, a businessman who is on his way home after a trip around the world in 18 days (eighteen, not eighty, so take that Jackie Chan!). Dean said he was helping a friend launch a company, so his travels took him on twelve flights in eighteen days, from Johannesburg to Hong Kong to Shanghai to Salt Lake City to New York, with one long trip back to Jo’burg before connecting on a flight to Cape Town (which looks something like this).

SAA’s safety video is very strange – it goes out of its way to not be racist (given the country’s despicable track record with race relations, only desegregating in 1994), but something seems off about it.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Day 2, Part 1: New York

Previously during my travelsI travel to New York and find my "no plan at all" plan failing miserably, ending in a dead laptop battery and considering sleeping on the sidewalk. No, not that sleeping on the sidewalk.

I give up at around 12:30 AM and decide to go back to JFK, this time utilizing the AirTrain service (instead of potentially-hazardous bus service through less-than-pleasant neighborhoods in Queens and Brooklyn), which charges $5 one-way to go from a subway line to JFK directly (quite a rip-off, in my opinion). 

Day 1: Ohio » Pittsburgh » New York

After a pretty hectic week leading up to my departure, which involved getting immunizations, calling South African rental offices at three in the morning to secure accommodation, and packing, I slept an average of about two hours a night the five days before I was scheduled to leave on Thursday.

What does a lack of sleep and planning lead to on an 8,000-mile trip?