Wednesday, April 19, 2017

SOUTH AFRICA Johannesburg aka Joburg


Whenever I travel I have to remind myself of where I am and where I’m not. In Martinique I had to remember that I wasn’t in France—well technically I was.  In Cuba and parts of Colombia I had to remind myself that I was not in Africa. Now in South Africa I have to constantly tell myself that I am not in Europe. Yes, Europe with a lot more Black and ‘coloured’ faces. 

Apartheid Museum
I arrived in South Africa via London to a rainy and ‘cold’ day—not what I call cold but what they feel is cold. I was tired and the 7 hour time difference did not help, so I slept, went out for pizza and slept some more.  The next morning I felt refreshed and ready for some adventure.  First stop, the Apartheid Museum.

The Apartheid Museum is a beautiful building filled with the most disturbing things. When you first come in you are given a white or non-white ticket and you enter the door of your ticket. This is more unsettling than you would think. As I learned the history of the “founding” of South Africa by whites, about the gold rush, the slaves brought in from Malaysia by the Dutch and India by the British, the Boer Wars, the land settlement and finally in 1948 apartheid I was shocked that I didn’t know nor was taught this world history.  Then the look inside of apartheid and what it really meant and what it did to all the peoples of South Africa. I felt myself getting hot with anger and grief. Luckily it was a rainy day that helped cooled down my burning rage. There was also a few leaks in a section of the ceiling by the door and buckets were strategically place to catch the rain water as we maneuvered around then.

The pictures and video of apartheid from 1948 on was shocking.  I’d never seen the videos of women, Black and white, in the 50’s fighting against wearing ID card. There was film of marches in 1955-56. I was surprised because I’d only ever seen bits of the late 1970’s student marches where they were attacked and killed. A lot of what I knew was from movies like BIKO starring Denzel Washington and other anti-apartheid movies---but these were no movies, this was real footage, real people fighting a corrupt, immoral system and dying on their feet. I was so pissed looking at it and kept thinking that they should all burn in hell.  

I saw Mandela as a young man being asked about violence. It’s funny how the most violent people always want reassurance from those that they abuse that there will be no violent reaction from them. I saw Mandela growing older in jail and still being told to condemn any violence and he would be set free. It was all too much for me, but I finally reached a wall of monitors that showed Mandela being freed and all the celebrations around the world. Everyone cheering his release, celebrities, politicians, clergy, the common man. As I watched I felt water dropping down on me and looked up at the ceiling to see where it was coming from. Seeing nothing above me, I was shocked to realize that I was crying. No not crying but weeping uncontrollably. I never made it to the reconciliation part of the museum, it was late and it was just too much. I’ll have to go back again for that. It was also late in the day, the museum was closing and I was starving.

I met up with an artist friend and her young daughter at an Indian restaurant. The food was very good and the company was better.  Afterwards they kidnapped me and took me to a musician’s studio where they worked out some music for her poetry. They were to perform it at a festival. What fun!

Lenin Vodka Bar

By now I need a drink. They drop me off and I meet up with a filmmaker friend at Lenin’s Vodka Bar in Maboneng, a hip fun gentrified area. He is teaching film and directing at the university and invites one of his co-workers who is also his writing partner to join us. She is a cool looking white female hipster. We have a great time drinking and smoking (they were smoking cigarettes) and talking film. We start talking about the aesthetics’ of African cinema. I talk about the beautiful African films I saw at the African Film Festival, FESPACO.  She starts talking about Nollywood films and how they can make films quickly and cheaply and make a profit. I say they are like Tyler Perry films, they make money but that doesn’t mean they are good. They all have basically the same plot—good Christian girl falls for bad boy and is saved by good Christian boy. Hallelujah, the end. She then tells me that I am a colonialist and that my colonial thinking won’t allow me to see how good these films are.

(Ok, all my good white friends reading this, you should stop NOW cause I will not be sparing your feelings.)

After I jumped across the table and choked the shit out of her—Wait no, no. I just thought about jumping across the table and choking the shit out of her. I then reminded this colonial descendant that I was not, nor could I be, a colonialist or a racist or any of the things she sees when she looks in the mirror. What I am is a filmmaker with high standards and I refuse to accept that making a profit means something is great. And the shitty bootlegged videos played in hair salons, American and African, do not constitute great filmmaking for me no matter who does it or how much money it makes. Don’t come for me today bitch, not after a day of apartheid!

To her credit she did apologize (before my foot colonized her ass) and explained that there was a 2nd wave of Nollywood films that were much better than the ones in the hair salons. And to my credit, I accepted her apology, without throwing her out the window, and we continued to have a good time.

(Ok, all my good white friends, you can start reading again.)

We all danced the night away.  Hung out at her place partying and listening to great music & I didn’t get home until 6am. Hallelujah, the end.

On to Durban…

is Barbara Allen, known as B.A.  I am a filmmaker from Chicago and am good friends with

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Soul to Seoul - Korea Last Day in Asia. FIN!

Saturday morning we get up and go sight seeing.
I love a man in uniform
 First stop --the palace complete with the Royal Guards.  It’s fun, especially since people (mostly Chinese tourist) keep asking us, the 3 Americans, to take pictures with them.  They think we are famous, so we let them. These tourist are so lucky to have their picture taken with Brad Pitt, Michelle Obama and George Clooney! Smile. Click!
The bootleg:
Michelle Obama, Brad Pitt and George Clooney

They won't believe this in China
Their homework was to speak English
We are the proof they did it.

Cassius Clay?
I thought you were Brad Pitt.

There is something here known as ‘medical tourism’ where people come her for plastic surgery and sightseeing. Notice these two women in front of the palace posing for glamour shots in their bandages. So if you need a little work done and want to throw in some cultural attractions, then medical tourism is for you.
Medical Tourism

Namdaemun area
Next we go to the Namdaemun area, a cute touristy area. I have fun dancing with a street dancer. We shop, check out protesters and have a wonderful lunch.

We stop at another street market and it feels like being a kid on Saturday morning, when you’re shopping with your mother. The wonder of it all, as the adults maneuver their way around and you just follow—looking and smelling and touching. It’s so amazing to you that there is an order to it that everyone, but you, understands. It’s a magnificent puzzle.

Getting my dance on!
She's a dancing machine.
We wear the mask.
Greg ( I mean George Clooney)
finally gets his Geisha girls.

         Korean BBQ

We rush home to change for a night out. One of Yung Mi’s classmates and her 17 year old son are meeting us for a big Korean BBQ dinner. What a meal! We cook our own meat, which smells so good, I almost gave up ‘not eating meat.’ Lucky for me, two giant delicious mackerels came out just in time to save me. We made a dent in the huge meal, but alas we also left quite a mess.
We left a mess

           Playing Sly and the Family Stone on vinyl
Off we go for drinks at “Back to Vinyl” a very cool hipster record bar. Yes, records as in vinyl as in LP’s. This place has thousands of records and all you have to do is make a request. Spencer had us rocking to Sly and the Family Stone! They also had Watermelon Mint Martinis. Yummy. Even more yummy was the pristine projection of the 1943 B&W classic French film, ‘Le Corbeau.’ This place is EPIC.

We hit a few more bars on the strip and then decided to call it a night since we have an early flight back to the states.

Seoul is a great city. The perfect last stop before coming back to the US.  It was fast “balee balee,” and bustling but also  safe, friendly and dignified.

Going to the airport was no problem as we could check our luggage and go thru immigrations at the train station and have three hours to get to the airport. Enough time to do more shopping.

Southeast Asia was great.
Our bags went straight thru to Chicago with no problem. It felt strange being back around all the Americans. Everyone seemed so unhappy and generally pissed off. 

See ya!
Oh well, vacation is over and it’s “BACK TO LIFE, BACK TO REALITY…”

Friday, August 1, 2014

Seoul Brother --- Korea Day-12.7

OMG, on another Malaysia Airline flight from Bali to Kuala Lumpur to Phnom Penh to Korea. Four countries in a couple of days. This time we make good on our stopover in Kuala Lumpur and take the train into the city.

train into Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Too Rich for my blood
Petronas Twin Towers
Oh wow, this is HIGH end. We go to the Petronas Towers and it makes ‘The Magnificent Mile,’ Park Ave and Rodeo Drive look like strip malls. Every high end store I have ever seen and others that I am, evidently too poor to have even heard of. Everything is so new and modern. We have a spicy and delicious lunch and head back to the airport.

Can A Holy Man Get An Upgrade? 
This is our last Malaysian Airline flight. (Please God, get me through this. Send me a sign.)  In mid prayer three monks board the plane and sit near us—I’m not sure what this ‘sign’ means but…

Orange is the New Black

Skipping Immigration

We land safely in Phnom Penh and we get off right behind the monks. Suddenly there are people getting on their knees and bowing. No, not to us, but to one of the monks. The paparazzi are there taking his photo as he disembarks. He is swept through a special door and on to his own bus as the rest of us are funneled thru immigration, where a Khmer Rouge type immigration officer proceeds to rip us off. He asks to see the money we have from Malaysia, then he takes it all (over $20) for a $1 picture. He tells us to use the ATM behind us to pay $20 for another visa…

Traffic in Phnom Penh
This is our last night in Cambodia and we go to dinner with Kidist and her roommate. Later that night I start to feel sick, real sick. We figure it’s dehydration and Kidist has me chug lots of water and a little Gatorade. Unfortunately I have a 5 hour flight to Seoul, Korea in a few hours. I am so sick I’m turning green. 

BA & Spencer
Luckily Greg handles all the bags and ticketing, but when entering Korea you have to fill out a health/quarantine form. Every illness they mentioned I had—Headache? Yes.  Nausea? Yes. Sore Throat? Yes… but if I check yes they won’t let me in, so I fake it. Greg goes first and gives all the information. I am on the brink of heaving but I smile and say, “I’m with him, whatever he said.” I get thru it all and we head to the Seoul Train Station to meet my friend Spencer. I thought the train station would look like Penn Station or Union Station—wrong.  It was bright and clean, a huge new structure.

Yung Mi, Adda, Spencer & Ceilo
Spencer moved to Seoul three years ago with his lovely wife Yung Mi and their two young daughters, ages 8 and 4. We use to work production together, now he has his own record label (with some slamming talent) he has photo and art exhibits around town, he programs music venues and is producing major tv shows for Korea and China. He lives in a fabulous high rise high-tech apartment, (where we are staying.) and is really enjoying life. He is doing it bigtime!
Spencer's music at Burger B- Chicago Speakeasy

Yes BA, you are eating this
Food Market
After we drop our things off we go to a food market to pick up a few things and we walk to a restaurant where he has a photo exhibit. It’s interesting to go from the old (market) to the new (restaurant) in a few minutes and it all works well together.
Fish on a stick
City Hall

There are all kind of cool things happening in Seoul, like the Silent Discos.  At a Silent Disco you wear a headset and listen/dance to one of 3 colors—each color a different DJ. If you are listening to blue and find yourself dancing with a green, you can change colors to green with them, or maybe the red DJ works better.
"Ho Bar"--No Comment

We go back to Spencer house around 8:30p to prepare for dinner. His younger daughter wants ice cream and they don’t have the type she likes. So Spencer gives his 8 year old some money and tells her to take her little sister to get ice cream. He reminds her that she’s in charge and to hold her sisters hand crossing the street.  I think this must be a game he plays with the girls; but his daughter takes the money and they leave.  Wait, wait, wait! It’s dark outside, and you just sent 2 babies out by themselves.  Neither Yung Mi nor Spencer seem concerned and continue to prepare dinner. I can’t believe my mature responsible friends are letting this happen, but they did and 30 minutes later the girls come back happily full of ice cream and ready for dinner.  I was stunned but they told me that there was nothing to worry about. There is no 
    With a kick like this, I guess she
          can cross the street alone.
crime, kids are safe going out alone, learning to cross the street and to be independent. (We’re not in Kansas anymore.)  I’m still freaked out and call my big sister back in the US and tell her the story. At first she was shocked and then she said, “we use to be able to do that too.” Yeah, there was a time when we didn’t have to live in constant fear and were allowed to go out and explore on our own.
We all had a lovely evening and no one was stressed. This feels good.