Saturday, August 29, 2009

Trinations at Subi

What a great game!!

Red Rooster

One of the things typical Australian is a franchise called Red Rooster. It's a chicken setup, similar to KFC.

They had an advert about this Aussie bloke who was walking around New York, asking everyone where the "Red Roostah" was. The yankees had no idea what he was talking about.

It's become one of my favourite Aussie things. They offer a nice "Real Bacon Burger", with only a chicken fillet, bacon and some lettuce on the bun. No tamatoes, no ghurkins, nothing else that I'd normally have to scrape off just to get a taste of the good stuff. Perfect.

The Drive-thru take-aways concept is "very big" around here.

I cannot remember that we had one single drive-through outlet in the whole of Namibia. We Biltongboertjies are therefore quite amazed and wide-eyed at this whole concept, and it has taken me quite a while to get used to the idea of driving up to a speaker and ordering stuff from someone I can't see.

Fortunately I've driven around with a few other blokes who seem to do this on a daily basis, and I finally built up the courage to try this out all by myself, especially after my son said "oh, we'll just take the drive-thru", when we were in a hurry on the way home after his soccer match.

We used to go to Cape Town during December holidays, and that was where my son learnt all about the Big Yellow M. I always had to take him there for an ice cream and some time to play in the play pen. It was a big treat for us common country folks.

Now that we have plenty of these Big Yellow M's all around, it's not an issue any more. But my son has developed my taste for Real Bacon burgers at the Red Rooster, and it's really hard to resist the temptation now and then.

Before you run off and become an obese over-indulgent couch potato, remember I said "every now and then" - not every day. Even I know it's a bad idea to make a habit of ordering fast food from a speaker on the way home.

But if you do, make sure you try out the Real Bacon Burger at the Red Roostah.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Political correctness

My not-too-recent and “difficult-to-forget” experiences of daily life in southern Africa still makes me cringe whenever I hear the words “politically correct”. It brings back memories of people with personal agendas and con-artists who abuse these terms for personal gain.

In the first place, how can any political position on any issue be “correct”? Isn’t politics supposed to be about a difference of opinions? Are we not claiming to live in a society where we are tolerant of each other’s belief systems and opinions?

How can I then be “politically correct” without being a traitor to my own beliefs? Where is that magical line that defines the boundary between subjects that are in the category where political correctness have to be applied, and subjects that are just opposing views from different personal political points of view?

Now I have myself confused.

Anyway, what started this chain of thought was a little joke that I received in a recent email. It showed a screenshot of someone googling “white people stole my car”, with Google giving a suggestion stating “ Did you mean “black people stole my car?” ”


I found this extremely funny. Not because I’m a racist, but because it shows how a machine’s mechanistic way of trying to solve problems by stating the obvious, can cause a situation that is “politically incorrect”. All the machine does is to analyse search patterns and make suggestions based on facts and algorithms. It has no emotion, no political point of view, and it shows no remorse. Just like the Terminator.

But the human brain immediately connects facts in a different way, and adds a lot of emotion.

The first thing I did, of course, was to open Google and type the words “white people stole my car.”

In stead of getting the screenshot I expected, I was shown hundreds of sites where this whole issue was being debated. Apparently, the statistics on Google multiplied exponentially since this joke started making it’s rounds. It is now one of the most searched phrases on the web, and some people actually claim that Google is being spammed.

Others claim that clicking on the links you find under this search term will bring you to websites that will infect your hard-drive with swine-flu and make your memory stick HIV positive.

And then there is the whole political can of worms that this situation opens. Obviously every left-wing fanatic in the world will jump on the bandwagon and make sure that white guilt is under pressure and performing well. Obviously Google has already done the politically correct thing, and you won’t see those suggestions anywhere. I couldn’t get them, anyway. (And I really tried hard.)

And this brings me to this South African bloke who won the ladies 800m event. In stead of facing the issue, taking the gender test and then seeing where things go from there, every Tom, Dick and Harry in South Africa jumps on the racism bandwagon and converts the whole thing into a political rally.

So I wondered what would happen if I typed in “white man participates in ladies athletic event”?

There was an amazing array of categories that was suggested. It seems that there are quite a few white blokes out there who have tried to participate in events like “track and field championships”, pole vault, running events, Olympic events, health events - the list just goes on and on and on.

I decided not to look any further. I’ve had enough of athletics. What a stupid sport, anyway.

Or was that a politically incorrect statement?

Friday, August 21, 2009

One step closer

20 years ago, I was a young kid who had just grown old enough to obtain a driver's licence. After many hours of fear-filled training with a German lady driver-instructor in a Volkswagen Beetle, I had to face frowning unfriendly cops who made me fear my own shadow.

It was a long walk to freedom, and after a severe struggle I finally owned a green piece of cardboard that authorised me to drive a vehicle in South Africa, and in what was then called South West Africa.

Many years later, this was transformed into a little plastic credit card that had an expiry date, and had to be renewed every 5 years.

And then I arrived in Australia, and heard that I had to convert my licence into a WA licence. For people from first-world countries, this means writing a quick learners exam, and then converting your licence after a lot of money has changed hands.

Namibia is, surprisingly, not considered a first world country and a Namibian licence can only be converted by passing a practical drivers assessment. In other words: go through the whole Nazi-cop thing again.

Strangely enough, people from the United States - where they don't even drive on the same side of the road, and where they use imperial measurements like miles per hour - can easily convert their licences. But an African idiot who drove on the left hand side of the road, has English as a national language, and has grown up using the decimal system, has to pass a practical assessment.

However - I have to admit that I have seen the driving habits in Southern Africa, and if anyone Down Under has seen video footage of taxis in South Africa, it will make them want to force all South Africans to pass a practical assessment. But still, why can't the imperialists also be forced to do it? I've seen many American movies that make me wonder how anyone can be allowed to drive in that country.

A few months ago I went to West Perth to write the learners exam. There's a little machine where you push a button for the type of service you're looking for, and the machine throws out a piece of paper with a number on it. This number eventually appears on a big digital display in red letters, and tells you which counter you can go to.

In the meanwhile you can sit on nice soft chairs and watch a little TV while you're waiting. This is way different from what I was used to in Namibia. In Windhoek, you walked into the room, and then tried to decide which long line you would stand in, only to find out two hours later that you were in the wrong line. Normally there is one chair for the whole line, and the guy who finally makes it to the front position, can wait in the chair until it's his turn.

I needed to have my foreign licence, my passport, and some other forms of identification. For some reason, they want you to have a bank statement with your name and address on it. After paying for the test, I was sent to a little room filled with computer screens. The computer asked me questions, and I answered them. I had no idea what the blood alcohol level was for learner drivers, and what speed they should drive on the freeway. Why would I know this? I didn't study for this test, and as I was not really a "learner driver", I didn't see the relevance of all this.

But I did manage to pass this test, and was told to go to another counter to pay more money.

I received a receipt with a licence number on it, displaying that "This is not a learner's permit". The lady told me I just had to call a number and make a reservation to do the practical assessment.

So, after a few months of deliberate procrastination, this is where I finally ended up on Thursday morning. West Perth licensing centre, at 7h55 in the morning.

I already had mental images of Nazi cops with tazers who were going to "taze" me behind the ear if I forgot to check my blind spot. They tell you to arrive in a vehicle that has a central handbrake - the only logical reason for this being that they would be tazing you, and then they grab onto the hand brake when you pass out.

The waiting began. This is all part of the mental war.

Wait until they call your name. The weather was terrible, and here we were standing outside, shivering and waiting for our names to be called. Like lambs to slaughter.

My name was finally called, and one of the friendliest cops I've ever seen greeted me. He explained that he would be assessing me, and so on and so on. We got into the car after he checked my indicators and brake lights, and he started explaining what was going to happen.

"No worries, mate this is only a conversion. I know you can drive, so forget all the parking and all that. We'll just take a drive around and I'll tell you exactly what to do."

This bloke was no traffic-nazi. He was really nice, and clearly explained what he was going to look for. He never tried to trick me or made me feel like a dumb teenage driver. I've heard some really scary stories of people who were assessed at the Joondalup Licensing Centre, but none of this was true for this guy. He only assessed whether I followed WA road rules, and whether I could actually drive.

He asked me about South Africa, and why so many skilled people are leaving, and we spoke about all sorts of things.

I passed my test, and then it was time for some more money to exchange hands. Before my Southern African friends think "the obvious" - Money was exchanged, but not with the assessor, (as probably would be the case in Namibia), but at another counter where I had two options:

Pay $36.60 for a one-year licence, or $116.00 for a 5 year licence. I did the quick maths - without calculating interest on money over 5 years in my bank account - and decided on the more expensive option, purely because I do not want to renew this thing every year.

They took a mug-shot of me, which will probably turn out to be one of those typical heinous ID photos, and promised that they'll send me the licence in the mail within a week. (Another thing that wouldn't happen in Namibia, as Bongani the postman would surely steal all envelopes from the Traffic Department and remove drivers licences so that they can be sold to taxi drivers.)

And that was it. I am now one step closer to being a real sandgroper. This little document is used as proof of ID in almost all scenarios, and is therefore quite important to have. Not to mention the fact that if you get caught driving without it, the vehicle is impounded for 28 days - even if it's not your own vehicle.

Some day, far away in the distant future, I will officially become an Australian. Something I'll be proud to be, even if they can't beat the Springboks.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Born free - Taxed to death

I am dutifully paying bucket loads of money to the Australian government. And this I do with joy, because I can actually see the government doing something with it. Although I am not very much impressed with the fact that they were throwing around lump sum cash payments a while ago.

The whole process of filling in your tax forms and trying to understand new tax laws in a new country is not funny. I could barely understand the tax laws in Namibia, and now I have to study all the paragraphs and sub-paragraphs and try to read between the lines all over again.

At least I have the option of filing my tax electronically via eTax, which I did not have in Namibia. And the great part of this is that the government actually gives you plenty of opportunity to get back some of your hard-earned money from the Tax Office. They even pay it directly into your bank account once you've crossed all the t's and dotted all the i's correctly.

But the down side is that I still have the Namibian government on my back as well. Apart from my annual tax on the few Namibian dollars I earned before I left last year, there is also tax on my Trust Fund and my (pty) company, which I was dumb enough to start up a few months before I got a job offer from an Australian company. What cracks me up is the thought that a big chunk of these hard-earned Namibian dollars are being used to build a lavish palace for a murdering terrorist who is now called a hero, and a "father of the nation".

In order to kill this pty company of mine (which never even started doing business) I need to fill in 600 forms with signatures and declarations, and wait 18 months in the hope that one day the money I threw into the water would finally be let loose into the Namibian desert, without haunting me with more auditing and accounting fees. Thousands of dollars to audit a dormant company with a zero return. What a great way to burn money.

And in order to finalise my personal tax, I need to have odometer readings from my vehicles, which have all been sold many moons ago.

All these tax issues attack me all at once, as if I don't have enough cool stuff to do.

And the easiest way to handle them all is to treat them as equals - ignore all of them on an equal basis. Maybe they will all just go away.