Western Capers and COIN

I’ve been to Cape Town for the first time since I was a wee lad. Mostly back when I was an anklebiter we went to the beach and I was terrorised by my “Cape Town Granny”. My earliest memory of her being the popping of my balloon, literally, because I brought it with me to the dinner table. It haunts me to this day! Now, however, Cape Town and the surrounds were experienced more from the lens of what kind of naval bases exist there and what wine is best to drink.

Cape Town is far more stratified into racial groupings than any other part of SA that I’ve been too. A bit like Minas Tirith in the sense that there are loose concentric areas of socio-economic classes. Close in and around the universities, hospitals and city centre exist the rich white folks, further out are the coloured areas which can best be described as petit-Bourgeoisie, lower-middle class and so on, and then on the outsides, waaaaay the hell out where nobody can see them, you have the black townships, just as the government of old liked it. Only it’s been 15 years and the city is now controlled by what is meant to be a progressive liberal party represent the opposition to the ANC. But enough of this stuff! My brother has a far better reflection on this than I can be arsed to repeat. More importantly, I feel it’s important to mention that riding the train in Cape Town is fucking weird. The first time up to Simonstown saw my brother and I slap bang in the middle of some manner of Christian praise sesson. I was quite hungover and the shrill screeching of preacher man and his congregation hurt me in more than the obvious ways! On the way back, this teenager – a bit simple – literally went through the entire train, every single carriage, hugging everybody who would let him. It was endearing even though smelly, but the endearment faded swiftly after he started nagging me for cigarettes I didn’t have. Still, there are some nice views from the train, if you can ignore the crazies.train

More importantly Cape Town was a refreshing trip into wine country. Given that our wine is on par with the best French vigneron on the market (and substantially cheaper!), it was a pleasure to run around tasting and trying. One particularly great experience was hairing down a dusty dirt road for a goodly distance, whereupon we stumbled onto this tiny vineyard with some particularly awesome wines, for stupidly cheap prices to boot. I suspect running around the wine routes in the Western Cape is very similar to treasure hunts for children; only they’re alcoholic, and you never find money, and there’s no real map. But otherwise they’re precisely the same!

Back in Johannesburg, I just attended (today in fact!) a seminar at the Institute for Security Studies in Pretoria. Ignoring the 3 hours plus I spent navigating the highway to and from (thank you rolling construction projects -.-), the seminar itself was fantastic; providing a fresh and well-voiced policy foundation for Counter-insurgency strategy (“COIN” for short) aimed at middling states. It’s always great to hear experts from military, academia and so on talking with authority on such rad war-things. Any forum where one can say “Indigenous Forces” and not be laughed at or shunned is OK in my books. As a plus, the lunch the ISS offered afterwards was quite nice as well. It made the rage-filled journey back slightly more tolerable. After all, hooting, screaming and fist-shaking at fellow motorists is always done best on a full stomach.

Literature wise John has been reading some Alexandr Solzhenitsyn (One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich), which I have to say was extremely fascinating to read. I certainly intend to read more of his stuff. Likewise I’ve started chipping away at Tolstoy’s War and Peace. This time round I’m finding it far easier to read. Perhaps because the last time I tried I was still but a teenager. With some political training in me, combined with a considerably better historical understanding of the context, it’s now far richer reading. I think I need more Hemingway though. The Russians are so awfully depressing sometimes!

In sum then, the past month or so has been flooded with wine, war, whimsy, writing and general activity which can be summed up as “smacktastic”. Excepting the week I spent marking undergrad essays. That part I would gladly forget…

Song of the day (courtesy of my brother and I’s illustrious host, Claire, whose illustriousness is exceeded only by her lack of a blog of her own. Thus no link. Sorry):

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A Small Taste of Another Time



The idea to go snowboarding in Lesotho sprang from a couple of drinks with a friend in a Melville bar. We’d both been to Japan in the same JET intake (2007/2008) and were reminiscing and talking about things which only those in the same context could understand. It was the first time since we got back from Japan that we’d been able to do so, and the experience itself was completely cathartic. Amongst the many things nostalgia resurrected, our mutual love for the Japanese snow was a prominent topic. I loved the Hokkaido powder and she loved the mainland boarding, even though it broke her wrist! It sometimes seems like drinking rum can only bring good things…

…We thusly concluded that we need a taste of snowboarding, even if only for a day. From there came the decision to head to Lesotho and one of Southern Africa’s only two ski resorts, Afriski. At one point it seemed like it’d just be the two of us, given how few people seemed willing to embrace the awesome nature of snowboarding, but in the end, a couple of Joy’s colleagues trundled along and we went a-boarding.

Long story short, the trip was most excellent. Lesotho is like another world, with it’s rolling hills resembling a desolate kind of landscape which could be Laos after some coats of Agent Orange. The roads were atrocious, but we had a nice fat diesel bakkie to drive and made most of the journey a pleasure. Afriski itself it comparatively tiny when put next to anything in the USA, Europe or Japan, but a 500m slope is better than nothing! Aside from queuing for fucking everything, we were able to hit the slopes before 10am.

Afriski at peak season has wonderful infrastructure and the potential to really make for a great holiday experience. But ultimately crappy management means you queue 45 minutes for equipment, wait an hour for your lunch, queue 15-20 minutes to ride the lift, and you have to relace your bloody boots when you hand them back to the equipment shop. It’s not enough to ruin a good weekend, but I expect that this kind of delay in everything could start to grate. Especially if you fork out the hundreds or thousands of Rands for their accommodation. But for us, it didn’t impact the experience much.



Perfect! Joy went off to teach the new guys how to prevent falling down and breaking their ass-bones and I went up the slope. The snow wasn’t powder and the slope was full of the kind of South Africans one normally sees in Margate; dressed in the technicolour shirts, blue mirror glasses and so on one saw in the 90’s. Kat likened them to a Peter Stuyvesant ad, which is about as damn near to the fact as to make it uncanny. But the boarding was a glimpse of why I loved it so much in Hokkaido. A small taste and reminder I suppose. Hairing down the slope and simply enjoying the feel of the board gripping the snow was exactly what I was hoping for. It would look quite lame to the boarder who is used to huge ass Swiss mountains, but I’ll be damned if it wasn’t fun! Grinning like fools at the end of that run is the normal reaction, and it’s something I hope to repeat sometime soon!

With luck, if the Japanese government see fit to process my JET pension, I should be able to go on a boarding trip to see Heather and Chris in the USA, or a very good friend in Europe, or somewhere. I’m not too fussed, but Lesotho has cemented in my mind the need to ensure that wherever I go, if I go, it must be near snowy mountains. Screw the beach, give me a runny nose and numb fingers and toes any day!



And that was that. In unrelated news I’m almost done with Hemingway’s Moveable Feast (The man makes me ashamed to even try write), I aced the first semester and might just graduate cum laude. I have a fat list of Navy folks to interview for my research paper. My Shoulder has repaired and is no longer so bothersome. I have recovered from Nationals and am starting to shake off the Post-Nationals Syndrome (PNS) of debating-addiction, but I suspect that’s simply because I substituted intellectual fencing for snowy awesomeness, and I replaced the sunglasses I lost in Mozambique. They were totally 100% legit Ray Bans bought in Cambodia for $2, but like a damned fool I left them at Fatima’s in Maputo, which means either the staff stole them or some greasy backpacker is using them. I can hope for the latter, but I suspect the former. Enough about the fucking glasses John!

Today’s Song: Fleet Foxes – Tiger Mountain Peasant Song

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John’s All-Encompassing Plan for 2009!

Right. The holidy is over, the job done in two weeks, and various things are coming into place to make 2009 a year in which John makes the foundation from which he shall save/destroy the world!

Phase 1

Phase one revolves the primary axis of studies. After finally chasing down the university, I am now safely tucked away and registered for my Masters at Wits. I shall be studying such amazing and wonderful things as Strategic Studies (war), Development (peace), International Organisations (NGO’s who pick up the pieces post-war), International Economics (Financiers of either war or peace) and so on.

It’s cool in so many ways I could never explain in justifiable terms without alienating a large portion of my social network, but rest assured that it’s precisely what I want. I had been banking on returning to SA to do postgrad studies since early 2008 when I declined to recontract in Japan. Thus actually finally being enrolled is a huge affirmating sigh of relief. Later on this month or next I intend to continue my post-Japan redux saga, as I have discovered several interesting and internal things on which I feel the need to expound! Regardless, for now all one needs to know is that I am back in university; cloistered away from the turmoil of the financial markets and job losses. Being jobless and utterly uninterested in full-time work for a year is nice. Poverty is not so nice. But the pro’s outweigh the con’s so far.

Phase 2

Phase 2 is basically things I need to get my arse in gear and do once I finish work. First and foremost is health. Following daily soccer practice/snowboarding/walking/general exercise in Japan, I have done virtually stuff-all since being back in SA. This shall change! Wits Hockey, Some running on the track, and maybe some squash if I can find some willing friends who want to play. They will be resumed, and I shall be good at them. After all, if I can’t humiliate an opponent/team/fellow jogger, what is the point? Certainly it’s not about personal goals. Heavens no. It’s about humiliation so that I can feel good about myself. Yes…

Keeping along with that track is debating. I am still horrendously inexperienced but, with a really cool National Championship this year I feel I should give it my best crack this year. I shall need to find a partner who is moderately intelligent and who can deal with my crippling humility , lest I speak with some common peasant who cannot keep up with my vast intellect and shining eloquence. This is important, as debating is all about mental masturbation. If I can’t be smug, I’m doing something wrong.

And that’s it really. I have no further machinations which I feel particularly inclined towards. Post-holidays I have a mountain of books to read (Hemingway is still currently the firm favourite, as I have demolished several more of his works), I need to find a bag to take to varsity, and I need to blog more. Reading Charlie Dunhoff’s blog – a Hamatonbetsu ALT who updates on a virtually daily basis – makes me extremely aware of my comparative laziness. Finding the willpower to write stuff was traditionally borne from Monday afternoon boredom at school in Takushin. With no classes left to teach in, nor elementary schools in which to frolic, easily 80% of my Japan posts were written at my desk at the Junior High. Now, however, I find I write only when I feel a particularly strong compulsion to do so. Makes for random and intermittent thought-farts, but at least it’s something I guess!

My music video of the week. Rise Against – Re-education (through labour):

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