Monday 23 October 2017

Father and son teams square off in final

Victoria Park Tennis members – old and new - turned out in their numbers on Sunday morning to watch the finals of the club championships which produced some of the best tennis seen on the courts in years.

The men’s doubles was undoubtedly the highlight of the day’s play when father and son team Peter and Michael Sale took on rival family pair, Brian and Tristan Turner. The Sales, who were the obvious favourites to win the title, only managed to narrowly defeat a resilient Turner outfit 4-6, 6-3, 10-8.  

Michael said it was rather historic to have two father and son couples competing for the trophy.
“It was a special moment to win the doubles title with my father, and it was just wonderful to see the championships revived again,” he added.

Tristan played his socks off in an equally close singles final against the number one seed Jacques Jenner. After losing the first set, the latter managed to fight back and pull off a win in the deciding championship tie-breaker 4-6, 6-3, 10-5. 

In the mixed doubles event, Tristan was finally victorious with his mother, Jayne Turner, when they overcame Peter Sale and Lynne Neubert in just two sets. The match seemed much closer in score, however, with both teams showing off their serve and volley prowess.

In the women’s doubles final, Jayne and her partner, South African sporting legend Lynette Vermaak, were victorious against seasoned opponents Lynne Neubert and Leonie Grondel. Once again, the score of 6-1, 6-3 did not reflect how close the match was, with “oohs” and “aahs” coming from the spectators in the stands.

Jayne also took home the singles trophy after defeating Neubert in the howling gale a day earlier. She admitted she was grateful to still be able to play in all three events, but that she had her work cut out for her playing against the younger and harder-hitting Neubert.

Guest of honour, John Montgomery, whose name appears in gold on the winners’ board several times in all three championship events, presented the cups to the winners.

“This was an immensely pleasing afternoon of tennis. It’s great to see that the standard of play is still so high, and the enthusiasm still remains,” he said.

“This is a family-oriented club and I remember many wonderful years here. I was brought up here as a youngster and I brought my own children up here too.”

Montgomery’s last championship win was in the 1984 men’s doubles with former member and well-known tennis giant, Mike Spence.

VP Club Championship results

Men’s singles: J Jenner bt T Turner 4-6, 6-3, 10-5
Men’s doubles: P Sale, M Sale bt B Turner, T Turner 4-6, 6-3, 10-8
Women’s singles: J Turner bt L Neubert 6-1, 6-1
Women’s doubles: J Turner, L Vermaak bt L Neubert, L Grondel 6-1, 6-3
Mixed doubles: T Turner, J Turner bt P Sale, L Neubert 6-2, 6-3

**Parts of this article were published in Herald newspaper on October 20, 2017.

Tuesday 6 October 2015

To India!

The Western Gate to the Taj Mahal at sunrise, Agra.

Colourful in its many religions. Colourful in its cuisine. Colourful in its clothing and costumes and decorations. Colourful in its people and its cultural and sporting views. Colourful in its chaos. If I had to choose one word to describe my experience of India so far, “colourful” would be it.

Indian and South African fans watching the T20I in Dhramshala.

There are no dull moments here. This is a place where literally anything is possible. And it is memorable and frustrating, exciting and exhausting all at the same time.

School children piling into a cycle rickshaw on the way home from school, Delhi.

It is true what some travelers say about coming to India. When you are here, you will love and hate it in equal measure. But when you leave, you’ll remember your time here, in this country of contrasts, with great fondness. As always, it’s the people you meet who make a journey worthwhile.

Making new friends from India, Israel and the UK.

The South African fans were severely outnumbered.
Some spectators were on the fence.

Sunday 8 June 2014

The Cargo Carrier

We lurch to a sudden stop. For the third time in fifteen minutes. We’ve barely left Laos’ sleepy capital, Vientiane. At each stop, we pick up something different; another passenger, a few boxes of fruit or several crates of flavoured milk. This time, the driver’s assistant brings a large, brown box through the door and places it in the aisle near my feet. I can hear scratching coming from the box. There is something alive in there? The petite woman sitting across from me notices my alarm, grins and lifts one flap of the box with her hand. It’s the chirping that surprises me first and then the two dozen baby chicks scrambling over each other to find the light. The box is quickly closed again by a flick of her foot.

Two friends and I are on our way to Thakhek, a town near the centre of the country on the Mekong River. Our bus is run by a local company and tickets are too reasonably priced. Some of the windows are without glass. Nobody’s complaining as there is no fan or air conditioner and the missing panes provide much-needed airflow, when the bus is moving, that is.“Sabaidee! Sabaidee! Hello! Hello!” the local children shout; all smiles and waves as we drive past them, through tiny villages and herds of cattle, past rural clinics and countryside schools.

After another while, we stop for the fourth time. Street vendors hop on to ply their wares. There is an elderly woman selling ice-cold water and baguettes stuffed with pork floss, meat pate and cucumber, a tiny taste of French colonial influence. Another woman seems to be advertising some sort of natural medicine to the men on the bus. None of the female passengers are offered her product. A teenage girl is trying to get rid of her few sticks of chewing gum. The young man sitting behind me buys two sticks and offers me a piece. I am struck by the incredibly long nails on each of his ‘pinky’ fingers and the unnecessary kindness of his gesture.

We are not the only foreigners on board. Near the rear of the vehicle, sit four other backpackers. We all exchange concerned looks as the smell of burning rubber wafts through the open windows. A rusty red tool box appears from a side compartment near the front of the bus and the driver’s assistant crawls under the bus. The humidity shows on our faces and the air is thick with dust. It’s a long wait before we’re on the road again.

And it’s a short one before we stop once more. It appears to be an emergency ablution break for our driver who hurriedly jumps down from his seat, grabs the roll of toilet paper from the dashboard and heads into the bush. My friends and I share what we hope is a discreet chuckle. No one else even moves.

The local passengers appear unfazed as we hurtle around hairpin bends and swerve to miss potholes. Then, thud. Crunch. Something’s fallen from underneath the bus. The truck behind us has ridden over it. We soon learn it’s only a few boxes of banana milk and not our luggage. The undamaged cartons are swiftly retrieved by the driver’s assistant and repacked inside the bus, the salvaged but dented cartons passed out among the passengers and we are on our way again.

When next we come to a halt, it is with expectation, not disbelief, that we watch two dust-covered scooters hoisted onto the roof of our bus. It’s a smooth and polished system, this, albeit rather extraordinary in our eyes. The trip from Laos’ capital city should take four hours at most, we were told. We’ve been on the bus for over seven, my watch says. I remember the cardboard box of baby chicks. They must be hungry and thirsty. The box is gone. The man with the long fingernails is playing a game on his mobile phone and the sound is turned up loud. We have no idea where we are and have lost count of the number of stops. But no matter, we’ll soon be off again.

Wednesday 7 May 2014

The wonder of Mr. Wong's

This blog was originally published on on March 15th, 2014.

Nestled amidst the hustle and bustle of Mongkok, the most densely populated area on earth, you’ll find a tiny restaurant run by the most extraordinary man. His establishment needs no other marketing than word-of-mouth such is his reputation amongst his regular customers. Whenever there is a new arrival in Hong Kong, they are whisked away for an evening in the presence of the legend. “Wong’s”, as the restaurant is affectionately known amongst expats, is one of the most welcoming places to frequent. And economical too.

Mr. Wong seems to be something of a philanthropist; he loves to meet new people and hear where they hail from. He knows all the stereotypes about most countries and also some of the most arbitrary information which he will impart, whether you are interested or not. He helps the community around him. And if you, or your family, are ever desperate for somewhere to stay, Mr. Wong is your man. He may even organise a barbecue for you and your friends’ birthday celebrations.  

A birthday BBQ organised by Mr. Wong

He is an excellent host and he loves to chat. He’ll talk Thai politics or the latest Premier League scores. He’ll ask after your parents or your friends who haven’t come around for some time. He especially loves a new face. “Where are you from? Ah, Edinburgh? My brother lives there. Good place! Where are you going tonight? To the horses?” And he’ll do all this while serving you an array of deliciously simple Chinese dishes. There is always enough space for everyone who arrives, even if you have to sit out in the alley at the back. The chairs and tables seem never-ending. You can stay as long as you like and eat as much as you like. And you’ll leave paying a lot less than a hundred bucks.

Most battle to understand his generosity; it knows no bounds. I think he just loves to see people happy. As you walk into Mr. Wong’s restaurant, you’ll look directly onto the back wall which is covered in the word “friendship” written in all the languages of his diverse customer base. If you are lucky enough to visit his apartment, you’ll be amazed at the number of postcards, photos and signed football jerseys adorning the walls from those who have lived and moved on from Hong Kong; hundreds of people thanking him for being such a memorable part of their travel experience.

I urge you: if you live in Hong Kong or if you are coming here for a visit, don’t miss out on Mr Wong’s. An evening at his tiny restaurant in the heart of Kowloon certainly promises to be a most memorable affair. And there’s little doubt that you’ll want to pass on the recommendation.

Mr. Wong with his Bafana Bafana soccer jersey.

The Selfish Elections 2014

This blog was first published on Off side or On Target on May 6th, 2014.
On April 30th, 2014, I went to the South African Consulate in Hong Kong and exercised my special vote in the 2014 Elections. It was and will remain one of the most important days of my life. It was and is important because it is the first democratic election in which South Africans living abroad were able to cast their vote. It was and is important because there are many expats who fully intend on returning home to South Africa and bringing their experience and talent with them.
This is also the first election in which the “born-frees” will vote. It has been twenty years since our first democratic election when the ANC came into power. There is endless rhetoric to be read about how the ruling party has failed us and how there is no good alternative opposition party. Maybe they have and maybe there isn’t. That’s for you to decide.
There is, undeniably, much to be frustrated with. However, in between all the negative politicking, the corruption and the disappointing unemployment rate, there has been much progress and growth in South Africa. Take that from someone who has been away for many years. I notice improvement every time I return home for a visit and it makes me so proud.   
As I stood in the queue in Hong Kong listening to the range of South African accents, I was overcome by a great feeling of excitement. Once I had cast my vote, that excitement turned to emotion. I had to take my tissues out. High fives, smiles and congratulations ensued whilst walking past my fellow countrymen in the queue.  
The 2014 Elections: the first time South African expats are permitted to vote abroad.
Picture courtesy of Sasha Andrews.
Sadly, my elation was short-lived when I found out how few South African expats had, in fact, filled out the VEC10 form allowing them to vote in Hong Kong. Make no mistake, I am fully aware that voting is not a duty. But it is a democratic right. And I feel it is more important today than ever to exercise that right. After all, voting is selfish. As Pieter-Dirk Uys wrote for Daily Maverick earlier in the week:
No one is honest enough to point out that voting is the most selfish act we are allowed in a democracy: to vote for ourselves. Say to the born-frees that it’s not about the rot at the top, or the pointlessness of involvement with a corrupt political game. You are voting for your future, your life, your dream. Take that vote as the key to your door to the rest of your life.  If you don’t bother to open it, you will be left behind.
So, all you registered voters in South Africa, go out tomorrow and vote. I wouldn’t dare say for who. Vote for the ANC or the DA, Malema’s EFF, the Keep It Straight and Simple Party (KISS) or whichever political party you believe will make a difference in parliament. But whatever you do, vote for what you want and hope South Africa to be. Be selfish. Vote for you.

Friday 7 March 2014

Madiba: Remembering the Legend

As published on Flight Centre South Africa...

Today, 6 December, 2013, I woke up to the alarm clock on my phone as I do every other morning. I saw a message notification. I clicked on it. “Madiba’s gone…”My heart slowed down. I memorized the scene; Sham Shui Po, Hong Kong, stuffy room in a stuffy apartment, traffic noise below, construction workers shouting across the road at each other, people carrying on with their busy lives. Why have the clocks not stopped? Where are the bells? This morning is like no other.

My feelings turned to anger. I turned on the television. Obama: “He no longer belongs to us – he belongs to the ages.” Zuma: “Our nation has lost its greatest son.” I want to be at home right now. I should be at home right now; sharing in my people’s grief, celebrating the life of a legend. But instead, I am going to walk out of my apartment past thousands of people who don’t even know his name. I am going to teach little children for hours, them not knowing that today, one of the world’s greatest men has passed. I want to shout his name through the corridors and on the playground. But of course, I cannot. This morning is like any other here.

My feelings turn to gratitude. I realise now that without Madiba and the countless heroes of the apartheid struggle, I’d probably never have had the amazing opportunities to travel, to come and go freely from my country, to be tolerant of all people, to embrace each new culture with understanding and insight.

My feelings turn to pride. I am proud that I come from a country that encourages the challenging of the status quo and champions human rights and equality for all. I am proud to come from a country that allows me to be just who I want to be. I am proud of how far we have come as a people. Madiba has long been the face of our country’s pride.

Today is the day that I most want to be at home celebrating the life of my greatest hero, Nelson Mandela. But today, I know I am just where I should be. How lucky I am to be able to share his legacy with the people around me wherever I am in the world. How fortunate I am to have lived in his time. How blessed I am to be a South African.

Rest in peace, Tata Madiba. We shall never forget.
December 2013: Paying tribute to Madiba at the top of Lion's Head, Cape Town.

Sunday 21 July 2013

Singapore Slinging

February 28th - March 5th, 2013

Singapore, the modern land of tantalising cuisine, diversity and clean streets, promises the adventurous traveller so much. It is without doubt, however, that Singapore is a country for the wealthy, especially if you are holidaying there. The cost of living is rising all the time and the materialistic culture is evident everywhere you look in the windows of Louis Vuitton and Prada stores, with the queues of eager shoppers waiting outside. 

Backpacking, certainly, is not quite as affordable as it is in other south-east Asian countries. Transport, food, accommodation and entertainment are all rather expensive. And many say that besides dining, shopping and going to the cinema, there is not much to do in this city state. Don't believe them. You can do many things on a budget, no shopping or movies included at all.

Take a leisurely walk along the water at Marina Bay and pop into the mall to do a little window shopping while enjoying the relief of the air conditioner. 

The Botanic Gardens are a visual and sensual treat for any nature lover. The grounds are exquisitely designed and there is certainly something for everyone, from healing and children's gardens to the well-know National Orchid Garden. But one could simply spend the day on the beautiful lawns with a picnic and a frisbee. 

Dress up (or don't) and visit the Long Bar at the Raffles Hotel, home to the original Singapore Sling cocktail and well-known for the tradition of throwing peanut shells to the floor. The Sling is very expensive for a backpacker or someone on a budget but one can certainly eat one's weight in roasted peanuts which could be seen as a big plus. 

Enjoy a rather expensive Singapore Sling at the Long Bar, Raffles Hotel.
The Singapore Zoo is a most impressive place and well worth the entry price. Those who worry about how animals are treated in zoos may be surprised at the system in place. Animals are given as much freedom as possible, it seems, and the grounds are clean and well-maintained. One can see animals, insects, reptiles and bird life from all corners of the globe and learn a lot about conservation and the prevention of some species' extinction at the same time.

The Singapore zoo is a fun and educational outing for people of all ages.
For many, food is Singapore's biggest attraction. Because it is a country of such diversity, one can find culinary delights from all over the world. You'll find the best value for money at hawkers markets. Lau Pa Sat Festival Market in Raffles Square offers nearly every kind of international cuisine at affordable prices.

Don't forget Sentosa Island, a big and expensive tourist attraction where you can see the aquarium and a pink dolphin show. You can even swim with the beautiful creatures if you are willing to pay the price. China and India Town are areas of remarkable culture and ethnic diversity, red lanterns, hawker shops, familiar food smells and Tiger Beer umbrellas. Arab Street boasts the magnificent Sultan Mosque and lovely little streets lined with several fantastic eateries.

The dolphin show at Sentosa Island.
It must be said that not all Singaporeans live a life of luxury. Like any big Asian cities, one moves from modesty to extravagance in just a few subway stops, one travels through areas of grimy buildings to business centres with glass skyscrapers towering above, one sees "ordinary-looking" people in the streets and then suddenly there are supermodels walking past.

One thing to be careful of when planning your trip to Singapore is choosing your accommodation well. Even if you are backpacking, don't go for the cheapest hostel option, as you might just end up staying in a rather strange area or the red light district even. It might be worthwhile to spend a little extra and find a hostel or budget hotel with good reviews and ratings. 

Singapore certainly lives up to its reputation of a rule-driven state. There are fines for so many actions acceptable in other countries, from eating and drinking in train stations or chewing gum in public to carrying the durian fruit (which has a most pungent smell). But all these rules and regulations maintain the safety, security, organisation and cleanliness of the country. Do be careful to be aware of the rules, so you do not end up paying a $500 fine for taking a sip of water on a train platform, for example.

Whatever your travel expectations and budget, Singapore has much to offer in culture, history and experience and is well worth a visit.