Thursday, November 28, 2013

Hey, Mate, You're Not in Australia Anymore!

If I've said it once in the last two weeks and two days, I've said it daily. So here it comes again: Cape Town is so Melbourne (with mountains). The South Africa-Australia connection isn't just a fantasy I've made up in my head because I miss Melbourne.

The first time I heard it, in August, almost exactly three months before my arrival here, a German girl in Berlin who I met through a friend from Bangkok was talking. She'd spent time living in Cape Town, and she was telling me what to expect. If I didn't believe her then, I'll never doubt her again.

Just as it was in Melbourne (and pretty much every city on the planet, except, perhaps, for Sydney), people who've lived in Cape Town forever are dying to get out. Apparently, paradise is just another dead-end town if you've spent most of your life looking at the breathtaking scenery there.

At least two South Africans in the last three weeks (since my arrival in their country) -- the boyfriend of my friend Dolores in Johannesburg and a publicist in Cape Town -- have expressed a burning desire to leave their beautiful country behind for greener pastures elsewhere. Everyone here seems to be obsessed with New York City, practically to Argentine proportions, but I have to keep reminding them that the grass is only green(er) in Central Park there. The rest of it is concrete.

When I suggested a change of scenery in Australia to the two restless South Africans, I figured that it would be easier to get a visa to relocate to another Commonwealth country than it would be to acquire one for an extended stay in NYC. Both of them shot me down: "That would be just like staying in South Africa." Their responses echoed each other.

Touché, I conceded after the second Oz rejection, but the more time I spend in Cape Town, the more I notice that it's only Melbourne with mountains on a superficial level. That might not be enough to make the grass down under any greener for South Africans itching to relocate, but it's enough to remind me that it's a long way back to there. What does Australia have that South Africa doesn't, and vice versa? Here's a list of 10 reasons why I no longer keep forgetting where I am.

1. Nobody calls me "mate" in South Africa. "Buddy" neither -- but I'm not complaining about that.

2. I haven't heard the phrase "hot as" to describe a sexually desirable person since the night before I boarded that direct Jetstar flight from Melbourne to Bangkok last June. I miss being "hot as." It has such a nice, colloquial ring, and it's much more colorful than a simple "Sexy."

3. Pedestrians apparently never have the right of way in Cape Town. In Melbourne, I used to get frustrated because cars would sit at the corner waiting for me to cross when I was still 50 meters away from the intersection. That meant I was constantly speeding up so they wouldn't have to wait too long. In Cape Town, I don't have to worry about keeping anyone waiting, because they won't. Cars race down mountains and turn corners like bats out of hell, pedestrians be damned if they happen to step off the sidewalk and into the way. It's actually a little like being back in Bangkok, minus the constant bumper-to-bumper traffic.

4. You don't have to take out a mortgage to enjoy a night out in Cape Town. I spent Saturday night downing Amstels, Jack and Cokes and shots of Jose Cuervo at Crew with friends, and the entire night out (taxi fare included) set me back only about $50. In Melbourne, it would have cost three times as much, though the guys would have been taller (1.85 meters and up up up), with more facial hair.

5. Speaking of tall, hairy guys in Melbourne, where are all the Bens, Nathans and Andrews in Cape Town? I still haven't come up with any defining first names here like there were in Melbourne, Buenos Aires (Federico, Alejandro and Sebastian, kiss, rinse and repeat) and Berlin (Alex, Alex and yet another Alex), but I'm working on it.

6. People actually dress weather appropriately in Cape Town. The climate here is frustratingly similar to the climate in Melbourne: In other words, expect the unexpected -- and bring a jacket, just in case. On yet another spring day in Cape Town that feels more like autumn, the only guy under-dressed in board shorts and Havaianas will probably be me.

7. Cape Town's DStv networks are obsessed with Fox/UPN U.S. TV from the '90s and '00s (Melrose Place, Half & Half, One on One, Sister, Sister, Arsenio Hall). In Melbourne, it's all about Nick-at-Nite-style series from the '60s and '70s (The Brady Bunch, Happy Days, I Dream of Jeannie, Bewitched, The Love Boat, Green Acres). Frankly, I'd rather watch Maude, which, thanks to all of the YouTube episodes I watched in Tel Aviv, has replaced The Golden Girls as the vintage Bea Arthur sitcom that I'd rather waste an entire day laughing at.

8. Bilingual (and multilingual) rules in South Africa. Australians, like non-Hispanic Americans, are notoriously monolingual. Someone told me that South Africa is one of the most bilingual countries in the world, and every time I listen to (or eavesdrop on) conversations flowing between Afrikaans and English, or English and some other language I don't recognize, I realize that he's probably right.

9. In Cape Town, fish and chips, not chicken parma, seems to be the pub grub of choice for those who aren't in the mood for an ostrich burger. (It's all about chicken schnitzel here.) And at something like 55 ZAR ($5.50) a plate, the fish and chips at Long Street Cafe cost nearly one-fourth of the AU$20 that you'd pay for the chicken parma at Windsor Castle in Melbourne.

10. The other day when I spotted a squirrel scurrying across the street, I realized that it's been months since I saw a possum (or a kangaroo, or a wallaby, or a koala, or a bat, or a cockatoo). I'm going to have to book an African safari soon because I'm ready for some exotic wildlife. All of these dogs that look like the 21st U.S. President Chester Alan Arthur resurrected as a canine just aren't cutting it.

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