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Tuesday Apr 24, 2012

'Joburg is is where I belong'

Big bad Jozi has a reputation that precedes itself, but accidental Joburgers with tenderness for the unexpected find the city can be an ol' softie too.

New Zealander Karen Lim in Newtown.

When newcomer from New Zealand Karen Lim heard her husband's next company posting would have them living in Joburg, it left her with nightmares and sleepless nights.

"All I'd heard about Joburg was crime and HIV and how aggressive and violent the people were, so I was really, really scared," says Lim, who is originally from Singapore.

The couple nearly rejected the transfer, but Lim says at the last moment she decided they would give the move to SA a go.

Now, nearly a year and a half later, Lim is an accidental Joburger who sees soul in graffiti art under the M1, who spends mornings in Kliptown when she needs cheering up and who recently attended her first rugby match at Ellis Park.

This after Lim admits to literally going into panic mode every time they had to "drive through a bad area" when she first arrived.

Lim says the shift in her outlook came when she joined the Joburg Photowalkers, the social group of lens enthusiasts who seek out all the hidden gems of the city to photograph and explore.

It's on these photowalks that Lim says she recognised Joburg was more than the modern, tame and sterile version of itself portrayed by swish hotels and air-conditioned malls.

It was also on one of photowalks that her path crossed with another accidental Joburger, Heather Mason.

Mason arrived in SA in August 2010 from Washington, in the US, following her heart to be with her SA love.

Says Mason: "Working in the NGO sector I travelled widely to Swaziland, Tanzania, Kenya and Mozambique, but Johannesburg was a stopping point and I never spent much time here."

Like Lim, she heard Joburg was a dangerous place and family and friends were nervous when she quit her job, sold her possessions and flew out to Joburg. Now living in Melville, Mason says: "This is a place where I feel I belong."

She finds spiritedness and quirky delight in the creations of informal traders, South Africans who says "sorry" or "ag shame" for misfortune and hurt - because the empathy helps carry the burden - sunsets over Northcliff ridge and shopping at the Oriental Plaza.

Both Lim and Mason are keen photographers and successful bloggers with huge followings in SA and abroad.

Joburg keeps coming up as a protagonist on their blogs. Lim's blog is called "The Story of Bing - An expatriate living in Johannesburg" and is named after her Chinese name, and Mason's is "Two Summers - An American suburbanite living in quirky Johannesburg".

Its name comes from when she left the season of sunshine in Washington, US, and arrived in Joburg in time for the mercury to rise on this side of the planet.

Neither Lim nor Mason claim to be crusaders for the city though. Their blogs are not tourism websites or empty cheerleading for life in Gauteng's engine room.

They are representations of their individual slices of life that just happen to be served up with a considerable side order of Jozi.

Slice of life for Lim is picnicking on the top of Carlton Centre, a product review of a new face cream or photos from her personal Project 365 to take a photo a day.

For Mason there are entries of lightning displaying Jozi's penchant for electric extravaganza, her favourite vintage clothes stores in Melville, a day in Diepsloot, maggots invading her kitchen and even entries written by Smokey, the grey cat that has moved into her home.

But as much as readers follow them and wait for their new posts, Lim and Mason say blogging has given them introspection, perspective and the rewards of being part of a community that's comfortably both public and anonymous.

Lim says her Jozi is one where people look you in the eye when they ask how you are. For Mason, Jozi is "where everyone has a story they're willing to share". She adds: "You feel responsible to your readers, but you also feel that you can express yourself and leave an impression."

Lim says her blogging journey has been about recognising the range of what represents her day: the dark, the light and even the ordinariness of choosing to wear "Russian Red" lipstick or going ten-pin bowling in one of Jozi's casinos.

For these two transplants who arrived by accident but dared to look for the heart of the city of gold, they've found fertile soil to stay grounded in the place that for now is what they call home.

The Star


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