EDITOR-AT-LARGE: African Travelling East


Travelling the world – especially to the Japan and Korea – has given MAPS MAPONYANE an appreciation of just how diverse we all are.

What if your national railway company felt it necessary to apologise for the “inconvenience” it caused its commuters, for leaving the train station 25 seconds early? As if that didn’t seem a bit extreme, how about the need to conduct a full internal investigation to ensure that it never happens again.

In Japan, a country that has one of the most punctual railway services in the world, this was a very normal way of dealing with this incident. It happened in May this year, when the 07:12 train at Notogawa station left prematurely at 07:11:35sec; it was the repeat of an “equally terrible” occurrence last December. I’m sorry, but even calling it an “incident” gives me lemon-and-herb-to-mild chuckles. But it’s certainly no laughing matter to the Japanese.

Then there’s Seoul. A recent first-time visit to the South Korean capital, often regarded by many as “new Japan” (much to the annoyance of both nationalities), blew me away. It is digitally cutting edge and ahead of its time with extraordinary construction feats such as the futuristic Dongdaemun Design Plaza. It’s trendy and non-conformist, yet starkly contrasted with a blend of ancient traditions, and stock-standard buildings lined up throughout the city.

There’s also a quiet, regimented eeriness that flows through the city – the seemingly predictable and robotic movements of its people moving back and forth without deviation from the norm. With infrastructure and efficiency as good as it can possibly get, you can’t help but appreciate what the Koreans have managed to build and instill within its people. However, as an African, after a while, there’s just something about it that makes you yearn for a bit more colour in the city’s people and personalities.

I’m not sure I’d want to live in Lagos, but I am overcome by a great deal of excitement whenever I know I’ll be spending some time there. Perhaps it’s the vibrancy of its people or that ordered disorder – it’s the chaos and colour that requires you to take a few breaths in order to orientate yourself. Like a bowl of jollof, it provides just the right amount of spice to keep things interesting.

For me, my hometown of Johannesburg strikes a balance of the aforementioned. It may be less slanted towards punctuality – our “African-time” will always be a thing – but there’s growing urbanisation and systems and infrastructure being put into place for the hundreds of thousands of people moving to the city. Still, it has just the right amount of colour to keep you going, with the kind of unpredictably and energy that keeps you close enough to the edge of your seat and leaves you inspired.

Although those are only a couple of examples from a myriad that I’ve managed to encounter from my travels around world, I have found it incredibly enriching to experience “the other”. It provides you with the ability to look at unfamiliar cultures through a different lens. Home comes in different shapes and sizes for different people – something that can’t be solved by a single cookie cutter.




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