Joburg Expat: The Mystery of the Missing Cement Mixer

February 27, 2012

The Mystery of the Missing Cement Mixer

Zax and I were reminiscing the other day about Singapore. He was two years old when we lived there, and in an absolute boy's heaven. Singapore in the late 1990s was a hub of construction with cranes and other heavy machinery wherever the eye could see, the result of which is apparent in a skyline today that's very different from the one we remember. Also, the Singaporean government loved nothing more than digging up streets that were perfectly fine - more than fine, compared to South African standards! - and repaving them, at least twice a year, or at least so it seemed in our little street, Holland Grove View. A veritable gold mine of construction viewing for a little boy gazing out the front gate.

Singapore also was - and still is -home to the world's second busiest container port. Whenever I felt Zax needed some entertainment away from home - perhaps when there was a lull in road-digging - I'd pack him up and schlepp to the harbor, where we'd sit for hours and watch the gantry cranes moving big 40-foot containers - much like the one our household goods had arrived in - this way and that. Fascinating stuff.

Anytime we left our house, even if it was just for a grocery run at the nearby Cold Storage (just saying "Cold Storage" which means grocery store makes me feel homesick for Singapore), Zax was in his element. He'd point out all the diggers and trucks he could spot from his car seat in the back, and crow their names. Except he knew these machines way before he could properly say their names, so that words like cement mixer, which is "Betonmischer" in German, came out as "Ton-mis." Of all the trucks and diggers around us, he was obsessed with the "Ton-mis" in particular.

By age three Zax was ready to relocate for the second time in his life

So a few days ago, when we were talking about Singapore and I was telling him about his "Ton-mis" infatuation, he grew reflective and said: "You know what, I haven't seen any cement mixers in a long time."

And you know what? He's absolutely right. You do not see cement mixers on South African streets, ever. How weird is that?

Upon reflection, not so weird. I think it's due to the fact that labor is very cheap and available here, and so there is no need for a machine to do the mixing, if people can do it more cheaply. I thought back to how our pool deck was retiled earlier this year, and sure enough, bags of cement were delivered, a pile of sand dumped on our driveway, and "the guys" were mixing the cement right there on our lawn. Which had a bald patch for weeks bearing testimony of the mixing taking place there.

Or could it be due to the dry climate? I remember despairing when I first tried my watercolors here in South Africa. You couldn't do any nice washes because no matter how much paint you poured on your paper, it would dry before you'd get a chance to spread it with the brush. It seems to me even a hyperventilating cement mixer would have trouble in this climate keeping the cement from drying.

So let's put another one in the "interesting but more or less useless facts about South Africa" column: No cement mixers.

Not that you really care about it one way or the other. You probably won't rush out and alter your plans about moving to South Africa because I've opened your eyes to the state of the cement mixing business down here.

But I somehow had the urge to write about it. And it might have opened the spigot to a whole new track of expat-themed posts on this blog, as you've now got me thinking back to Singapore in a whole new light.


suzie said...

Congratulations to your own domain name!!!

I also have a wired story about cement mixers from Thailand, actually about any truck involved in construction: they have a car wash on construction site! Well, a truck wheel was! Before they leave the site, the truck, including cement mixers get all cleaned up in order to not mess the streets in Bangkok. Very clever. And necessary!

Regarding the amount and size of construction size we have here in the inner city, we would have a lot of mud on the streets!

cat said...

I promise you there are plenty cement mixers in SA. Just moove onto bigger building sites.

Bing said...

I am laughing out loud at this post. For obvious reasons!

We do love our cement mixers. And paving the roads. *beams*

Sine said...

@cat - funny, now that I've started looking for them, I also saw one just after writing this. But it still made for a good story:-)

Sine said...

@suzie: Yeah, that domain name was quite an undertaking, what with pointing everything the right way afterwards. If you do it (or have you already?) let me know, and I can help. Best way is probably to buy it through Blogger, then the pointing is done automatically.

And yes, that is a funny story about the wheels being washed in Bangkok before they leave the construction site. Those are the kind of quirky stories about expat life that don't seem worth writing about but are nevertheless interesting.

Sine said...

@Bing - glad I made you laugh! Now if we could just get the Singaporean government to send their surplus money to pave some roads here...

Melissa said...
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Brodie Harvey said...
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W. A. Jeffrey said...

I've been wondering about painting. I like to build model kits (or did back when I had the space) and was wondering if the airbrush would clog faster due to the dry climate. Although the paint curing part would go tons faster. There are quite a few hobby shops around the country so maybe it isn't much of an issue or at least not an insurmountable one.

Sine said...

Yes, it definitely will affect your brush. I tried acrylics and boy did my palette dry up quickly. But yes, it might help with oil-based paints where you WANT them to dry quicker. There is a very nice art supply store on the second level of Fourways Crossing, forget what it's called but Fourways Crossings has a website and you can probably look at the store directory. Much better art supply selection than Michaels, sans the potpourri smell, so win-win all around.

W. A. Jeffrey said...

You know, I might have already had a taste of something similar. In the past I have usually done most of my scale modeling during the winter. Our house has a forced air heating system and no humidifier. By mid Winter the relative humidity inside seldom gets above 20% and if we have a really cold spell my digital hygrometer will show "inconclusive." I usually use thinned acrylics when airbrushing indoors and have had times where I couldn't tell if I was getting the coats even because the paint was drying so fast.