Day 20: I hate it when I forget my camera

Facebook has caused one really noticeable phenomena amongst young people that was really overlooked before is the photograph. Well, in actual fact, I don’t think that many people actually print out these photographs and display them as was the case before, but the digital still has really seen a boom. These ease of uploading countless pictures up onto the internet for the world to see has meant that having a digital camera or camera-enabled mobile phone is a must. I’ve embraced this fully – I think I’ve uploaded over a thousand pictures onto Facebook already! Anyway, this blog is not about pictures – simply because I forgot my freaking camera!

The site when you approach Duvha is similar to Kendal in the spectacular nature of it all. The one thing I noticed on the Tuesday morning that I drove to Duvha first was that at the turn to the station, it appears as if the station is situated in a valley. How smart – having these smoke stacks rising 250m into the air and then situating it in a valley meaning the mean height of the exhaust fumes is exactly where our air that we breathe comes from! Then, as I drove for another ten minutes, the true nature of this structure hit me. Mind you, the speed limit on that road was 100kph and driving for 10 minutes gets you pretty far! I don’t really know if I can use the word “beautiful” to describe a power plant but it’s something that comes to mind. It really is a hideous structure built purely for purpose and without any real aesthetics taken into account but the monstrous size of it all has this weird beauty to it. It’s kinda like Saturn or something. A bunch of gas molecules that have a strange affinity to each other so they randomly attract to each other and they end up looking real good. Come to think about it, that’s how humans are! Your girlfriend of boyfriend is a bunch of molecules attracted to each other because of some arbitrary code in the DNA and the final product is something relatively beautiful.

I didn’t take my camera so I didn’t get a picture!

On Wednesday, I was subjected to torture beyond belief. It was enough exercise to last till the London Olympic Games in 2012. This reminds me that I should have an Olympics blog sometime soon! Back to the topic – my group was taken for a tour of the ash dams. Ash dams are one way of disposing of the parts of the coal that haven’t burnt during combustion in the furnaces of the power station. South Africa is unique in that the quality of coal used for power generation is of the lowest calorific value in the entire world. This is why our electricity is so damn cheap in comparison with the rest of the world but it also means the stations take MUCH more strain than any similar station overseas. It also means that around 40% of the coal put into the furnace is not burnt and is left over as ash. This ash is fine like powder and there is 35 tonnes of it coming out of every furnace every hour of every day of the year. And remember, there are six of these per station. So when you have 210 tonnes of waste being produced every hour, it’s something that needs to be sorted out! One option is to sell this ash to cement companies as it makes real good cement but with sheer amount of waste being produced, these companies cannot buy all this ash. The ash dams, hence, are these immense stretches of dull silver that reach out past the horizon. These are a result of a mixture of water and ash being ferried away through pipes away from the station. When we entered the dam area, I was just shocked at the size and beauty of this all. For kilometres on end, one sees this barren beauty with the desert like ambience and quietness. As we walked on, one sees water trickling along this grey matter creating an image of hope even in this desolate wasteland. As we walk further, we approach a large body of turquoise water with a rickety, old wooden pier hastily constructed on one of the shores. The whole ambience has the eerie feel of the chemically polluted Ural Sea in Russia. The turquoise colour, I was told, is a result of chemicals in the coal that are disposed of with the ash. The water, though, is reclaimed and as much as possible is sent back into the plant to help with the removal of new ash from the coal that is being burnt. As with the power plant itself, this cancer on the landscape had a certain beauty attached to it.

I didn’t take my camera so I didn’t get a picture!!

The beauty, though, was replaced with hate and tiredness. Walking around the Ash dams, well – the “small” part that we explored was a 10km trek! This done in overalls, with safety masks and helmets as well as those uncomfortable, heavy and metal-tipped safety boots! Oh, and it was one of those uncharacteristic hot days in August – Damn you global warming! Though there is some irony in that statement *cough*

After having a bit of a rest, I took a road trip that afternoon to the smaller town of Ermelo. The 125km trip would take me on the N4 and then N11. The N4, let me tell you, is to be avoided as the toll road costs R33-00. Seeing that I travelled on it for maybe 5km after the toll, I was not impressed one bit! Then again, I don’t even like paying for parking at shopping centres but anyway! Apparently there is a back road (I suspect the R555) to Middelburg and then from there, one can just join the N11 down to Ermelo. The drive down the N11 is one that strains the mind. It is straight and when I say straight, I mean like on a 100km stretch, there are maybe five gentle curves with the drive through the town of Hendrina the only time when you need to move your steering wheel more than an angle of 5°. The drive is a brilliant drive through the Highveld with it’s brown Winter coat on. You also pass a road to the town called Amsterdam (wonder if they sell any herbs there) and the immense coal fields of Mpumalanga. The grand scale of these minds and the openness of the Highveld boggle the mind and make this seemingly easy drive much more difficult than one would expect. Then again, my mind thinks too much so maybe that’s why I say that! You also pass the immensely enormous Hendrina Power Station – that with ten generating units (as compared to the six each at Duvha and Kendal) and the eight or so cooling towers. I passed the station at dusk and it was a beautiful site – shining light in the cold darkness of the surrounds.

I didn’t take my camera so I didn’t get a picture!!!

So anyway, the moral of the story is that I need to get a camera. It should be a decent one at that seeing that I want pictures that will look good. I was using a Sony digital the other day and although it’s packed with features and really one of the better ones out there, the pictures didn’t come out as good as I wanted them too. Then again, I didn’t modify the settings but just pointed and shot and hoped for the best. I say that they should just write better code so the pictures undergo better processing before the camera decides how to capture them but what do I know? Lol. Getting a camera would help though – at least this blog will get some pictures!

Day 19: Procrastination

The one certainty about this course was procrastination. It has actually been such an awesome week that has gone pass but each day, I keep on procrastinating and saying that I will start my project tomorrow or I’ll update the blog tomorrow.

Well, first things first, this blog won’t cover the whole week but I will (hopefully) get back to that in time! This week started on Tuesday actually – the weekend, which extended to Monday was brilliantly spent around 700km away in Durban. So that meant that on Tuesday morning, at 5am mind you, I had to trek from my place in Johannesburg to Witbank. Leaving at 5am wasn’t too bad especially since there was no mist and I encountered one of the most beautiful sites – the sunrise over the Highveld. It’s nothing compared to those beautiful sunrises one sees in Durban, where the sun slowly peaks over the ocean on the horizon and within an hour, it blazes and warms the souls of Durbanites. On the Highveld, well, the sun peeks over the, um, veld! The stunning red crept over the hills in the distance and bathed the barren landscape in a weak shade of yellow. It’s as if the sun wasn’t trying that hard to make any real impression on the Earth. It was beautiful though!

Driving in the dark, though, has a major problem – you can’t see pedestrians. And when you are travelling at 120kph and some random guy wearing impressively dark clothing takes a casual stroll across the freeway ten minutes before 6am, it’s something that makes you go “WTF!!!” I was lucky that this brave soul had comfortably crossed the freeway and was a good metre away from my car as I passed. You never know what you would do in a situation where you hit someone who is crossing the freeway. And the scary thing that I thought about was that with life as it is nowadays, the one n problem that people will consider is the time you lose on your travel schedule. I had to be at Duvha Power Station before 7am and if I had hit the guy, I would have never made it there in time. So the choice would have been stop, see what happened and help the guy or just drive on. It’s scary that the second option is an option that really could be taken!

The day was interesting with a walk down of some auxiliary systems of Duvha Power Station. This included the Precipitators and Water Cooling Plant. It’s amazing how much water is actually used at a power station. And when you look at the clouds coming out of the cooling towers, it just amazes you about the huge scale that power generation exists upon. There will be more about this later in another blog.

These three weeks have exposed me to something that I can’t make sense of just yet. Apparently, a South African peculiarity is that people of especially White and Black origin eat meat at every meal! A meal is almost not considered a meal if there is no meat present. And this meat is properly prepared steaks, chops and chicken – it seems the fish are lucky as they aren’t considered a proper meat! I was in Ermelo yesterday and at the Spur, where I had supper, I ordered the Enchilada and the waiter asked me if I’d like Beef or Chicken in it. When I said I want vegetables (because I’m vegetarian) it didn’t register as a proper choice. It appeared as if he was pre-programmed to either bring Enchilada meals that have Beef or Chicken in them and anything else is just wrong and the world might explode. Similarly with my sister, who was also somewhere in the bundus like me (Zeerust in the North-West to be precise) relayed a similar story. She is also vegetarian and she was forced to eat meat because the chefs didn’t cook the vegetables in a way that would constitute a meal. The vegetables were just boiled and were meant as an accompaniment to the meat. The meat that they did cook was almost gourmet – perfectly cooked steaks, roasted lamb, grilled chicken and the like. And, people ate this at every meal! Anyway, when I was a meat eater, I think I ate meat a maximum of four times a week. This is not because I fasted but because eating that much meat was not necessary. There are countless vegetable dishes that provide a more than adequate meal. Eating meat 21 times a week (yes, even at breakfast) just doesn’t register in my mind. Yet, I have witnessed people eating meat for all three meals in a day and they do complain if there is no meat!

The interesting thing about this is that it does show that the prices we pay in South Africa are really low. People from all socio-economic classes eat meat everyday which does give an indication that meat is readily available at a reasonably affordable price. When I discussed this issue with some people, they did point out that meat overseas does have a high premium attached to it and this means you can’t cook meat at every meal. This forces you to search for an alternate and, as a result, this helps in health terms. This whole meat issue does explain the size of some people I’m guessing. Then again, I’m not a doctor so I won’t factualise that link! But anyway, this has made me think of the state of things in South Africa and the world as a whole. Globalisation has meant that everything around the world is slowly settling towards a common price. Whether you buy an item in Hungary or in South Africa, because of global competition (and price-fixing!) you will pay around the same amount. And that is what is happening in several sectors. Coal, for example, is needed around the world for energy use and because South Africa has so much, they can supply everyone! This means that to buy coal in South Africa, you will need to pay a higher amount than before because there is a market outside the borders that is willing to pay a higher price than the historical price that a local paid. At some point, there will be equilibrium as such – the local price will compete against the international price so the miners will be happy selling their coal to either market. I hope that makes sense!

Now, how does this tie in with the meat? Quite simply, South Africa has historically had cheap meat. Maybe it was the self sufficiency of the Apartheid government that put us in this situation but because we were forced to have enough livestock to sustain the country, it was possible for meat to be sold cheaply as it was abundant. Cheap meat means you eat meat – and lots of it! So your culture is grown around providing meat to eat at every meal. As a child, you grow up expecting meat and not having meat means the meal is severely deficient. Now, taking the coal example of above – I hope you can see where this is going? The globalisation is going to drive food prices higher and now, people won’t be able to afford “eating” (i.e. eat meat!) and hence, they go on strike! They couple this with a grievance against the high electricity prices which is directly related to coal and what do you get – a nationwide strike which we had this week!

All in all, this means that the global energy crisis is caused by the smugness that South African’s have of eating meat at all meals! Wow, who would have thought that!