Friday, January 28, 2011

Dallas's Best Buildings

Since I'm going to be going to Dallas, Texas in the USA in about a month for the ASME leadership training conference, I thought I'd do a little bit of research on what this city has to offer!

I love buildings. I LOVE buildings and I ABSOLUTELY LOVE skyscrapers. The first real skyscraper I ever saw was in Chicago (where I fell in love with architecture on a river-cruise run by the Chicago Architecture Foundation (with Prince Charming!). Chicago has so many fabulously beautiful buildings, it really was the perfect place to fall in love...with architecture I mean, of course! And lets not even start with Melbourne...

One word: wow!

So Dallas is a city in the south, in the wonderful state of Texas. It has a population of about 1.2 million people and a very recognisable skyline that is often shown in TV shows and movies.

Dallas Skyline
So here are a few pictures of amazing buildings I hope to catch a glimpse of:

1. Tallest building in Dallas
At 281 m, the Bank of America Plaza. Built in 1985, this is the 21st tallest in America and 58th tallest in the world.
This skyscraper features stepped corners, allowing for numerous corner offices on each floor. Each of these steps ends at a a different height at the top, giving this postmodernist building a distinctly art-decor feel.

As much as I love this aluminium and glass building,it still doesn't hold a torch to Chicago's Sears Tower (now called the Willis Tower). Standing at 442m (with a pinnacle reaching 527m), at the time of completion in 1974, it was the tallest building in the world!

2. Kirby Building
Built in a Gothic Revival style in1913, this was a skyscraper of its time. It became vacant in the economic downturn of the 1980's which saw Dallas's downtown district crash. After the 1980's, it became a symbol of resurrection, being one of the city's first office buildings to be converted into residential apartments.

3. Reunion Tower
This landmark is a 55story high tower topped by a geodesic glass dome. You can travel to the top in just 68 seconds to the viewing deck and restaurant. This is something I definitely want to do. Perhaps have a cocktail at the top of the disco ball?

So there you have it: a small pick of the top buildings and landmarks in the city.

I really hope I can get away from the conference long enough to see them all in real life! Or at least just the reunion tower...

Thursday, January 27, 2011

How to Change a Wheel (on a 30 ton crane)??!!?

Today I arrived at work at a cool 6:35 to attend the plant's morning 'Green-Time' meeting. This is a compulsory safety briefing held every morning by the various departments and its compulsory for all employees to attend. Since I'm officially a grease-monkey now (will tell you all about that in a minute), I have to go to these things.

Sigh.  The working world, eh?

There was a very interesting job to be done this morning.One of the wheels on the overhead crane was making weird noises and had to be replaced and investigated for problems. So I got to tag along and check out how this was done. Surprisingly, changing the wheel on a 30-ton capacity crane is almost exactly like changing the tyre on your car! You jack it up, take off the bolts, remove the wheel and change it out. 

Ok, I admit, when you're dealing with loads of this magnitude its slightly more complex than this, and it takes about 3 hours to complete, but the basics are the same.And of course, we're on the 4th floor of the furnace building (about 50m off the ground), in overalls and safety harnesses, with out CO gas monitors buzzing away and smoke, dust and heat billowing all around us...oh yes, and there is grease. Tons of it! But its fun and I love the fact that the guys up there look at me like I'm raving mad! I can just see them saying to themselves, "What the bleeding hell is this little girl doing here? What kind of parent would let their daughter DO this?"

But I love it. I find in fascinating how the mechanical parts all fit together, how the huge, bearings are so accurate and every separate part has a unique function that make this massive machine work under extreme conditions! I think the people that invented and built this are geniuses! Beneath the grease and dust and dirt, this mega-machine is as elegant as any other, and even more so for being able to withstand the heat and particles getting stuck in all its moving parts.

So I'm back in the office, a little dustier than I was before, but I've learnt a lot today:
  • How to use on a safety harness and life-line
  • How a CO gas monitor works and what is the maximum safe concentration of CO gas in parts per million (this is about 200 by the way, although some say 'when you feel dizzy and throw up, get out quick!')
  • How to change a crane wheel
  • How a rigging machine and a hydraulic bottle jack works
  • How to remove lock-nuts
Okay fine. As an engineer, I probably (definitely) would never need to actually change a crane wheel...ever. But I need to know what the thing looks like and how it get put together/ taken apart so that I can design one. Even if I'm just picking a standard one out of a catalogue, I need to know that I'm choosing the best and safest type for the job as well as the guys who are using it. All in all, it was great fun!

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The Fall of Toyota

Ok, so many may not know this, but I love car manufacturing! And for a few years now, Toyota has been at the top of my list of amazing companies I want to work for. Unfortunately, the recalls, infighting and bad press has made me question exactly what Toyota stands for in this modern day and age. So here is my little commentary on an issue very close to my heart...

Sure, they may have once been the most reliable cars on the market, but the seemingly never-ending recalls on numerous Toyota models since late 2009 have challenged that. Despite desperate attempts to reinstate their reputation for quality, consumers and investors alike have been put off by yet another recall of 1.7 million cars.

Having a (modest) background and interest in Lean manufacturing: the techniques pioneered by Toyota decades ago, this really raises a lot of questions! Firstly, Lean is the term used to describe a series of philosophies that Toyota's founding fathers instilled in their business, making it the number one automotive manufacturer in the world, racing past the giants of Ford and General Motors. Based on the principles of minimizing waste and creating flow, costs were cut as quality was continuously improved.

Quality. This was the cornerstone of Toyota's success! Toyota has long since held the reputation of building cars to last a lifetime, cars that you could hand down to your kids, cars that were designed and built so well, they they never broke.  Their standards were incredibly high as everything about their design process and manufacturing line was tuned to spotting mistakes as they occurred...and fixing them at the source. Whilst in the conventional Western automotive manufacturing house, if a defect was discovered, the defective component would be removed from the line for rework. In Toyota, 'andon' cords were installed above each and every employee's workstation. Each and every employee has the authority, and is even encouraged to stop the entire production line if a problem is found that cannot be solved in a few seconds. In this way, no part is passed on that does not meet the stringent quality standards. Furthermore, as problems are solved as they occur, continuous improvement is possible! 

So lets see what the critics say. Just type in 'Toyota quality crisis' into Google, and you'll find tons of experts giving their ten cents. I found this article incredibly ironic! They are practically preaching the fundamentals of Lean back to Toyota! And what about the infighting between top Toyota executives, with the current president alluding to the non-Toyoda family ex-president for the compromise on quality? I'd be a bit weary of this skape-goating attempt. Looking deeper, an idea arises: since the adoption and whole-hearted application of Lean was the tool that grew Toyota into the giant it is, could this same tool now be the reason for its undoing?

Deming, (one of the brilliant minds behind Lean), says in his book "Out of Crisis":

…the following chain reaction became engraved in Japan as a way of life. This chain reaction was on the blackboard of every meeting with top management in Japan from July 1950 onward. The production worker in Japan, as anywhere else in the world, always knew about this chain reaction; also that defects and faults that get into the hands of the customer lose the market and cost him his job. Once management in Japan adopted the chain reaction, everyone there from 1950 onward had one common aim, namely, quality.(p.3)

Sounds great, doesn't it? Well, then what went wrong?

Well, I wonder how many blackboards (I mean power-point projections) this chain reaction appears on today. Chances are, it hasn't appeared on any Japanese walls for some years now. Some believe that the problem is systemic, but you cant deny that Japanese culture and more specifically, organizational culture have changed dramatically since the 1980's. Although the practices of Lean still exist within the business, their leaders lack the depth of understanding that is necessary to implement them effectively. 

The shift in mindset from 'The company with the highest quality in the word' to 'the largest auto-manufacturer in the world', the preoccupation with 'family' and 'non-family' leadership and most importantly, the reorganizing of the above chain reaction with 'improve quality' not being the first link in the chain has cost Toyota dearly. 

For more info and insights, read this: Dialogue regarding Toyota's Quality Crisis

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Heels to Steel (capped boots) in just on week

So these were the shoes I was wearing last week, clip-clopping through the carpeted corridors of Melrose arch...(ok, mine were beige, but you get the picture!)

But on the plant, fashion works a little differently...
Yes, introducing the Safety Boot! This classy shoe has a 2 inch thick rubber sole and a sexy steel-capped toe. This beast is sure to protect you against, well, just about EVERYTHING!

They had to order me a special size because nothing they had would fit my "miniature" feet!  I say, its time for this industry to start accommodating the women who are (quickly) filtering in. Would it really hurt so much to keep a few smaller sizes in stock?

I'm not saying we shouldn't wear the overalls...

Even though no self-respecting woman would want to wear this:

...the thing is, we just have to. I'm not arguing that PPE (Personal protective Equipment) is necessary and is there to prevent you from getting injured. There are many many ways to get seriously injured in this place. 

But wearing pants that are so high that they come up to my chest and a jacket that flaps around by my knees is a hazard in itself. I could trip and fall from a treacherous walkway or ladder, or get my sleeves caught in a conveyor pulley! What I'm trying to say is we need clothes that fit or sexy female curves!  

But everything about the PPE industry is masculine and male focused. I find it an eyesore! Check out this winner:

I love this picture...So Manly! haha! One could argue, since most of the people who work in these industries are men, they should be male-focused. But I know a little secret...

Most of the planners, buyers and secretaries in these masculine environments are women! Women page through PPE clothing catalogues. I'm sure they'd like to see more of this:

(sorry for the stock-photo!)

Now, thats the way to sell a hard hat!

My new Office

I have an office!

Ok, well a temporary one, and its in the workshop on the plant...but its an office all the same. Actually its really big and used to belong to HvC, the ex-engineering manager of Phase I, as who is currently working in Projects on Phase II. So this lovely, HUGE office is mine! Pics will soon follow!

The plan is to send me to JoBurg so that I can work with the design and project engineers and draftsmen at the engineering consultants contracted to work on Phase II. I'm supposed to learn how to check and approve drawings so that HvC wont have to drive the 3 hours there twice a week to do the checking. Sounds good enough, and I'm really excited about getting a chance to work so closely with the consultants, I think I can learn a lot! But a brain-wave came to my supervisors, who realised (a week into me being in Jozi) that I don't know the first thing about the drawings (or anything concerning the project) as I haven't any plant experience. Of course I need t know what everything is/ looks like in real life before I can hope to spot errors and make changes to engineering drawings! I am, in overalls, in the Phase I mechanical workshop! The best news I've heard all week: my pink hard hat is on its way and should arrive this week! Yes! They had to order one specially for me because they couldn't find any in the store-rooms...DUH! But I told them that I just dont care, I want a pink hard-hat and demand to have my dog with me! So they're finding me a pet-friendly flat! yaay! In Burgersfort, 30 kms away...Noooo  :( oh well, its a home!

The workshop is mad, its nothing like the project's offices and definitely nothing like the fancy Melrose Arch ones in JoBurg! Wow, what a change.From heels to safety boots in under a week...must be some kind of record. But I guess a gotta get used to it, this is going to be my life for at least a few months before I can move back to projects!

To be honest, its actually just really boring! Today I went to the workshop's morning meeting, met everybody, did my site-specific induction and then just chilled! I'm waiting for the new engineering manager to finish up in a meeting and take me through the plant to get an overview of the process. I decided to be a step ahead though and downloaded a document my supervisor had published off the net to get an idea of what I was in for. Then I made a huge schematic drawing of the entire plant to show all the various steps followed in the manufacturing of Ferrochrome (coz thats what we're all here for)...

Wow, I MUST be bored!

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Beautiful Africa

Mpumalanga: The Land of the Rising Sun

I'm getting better at the drive between Johannesburg and Steelpoort. Today, I returned in just 3.5 hours, with two short stops for petrol and a snack. Seeing as the first time it took me just over 5 hours, things are certainly looking up! 
The road out of Steelpoort

Also, excitingly, I've been invited to a Leadership Training Conference in Dallas, Texas in early March. This will be the third trip that I've taken through ASME (American Society of Mechanical Engineers)...and of course, it is fully funded by them. Thankfully, my supervisor is also excited about me representing my company overseas, as she let me take a few days off for travel! Yes!

African Sky

I'm really starting to love Steelpoort. Sure, its not the most beautiful spot in Mpumalanga. Sabie's waterfalls or the famous 'Potholes' are absolutely stunning! But there is a stillness here. An Africanness. 

A typical, rural African road: Potholes for Africa!

Potholes of a different kind: formed from the meeting of two rivers

We are surrounded by rural Africans, and we're building on reclaimed, community-leased land! I wave at the children as they return home from school and the goats timidly cross the roads, dodging the cars. 

South Africa's resources industry is the backbone of our economy

Although rife with poverty and unemployment, I feel almost hesitant to bring progress to this place. I know that is an incredibly colonial thing to say, but this vast meandering valley, cradled by sweeping green mountains, are just so untouched.

Uniquely African

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Dynamite really comes in small packages!

There's no point rambling on about my trip back to JHB, or the fact that even the dodgiest little, shared office in my company's Melrose Arch offices was still incredibly beautiful! Or about the coffee that was delivered to my desk every morning, lunch and afternoon, exactly the way I liked it...Or about going shopping (in Melrose Arch) sot that I could arrive each day looking fabulous. The point is, I have found myself back in Steelpoort! Through no foreseen circumstances, they pulled be back within a week of being in JHB...But not for long. I shall soon return to Egoli: the City of Gold! I just have to be a bit of a grease-monkey till then!

One thing that I will mention about JHB was that I was asked by my boss, the General Work's Manager of Projects, to attend a meeting at the engineering consultancy who have been contracted to draft and design for the project: lets call them M&G. It is very exciting, as they have sub-contracted some of the designing out to the consultancy WSP Group. (Remember EWB having met with WSP a few months ago concerning them helping us get EWB SA off the ground? No? Well they contacted us and offered us a sort of informal partnership...)

So I had to battle my way through JHB CBD to find the offices, and my pre-specified parking bay. Arriving in an absolute state of mild panic, late, I realised that I had forgotten the WBS drawings that my boss had reminded me to bring in! wow. Luckily, it wasn't too much of a train smash! I had the chance to meet my direct supervisor in JHB, and the Technical Manager of the company. (Yes, the TM of the entire company is my direct supervisor while I am in JHB!) This is a person who I had heard so much about, someone who is very well respected and honoured as being 'technically brilliant' and 'gifted' by colleagues! Imagine my surprise when a tiny, skinny, pretty little Indian woman walked into the room! 

Mrs O.N. was nothing like what I had expected, but she really held her own in the meeting (where tensions ran high over discrepancies between the original quote from M&G of R17mil and the final quote of R47mil. Yes, as an engineer (even a very junior one) I could see how the changes that my company had asked for and the policies that we had enforced on M&G would shoot the cost up. You would expect it from my boss, Mr MH, the great big Afrikaans GWM. But it was Mrs ON, keeping the interests of the company and the project at the forefront of her agenda, who took the consultants head-on! I was really impressed and inspired! 

What I liked the most about her though, was that despite the big personality that came so neatly packaged, she was still very much a woman. She spoke very well, dressed well and was just the tiniest bit clumsy (stumbling when she got up to get a cup of coffee). And most importantly, she was nice. She was lovely! So uncharacteristic of a woman who had made it to the top of a male-dominated industry! It was a real treat to meet her and an absolute privilege to have her as my mentor! 

So a week later, I'm back in Steelpoort, and thats ok. I want to learn as much as a can first, to be able to have a better understanding of what we are building when I get back to JHB...So until then...

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The road to Lion

As my handsome Prince Charming had to leave once more to fight battles on the distant shores of Australia, I was left to the daunting task of driving up to Steelpoort by myself. Steelpoort is the tiny weeny little rural town in the province of Mpumalanga where my company has recently built a Ferrochrome smelting plant, called Lion. I was about to start an exciting job in the project management department, who had just begun work on another plant right next to Lion I, called Lion Phase II

Reality check: I had got my driver's licence on Monday 3rd. I drove my car out of the showroom on Friday 7th and had to drive the 6 hours to Johannesburg on Saturday 8th, then another 5 hours on Sunday 9th, to begin work on Monday 10th! But you know I love leaving things to the very last minute! Just imagine for a second that I hadn't passed my driver's...

Anyway, so here is me, never having driven alone for more than an hour, having to drive all the way to Steelpoort, a place in the middle of rural Mpumalanga, a place I have never been (and nobody I know has been there either), all alone...My sister drove up to JHB with me, and that was a really beautiful drive. Nobody told me how lovely the N3 was between DBN and JHB! We had a great road-trip and I put her on a plane Sunday morning at Lanseria Airport. Note to self: never, ever use this airport again! 

So on Sunday morning I decide not to use my Garmin GPS (which insisted on taking me through all the dodgy long back-raods) and instead use the map that my company had sent me. The problem was, the map only shows the last 2 hours of the road to Steelpoort. But, being my clever self, I decide to stay on the major highways until I need to turn off onto the winding rural roads that would lead me through Middleburg and finally to Steelpoort. Sound like a good plan? Yes? Well, knowing my luck (and my affinity for getting lost) I end up missing a major turn-off!

I realised about 10km after the turn that I may be on the wrong road, so I pulled of at a Petroport and made the best decision I had all day: I bought myself a good-old, South African road map! Yes, I was on the wrong road, but no worry, I can simply take the next ramp, turn around and be on my way. How was I to know that  to simply get to the Petroport on the other side of the highway, I had to pass through not one, not two, but THREE toll-gates! sigh...I got through these toll-gates (ok, they totalled to about R20, but I still felt very badly used and irrevocably robbed!)  pulled off at the opposite Petroport, turned off my Garmin, and cried for about ten minutes. Then, feeling much better about the adventure I was embarking on, I set off into the unknown once again!

I arrived at Steelpoort, which can barely even call itself a town, and drove about aimlessly for about 30 mins looking for the Serabi 'Guesthouse' they had booked me into until I found a place. Finally having found the entrance (a dirt-road turn-off lined with thorn bushes), I pulled up outside a line of CONTAINERS?!??? Containers that had been turned into rooms! 

No. They couldn't have! They didn't put me here. They CANT have! I was so exhausted by this stage that I didn't even notice the row of brick buildings on the other end of the parking lot. Thankfully, they had booked me into a brick room, and not a dodgy steel container! What a relief! I've arrived, I'm going to settle in, have a shower, and before long I will have my own place, my own bed, and get into the rhythm of my new life here. I wonder if there are other runners I can connect with. Thats would be nice, wouldn't it? It actually quite peaceful out here, and unbelievably beautiful...what a relief! The enormous feeling of relief vanished when I actually saw the room. I had myself another nice, long cry and went to bed.

And...when I got to work the next day, the very first thing my new boss told me, was that he was sending me back to Johannesburg for a few months.

Monday, January 17, 2011

The Search for the Perfect Car

So I want to dedicate this post to all those young women out there who are looking into buying a car. Unless you know exactly what you want, this process can be really daunting and confusing. So this is how I did it, I hope it helps you! 

The search for the prefect car was definitely not easy. I needed a car that would be reliable enough for me to mission the pothole-ridden roads of rural Mpumalanga, and that was affordable and economical as I was financing it myself (although my dad did help out with a deposit).

The options seemed endless, and the biggest decision was whether to buy  brand new or used. Eventually, I settled on a brand new car since I expected to be putting quite a lot of mileage on it in the first two years and I really wanted something on motor-plan! Also, you never really know what previous owners have done to the car. Even a year-old Avis car is still a risk (I know people who do wheely's with their rental cars!) I really couldn't stand the thought of being stranded on a lonely Mpumalanga road at night. Roadside assist or no roadside assist!

So once I'd decided on a brand new car, the question was, which one?
My budget was around R150 000. This proved to be a little low, so I restructured my expenses and savings to allow for a more realistic amount of R200 000.  Also, I wanted to buy the car, not lease it, and I plan on trading it in after 2-3 years. So trade-in value and depreciation was definitely a priority.

So here were the options: Polo Vivo, Toyota Auris, Mazda 2, Ford Fiesta, Hyundai i20 and the Honda Jazz.
I visited all the dealerships and test-drove all the cars (save for the Polo which I decided early on to exclude due to it being a high-risk for hi-jackings). I tried to stay away from European makes such as the Renault's and the Peugeots as in SA, the parts for these slightly more exotic models are hard to come by and rather expensive!  And here's what I thought of them:

Toyota Auris: This was a magnificently average car. Its drive was slow and smooth and the car looked as perfectly boring as it was. Apart from that, it was incredibly overpriced and the fact that Toyota's squeaky-clean reputation had recently taken a dive into a smelly pit didn't help much. Compared to its predecessor the Run X, which was really cool, this car was a real drag.

Mazda 2. This was a cute,zippy little car. It won car of the year in 2008 (followed by the Ford Mondeo and Mercedes-Benz C-Class) and I actually liked it quite a lot at first. It looks really great, but is admittedly quite small. The problem is,apart from its good looks, there isn't much else going for this car. Rumors got to me that the car was quite troublesome and gave lots of problems so I decided that it wasn't the car for me.

That left me with my final three choices: the Fiesta, the I20 and the Jazz. In no particular order:

The Ford Fiesta: Now I really liked this car. I liked the drive, I liked the interior, I loved the look. But there was just one thing I really hated: the NAME! Who would call a car a Fiesta? What were they thinking? It dropped the 'cool-factor' of the car quite a few notches, although admittedly, I did start to see these cars everywhere. And yes, they did look super cool! The only troublesome thing was that its profile was very low. On the bumpy Mpumalanga roads, with all the profiles, I didn't think it would do very well...

The Hyundai I 20: From the second I saw this car, I loved it. It was sturdy, reliable and safe. It was economical and affordable. The dealership threw in loads of great extras such as a 5 year/100 000km warranty and a special combo (smash-and-grab windows, paint scratch insurance and dent insurance) for only R100 a month (financed). The car had great resale (book-value after 2-3 years).  To be honest, I was absolutely ready to buy this car. Sure, the drive was a little machine-like, but compared to the pansy-like clutch of the Auris, it was refreshing. The only issue was this: I couldn't get the finance! Due to me not having a credit history to speak of (duh!) the bank declined my request! What?!! I'm a graduate engineer for God's sake! If I cant buy a car of this price, how can anyone? The finance woman at Hyundai told me to go out and buy some clothes on my Edgar's account. It turns out that she was just screamingly useless at her job, which cost her dealership the sale. Sorry for you, Hyundai!

The last dealership I visited was Honda. I went on Xmas eve but they had already closed, so I had to come back after I got my license drama sorted out. See Rhea Gets a Driver's License. Still, this was really strange since the Honda Civic has been my (short-term) dream-car for ages now! (My long term dream car is a Porshe 911) I guess I just wasn't keen on the idea of settling for a Jazz when what I really wanted was a Civic. And the old Jazz was just so small and unappealing (apart from the fact that I was in an accident in one last year) that I was quite put off. But my god, was I wrong!
Honda Civic hatch

The Honda Jazz: This is undeniably a good-looking car. Its classy and much more solid than the (admittedly plastic-like) exterior of the I 20! When I got behind the wheel, I knew that this was different to the other cars I'd seen. Everything about it, the attention to detail, the little things, (10 cup holders is a bit excessive, but is useful!) just put the Jazz a cut above the rest. The most amazing feature by far was the incredibly large boot, still leaving enough space in the backseat. The back seats fold down forwards and backwards at the lightest touch and the clever mechanical designs got my engine revving even before I'd turned on the ignition! Apart from the sexy physique, the resale was about R10 000 above book-value and maintenance wasn't an issue. Even though Honda parts are hard to come by, these cars DO NOT BREAK.

On the test-drive, I fell in love. I must say, a lot had to do with the sale's woman, a wonderful old bird from Rustenburg, complete with BIG hair and RED nails and the sweetest personality! She was just brilliant, and took her time to make my experience with Honda simply fabulous. Everyone in the dealership, from the sale's staff to the finance lady were equipped to help me, a young, female, first-time buyer, buy this car. It was so easy, so fast and when I picked up my car less than a week later (along with a large bouquet of flowers and champaign and gifts from the dealership), I was beamingly happy and very satisfied! I am so in love with my Jazz, its spunky and cute but a real performer when it needs to be (as it proved on the long drive to Steelpoort). In fact, it reminds me a lot of myself!
My Car. This is the exact colour and tint. (without the body-art and the sunroof that is) 

So thats my tale. The car is still awesome, but VERY dirty and every time I want to get it cleaned it rains...:( Sunshine where are you? My Jazzy jazzy jazz needs a make-over!

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Updates Part 2-The License

Rhea (FINALLY) Gets her Driver's License 

I know what you're thinking: how can she have a degree and no driver's license? What kind of Engineer cant drive? Well, I'll have you know, I can drive, and have for a very long time! It's just driver's tests that I cant do...well, not anymore apparently. I got my license on my third attempt at the Greytown License Center. And no, I did NOT bribe the instructor...although I had R200 in my pocket just in case (not that I was going to use it!) I passed this time without rolling or climbing curbs or anything! But as is the usual way my life goes, there was drama. (There had to be!) 

PC practicing his straight-drive
during my driving lesson
My test was scheduled for the 31st December: New Years Eve. I had asked the lady to book me on another day, telling her that if I failed, I didn't want it to ruin the New Years Eve celebrations for me. But of course being the bureaucrat that she was, she couldn't help making my life difficult. "There ther-ty ferst", she said in her  heavy Zulu accent. So PC (Prince Charming) and I drove the two hour drive into the countryside the 30th and spent the night with family I have there. I go for one last driving lesson before the test, in a dodgy parking lot which the driving school happened to be sharing with goat vendors (Poor goats, destined to become New Years Eve feasts!) and swarms of flies. I pitch up at the testing station and lo and behold: they are closed. Of course they are closed! Its New Years Eve for God's sake! It turns out that I'd completely misheard the bureaucrat. She had said, 'There therd of ther ferst', and not, 'Ther ther-ty ferst' after all! goes on.

It didn't help that various car dealerships in Durban were all waiting (like the vulture scum they are) for confirmation that I'd got my license so they could go ahead and process my car finance! But yes, I had to drive all the way back to Durban...and all the way back to Greytown again 3 days later...But I did it, and I passed. I love leaving everything to the very last minute, just for kicks! (not really)

Updates Part 1-The Degree

After a long 5 years, relaxing at Camps Bay Beach before the 
Goldfish Submerged Summer concert
Wow, its been a whole month since I've blogged! Naughty me! Firstly, I cant believe I used the phrase 'motion in the ocean'. Secondly, there is just SO much to blog about, I just don't know where to start! Should I dedicate this post to the mad fiasco it was getting my license and buying a car the same week I had to pack up and move to Steelpoort, Mpumalanga (a rural village in the middle of nowhere!). Or should I instead tell you about the trip itself, complete with all the tears that ensued? Or maybe I should talk about why, one week late, I am in Johannesburg looking for apartments?

Okay, lets start right at the beginning: my graduation...

Rhea Gets a Degree

So I managed to get my crazy family together in Cape Town once again for my graduation ceremony. For once, things ran pretty smoothly! I had a beautiful dress, but even with the killer heels, I didn't make it to Prince Charming's shoulders! Not many of the (very few) girls wore full-length gowns, but I loved my dress. I even got my hair and make-up done. It really was my night in the spotlight and it was simply fabulous.  The gown and hood were a little ridiculous, but I really enjoyed wearing them. We all were seated in neat rows, the nervous excitement in the room was so thick you could taste it. We were all just making jokes about our lecturers on stage in front of us and trying to not laugh.  

I'm an Engineer! A real life Engineer!
When my name was called, all I could think about was not falling flat on my face on stage. I had the perfect combo for falling: long dress, high stiletto platforms, baggy gown, stairs, cameras, tons of people, the Vice-Chancellor...A real recipe for a classic 'Rhea-Disaster'.  Come to think of it, that might actually have probably been the most fitting end to this degree, knowing me...But thankfully I didn't. I tried to walk super slowly, holding my head up really high and just be graceful (a virtue I wasn't blessed with). But of course, I ended up walking too slowly and causing the guy behind me more nervous twitching than necessary.

When we all had our degrees in hand, the VC asked us all to stand and wave them at our parents and families for the sacrifices they'd made to get us to that point. Then we had to do the same for our lecturers (it got a bit lame after awhile I admit)...The guy next to me pretended his cylinder was a bazooka and 'shot it' at our least favourite lecturer (He Who Shall Not be Named)...and then it was all over.

That night, I dragged my sleepy Prince out for one last night out with a few friends on Long Street. We drank and talked long into the night, reminiscing about our classes, lecturers, assignments that almost killed us and generally good old stories from the past 4 (and in some cases 5) years. It felt surreal, it still does a little. We were engineers and could one day hope to be called 'professionals'. As one of my mentors said, "We haven't yet broken into the circle, but we had earned the right to stand on the edge and look in".

So was 5 years of blood, sweat and tears worth that right? I say definitely!