domingo, 15 de febrero de 2009

go back to go ahead

My grandfather told me that life is like baseball. You’re part of a team, but frequently you have to stand up to bat alone. I’ve got a new one for you, Jim: life is like soccer…often you have to make some backward passes in order advance the ball.

Retroceding helps you find channels to advance / make progress that weren’t open the first time around.

Case in point: travelling to Mendoza, Argentina.

Friday evening I get home from work around 8 after having taught a class that ran longer than usual across town in Providencia. A skilled procrastinator by nature, obviously I hadn’t packed for my 10:30 bus to Mendoza, nor did I have even one pair of clean undergarments for the aforementioned journey. Laundry’s a drag, and knowing I wouldn’t want to do more on the way back from Mendoza, I did it all which took me a little bit longer to get done than I had anticipated. In spite of the lack of preparation I got everything for the trip squared away and “ON TIME”, or so I thought. It takes 25 minutes to get to the bus station and I left giving myself 35. What ensued left me more frustrated than Kanye West after he got snubbed at the Grammys.

In my last entry I gave extensive praise to the excellent Metro of Santiago. Somebody who works for the metro reads my blog, took insult to what I said about the women of Chile and messed up my night…just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean people aren’t out to get you, right Dad?

I hop on Santiago’s formerly stellar now re-categorized as slightly above average Metro and we go from Santa Ana to Los Heroes no problem, Los Heroes to Republica as smooth as can be. I’m feeling easy looking at my cell phone clock with 18 minutes to spare thinking I’ll arrive at the bus terminal with ten minutes left over, already putting Jimmy Eat World’s 16 minute, melodically deambulating “Goodbye Sky Harbor” on my mp3 quicklist to put me to sleep on the bus. We take off from Republica at normal speed and 5 seconds later the metro comes to an abrupt halt. Everyone’s looking around confused as this NEVER happens on the Santiago Metro. After five minutes a woman gets on the loudspeaker and thanks everyone for their patience while the complication is being resolved without giving an explanation as to what’s going on. So we sit for 10 minutes and my once serene expression gradually turns to one of obvious perturbation. Unable to resolve the problem they put our train in reverse, backing into Republica. The doors open and I’m out, up the stairs and onto the street looking frantically for a taxi. One stops I tell him the bus station and “pisalo”, step on it. As the long distance busses (the equivalent to our Peter Pan or Greyhound) always run late, being five minutes late I was still hopeful to make the bus. As I walk up to lane 22 where my bus should be my heart sinks as the bus for Puerto Montt is sitting where mine should be. The driver of the bus tells me that they probably parked the bus somewhere else and to ask at the information counter which I do. They kindly inform me with a very short and bitter explanation about the whereabouts of my bus, “ya fue”, it already left.
I then ask the garrulous gentleman what my options are and he just looks at me with a blank stare. “ya fue, lo perdiste”, the bus left and I lost my money. He turns away, and after a second his words hit me, and I ask him with flames shooting out of my eyes what do you mean I just lost 70 bucks? Not wanting to argue he tells me to take it up with the man at window one, window one handles the complaints. So I explain the metro situation to a very disinterested man at window one who tells me that they can give me a 50% discount on a new ticket to Mendoza, to which I ask him what kind of scam TUR BUS is running where a guy misses his bus by 5 minutes and you gouge him for 50% on his next ticket. I told him that Pullman Bus, their main competition, had refunded 100% of my ticket when I was late with them in the past. Not making a new friend with the man at window one insinuating that his is a company of scam artists he then informs me that legally they don’t have to give me any sort of discount. As it turns out he was correct, but the way he said it just really rubbed me the wrong way. So I turn around take two steps and yell at the top of my lungs “Concha su f****** madre” (an odd mix of English and Chilean curses which left everyone with puzzled looks on their faces, though I’m positive my frustration came across). So I pace around the terminal for 5 minutes and go back to window one with my tail between my legs begrudgingly agreeing to pay 50% of a new ticket to Mendoza. It only ran me an extra 15 bucks but being a stubborn Irish / Pollok hybrid, the principle of it all really chapped my rear end.

It was now 11:20 and I bought a ticket for the next day at 7:30. I leave with plenty of extra time in advance the next morning and arrive to the bus a half hour before departure. As I’m sitting, waiting for the bus to fill, a man occupies the seat next to me, and as is common courtesy when you are going to sit next to someone for a long journey I greeted him. “Como estas?” I say and he just gives me a blank stare and sits down. “Great” I’m thinking, “I’m leaving a day later than I wanted to and I’ve got Juan Friendly sitting next to me for eight hours.”

I put on my headphones and conk out for the first 3 hours. I wake up as we’re arriving to customs at the Chilean / Argentine border. Suddenly realizing I need to fill out that little piece of paper explaining the purpose for my trip to Argentina, if I have any fruit or live animals with me etc., and that I don’t have a pen with me, I ask Juan Friendly, whose real name is Felipe I came to find out, for a pen. He says no sorry, but to my surprise he gets on the task of asking one of his buddies a few rows back for the pen. He hands it to me, I start writing and I realize the damn thing is leaking all over my hand. A little annoyed, this turns out to be a good way to break the ice with my fellow passenger. He apologizes, offers me a candy to make up for the fact that I have ink all over my hand and asks me where I’m from. It turns Felipe is an alright guy. We spend the next five hours talking about a wide range of topics. He’s a tour guide from Mendoza and offers to show me around the city since I was going alone. Upon arrival we catch a cab to his house so He can leave all his bags before we walk around the city and book me a hostel. His elderly Mom opens the door and gives me a big kiss, completely uninhibited with the curiosity to know who this mysterious American is showing up with her son. She fries up some meat for us and serves it with fresh tomatoes and bread, really delicious and unexpected. We book me a room at a hostel four blocks from his house and immediately meet up with two of his girlfriends who have a car. We all drive around the city and eventually end up at a massive park at the far end of the city. Literally the park encompasses almost one fifth of the entire city, and it’s a social center for the people of Mendoza. The girls were pretty, in shape, friendly, funny, and full of personality, basically the antithesis of the typical Chilena except for the fact that they too speak Spanish.

the rest of the story when I have time to write more...

miércoles, 21 de enero de 2009

A General Overview

My time in Chile is coming to its inevitable close and it’s really got me thinking. I’ve written a good deal about my personal life, perhaps too much in some instances; everything I have written is true both factually and in terms of my opinions and feelings about the events that have taken place. I want this entry to be less about me and more about my general take of the country...this is basically my technical and sociological summary of what I think about Chile.

Chile is a truly an advanced country with a very clean and safe capital city. Though the citizens almost unanimously complain about the transportation system “TranSantiago” it efficient, clean and suited for the capacity of the city. As I understand it, many people prefer the other system because the buses used to run complete routes. A person living in the far northwest of the city could travel to the extreme south using one bus. The route used to take about two hours, but people going to work could get on the bus and nap for two hours while the bus ran a circuitous route through the city until reaching its final destination. The new system is more “efficient” with more busses running shorter routes. Where some people used to take one bus, they now have to take two or three to get to where they need to go. Their travel time is mostly likely the same or shorter, but they inconvenienced with having to change busses and lose the ability to sleep in the mornings and in the evenings on the return trips. For those living downtown, they don’t experience this problem because the majority of the busses pass through here on the way to other places. The subway is the best I have ever been on: the trains are clean, there are almost never any mechanical problems and they run one after another every two to five minutes or so depending on the line, time of day and the day of the week. The lines are all well marked, the maps are very easy to read and the metro staff is helpful when you ask. The only real problem with the metro is the crowding which I heard is a recent phenomenon. Many people now prefer the metro to the new busses, making for really crowded, hot, uncomfortable rides at almost any time during the week. Although the trains run at full capacity, almost always a person can find a space to squeeze into no matter what time of day. Taxis are everywhere; the drivers are safe, friendly and charge a standard and very reasonable fare. A person can go from downtown to the extreme limits of the city for no more than maximum of $25. A typical cab fare runs me $4 and usually we are 3+ meaning I usually pay around a buck each way. Santiago offers, as do many cities in the continent, a “collectivo” system. These “collectivos” are like taxis except the taxi is not exclusive. These vehicles run set routes and they charge a fixed per passenger price. If you know you’re way around and you know where the collectivo’s stop and the routes they run, you can get from downtown to the nether regions of the city for less than $3. If you don’t mind sharing the cab with complete strangers and stopping occasionally to pick up new passengers on the way, the collectivo is an efficient and cheap way to get where you need to go.

Santiago is aesthetically a very clean city. The trash men come by almost every night, and their version of the DPW sweeps the city and hoses down the streets and waters the green areas on the a daily basis. Though it looks nice, the air quality in the city is dismal. Santiago, unfortunately, resides in a valley between two mountain ranges. To the extreme northwest the city touches the Andes mountain range which runs north-south and to the east there is a smaller chain (not a “range” so to speak) which lies between Santiago and the coast. With over six million inhabitants and myriad personal cars, taxis, trucks and “micros” (city busses) the air is at times thick with pollution. In the spring and summer, the air quality is actually decent. There is virtually no cloud cover during these two seasons allowing the air to escape over the mountains and the city to breathe a bit more easily. In the fall and especially in the winter, the city experiences its rainy season. The cloud cover is often quite thick, trapping the toxic gasses in the city. Many young children and old people have to go to the hospital for respiratory problems during the fall and winter. Here they say if a sickly, older person lives through November they will live for another year because the air clears up dramatically in December. Often during the winter there are driving restrictions posted on the news and in the newspapers. On a restricted driving day any car without a catalytic converter is prohibited from driving, along with cars chosen at random according to which number their license plates begin. These restricted driving days complicate the lives of many citizens who only have one car in the family and depend on it to get to work on time. Chileans have become very good at carpooling and almost everyone gets where they need to go on time even on restricted driving days.

The countryside Chile possesses rivals that of any country in the world in terms of beauty and especially diversity. Due to financial constraints and the need to work I have not been able to experience the majority of the natural wonders Chile boasts. To the north is the Atacama which is supposed to be amazing. Even farther north lies the driest desert in the world. Chile is home to the highest peaks in the Andes mountain range as well. There are many ski centers here with excellent natural powder, the experience is different than anything the US has to offer. They tell me that the centers close to Santiago are comparable to skiing in the Rockies except that here there are no trees. Boarding here was really a mind-blowing experience for me. There was powder as far as I could see and essentially no boundary limits because of the non-existent flora. The coastline stretches from the extreme north to the extreme south of the country making for tons of beaches and cliffs from Arica down to Tierra del Fuego. Chile is home to the highest concentration of active Volcanoes on earth and because of the elevated tectonic activity in the country there are many natural hot-springs throughout the country. Chile’s proximity to the Andes Mountains has afforded it thousands of lakes formed by the melting snow running down from the Andes. Patagonia (the south of the country) is lush, green, and full of lakes, volcanoes and hot-springs. The ocean in Chile is incredibly and unfortunately cold. A current takes the water from Antarctica and swirls it up the coastline all the way to Arica. Obviously the water gets warmer the further north you go, but it is still cold no matter where you choose to bathe. I am accustomed to the cold waters of northern MA, but still the beaches near Santiago are certainly the coldest in which I have ever swum.

The women here really do not fit the typical “Latina” stereotype. If you are looking for curvaceous, beautiful women this is not the country for you. Qualifying that remark, the typical Chilena does have a curve, most have a good sized pouch hanging over the waistline of their tight jeans. Most girls lack a back-side and have a gut. It’s not a flattering commentary, but it’s the truth. The girls here are generally quiet and passive. Obviously there are exceptions to this. There are certainly beautiful and curvy women here, but they are few and far between. One can go two days without seeing a really hot girl and a month before seeing a knockout. Also there are some excellent female conversationalists as well but they are even harder to come by than the lookers, and God bless you if you can find a Chilena with the total package.

Chile lags far behind the rest of Latin America in terms of women in the workforce. Only around 40% of the women in this country work and the average woman earns around 25% less than a man for doing the exact same job. Don’t let the fact that they have a woman as president fool you; Chile is a very Machista culture. Bachelet essentially won because she was a gimmick which Chileans are particularly prone to. No matter what she does, the people here refuse to praise or criticize her. A typical commentary is that she is just the face of her government and that the real work is done by her ministers and cabinet members whom she has no control over. Really, I don’t know how much of that is true but it is certainly the opinion of the overwhelming majority here. The women here are similar to the women of the 1950’s in the United States in some respects. They are expected to maintain the household, raise the children, cook, and clean in addition to working for some. This sounds harsh, but just about every lower-middle to upper class family has at least one Peruvian nanny to reduce the burden on the women. The Chilena is incredibly jealous and attempts to control their significant other. In the US the man usually calls the woman to check in from work or to make the nightly phone call in a relationship. Aside from the initial courtship process where the man does all the work here, the woman is the one constantly checking in on her partner to ask where they are, with whom they are with, why they are there with said person in said location, are there any girls there, are they behaving, when will they come home and so on. The Chilena becomes easily attached and these interactions normally start very early in a relationship.

The women might sound a little crazy, but it is certainly not without reason. The typical Chileno is certainly Machista. I would roughly estimate that about 40% of the male population is unfaithful. I’m not saying they live double lives with another girlfriend, but every so often a good number of men have flings with other women. The men here are really an interesting case. They are more outgoing than the women and I find very entertaining, though not always stimulating conversationalists. If you like women, soccer, dirty jokes and beer you can get along with the overwhelming majority of Chilean males. These guys have no shame when it comes to women. If a beautiful woman walks down the street without fail almost every man will shamelessly stare at her, look her up and down and the worst even let out noises like “oooph” as she passes. The interesting part is that I have yet to see one actually approach this woman they have molested with their eyes and actually try to converse with her. Every guy talks about the “minas” which is slang for a good looking woman. Almost all Chilenos talk like they are hot stuff and about the “minas” but most of them are full of hot air; they are a lot of bark and no balls. The married men get together a lot more with their friends outside of the house to go to parties and discos than the men in the United States, though not without castigation from the misses at home upon returning.

50% xenophobic, the Chileans love North Americans, Europeans and citizens of Oceania, while at the same time lamenting each and every one of their neighbors. Typical to all of South America, these people know how to hold grudges. The War of the Pacific which involved Chile against Bolivia and Peru (1879-1884) still remains fresh in the minds of all Chileans. They won the war and gained a good deal of territory, but still hate Peruvians and Bolivians. While Chile was fighting in the north, Argentina came into the defenseless south of Chile and essentially robbed most of Patagonia. To this day the typical Chilean thinks of the Argentinean as a conniving thief just waiting for his opportunity to pounce and take advantage. This sounds extreme, but may not be that far from the truth. Argentina from my understanding does not foster much ill will toward the Chileans, though I know for a fact that Peruvians and Bolivians hate Chileans more than the Chileans hate them. A couple months ago, the head of the Peruvian military stated that all Chileans in Peru should be sent home…in body-bags. It is going to be a very long time before South America forms anything resembling the European Union. France forgave Germany for what happened in WWII, but the South Americans just can’t forget. They don’t forget because really they choose not to forget. Just like the American Revolution is studied extensively in grammar schools in the US, the War of the Pacific is taught to all students in Chile, Peru and Bolivia. The main difference is that the teachers engender a sense of hate towards their former foes which the students perpetuate and teach to their children. One of my students, a Chilean, lived in Bolivia for most of his childhood. He told me that whenever the War of the Pacific was taught the teacher would send him out of the room to run errands. Later on one of his classmates told him that when he was out of the room the teacher lambasted the Chileans on a very personal level.

On a political level, the Chileans refuse to forget. This case is unique because remembering is ever so convenient for the leftist (“socialist” by name but capitalist in policy) parties. Agosto Pinochet is debatably the greatest and worst president that Chile ever had. If it wasn’t for someone like Pinochet, Chile would most likely be another Cuba. He opened up Chile’s closed economy to the world causing mediocre businessmen with inferior products to suffer for quite some time until they caught up with the rest of the modern world. While doing great things, his people committed atrocious crimes against humanity. Mass tortures and slaughters took place inside the National Stadium and many innocent people were maimed and killed for their affiliation or perceived affiliation with the communist party. Pinochet defended the actions by saying he was at war with the Communist party, though a war is constituted by two opposing military forces. Pinochet had the military and the communists really had nothing, it was persecution and not war. Traditionally the upper crust of Chilean society believes that the ends justify Pinochet’s means and say that he was a good man who lost control of his subordinates. There is no accountability in Chilean politics, no one likes to point a finger and say someone did well or someone was atrocious. This lack of accountability extends beyond politics here, and is prevalent in the workforce too. I have been told that if one makes a mistake at work it is common practice to cast blame on the situation and other workers rather than fess up for the error. Admitting you were wrong is admirable and the sign of a big person in many places, but in Chile it’s a sign of weakness.

It is very convenient for the leftist to hold a grudge and they intentionally do not let the people forget. The “socialists” have been in power since Pinochet left office in 1990. Now this leftist group is very corrupt and the people all know it. It’s common practice to talk about the corruption in government. When a government official is convicted of a crime they are removed from their position. Once the smoke blows over, typically, this corrupt official is shuffled back into the system in a different position and no one seems to be the wiser. Now how have the socialists won every presidential election since Pinochet left? Easy: every election year they show advertisements on the TV and in the Newspapers, and make speeches about the atrocities committed by the right-winged Pinochet government. Like Obama successfully and perhaps disingenuously associated McCain with George W. Bush’s policies, the leftists year after year continue to conjure up anti-right-wing sentiments in enough of the people to win the elections. These modern conservatives have nothing to do with Pinochet and if they win Chile will certainly not be under military rule again. Like we needed a change from right to left in the US, Chile needs a change from a liberal government to one more conservative. Everyone now and then a country needs a good house cleaning to weed out the leaches in the government. Many of the same faces are in the government year after year sucking money from the system. Even if people are more leftist in their ideals it will be better to vote right in these upcoming elections.

On the positive side, the government corruption is basically limited to financial siphoning; there are no kidnappings and torturings going on here. The police or “carabineros” here in Chile are exemplary. I trust the police in Chile perhaps more so than I do the police in the US. The police here go about their business in a humble way. They take care of the necessary and aren’t here to bother the people. The police in the US are generally great people, but you see a lot more cops in the US on power-trips than you do here.

Even worse than in the US, the teachers here are atrociously underpaid. A teacher who studied 5-6 years in the University comes out making $270,000 pesos ($480 or so USD) a month. These people cannot support families, own a car or a house on this salary, it’s almost a joke. There is a good deal of social unrest, almost weekly protests and riots during the school year because of the quality of the public education. Paying the teachers better would go along way in encouraging more quality professionals to take up teaching instead of another course of study. I’ve heard that the government intentionally wants dim-witted individuals at the helm to keep from introducing the students to radical ideas. Don’t buy into that, the professors at the Universities here are grade A and generally the Universities provide an excellent education.

The healthcare system, though not without its own problems should serve as a rough model for what we use in the United States. Every worker is mandated by law to put a portion of their salary into a public or private healthcare system. The employers take the money out directly leaving the people with no choice. Those electing the private system pay more money and receive better services. Here everyone is covered. Those in the public system don’t receive the same quality care as those in the private, but at least they receive decent, affordable healthcare. This is the way of the future. Perhaps it is un-American to mandate that people put money into health care, but then again obligating people to pitch in to Social Security is rooted in socialism as well.

There were more thorns than roses in my portrayal of Chilean society, but I want to point out that this country is the gem of South America. Though grappling with its own issues, it is a safe, economically viable and Gringo friendly country. Having only a few minor problems in the streets here, I feel very safe living in downtown Santiago which is supposedly a dangerous place to live. After learning the valuable lesson of taking a taxi home at night, I feel even safer in the city. I have made many sweeping generalizations and would like to point out that there are a lot of quality, trustworthy men and women here in Chile who are open to share their culture, a few beers and even apartments with people from the outside world. They are exceedingly curious about life in the US and look up to our country as a model. Like I have critiqued Chile, they often remind me of the shortcomings of my country which are many as well. If there is anything you’d like to know about Chile which I have missed I can add more later.

lunes, 5 de enero de 2009

New Years Eve and El Proa

Claudio was kind enough to invite me out to Valparaiso to spend new year’s eve with his family. We had a jammed apartment with his mother, father, brother, two sisters, him, his girlfriend and me. The place is small with three bedrooms, so needless to say I was out in the living room on the floor. I tried sleeping on the love-seat one night but opted for the floor when I couldn’t take it anymore.

The family unfortunately had problems with the gear-box of their car and got caught up in Ovalle, five hours to the north of Valpo and didn’t get into to the city until about 11p.m. We had a giant meal cooked up for them: roast beef, salad, potatoes, avocados with tuna and mimosas with strawberries. The meat was cooked to perfection, but was ready around 9:30, but by the time they got there it was very dry, disappointing, but still good.

The fireworks show was truly amazing; I’ve never seen anything like it. It started at midnight, we watched it from the balcony of their apartment. Valparaiso is a port city and it is one of four cities on a giant bay. They launched fireworks from eight points along the bay, from Playa Ancha, the southern point of Valparaiso, up to Concón, it was really something to see. We could see all eight points from the balcony and the show lasted for 25 minutes. We finished up dinner after the show and then went out for the night, all of us except sr. and sra. Arce and Claudio's sister Dayane who is battling a case of depression after her boyfriend left her.

I tried calling a few friends and my family on my cell, but all the lines were jammed up. I had plans to meet up with my friend Tracy for the night who I was hoping to see, but I couldn’t connect with her until 6 a.m. The phone lines basically shut down for about 6 hours on New Years Eve from the heavy call volume. Normally there are 300,000 people in Valparaiso, but on New Years Eve there were about 1.3 million people in the city and the roads as well as the phone lines “se collapsaron”; they ceased to function. I’ve never seen a city so congested in my life, it was truly madness, there were just hoards and hoards of people all over the place, on the sidewalks, in the alleys, in the streets, everywhere, with broken bottles smashed all over the streets and against buildings, people, men and women, taking leaks in the street, people shooting off gunpowder-propelled streamers and everyone was dancing. It was impossible to get into any clubs and you had to pay out the nose. We passed through a jumping multitude and this group got particularly excited aboutme being a Gringo, so I started jumping and dancing with them and then I felt someone grab me by the hips, assuming it was a girl, hopefully pretty, I turned around to see some male, bearded, thirty something latched onto my backside. I told him “eso no se hace”, that people just don’t do that and he was laughing, all in fun.
Around 3 we went to a remote bar and by chance there was space at a table, it was relaxed, they played mostly Chilean folk music. I was tired, it was hot and the air was thick with smoke. I fell asleep a few times in my chair, obviously excited by the event. We left at six, I was ready to be out at 3:45, but they were all enjoying themselves with the music so I got up and walked around outside a few times to keep from sleeping.

We all slept until about 1:00 the next day, I left to meet up with my friend at 3 and called home, finally, while I was waiting. I talked to my mom, she told me about my dad and Artie “the one man party” Taylor, the consummate ballers, making their own IPA in Artie’s garage. We walked all over the city and hung out on La Piedra Feliz, The Happy Rock, ironically named because it’s the hot place for young people to kill themselves. We really weren’t in the dying mood that day, so we decided just to sit on the rock and enjoy the beautiful view rather than throw ourselves off of it. I got home around 9:30, we drank matte which is like tea with more caffeine and you have to drink it with the herbs loose in the cup with a special straw. Even highly caffeinated we all went to bed around 1:00 without problems. The next day was spent at the beach with about 45 million other people in Viña del Mar and went out to El Proa in the night.

A night or a moment comes along once every 2 months or so when I think “yeah I’m in Chile, and it’s awesome”, and one such moment hit me in at the Proa. We (Claudio, his girlfriend Paz, his brother Juan Pablo and his sister Lorna) met up with Tracy and her friend. People really didn’t start showing up until about 1:15 so we had a big beer while we were waiting. It was hot summer night, the air was profuse and sultry and everyone arrived in good spirits. The beer was crisp and cold and really hit the spot. El Proa looks like the inside of an old ship with lots of old flags and life saving rings hanging from the walls. There were flags from all over Latin America, Japan, Canada, Switzerland, but not one from the United States, which I took mild offense to. The music was excellent, something completely Latin. They played a rotating mix of Salsa, Meringue, Bossa Nova, Argentine Ska, Spanish hip-hop and Chilean acoustic rock. I can dance hip-hop fine, just moving to the rhythm, but when there are particular steps I’m lost. I’ve been trying to teach Tracy some English and in exchange she’s helping me out with my dancing. I’ve achieved some basic steps of Salsa and Meringue, which I’m happy about. I realized that the way we dance in the US, is just so crass in comparison to the South Americans. They bump and grind or “perrear” to the hip hop and reggaeton as well but usually this music comes around once in awhile in a mix. The majority of the dancing involves real dancing where people are feeling the music in addition to doing certain movements, so much more elaborate, intricate and entertaining than anything we do in the clubs in the US. At one point I had to take a break and sat down at a table by the window. The place is right on the bay and the window was facing the ocean. There was a refreshing ocean breeze in my face and I looked up and there were seagulls flying near by. At that moment I thought, “I’m thrilled to be here in Chile right now”. It was a mix of the place, the music, and the company that night which I really enjoyed. I left around 3:00 p.m. for Santiago the next day, easily one of my favorite weeks I’ve had here.

domingo, 9 de noviembre de 2008

50 aka Ferrari F-50

OK, I’m back, yep, still alive…you wouldn’t believe how hard it is to find a free day to sit down and write.

So what’s happened since July? Good lord, too much.

All of my exchange student friends are gone: Cesar, Vale, Lara, Vivi, Carlos, Enrique…the internationals all went back to their countries unfortunately. Tell you the truth, I enjoyed hanging out with them more so than with the Chileans, perhaps because we were all in a foreign country and had something in common together in this strange land.

Quick shout out to Timmy Burke because I said I would…what’s up kid?

I went home for Johnstock in August and it was incredible, really great to see everyone from home and Johnny absolutely killed it on stage. I’ve seen Blues Traveler live and my father rocked the greatest version of “Runaround” ever performed. They rocked until “officer friendly” shut them down at 10 p.m.

Highlights of the trip home:

Dancing with Nonie to the Who’s “Baba O’Reilly”. Yes, she was jumping and laughing, not going to lie, I thought she was going to fall over with her bad foot, but we both came out unscathed.

The campfire after. Benny held court talking about world politics. We didn’t agree about anything, and I think he was wrong about a lot of what he said, though on the domestic stuff he was on point with FDR’s “New Deal” and so on. 24 year old Nunes screaming how hot the 19 year old Emma Taylor is right in front of her. Also I thought Sean Kelly was going to end Benny’s life when the conversation shifted to familiar issues mixed with the US. Sean was talking about workers not getting compensated sufficiently after accidents and Benny comes out with “If you don’t like the United States you can get out!” Way off topic, but all was forgiven the next day. Benny’s since shipped off to the army, best of luck, bro. The most liberal, peace loving friend I have and he joins the army, there is no sense in this world.

Foxwoods. Best decision of the trip home. We were coming home from Fishco in Providence at about 2 a.m. We were on 195 and the road forked in two options, 95N and 95S. North takes us home, South goes through Connecticut. Nunes coyly says “Foxwoods?” Benny says “No way” and I’m screaming “Asbolutely”. So we took South and Benny pouted for about 15 minutes and then snapped out of it and was ready to have a good time. I was all about promoting the road not taken that night and Brian was eating it up. Nunes ends up winning $325 on a game of craps and he won a lot of money for the fellow players as well. There was a giant, fat black man screaming at Benny and me, “if you ain’t gonna smack ya boy in the butt, step away from the table. DO WHAT YOU DO BOY! SMACK ‘EM IN THE BUTT! The dice is gonna get cold, SMACK ‘EM IN THE BUTT, keep ya boy hot.” Benny and I decided to simplify things and we played roulette. We kept things very simple and put $25 on black. Low and behold the ball lands in black. So we put $50 on black, what do you know, black again. I’m content walking away with $50 a piece but Benny isn’t having any of it. So we toss $100 on black, and it’s killing me because I know we’re just throwing away $100 and neither of us are rich, I’m lamenting the decision until BAM, black again. OOOKK. Benny wants to toss $200 on black but I say no way, I say I want my $100. Benny agrees and pulls his money off too, and what do you know? The ball lands red on the next spin, we bought some victory cigars and in the gift shop and rolled home all grins and yelps, we spent two hours in Foxwoods and came out $525 on top, who says gambling’s bad?. I got home at 5:30 A.M. and my whole family was up, Dad was going to work and all the girls were going wedding dress shopping for Kate that day, after telling them what happened that night they just laughed.

Trips to Nonie and Jim’s house and to the camp to see Nana and Bups. Nothing crazy in these events, just awesome to be with grandparents, makes me feel grounded after wandering the world with people I don’t really know.

So that was the very brief recap of the trip home, I’d never been to 4 karol Drive for a vacation, but it was one of the best ever.

I broke another heart in Chile, I think this time more so than in any other situation. I’d been running around with this girl Jessica for a few months. I met her right before I went home and we’d hang out once every week or every two weeks. Truth be told I was never that into her, but she was cute and I had fun going out with her. I was just having fun and she told me that she was in love and wanted to date officially. I told her that I couldn’t offer her that and she told me it would be too hard to see me again. Two weeks later she sends me text messages at 5 a.m. on Saturday night telling me that I’d already forgotten about her. The next day she sends me IMs telling me that she used to feel things for me but “ya me paso” meaning not anymore. We went through this drill about three times with her telling me she doesn’t want to see me again and that she doesn’t like me any more and then she calls me and sends me texts, this last time it was for real for real though. I walked her to the metro and told her “Eres buena honda, ojala que no me odies, espero que podamos volver a vernos como amigos” I said that I wanted to be friends with her because she’s really cool, but I think that will be impossible on her end. Things really couldn’t have worked out between the two of us, she’s a single mother living at home with her mother. I could offer her zero stability as I’m leaving Chile in March. It’s not easy breaking up with someone whether you’re doing it or receiving the sentence. She was looking at me with doe-eyes about to cry and I just had to give her a quick peck and said “cuidate” and walked away. I haven’t contacted her since nor she me, which is for the better.

Chile is very excited about Barack Obama being the 44th president of the Untied States. Like the rest of the world the Chileans were all tired of the Bush Administration.

I am now a proud citizen of the USSA (United Socialist Sates of America). Do you think that Karl Marx would have ever dreamed that the US would be one of the countries to implement his ideals? No one even forced us to do it; we did it on our own and under a very conservative Republican president no less! I thought capitalism was Darwinist, the best companies survive, the ones who can’t hack it die. Essentially Merrill Lynch, AIG, Goldman Sachs and so on ran themselves into the ground while making mountains of cash for their CEOs and top executives and what are the consequences? Some of the execs have been fired and have received sickening severance packages and now your average American is suffering. Most of the executives, however, still will hold their prestigious posts in these companies and they will continue to still be able to work while there are many Americans who are now without jobs who can’t cover their basic needs. This is a deranged form of Socialism that we are running in our country, one that leaves the poor poorer and sustains the rich.

They have an expression here in Chile - “Cuando el gigante estrornude, todo el mundo se resfria” – “When the giant sneezes, the whole world catches a cold”, and they say this in reference to the United States. Our country has more influence in the world than we can possibly imagine. The whole world depends on the economy of the US to function well. When things are bad financially in the US, things are bad in the world as we can see in the markets all over the globe. I know hundreds of thousands of US citizens are without work right, but we’re not the only ones with problems. Chile, one of the most economically viable countries in Latin America is now feeling the effects of our crisis. I have had the pleasure to teach English in one of the most important companies in Chile, Molymet, but this multinational, multimillion dollar corporation is already having problems. The prices of molybdenum and copper have fallen drastically over the past couple of months and this is greatly affecting the company’s bottom line. They aren’t making near what they did only a few months ago. The company is very concerned with cutting costs, and though they have not laid any one off just yet, they have stopped hiring new workers. This is a company constantly in transition with people being moved around, people being replaced, new workers with new ideas coming into the company. I can count 8 workers that I know personally who have been hired over the past 6 months, and the company has decided not to hire any new workers for at least the next year. I suspect lay-offs will be coming in the not-so-distant future. This company has run an English program for the past 4 years, and I have a sneaking suspicion that our contract will not be renewed for next year. They have cut all training programs from the budget next year and English falls into this category. This is a terrible idea, though, they need English teachers more than they realize. Much of my job is pure conversation, keeping English fresh in my students’ minds so that when they have to talk on the phone or make a presentation in English, their English flows instead of having to search of the words, also in many classes I help them put together business presentations and I translate technical documents from Spanish to English so they can send information about important studies they have conducted in Chile to their plants in Germany and Belgium. Being a company with plants and offices all over the world, communication between the different locations is all done in English. If they do cut the English program completely next year, they will quickly realize they needed us more than they knew.

Feel good side note: If Molymet does cut the English program I am pretty sure I’ll still be able to continue teaching there. I have been approached by four students already who are concerned about the state of the program. They told me that if Molymet does cut the program they will pay me out of pocket with their own money for me to continue to come to teach them. They find the classes fun and they can tell that they have definitely improved their English over the course of my 7 months with the company. It’s going to be a rude awakening when I leave the teaching world and work for a company for real. The young guys in the company, the people from 26-30, are usually the ones working their way up the ladder, they go about their business without my attention from the big executives. I walk around the company like the mayor saying hello to all of my students who are the most important people in the company. The CEO, who’s not even my student, walked by my office the other day and saw that I was unoccupied, stopped in, shook my hand and wanted to shoot the breeze for a couple of minutes before his meeting, I certainly have an over-inflated sense of importance in this company.

Lately I’ve been bringing in articles from the Harvard Business Review which these hot shots are just eating up, talking about management styles, how to be a more efficient manager etc, things that are very relevant to their lives. I’m being paid to be educated by these successful businessmen because during the course of these conversations they talk about their styles and the reasons for why they manage like they do. One of the managers in particular, Mr. Pacheco, takes these classes seriously and has told me that he has now incorporated some of my suggestions in his office. I tell him “I’m not just here to teach you English, I’m here to change your life” which he gets a kick out of.

50 Cent came to Chile a week and half ago, yea, that happened and it was AWESOME. 50, Lloyd Banks and Tony Yayo in Chile…who knew? I’ve got only one complaint; there was no opening band and we didn’t enter until 9:30 and missed a half hour of the show. They played a crowd of about 6,000 in a half-full arena movistar. He played all his hits: “In the Club”, “Candy Shop”, “PIMP” and so on. Lauren will swear that they never played “Candy Shop”, but they did, get over it. I like how they didn’t even try to speak any phrases in Spanish during the concert. They just yelled in English, no “Hola”, no “Gracias” nothing in Spanish, I was expecting at least a little effort. I was quite impressed with the crowd, though, their level of English was far higher than your average Chilean. Not many people speak English in this country but I spoke to many people in English at the concert and when he said “take your lighters out” everyone did, suprising.

So the 50 concert marks the second time I’ve been threatened with a knife in a foreign country, cheers!

The first time was in Spain, but that doesn’t really count since I didn’t actually see the knife, I just took off running from the angry mob that had already beaten the crap out of me when one of my buddies yelled “KNIFE, RUN!”

Being the classy folks that we are, the four of us (Andres, Lauren, Alexis and I) were sharing a box of wine outside of the arena before going into the concert. We were talking amongst ourselves when we a drunk, drugged up old man of about 65 comes stumbling up to us. At first he was friendly enough, he told us to be careful about the wine because there are a lot of police around and they could arrest us for drinking in public. We thanked him for his advice, but then he didn’t leave. He said that he had stickers and was selling them for 100 pesos. We told him no thank you in a friendly tone and then he became persistent. “Stickers, solomente cien pesos!” (same word in English and Spanish except they say “steeekers”). Alexis, a native Chilean said “no we don’t want any stickers” in a hard tone and this drugged out old man’s eyes turned wild. He swaggered back and forth and then said “Do you know that I’m from La Legua?” The Legua’s a real nasty part of town with a lot murders. He then pulled out 4-inch butterfly knife from his shirt pocket and stuck the blade right in front of our faces. He was standing between Lauren and I stuck the knife in both of our faces. Being as it was dark, Lauren didn’t realize what it was until after he put the knife back in his pocket and said “OK, now you know” as he staggered into the darkness. To tell you the truth, none of us were really scared for some reason, it happened really quickly and the man didn’t seem dangerous. He was wasted and decrepit; I like my chances against him even with a knife.

My roommates Cristian and Claudio are both gone right now which is why I have some free quiet hours to sit and write, which is very nice. They’re good guys, but sometimes it’s refreshing to have the apartment to myself and just relax for an afternoon. Cristian’s travelling for business in the South of Chile and will be gone for two weeks. Claudio’s working on a project in Lima and will probably be gone for about a month.

So that’s about it for now, the state of Dan in Chile. Not quite as creative as the oKtober report presented by your friend and mine, Tom Kerrigan. I will try and write more soon, I know a lot of people were asking for an update. Hope all is well, emails, calls always welcome. Hasta la proxima.

viernes, 18 de julio de 2008

Momma, I’m comin’ home

I can not tell you how excited I am to be coming home. I am not even close to being ready to leaving South America for good, but it is going to be so much fun to go home for this week and a half respite. My plane leaves Santiago on August 13 and stops over in Lima, Peru for about four hours. My plan is to meet my boy Cesar in Lima when the plane arrives and go explore the city and eat Peruvian food for a few hours which is divine (I’ve got a Peruvian restaurant across the street from my apartment). After that, the next stop is Newark, NJ of all places where my plane should get in around 7:50 a.m. and then it’s a greyhound bus to Providence or Boston, whichever is easiest. I was going to take the Fung Wah, but have since been advised against it.
Like everything else so far in my adventure in Chile, my trip home was exceedingly unexpected. My mom wrote me an email telling me that they were all excited for the party (rock show) and I wrote back that I hope everyone has as much fun as I had last year. The next day I get an email saying that if I want to come to Johnstock, they’ll pay my plane tickets there and back, certainly an offer too good to refuse! This trip home comes at a perfect time for me, it makes for a perfect segue for the next stage (chapter three) of this trip. Chapter two will come to a close at the end of next month, and I must say I’m more than a little sad to see it go. My best friends here in Chile are, without a doubt, people who aren’t from Chile. Most every weekend I spend with Cesar (Peru), Lara and Valeria (Brazil), Viviana (Colombia), Enrique (Spain) and Carlos (Mexico), and we’ve been having a blast together, mainly having barbecues on the roofs of our apartments, going out to bars and clubs at night and occasionally playing soccer.
Last Saturday, a group of us went over to Lara and Valeria’s apartment to polish off the ribs I cooked for the weekend before (4 kilos of the 10 I bought remained), we went over around 2 in the afternoon and then went out to a club around 10:30, aside from having fun and dancing Foho (traditionally brazilian dance) and Cumbia (Peruvian dance) I was touched by what they told me. (Side note: they all danced, I tried and then took pictures). Lara told me that I was their angel here in Chile. For some reasons, Lara and Vale never integrated well with the Chileans, they’re both really friendly, super-funny people but for some reason or another (mostly I think they don’t like the people from Chile) the only friends they made were Cesar, Viviana and me. Viviana had some problems with her Chilean boyfriend and fell off the face off the earth for a couple of months and Cesar kept in contact with them occasionally, but I would call them to hang out (go out, watch a movie) at least weekly and they told me that I was best thing about Chile. Talk about a compliment, I’m still touched. Lara told me that she and Vale would cry almost every day, but once I started calling them and inviting them out that they actually started having fun here and stopped wishing to be back in Brazil. Later on that night (this weekend was just a cute little love fest) I was feeling very nostalgic as the time in Chile for all of these intercambistas from all over the world draws nigh (they all leave at the end of the month or sooner) I told Cesar that I really don’t want them all to go yet. He told me something that I funny and again touching: “Dan, nunca habria pensado que mi mejor amigo en Chile seria un maldito gringo” and with that we laughed. (Dan I never would have thought my best friend in Chile would be a damn gringo). I went out the Thursday night before, too, with my roommates Cristian and Claudio. I’m equally as good of friends with them as with the intercambios, but in all seriousness, they are some of the only Chileans I hang out with consistently. So we went out Thursday, I had no desire to go out as I had to teach on Friday, but Cristian had just got back from a week and a half business trip and Claudio and I wanted to welcome him back so we all went out for “una sola cerveza” (just one beer), impossible. 4:30 a.m. rolls around again and we were all tired and still out and Cristian got sappy on me. “Se que estas pasando bien en Chile, pero estas pasando bien con nosotros?”. (I know you’re enjoying Chile, but are you enjoying living with us?) We all thought back on how I randomly ended up living in the same apartment as them and how like everything else with my stay in Chile, it was a thing of luck. He knew the answer to the question, but like a girl (or a man who’s been away for a week and a half in a hotel with no friends), he was looking for some reassurance and positive feedback.
Ok enough of the Cheese, but this past weekend I was able to reflect on how much of an amazing experience this has been so far. I played with the questions, “Why am I here? WhyChile? Where will my life go from here?” and like outer space, religion, friendships and just about anything else interesting to talk about and wrap your mind around, there is no definite why. I mean, there is, but if you ever got to the bottom of it your head would cave in. Though there is no definite answer to these types of questions I love thinking and talking about it (I call these philosophical conversations “spinning my wheels” because things are definitely moving in my head, though I never end up in a final destination, though it’s still fun to think about). With no conclusions to why? How? And what next?, I am only able to deduce that this has all been such a success. More than just learning a mountain of Spanish, I have made friends from around the world. I feel like I have been a gracious ambassador for the United States. The US to most of these people is some far off fantasy land where there are three guns in every house, Jocks beat up Nerds, no one knows how to play soccer and everyone’s afraid of the outside world. There are some startling misconceptions about the US down here and I’m happy to know that at least a few more people down here know the truth about my country. It doesn’t matter where you are from, or what language you speak naturally, people are people no matter where you go. There are some South Americans I get along with, and some I don’t, just like North Americans. The people I get along with like to laugh, go out, have fun and talk about language, religion, life, girls, future plans and a whole other range of topics. I’ve been able to connect in Spanish to a lot of people here better than I’ve ever been able to connect to some of my friends back home.
Professionally, personally, financially, intellectually Chile has been nothing if not a success and like Che Guevera once said “I don’t know how just yet, but my Journey through this continent has changed me. I am not the same I that I was when I left”.

You all probably remember that girl Connie I’ve mentioned before, the one who called me when her uncle died. Turns out things got super-complicated with her; uncomfortably so. I’m guilty of being completely oblivious to knowing when a girl likes me, but in this case it was over the top apparent. I would hang out with this girl as a friend, mostly because I she was nice, and fun and I sometimes I liked to go out and speak English when I was tired of speaking in Spanish. We’d gone out dancing a few times, and I had thought we were just friends, but the last time when she went for the kiss, I knew she wanted more. I played it off, laughed, and we hung out for the rest of the night. I wanted to keep in contact with her because her family is still in China and she’s essentially got no one here in Chile since her uncle passed away. Out of respect for her uncle I’ve been continuing to go out with her and check up on her to see that she’s doing alright. A few weeks ago we went out for a couple of margarita’s at TGIFridays (sometimes Americana is so refreshing) and we got to talking. I’d expressed my interest in traveling to a few places in Chile and Argentina and she’d immediately jump in with “Oh I need to rearrange my schedule so I can go, too!” and “We’ll have so much fun there!” Sweetheart, I never said, “we” it was an “I” that wants to go. (I’m going to hell, I just know it). So the evening at Fridays drew to a close and I had plans to go out for Viviana’s birthday with Cesar and the Brazilians and I had fun, but didn’t want to continue the night with Connie. We walked to the metro and I told her, “OK, I’m going to meet up with my friends.”
“Where are WE going?” she asked.
I pretended not to hear and said “OK I’M heading towards San Pablo, you need to catch the metro going to other way towards Escuela Militar”.
“You mean, I can’t come?” She said with her bottom lip quivering.
“I mean you can if you want, I guess.”
“Gracias por invitarme!” (thanks for inviting me) and with that she ran off to the other side of the metro in tears, great.
I knew she was upset when she dropped Spanish on me. I ended up calling her the next day and explained that I just want to be friends with her and she said that she never wanted anything more than that from me either. Though I know that wasn’t true, I accepted it at face value and we’ve agreed to go out as friends. I invited her out to a BBQ last week and we hung out, no problem, which I’m happy about since she’s a real sweet girl.

Flaite (noun, Chilean origin): a shady looking character who most probably is on drugs looking to rob or inflict violence on passersby.

To celebrate the fourth I decided to cook up some more baby back ribs and have a BBQ. I think I’ve made half of my friends because of my ribs; these kids down here are crazy for them. The BBQ was held on the roof of Enrique’s apartment which is about ten minutes walking distance from my apartment. He lives on the north end of the metro stop Santa Ana and I live at the south end. The night was a smashing success, though relatively low key. It was a very mellow night, the only one who was drunk was Carlos from Mexico, I know there’s a joke in there somewhere, though there are some things better left unsaid. I felt it more than a little ironic to celebrate the 4th of July with people from Chile, Spain, Peru, Mexico, Canada and England, but we celebrated nonetheless. Earlier in the night I sang the “Star-Spangled Banner” from the balcony of my apartment, alone, getting strange looks from those walking by. It needed to happen.
Amazingly, two girls from Chicago ended up coming to the BBQ; they are in the same volunteer program as the British girl we had met the week before. It was the first time I had hung out with Americans since my arrival and I thought it was going to be more fun than it was. These girls were real duds. They asked me where I was from and I told them about a half hour south of Boston. They looked at me incredulously saying that I don’t speak like an American, one said she thought I was from Puerto Rico, whaaaaat, I guess I’ll take that as a compliment since I look about as gringo as a football. Unwittingly I’ve been putting a Spanish accent on a lot of my words in English, plus due to being an English teacher I’ve been stressing good pronunciations of my words making my English sound unnatural, and just straight weird. In trying to get my students to understand what I’m saying I have to slow down and enunciate “T’s” among other letters. I know this good English will be corrected once I get back home where everyone speaks like “theaa boohdahline rataahtid” hahah I miss home so bad right now!
So the night passed without incident, we all ate ribs and had a very relaxing evening. My roommate Claudio took off with his girlfriend in a taxi around 2:00 a.m. and I stuck around until about 3:30 helping Enrique clean up the meal. I thought it was dumb to take a taxi since we live about ten minutes from Enrique so around 3:30 I left with Cesar, Connie and Cesar’s new Canadian roommate Jean Pierre. The streets were deserted at this hour in the night, and we didn’t see anyone until we were about two blocks from my apartment. We walked by this guy who looked out of his mind high on something, and we all passed and he didn’t say anything to us. About ten seconds later he yelled “Oye, Peruanito!” (Hey little Peruvian) and a jagged rock about five lbs in size (no joke) flew over our heads by about a foot. Startled we stopped and a liter bottle of beer came crashing down at our feet. We all booked it to my apartment not looking back. I don’t know if that waste-case was with anyone else, but I didn’t care to find out, and fortunately no one followed us to my apartment. That was the first time that someone had attempted to assault me here and I hope it’s the last. We were all shaken up by the incident imagining if that rock had connected with any one of our heads. This guy was obviously out of his skull on drugs and definitely racist. (Recurring moral: take a taxi when you got out, come on man!!!)
A giant problem with the lower-class Chileans is that they are intensely racist, in a manner that I find exceedingly cowardly. They are only racist against Peruvians and Bolivians (probably against blacks, too, though I’ve only seen eight since I’ve been here). Though they resent Argentineans, they aren’t racist against them. I’m going to play Sigmund Freud / Frantz Fanon and Psychoanalyze the Chilean mentality. Chile, a country very small, isolated from the rest of the world by the Pacific Ocean and the Andes mountains, has an extreme inferiority complex. Historically a very poor nation, Chile has only recently become the country with the best economy in South America. Always playing at best third fiddle to Argentina and Brazil, the typical Chilean mentality (especially among the lower class) is one of a resentful middle-sibling. Though traditionally inferior to Argentina and Brazil economically and almost equally as important, athletically, Chileans have long found an outlet for their aggression on Peruvians and Bolivians. These are two bordering nations who have always been in a worse state than Chile, making them easy targets to pick on. With the economies of Peru and Bolivia being terrible (Peru is making a steady upward climb recently, Bolivia seems to be hopeless), droves of people from these countries have come to Chile in search of a better life. Chile in some cases is like the United States with a good economy and unwanted neighbors coming in to work as farmers and nannies. Akin to the Mexicans who come to the US, the vast majority of Bolivians and Peruvians are uneducated and poor, desperate for a better life. Like in Mexico, the cream of the population stays in these countries and prospers. Though Chileans dislike Argentineans for being snobs and thinking they are better than those from Chile (which is the general opinion, though many have never left Chile to find out first hand. I have heard from many well traveled Chileans that Argentineans are actually quite a nice people.)
Resenting Argentineans and Brazilians, (more so Argentineans) Chileans take out their aggression stemming from a feeling of inferiority, on the Peruvians and Bolivians who come to Chile to work. These peoples are a target for abuse since many come illegally and have been known to take the jobs of Chileans because they will work for less money. My friend Cesar from Peru will no doubt be ten times more successful than that “Flaite” who threw the rock at him, but he is Peruvian and a target here. Cesar speaks three languages, plays classical guitar, dances all kind of traditional dances, writes poetry and will soon have a University degree, meaning he will no doubt succeed down here. It’s a shame that senseless violence is the outlet of choice for many poor Chileans with an inferiority complex.
Note: I have not researched this; these are only the opinions of an outsider looking in.

lunes, 2 de junio de 2008

Adios to a good friend

I put on my shirt, tie, and my 1970’s blue Tony Montana suit and headed out the door. I was on my way to my 4th class of the day, my 4:00 in Pudahuel when I got a call from Anita, a woman who I teach on Wednesdays and Fridays.
“?Anita, Como estas?”
“Muy mal, Daniel. Muy, muy mal”
“?que paso, Anita?
“Cesar…el acaba de fallecer…murió, Daniel…murió”

This woman I teach works at Molymet in Santiago centro and she told me that Cesar (the loan shark) had a heart attack and passed away and was lying on the floor in the middle of the office. I work with this man three days a week, and on Fridays he works in el centro. I suddenly got sick to my stomach…it’s a very strange feeling to be dressed in a man’s suit at the time of his death. Two weeks ago I was over Cesar’s house for his wife’s birthday party and I wasn’t wearing a coat. He gave me an old suit-coat to wear and the pants to match. It’s a blue suit that looks like something out of “Miami Vice,” but I hadn’t brought a suit down to Chile and was grateful.
“Here, take these homeboy, they don’t fit me anymore…we can’t have you dying of cold here in Santiago.”

I really haven’t been fair in my portrayal of Cesar in this blog. I refer to him as the “loan shark”, which I confirmed he was, but that paints him in a very negative light. He may not have been the most morally upright or law-abiding citizen in some situations, but he was very good to me. He took me in to his home and made me feel like I was part of his family. His wife (girlfriend of 6 years), her daughter, and Cesar have all been so nice to me. In my three months here, I’d been over to his house about 10 times to watch soccer, to have lunch or to have dinner. I was invited to Pillar’s (his girlfriend) birthday party and got to meet all of her family, too. They were always sending me off with doggy-bags of the meal we had just eaten and dessert, making sure that I was eating well.

“Homeboy, call your moms, you know I’ve got that international plan…let your moms know how you’re doing.”

Every time I’d go over there he was making sure that I had spoken to my family recently and he was always having me call home from his house. He was my “padrino”, my godfather, here in Chile.

I mentioned Connie before in this blog, too…the Medical School student who had been living in China last year. She is Cesar’s niece. I got the phone call from Anita and she wanted me to call the family of Cesar to let them know what happened. That was not something I was excited to do, nor did I feel my place to do, but she asked me to do it so I called. I got in touch with Connie and told her that I had some very bad news. She told me not to worry; the paramedics had called Pillar and told her that Cesar had passed out. With this I was confused, but decidedly relieved.

“Anita overreacted,” I thought to myself, “he just passed out.” I continued on my route to work and was about to transfer buses when I got a call from Elba, the boss of Manhattan Institute.
“Daniel, did you hear?”
“I’ve heard that Cesar’s dead and I’ve heard that he just passed out. I don’t know what’s going on.”
“Yes, that’s correct, he passed out and he’s dead. He had a heart attack.”

With that I turned right around and headed back to the apartment. I’m really not in the mood to teach today with this news looming. Connie called me about five minutes ago, crying, telling me that he’s dead and that she’s there in Molymet and they haven’t moved his body anywhere yet. I had nothing to say other than “I’m so sorry” over and over. I want to go visit them all tonight after the dust settles. I feel like I’d be more distracting than comforting at this point in time. Cesar was only 46 and looked healthy. He had a gut, but I wouldn’t call him fat. A steady diet of cigarettes, coffee and pork and cheese sandwiches did him in.

He was having chest-pain yesterday and had to leave work early to go to the hospital to go through some tests. I thought he might have some heart problems, but figured the doctors would take care of him and that he caught the problem before it was too late.

I ask you all to keep Cesar and his family in your thoughts and prayers as they go through this difficult time. He was my padrino here and there are a lot of us who are going to miss him.

martes, 27 de mayo de 2008

Chapter Two

(Some picutres from our apartment innauguration and a night on the town)

To those who are interested in what I'm doing…
A thousand apologies for the delay in getting these new entries up on the internet. In the new apartment we are no longer able to rob wireless internet from the neighbors and my work now blocks my blog site so it’s difficult getting this out to the internet.

Like I may have mentioned, life’s less of an adventure, but it’s still a great deal of fun.

It’s Saturday…I taught two classes this afternoon to my kids which I’m really enjoying. After few classes they’ve really relaxed with me and have started to open up. A few of them are really eager and really cute. Before class they were asking me what kind of music I like listening to and about what sports I play. I let them pass around my ipod during a break from the lesson on “split infinitives” (real riveting stuff) and they were loving it. “ayy leeessten to tha same music!”

During these past few weeks I’ve become much better friends with my roommates, too. Before, we’d exchange some pleasantries and Cristian and I would laugh at Claudio and call him a “momma’s boy” for no good reason other than the fact that Cristian loves the phrase “Claudio…momma’s boy! Yes!” I’m going to chalk it up to the fact that my Spanish is much better than when I arrived and we are all comfortable and used to each other. Before, they would always go off to Valparaiso for the weekends, which is about an hour and a half away on the coast. They’ve stuck around for the past few weekends and we’ve been going out to some bars together and they’ve become friendly with my international friends too.

Last weekend we inaugurated the new apartment for real for real this time. I had thought that we were all going to invite our friends to the event but when everything was settled I had 9 guests coming and they had one between the two. The majority were “intercambios” from the Diego Portales University who I’ve met through Cesar. We had a great world-wide showing with representatives from Mexico, Peru, Brazil, Spain, Chile and yours truly the loan gringo. The event a huge hit with the last of the guests leaving at 8:00 a.m. If that’s not the mark of a successful party, I don’t know what is. Similar to the last time we entertained, Cesar played the guitar for a couple of hours with Spanish, Portuguese and English songs with everyone getting into it and singing along…the boy truly is impressive. With 13 people, our apartment was at full capacity with all the chairs occupied and people lounged out on the floor. We, however, did no endear ourselves with our new neighbors that night. By the end of it we had had three complaints from the concierge asking us to “!apaga las musica, por favor!” We did turn it down, but inevitably after about 30 minutes somehow the volume always seemed to be where it had been originally. Five or six days a week I’m a responsible “profesor” and the other one or two I’m right back where I was last year in apartment 300…some things never change…and why should they?

There’s been so many hang-ups getting my visa squared away and processed. Just when I think I have everything handed in with documents stamped by a notary I find out that I need a copy of a different part of my passport and a “tarjeta de turismo” which I need to get from a special office. I showed up to this office to get this document on Friday at 2:45, but the office shuts down at 2:00 and is only open M-F. Therefore I’m going to have to go to get this sometimes next week (Wednesday due to the work schedule). It’s looking like I’m going to have to make the border run to Argentina to renew my visa since my 3 months runs out June 7 and it’s doubtful that my visa will be processed by then.

Tonight I’m off to the 45th birthday of Ricardo, one of the owners of the Manhattan Institute where I work. Apparently they’re turning the institute into a disco with a DJ, a bar, and strobe lights. They’re clearing the classrooms of the tables opening it up for dancing…this I have to see. Out of the 13 professors working for the institute I am one of two who got an invite to the party. Cesar (the loan shark) and I got the invites. There are teachers who have been working there for years and somehow I get the nod after two months, I don’t understand it, but I’ll take it. I was warned that I will be the youngest person at the party (along with their 17 year old daughter) so I’ve invited my brazilian friends to come along with me tonight. They’ve finally found some playing cards (we’ve been looking for over a week now) so I’m looking forward to playing some Kings tonight. It’s not going to really work the same in Spanish, though haha. “five for guys” is “cinco por…?” we’ll figure it out, though.

I’ve been hanging out with the niece of the loan shark for the past two weeks and she’s been an absolute godsend for my Spanish. Her father is the Chilean military attaché to China so she was over there for the past 14 months and just came back to Chile in March, when I got here to go back to med-school. Her English is excellent and she speaks Spanish instead of Chilean (the exception being an occasional “huevon” or “cachay”). Sometimes when I’m in the middle of trying to make a point and I make some mistake like “estaba reindo” instead of “SE estaba reindo” she cuts me off mid sentence and corrects me right then and there. It’s more than a little annoying, but very necessary. Most people tell me I speak really good Spanish but she’s a tough critic which is what I need. I want honesty so I can improve. I didn’t realize how many mistakes I make in everyday conversation but every few sentences she let’s me know where I’m screwing up.

At this point in the trip I am missing home sometimes. Usually on Sundays after the fun’s over and I have to prepare for lessons and do laundry I get to thinking about people back home, wondering what I am missing out on. With that said, I have no desire to come home any time soon. There’s more adventuring to do when the weather gets nicer and I have some more money in my pocket and I have so much more Spanish to learn before I’ll be ready to come home. I made an exchange with my corpulent student, “Big Boy”, Fernando Espereguez. We got to talking about books and he had just finished “En el Camino” which is the Spanish translation of “On the Road” which I had recently finished. We made a trade; I gave him the English version and he gave me the Spanish. I’ve started reading this book which is full of all kinds of obscure Spanish vocabulary which is helping me by leaps and bounds. “Big Boy” told me that he’s going to start charging for teaching him classes. In Spanish he said “one pays to go to the cinema to laugh, so since you laugh all class you’re going to have to pay me.” The man’s like the jolly brown giant with a real friendly manner, goofy laugh and relaxed stride, I can’t help but have a good time with the him. I really do enjoy my job thoroughly. I’m not ready, at all, to come home, but if I had to, this will have already been one of the greatest experiences of my life. Chapter one of the trip is over, we’re on to chapter two.