martes, mayo 30, 2006

Buying books.

I don’t want to pack. Packing means I’m leaving.

I want to write about bookstores in Santiago. Not your big ones but small places like the ones on Calle San Diego.

For those of you who don’t live here, a little background. Many stores in Santiago – pharmacies, stationary suppliers, candy shops – are set up to maximize human interaction. They put everything behind a counter, and if you want something you’ve got to ask for it. This was a huge shock to me after Singapore, where small talk in stores was kept to a minimum. I think they have stores like this here because it conserves space and prevents shoplifting (correct me if I’m wrong). If you have everything behind a counter, you don’t need a very big place. Best of all, if people can’t touch the merchandise unless dead-smack in front of you, no one can steal.

But, man oh man, Santiago. Please don’t do this with books! Books are for browsing. I don’t know enough about what I’d like to read. I can’t ask you for titles or authors!. I want to read back covers. I want to read summaries. I want to check out the odd paragraph towards the middle. Why can’t I do that without bugging you to grab someting off the shelf? Do you enjoy helping the clueless gringa? I doubt it.

Also, Chile, can we make a deal? I think you have too many nice people. It's not fair. I'd like to make you an offer. Can the US have your grannies? We will give you our teenagers! Aw, dude, Chilean grannies are so cool. Loud, nosey, old women who fuss over you for this and that. I want one so bad.

lunes, mayo 29, 2006

Some cueca will keep me warm.

I just warmed my hands using the bulb in a small lamp near my bed. It’s a tiny little thing, so I can only warm a few fingers at a time. I am miserably cold. Santiago apartments/houses have no insulation. When it gets really cold, people use little gas stoves - estufas. You can’t leave the little stoves on at night because carbon monoxide from the gas will kill you in your sleep. When the weather first started getting colder, a friend told me that since winters here are not as harsh as they might be in places like the US, people are not especially concerned about heating their homes. They just wear more clothes. I walk around the house wearing my winter jacket and a scarf! If that doesn’t work, I down a cup of boiling hot tea. When the tea fails, I resort to alcohol. Thankfully, I'll be able to laugh at all of this very soon. On Saturday I enter a hemisphere well on it’s way to summer. Goodbye numb limbs, hello mosquito bites!

In memory of warmer days, I bring you some photos. At least once every weekend I take a walk from my house to a crafts fair at a place called Los Dominicos. It is a very cute outdoor setup where they sell Chilean jewelry/art/crafts. It’s mostly the good stuff, so you can’t expect much in the way of cheap souveniers. Each vendor is housed in a little adobe (made of special mud) hut.

Overall, a pleasant place to walk around.

One time I went there with my camera and saw this. A guy was dressed up in old-skool costume to dance the cueca with anyone who wanted to learn.

The cueca is Chile’s national dance. It’s done with both male and female waving white handkerchiefs. With their movements, they try to imitate the courting ritual between roosters and hens. I can't distinguish any particular way to move during this dance. It all seems very spontaneous. Either that, or it's just so very complicated that my untrained eye can't spot specific moves. Poor man had been out in the sun for hours trying to get a woman to dance with him. Then out of the blue come these two little girls. At this point I am thinking - oh boy! How is this going to work? I soon took all skepticism back as these girls proceeded to rock the house. Honestly, both looked like trained professionals. Wow, were they good!

What did I learn from this experience? No matter how young, all Latins can shake it. It's in their blood. Lucky them. Aww:

domingo, mayo 28, 2006

Started watching TV again.

I saw half an episode of Desperate Housewives for the first time in who knows how long. I’m not sure it’s possible to create characters I care for any less than I do these guys. The show I saw was attempting edge of your seat, bite your nails, holy crap the red-head is going to die drama. But since I can’t be bothered to learn their names right, much less follow the plot, good luck, red-head. I don't know what happened to you because I changed the channel.

I also caught the movie, Spanglish. Now I know what you’re thinking. Why on earth would anyone watch that? I was curious. It is about a single mother from Mexico and her daughter. The movie was narrated by the daughter in the form of a college application essay. She talks about how her mother struggled to make her aware of who she was and where she came from after their move from Mexico to the US. Heartwarming, no?

Not especially.

The main reason I wanted to see the movie was to see how they used language. The title got my attention. Spanglish happens when you mix English and Spanish together. For example: Creo que yo left-o my cell telefono en el restaurante. = I think I left my cell phone in the restaurant. Traditionally, it’s what people who speak just a little bit of either language use to communicate in the language that isn’t theirs. How was it used in the movie? It wasn’t used at all! The Mexican mother finds work as a maid with some rich, white family in California. They are all like, “This is America, woman. We speak English, and you’ve got to learn how to talk like us!” No one in the family speaks a word of Spanish. Not one of them is interested in learning. Well, I do have to hand it to the movie for being culturally accurate. The best part was when the Mexican mom/maid buys a bunch of tapes advertised to help you learn English as fast as humanly possible. Within a few weeks, she is fluent. For someone interested in language acquisition, this is maddening. What an annoying film. The title made no sense and it was all about nothing!

On a brighter note, I was happy to find an episode of Will and Grace the other day. It was the one where Will and Grace decide to have a baby together. They want to artificially inseminate. Thing is, Will’s sperm gets switched with a bag that has Jack’s lunch which in turn gets mixed up with a whole host of things. In the end, Grace’s doctor has to tell her that corn chowder will not get her pregnant and Karen’s maid winds up using Will’s sperm as floor-cleaner. What a great show about nothing!

I also saw some Chilean soap called Descarado. Pretty girls run around wearing short skirts and big earrings. Men stare at them. I didn't need to sit on my couch to see that! I could have just walked outside!

I hate TV.

lunes, mayo 22, 2006


This past December I started work at one of the most notorious language institutes in Santiago. I’d heard of its reputation as the fast food version of English Language Teaching, but I was desperate for a job that would offer me a work visa. Well, no, that’s not entirely true. I could have just left the country every 3 months. But I’d just upheaved my life from Singapore to the US and then from the US to Chile. I hardly had the energy to take a bus ride into Argentina when my tourist visa ran out. I came to Chile in the summer – not a good time to look for English teaching jobs. Everyone is on vacation, nobody takes classes. No institute wants to commit to sponsoring a foreigner during the summer months. I was lucky to get an offer.

To put it lightly, I didn’t have high hopes for the place. But, at the end of the day, boy was I impressed! Oh, don’t get me wrong. We were proverbially deep-frying the past perfect and present continuous 4 classes a night, 5 days a week. Whoever told me about the fast food English teaching was spot-on.

I digress.

The reason I was so taken aback was the people I met - teachers and students, but teachers especially. I said it to some of you before and I’ll say it again. I have never been surrounded by such a large concentration of sweet, creative, intelligent, entertaining people in a work environment. Never in my entire life! At first I thought it’d be such a drag teaching the night shift 5 days a week. You guys made me look forward to going to work every day!

Good luck, take care, and please keep in touch.


Ziggy, dearest,

I know this house is crazy cold. If I saw a splash of sunlight, I’d sit on it too. But you can’t honestly tell me you thought this was a good idea.

The bottom of the steps? Have you the brainworms? Doggy, you’re lucky I watch where I’m walking! Please don’t do it again.

-girl who says your name for no other reason than to see you wag your tail

domingo, mayo 14, 2006

Happy Mother's Day!

I don't often tell her this, but I think my mom is very cool. She grew up on the Slovak side of former Czechoslovakia, in a crazy little gypsy-infested city called Kosice. She speaks several languages fluently - Slovak, Czech, Hungarian, English, and, I think, a bit of Russian. When she was little Kruschev visited her school and she was chosen to give him flowers.

She's lived in the US since 1968. When the Russians invaded Czechoslovakia, my grandfather sent her packing to America. She still has a hint of an accent when she speaks English. My brother and I regularly speak to each other in a very exaggerated version of this accent. We really like the way it sounds. We also like how she invents her own words and phrases. For example, she can never remember anyone's name so she says "this one" or "that one" when referring to random person. My brother and I constantly use the Transylvanianized "dis vun" and "dat vun" in conversation. If we say "da dis vuns," that means my parents. "Da dees vun" means my mother specifically. Yeah, we're nuts. She made us that way.

Here she is with me at the top of San Cristobal Hill in Santiago. She likes peanuts. That's what she's trying to feed me.

Well that's my mom - the woman who taught me that DKNY was the sporty line of Donna Karan before she taught me the alphabet. Happy Mother's Day, Ma! See you soon.

domingo, mayo 07, 2006

Precious things.

My salary in Chile is low. It is so low I can’t write it on here because if I did my parents would probably wire money. I have never lived like this before – having to weigh the urgency of every little purchase.

Everything is an investment - even the package of gummy candies I bought on my way home today. They cost slightly over 50 cents US. The bag sits on my desk, in front of me. My first thought is - did I really need that? They were almost the price of a bus ticket! My second though – wow what pretty packaging! I’m fascinated with the package design - the way they drew the fruit, the fonts, the colors. Well, you know, to be honest, the design isn’t anything spectacular. But hey, the fact that this package of candy is now something I own – THAT is spectacular! With my limited purchasing power, everything I buy takes on larger-than-life qualities. The most insignificant of items becomes a precious thing.

You don’t even want to know what I think of $2US bottles of wine. Like gold bars on my shelf, I tells ya!

I’m not sure if I ever mentioned this to anyone, but at the supermarkets here they will ask if you want to pay for your purchase in installments. That’s right! If you can’t pay for your milk and cereal this month, you can pay a little now and a bit more next month! Everywhere I've ever lived before this, people have been lucky enough that they'd only have to consider paying for plasma TVs and furniture in installments – the big stuff. Here, they will ask you if you’d like to pay in installments when you make a purchase of as little as $10US. Well, that’s what you get in a country with US prices and 3rd world salaries. I wonder why salaries never caught up with the price of things here. People tell me stuff wasn’t always this expensive, but can’t explain why things have changed. There must be a reason.

This country makes me a better person.

I swear it’s true.

I sat in a coffee place for hours this afternoon editing teacher’s books. It was remarkably dull. When I noticed my butt was going numb, I knew it was time to pack up. I was nearly finished anyway. I really wasn’t in the best of moods. Before I stepped out, I decided to use the bathroom. I went to wash my hands. The faucet was damn near impossible to use. I had to push all my weight on it to get the thing going. Just then, I see a little girl walk out of one of the stalls and I think, there is no way she’s gonna be able to get that sink to work.

I should admit here that if this had been the US, I would have walked away before she could ask for my help. If this were Singapore, I would’ve chuckled to myself watching her shyly struggle knowing she'd probably never pluck up the courage to ask some foreigner to give her a hand. Yes, I’m that mean.

But not in Chile! This was no American/Singaporean brat! It was a cute little Chilean girl, probably around 8 years-old. Before she could even ask for my help I smile and say to her “¿Es dificil, no?” I reach over and push the tap. “Asi,” I say. I even got her a paper towel because they were placed in an inconveniently high spot for small children. I walked out of that bathroom feeling puzzled. I haven’t felt the urge to be this nice to people in my entire life. Not consistently, at least. And never to children! The atmosphere here – it changes me!

jueves, mayo 04, 2006

Pearls Before Swine on CNN.

This is such a cute, funny comic. Amazing that, of all places, is giving him so much recognition. What a long article!

lunes, mayo 01, 2006


This morning Fabiola knocked on my door to tell me her and Nick were off to the beach. Did I want to join? Hell. Yes.

Chile beaches are gorgeous. Small, rocky coasts scattered with brightly-colored painted boats and plants that belong to a cross between seaside/desert landscape. Having grown up in a place where the only brightly-colored things on the beaches were towels, swimsuits, and artificially-colored ice pops, I really appreciate this. What a pretty day. I collected a bunch of seaglass and we ate seafood at a place where the woman serving us was so sweet it made me sad at the fact I was leaving this country so soon. Nick and Fabiola also make me feel this way. They're such kind, creative, interesting people. Looking back at my social circles these past few years, people like that are one in a million.

The dogs came too. Boy did Tasha like swimming in the ocean. And Ziggy was so popular with all the little kids roaming about. I kept hearing "Que lindo el perro chiquitito!" Rough translation - "Dude, that little doggy is so cute!" She was loving the attention. What a dopey little doggy. She's adorable. I have to say, living with these two has completely changed the way I think about dogs. I rode in the backseat with them roaming about in the trunk, all 2 hours there and back. Not too long ago, I wouldn't have thought I could survive something like that without a panic attack. With these guys in the back of the car, I wasn't suffering from fear at all. But let me tell you, I was suffering from the stench. Big fat doggy fresh from the ocean smell? Yick!

I saw a baby seal. I took some pictures with Nick's camera and I will post them soon.

Quintay? That was the name of the beach.