Wednesday, August 31, 2011


Well, I finally reached my breaking point.  I had to get a haircut.  Originally, the plan was to get one right before I left Boston, so I'd be fresh for a while and my Spanish would be as strong as possible before having to tell some Chilean how I like my hair to look.  Unfortunately, I ran out of time in Boston, and already had a good 3+ weeks on my last haircut when I took the flight down here.  At first I told myself that it was possible that the "Adult Bieber" haircut could be a fad, depending on what neighborhood I moved into.  Then I told myself that I'd just look like an american emo kid, and maybe I'd be less likely to be harassed on the streets if I had longer hair.  But then I woke up one day without time to take a shower before class (thanks to my roommate, king of the 45 min showers at 8 AM), and had to just wet it down before I got there.  I checked myself in the bathroom after class, and I looked like I slept outside in the streets.  Whoops.

After wandering around my neighborhood for a good hour one day, I stumbled across a peluqueria - named "Peluqueria Dario's".  Armed with the spanish words for "sides, short, longer, top, and 'how much'", I took a deep breath and went into battle.  There were 2 chairs inside, one was currently in use by a barber/patron, and the second, MUCH older barber was sitting down, smoking a cigarette and reading a magazine.  In my best spanish, I asked him "cuanto vale por un corto de pelo?"  To which he responded by holding up 4 fingers.  I said fine.  4,000 roughly translates to about 8.50 USD, which seemed like a good deal to me.

I took my seat in the chair, and told him "short on the sides, and a little longer on top."  He then looked at me quizzically, and asked me a question in Spanish of which I understood about 1/3.  I responded by more or less repeating the same thing I said the first time.  He shrugged, and then reached for the clippers.  Probably not a good sign, but I didn't have much of a choice at this point.

I don't think I've mentioned it here before, but I would describe Santiago as what I imagine a major US city would have looked like in the 80s.  Nothing looks really "new", and people just sort of do what it appears that they've always done.  The Chileans are much farther from the technological singularity than the US appears to be.  That said, I think their barber shops are stuck in the 50s.  Honestly, I don't think the inside of this building has changed in 60 years, and that includes the clippers they used.  Half of the metal plates along the sides of them had worn through, and the guy ended up using about 4 different pairs to do the back of my head.  Also, there was no clippercide, no hot water to dunk the scissors in, or even a brush to get the last person's hair off of.  In a weird way, it's refreshing how nobody panics about germs or anything down here.  Of course, I'll feel this way until I get my first fungal infection.  Then this whole down can suck down a couple gringo lawsuits.

After a good 45 minutes in the chair (not kidding), I ended up walking out of there with a haircut that can best be described as "buzzed mushroom".  The sides were very neat and trim (he spent 35 of the 45 mins on those), and the top was barely blended in at all.  It wasn't noticeable the first day, as my hair was still laying flat from when it weighed more.  But the next day, after a shower, my hair returned to its natural state of fuzzy, and it's clear that the space between the "sides" and the "top" were not handled well.  I think now I understand why so many Chileans wear thick hair gel - it's to cover up the mistakes of their sub-par barbers.

It was also after this, that I made the first personal-alterations to my haircut since kindergarten, when I trimmed my own bangs before a riveting presentation to the class on poisonous snakes.  I am pleased to say that these alterations were more successful than the previous attempt.  However, "more successful" still leaves a lot of room for interpretation. I met my friend Jocelyn afterwards, and in my broken Spanish I asked her what she thought of my haircut.  She just shook her head and grimaced.  Whatever, my hair grows quickly. 

Ok, ok, fine.  One picture.  Who's hungry for some KFC?   

They should call it "Kentucky Frozen Cream".  Boom!

Monday, August 29, 2011

Isla Negra (Actual)

So as I alluded to yesterday, I went to the beach this past weekend!  Well, technically we never actually went to the beach, as it really wasn't beach weather all weekend, but it was still fun.  We stayed in a cabin in the hills of Isla Negra, a city on the Pacific Ocean about a 90 mins outside of Santiago.  To get there, we took the most colorful bus I've ever been on.  For your consideration:
The outside of it was something like a Jackson Pollack painting as well, it was wild.  The ride there was pretty gorgeous as well.  Here are a couple shots from out of the bus window.

I guess I had planned to take more pictures once we got to the beach, but as that never happened, I only got a couple of the house and surrounding area in the rain.  Here's what I've got:
 Little gift shops somewhere near Pablo Neruda's house.  We never actually made it to the house, just along the side street.  Next time.

 Carlito, the random dog who came by a couple times a day for discarded meat.
 The view out of the window of the house one day.  When it was clear, the Pacific Ocean was visible from here.
As we were leaving, the sky started to clear up.  Sadly, I couldn't get a better shot free of power lines.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Isla Negra

Before I get to my post about this weekend, I thought I'd share one other thing with you (courtesy of Nick Paul):

Which actually sounds ridiculously awesome.  Anybody interested?  We can make our own makeshift adventure out of it, so we don't have to deal with the kind of people who gave the testimonial on the website.  For your consideration, on the front page of the website the following quote is conspicuously placed right in the middle:

"Such an intense ski adventure. A true mix of fire and ice!!"
Greg Hawkins
Chile Volcanos Tour

First of all, I've only been teaching English for a couple weeks at this point, but I'm fairly confident that both of these "sentences" are lacking verbs.  Second, it's blatantly obvious that the people over at removed "bro" from this endorsement.  Also, 'A true mix of fire and ice!!', huh Greg?  Where exactly was the fire in this scenario?  Just because something like lava is "hot" doesn't mean it's on fire.  The only way there would actually be fire in this scenario is if the volcano actually erupted, and the clothes on your back were engulfed in lava.  Since you (apparently) lived to give this faux-poetic endorsement, I'm guessing it didn't happen.   

I also have to ask, Greg (or G-money, as your friends probably call you), what is with the 2 exclamation marks?  There's no emotion to amplify in this statement.  Did you feel that a single exclamation point wouldn't adequately represent the fact that this "true mix" actually happened? (It didn't, by the way.)  Or were you so supremely self-satisfied with your Hemingway-esque mastery of the metaphor that you needed to make sure we all appreciated your verbal gymnastics, too?  I realize there's no teacher to put a gold star next to your 2 incomplete sentences anymore, but please, Greg, tone down your self-satisfaction/need to be noticed.

Other than that, I have no real thoughts about this quote.

I think Isla Negra and its pictures are going to have to wait until tomorrow.  Listen everybody, this blog is about "observations and musings".  Sometimes we stray outside the core curriculum.  Or as Greg might say, "Sometimes we take the detour!!"

Thursday, August 25, 2011


I don't know how much any of you have been following this recently, but there have been some substantial city-wide protests going on the past 2 days in Santiago.  The majority of them have taken place close to where I work in Moneda, but fortunately I don't have classes there on Wednesdays.  Today, however...

Class ended up starting in Moneda at 1:00.  I took an out of the way subway to get there, so I wouldn't have to pass by the Plaza Moneda, the government building 3 blocks south of my work.

At work, I ended up teaching my class for the full 90 mins, and I ended up breaking down laughing in class at one point.  I realize the majority of you have never taken elementary-level English before, but some of the materials they use in class are RIPE for comedy.  For instance, today we were learning about asking questions, and the gerund forms of simple verbs (adding -ing) like "are you going to the mall?" or "are you doing your homework?".  In the book, there were partially-completed questions that each student had to complete with "are you doing", "are you working", "I am having", etc.  After they completed the exercise, we listened to an audio track with only the responses in the blanks used.  So, I listened to an audio tape that said the following:

Woman: "Are you going?"
Man: "I am going"
Woman: "I am going"
Man: "I am not going"
Woman: "We are going"
Man: "We are not going"

Of course, the students had no idea why I was laughing.  Probably because they are used to having mature teachers.

Afterwards, I had lunch in the cafeteria, on the screen was live-feed video of the protests going on in the streets, where people were knocking down traffic lights, throwing stuff at cars, etc.  I realized that this was probably near Moneda, and begrudgingly realized that I'd have to take the long way back home again today.

As I left the institute, I started walking north, away from Moneda.  After a couple blocks, I noticed a lot of trash in the streets.  Then, after one more block, I looked to the left.  It was EXACTLY the area I had just seen on the news.  Fortunately there was a police line between me and the rioters, but still, I could see very clearly all the activity that had been going on earlier on national television. 

Then a guy broke through the line.  He was still about 2 blocks away, but was heading in our direction.  There were plenty of other people around me, so I wasn't scared, but still, there was a guy sprinting full on in our direction.  And he had a cop behind him, in full riot gear, sprinting after him.  As he approached the other corner of the block next to us, 2 normal cops got in his way.  To try and avoid them, he punched through a plate-glass storefront window, and tried to climb through it.  the cops immediately restrained him, and dragged him back into a paddy-wagon a block or so away.  The store immediately closed.

It was pretty wild though, to be that close to a riot.  I guess next time I should pay a little closer attention to what streets the riots are actually taking place on.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Entering La Casa Verde


I don't have a lot of time for an entry today (first final exam for some of my students tonight!), so I thought I'd just give you a snippet of what it's like to enter my apartment on a day-to-day basis.  As you will see, the security around here is a little bit more extensive than even that in the states.  Even people walking around, both hands are on their bags at all times, and perpetual vigilance/vague distrust is the name of the game.

Anyway, starting off, here is my set of keys:
I know what you're thinking, and the answer is no.  I'm not working part-time as the warden at an all-gay Chilean prison, these are simply the number of keys I need to enter my apartment every day.

Here's the apartment.  I'm in the upper right corner of the building straight back in the picture.

First, the parking lot gate.  This is the green key:

Then we traverse the parking lot and arrive at the main door to my apartment complex, where I use the yellow key.  If I were to receive mail (hint, hint) it would be placed behind this door:

Then, we climb 4 flights to my apartment.  It looks like this:

At this point, you're probably thinking to yourself, "Well, we've already gone through 2 separate sets of locked doors, we can probably just get away with one lock on this door, right?"  Seriously?  Didn't I show you my key ring?  How could you possibly be thinking that right now?  Come on, man.  If you're not going to pay attention when you're reading my blog...  well, then please read every entry twice.

TWO MORE LOCKS.  Top (red):
And bottom (black):

And now I'm into my apartment!  Home sweet home, now I can finally rel...
Another lock????  Yes, this one is to my room.  So now, 5 locks later, I can blog to you jokers.  Seriously, if I ever lose my keys, I am unequivocally screwed.  I've been pretty paranoid about them ever since moving in.

These doves outside my window don't know how good they have it.

Monday, August 22, 2011


A quick aside - I'm not sure why, but since I've moved down here I've been having very vivid dreams.  In the states, I hardly ever dreamed, or remembered them if I did.  Maybe once every two months I would wake up remembering what had just happened.  But down here, it's been practically every night.  Last night I had 3 distinct ones, and thought they'd be worth sharing.

The first one was I found myself on a beach somewhere, but not a tropical beach.  More like a beach from the Boundary waters, or northern maine.  And I was there with 5 over-the-top gangster rappers and a camera crew.  We were filming the first video for their new record label, and thus everybody had to be in it.  In the dream, I was convinced that I wasn't actually supposed to be there, but one or two of the fellow rappers assured me that I indeed belonged.  Oh, and then they told me I had to provide two 16-bar versus for the video, for which I had not prepared.  We were also standing ankle-deep in the water, and we would all be in the background for whoever was dropping their verse at the time.

The second dream was I was merely an observer of a navy-SEALS training operation, where teams of two SEALS would attempt to raid this mansion on a hill in the middle of the night, find and secure the contraband inside (a single joint of marijuana), and get out alive.  There were 6 or so total teams, each of which I watched run through the training exercise.  However, I got an intimate understanding of each of the teams, and their dynamics.  Some went in and just immediately tried to kill the other players, some tried to sneak through, and one or two were just plain horrible at their jobs and died immediately.  Oh yes, despite being a "training" operation, it was all live-fire.  And one team smoked the marijuana.

The final dream from last night was that somebody convinced me to see the first "Twilight" movie with them, and I had begrudgingly agreed.  However, upon first entering the movie theater, I realized the entire movie was infinitely more badass than I had ever thought it could possibly be.  There was a man with a sword called "Twilight", because it literally repelled the darkness every time he swung it.  If he used it around sunset, every swing he took prolonged the light, and often in the path/direction he used the broadsword.  He then entered a vampire village somewhere around the outskirts of civilization, and brutally decimated the majority of vampires in the town with the sword.  It was just sunset as he had got there, and all the vampires had essentially just woken up and needed a few minutes to get their thoughts together.  They were like vampire-zombies at first, essentially.  They wouldn't be fully cognizant/functioning until later in the night, closer to midnight.  I left the theater excited for the sequel.

Needless to say, I woke up exhausted today.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Exercise, and washing my clothes

The weather was finally nice enough today to attempt some exercise.  There is a park next to my apartment, so I decided to run a couple laps around it.  My original goal was 3, but I think I misjudged the relative size of the park.  It took about 8-10 mins to do one lap, so after 2 my lungs were on fire, so I decided to finish it off with a couple pullups and sprints in one area of the park. It really isn't fair how quickly endurance goes out the window, but I suppose it's fair seeing as I've done nothing but walk, stand, and talk slowly for the past 20 days.  In the park, they have a bunch of ridiculous workout machines; most of them operate on a pivot, and they involve swinging your body back and forth like a pendulum. (I'll post pictures at some point)  Honestly, I don't think any of them work, because the only people who use these machines in the park are fat, and wearing their normal street clothes.  It's like they heard that "exercising" is this fad where everybody just sort of does actions that they don't normally do, and without and effort they'll all become Mr./Mrs. Atlas (oh hi, dated reference).

I went to the supermarket after work yesterday, but realized that I had forgotten a few things, so I ended up going back today.  In my basket, I had a bag of oranges, tomato sauce, dishwashing detergent, a stick of salami, and a 6-pack of beer.  Between this and the confused look on my face when anybody talked to me, I'm sure that everybody at that grocery store wondered how I've made it this far from home without my drool bib and adult diapers.

I'm also currently washing my clothes for the first time since arriving.  I had to use my spanish-english dictionary to understand most of the functions on the machine, which I'm sure would have been a funny site.  I know I'd crack up if I saw somebody reading a dictionary while standing over a washing machine.  Fortunately I won't have to use my translating skills for the dryer, because the dryer around here is the good old clothesline and aire libre.  Also, I've started the inevitable countdown for when a piece of my clothing falls off the line and I have to knock on the downstairs neighbors door, and clunkily explain that I need to see their patio.

Ok, back to learning Spanish.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Address, and my first redaction

Hola hola,

To start, a public service announcement.  There are only 23 shopping days left before my birthday (Sept 12), and contrary to what some may have heard, I am accepting birthday gifts this year.  In case you feel so inclined, my address is:
Erik Greene
Jofre 0180, Depto. 43
Citofono 243, Providencia
Santiago, Chile

(The 0 before 180 is important, and there are accents over the e in Jofre and the first o in citofono.)

Alright, now with that little bit of business out of the way, we can get on to the meat of the entry.


What's up?

Oh, also before I forget, the nickname I was given was "wena Erik", not "weon Erik".  weon is more or less a fool, and I believe "wena" is more or less lucky.  They called me that because I attracted a bit more than my share of attention from the females at this party we went to.  Which works out well for me, because aside from the obvious reasons, it means the guys will want to hang out with me more often to meet girls.  Thus, I get more opportunity to practice Spanish.  And sadly, I need as much practice as I can get.  This shit is not easy. 

One of the fellow professors I met down here said that coming to chile to learn Spanish is like moving to New York City to learn English.  A little more difficult, and people will forever know where I learned to speak.  It reminded me of meeting this girl who works in HR for the Instituto.  One day while I was waiting for one of the directors to come back from lunch in her office, and while I was waiting I started hitting on her.  At first she was very measured and exact in her English responses, but once she started talking a little more freely, it became blatantly obvious that she learned English in Scotland.  "got", "lot", and "what" - they all made her sound like the secretary of William Wallace.  It was adorable.

Sadly, I don't think it will be the same for me.  Nobody calls the NYC accent adorable.  I'll just be the gringo who uses dirty Spanish.  Dirty as in warped from textbook Spanish, not palabras sucias.  Well, maybe a few of those as well, but only when necessary.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

"Motherlover", and other oddities

I was walking by a store in the mall yesterday when I heard a very unusual sound.  Blasting from the speakers inside the store was "motherlover" - the comedy song from SNL with Justin Timberlake and Andy Samberg.  I thought that maybe the store was playing the video or something inside.  Nope, it was only the song playing.  "Fine," I thought to myself, "some Chilean teenager heard the song in the video, didn't understand what it was about (2 guys who hook up with each other's mothers, for those who may not know), liked the music behind it, and got it for the store he worked at.  That sort of thing happens.  The song was even uncensored, where a couple F bombs are dropped in the chorus.  "Boy, if anybody working here understands English, that kid might get in trouble," I thought.

...Then after the song, there was a commercial break.

A throwaway, secretly filthy comedy song from a late-night TV show is getting broadcast nationally through Chile!  Uncensored!  It blew my mind, I can't imagine how many different angry letters radio stations would get in the states from people with delicate sensibilities and too much time on their hands.

It wasn't as if I needed any further confirmation that this city is insane.  Earlier in the day yesterday, I took a taxi across town.  Inside the taxi, on the dashboard where most people mount their GPS, the cabbie had put in a 8 inch, fully functioning television.  Right in front of the winshield, tilted in his direction.  And as he drove down the very narrow and winding streets with busses and motorcycles swerving alongside us, he would often glance over at the television, which was playing soccer highlights.  And it wasnt like the TV could have been easily placed on the floor next to him if a cop were to show up - it looked like it had been welded or glued permanently onto the dashboard.  This guy was all in.

I also rode in a taxi last week that was passed by a fire truck with its sirens blaring.  I'd say a good 2/3 of the people moved over, but some people just steadfastly refused to get out of the way until they started moving, when they would just change lanes at their convenience.  Once the truck passed us, though, the cab I was in immediately jumped in behind the fire truck and sped off right behind it, making sure to stay right on his tail so nobody could cut in behind us.  Eventually we came to a red light where the cab couldn't follow the truck through, but there was a good 4-5 block space where our cab might as well have been the fire chief who didn't have room to sit in the truck with the rest of the firefighters, and his car was in the shop.  Nutty.

I will say, however, that while I do enjoy these things for the most part, there are parts of this life that are starting to wear on me.  For example, the non-heating of the houses.  Until you've experienced it, it's really tough to describe what it's like living somewhere for an extended period of time that is the exact same temperature as it is outside, sans rain and wind.  At first I thought I'd just get used to it, but I'm so sick and tired of wearing multiple pieces of clothing all the time around the house.  My only reprieve comes when I take a brief hot shower, but then I have to use a still damp, weather-dried towel to dry off, and then shuffle quickly back into my room and find suitable underwear and clothing for the day.  The never-ending reprieve of it is like chinese water torture.  There are moments of brief reprieve when I'm in class, or near an "estufa", but the majority of the time, it is inescapable.

I bitched about this to a few friends here, and their only response was "Oh, wait until it's summer.  The heat makes everything just as intolerable."  Great.  I guess it'll either toughen me up, or turn me into the South American Unabomber.  Stay tuned.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011


Today started with a jolt.  Normally I have classes on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 9:30, but that class was removed from my schedule last Friday for another class that begins this Wednesday.  Consequently, I stayed up fairly late after dominating some AOE2 (suck it, Jrod and Adam) and was not planning on waking up until 11:00 or so.  I get a call on my phone at 9:15 saying that the teacher who was supposed to cover the class couldn't make it, and "can the class cover you today?"  I end up hopping in a taxi without showering and arrive at the institute at 9:45.  The best part of this is, literally the class period before I had lectured the entire class about not being late, and that they all had to get to class on time because we have a lot of material to cover.  So they were all sitting in their seats looking for me when I walked in 15 minutes late.  I thought about trying to explain how I had dumped their sorry asses for a better paying gig that didn't start at 9 am, but I thought things might only spiral out of control.  So I took the students' trash talk like a man (mainly because I only understood about half of it).

I'm actually really glad I got this final class though, because the students all came up to me afterward and said that they were going to miss me, and that I was one of the better teachers they'd had at the institute.  My explanations of words and ideas were better than what they had been used to.  I guess all those years of being a secret grammar-nazi are paying off.  It also validated me in the sense that I can actually teach, despite literally having no instruction on "technique" or "style" besides 5 total hours of a bogus online certification process (, everybody!). 

Also, what's the protocol on student-teacher relations at an auxillary school?  Can I take one of these girls out?  Half of them are older than me anyway, it's not like I'm stalking some group of middle-school chicks who barely speak English.  Maybe once I'm a little more confident I can't get fired for that sort of thing.

I started Rosetta Stone Spanish, mainly because I feel like my Spanish got worse over the past couple days.  Funny what a little alcohol and a lot of English podcasts/reading will do to an already-feeble spanish mind.  It's like I was in the woods, and my Spanish abilities was a small fire that I had lovingly and slowly started to care for and build.  Then, with a single weekend of alcohol and a following day of relative isolation, I proceeded to do an entire riverdance number on top of my small fire.  It appears I will need to be more careful in the future.

Otherwise, not much to report.  Hope all is well wherever you all are - drop me a line sometime!  Or cash, whichever you feel comfortable doing.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Moverse sus caderas

Today is a holiday down in Chile.  What holiday? I have no idea, but I don't have to go to work and there's a brass section promenading up and down my street like an overzealous college marching band.  Their band is   Or maybe that noise is just the hangover?  Tough to tell.

I've made a couple friends with some local chilean kids, and have since started drinking again.  Maybe that will help to keep the weight from falling off of me (157 lbs today).  We went over to this guy Felipe's apartment last night, and started by drinking pisco, which is a liquor distilled from grapes.  Around midnight some more people showed up and it turned into more or less of a dance party.  I think the front desk kept calling the apartment with noise complaints, which lead to us turning the music down for a solid 3 minutes or so before it returned to its prior volume.  Also, I'm now known as "weon Erik" (it's slang, kind of like dude).

One of my students (adult) told me to be very careful of Chilean women - as they will try to get their hands on you and then never let go.  Well... I now understand what he was talking about.  I've never had so many people try to help me learn something as I did last night with Chilean Spanish.  Also, I'm now intimately familiar with most curse words and derogatory expressions around here. 

Sadly, no pictures today, at least from me.  Although, apparently this is happening around here:  I haven't seen any protests of this magnitude though.  The majority of my riot experience has been seeing middle-aged couples banging pots and pans together, and cars honking in support as they drive by.  Powerful stuff.  And by powerful, I mean mildly annoying.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Slices (lbs?) of life, and my first discotech

Yesterday I discovered a scale in one of the other hallways in my apartment.  For fun, I stepped onto it just to see where I'm at.  The scale itself read "72.3", which either means the scale is in kg, or it's in lbs, and I've turned into an anorexic teenage girl in the past 13 days.  I went back to my room and converted to lbs for my own sanity.  159.06.  I haven't been this naturally light since high school.  Since freshman year of college, I've been between 165 and 172 lbs, usually right around 167.  I guess the anorexic teenage girl metamorphasis isn't as far-fetched as I thought.

Last night I went out with a couple Chileans to a discotech.  One of them was a fellow umich grad, so we had that in common.  We started pregaming around 9 pm, but didn't even arrive at the club until after 1 am.  I guess the bars and whatnot down here are open until 5 am.  As I had taught a class at 8:30 am that day, I wasn't really in going-out shape.  I think I ended up leaving somewhere around 3.

It also showed me how far I have to go with my spanish.  I can talk to a person one-on-one, but listening to 3 native chileans talk to each other?  Fucking impossible (sorry mom).  EVERYTHING is slurred together, and half the words are not completed.  It's like, if they were to say "Detroit", they'd say "troi", or Chicago would be "shig", and the entire word is said in the same amount of time it takes to say "it".  My ears and tongue are going to have to work out like crazy if I ever hope to have a conversation with a group of native Chilenos.  But they all have faith that I'll be able to learn in a couple months, so maybe!

Alright, time for the majority of you's favorite part: pictures.  I've taken a few here to help give a little better idea of the nuances of life around these parts.
 The view out the back side of our apartment.  Here you have an up-close and personal look at a Chilean dryer.

 My current living room.  The senora Monica has a penchant for chintzy trinkets.

 Hey, what's that in the upper right-hand corner of EVERY BULLETIN BOARD AT MY SCHOOL?

 No joke, this is all the McDonalds near my subway station serves.  I took this picture while the dude behind the counter was bent over cleaning the floor.  Did I drop something so he wouldn't see me taking this picture?  I'll never tell.

A view into one of my classrooms.  For the one-on-one classes, they're quite small.

 My corner of power and judgment.

Annnnnd my all-time favorite anti-smoking campaign poster.

Hasta lluego, el internet.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

New friends, and my first complaint

Well, it took a whole 10 days, but I've finally found something to complain about in Santiago.  I'm not counting things that can be chalked up to "another culture", or my "american leanings".  I took a close look at the metro map today on my way to work, and I realized that in addition to the color coding system, they have also numbered the 5 different metro lines.  For simplicity's sake, they named them Linea (line) 1, Linea 2, Linea 4, Linea 4a, and Linea 5.

Why can't anything ever be simple? 4 and 4a???  What about 3?  Why was that number skipped?  Sometimes I think governments do this sort of thing just to torture the people who are actually paying attention.  Of course I say that, but there are protests going on for cheaper public education and things that actually affect families.  I might start my own protest to rename line 4a to line 3.  I'm banking on the assumption that people down here simply like to riot.  Well, if you see me on "locked up abroad" in a couple months, you'll know why.  In a prison full of wrongfully-interred expatriates, I'll be the belle of the moron ball.

I had a late lunch with a friend of Jay's today.  Her name is Jocelyn, and she's a very cool girl.  Over ceviche (raw fish marinated in lemon juice) and empanadas, we spent half the time talking in Spanish (truthfully, probably 3/4 of the time) and the rest talking in English.  She was super helpful in trying to learn all the different Chilean slang (modismos) as well as tidying up some of the other phrases and ideas I incorrectly use.  I've realized that I love to translate analogies or common phrases from English into Spanish, and I almost always get a blank look or head-shake from the natives.  The only example I can think of right now is "since the birth of our nation", and in spanish the phrase is just the simple "from the start".  Once I become fluent, I'm going to forcefully assert my will on the language.  Chile has no idea what's about to hit it.

My camera accompanied me on my trip to the supermarket tonight in hopes of finding some interesting things to capture, but sadly the supermarket was quite similar to most supermarkets in the United States.  The only blatant differences besides the names of everything were the following:
There are no jars of tomato sauce, everything is in bags.
 Same thing goes for pasta.

Also, Tony the tiger has crossed over to the dark side.  Marginally healthy Frosted Flakes be damned.

The only incident came when I couldn't find any type of jelly in the aisles, and couldn't remember the proper name for it.  I ended up miming spreading jelly on a piece of bread to a security guard for a while, then repeated the same motions with 2 other grocery store employees.  One had no idea, the other lead me to cream cheese ("quieres queso?") despite my repeated cries of "jelly! fruita para pan!"  After coming home, I looked up "Jelly" in my Spanish-English dictionary.  'jalea'.  Three people who work with food for a living couldn't do that math?

Seriously, after I take over this country, the first order of business will be to rename the metro, and the second will be government mandated grocery store employee training.  After that, recess.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Riots, or defying the digestive Gods

At this point, I am comfortable in saying that Chilean water doesn't make me sick.  I've had coffee with it, I've brushed my teeth with it, I've even had a cold glass or two of it over the past 8 days living here.  I also recently started eating lunch at the cafeteria in the Instituto, and I've had a large plate of fresh vegetables each day.  No problem whatsoever.  Before I came down here, everybody's second comment (after "are you crazy?") was "Don't drink the water, you'll get the trots."  "Stay away from freshly washed fruits."  "And don't eat the produce, either."  But up to this point, I have yet to experience anything outside of normal body function.  Is this because I normally live a non-germophobe lifestyle?  Possibly.  Maybe it's because I've also included a lot of grains and simple sugars in my diet that help promote cohesiveness. 

Despite this, I believe the most compelling reason for my lack of digestive issues is the fact that I packed down 4 different types of anti-diarreal medications.  No joke.  It starts with immodium and goes all the way through 3 different levels of perscription-grade colon-clumpers.  If I was stopped and searched at customs on the way into Chile, the agent would have thought I had the intestinal constitution of wet toilet paper.  However, despite my sizeable arsenal in my anti/bacterial arms race, I have yet to use any of it.  So, karma gods, consider this my act of defiance to you.  DO YOUR WORST, I DARE THEE.

I had 3 classes today, starting at 9 am and ending at 9:15 PM.  About halfway through my final class at night, I started to hear banging pots and pans from outside the building.  Upon leaving the building, I saw this:

It's difficult to tell from the picture, but there are people standing at the corners of the street, as well as up and down the street on ground level banging spoons against pots and pans.  It is incredibly annoying, especially because I had no idea why they were doing it.  After hopping on the metro, I went about 8 stops away from where I was, and walked out to this scene:

Again difficult to tell, but there were probably 500 people or so all gathered together at this space banging pots and pans together.  Not in unison, of course.  That would be much too enjoyable for people to hear.  Through my 10 min walk back to my apartment, I ran into more and more people outside, making noise and honking horns on the street.  Upon arriving back at my apartment, I asked the landlady what was going on outside.  She said it was everybody's way of demanding cheaper public university education.  It's definitely admirable how the entire city has banded together to voice their discourse like this, I just wish they could do it a little farther away from me and my eardrums.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Day 8: Domesticated

Hola a mis amigos,

Well, I've taken that next large step into Chilean immersion.  As of 7 hours ago, I have officially signed a lease on an apartment in Santiago.  Crazy to think that I'm "legally obligated" to make payments on this apartment for the next 7 months.  Of course, I don't think any american creditors would frown upon stiffing a 50 year old Chilean residential leasor, but still.  For the moment, I'm fully in.  Admittedly, it was a little overwhelming at first - committing myself to an apartment down here through February.  But it had to happen sooner or later, and I'm glad it finally took place so I could get out of the 8,000 pesos/day hostel (still actually relatively cheap, but not compared to a long-term place).

So, without further ado, here is my room:

I'll post photos of the common areas (they are nice, but are similar to how your grandmother might decorate a place).  It's not ideal for raising hell in Chile, but the people who live here only speak Spanish, and the room was the nicest of any of the 8 I looked at thus far.  I'm confident I will emerge from this apartment fluent and ready to complain about cualquier by this summer.

My buddy Junaid (from the hostel) and I went to the Museo de Bellas Artes (Museum of Beautiful Art - a little on the nose if you ask me) yesterday, and it wasn't bad.  Truth be told, I thought there were a lot more suspect pieces there than in a normal museum, but there were definitely some impressive pieces as well.
 Everybody's looking for a handout.

 The finer points of the fist bump have yet to make it to Chile.
 This was one of the better photos (I thought) in the collection.  The glare in the center was intended (not the stuff around the edges)
 Me and Junaid (the museo de feos artes was across the street.  we decided to skip it)
(Again, I liked this one.  I really bought into the emotion of the piece)

I taught a one-on-one today with a guy who owns 16 companies, including business shares in England and China.  He owned 5 houses throughout Chile, but still had to sit there and listen to me grill him on the differences between "V"s and "B"s, and "J"s and "G"s.  It was strangely satisfying.

Alright, I have to go to bed.  I'm teaching my first substitute English class tomorrow, and I need to be alert since I won't have any idea what the material is until I get there.  Hasta manana, el internet.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Day 6: Teenage girls, or the hunt continues

Well Paul, you were right.  It's been only 6 days in South America and I haven't been able to avoid it any longer.  It's Saturday night, and I'm doing cocaine.

Ok, bad joke.  But it is pretty good.

I taught an intermediate English class this morning at 8:30 am in Providencia.  The entire class was 7 girls between the ages of 11 and 15.  Yeah... it was weird.  The youngest one in the class also asked me a bunch of questions about grammar forms like future tense vs present continuous, etc.  I answered the best I could, but there was a voice in the back of my head screaming "fraud!" the entire time.  It was an uncomfortable 3 hours.

After that I received a call from one of the landlords I had emailed about a potential place.  She responded by sending me an email and drawing up an entire map for me to follow once I reached the metro stop.

You probably assumed that the top of the map was aligned to the north, didn't you?  Oh ho, YOU FOOL.

Well, I did as well.  And after I wandered through the wrong side of the tracks (literally) for about 20 mins, I called the lady asking where her apartment was.  She responded in broken English, then said "red shoes? I see you! Stay there."  So I stayed in place for another 15 minutes, except she never came.  I called her back and told her that I couldn't find it, and I was just going to head home.  She told me she'd meet me at the metro station.  I waited another 10 minutes, and finally she met me at the metro station, where we walked back to her place.  I looked around for what felt like an appropriate amount of time, then left. It was much too far out of the way, and I would have been sharing a bathroom with her and her husband, who recently had two hip replacements ("caderas nuevas").

I stopped at their megamall on the way back (think Cambridgeside/Ridgedale/Briarwood, but bigger) and marveled at the enormous line of people waiting to get an Apple laptop.  It must have been 1000 strong.  After wandering through for a while, I ate in their food court while watching old guys play clocked chess for a while.  The food court also had huge windows with a surreal view of the Andes Mountain range outside.  Next time I'll bring my camera.  Also, down here they sell ice cream at KFC.  I hear it tastes like frog legs.

So while I have it, here are some pictures of the hostel I'm living in.  It's not much, but it's...well, it's not much.

My living quarters for the past couple days.  Don't tell anybody, but I've pretty much been wearing the same 3 sets of clothes since I got here.  I need an apartment.
 The sign above the toilet says "please don't flush toilet paper, use the waste basket".  Awesome.

 I've mastered the art of the "upper body only" shower.  You get hot water 2 out of every 3 tries.  Not bad, right?

 This is the only way I don't look like the whitest guy around.

The world's worst pool table (9 foot).  Adam will appreciate this shot.  I play one game a night, it usually takes me about 20 minutes, and I almost break my stick over my leg 3-4 times a game.

That's all for now.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Day 5: First day of class

I had my first class this evening.  After a long morning of emailing and getting no responses from anonymous douches with rooms on craigslist and, I trudged over to the Providencia office for my first official class.  Not knowing how long it would take for me to get to the place, I ended up arriving about 20 minutes early to my first class.  I spent that time documenting in my "teacher" notebook (previously my improv notebook, "writing for creative success" class notebook, and workout diary for a week or two) how I felt like a complete fraud, having no training on what it took to be a successful English teacher other than an online class where I essentially guessed my way to an A for the course.  It was very motivating stuff, but it gave the illusion that I was hard at work and busy when my student arrived. 

We started by talking a bit about his expectations for the class, and got to know each other a little bit.  It was sort of heartening, because his struggles with English reminded me a lot of my struggles with Spanish.  He just ignored some of the words I would say, and took a long time to come up with his responses to questions.  Some basic greetings, how to say "goodbye" a couple different ways, and mock conversations took up most of the time.  He had to leave early, so I spent another half hour or so doodling until it was time to leave.

Also, I saw an apartment today.  It was a complete shithole (sorry mom, but it was).  The mattress looked like it was slept on previously by the swamp thing, and there were more cracks in the couches than carpet fibers on the tastefully colored rag in the middle of the floor beneath the broken coffee table.  The guy who was there was a Canadian named Dave who looked like the burnout son of J. Jonah Jameson.  I told him I'd think about it.

Alright, time to practice my Spanish.  Until next time, anonymous internet folk!

Day 4: the smell of tear gas

Today I had to stop by the Providencia office of the Instituto to pick up some materials for one of my classes I'll be teaching over there.  The lady who runs the Instituto, Christina, was very nice and one of the best English speakers of the group.  I've found it somewhat interesting that half the people they employ at these offices don't speak English themselves.  Oh well, more practice for me.

Going out later that evening (to look at an apartment), I was about 5 stops from where I wanted to be on the metro when people started to cover their mouths with their scarves.  At first I just thought somebody near them had farted, and I tried to contain my smile.  But then this smell hit my nose, which smelled like a mixture of burning rubber, bleach, and a hint of lemon.  And then I remembered one of the ladies at the providencia office telling me that there were going to be riots near the Universidad de Chile later that evening.  It was tear gas.  At first it just sort of stung my nostrils, but soon after it spread to my eyes, making them irritated and welled up.  My upper lip also became quite irritated and sensitive.  Undaunted, I made it past the next couple metro stops to where I wanted to get out, the Policia had blocked off all exits from the subway at those points.  There were probably 8 stops along the metro where they wouldn't let people out, clearly to quell the riots.  I ended up going back to the hostel and watching the proceedings via chilean newscast for a while.

After a while, a girl came in and asked if she could change it to HBO.  They were showing "Salt", with the subtitles in Spanish.  That actually seemed to make for a good practice exercise - hear what they were saying in the movie, read the spanish translation.  It also took my mind off the whole premise of this movie: that a couple lousy North Koreans could torture the crap out of this 95 lb female "special agent", but somehow the entire US government was crippled by a woman who refused to kill anybody besides her own people (Russians).  There are MULTIPLE scenes where there are 5+ agents nearby her, but instead of putting a couple hollow-points into her kneecaps, they wait their turn to get punched in the face by Angelina Jolie.  If the real secret service is ten times as competent as the people in this movie, then we are unbelievably screwed as a country.

The girl who came in was talking with one of her friends for a while, and I realized that I didn't understand any of what they were saying.  Then her friend left, and I found out that she was actually from Brazil, and speaking Portugese.  She spoke spanish as well though, and we were able to talk for a while about random things through my broken espanol.  With a little more practice like that (and a lot more vocab) I may be able to make it in this country after all.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Day 3: The park

Day three.  When I did a 2-week boy scout hiking trip through the Rockies, they called day 3 the "brick wall".  This was the day when your habits on the trail came to fruition:  if you hadn't been sleeping as much as you should be, if you hadn't been keeping clean, or if you hadn't been eating right, the piper came for his comeuppance on day 3.  I'm happy to report that I've made it through the brick wall today with minimal scarring.

I started the day by going back to the place where I got my cell phone to get it activated.  I realized that when I tried to call people, I would get some crazy message on the other side with this chick talking a million miles per second, then telling me what my phone number was again.  One of the customer service representatives helped walk me through the automated service, then with a smile on her face told me I needed to practice my Spanish.  I thanked her in Spanish, told her I am definitely practicing, then told her to get bent with my 100-watt smile.  I'm not sure she understood the latter part.

Instead of heading back towards the hostel, I ventured further down Liber Bernardo O'Higgins looking for places of interest.  I came across a 4-piece brass section on the street playing a song eerily similar to the Mos Eisley Cantina theme, and saw a few policemen standing around in their olive-green uniforms.  The policia down here are much more intense than in the states.  They look like they actually work out, and have never even heard of Dunkin Donuts.
(They also may or may not have a little game)

After walking up a few minutes, I ran into the Chilean version of a mall.  I have to say, it was pretty interesting.  They all show the majority of their wares in the window itself - going inside the store is pretty much just to purchase or try out whatever item you're looking for.  Also, everything was open-air.  The stores themselves had doors they could lock obviously, but the entire 3 floors were open to the elements.
(I hope he was buying for one of his kids)

(Tired of looking like an old honky?)

Walking a little further up the street, I came upon this really cool park.  It was essentially a big hill in the middle of town, with an old fortress (Castillo Hidalgo) and something more or less resembling a lookout tower at the top of it.  It was pretty incredible to see the view of the surrounding area from the top of the building.  It was clear that Santiago itself is surrounded on all sides by the Andes once you reached the top of the park.

After snapping a few photos, I hung out in the park by the statue and read for a couple hours.  I ended up leaving once this lady sat across from me and started breast-feeding her kid about 5 feet away. 

While walking out, I realized that I apparently missed the memo that the park is only for couples making out after 3:00 PM.  I must have ran across 15 different couples swapping saliva vigorously.  I spat up in the air and caught it in my mouth once or twice so as to not feel left out.  It was sort of like making out with the wind.

The Universidad de Chile was practically next door, so I thought I'd wander through there.  On the way, I ran into two people trying to generate interest/money for their "educacion gratis" campaign at the University.  I thought it was pretty funny/ironic that they were asking for money for their free education campaign, but I obliged them with about 50 cents of US money (they wanted more, but I feigned not understanding).  It was the first time that I didn't mind talking to one of those street peddlers, because it gave me an opportunity to talk with a native who was very interested in making sure I understood whatever they were talking about.

The university had a setup talking about the universe through astronomy (one of my favorite subjects), so I wandered through there after getting an espresso from the nearby cafe.  The guy who took my order at the coffee shop was pretty flamboyant, which gave me a good laugh.  Apparently any profession involving hair, clothing, or trendy cafes contains some gay tractor beam, regardless of the native language or culture.  (If you start an indie band named "gay tractor beam", I want at least some credit).

Walking into the Universe tent at the University turned out to be a great idea.  They had all these signs up about aspects of astronomy and physics that contained ideas that I already knew, so I was able to deduce a lot of Spanish from them.  I also was able to more or less understand a native fairly clearly when he explained how the doppler effect tells astronomers whether a galaxy is moving closer or further away from us.  It was a very encouraging exchange.  Maybe I can learn Spanish after all.

At a local food spot, I talked with some crazy guy about el loteria for a little bit, and then he asked me if I was German ("tu eres aleman?").  Uncanny.

That's all for today.  I imagine these posts will start becoming shorter in the future, but as I have nothing better to do nowadays, you all are reaping the benefit (or suffering?).  Until next time.