Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Hospitality and grammar

Another thing that has really impressed me about the Chilean culture is the importance of hospitality and respect in this culture.  Whenever I've been to somebody's house, they have gone out of their way to make not only me, but everybody there feel very welcome and comfortable.  Any food or drinks at a Chilean's house is open to all guests.  I've never asked, but I've seen hosts cook for hungry guests.  I've even seen hosts give up their beds and sleep on couches when somebody else is too tired or sloppy to go home.

Perhaps the most impressive example came the other day.  We were all at my friend Felipe's apartment, getting ready to go out.  One of the girls there (who was already fairly intoxicated) announced to the world that she was missing 20,000 pesos, which is a little over $40.  She finished going through all of her pockets and purse compartments when Felipe came up to her and said "Nobody loses anything in my apartment."  He then took out his own wallet, grabbed 20k, and gave it to here.  Just like that.  I've never seen anything like that in the states before.

Today I gave my night class at the Universidad de Desarrollo their midterm examination.  I'm about halfway through grading it, and the average grade right now is about 70%.  I'm currently battling between feelings of inadequacy as a teacher, and contempt for my students for their mistakes.  We spent an inordinate amount of time on grammar structures, and different key phrases (like "going to" and "probably will"), but they have yet to absorb it.

For fun - here's a few grammatical structure questions for you.  How many can you answer without looking up the answers?  If you think you know, post a reply in the comments section.

1)  What is the difference between saying "have been..." and "have gone..."?

2)  Many words that express preference, like "like" and "love" can be paired with both infinitive and gerund (-ing) verbs.  Can "would like..." be paired with both too?

3) When do we use the present perfect continuous (have/has + been + *verb + ing*), and when do we use the present perfect (have/has + past participle)?

Sunday, October 23, 2011

A Chilean Education

I went to a friend's place yesterday for a barbecue after class.  He lives down in Nunoa, the province south of mine which is filled mostly with native Chileans.  The neighborhood is good, but I find myself getting stared at with much greater frequency when I go down there.  We spent most of the afternoon grilling, drinking beer, and alternating between my constipated Spanish and his constipated English.  Thanks to our Spanish-English chats, I now have a much better grasp of what the riots are about down here.  I knew they were about "Free education" and cheaper universities, but the specifics had always eluded me.
Basically, here there are 3 types of grade schools: public, private, and semi subvencionadas.  The semi subvencionadas are private schools, to which the state government partially subsidizes the cost of the student's education.  For every student, the school gets X amount of pesos a month (say 40,000).  On top of this, there is also a partial cost to the students' family, potentially another 60,000 pesos.  So the school is able to reduce the costs to the families, while also theoretically providing the education quality of a fully private school.

The problem is, these schools are private, and run by "duenos" (owners) who have little to no restrictions on how they spend the money received by the state.  So, for every 100,000 that the school receives per student, they may only pay back in 70,000 of that money to the school, pocketing the leftover 30,000 themselves.  This amount that goes into the owner's pocket is known here as the "lucro".  Without any regulation on how the owners spend the money they receive, they are more and more incentivized to scrimp and cut corners wherever they can, as it directly translates to more money in their bank accounts.  Apparently though, the quality of the semi subvencionada education is still generally better than the public schools, but mainly because the public school system here is not very good at all (another reason for the protests).

Next time you see a picture of the riots down here, try and read some of the graffiti in the background.  I bet you'll see something that reads "No + Lucro".

Or, you may see something like this:
Jackson Pollock lead the latest round of riots down here.


Also, I learned a little more about the legend of Maradona in Argentina.  If you watched any of the 2010 World Cup, you may remember hearing his name, as he had recently become the head coach of the Argentinian national team.  He's considered by many to be the greatest soccer player of all time. When Argentina won the 1986 World Cup, he was the team MVP (he scored 5 goals in the tournament).

Part of Maradona's legacy is that in the 1986 quarter-finals, he scored both goals in a 2-1 victory against England.  This game meant a lot to both sides, as there was a LOT of tension between these two countries after the Falklands War in 1982.  The brief history of the war is this: the Falklands are a string of islands just off the coast of Argentina, and their ownership was in dispute between Argentina and England.  To settle matters, the British sent their army to the Falklands, and subsequently killed hundreds of Argentinians to end the dispute (they remained in British control).  4 years later, they met in an elimination round of the World Cup.

The most famous play from this game is Maradona's "mano de Dios" (the hand of God).  Here's a clip of it:

Notice how the English players are screaming at the refs around 0:33 seconds?  Well, if you take a closer look at the play...

...you'll notice that Maradona doesn't exactly abide by soccer's biggest rule.

Regardless, the goal counted, Maradona scored again later, and Argentina advanced, eventually winning the Cup.  (4 commas in one sentence?  Yes please.)  But, much like the 1980 USA-USSR hockey game, the final victory wasn't nearly as important as one of its predecessors.  England may have had a stronger army, but the Argentinians beat the English at the very game they invented. 

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Haircut adventures, part deux

I forced myself to wake up especially early today (9:00), as I knew I had a lot of important things to take care of before class.  Saturday afternoon, I received a notice in the mail that a package for me had been delivered and subsequently returned to "Correos Chile" sometime in the past month.  The paper identified itself as the "segundo avisio", but it was the first one I received.

After Google-mapping the directions to my region's main post office, I took the metro and walked a couple blocks to the head office for Providencia.  After entering the building, it was immediately obvious to me why nothing ran as it was supposed to.

This is their filing system.  Also, the door above is wide open into this office.  There is a huge sign on it that said "Restricted Area!  Authorized personnel only!"  This is the rare exception to the rule of tight chilean security, and I'm willing to bet it's because the person who runs this office is the kind of guy who has donut sprinkles in the chest pocket of his shirt.

After a robust 5 minutes searching for my package in about 12 different piles, the guy behind the desk found it.  He then asked me for my Chilean ID, to which I told him I didn't have one.  He looked at me for 20 seconds or so, then just took my MA ID (just like at Nestle's).  After writing down my name (Erik Market St) this time, he handed me my package (Erik Greene), and made some passing comment about making sure the address on the packages is right next time.  I wanted to come back at him with some crack about organizing his life, but my Spanish tongue isn't quite as biting yet.

Oh, also, the address on the package was perfect.
This doesn't speak much to the competence of the Chilean Postal Service.  My already low standards are starting to dig out a second basement.

Coursing with adrenaline after another public office success story in Chile (total trip: 35 mins), I decided to ride the karma wave and find somewhere to get a haircut.

The first place I walked by?
...let's roll the dice and keep walking.

After walking a decent distance (into the better, busier part of town), I stumbled across this little hole-in-the-wall:
Well... so much for the "better" part of town, but they do both sexes here!  Or maybe they don't recognize sexes here?  Regardless, I decided to roll the dice that my sex would be serviced inside, and entered through the pink extra-wide door.

After walking in, I realized I had to get a haircut here, if only for the experience.  This is the view upon walking in the door:
It's one of the few barber shops I've ever seen where you can get a haircut and receive math tutoring at the same time.  And please note the abundance of hair curlers, combs, and wrapping paper, all within arms reach.

The on-deck circle, complete with ornamental throw-pillows and something that looks like a brainpower-enhancer from the 1970's.

This time, I came in armed with the correct words and phrases to achieve the haircut of my dreams.  I also brought in a photo from facebook, where an old, properly done haircut was freshly on display.  I dropped both verbal and visual cues on the old lady, to which she merely nodded and motioned for me to take a seat.  After wrapping the collar of my shirt in a garbage bag, a towel, and then a modified tablecloth (I'm not kidding - it was clearly intended for other purposes), she set about cutting my hair.

She sporadically used the clippers around the sides of my head for a couple minutes, then returned to the normal scissors.  Having trimmed my head with those for a robust 30 seconds, she reaches for the hair-thinning scissors.  You know, the ones with the extended teeth that normally are just used for touch-up in certain areas?

Yeah... 80% of this haircut was completed by those bad boys.  They also were not that sharp, and she kept pulling the scissors away from my head after closing the teeth of the scissors.  Really, it's a poor business model on her part - if she pulls all of my hair out at the root, I won't need another haircut for a much longer time.

After the toothed-cut was completed, she pulled my chair back about 4 yds and pushed my head back into the sink.  Before I could say anything, she was already dousing the back of my head with water, and starting to apply shampoo.  I asked her if it was necessary, to which she replied that every haircut needed a washing.  "Fair point", I thought to myself.  I paid the woman ($6, including tip), and set off for home.

She only washed the hair with shampoo, though, no conditioner was used.  For those of you who don't know my hair, it's extremely light and straight.  My hair follicles' natural reactions are to try and get as far away from my head as physically possible.  Add up the shorter than average hair, shampoo without conditioner, and lack of gel, and...

I know the "fingers in a light socket" comparison has been worn thin by years of overuse in bad jokes, but I seriously looked like I just tried to lick my way through a power-grid.  The toothed-scissors made my already crazy hair look even more insane.  If I ever become an extra in a movie involving death by electrocution, I'm marching to the nearest salon with the instructions "toothed scissors only".

But don't worry, I have enough hair product left over to survive for the next year without much concern.  These Chileans will never again see the unintentionally insane side of Erik G.

And no, Aunt Kathleen, I will not be posting a picture of this haircut either.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Potpourri #5

Today in class we were discussing a "business proposal" as a group project.  Each group was assigned a radio station program that they needed to overhaul, and explain their choices for why they wanted to use the new parts as they did.  The second group that presented was given a "morning business update" radio program that needed to be more in tune with what people wanted to listen to in the mornings.  The leader of the group stood up and told us that the program was now to include a traffic/weather update, a new, younger male host, and high-profile business interviews.  He began to sit down, as if he was done with his presentation, when another member of the group said "Don't forget the sexy boys!"

"Yes, the sexy boys is very important.  Otherwise people will not listen to our show."

(...Enter a good 15 second pregnant pause in the room.)

Finally I had to break it.  "So Ivan, tell me, why would you need sexy boys on your radio program?"

"Nooo, a sexy VOICE.  VOICE."

"Ohhhhhh."  We all had a good laugh after that.  Plus, I was equally relieved that my teaching was not accidentally forming the minds of aspiring business pedophiles in Chile.

My little bird friends have flown the coup.  I planned to do something of a video-flipbook of their development, but it only ended up being 3 pictures before they all flew away.  Once they were old enough to fly, the mother didn't stick around once I stepped outside.  I tried to take a picture 2 days ago, and the last little bird flew the coop as soon as the patio door opened.  I haven't seen them since.  And judging from the amount of pictures and time we spent out there, I have a feeling the mother won't be laying eggs there again anytime soon.

Here's the last shot of the birds:
If you examine, you can see their wings appear almost functional in this picture.  That's because they are.

I was also able to cash my most recent check from work with relative ease.  And by relative ease, I mean a 5 minute walk from my office, another 5 minute wait in line, a robust 90 second check processing procedure, and another 2 seconds to have the cash handed to me.  If you count that all up, that's a 11 min, 32 second procedure.  Not to brag, but I just bested my best check cashing time by 4 days, 11 hours, 48 mins, and 28 seconds.  When's the last time you cut that much off of your personal best?

The mountains around me are all quickly losing their snow, which means it's time to start making plans to scale each of them.  Or at least the tallest one to the west, it taunts me every day.  I took my camera that way at one point last week in the morning, and this is the shot that came out of it.
Pretty cool, right?

Also, I don't know if I've ever mentioned it on this blog, but I have yet to go a day without hearing at least one car alarm go off.  The average is probably 4-5 a day.  And I don't mean to be cruel, but for half of these cars with alarms going off - it would be a favor to the owner if the car was stolen.

And finally - for those Sportscenter fans out there:

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Food down here

One of my favorite midday snacks around here is a little street food called "sopapillas"  They are basically a fried flaky corn-meal patty, often topped with some sort of spicy salsa.  They cost 100 pesos (20 cents) wherever, and they're great.  Here's a shot of one:

I don't know if it's the residual effect of living with an Italian for 2 years, but down here I've been using a lot more garlic when I cook.  Onions, too.  Before I scramble eggs, or heat up tomato sauce, I fry up some sliced onion and minced garlic in a pan.  It's definitely made my scrambled eggs much more enjoyable, and it helps to make the tomato sauce down here consumable (it's really bad).  Sometimes if I'm feeling adventurous/lazy, I also include some frozen vegetables in the pan.  It usually turns out pretty well.

This isn't edible, but it was a piece of art I enjoyed at the library:

Slightly more edible, the baby birds have been born!  Here's a shot from a few days ago:
The mom is giving me her best "What's up?" look.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Nestle Chile

So, all my constant inquiries and unexpected pop-ins to the Institute's main offices have finally paid off - I have another new class.  I'm teaching a one-on-one business class at the Nestle Chile plant, out in Maipu.  The Nestle plant is relatively far away from Instead of coming to the Institute for his classes, I'm being sent to him.  This has lead to me having a little adventure of my own every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday from 11:00 to 12:00, while I am in transit.  Take a ride with me, won't you?

The day starts like most other days for me - with a ride on the Metro.  I take the Red line about 15 minutes to Estacion Central with about 20,000 of my closest friends.
Fortunately, when you ride the Metro at 11 am, you don't have to shove for a position on the train, or wait for multiple cars to pass by.  This is a standard capacity ride.

After I get to Estacion Central, once again I walk through the hordes of people, stores, and ice cream repositories to get to the bus terminal.  The walk looks like this:
Believe me, it takes all of my concentration to avoid purchasing some "shape-up" sketchers, or some new lingerie.
Once I reach the back of the station, I take an escalator up to the next level, where the bus terminal is.  I go to the "intercommunity" side of the bus station, and hop on a little "micro" that looks like this:
The bus itself is pretty cheap, and as it goes to the outskirts of Santiago, the clientele for these micros is often less than completely upstanding.  Combine that with Chile's baseline attitude of "We don't trust anybody", and this is what it looks like in front of most of these micros:
It's ok, though.  Before you start worrying about me, the midday clientele is really not that bad.  It's mostly other businessmen making a commute.  But from what I understand, I wouldn't want to be on one of these micros after 10 pm.

After about a 30 minute ride out on the micro, I get off right in front of this:
A closer shot of the sign in front:

Passing through the front gate here varies greatly from time to time.  Sometimes I walk through with hardly a check.  Other times I've been asked to open my bag, and show credentials.  Last time I went through, this lady was trying to give me a hard time about teaching an English class there, and demanded to see my credentials.  I don't really have credentials from my work, so I pulled out my US driver's license to show her.  She took it, wrote my name down as "Erik St. Market" (my old street address was under my first name), listed my driver's license number as my Chilean national Identification number, and wrote the name of my sponsoring institution as "Massachusetts".  Let's just say they're going to have some questions about this character should anything suspicious have happened last Wednesday.

But after getting through the main gate, it's just a short walk through Willy Won... I mean Nestle's establishment.  You can see often, the Oompa Loom... Nestle factory workers milling about, no doubt on break from their chocolate waterfalls and Golden Geese egg-laying rooms.

The student himself is probably one of the more difficult ones I've had so far.  He claims to have an advanced understanding of English, and wants to move very quickly through the book that he considers "demasiado facil".  Too bad for him, he's still making a ton of errors in this book that's supposedly "too easy", and he frequently reverts back to Spanish when he's unable to express himself fully.  He wants to give a presentation and meet people in January in Switzerland, so we're going quickly.  Unfortunately for him, he has a long way to go.  But we'll get there.

The ride back is equally as exciting.  The only difference is, while I'm waiting for a micro to pick me up to take me back into Santiago, I stare at this poster across the road:
Immovable hair?  Check.  Vague allusions to being on your side?  Check.  Power tie?  Double check.  I guess no matter where you go these days, politics still operate by the same governing principles.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Fashion in Chile

I've found a lot of the young people around here like wearing old American paraphernalia.  I often walk down the street and see a "Texas Football" sweatshirt, or an old tridelt sorority sweater coming my way.  Sometimes I think the person has actually been to or experienced the things their shirt advertises, but the few times I've actually inquired, I've been disappointed.  There have been multiple times where I see a "Michigan - 1997 National Champions" shirt, or a "Minnesota Vikings Football" hat, and it's all I can do to not yell "Go Blue!" or "Skol Vikings!"  I already look like enough of a foreigner around here, no need to draw further attention to myself.

Outside of actual sport teams gear, young people also wear a lot of shirts with half-baked English ideas on them.  There's a pretty common one down here that just says "Don't Touch" 4 times down the front of it.  I've also seen "Surf Tournament", "Xtreme Baseball", and "Use your hands!"  I think they're the kind of thing that people like when they only read the dictionary definition of the words on the shirt, but they seem to lacking in any sort of cohesive thought.  Then again, who knows?  American kids wear some pretty dumb stuff too.

The keyboards down here are a bear to use.  Whenever I have to use a communal computer at the Institute or a friend's house, this is what I contend with:
The regular letters are normal, but if you want to use any other symbols, it's a bit of a nightmare.  The "shift" key works a bit differently for symbols, they have an "alt gr" button, and there's another mystery button which I sometimes hit that puts accents on top of letters.  I still have a lot of figuring out to do with this monster.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Just another Tuesday

Hi Everybody,

I want to apologize for the lack of posts recently - as my days become more and more routine around here, I find myself surrounded with fewer and fewer things to blog about.  I'll continue to keep the posts coming, but I have a feeling that the posts may begin to take a more internalized direction.  Regardless, the posts will continue to come - that I promise.

One of the things I really like about living down here is that I have the opportunity to read more.  I rarely watch TV down here (as I don't understand the majority of it), so it leaves me with more time to actually pursue other activities.  In the past month I've read two books - "The Selfish Gene" by Richard Dawkins, and "The Art of War" by Sun Tzu.

The Selfish Gene was a game-changer for me.  The book outlines a way of looking at evolution and the growth and development of all life on this planet.  It centers around the idea that all life stems from the advancement and growing complexity of its DNA - the blueprints for constructing the "gene machines" (plants and animals).  Without getting too in-depth, the book proposes some interesting theories for how and why many of the features of life work as they do.  It also describes how different characteristics would proliferate in different "gene machines", and how different groups of animals would evolve different behavioral characteristics, and how a mindset or physical characteristic would spread through a society if the conditions were right. 

I don't know if it was just my brain yearning for some more academic learning, but I found this book to be fantastic.  He demonstrated an interesting world-view with examples and ideas from nature, all of which made sense.  Great read.

"The Art of War" was slightly less impressive.  I came into the book expecting great things, as it's referenced by many different businessmen as a good read, and it was even quoted a couple times in the movie "Wall Street".  I expected the book to be chock-full of apt metaphors, interesting double entendres, and classic Eastern wisdom.

...and to be honest, I was disappointed.  A lot of the material in the book is pretty on-the-nose with respect to battling in Ancient China.  There are some ideas to be taken away, with regards to espionage, knowing the enemy, and putting yourself in positions to succeed.  But overall, the book is really just filled with short descriptions of how to build an army, and how to take over nearby lands.

I think the majority of people who read this book and are blown away by it are people who are naturally not that bright.  They read a sentence like "One skilled will profit by it; if he is not, it is dangerous." and go nuts.  They think to themselves "Wow, there are so many possible interpretations to this idea!", but instead of actually considering all the possible avenues and interpretations of this sentence, they merely revel in the fact that other interpretations exist.  Thus, if a body of work is relatively vague or metaphorical, it becomes easy for those of a lesser mental constitution ('fools', if you will) to latch on and pretend to glean unparalleled levels of understanding from it.  I call this the 'Donnie Darko' Theory.  Of course, maybe there is a deeper level to The Art of War that I was unable to decipher in my relatively short study of the novel.  But I doubt it.

Hey, it wouldn't be an internet blog without a healthy helping of snark and criticism, right?  Just keeping up with the specified quotas. 

Also, I've been checking the past couple days, and that dove from the previous entry is not moving.  I'm pretty sure she's laid an egg in that little potted plant, and is guarding it vehemently.  Looks like I won't need to go to the store for eggs this week.